Why consciousness must be electric

Nested hierarchies have been discussed adequately, one should think. So here is an alternative matter.

I would propose that consciousness must be electrical in nature, due to two crucial facts:

1. The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells. It is not any other kind of information, such as quantum states of molecules, it is simply the information that nerve cells are known to carry via action-potentials.

2. Electric fields are the only physical phenomenon in the brain that have both the ability to extend in space significantly beyond nerve conduction itself and to be able to change and interact exceedingly swiftly, just as we experience conscious changes occurring “instantly.”

There are many other issues involved, of course, however, the fact remains that the physical phenomena underlying consciousness must be able to account for how consciousness appears to have the kind of extension and interactivity that creates consciousness, as electric fields would seem to be able to do. And that physical phenomenon must be tied to the information being carried as nerve impulses, as the electric fields of the nervous system ineluctibly are.

There does not seem to be a realistic option of a different sort of phenomenon that can unify that information encoded in the nerves into a conscious whole, and to do so exceedingly swiftly and surely. Certainly quantum physics offers nothing beyond electric fields interacting that could magically account for consciousness, no matter how much hocus-pocus people try to coax out of quantum phenomena. In the end it can’t be strange loops or the “illusion of consciousness” either, as one has to explain the difference between the consciousness and the unconscious (I would propose that the amount of, and type of, interaction of electric fields is what is crucial).

A great many issues could be discussed, however it seems to me that beginning with the basics is appropriate. There really is only one good candidate for consciousness in the physics of the brain at all, which is the electric fields that are unquestionably a necessary part of nerve conduction in the first place. If consciousness simply is what it is to be like a highly structured and unified (always becoming unified) electric field from the inside, so to speak, then it is the one phenomenon that we know not just abstractly, but as reality itself.

323 thoughts on “Why consciousness must be electric

  1. keiths: You are baffled by the fact that general anesthetics can influence the electrical activity of the brain.

    Not in the slightest. But Glenn should be.

  2. keiths,

    It amusing that you struggle with understanding this is Glenn’s theory not mine.

    When I assumed even keiths can keep up with the simpler aspects of posting, like applying concepts to the people who believe them, was I giving you way too much credit?

  3. phoodoo,

    Glen’s statement was correct:

    You can deny it all that you want, it’s still a fact that general anaesthesia substantially changes electrical activity in the brain.

    You disputed it:

    How can medicine change electricity? Is the medicine anti-electric?

    That makes sense. Some people are dumb as rocks.

    You have a role in the ecosystem. When the rest of the herd runs to escape a predator, you are the buck-toothed antelope who stands there, confused and motionless, thinking, “Wait, what? Where is everybody going?”

    Low fitness, in other words.

  4. keiths: Here Steiner is just assuming his conclusion: that physicalism is false, and that the self is non-physical.

    You are reading backwards. That’s not Steiner’s conclusion (conclusion would be his form of dualism or whatever it is he holds). It’s a hypothesis or premise. And next comes his reason to postulate the premise.

    keiths: As if matter had to decide that it wanted to be conscious, or to take up space, or to reflect light, and so on. Steiner has really gone off the rails here, personifying matter.

    The fact that there are persons (such as humans), but matter alone is not conscious or self-aware or self-willed or personifiable gives Steiner the reason to postulate that materialism is false. It’s not Steiner personifying matter here. He is saying that if persons are entirely material, then materialists are inevitably personifying matter, and that is untenable.

    You misread people all the time, keiths. I have no hopes you will ever improve, but at least don’t make it worse.

  5. keiths:
    phoodoo,

    Glen’s statement was correct:

    You disputed it:

    That makes sense.Some people are dumb as rocks.

    You have a role in the ecosystem.When the rest of the herd runs to escape a predator, you are the buck-toothed antelope who stands there, confused and motionless, thinking, “Wait, what?Where is everybody going?”

    Low fitness, in other words.

    keiths: Glen’s statement was correct:
    You can deny it all that you want, it’s still a fact that general anaesthesia substantially changes electrical activity in the brain.

