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.

337 Replies to “Why consciousness must be electric”

  1. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Entropy: On understanding the methods involved, of course. There’s an empirical way to get from one table to the other. There’s empirical ways to get to fields and spacetime deformations. That nobody has explained those in simpler terms doesn’t mean that, say, the physicist’s table is any less of a table than the naïve empiricist’s table, or that the tables are different.

    Sure, and that’s all perfectly true. I just think that one would need to make explicit that these empirical ways you’re alluding to here are actions, things that we do, with our bodies and tools. That’s important for avoiding Berkeley’s mistake — that everything that we experience with our senses must therefore take place in the mind.

  2. Neil Rickert
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    Kantian Naturalist: We might disagree on how much emphasis to place on language. Presently I’m reading up on a relatively new theory in the philosophy of cognitive science which suggests that language (more precisely: sociocultural practices that include learning and using a natural language) really does transform animal cognition in profound ways (see here and here).

    I mostly agree with that. But it also highlights our differences.

    For me, it was always animal cognition that needed to be explained. So I paid little attention to language. And that’s why I see things like justification of belief, the space of reasons, etc, as mostly a sideshow and a distraction.

    If we want to see the effects of language, we can look to computers and AI. But it was always obvious to me, that AI cannot work because it lacks the underlying animal cognition. So if we can explain animal cognition, then ideas from AI put on top of that animal cognition can mostly complete the picture.

    Granted, a grafting of AI on top of animal cognition isn’t quite right. And I’ve been exploring that. The main difference is that language emerges from the animal cognition, while AI is a case of intelligent design that we attempt to transplant on top of animal cognition. Transplants won’t work as well as what can naturally emerge. So they aren’t quite the same. An understanding of animal cognition is what helps see why they differ.

  3. Neil Rickert
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    Kantian Naturalist: But consider now: what should the naive empiricist say about electrons? Or gravitational fields? Shouldn’t her attitude towards distortions of space-time be just like her attitude towards gods and leprechauns?

    In short, shouldn’t the naive empiricist be just as skeptical about the posits of theoretical physics as she is about those of religions and myths?

    I see this as missing the big picture.

    Instead of looking at electrons and gravitation fields, why not look at phlogiston or at the luminiferous æther? These were posits of chemistry and physics. They were initially useful. They were abandoned when they were no longer useful.

    I see the role of Gods as similar. They were, at one time, useful as part of an explanation. We should be skeptical of them, because they are no longer useful. We should be just as skeptical of those as we are of phlogiston or as we are of the æther. And maybe the time will come when when electrons and gravitational fields are no longer useful. When that time comes, we should be skeptical of those entities.

    As for myths — science is full of myths, except we usually describe them as “idealizations” and “oversimplifications”. As long as they serve a useful role, we shall continue to use them.

  4. Erik
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    Neil Rickert,

    So the big picture is opportunistic and provisional, according to you. This inevitably means that there is a bigger picture and yours is not nearly big enough.

  5. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    says:

    Neil Rickert: For me, it was always animal cognition that needed to be explained. So I paid little attention to language. And that’s why I see things like justification of belief, the space of reasons, etc, as mostly a sideshow and a distraction.

    If we want to see the effects of language, we can look to computers and AI. But it was always obvious to me, that AI cannot work because it lacks the underlying animal cognition. So if we can explain animal cognition, then ideas from AI put on top of that animal cognition can mostly complete the picture.

    Granted, a grafting of AI on top of animal cognition isn’t quite right. And I’ve been exploring that. The main difference is that language emerges from the animal cognition, while AI is a case of intelligent design that we attempt to transplant on top of animal cognition. Transplants won’t work as well as what can naturally emerge. So they aren’t quite the same. An understanding of animal cognition is what helps see why they differ.

    I like almost all of this, but especially the last paragraph.

    I think that it’s fair to say that in my method, I aspire to a balance of top-down and bottom-up approaches. That’s why I seem too top-down for the bottom-up folks. That is, we need both an explication of what’s going on at the linguistic level, with all of the claims going back and forth in the space of reasons — and that’s the level of concern to epistemologists, by and large — and a nuanced model of animal cognition.

  6. GlenDavidson
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    Neil Rickert: I see the role of Gods as similar. They were, at one time, useful as part of an explanation.

    Were they useful as part of an explanation? I can see how that might be true in the simple sense that humans like stories, anthropomorphizing stories especially, but in the scientific or pragmatic sense I really don’t see how gods were useful as part of explanation.

    In a psychologic/cognitive sense, it’s true that monotheistic-type gods (whether technically so or not, such as the trinity) might have been useful, since one could “base” everything on god and yet look for secondary causes for any accessible answers to physics, and to biology, for many believers. But that wouldn’t generally be considered a good pragmatic reason for the usefulness of gods. On the other hand, maybe it should be.

    Glen Davidson

  7. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist,

    Linguistics is only your left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is doing stuff, too. We’re just unaware of it because (I think) we’re confined by linguistics in our awareness. Inspiration, leaps of faith, intuition that non-verbally stuff is fizzing away on the right.

