Ktismatics

4 August 2012

Consciousness-Of

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 6:13 pm

Maybe if I pick off and respond to some of the specific assertions that Velmans makes in his 2009 book Understanding Consciousness

According to Thomas Nagel (1974), consciousness is ‘what it is like to be something.’ (p. 7)

Eventually Velmans endorses Nagel’s position, at least in part. First-person subjectivity is integral to but not fully definitive of consciousness. To be conscious is to be conscious of something: of the world, of one’s body, of one’s thoughts. All organisms have direct contact with the world via sensory receptors. Organisms convert sensory inputs into information about features of their environments that generated these inputs. E.g., a frog synchronizes visual input gathered by dedicated motion detectors with tongue movement in order to snag an insect out of the air. Does the frog have a subjective phenomenological experience of seeing the insect fly and of nabbing it; i.e., does the frog know what it’s like to be a frog? Or is the coordination of visual input with motor output purely instinctive, without awareness? Merely by observing the frog’s actions it’s impossible to tell if it has any subjective awareness. For that matter, it would be impossible to tell simply through observation whether a human is conscious of what it’s like to watch a fly land on the window and to dispatch it with a swatter. Consciousness-of is a first-person experience that’s opaque to third-person scrutiny.

Vermans concludes from his research that consciousness does not reside in some particular part of the brain. Rather, consciousness constitutes a more intensive and focused and coordinated activation of multiple brain processes that ordinarily function unconsciously and independently of one another. It should eventually be possible to evaluate non-human organisms to ascertain whether their brains ever achieve states of activation that correspond to consciousness in humans. However, without having access to some source of first-person information it would still not be possible to conclude that a nonhuman organism’s high-level brain activity correlates with a subjective experience of itself and its environment. It’s also possible that other kinds of organisms are conscious of lower-level non-integrated brain activities that in humans remain unconscious.

So it’s possible to speculate about what it might be like to be a frog, but as far as Velmans is concerned it will never be possible really to know anything from a third-person scientific perspective about frogs’ subjective experiences of the world and of themselves. Is it possible even to speculate about what it’s like to be cornbread, or polyester, or a neutron, as Ian Bogost suggests? Velmans doesn’t explore the possibility of inanimate subjective experience, in all likelihood because he regards the first-person experience of being-like as integrally linked to the first-person experience of being conscious-of one’s interactions with the world. And if consciousness is an intensified and focused and integrated neural activity, then the experience of being-like must likewise be associated with neural states/processes. It’s possible to imagine some other architecture for implementing neural functions, but there would have to be some sort of apparatus by which an object not only interacts with the world but has some awareness of this interaction. There would almost surely be chemical or electrical traces of this sort of awareness that could be observed, such that specific changes in the environment would result in specific changes in the aware object. I’d say it’s not particularly bold to assert, based on lack of empirical evidence, that neither cornbread nor polyester nor neurons exhibit the sort of selective complex responsiveness to the environment that might indicate some sort of alien awareness.

What’s it like to be cornbread? Almost surely it’s not like anything.

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67 Comments »

  1. It feels like it was a real effort of will for you to pull something together to say about this, so I’m feeling guilty about it sitting there for days on its own. Since it was I who recommended the book to you. I feel it behoves me to weigh in.

    Unfortunately it being 5 years at least since I read the fist edition, it’s far from fresh in my mind, and what you’ve said above just doesn’t ring a bell; in fact, it seems to slightly contradict my recollection of the book, though I couldn’t put my finger on how.

    What I do recall, as I mentioned before, was that when all was said and done, all the approaches evaluated, Velmans rooted for a ‘reflexive monism’, a unity of consciousness and matter, consciousness being an inherent (? I’ve probably got this wrong) property in this particular universe, which evolves as the universe evolves. I’m not sure what implications that has for what you said above.

    I’ve got the 2nd edition to hand; I started it but didn’t get very far, and got interrupted. I’m going to make a serious effort to get through it – which should actually be a pleasure, once I get into it.

    So, taking the long-term view, I’ll get back to you on that.

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    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 5 August 2012 @ 7:28 pm

  2. The blog posting has gotten easier again — maybe finishing the fiction opened up some more brain resources and energy for it. But Velmans isn’t buying any of that “effort of will” business. Based on experimental evidence conscious intentions come too late to cause my writing of this post, he insists. Consciousness becomes aware of a decision that’s already been made unconsciously. Still, he does acknowledge that, from the first person POV, I experience myself as exercising an effort of will to write. For that matter, based on empirical evidence, all of the mental arenas that we tend to regard as conscious — awareness of the world, problem solving, memory, language — actually happen unconsciously. One could say that he’s of two minds about intentionality — third person and first person — but that as a Jamesian pragmatist he’s prepared to let both minds coexist.

    I expect to write a separate post about Velmans’ interpretation of the contents of consciousness, which gets into the more science-y aspect of his reflexive monism. His closing speculations about subjectivity being some kind of cosmic self-awareness I think I’ll ignore unless I’m provoked into conversation via comments. Since you can’t specify how my interpretation of the book contradicts your recollection of it I’ll just let your incipient critique gnaw at my unconscious sense of self-assurance without explicitly confronting it. I did like the book though, and appreciate your commenting on it.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 August 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  3. Oh, I think I see the source of your objection. If consciousness is inherent in this universe, then isn’t it possible to claim that cornbread has some sort of subjective experience? I think Velmans rules out that possibility. After acknowledging that frogs may have a form of consciousness, he writes:

    As one continues to descend the evolutionary ladder, the plausibility of extrapolating from human to nonhuman animal consciousness becomes increasingly remote. There may, for example, be critical transition points in the development of consciousness which accompany critical transitions in functional organisation. Self-awareness, for example, probably occurs only in creatures capable of self-representation. That said, phenomenal consciousness (of any kind) might only require representation. If so, even simple invertebrates might have some rudimentary awareness, in so far as they are able to represent and, indeed, respond to certain features of the world. (page 335)

    I don’t think there’s any way to claim that cornbread represents features of the world. (Tonight I actually made some cornbread — fried rather than baked — to go with the beef stew, so I’m speaking from recent experience.) Sure, it responds to the world — when I spoon the batter into the pan it puffs and solidifies and browns on its surfaces. But there is nothing in the cornbread’s molecular make-up that would have given it an awareness of the pan and the heat and its own transformation from sloppy yellow goo into delightful golden-brown cakes. So according to Velmans’ criteria the cornbread can’t have consciousness.