    Yes. The electrical activities of the brain that are the indicators of consciousness… How else would they know whether the patient is aware of surgery and feels pain? Other brain activities (other then indicators of consciousness) are normal…

  6. Erik,

    You are reading backwards. That’s not Steiner’s conclusion (conclusion would be his form of dualism or whatever it is he holds). It’s a hypothesis or premise.

    No, it’s not a premise. He is already assuming the truth of physicalism arguendo, in an attempt to show that it leads to a problematic conclusion. If he were to take the falsehood of physicalism as a premise, as you suggest, then he’d be contradicting his other premise and his argument would never get off the ground.

    Steiner’s thinking here is poor, but it certainly isn’t as bad as yours. Leave this one to the “philosophy guys”, Erik. It’s out of your wheelhouse.

    It’s not Steiner personifying matter here. He is saying that if persons are entirely material, then materialists are inevitably personifying matter, and that is untenable.

    No, Erik. Read what he wrote:

    And thus he is back again at his starting point. How does matter come to think about its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied with itself and content just to exist?

    Physicalists don’t claim that matter becomes dissatisfied and then decides to think. That’s a pure Steinerism. Like you, he has a hard time keeping his own position separate from that of his opponents. He gets confused and jumbles them together.

    Again, this is one for the “philosophy guys” and other people who are good at reading and reasoning. It’s not an Erik thing.

  7. keiths: He is already assuming the truth of physicalism arguendo, in an attempt to show that it leads to a problematic conclusion.

    Yes, that’s also a way to put it and Steiner’s thinking is flawless on this point. But this is not how you put it the first time. You accused him of assuming his own conclusion. But when the conclusion is a problem derived from arguendo, then it’s not the same thing as assuming his own conclusion, now is it?

    keiths: Physicalists don’t claim that matter becomes dissatisfied and then decides to think.

    Please state what physicalists actually claim, so everybody could compare it with what Steiner believes about them. Given physicalism, where and how does consciousness come from?

  8. Neil Rickert: I don’t doubt the use of electricity as an implementation detail. But saying that consciousness is “electrical in nature”? I don’t know what you mean by “consciousness” but it’s probably not what I mean.

    This must be due to the word “nature”. Nominalists don’t understand what nature is.

    For me, the problem with Glen’s account of consciousness begins with the next sentence,

    The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells.

    Information becomes conscious? Now I am expecting Glen to provide an account on the nature of information.

  9. Erik:

    You accused him of assuming his own conclusion.

    Which he did. Steiner writes:

    He [the physicalist] ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself.

    That sentence assumes the falsehood of physicalism, because it takes for granted that the self is something separate from matter.

    Please state what physicalists actually claim, so everybody could compare it with what Steiner believes about them.

    If you’re interested in learning about physicalism, there’s plenty out there to read. I won”t spoon feed it to you. What’s relevant here is something I already explained: In the physicalist view, matter doesn’t become dissatisfied and decide to think, as Steiner goofily puts it. This should be obvious — such a decision would already constitute thinking.

    To a physicalist, thinking is something that happens when matter is arranged in a certain way. No prior dissatisfaction or decision required. As I said:

    As if matter had to decide that it wanted to be conscious, or to take up space, or to reflect light, and so on. Steiner has really gone off the rails here, personifying matter. It reminds me of his tomato rant.

  10. J-Mac: They say it in the interview that he is about to put some to sleep, you moron!

    Sure, and the patient waited, patiently, for more than an hour. 🤣

  11. keiths: Physicalists don’t claim that matter becomes dissatisfied and then decides to think. That’s a pure Steinerism. Like you, he has a hard time keeping his own position separate from that of his opponents. He gets confused and jumbles them together.

    I think he never ever considers what physicalists actually think. He just assumes way too much. The whole thing was rhetorical at best. I’ll show you later how I thought of it as unintelligible (I did not read shallowly, if I did, I’d risk looking like the illiterates I criticize in the forum).

  12. keiths: If you’re interested in learning about physicalism, there’s plenty out there to read. I won’t spoon feed it to you.

    Incidentally, I am very well versed in dialectical materialism that used to be the official doctrine in certain parts of the world and fed to everyone since kindergarten. Steiner’s impression of physicalism is accurate.