  8. keiths keiths
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    CharlieM, “replying” to my comment:

    keiths:
    keiths:

    You say that Steiner, in claiming that the materialist ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself, he is inferring here that the self is not material. But it is clear from the context of the chapter that this quote is taken from that he is not inferring this.

    I didn’t even mention that problem in the comment you are replying to.

    Maybe you should read the whole chapter

    Maybe you should read my comments instead of assuming that you already know what’s in them.

    What is wrong with you, Charlie? If you have no interest in a discussion, then just say so.

  9. Neil Rickert
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    GlenDavidson: Were they useful as part of an explanation? I can see how that might be true in the simple sense that humans like stories, anthropomorphizing stories especially, but in the scientific or pragmatic sense I really don’t see how gods were useful as part of explanation.

    I’m remembering back to when I first read Genesis 1. And I could already see that it was false. But it seemed to give a pretty good picture of the world as it would have been seen at one time. So I took it as a kind of early scientific explanation. And a God was needed to fill in the gaps in that explanation, much as the æther was once needed to fill in some of the gaps in our explanation of light.

  10. Neil Rickert
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    Erik: So the big picture is opportunistic and provisional, according to you.

    All of life is opportunistic, and much of science is provisional.

  11. Entropy Entropy
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    Neil Rickert: For me, it was always animal cognition that needed to be explained. So I paid little attention to language. And that’s why I see things like justification of belief, the space of reasons, etc, as mostly a sideshow and a distraction.

    This was insightful.

  12. CharlieM CharlieM
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    says:

    keiths:

    CharlieM: You say that Steiner, in claiming that the materialist ascribes the power of thinking to matter instead of to himself, he is inferring here that the self is not material. But it is clear from the context of the chapter that this quote is taken from that he is not inferring this.

    I didn’t even mention that problem in the comment you are replying to.

    In the post I was replying to you invited me to:

    Quote the specific statement(s) of mine that you disagree with

    You replied to Eric:

    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.

    And you repeated that statement in a reply to me here and here.
    Well I disagree with that statement. Steiner is not taking anything about the self for granted.

    I may not have quoted it directly, which I would have done if i’d had more time, but it is easy enough to find.

    You must think it important because you repeat it yet again here and then state that:

    Steiner is making a stupid error

    This is another statement I disagree with.

    I read your post and fired off a quick reply intending to give it a closer look when I could find the time. It is up to me which of your comments I reply to and I’ll reply in whichever way I choose 🙂 Just because I posted one reply does not mean there isn’t more to come.

  13. keiths keiths
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    Charlie,

    As you know perfectly well, I was referring to a particular error of Steiner’s, which I discussed at length in my comment. You are referring to a different error of Steiner’s. There are many, of course.

    Why did you change the subject, instead of responding to my criticism? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

    You have a bad habit of trying to sidestep difficulties by changing the subject. I am not the only one to have noticed this. Here’s Entropy:

    It’s too clear already. Explained many times to you, you keep sidetracking. Confront the crap head on! Stop sidetracking.

    And:

    Do you understand this? What about instead of sidetracking you repeat the objection, in your own words, to show us that you do understand it?

    And:

    Why is this so hard for you to focus on? We can talk about justifications later, but stop side-stepping.

    The fact that your mouth is unable to form the words “Steiner is wrong”, and that your fingers clench involuntarily at the thought of typing them, is not a valid excuse for your evasions.

    I have identified a particular error of Steiner’s. It’s a simple error of logic, in which Steiner assumes that a decision to think must precede actual thinking. He fails to recognize that deciding to think is itself a form of thinking, and that his assumption is therefore logically incoherent.

    Resisting the urge to evade, can you defend Steiner? Or do you acknowledge his error?

    Or, like a Scientologist defending L. Ron Hubbard, will you refuse to acknowledge Steiner’s error despite being unable to defend his poor thinking?

  14. Entropy Entropy
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    keiths,

    Either Charlie authentically cannot read for comprehension, or sidestepping has become his second nature. I’m not bothering anymore. You quoted the crap many times. I quoted the crap many times, yet Charlie seems unable to read it and see the fucking mistake. Too many times already. So many it doesn’t seem like he’s about to read it any time soon.

  15. keiths keiths
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    Entropy,

    Either Charlie authentically cannot read for comprehension, or sidestepping has become his second nature.

    I think it’s the latter. Sidestepping and subject-changing have become Charlie’s defense of choice against the cognitive dissonance associated with being a Steiner devotee.

    Imagine the massive task of reconciliation that faces someone like Charlie.

    Charlie wants to see Steiner as a misunderstood genius, a pioneer, a man with special access to spiritual truths obtained through “clairvoyant investigation”, a man worth devoting decades of your life to studying.

    The reality is that Steiner was a confused crackpot with a group of devoted and credulous followers; a man who lacked basic skills for distinguishing reality from fantasy, prone to pontificating on the social lives of tomatoes. A poor thinker whose errors are easily spotted by intelligent readers with a modicum of critical sense. A man whom Charlie has wasted decades studying.

    How to reconcile those opposing views of Steiner? For Charlie, the answer is to suppress the realistic view so that the fantasy can survive. Sidestepping and subject-changing are a means to that end. It isn’t very honest, but desperate circumstances require desperate measures.