    However, a few pages later Velmans contradicts his own position, opting for a panpsychism in which “all forms of matter have an associated form of consciousness.” But what about his prior contention that consciousness presupposes representation? He writes:

    The emergence of carbon-based life forms developed into creatures with sensory systems that had associated sensory ‘qualia.’ The development of representation was accompanied by the development of consciousness that is of something. The dawn of self-representation was accompanied by the dawn of differentiated self-consciousness and so on. (page 342)

    What is it like to be cornbread? This is a question about subjective awareness, first of the world and then of oneself experiencing the world. It’s the sort of consciousness that depends on representation. Cornbread might, per Velman, have some sort of consciousness, but it wouldn’t be able to know what it’s like to be itself. I personally dissent, holding to the belief that cornbread has no consciousness whatever. Velman isn’t worried. In a footnote about his panpsychist proclivities he writes: “I should stress again that my theoretical preference is tangential to my formal analysis of consciousness.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 August 2012 @ 10:02 pm

  4. Well, you’ve said a mouthful there, eventually. That’s the hard part, really – that there just isn’t much for consciousness to do, because our decisions are already made… well how? That feels intuitively wrong, but there you go.

    I’ve just been comparing the last few pages – the conclusions – of the first and second editions, and they’re not substantially different – ‘continuity’ over ‘ discontinuity’ i.e. no break or mutation causing consciousness, but consciousness as an ’emergent quality of matter'(I think he says that somewhere), evolving with matter.

    ” … I think I see the source of your objection. If consciousness is inherent in this universe, then isn’t it possible to claim that cornbread has some sort of subjective experience? ”

    No, it wasn’t that. I think it was:

    ” To be conscious is to be conscious of something: of the world, of one’s body, of one’s thoughts.”

    But, as I said, I’ll have to read through Velmans again – I suppose he discusses this in his introductory discussion on what it is we talk about when we talk about consciousness.

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    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 5 August 2012 @ 11:02 pm

  5. Velmans doesn’t ascribe much functionality to consciousness — in this regard his interpretation of the science is similar to Metzinger’s. Regarding selective attention and intentionality, I think it’s better to regard the whole organism as the intentional agent. V points out that there is nothing like a discrete consciousness module in the brain, that depending on the situation conscious awareness might include taste but not vision, memory of scripts but not memory of discrete events, grasping but not walking and so on. Evidence for distributed consciousness supports arguments against the homunculus theory of consciousness, with the little man sitting in the control room watching the monitors and pulling the levers. Instead what you’ve got is a whole organism suffused with intentionality, in which both unconscious and conscious activity are deployed to enhance the organism’s survival. Exploring the evolution of intentionality in an unintentional universe is what Terrence Deacon’s book is about — recently I wrote/discussed aspects of Deacon here.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 August 2012 @ 7:29 am

  6. So, does the very fact of being concerned with such things mean you want to know the ORDER in which things, i.e., consciousness or unconsciousness occur, since they both undoubtedly strive for some sort of existence? Otherwise, if you don’t, you’re afraid you’re never conscious? But if cornbread DOES have consciousness, which it undoubtedly MIGHT, then YOU might have consciousness when you’re dead! And I think you will, because you don’t have it now.

    Christ, yesterday I wrote up some piece of work that I dreaded and was also determined not to do even though I had to soon, but not immediately. I ended up doing it, whether consciously or unconsciously, and I don’t care which it was, or why I went and finished the basics of it. Only think I know is that I ‘imagined’ it was a relief. But if I didn’t even imagine it, I’m fine with that too.. I was more interested in that it seemed to ‘write itself up’ than why it ended up in a complete rough draft, which needs to be presented to experts in this sort of thing, or at least half-experts.

    “Cornbread might, per Velman, have some sort of consciousness, but it wouldn’t be able to know what it’s like to be itself.”

    Nothing ‘knows what it’s like to be itself’, and anyway ‘being oneself is overrated’. Some people always want to skip the temporal wit and go on to the eternal.

    “I personally dissent, holding to the belief that cornbread has no consciousness whatever.”

    Well, it certainly matters, I can tell you that.

    ” Velman isn’t worried.”

    You don’t think he’s worried? He’s worried.

    “In a footnote about his panpsychist proclivities he writes: “I should stress again that my theoretical preference is tangential to my formal analysis of consciousness.””

    That was thoughtful of him to include, since we all wanted to know now that we’ve heard of him. He’s white, isn’t he? I would have used another term for his confession, but you censor based on wee lesb’ans against racism..

    “That’s the hard part, really – that there just isn’t much for consciousness to do, because our decisions are already made… well how? That feels intuitively wrong, but there you go.”

    The lafayette is right, of course… Although I wouldn’t say it ‘feels intuitively wrong’, because even if ‘there isn’t much for consciousness to do’, there is as much for it to do as is necessary.

    I guess I would agree that dead bodies and cornbread (I guess it’s just getting around to listing all the objects that the homely philosophes haven’t, they don’t bother with ‘corpse withdrawnness’ mid-career, for example–it might frighten them!) would ‘withdraw’ just like a toaster or a non-relatiional living body, if any of them did. And they might. I really don’t see any point in getting through the day without knowing, though. Which author made whole lists of every library book, or read everything in the library, or just every book? I keep thinking Flaubert, but he wouldn’t do that sort of shit, would he? Even though he did need to see a dentist, it seems. Joyce too, for that matter.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 6 August 2012 @ 9:49 am

  7. Velmans contends that all cognitive processing is unconscious, and that consciousness is just the subjective awareness of the results of unconscious processing. I think that’s right, and have previously written posts supporting that position. So the unconscious always comes first, consciousness second. But if consciousness is a more intensified, focused, and integrated sort of mental activity, then why wouldn’t consciousness also intensify attention and intention? I think it does. If my unconscious processing brings to my awareness the desire or need to do something, I can consciously and intentionally deploy my mental-physical resources in accord with my unconscious motivation.

    But V is concerned that the universe is “causally closed,” meaning that only material processes have efficacy in the material world, which leaves no room for mental causation. This strikes me as essentially dualistic, but then V remains noncommittal about whether consciousness is itself material. That’s where his panpsychism confounds his analysis: on some level he regards first-person subjectivity not as merely an epiphenomenon of brain function but as something unapproachable by materialistic third-person scientific investigation. Here again Deacon’s agenda comes to the fore: he wants to establish intentionality as a kind of causal force that’s not reducible to mechanicistic, behavioristic stimulus-response chains.