    If you hold a different view, you will actually need to spell it out. Steiner was under no obligation to be familiar with your particular world view.

  13. Erik: The fact that there are persons (such as humans), but matter alone is not conscious or self-aware or self-willed or personifiable

    Actually, THERE is the question-beg.

  14. Entropy: I think he never ever considers what physicalists actually think. He just assumes way too much. The whole thing was rhetorical at best. I’ll show you later how I thought of it as unintelligible (I did not read shallowly, if I did, I’d risk looking like the illiterates I criticize in the forum).

    Please follow up on this. Will be interesting to see. Full account please, not an isolated unexplanatory sentence like walto does.

  15. CharlieM:
    Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin with the formation of thoughts about the phenomena of the world.

    OK so far. He started with his conclusion, but in a way that you’d expect the next thing will explain how he arrived at it. Then, the second sentence doesn’t strike much like an explanation, but another conclusion, where from? Apparently we’re about to see. How would beginning with the formation of thoughts about phenomena preclude a satisfactory explanation? (I also start to wonder, what the hell does he mean by satisfactory? Is “magical beings did it” satisfactory? If so, then I don’t see where physicalism would fail, even if it gave us nothing at all in terms of explanations, it’s just as good, but I digress)

    CharlieM:
    Materialism thus begins with the thought of matter or material processes.

    Nope. the physicalist would start with the phenomena at hand. In terms of physical stuff, sure, but a physicalist doesn’t need to remember that the phenomena involves physical stuff. Thus, a physicalist would focus.

    CharlieM:
    But, in doing so, it is already confronted by two different sets of facts: the material world, and the thoughts about it.

    Was Steiner on drugs? What does this even mean? Confronted by two different sets of facts? the material world and the thoughts about it? It was starting to be unintelligible in the previous sentence (a physicalist examining phenomena in nature by first remembering that it’s a physical phenomenon? What the hell is that?), this continues the unintelligibility theme. When a physicalist examines a phenomenon, the physicalist focuses on the phenomenon, not on how the thoughts about it come to be. Unintelligible rhetorical bullshit. Steiner could have saved this load of bullshit, but I think it’s rhetoric built to convince the convinced.

    CharlieM:
    The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes.

    What the hell does this even mean? The physicalists doesn’t have to remember that thoughts are physical phenomena (physical-chemical). That’s a given. So “seeking to make them intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes” doesn’t apply. This is unintelligible as well. Shows that Steiner has loads of hidden assumptions about how people proceed. But I’d have to wonder if Steiner, before examining any phenomena in nature, goes around remembering that there’s a magical being in the sky first, then regards thoughts as magical shit “seeking to make them intelligible.” How would that work at all?

    CharlieM:
    He believes that thinking takes place in the brain, much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he attributes mechanical and organic effects to matter, so he credits matter in certain circumstances with the capacity to think.

    Oh, seems like now we’re going to have some explanation to this convoluted piece of unintelligible crap.

    CharlieM:
    He overlooks that, in doing so, he is merely shifting the problem from one place to another.

    Shifting? Is this one going to be intelligible?

    CharlieM:
    He ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself.

    Nope. The physicalist doesn’t make a distinction between the physical form and the self. No shifting has occurred.

    CharlieM:
    And thus he is back again at his starting point.

    What fucking starting point? The natural phenomena?

    CharlieM:
    How does matter come to think about its own nature?

    So we’re supposed to imagine that the physicalist started by thinking about this very issue after Steiner told us that the starting point was some unnamed phenomena? What the hell?

    CharlieM:
    Why is it not simply satisfied with itself and content just to exist?

    Why should it be?

    CharlieM:
    The materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject, his own I, and has arrived at an image of something quite vague and indefinite.

    On the contrary, since the physicalist thinks of himself as physical, the image is far from vague and indefinite (vague and indefinite like souls and spirits?). It has position, shape, components. Steiner is projecting the problems of dualism onto physicalism.

    CharlieM:
    Here the old riddle meets him again. The materialistic conception cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it from one place to another.

    There was no riddle, no problem to solve, and no shifting. The whole rhetorical distraction was built just so that Steiner could get away with a non-sequitur without people noticing the huge jumps.