  16. GlenDavidson
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    One problem with Steiner is that he’s too much like most pseudoscientists, he criticizes science, but is rather vague about what the problem purportedly is. I don’t even see that he’s necessarily saying that “mind” isn’t matter, his complaint seems to be that somehow it makes no sense to say that “matter thinks” even in very special organs, such as the brain. So supposedly it just moves the problem around, which is hardly what has characterized brain studies, even those in his time.

    There’s enough fuzziness that it sounds profound to many people, and yet it’s so vague that it seems to his followers that one can save the problems that arise in Steiner’s writings despite his vagueness. So one could imagine that Steiner’s open to the mind being material, when it’s clear to non-sycophants that he’s essentially ruling that out, at least as something that can be reasonably inferred (yet maybe it’s possible in some unknowable way). And actually, while he’s really down on materialism as inadequate to explaining the world in Charlie’s quote, he does seem to actually see a role for brain in thinking in yet another set of, well, pretty pathetic rambling speculations:

    The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain; it destroys something in the brain. Every thought means that a minute process of destruction takes place in the cells of the brain. For this reason sleep is necessary for us, in order that this process of destruction may be made good; during sleep we restore what during the day was destroyed in our nervous system by thinking. What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system.

    https://rudolfsteinerquotes.wordpress.com/tag/brain/

    Yes, there you are, the brain does play a role here (not clear what, really), but every single thought is destructive of the nervous system. Hence the need for sleep. To be sure, brains, like anything, are subject to a certain amount of wear and tear even in ordinary use, and sleep does appear to be a time of fixing losses and problems. A bit of truth there, then, but the idea that any conscious awareness in an “ordinary thought” is in reality the process of destruction of the nervous system is ridiculous. Then he really gets screwy, though:

    In this example, by means of meditation we hold the thought back so far that it does not connect itself with the brain. If in this way we unfold an inner activity of thinking that is not connected with the brain, through the effects of such meditation upon the soul we shall feel that we are on the right path. As in meditative thinking no process of destruction is evoked in our nervous system, this kind of thinking never causes sleepiness, however long it may be continued, as ordinary thinking may easily do.

    Ibid.

    Yes, meditative thinking doesn’t destroy brain/nervous system like ordinary thinking. Because… Hm, well, that’s what Steiner thought (and I guess the “evidence” is that meditation doesn’t cause sleepiness, which appears to be nothing but another Steiner proclamation).

    The guy seems never to have a thought meaningfully tied to reality at all. Reality sort of floats around in his mind, but it’s just grist for speculating some utterly screwy notion and stating that as basically indubitable truth.

    Glen Davidson

  17. CharlieM CharlieM
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    says:

    J-Mac:
    CharlieM,

    CharlieM,

    Does Steiner mention anything about near-death experiences?
    I’m trying to get as much info on these as possible….

    He talked a lot about the process of dying in general but I’m not sure if he but I’m not sure if he talked about any specific examples in detail.

    I found this facebook page with links to sites where you could ask. I haven’t looked into it myself and I no nothing about the people from the above link, but I’m sure you can judge for yourself how genuine they are and I don’t suppose it can do any harm to ask them a question or two.

  18. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Neil Rickert,

    Two relatively minor points . . .

    1. It seems like we’re shoehorning myths into a modernist worldview by interpreting them as primitive attempts at explanation. Whatever the cognitive function of myths (and I don’t doubt that there was one), I don’t think that it was really about explanation in our ‘modern’ sense. I’m much more inclined to think of the cognitive function of myths in terms of information transmission in the absence of literacy than in terms of explanation. (See When They Severed Earth From Sky.)

    2. I’m still inclined to be more of a scientific realist than you are, which is to say, that I’m still inclined to say that scientific progress consists in asymptotically approaching the fundamental structure of reality. But I acknowledge that making this version of scientific realism — what’s called “convergent realism” — work is really quite difficult, in part because it’s hard to compare very different scientific theories and in part because our idea of what that fundamental structure might be is always projected from within the current scientific theories that we actually have.

  19. Neil Rickert
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    Kantian Naturalist: Whatever the cognitive function of myths (and I don’t doubt that there was one), I don’t think that it was really about explanation in our ‘modern’ sense.

    That probably correct. It wasn’t a scientific explanation, in the modern sense. But it might have been a folklore explanation.

    My best guess at the role of myths, is that they were a kind of cultural memory. This was long before the invention of the press.

    I’m still inclined to be more of a scientific realist than you are, which is to say, that I’m still inclined to say that scientific progress consists in asymptotically approaching the fundamental structure of reality.

    Yes, I agree that you are more of a realist (in that sense). I’m a realist in the alternative sense of realizing that there’s no such thing as “the fundamental structure of reality.” I think that difference is mainly because I’m a mathematician. So I am well aware how easy it can be to transform one kind of structure into another.

    This also relates to the distinction between animal cognition and language oriented cognition. When we are using language, we tend to see most decisions as being made on the basis of truth. But for a non-linguistic animal, it seems doubtful that there could be any consideration of truth. So it would need to be pragmatic decision making.