    But right, speculation about whether cornbread has consciousness seems more like material for an SNL skit than for philosophers or scientists to write seriously about.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 August 2012 @ 11:15 am

  8. Mannnn…you really censor even innocent things by now. If you’ve gotten that Pravda, I hope that any references to Mallarme and ‘Patrick’s writing’ will bite the dust equally. I’m not interested in compliments from fake names. So please. no messages from the lafayette on here to me. He already does that elsewhere, and that’s enough.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 6 August 2012 @ 11:36 am

  9. I turned off the comments moderation for less than a day; now it’s back on. I delete according to my own criteria, but thanks for the recommendation.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 August 2012 @ 11:46 am

  10. I know, darling, and you’re more than welcome.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 6 August 2012 @ 11:53 am

  11. “I was more interested in that it seemed to ‘write itself up’ ”

    Yes, that’s a curious sensation, reported by many. A panpsychist like Deleuze or Lacan would probably contend that the unconscious is being moved by Outside Forces that want to be heard. But if willing and writing take place unconsciously anyway, then it’s more like consciousness becoming aware of brain processes going on outside of its control. A parallel might be that the things I see in this room — chairs, lamps, pictures, flowers — are “seeing themselves,” impinging themselves on my visual perception outside of my conscious control. Or if I find myself eating another bite of cornbread without intending to, it’s like the cornbread is eating itself through my mouth. It’s a way of deeming consciousness and intentionality as forces that pervade the universe.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 August 2012 @ 11:58 am

  12. Ktis: I understand your criteria include ‘no snarky remarks about other posters’ which is fine, also diplomatic in this case.

    This is such rarefied stuff. ‘Consciousness’ is the most elusive question of all, so I’m aware that whatever contributions I could chip in have already been worked to death by serious minds for years, including Velmans, but it strikes me that if you take intentionality out of consciousness – worry, hesitation, evaluation, better, worse – then you take most of the consciousness out of consciousness.

    Just a sense of self digging the ride on the roller coaster? It seems to me that conscious effort and its products – science – do actually DO quite a lot. I don’t doubt that the data is accurate, but maybe better questions have to be put to the data? And I’m sure better minds than mine are well aware of that.

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    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 6 August 2012 @ 4:32 pm

  13. I don’t know anything about Velmans so this offering can be safely ignored as beside the point of the post but very likely he will have considered similar points in his book so it may be of interest. Take it as a philosophic ramble.

    I think if we are to encompass the whole passage from rocks and gas to the hominid a concept is needed that can be utilized at each stage , one that gets away from the question begging notion of emergence. Might ‘information’ be such a way of thinking about things that does not immediately set up a road block in the way that consciousness does? The cornbread batter has a certain form or nature, it is constituted along lines that allows the heat of the pan to inform it in desirable ways. The human being that ingests it adds further form to the cornbread by virtue of the nature of digestion. The whole process of evolution can be construed as the continuous aggregation of complexity of form moving towards information that becomes information for itself.

    Even basic forms of life such as bacteria have formal intentionality, they ‘prefer’ certain environments over others. There are myriad intermediate stages of formal intentionality between bacteria and humans but it is not an accident that the greatest complexity of structure is found in humans as well as a reflexive intentionality. Short term memory must play a part in the retaining of a message from the inner and the outer environment. Its rather limited capacity is a boon as memorization has to be replaced by motor routines that are more responsive than the constant taking of thought.

    In a paradoxical way I have great respect for the idea that there is no such thing as consciousness there are only things that we do with conscious intent. Dennett got this from Ryle whom he worked under at Oxford. It’s in his book The Concept of Mind.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 6 August 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  14. I agree with your general outlook on consciousness, Lafayette. If consciousness can be reduced to first-person subjectivity, then that’s not much.

    @Michael — I have more respect for the idea of information being universally ubiquitous. In their 2007 book Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized Ladyman and Ross make a case for the universe just being information, with even an object’s primary properties being the result of some other object’s interpretation of the information. I don’t recall Velmans weighing in on this possibility. Deacon (alluded to earlier) insists that information is by definition symbolic, representing something other than itself, and that it must be interpreted by the receiver. So, e.g., he would reject the idea that gravity transmits information to the rock at the top of the hill insisting that it roll down to the flatlands. Certainly both information and consciousness as usually construed are constructed on existing scaffolding using existing materials and energy sources, so there is a continuum from lesser to greater complexity. I get concerned about using terms metaphorically. E.g., if I decided that humor was an essential feature of higher life forms, would I find myself arguing that even bacteria and cornbread are funny in some rudimentary sense? I agree though that bacteria do exhibit rudimentary intentionality, and that conscious human intentionality builds evolutionarily on the biological drive to self-perpetuation that characterizes all organisms. But cornbread? I see the informational argument more clearly than the consciousness claim.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 August 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  15. There’s a parallel or interconnectedness between information and energy: non-randomness in a system provides information about the existence of an energy source that systematically partitions the system. Among other functions, consciousness provides humans with the ability to identify the partitions in the world and to trace their energy sources; e.g., awareness that some outside force is propelling the rock down the hillside. Consciousness is also a tool humans use for inserting partitions that aren’t already there; e.g., turning ingredients into batter into cake. One of Deacon’s big theoretical concerns is whether energy and information are inexorably linked. Per the second law of thermodynamics the universe is winding down, which means the random distribution of matter, which means reduction of information in the universe to zero. Organisms are negentropic, being organized within themselves and imposing order on their environments by, e.g., moving toward sources of food. The more complex the organism, the more information it contains, which would suggest that it expends more energy, thus hastening the final heat death of the universe.

    Deacon is trying to figure out if organisms can create information without expending energy. E.g., humans partition sounds into increasingly complex forms of language, which in turn partition conceptually the world into more complex categories and interrelations. Does this increasing complexity of information require more energy? If so, is that energy of the sort that is depleted by the effort? From a subjective perspective it feels like work to think hard about something, and evidently consciousness does correlate with increased blood flow to the brain. But what is the proportionality between physical energy and mental energy? Deacon is trying to make the case that the kind of informational partitioning that goes on in minds relies not just on energy expenditure but on the propagation of constraints. Deacon claims that constraint propagation requires no additional expenditure of energy, so its increasing complexity is not limited by the second law. Consciousness for Deacon thus becomes a sort of intentional information-generating perpetuum mobile.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 4:28 am

  16. I just looked at the WordPress stats — yesterday had the highest hitrate ever on this blog. The numbers are still inflated by that old Ouroboros post, but that’s been true for weeks now. Somebody out there must be interested in this rarefied stuff.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 4:54 am

  17. “the idea that there is no such thing as consciousness there are only things that we do with conscious intent. Dennett got this from Ryle whom he worked under at Oxford. It’s in his book The Concept of Mind.”

    “The time has come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness; when it need no longer delude itself into thinking that it is making mental states the object of observation.” – John Watson, 1913

    The behaviorists investigated consciousness not as a thing but as a congeries of neural processes that trigger what organisms do. Velmans’ chapter 4 is entitled “Are mind and consciousness just activities?” In short, he thinks not, making a case for the need to investigate the structures and interconnections, the sequences and states that generate mental/physical activities. He regards Ryle as propounding a “subtler version of behaviourism.” Ryle proposed that mental states aren’t themselves behaviors but are rather “dispositions to behave.” Vermans’ counterargument hinges on first-person subjectivity:

    “How can one translate the phenomenal qualia of visual images or after-images, or the smell of Columbian coffee, or the sound of an Indian sitar into behavioural dispositions?”