    So, the whole construct is rhetorical word salad at best. It’s written for people who already think lowly of physicalism, and who won’t check the word salad carefully enough.

  16. Erik: Incidentally, I am very well versed in dialectical materialism that used to be the official doctrine in certain parts of the world and fed to everyone since kindergarten. Steiner’s impression of physicalism is accurate.

    No it isn’t. It’s rhetorical bullshit.

  17. Erik: Please follow up on this. Will be interesting to see. Full account please, not an isolated unexplanatory sentence like walto does.

    Done. Now, please read for comprehension. Don’t focus on an isolated sentence, etc. If something is not clear, please ask, rather than assume.

  18. Entropy,

    I see. So your point of contention is this,

    Entropy: Was Steiner on drugs? What does this even mean? Confronted by two different sets of facts? the material world and the thoughts about it?

    Does the analogy of the map and the territory ring any bell? No? Well, so much about that then.

  19. Erik:
    Entropy,
    I see. So your point of contention is this,

    Nope. There’s not just one point of contention. The bullshit is unintelligible and loaded with unsupported assumptions. Why do you ask for things you’re not willing to do yourself? Read the whole thing. Make sure you understand it. Then we can talk.

  20. Entropy: Nope. There’s not just one point of contention. The bullshit is unintelligible and loaded with unsupported assumptions. Why do you ask for things you’re not willing to do yourself? Read the whole thing. Make sure you understand it. Then we can talk.

    If map versus territory is unintelligible to you, I don’t need to read the rest.

  21. Erik: If map versus territory is unintelligible to you, I don’t need to read the rest.

    I didn’t say that map versus territory is unintelligible, I said tht Steiner’s crap was unintelligible. Focus Erik.

    Why did you ask me not to isolate a sentence and then you come back and do exactly that, then you “shift” the whole think to your map/territory non-explanation? Check what I wrote. Read for comprehension. Steiner has loads of problems and hidden assumptions. Think. If that’s too hard for you, then just say so and we leave it there.

  22. Entropy: I didn’t say that map versus territory is unintelligible, I said tht Steiner’s crap was unintelligible. Focus Erik

    But Steiner was merely formulating map versus territory in a different wording. And you evidently still find it unintelligible after it has been explained to you in baby terms. Okay, carry on.

  23. Erik: But Steiner was merely formulating map versus territory in a different wording. And you evidently still find it unintelligible after it has been explained to you in baby terms. Okay, carry on.

    Nope. Steiner was making rhetorical “points” against materialism. No map/territory in that piece of crap. Why are you so unwilling to read what I wrote for comprehension? Why would you ask me not to do something, then that’s exactly what you do?

    (Saying “have you heard of map/territory” is not an explanation. At best it’s a red herring.)

  24. Consciousness is not electric. Consciousness is pattern. Its a pattern of information processing which scientists have only the faintest hint of at this point. In the case of our brains electric signaling is the medium for the pattern but anything else that could create similar patterns in combination with external stimuli would do. I would suggest ** that if one could create a brain from nothing but lead pipes filled with water with pistons at the ends for signaling it would be conscious. If one could code the memories of an individual in the strengths of connections at the ‘synapes’ this brain would think it is that person in some sort of sensory deprivation chamber. I would say that in a very real sense it would be that person. Now I realize the difficulty in creating something like this; one would have to take into consideration the physical properties of water, the friction at the pistons and a million other things. Depending on the size of the pipes this brain might be the size of the moon ( so gravitational effects would have to be taken into account) and might be so slow one thought would take a million years.
    However impractical creating such a brain would be, I think its possible in principle and more important, consideration of such a brain shakes one loose from the confusion between the conscious entity and the medium that generates it.

    ** I came up with this analogy decades ago while reading on the subject. Some years later Roger Penrose used the exact same analogy in a mocking way to suggest there must be something more to consciousness.

  25. Steiner (presumably): [Materialism] is already confronted by two different sets of facts: the material world, and the thoughts about it.

    Entropy: Was Steiner on drugs? What does this even mean? Confronted by two different sets of facts? the material world and the thoughts about it?