  20. Erik
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    Neil Rickert: For me, it was always animal cognition that needed to be explained.

    That’s right ! When one is purporting to *explain* things from bottom up, one must demonstrate the mechanics of how it works starting from the bottom upwards, just like the top-down explanation does it in the reverse direction. Otherwise we are dealing with a non-explanation and adding nothing to what we know about things. This is where I see the burden of proof of materialism/naturalism/scientism to be and I also see them as reducing our knowledge, instead of increasing it.

    Credit to Neil where credit is due, even if it’s for a moment only.

  21. Erik
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    GlenDavidson: Yes, there you are, the brain does play a role here (not clear what, really)…

    The role actually is quite clear from the quote: The brain plays a passive receptive role. The brain is not the source of thought, but the receptor, just like all other sense-organs (of vision, smell, touch, etc.) are receptors of objective sensation, not sources.

    Odd how ideas that were commonly known in pre-modern (classical and scholastic) era have been forgotten so thoroughly that they are “not clear” or even “unintelligible” for people this century. This tells much more about the people of the modern era than about the ideas of past eras.

  22. keiths keiths
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    says:

    petrushka,

    Keiths, I did not assert either of those claims.

    They’re assumptions, not assertions, and the argument you’ve been making depends on them.

    This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed this. Here’s a statement of yours from 2013:

    The specific reason I am pessimistic about AI is that I think we do not know how to emulate chemistry.

    Your reasoning is clear: you think that we can’t achieve our AI ambitions unless we successfully emulate brains, and that we can’t successfully emulate brains unless we successfully emulate chemistry.

    Again, I don’t see a basis for those assumptions. The most successful current AI implementations use artificial neural networks, but those networks are not brain emulations and they do not depend on chemistry.

    Why do you believe that such an approach must ultimately fizzle out, making it necessary to emulate chemistry?

    In that same thread, you suggested that neurons do something noncomputable. If that were the case, and if AI depended on emulating the noncomputable function, whatever that might be, then your skepticism would make sense. But despite my asking, you neither identified anything noncomputable about neuronal operation nor showed that AI would depend on it.

    Can you come up with anything?

  23. keiths keiths
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    says:

    Erik:

    Odd how ideas that were commonly known in pre-modern (classical and scholastic) era have been forgotten so thoroughly that they are “not clear” or even “unintelligible” for people this century.

    They haven’t been forgotten. They’ve been rejected because they don’t make sense and they don’t match the evidence.

    There are always people like you, Charlie, and Steiner who resist progress.

  24. Erik
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    keiths,

    There are always people like keiths who can’t tell regress apart from progress.

  25. CharlieM CharlieM
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    says:

    keiths: I have identified a particular error of Steiner’s. It’s a simple error of logic, in which Steiner assumes that a decision to think must precede actual thinking. He fails to recognize that deciding to think is itself a form of thinking, and that his assumption is therefore logically incoherent.

    Resisting the urge to evade, can you defend Steiner? Or do you acknowledge his error?

    Yes I can and no I don’t. But thankyou for prompting me to think more deeply about this subject.

    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. It reminds me of his tomato rant…

    I wonder who it is that has the double standards. You accuse Steiner of personifying matter. But then you go on to say, ‘To ascribe the power of thinking to oneself is to ascribe the power of thinking to matter’.

    and:

    keiths:
    …imagine taking a living human brain in a normal, living person and replacing one single neuron with a behaviorally identical artificial neuron, implemented using a completely different underlying technology. The rest of the brain wouldn’t see a difference; the artificial neuron wouldn’t behave any differently from the one it replaced. The person would function as before.

    You’ve just anthropomorphized the brain.

    From an earlier post you say:

    keiths
    It’s true that physicalists haven’t solved the problem of consciousness,..Physicalists can’t explain how matter achieves consciousness…

    You don’t know how it is achieved but you do know that it originates in the brain. How do you know this?

    You claim that anyone who makes a distinction between the self and matter is saying that physicalism is false. I have already argued why this claim is wrong.

    But to emphasize the point. If they were equivalent we could say, “‘my brain went for a walk’, instead of ‘I went for a walk’. But how can the brain go for a walk, it has no legs.

    keiths
    You could also put it this way: To say that matter exists is to say that it instantiates its properties. Once it exists, those properties are in play. Matter doesn’t come into existence and then decide to exert a gravitational force. Likewise, it doesn’t come into existence and then decide to think. It just exists, and existence means that its properties are instantiated.

    and:

    keiths
    When a physicalist ascribes the power of thinking to matter, he is also ascribing the power of thinking to himself. Why? Because the physicalist regards himself as a material being, of course. Self and matter go together. To ascribe the power of thinking to oneself is to ascribe the power of thinking to matter.

    Anyone who believes:

    1. The self has the power of thinking
    2. The brain has the power of thinking
    3. Matter has the power of thinking.

    is perfectly entitled to ask:

    1. How does the self come to think about its own nature?
    2. How does the brain come to think about its own nature?
    3. How does matter come to think about its own nature?

    Surely these are fair questions to ask.