    One response might be that the contents of perception are the results of action the purpose of which is to parse the world into an actionable space. But wouldn’t that reduce perception to pure pragmatism, without any necessary correspondence between the percept and the thing perceived? Much of empirical psychology since the 70s has resulted from a rejection of the behaviorist paradigm, not just because of changing fashions among the society of scientists but because it became apparent on empirical grounds that, in order to understand the links between environmental inputs and behavioral outputs, it was necessary to investigate the information processing apparatus interposed between S and R.

    Nonetheless, it remains true that cognitive structures and processes evolved as pragmatic capabilities, so the “what we do” part must be recognized as the driver of “how we do it.” That’s what for me makes Velmans’ conclusions particularly odd. He says that consciousness doesn’t really do anything; that it merely represents what has already been done unconsciously. Phenomenological subjectivity, he asserts, has no role in conscious intentional action. Mostly it’s there to make us aware of our own existence. He only nods at a survival value for this self-reflexive capacity: it makes us more committed to the biological mandate of survival. Seems odd, as Lafayette observes.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 10:18 am

  18. I still can’t see what the big deal is, unless it’s that it seems like the ego is threatened by ‘not enough subjectivity.’ If consciousness exists at all, it exists HUGELY. What it doesn’t do, or doesn’t have to do still is just for the hobbyist (even if professional).

    Reminds me of some book somebody involved in these things recommended to me back in about 1977, which was talking about ‘neurotransmitters’, and I looked at the book, and it said that consciousness exists, but is ‘passive’. So these things would have some importance if scientific advances needed to be made, but would it matter whether you determined what things were conscious and what were unconscious? except in terms of efficiency and speed? Why couldn’t science also be victim to this ‘mostly unconscious’ verdict? Maybe it just seems like science is a
    ‘conscious product’, but if it’s all indecipherable, it might not be, or just a hybrid of both. By its nature, science may just make consciousness seem more at the helm than just developing camouflage over the centuries.

    These things always seem like a search for despair, or a search for ‘provable atheism’. But even if those were ‘true’, and consciousness did nothing much but science, then with science being the ‘only religion of the future’, we should evolve into all-consciousness-all-the-time, shouldn’t we? Maybe AI isn’t artificial at all, just very conscious, and so living on disks (discs?) for 5000 years or more may not be as bad as it’s cracked up to be, and you just get to be aware of all the unconscious things with a clear head all day.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 7 August 2012 @ 11:28 am

  19. But first you have to decide that all the most personally insulting things, i.e., to the ego, all this ‘smallness of consciousness compared to the unconscious’ aren’t any longer insulting, especially if you were brought up religiously or have vestiges of religion left.

    Is death part of the ‘unconscious’? If so, then maybe we aren’t trying to overcome death with technology so much as to subsume the unconscious, which bores us since we can only partially participate, it doesn’t come to the surface..

    “But if consciousness is a more intensified, focused, and integrated sort of mental activity, then why wouldn’t consciousness also intensify attention and intention? I think it does”

    Of course it would, how could it be otherwise? Even if it’s just an extension of the unconscious, just grows right out of it because out from underneath and existing only halfway. But I don’t believe consciousness is just passive, because it pulls things out of the unconscious, although I don’t know if the unconscious then replenishes itself.

    “In a paradoxical way I have great respect for the idea that there is no such thing as consciousness there are only things that we do with conscious intent. ”

    Why would you respect that? I don’t know how to. If it has ‘conscious intent’, it somehow knows something about consciousness, which there ‘is no such thing as’, and that doesnt make sense.

    I think everything is alive, and that science is not the only religion of the future. all the religiions that say that all the planets and stars are alive are right. They just aren’t apes with brains that become conscious, and then decide there might be no such thing as consciousness. The cornbread is alive and so are dead bodies and toasters. As you’d say, ‘sure, why not?’

    And when you find out for sure about some of these things (if you do), what does it do for you? Does it lead you on to a new life? Or does ‘one just knows it sometimes’, etc. The very fact that some people once found these things interesting (if disconcerting), but now don’t think they matter that much (like me), could mean that they are just tedious wastes of time, or that I’m ‘over the hill’ and/or stupid, which may be true, and many bleugers think so. I also don’t care about that, though. They shouldn’t be thinking about this, as it does not help socialism defeat barbarism, and they shouldn’t have sex either, because it wastes time that could have been spent defeating capitalism. So they Tweet.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 7 August 2012 @ 11:49 am

  20. “Even if it’s just an extension of the unconscious, just grows right out of it because out from underneath and existing only halfway. But I don’t believe consciousness is just passive, because it pulls things out of the unconscious, ”

    Maybe part of the problem is that at some point consciousness, if passive and growing out of the unconscious, appears to break off and split from unconsciousness, and find this more favoured place–but temporarily, the way all sorts of superficial glossy things can do to hypnotize. Maybe that’s the point of it, to have a ‘specialness’ quality, to be more the definition of an individual, whereas the unconscious is always there, no matter how dull the being. It still sounds pretty random, so I guess it’s a matter of whether you have some sort of faith in something, although I’ve yet to find randomness to offer much but the bitterness one learns to conceal and call it ‘mature behaviour’, meanwhile compartmentalizing studies of consciousness and unconsciousness just like fiction or food or whatever.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 7 August 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  21. I find it curious when the objectologists insist on their uniqueness in regarding humans as objects like any other. Empirical psychologists have been doing that for at least a century and a half. I first got interested in psychology because I wanted to understand people, to help them, and so on — or at least I thought I did, or perhaps thought I should. But grad school squeezes those motivations out pretty quickly. Pretty soon you find yourself discussing hypotheses and variables and experimental protocols and statistical analyses and publications — just like the “real” scientists in the chemistry department with whom we shared a building. Do the psychologists and neurologists reflect on their own consciousnesses when they conduct these studies? Not very often. They might as well be studying autocatalysis or Higgs bosons or approach trajectories for Mars landers.

    Why do people get so interested in, and even passionate about, science? This question too becomes a subject for empirical inquiry. French biologist and Nobel laureate François Jacob wrote in 1998: “The century that is ending has been preoccupied with nucleic acids and proteins. The next one will concentrate on memory and desire.” For a century we’ve had all of this metaphysical introspective psychology pointing to sublimation and anality and the Big Other and so on, but now the state of empirical investigation is poised to delve into the affective components of intentionality.