    Steiner proposes the distinction (a) the material world and (b) thoughts about it. You find this so unintelligible that he must be on drugs. Enough said.

  26. There’s nothing wrong with drawing a categorical distinction between our awareness of our thoughts and our awareness of sense-perceptible things, but it’s just sheer confusion to think that this distinction has any bearing on the truth or falsity of “materialism”, whatever that means.

  27. Erik: Steiner proposes the distinction (a) the material world and (b) thoughts about it. You find this so unintelligible that he must be on drugs. Enough said.

    Nope. Steiner was not focusing on the distinction between the material world and the thoughts about it. He said that when materialists start thinking of matter, they are confronted by two sets of facts, then Steiner continues with the second, with no focusing on the “world/thoughts-about-it” distinction. I suspect you didn’t read what Steiner wrote for comprehension either.

    But that was already wrong. As I said, it’s not just one point of contention. The problem with Steiner’s bullshit started a sentence before.

    When I think of a problem I never stop and think about matter in general. I think of the problem. When I think of the problem I don’t shift focus from the problem to my thoughts about the problem. When I think of a problem I don’t shift to the thoughts and then remind me again that thoughts are material processes, and I don’t go ahead and start all over from the material processes to the “two sets of facts.” Steiner’s crap is convoluted bullshit, and it has nothing to do with distinctions between maps and territories.

    I’d suggest a good course on reading for comprehension and that you should understand that if somebody tells you that there’s not just one point of contention they might mean it.

  28. keiths

    Entropy, responding to CharlieM’s Steiner quote:

    Sorry Charlie, but that looks a lot like a rhetorical word salad. If you got something from that, it would be better if you expressed the idea in intelligible terms, instead of just quoting and expecting readers to guess what that was all about.

    That quote is actually intelligible, if you can suppress the “eyes glazing over” response. The ideas are poor, but the passage is at least intelligible.

    Let’s take a closer look. Steiner:

    Steiner: Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin with the formation of thoughts about the phenomena of the world. Materialism thus begins with the thought of matter or material processes. But, in doing so, it is already confronted by two different sets of facts: the material world, and the thoughts about it. The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes. He believes that thinking takes place in the brain, much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal organs.

    So far, so good. He’s just saying that physicalists regard thought as a physical process taking place in the brain. Nothing objectionable there.

    Steiner: Just as he attributes mechanical and organic effects to matter, so he credits matter in certain circumstances with the capacity to think. He overlooks that, in doing so, he is merely shifting the problem from one place to another. He ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself.

    Here Steiner is just assuming his conclusion: that physicalism is false, and that the self is non-physical.

    No he isn’t. He is pointing out an obvious problem with materialism and he says nothing about the self other than that a person has a sense of self. Do you have a sense of self?

    keiths
    Next is where things become truly Steineresque:

    Steiner: And thus he is back again at his starting point. How does matter come to think about its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied with itself and content just to exist?

    As if matter had to decide that it wanted to be conscious, or to take up space, or to reflect light, and so on. Steiner has really gone off the rails here, personifying matter. It reminds me of his tomato rant.

    You are missing his point here. Why does matter not merely exist? Why does consciousness arise within matter? In other words he is posing a question that materialists (or anyone else for that matter) need to answer if they are to understand the world.

    keiths

    Steiner: The materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject, his own I, and has arrived at an image of something quite vague and indefinite.

    As if the soul were something definite and concrete, and matter just an amorphous and wispy figment of someone’s imagination. Um, Rudolf, it’s the other way around.

    I missed the point where he mentions ‘soul’ here. Because of the way you are arguing here, I suspect that you haven’t read any of the chapter apart from these quotes which I copied.

    keiths

    Steiner: Here the old riddle meets him again. The materialistic conception cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it from one place to another.

    Here Steiner is assuming his conclusion again: “The materialistic conception cannot solve the problem,” he states categorically. But of course he doesn’t know that. He just wants to believe it.

    He’s also applying a double standard. It’s true that physicalists haven’t solved the problem of consciousness, but neither have dualists. Physicalists can’t explain how matter achieves consciousness, but neither can dualists explain how purported souls or spirits achieve consciousness either. They just assume it.