    But you say:

    keiths
    1. The physicalist ascribes the power of thinking to himself.
    2. The physicalist regards himself as a material being.
    3. Thus, when he ascribes the power of thinking to himself, he is also ascribing the power of thinking to matter.

    4. Steiner assumes that the physicalist cannot ascribe the power of thinking both to himself and to matter.
    5. Thus, Steiner is assuming that physicalism is false.

    He messed up pretty badly, Charlie. It’s embarrassing.

    The problem here is that your points 4 & 5 are incorrect. This is not what Steiner is assuming. He is examining the materialist’s attempt to understand thinking. He has no problem with anyone believing that thinking can be consecutively thought of as the product of the self, that brain and matter. What he is saying is that this does not get them any nearer to understanding thinking. Thinking is a consciousness activity and merely stating that it is present in any or all of these three entities does not begin to explain it. How does it make the understanding of thinking any clearer by moving it from a function of the self to a function of matter make it any more understandable?

    keiths
    If matter can reflect light or take up space without previously deciding to do so, why must it decide to think prior to thinking? And how do you resolve the logical inconsistency that I’ve pointed out, which Steiner failed to notice?

    Because matter does not decide anything. The individual self makes decisions. The individual self has both a material body and a thinking mind. How does the self come to think about its own nature? How does matter come to think about its own nature? For Steiner materialists can ask either of these questions but it cannot answer them, It makes no difference which way they phrase the question.

    Just because I have eyes composed of matter does not mean I can see. I need much more than just my eyes to see.

    keiths
    Steiner is claiming that if the physicalist is correct, then the following sequence must occur, in the specified order:

    1. matter decides to think
    2. matter thinks

    What he fails to recognize is that deciding is a form of thinking. If thinking cannot occur until after a decision is made, then thinking can never get off the ground, because the decision itself is a thought. It’s simple logic.

    Not sure why you think they need to be in that particular order but even if it is so you have still failed to interpret Steiner correctly. What you should have written is:

    1. matter decides to think about the material world.
    2. matter thinks about the material world.

    For example there is a difference between saying, ‘I have decided to study geometry’ and ‘I am studying geometry’.

    keiths
    He’s making a very basic logic mistake.

    Do you deny that?

    Yes.

    keiths
    He foolishly imagines that matter has to become dissatisfied and then, as a result of that dissatisfaction, decide to think. Having made the decision to think, matter then thinks.

    And so his objection is: How does the physicalist explain this dissatisfaction, and the subsequent decision to think?..

    it isn’t surprising to see him anthropomorphizing matter that has not yet begun to think. And because this instinct is so strong in him, he fails to see the logical problems it presents.

    It is you who has anthropomorphized matter (the brain). He is just following the materialist’s lead.

    keiths
    I have identified a particular error of Steiner’s. It’s a simple error of logic, in which Steiner assumes that a decision to think must precede actual thinking. He fails to recognize that deciding to think is itself a form of thinking, and that his assumption is therefore logically incoherent.

    See my comments above.

  26. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    says:

    I have a pretty clear idea of what an Aristotelian or Scholastic philosopher means by “material” (the sheer potentiality to be in-formed, to become a determinate thing). And I have a pretty clear idea of what an Epicurean philosopher means by “matter” (extraordinarily tiny little objects that get pushed about by various forces). And sure, lots of philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries drew on these ideas in interesting and creative ways. (There was actually a lively debate in 18th-century Britain as to whether it was even possible that matter could think.)

    But what I don’t understand is what Steiner could mean by ‘matter’, or why his conception of ‘matter’ — whatever that is — is of any use today in understanding the metaphysics of 21st century physics and biology.

  27. Erik
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    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: But what I don’t understand is what Steiner could mean by ‘matter’, or why his conception of ‘matter’ — whatever that is — is of any use today in understanding the metaphysics of 21st century physics and biology.

    But elsewhere you argue that metaphysics is unnecessary altogether. You are a lucid example how people of 21st century do not understand the importance of philosophy in general and metaphysics in particular, and the little that they give credit to, mostly epistemology, they unduly subject to the diktat of science, even when science is – both when properly understood from the philosophical perspective and self-admittedly – provisional, largely limited to the empirical realm, and almost entirely limited to the inductive reasoning, while philosophers (should) know the proper value of that which is beyond the empirical and the inductive.

    All of which goes to explain why you don’t understand the concept of ‘matter’ etc.

  28. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: But what I don’t understand is what Steiner could mean by ‘matter’

    I would say that by matter Steiner means any physical substance that we perceive directly as solid, liquid or gas and anything in between.

  29. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: The role actually is quite clear from the quote: The brain plays a passive receptive role. The brain is not the source of thought, but the receptor, just like all other sense-organs (of vision, smell, touch, etc.) are receptors of objective sensation, not sources.

    Odd how ideas that were commonly known in pre-modern (classical and scholastic) era have been forgotten so thoroughly that they are “not clear” or even “unintelligible” for people this century. This tells much more about the people of the modern era than about the ideas of past eras.