    “The search for despair”? Again, I think the neuroscientists compartmentalize their work to the point where they don’t take it personally. The philosophers might want to plunge/accelerate into the singularity of terminal nihilism, and maybe some of the fiction writers too, but the scientists mostly find it fascinating, even delightful, to discover the answers.

    When last summer I visited the University of Virginia (where I got my Ph.D.), my old advisor told me that the psych department was being awarded more grants than any other department. Most of this money is being paid out to the neurologists and cognitive psychologists. There are practical applications for brain science, not just for pharmacological treatment of disorders or the invention of designer “study drugs.” Some of it has military applications: brainwashing, neurochemical warfare, etc. And this area of research does lay the groundwork for moving toward the posthuman singularity, enhancing cognitive capabilities with artificial neural appliances. Or at least the researchers can add to the glamor of their grant proposals. Returning to Velmans, he does consider the possibility that AI devices have first-person experiences. He suggests a future research project in which the cells that, say, produce the phenomenological experience of the color green be replaced one-by-one by mechanical neurons, then ask the subject if the experience of greenness persists, changes, or disappears.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  22. “at some point consciousness, if passive and growing out of the unconscious, appears to break off and split from unconsciousness, and find this more favoured place–but temporarily, the way all sorts of superficial glossy things can do to hypnotize. Maybe that’s the point of it, to have a ‘specialness’ quality, to be more the definition of an individual, whereas the unconscious is always there, no matter how dull the being.”

    I’d like to believe that you endorse this aesthetic and practice it religiously. There are artists, musicians, and writers who cultivate the wide-open channel to the unconscious where the artwork “writes itself.” But then there’s the conscious cultivation of aesthetic and technique: some reject the artifice, others devote themselves to it. Science is an elaborate artifact of the consolidated conscious attention of thousands of devotees.

    On a related note, here’s a text someone read to me while I was writing the prior comment:
    “The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analyzed, women… merely adored.”
    – Mrs. Cheveley in An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 2:55 pm

  23. Loove-ly stooff, all of it. Explains what I really knew but wouldn’t quite accept anyway (even as of today) about the pure curiosity–and that phenomenon of ‘not taking it personally’ that scientists have, at least a lot of them. Some of the thanatophobes really have their own asses in mind when they want to make sure 2029 really is the maximum date for baby-boomers to become even more self-indulgent than they already are, i.e., to become machines of divine longevity. Only today did it occur to me that there just might be some quality in the disk life, since virtual reality sex, in fact, introduces itself very gradually, it is not like when you first hear about it and are repelled, because there’s always the ‘return to the physical body in the room that is no longer exalted. Instead pieces of VR sex integrate themselves into real sex, and no wonder I was accepting some of them after swearing I wouldn’t. I think things along this line (not just sex) are what I’ve been working toward for some time, maybe at least 10-13 years, when I first heard of these things, maybe 6-7 years longer actually. For awhile, it seemed as though all these virtual things were either going to take over or you had to consciously fight them off, and I think one did have to. That’s because they were so primitive, aided and abetted by Zizek’s terrible versions of the virtual having already become dominant. He really does enjoy being obnoxious just for the hell of it. The net hit like a bomb, in that at some point it spread very quickly. This caused a kind of disorienting shock to me and others, although many adored the sensation. Others (you probably) just took it in stride and were as normal about it as if it were just television introduced to one as a child. It’s taken this long for it to begin to balance out for even some of us. Others really have hit the Twitter/Facebook hole and started living in it, but that’s inevitable.

    BTW, that piece that ‘wrote itself’ was NOT an artwork in any usual sense. It was a kind of drudgery, and that it ‘wrote itself’, since drudgery, was why it interested me. I’m not at all fertile these days, not since I wrote that poem which I still haven’t polished back in April, about the Parisian japonicas. I can’t set aside time and write like you do. I think part of it, which I’ve tried not to say too much about except on my own bleug, and even obliquely, is that I’m coming out of a terribfle depression, very long for me, directly caused by what happened at the end of that trip, with my hostess. It shocked the system so extremely that even my brothers and sisters, normally in support of the same Establishment in its conservative forms as is the hostess (who pretends to be ‘liberal’) were furious. I think that’s the only reason I got through it, plus Christian finally came through with a big chunk from the Swiss sales, when I pointed out his negligence in terms of IDNYC publicity back in Sept. and Oct. But even with that support, the experience was so unreal (and without my knowing precisely why, which has never happened) I am still having extreme bad moments from it, although I appreciate that I feel that I could finally write it here. When things like that happen when you’re 40, they’re really rough, but when you’re 61, you very often don’t feel you have the reserves of bravado anymore, and you just hope maybe you’ll find them.

    Anyway, I hope you realize that expletive I wrote yesterday which I knew you wouldn’t print was purely facetious, the only time I’ve ever written those two words like that. I thought your sense of humour would catch it, but wrote this here to make sure.

    Like

    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 7 August 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  24. Is neuroscience the new philosophy? Those that might have majored in Philosophy are probably being drawn towards it as the ‘big questions’ area. It is probably the case that the logical positivists and their successors have been successful in their limitation of philosophy to big science’s sanitation department.

    The modest claim in the assertion that consciousness does not exist is merely that consciousness is a quality of action and not something that can be isolated and considered on its own. Hoping to capture and study it is therefore considered a category error by Ryle because it is not any sort of thing. The proponents of Advaita Vedanta regard what they call the mind as inert. It is the fact of it being ‘pervaded’ by consciousness that gives rise to the immediate self-luminosity of mental modifications. Consciousness is identified with the being or existence of things so ‘pervasion’ is a metaphorical expression.

    Perhaps a philosopher should be attached to the neuroscience lab like an umpire ready to call, category error or dualism or misplaced concreteness as the case may be.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 7 August 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  25. Patrick, I hope that we know one another well enough by now not to take permanent offense. The Alabama excursion must have been dreadful. I just returned from a visit with my father and his wife in which I acknowledged to myself for the first time that he’s starting the decline into dementia. I’ll probably have to go back out there in September to see if I can put a few things in place for him to ease the descent.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  26. Doing the actual work of neuroscience is mostly to concern oneself with small things: neurons, synapses, specific behaviors and sensations. The big thoughts are assembled piecemeal from the bottom up, contributed to by a host of researchers’ findings. Eventually the grand systematizers and those prone to flights of imagination either knuckle down to the nuts and bolts of the lab or they abandon the field in disgust. But then again I read complaints from bloggers that graduate study in continental philosophy tends to degrade into detailed and arcane commentaries on the masters.