    And of course the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of physicalism and against dualism, even in the absence of a satisfactory theory of consciousness.

    Poor thinking on Steiner’s part, but at least it’s intelligible.

    My suspicions are confirmed. You haven’t read the context or you would have realised that Steiner is not a dualist and he is not arguing from a position of spiritualism against materialism. If you cannot be bothered to read the chapter I linked to then a few more quotes should few more quotes from it should make it clear.

    Dualism pays attention only to the separation between I and World which the consciousness of man has brought about. All its efforts consist in a vain struggle to reconcile these opposites, which it calls now spirit and matter, now subject and object, now thinking and appearance. It feels that there must be a bridge between the two worlds but is not in a position to find it.

    and

    What of the spiritualistic theory? The genuine spiritualist denies to matter all independent existence and regards it merely as a product of spirit. But when he tries to use this theory to solve the riddle of his own human nature, he finds himself driven into a corner. Over against the “I” or Ego, which can be ranged on the side of spirit, there stands directly the world of the senses. No spiritual approach to it seems open. Only with the help of material processes can it be perceived and experienced by the “I”. Such material processes the “I” does not discover in itself so long as it regards its own nature as exclusively spiritual. In what it achieves spiritually by its own effort, the sense-perceptible world is never to be found. It seems as if the “I” had to concede that the world would be a closed book to it unless it could establish a non-spiritual relation to the world. Similarly, when it comes to action, we have to translate our purposes into realities with the help of material things and forces. We are, therefore, referred back to the outer world.

    Not only does he give details of the problems that materialists have to overcome, he also gives details of the problems facing spiritualist and dualists and monists.

  29. RodW: Consciousness is pattern. Its a pattern of information processing which scientists have only the faintest hint of at this point. In the case of our brains electric signaling is the medium for the pattern but anything else that could create similar patterns in combination with external stimuli would do.

    Couldn’t agree more. Spot on. What can an individual neurone do? It can receive signals from other neurones. It can emit nerve impulses which can be directed at other neurones. The rate of firing can vary (though not amplitude). There is inhibition as well as excitation. Hormones and other chemicals can produce general effects, mood change. A model that emulates all this might be a way into bottom-up study of how the brain works.

    (Lead and brains in combination? Not a good idea! 🙂 )

  30. CharlieM: You are missing his point here. Why does matter not merely exist?

    Why should matter “merely” exist?

    CharlieM: Why does consciousness arise within matter?

    Because that’s what’s there for consciousness to arise.

    CharlieM: In other words he is posing a question that materialists (or anyone else for that matter) need to answer if they are to understand the world.

    Nope. He’s just making rhetorical points.

  31. CharlieM: Not only does he give details of the problems that materialists have to overcome, he also gives details of the problems facing spiritualist and dualists and monists.

    Well, so he should! Dualism needs to explain two things more than eliminative materialism: how the immaterial mind is informed about the physical world and how it influences the physical world.

  32. Kantian Naturalist:
    There’s nothing wrong with drawing a categorical distinction between our awareness of our thoughts and our awareness of sense-perceptible things, but it’s just sheer confusion to think that this distinction has any bearing on the truth or falsity of “materialism”, whatever that means.

    If you don’t know what materialism means, then how do you know the distinction has no bearing on it? Ah, whatever. As you were.

  33. There must be some way I can bring Iain McGilchrist into this!

    All attempts at explanation depend, whether explicitly or implicitly, on drawing parallels between the thing to be explained and some other thing that we believe we already understand better. But the fundamental problem in explaining the experience of consciousness is that there is nothing else remotely like it to compare it with: it is itself the ground of all experience. There is nothing else which has the ‘inwardness’ that consciousness has. Phenomenologically, and ontologically, it is unique.

    McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (p. 19). Yale University Press. Édition du Kindle.

    I read that as saying there is a difficulty (perhaps an impossibility) for any entity to comprehend its own workings.

  34. Erik: If you don’t know what materialism means…

    To me it means “why insist on alternatives to materialistic explanations before you’ve even scratched the surface of understanding, let alone begun to eliminate them.”.