    Actually, it’s not clear from the quote. More importantly, while it’s reasonable enough from other things that Goethe (whose influence on Steiner was large) and Steiner wrote that the role the brain plays is as a receptor to their way of thinking, no, I’m not just going to assume that’s what is meant in a given passage, unlike yourself (you didn’t quote anything that backed up your claim, you merely asserted it in your usual churlish and unintellectual manner). Why ordinary conscious thought would be received that way because of damage to the brain is not at all clear from any role the brain may have as a receptor.

    Above all, who really cares what Steiner thought about brains, when it has never been based on detailed facts, and has never led to anything like a useful model of the nervous system? The quote reveals the worthlessness of Steiner’s thought, not something that needs elucidation, let alone Erik’s inadequately-backed assertions.

    Glen Davidson

  30. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: Above all, who really cares what Steiner thought about brains, when it has never been based on detailed facts

    And you know this, how?

  31. Erik
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: Actually, it’s not clear from the quote. More importantly, while it’s reasonable enough from other things that Goethe (whose influence on Steiner was large) and Steiner wrote that the role the brain plays is as a receptor to their way of thinking, no, I’m not just going to assume that’s what is meant in a given passage, unlike yourself (you didn’t quote anything that backed up your claim, you merely asserted it in your usual churlish and unintellectual manner).

    Okay, here it is, “The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain; it destroys something in the brain. Every thought means that a minute process of destruction takes place in the cells of the brain. […] during sleep we restore what during the day was destroyed in our nervous system by thinking.”

    So, is it clear or not that the brain’s role is passive and receptive here (while “ordinary thinking” is active, above and beyond the brain) or is it still somehow unclear? Am I merely assuming and asserting it or is it in plain sight in the quote?

    I’m not expecting you to give an unbiased answer.

  32. OMagain
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: There are always people like keiths who can’t tell regress apart from progress.

    What is the single most important piece of evidence that supports the “mind as radio” idea you hold to?

    Also why would we abandon a useful productive idea in favour of one that is less useful or productive? Presumably it’s because we then don’t have to “admit” that if the brain is a radio then the “soul” and “god” must also be real? Is it something like that?

  33. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM: And you know this, how?

    From his muddled ideas of “ordinary thought” being conscious because of damage done to the brain, and the wholly unsupported nonsense that meditation by contrast does not cause damage.

    You should have been able to pick up on such obvious problems, but, well, no.

    Glen Davidson

  34. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: Okay, here it is, “The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain; it destroys something in the brain. Every thought means that a minute process of destruction takes place in the cells of the brain. […] during sleep we restore what during the day was destroyed in our nervous system by thinking.”

    So, is it clear or not that the brain’s role is passive and receptive here (while “ordinary thinking” is active, above and beyond the brain) or is it still somehow unclear?

    It’s not clear at all from that. Do you just assume whatever you want to when reading something? I noted that I am aware that other writings by Steiner and Goethe–a major influence on Steiner–do suggest the idiotic notion that for them the brain is merely receptive, but your quote (of which I am well aware–why would that be in doubt, dim bulb Erik?) just doesn’t say that at all. And, since I don’t know if Steiner was or was not typically consistent, I don’t wish to simply assume from other passages that Steiner is thinking of the brain as wholly passive (vis-a-vis “thought”) in the passage to which I linked.

    Am I merely assuming and asserting it or is it in plain sight in the quote?

    I guess for someone with the grasp of the written word that you have, it must be obvious. To good readers, that’s not a legitimate conclusion at all.

    I’m not expecting you to give an unbiased answer.

    No, I know, an unbiased answer to you is something that fits with your preconceptions. So sure, just wallow in your biases.

    Glen Davidson

  35. Erik
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: It’s not clear at all from that.

    Okay, take a look again:

    “The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain…”

    So, which one affects the other? It says thinking injures the brain, i.e. thinking affects the brain. So, thinking is in the active role, the brain is in the passive role.

    I will get back to you when you have acquired basic reading skills. Some other year perhaps.

  36. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: Okay, take a look again:

    “The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain…”

    So, which one affects the other? It says thinking injures the brain, i.e. thinking affects the brain. So, thinking is in the active role, the brain is in the passive role.

    Sorry, that doesn’t follow at all. If “ordinary thinking” really involves the brain, along with the “soul,” then clearly the brain needn’t be merely passive for Steiner in that passage. I’m aware that it could be so, but nothing in the linked passage by itself indicates that it is.

    I will get back to you when you have acquired basic reading skills. Some other year perhaps.

    Oh, it would require some serious dementia for me to have the reading skills you demonstrate, Erik.

    Glen Davidson

  37. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: and the wholly unsupported nonsense that meditation by contrast does not cause damage.

    Have you looked at Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience and other such studies?

  38. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM: Have you looked at Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience and other such studies?

    And exercise improves muscles–partly by causing damage that kicks in regenerative capacity.

    Don’t know how it is with yoga and all of that, but lots of things improve brain function, including physical and mental exercise.

    Glen Davidson

  39. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM: I would say that by matter Steiner means any physical substance that we perceive directly as solid, liquid or gas and anything in between.

    Well, we don’t perceive reactions between subatomic particles directly as anything — so those aren’t “material”? How much of quantum mechanics isn’t about “matter”?