    Regarding Ryle’s objection to consciousness-as-thing and Velmans’ retort, I’d say that it’s not of much empirical interest to define with precision what consciousness is, or even what it does. As a reified construct it’s about as useless as “mind,” which also stirs up plenty of controversy among the metaphysicians who read the grand summaries rather than the specific studies. Again, the scientific work comes from the bottom up: this thought or affect or behavior, these environmental triggers, these brain structures and processes. The distinction between “conscious” and “unconscious” is a holdover from a prior era of psychological thought. Contemporary findings frequently either blur the traditional distinctions or find them to be irrelevant. When I read a book like Velmans’ I’m more intrigued by his recount of specific findings than by speculations about whether cornbread “is conscious” or “has consciousness.” It’s like the Bible: I prefer detailed exegesis to systematic theology.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 August 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  27. Koch (whom I don’t know) in his new book Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist seems to have been bitten by philosopher:

    If it has both differentiated and integrated states of information, it feels like something to be such a system; it has an interior perspective. The complexity and dimensionality of their associated phenomenal experiences might differ vastly, but each one has its own crystal [interior] shape…Even simple matter has a modicum of Φ. Protons and neutrons consist of a triad of quarks that are never observed in isolation. They constitute an infinitesimal integrated system. (p. 131-132).

    and:

    Teilhard de Chardin is alluring because his basic insight is compatible with the observed tendency of biological diversity (measured by the amount of variation) and complexity to increase over the course of evolution and with the ideas about integrated information and consciousness I have outlined…The rise of sentient life within time’s wide circuit was inevitable. Teilhard de Chardin is correct in his view that islands within the universe–if not the whole cosmos–are evolving toward ever-greater complexity and self-knowledge. (p. 134, 165).

    I saw this on http://footnotes2plato.com/2012/08/07/neuroscientist-christoph-koch-comes-out-as-a-panpsychist/

    These days that closet must be packed. Who’d have thought it that this position would become respectable? What next, a revival of idealism?

    Like

    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 August 2012 @ 3:18 am

  28. Here’s a post about Koch on the blog Minds and Brains, which I would do well to look in on more often. I suppose panpsychism isn’t incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics. There certainly are local increases in complexity evolving within a larger universe that is headed toward the eventual total degradation of complexity. Even on a local level, any increase in a given system’s complexity is created by energy acting on that system, and this energy expenditure results in an offsetting decrease in complexity in the system’s local environment. Maybe the universal consciousness eventually dies along with everything else in the universe. Koch’s jump to “the whole cosmos…evolving toward ever-greater complexity and self-knowledge” seems incompatible with the second law. Maybe, like Terrence Deacon, he thinks that there is some other source of complexity that does not rely on energy expenditure. Even Deacon’s proposal about constraint propagation as complexity source doesn’t hold off eventual universal heat death though.

    But then again time itself is a property of conditions unfolding within this universe. And there are pockets of immortality even in this universe — the event horizons around black holes. However, the object approaching the event horizon presumably doesn’t experience any changes in time passage, so that’s no permanent universal solution. Of course it’s become more respectable to contend that the universe we occupy is but one among many universes, and that the universe-generating apparatus is restricted neither by the second law nor by time…

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 6:13 am

  29. While I am thinking my way through your brain/mind link on Koch may I make the point that the universe seems to be expanding and that this surprising result for cosmology may be the result of dark matter and energy sources that are not at present detectable. The potency that is within any specific system may be what moves it on to the ‘next’ level. The energy that is already there is organized better in response to the environment. Nothing new just smarter in the way that this old computer runs much faster on Puppy Linux than on Windows XP. Of course in the long run the sun dies. “I’m giving her all she’s got Captain Kirk”.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 August 2012 @ 7:58 am

  30. First quick response to Gary William’s analysis. By setting up as a criterion the concept of consciousness and the fraught notion of qualia as the ‘what it feels like ‘ he has set up a roadblock for himself as I mentioned previously. This noetic barrier prevents him from considering the very interesting data or letting it speak to him as it were. Have you ever made coffee when you thought you were making tea? When you first taste it you think ‘this is strange tea’.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 August 2012 @ 9:25 am

  31. I’m beginning to tune into the book again, and make some headway. I’ve followed this thread, and I have a few observations, but I’ll leave them for later – I notice that comments keep coming in for your posts for months ( years?) afterwards. Keeping up with and responding to this thread just breaks my concentration on the book. Not to mention the other stuff I read on the internet – it’s becoming a problem. Chomsky called the net a ‘great time-waster’. I ‘ve got to keep it in its place.

    But a couple of brief comments.

    There seem to be TWO entropies (at least) at work in our universe: one is the tendency for inanimate matter to reduce to its simplest state (plasma? See below) – the shattered glass doesn’t EVER re-assemble, ‘ time’s arrow’ etc; two is the tendency for ‘animate matter’ to evolve greater complexity, and possibly use up all the inanimate matter and energy, as you note (or is that just ONE entropy – inanimate matter tends to animate), but that does NOT make consciousness INEVITABLE. I know you know that; just being a smartass.

    My other observation is about this stuff:

    “ Maybe the universal consciousness eventually dies along with everything else in the universe. … Even Deacon’s proposal about constraint propagation as complexity source doesn’t hold off eventual universal heat death though.

    But then again time itself is a property of conditions unfolding within this universe. And there are pockets of immortality even in this universe — the event horizons around black holes. However, the object approaching the event horizon presumably doesn’t experience any changes in time passage

    ….the universe seems to be expanding and that this surprising result for cosmology may be the result of dark matter and energy sources that are not at present detectable. “

    But all that depends on a scientific model (including Einstein’s relativity) which is far from sound, and depends on, as om notes, “ dark matter and energy sources that are not at present detectable” Precisely it depends on this, for 94% of the energy/ mass of the universe. That, to my simple mind, makes it 94% wrong! Not even a good fail.

    Imagine I claimed that 2+2 = 5, and put it like this: 1+1+1+1+dark matter and energy = 5. We know that the dark matter and energy are there because although we can’t see them, we can see their ‘effect’. And what is that effect? That the answer is 5!

    I know you think “ No! There must be more to it than that!” Just about the last little trick I keep in my handbag is this link to a preview – preface and chapter 1- of Donald Scott’s book ‘the Electric Sky’. This explains my remark about plasma above. The rest of the book is as readable as this. Don’t believe the bullshit about the Higgs-Boson. http://tinyurl.com/cb5py5m

    But assuming (though there’s no reason to) there IS an end to the universe, then the evolutionary purpose (is there such a thing? Contradiction much?) of consciousness could be to enable the transcending of this.

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 11:28 am

  32. And is this OOO (Object Oriented Ontology is it?), espoused by Dejan’s pin-up, the philosopher Harman (is it?) – is that a species of panpsychism?

    Now that would be a turn-up for the books. I’ve assumed all these years (and still do, to be honest) that OOO was just some Mickey Mouse pomo bull, whose only purpose was its obscurity, and the purpose of the obscurity was to evade the inspection of funders who might question the value of the work of its practitioners, if you get my drift – like most of ‘that sort of thing’.

