Monday, September 21, 2015

Quick hit on Consciousness

See my previous posts: Thoughts on Consciousness and Moving towards Eliminativism

There is no consciousness. We represent things. Mostly, our selves, worldly objects, and more complex (~abstract) ideas. The robust representations that are quickly presented in our brain do not give rise to a separate entity, “consciousness.” Those representational processes only give rise to more and more complex representations. This includes representations that we are mapping the world and our selves, representations that show we are in the process of representing.

If some definitions of consciousness only mean this, then so be it, but consciousness does not have ineffability and bizarre properties, say of the Chalmers-Nagel-Qualia kind. Our “consciousness” may be ineffable in a similar way that the only true representation of the United States is something that is exactly the United States. Any representation or map of the United States necessarily leaves off some kind of information (say the direct relationship between Nebraska and the moon of Io). There is a uniqueness to all of our programming, just as there is a uniqueness to all individual computers (assuming a minimal number of programs and word processing usage). If my computer looks inside its self, represents its self, it will be a unique representation. So, in that way we are unique and ineffable. Our representations (my deflated consciousness) are special in that way.

When I say our consciousness is only representation, I mean representation similarly to the idea that your computer right now is representing something. Or in the way that a Roomba (a computerized vacuum cleaner) will represent the world, so that it does not bump up against a vase, or in that it represents that “it takes up no more dust particles." The machine that is our brain/mind, including its forays into deep philosophical projects, never transcends those simpler kinds of representing processes. What it does do is have a whole lot more of them, and represents a self at the center of the world, at the center of action. It represents that self's immersion in social rules, in social relationships, and so on. But no single representation or series of representations (I am sitting here typing) moves beyond the more bare-boned representations of the Roomba.

The most important representations: "I am here. On earth. In the year 2015. There are many countries and mine is the United States. I exist . . . "

I see this as eliminativism of the concept of consciousness. Michael Graziano (The Social Brain, and his Aeon article) makes similar sorts of claims, and he struggles with whether he is presenting an outright elimination of consciousness or not. What has been called consciousness encompasses many things, so what remains under my best understanding of our world representing and modeling includes some of those things previously encompassed in definitions of consciousness. However, there has been too many claims that pit consciousness as something different and above representing and modeling that it is easier just to say we are eliminating consciousness as a robust concept. After this, we now can give a good accounting of brain/minds as they represent and interact with the world. We do so without claiming that some property of consciousness emerges. Though, with that said, creatures that represent the world in the complex ways we do obviously gain abilities that minimally representing forces would never achieve. Evolution can build cool structures like monkeys. It will not create the structures of many objects we see in modern society, at least it will not do so rather directly. So, some kind of accounting for what these more complex representational processes (adult humans) do that more modest representing processes (say bats) do not do, is still needed.

See also:

Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain

Douglas Hofstadter, I am a Strange Loop

Michael Graziano, The Social Brain

Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel

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