  35. Kantian Naturalist:
    There’s nothing wrong with drawing a categorical distinction between our awareness of our thoughts and our awareness of sense-perceptible things, but it’s just sheer confusion to think that this distinction has any bearing on the truth or falsity of “materialism”, whatever that means.

    The point of McGilChrist’s metaphor (The emissary as the left hemisphere and the master as the right hemisphere) is that we only experience “consciousness” via our left hemisphere. The right has to communicate via the left which can usurp that pathway. We are unaware of what the right hemisphere is up to.

    ETA and => which

  36. Alan Fox: The right has to communicate via the left which can usurp that pathway.

    I’m just seeing how mad that sounds. During introspection, what is communicating with what?

  37. keiths:

    If you’re interested in learning about physicalism, there’s plenty out there to read. I won’t spoon feed it to you.

    Erik:

    Incidentally, I am very well versed in dialectical materialism that used to be the official doctrine in certain parts of the world and fed to everyone since kindergarten.

    Anyone who thinks dialectical materialism is the be-all and end-all of physicalism has been living under a philosophical rock. Crawl out from under there, Erik, dust the pillbugs off, and learn a little bit about philosophy post-1800s. I’m not going to spoon feed physicalism to you when reams of information are there for the taking.

    Steiner’s impression of physicalism is accurate.

    No, and I’ve already pointed out his goofy personifying mistake.

    If you hold a different view, you will actually need to spell it out.

    You aspire to be a “philosophy guy”, Erik. Do you think it might help if you were actually a) interested in philosophy and b) willing to read about it?

    Steiner was under no obligation to be familiar with your particular world view.

    We aren’t talking about Steiner’s “obligations”. We’re evaluating his thought and its applicability to the question at hand. That’s why Charlie brought it up.

    Turns out it’s pretty useless, like most of Steiner’s musings.

  38. Steiner:

    The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes.

    I don’t know about “materialists” in the first place, but of course the “materialists” don’t make thoughts “intelligible” by regarding them as “purely material processes.” That’s just a placeholder for ignorance. Thought processes are rather observed to be occurring via specific nerve actions (notably the action-potentials).

    By now, too, we happen to have computers that, while they don’t think as such (and almost certainly aren’t conscious, especially not meaningfully so), they certainly can crunch the numbers, do the logic. “Materialists” don’t just say that “material processes” account for this, any more than they say it for thoughts in the brain.

    Steiner seems to be stuck on his own highly reductive notions of “materialism,” and doesn’t seem to get what the point is. “Matter” itself is a kind of construct, and it is an impressive accomplishment that we managed to conjure up atoms, electrons, and the whole bit. None of it was just some kind of assumption, it all came as the result of considerable effort and thought about how cause and effect work, and how we might understand phenomena.

    What Steiner really seems to be objecting to is simply the effort to understand, while he would much rather simply pontificate.

    Glen Davidson

  39. GlenDavidson: What Steiner really seems to be objecting to is simply the effort to understand, while he would much rather simply pontificate.

    Well, I am making a sincere effort to understand the following:

    GlenDavidson:
    The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells. It is not any other kind of information, such as quantum states of molecules, it is simply the information that nerve cells are known to carry via action-potentials.

    What does “information” mean in this passage? Particularly, “information that becomes conscious”?

    Generally people think that information is something that one becomes conscious of or that whenever one becomes conscious of anything, then that’s information, but here you are saying that information becomes conscious. How does that work? Can you elaborate?

  40. RodW,

    I lean toward functionalism myself, so I am quite sympathetic to your view that consciousness is medium-independent. However, you haven’t actually presented an argument for that view. You’ve just asserted it.

    You assert that consciousness is pattern, independent of medium, and you assert that the lead-pipe computer would be conscious.

    Do you have an argument for either of those claims?

  41. GlenDavidson: By now, too, we happen to have computers that, while they don’t think as such (and almost certainly aren’t conscious, especially not meaningfully so), they certainly can crunch the numbers, do the logic.