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 11:48 am

  33. Here’s a brief taster from Scott:

    Astrophysicists do not study experimental plasma research in graduate school.[2] They rarely take any courses that discuss Maxwell’s equations[3] and electromagnetic field theory. Thus they attempt to explain each new discovery using what they do study – gravity, magnetism, and fluid dynamics – the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century tools of their forefathers, Kepler and Newton. Consequently their methods have not kept up with the science of the Nineteenth Century, let alone the Twenty-First. No wonder they do not understand that many cosmic phenomena are due to forces other than gravity, fluid flow, and the magnetism of lodestones. When questions arise about the failure of their incomplete models, cosmologists often invoke “new properties” of magnetic fields – properties that magnetism simply does not have, or they propose the existence of unobservable entities and forces. They almost never reexamine their basic assumptions or rethink their hypotheses.

    The cosmos in fact does not contain the mysteriously undetectable entities that present astrophysical theories require. Modern, straightforward explanations of all the phenomena astronomers find so enigmatic are now available to us. Anyone interested in astrophysics needs to become aware of the properties of the electric plasma that fills more than 99% of the universe. Ours really is an Electric Sky.

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 11:53 am

  34. Another thought, re the entropy of inanimate matter to animate to greater complexity, is the ubiquitousness of fractal like patterns – like the Mandelbrot set – in nature, in plants most obviously. I don’t know a lot about this, but I wonder if we’ll eventually find one mathematical set which defines this entropy to organise animate into animate, and maybe DOES make consciousness inevitable. And then what? What’s the next step of complexity beyond consciousness?

    Why, it almost blows my MIND, dahling!

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  35. Gary Williams seems to be proposing a way of working around a roadblock he confronts in Koch’s treatment of the relationship between consciousness and qualia. But then he does impose his own constraint: “I therefore think we should drop the quest to find the neural correlates of phenomenal consciousness.” Vermans took a similar tack, mostly because it’s impossible to verify the existence and quality of phenomenal consciousness from a third-person point of view. But humans, who do have phenomenal consciousness, are able to report on their phenomenal experiences verbally. Correlating these self-reports with environmental stimuli and brain activity across multiple subjects is a legitimate and fruitful way of investigating the subjective perception of qualia in our species. It should be possible to posit tentative extrapolations to other species if they demonstrate neural activities comparable/scalable to humans when confronted with similar stimuli.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  36. Neural correlates are fine as a practical proposition for psychological experiments though I would resist the suggestion that there are two things going on, one being neural traffic and the other consciousness. If the being of anything is consciousness and it expresses that reality at the level of its complexity then there is a single reality. This monism though often called materialist because it sinks consciousness in the informational interchanges of matter as such could as well be termed idealist. If the green recognition module in the brain could be exchanged with silicon that could bear the same level of information then that green would be humanly green.

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    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 August 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  37. “the tendency for ‘animate matter’ to evolve greater complexity”

    I’ve just plucked from my bookshelf Stephen Jay Gould’s Full House. In part four of this book, entitled “The Model Bacter: Why Progress Does Not Rule the History of Life,” he presents an extended argument against the tendency toward greater complexity which begins thusly: “I do not challenge the statement that the most complex creature has tended to increase in elaboration through time, but I fervently deny that this limited little fact can provide an argument for general progress as a defining thrust of life’s history.” It’s been a long time since I read the book, which I found excellent and entertaining, but his argument is roughly this:

    Life’s began at “the left wall;” i.e., at the lowest end of the simplicity-complexity continuum, because it evolves from inorganic precursors. It had to be so: “You cannot begin by precipitating a lion out of the primordial soup.” Because there’s nowhere to go in the less-complex direction, the overall distribution of organisms can shift only to the right, toward more complexity. Increasing complexity in the distribution of organisms is thus a result of the spread of variation, not a cause.

    “The vaunted progress of life is really random motion away from simple beginnings, not directed impetus toward inherently advantageous complexity.”

    Even after billions of years bacteria remain the dominant life form on earth; there is still a greater variety of simple single-celled creatures than of complex creatures; 80% of multicelled creatures are simple arthropods. In the continuing evolution of multicellular organisms, there isn’t a consistent tendency for them to become more complex. Complexity comes at an energy cost; if a species mutates toward less complexity and can continue to thrive in an ecological niche, there are natural selection pressures toward decreasing complexity.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 2:10 pm

  38. I don’t know anything really about dark matter/energy, Higgs bosons, or electric plasma, so I have no comments to offer on these arcane matters. Sure the science can change. I have no a priori intuition of the universe being eternal, of an innate universal drive toward complexity, or of consciousness permeating the universe. The present state of science provides evidence/theory contrary the first two, while as we’ve discussed the third premise is controversial and seemingly unfalsifiable based on data, which effectively puts it beyond the scope of empiricism.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 2:33 pm

  39. Re: my comment on bleug post, would you explain to me what you see as an ‘event horizon’, and why it is ‘immortal’, even more, how you or anybody knows it’s immortal. What does ‘pocket of immortality’ mean? I fail to see how ‘immortality’ can exist as a discrete ‘pocket’ toward which humans can approach, since it would have to be a material girl who did it, as it were, and she wouldn’t want one. Isn’t a ‘pocket of immortality’ a finite thing? What’s immortal about finite things?

    “so that’s no permanent universal solution. Of course it’s become more respectable to contend that the universe we occupy is but one among many universes, ”

    So do many, as you in this case, talk about ‘objects approaching event horizons around black hole not experience any change in time passage’, imply that they ought to be able to if they just had the equipment of just ‘could?

    With all due respect, where on earth does the idea of ‘permanent universal solution’ come from? How could you possibly know to say it? Who wants one? It just sounds like heaven or something, but in an exotic location.

    “but I wonder if we’ll eventually find one mathematical set which defines this entropy to organise animate into animate, and maybe DOES make consciousness inevitable. And then what? What’s the next step of complexity beyond consciousness?”

    And if no mathematical set is found for the subjectivity universal solution, what will you do, deplore it? I also don’t know how you ‘organize animate into animate’ either, since it just sounds like more highly organized ‘animate’, which is already possible.

    “What’s the next step of complexity beyond consciousness?”