  40. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t see how anyone could think that brains are “passive” if you’ve seen fMRI scans are what brains are doing when people are performing a cognitive task. Brains obviously aren’t the whole story, but they’re a really important part of it. (For what little it’s worth, I recommend Out of Our Heads by Alva Noë.)

  41. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    Glen, you say I should have picked up on Steiner’s:

    GlenDavidson: …wholly unsupported nonsense that meditation by contrast does not cause damage.

    and that I:

    …should have been able to pick up on such obvious problems, but, well, no.

    But in your reply as to how you know these things you state:

    GlenDavidson: Don’t know how it is with yoga and all of that, but lots of things improve brain function, including physical and mental exercise.

    There are certain things I have picked up on. For a start you are saying that his comments about meditation are unsupported nonsense and yet you state that you, “Don’t know how it is with yoga and all of that”. So you are making a judgement before having the knowledge to back it up.

  42. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: Well, we don’t perceive reactions between subatomic particles directly as anything — so those aren’t “material”? How much of quantum mechanics isn’t about “matter”?

    Here is the beginning paragraph of an essay that Steiner wrote when he was 21 years old. He sent a copy to Friedrich Theodor Vischer for his opinion:

    Modern natural science regards Experience as the only source for the investigation of truth. And not wrongly, to be sure. Its area is the realm of outer, spatial things and temporal processes. How should one be able to make anything out about an object belonging to the outer world, without having gotten to know it by means of sense-perception, that is, the only manner of coming in contact with things spatial-temporal. First get to know the object, [see note 1] and then theorize about it, so goes the maxim asserted by modern science over against the speculative systems of the philosophers of nature from the beginning of this century. This principle is completely justified, but by an erroneous conception, it has led science astray. The misunderstanding lies in the character attributed by the inductive method, and by the materialism and atomism issuing from it, to general concepts. For the person of understanding, there can be no doubt that the current state of natural science in its theoretical part is essentially influenced by concepts as they have become dominant through Kant. If we want to go into this relationship more closely, we must commence our consideration with him. Kant limited the scope of Recognition to Experience, because in the sensory material communicated by it, he found the only possibility of filling in the concept-patterns, the categories, inherent in our mental organization, by themselves quite empty. For him, sensory content was the only form of such a conceptual pattern. Thereby he had steered the world’s judgment into other courses. If, earlier, one had thought of concepts and laws as belonging to the outer world, if one had ascribed to them objective validity, now they seemed to be given merely by the nature of the “I.” The outer world counted merely as raw material, to be sure, yet as that which alone reality was to be ascribed to. This standpoint was inherited from Kant by Inductive Science. It too counts the material world as the only thing real; for it, concepts and laws are justified only to the extent that they have that world as their content and mediate the recognizing of it. It regards concepts reaching beyond this realm as unreal. For it, general thoughts and laws are mere abstractions, derived from the agreements experienced in a series of observations. It knows mere subjective maxims, generalizations, no concrete concepts bearing their validity in themselves. This must be borne in mind if one wants to penetrate from a lot of murky concepts circulating nowadays through to complete clarity. One will first have to ask oneself: what then is Experience, really, gained of this or that object? In works on the philosophy of experience, one will search in vain for a matter-of-fact, satisfying answer to this certainly justified question.

    And here is a relevant passage, but it really needs to be read in the context of the whole.

    However opinions may diverge in the detail, atomism ultimately amounts to regarding all sensory qualities, such as: tone, warmth, light, scent, and so on, indeed, if one considers the way thermodynamics derives Boyle’s law, even pressure, as mere semblance, mere function of the world of atoms. Only the atom counts as ultimate factor of reality. To be consistent, one must now deny it every sensory quality,because otherwise a thing would be explained out of itself. One did, to be sure, when one set about to build up an atomistic world system, [see note 3] attribute to the atom all kinds of sensory qualities, albeit only in quite meager abstraction. One regards it, now as extended and impenetrable, now as mere energy center, etc. But thereby one committed the greatest inconsistency, and showed that one had not considered the above, which shows quite clearly that no sensory characteristics whatsoever may be attributed to the atom at all. Atoms must have an existence inaccessible to sensory experience. On the other hand, though, also, they themselves, and also the processes occurring in the world of atoms, especially movements, are not supposed to be something merely conceptual. The concept, after all, is something merely universal, which is without spatial existence. But the atom is supposed, even if not itself spatial, yet to be there in space, to present something particular. It is not supposed to be exhausted in its concept, but rather to have, beyond that, a form of existence in space. With that, there is taken into the concept of the atom a property that annihilates it. The atom is supposed to exist analogously to the objects of outer perception, yet not be able to be perceived. In its concept, viewability is at once affirmed and denied.

    I hope this clears up where Steiner is coming from with regards to matter.

  43. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I don’t see how anyone could think that brains are “passive” if you’ve seen fMRI scans are what brains are doing when people are performing a cognitive task. Brains obviously aren’t the whole story, but they’re a really important part of it. (For what little it’s worth, I recommend Out of Our Heads by Alva Noë.)

    The mind and the brain are in reality not separate entities. It is only in human thinking that they are torn apart. It is possible for someone to be a monist without at the same time being a materialist or a physicalist.