    Given sufficient requirements (a substrate that models human brain activity of comparable complexity) is there always a point where we can still say “that computer is pretty clever but it’s not thinking”? Nor meaningfully conscious? What is the difference that would always separate human thought from machine cognition?

  42. GlenDavidson: That’s just a placeholder for ignorance.

    Indeed. But we do’t know much about the physical functioning of thought, so do we need to look elsewhere before exhausting all the physical aspects?

  43. Erik: Generally people think that information is something that one becomes conscious of or that whenever one becomes conscious of anything, then that’s information, but here you are saying that information becomes conscious. How does that work? Can you elaborate?

    I’m not sure why there’s a problem. I was discussing conscious information as a subset of a larger set of conscious and unconscious information. Once there had been just unconscious information (picked up by the eye, say), then you have some conscious information down the line somewhere. It isn’t as if I were saying that information itself becomes conscious (I’m not ruling it out, but it’s not the point here at all).

    I guess maybe I should have written “The information that becomes conscious [information] is some of the information…” or even “The information [that conscious areas of the brain becomes conscious of] is some of the information…” It was just a kind of shorthand way of noting that information needn’t be something of which one is conscious, but that some of it is. I didn’t realize that it would be taken otherwise, although that’s the ambiguity of language.

    Glen Davidson

  44. Alan Fox: Given sufficient requirements (a substrate that models human brain activity of comparable complexity) is there always a point where we can still say “that computer is pretty clever but it’s not thinking”?

    That would depend on definitions. Even now, I suppose that we could consider a lot that computers do as “thinking,” but we don’t necessarily consider even unconscious activities in the brain to be “thinking,” so I suppose that’s where we often balk.

    Glen Davidson

  45. GlenDavidson,

    First, congrats this is an excellent post.

    Your theory proposes that conciseness exists in electric fields that are created by the brains physical processes. Do you have any comment on how the double slit experiment supports your hypothesis?

  46. Alan Fox: Indeed. But we do’t know much about the physical functioning of thought, so do we need to look elsewhere before exhausting all the physical aspects?

    I really don’t know where “else” to look. The point isn’t “physicalism” or some such thing, the “physicalism” that we know is the result of careful applications of epistemology and good old scientific analysis. It’s the way we’ve found to model phenomena so that they make sense, and work for practical solutions to problems.

    I don’t know of any alternative to good thinking, so I’ll stick with the science, which is derided as “physicalism” and “materialism.” If they actually ever find something other than empiricism that works, I’ll consider it.

    Glen Davidson

  47. colewd:
    GlenDavidson,

    First, congrats this is an excellent post.

    Your theory proposes that conciseness exists in electric fields that are created by the brains physical processes.Do you have any comment on how the double slit experiment supports your hypothesis?

    Thanks, but no, they’re really quite different phenomena in the practical sense. Essentially, electric fields and other electrical phenomena in the brain are modeled just fine via classical physics, while the double slit experiments require quantum explanation.

    Glen Davidson

  48. keiths:

    Here Steiner is just assuming his conclusion: that physicalism is false, and that the self is non-physical.

    CharlieM:

    No he isn’t. He is pointing out an obvious problem with materialism and he says nothing about the self other than that a person has a sense of self.

    It’s simple logic, Charlie. Steiner writes:

    He [the physicalist] ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself.

    That sentence assumes that the self is distinct from matter. In other words, it assumes that physicalism is false.

  49. GlenDavidson: I really don’t know where “else” to look.

    Me neither!

    The point isn’t “physicalism” or some such thing, the “physicalism” that we know is the result of careful applications of epistemology and good old scientific analysis.It’s the way we’ve found to model phenomena so that they make sense, and work for practical solutions to problems.

    I have to violently agree! 🙂

    I don’t know of any alternative to good thinking, so I’ll stick with the science, which is derided as “physicalism” and “materialism.”If they actually ever find something other than empiricism that works, I’ll consider it.

    Glen Davidson

    No derision from me. I was misreading you earlier and getting the tiniest whiff of dualism. As RodW mentioned, the encapsulation of thought must involve patterns. In fact I recall some research (was it with cat brains) suggesting the gross pattern of neuronal firing was a reproduction of visual perception. Since debunked, I think.

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