    I followed your link and that book looks interesting. I’ll read the sections that are available on Amazon.

  44. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM:
    Glen, you say I should have picked up on Steiner’s:

    and that I:

    But in your reply as to how you know these things you state:

    There are certain things I have picked up on. For a start you are saying that his comments about meditation are unsupported nonsense and yet you state that you, “Don’t know how it is with yoga and all of that”. So you are making a judgement before having the knowledge to back it up.

    Oh please, your meaningless response about yoga is supposed to be credited as a decent response to my noting that his meditation claim is vacuous? Sorry, I made a good point about how things actually work in the body, with benefits and damage often being directly related, admitted that I don’t know exactly what’s going on with yoga and all of that (you certainly don’t, just waved your hand like evidence of beneficial effects from yoga supported Steiner’s idiotic nonsense), and let it go.

    You’re just blowing smoke. You have no more to back up Steiner’s mindless bullshit than he did, and I thought I was being rather diplomatic regarding such ridiculously bizarre claims based on nothing of consequence. It’s the old burden of “proof” switch again, you and Steiner make dull, meaningless, evidence-free claims, I call you on it, and because I don’t know all of the physical processes involved in yoga (you don’t, and really I doubt anyone does much) I’m supposed to accede to the utter nonsense that you and Steiner bleat.

    I made a good general response to meaningless tripe from you that wasn’t dismissive like it could well have been, and you’re whining that I don’t know everything about yoga, etc., so apparently it’s up to me to agree with your evidence-free beliefs. It doesn’t happen that way. You provided nothing but worthless junk, just like Steiner did.

    Glen Davidson

  45. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson,

    You are the one making claims about meditation, so it’s up to you to back those claims up. All I asked was how do you know these things are rubbish.

  46. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM:
    GlenDavidson,

    You arethe one making claims about meditation, so it’s up to you to back those claims up. All I asked was how do you know these things are rubbish.

    No, I’m not. Steiner made the claims about meditation, and instead of backing them up any better than Steiner did, you merely try to claim that I made the claims. This is what Steiner wrote:

    As in meditative thinking no process of destruction is evoked in our nervous system, this kind of thinking never causes sleepiness, however long it may be continued, as ordinary thinking may easily do.

    And that has to be understood in the context of his claims that conscious awareness is due to destruction occurring in the nervous system, in contrast with the claim that meditation supposedly doesn’t.

    So yeah, it’s ridiculous if you don’t have any evidence that shows such an astonishing result from meditation. And you don’t. Your burden shifts notwithstanding.

    Glen Davidson

  47. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM,

    Here are some sentence’s from Glen’s Steiner quote. For each of them, could you indicate 1) whether you believe Steiner is correct; and 2) why you give the answer you do?

    a) What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system.

    b) In this example, by means of meditation we hold the thought back so far that it does not connect itself with the brain.

    c) If in this way we unfold an inner activity of thinking that is not connected with the brain, through the effects of such meditation upon the soul we shall feel that we are on the right path.

    d) As in meditative thinking no process of destruction is evoked in our nervous system, this kind of thinking never causes sleepiness, however long it may be continued, as ordinary thinking may easily do.

  48. CharlieM CharlieM
    Ignored
    says:

    GlenDavidson: No, I’m not.Steiner made the claims about meditation, and instead of backing them up any better than Steiner did, you merely try to claim that I made the claims.This is what Steiner wrote:

    And that has to be understood in the context of his claims that conscious awareness is due to destruction occurring in the nervous system, in contrast with the claim that meditation supposedly doesn’t.

    So yeah, it’s ridiculous if you don’t have any evidence that shows such an astonishing result from meditation.And you don’t.Your burden shifts notwithstanding.

    Glen Davidson

    I do not have any burden of proof because I haven’t stated anything about my beliefs in what Steiner wrote about meditation. You do have this burden because you have given your opinion.

    You will notice that keiths has gone the right way about it. He is asking for my views first, and when I reply with my thoughts on the subject, only then can he ask my for my reasons for saying what I do.

    Sorry, but I have no time at the moment to reply to you keiths.

  49. GlenDavidson
    Ignored
    says:

    CharlieM: I do not have any burden of proof because I haven’t stated anything about my beliefs in what Steiner wrote about meditation.

    Oh really. That stupid remark about yoga being beneficial (who doubted that?) wasn’t meant to support Steiner’s claim about meditation? Don’t give me that crap, it’s just pathetic.

    You do have this burden because you have given your opinion.

    No I don’t, because Steiner made no adequate argument for what he wrote about meditation or the other dumbass claims made about thinking and “injury,” and you stepped in with something equally spurious and inadequate for saving your hero.

    You will notice that keiths has gone the right way about it. He is asking for my views first, and when I reply with my thoughts on the subject, only then can he ask my for my reasons for saying what I do.

    Too bad you gave away the store when you brought in your pathetic defense of Steiner’s claptrap.

    Sorry, but I have no time at the moment to reply to you keiths.

    Yet you have time to deny the patently obvious, your defense of Steiner’s baseless claims.

    Glen Davidson

  50. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka,

    Your response to this?

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