    That sounds chic in the context of nerdery, actually, quite a surprise. I think the delight is in the masochism that results naturally from the delight in discovering all sorts of things that don’t affect one personally, as John mentioned yesterday. It’s an attitude, one that many smart people find comfort and cold solace in, I guess. Obviously, no one’s going to venture an actual even fake answer to that question because the asker hasn’t het found the mathematical set to prove consciousness. So it’s just all done in some prison house, maybe.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  40. Ian Bogost, the guy in the post who wants to consider what it’s like to be cornbread, is a card-carrying OOOlogist. I think his position is that it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be anything, even another human being, presumably even oneself. Per Harman this is because the essence of any object withdraws from all interactions, even interactions with itself. On that basis there would be no possibility of consciousness generating representations of the world, of the body, of the mind that have any direct correspondence with the world, the body, the mind. At the same time Harman contends that the properties of objects do interact, somehow detaching themselves from their essences and merging in some sort of interactive “plasma” (he, following Latour, does use the term plasma). So that means that the visual representation of the environment forms in this interactive plasma between self and environment, spawning a separate object called “perceived environment.” Or something like that. I don’t see much reliance on empiricism in their speculations.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 2:42 pm

  41. At the risk of blurring the thread, I wanted to talk about Nagel’s definition of consciousness. It’s been a big thing in a lot of the Philosophy of Mind I’ve looked at, and it’s always struck me as both fascinating and ridiculous.

    As to the fascinating, it reflects the idea that we think metaphorically. It’s generally considered to be at least a little figurative to ask someone “what’s it like?”, although in some sense, you’re saying, “I don’t have this experience myself, so compare it for me to something within my realm of experience”. Also fascinating is the fact that, from what we know of consciousness, it isn’t “like” much of anything else we’ve found in the universe — that is, there aren’t any really good metaphors or analogies to consciousness. One might suspect that Nagel is taking advantage of this in order to keep consciousness mysterious.

    The frustrating part is that the definition is more difficult to parse than the freaking second amendment. Depending on your interpretation, it could be circular, nonsensical, or committing a category error. To get a feel for this intuitively, try replacing the phrase “what it’s like” with a synonymous phrase. Seriously — actually try this and see what you come up with. If you look at it literally, you might say that “what it’s like” means “the thing that is similar to it”, in which case you have, “consciousness is the thing that is similar to being something”, which is nonsensical. If you say that “what it’s like” means “a description of it”, then you have “Consciousness is a description of being something”, which is a category error. If you say “what it’s like” means “the experience of it”, then you have “Consciousness is the experience of being something”, which is (arguably) ultimately circular.

    My wife’s opinion is that Nagel’s definition basically translates to, “Consciousness can only be defined in terms of our experience of it”, which, if true, is giving Nagel a hell of a lot of leeway given the precision that philosophy requires.

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    Comment by Asher Kay — 8 August 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  42. By the way, re comment #40 – I think that’s one reason why the OOP people haven’t shown much interest in Deacon. If you look at things empirically, there is a vast difference in both organization and process between cornbread and an animal with a brain. Essentially, asking what it’s like to be cornbread amounts to highlighting the distinctions you’re trying to say are unimportant between the two. Deacon is saying that the two are different *ontologically* – i.e., in the manner of their being – and OOP has yet to engage with that.

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    Comment by Asher Kay — 8 August 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  43. I don’t know much more about time horizons than I do about Higgs bosons. In Einsteinian terms time and space are not constant, and gravity is a distortion of the space-time continuum. A black hole has so much gravitational pull that nothing can escape it, not even light: that is the event horizon. In such a heavy gravitational field the distortion of time is enormous, to the point where time slows to a halt. However, this stoppage of time occurs only relative to an observer outside the event horizon; for someone crossing the event horizon time progresses as usual. Here’s a paragraph from this NASA piece:

    Most black holes form from the remnants of a large star that dies in a supernova explosion. (Smaller stars become dense neutron stars, which are not massive enough to trap light.) If the total mass of the star is large enough (about three times the mass of the Sun), it can be proven theoretically that no force can keep the star from collapsing under the influence of gravity. However, as the star collapses, a strange thing occurs. As the surface of the star nears an imaginary surface called the “event horizon,” time on the star slows relative to the time kept by observers far away. When the surface reaches the event horizon, time stands still, and the star can collapse no more – it is a frozen collapsing object.

    I once read a science fiction novel entitled Gateway by Frederik Pohl, who is the father of a friend of a friend. In the story a spaceship takes its crew toward the event horizon of a black hole. Some manage to escape; others don’t — to be continued in the next installment, which I didn’t read. It was an entertaining book, though I don’t read much science fiction.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 4:03 pm

  44. #40 that re-inforces my initial impression of OOO which was ” just so much word-mincing”, which I believe Shakespeare is reported to have said on philosophy (but I may have got that wrong – the quote’s been floating aroung my head for decades).

    Yes, Stephen Jay Gould is very readable. (So is Dennett on evolution, which is why his book on consciousness was such a disappointment) But I think that maybe that’s an example of word-mincing; is the trend to greater variety not of necessity a trend towards greater complexity among some of the varieties – when all the simplest combinations have been used up, time to move up a stage?

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    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  45. Well, it’s just hard to see that dead star as immortal if it works the gravity so well, and sucks all the light it can get close to. It still didn’t suck ALL the light everywhere. So time gets stopped in certain locations. More like the Bhagavad Gita’s ‘dark inertia’ taken to the ultimate limit than being immortal. Maybe since it was a powerful dead star, it should be called ‘one of the immortals’, sort of like Garbo or something. She seemed to know how to stop time pretty well by telling the ‘big baw-a-sses’ in Hollywood to bugger off, and then walk around NYC pretending to be indifferent. But also, if it ‘can collapse no more’, it cannot be ‘a frozen collapsing object’, because that’s a win-win situation. I like it, though. It’s just like Jesus, when I thought the resurrection was Jesus staying nailed to the cross but just flying into heaven like a rocket on lift-off. In my image, he never opened his eyes. What a performance!

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  46. is the trend to greater variety not of necessity a trend towards greater complexity among some of the varieties – when all the simplest combinations have been used up, time to move up a stage?

    Oh, for things like newly-developed horticultural varieties, of course, and for people who are easily bored by just perfecting things that are already here. Not that I have anything against complexities per se, but talking about them is always trendy since the high modernists. The ‘simplest combinations have been used up’ just means that the user doesn’t know how to use his imagination on them, or he’d see that they change with his perception.

    Ask anybody.

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 4:32 pm

  47. I see your point on Nagel’s “what it’s like” scheme, Asher. If Nagel means what your wife thinks that he means, then he and Velmans have similar ideas about what it’s like to be conscious: it’s subjective experience, the first-person POV.

    I see that Nagel has a new book coming out in September, portentiously entitled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. I wonder if he reveals an alternative conception that’s more likely to be true. From the pre-pub Amazon blurb:

    The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

    Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.

    Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.

    In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.

    I’ll accept that I cannot experience the world as a bacterium does, or even as Nagel does. But the impossibility of occupying someone else’s first-person perspective confirms the crucial idea that consciousness is embodied, linked to a particular organism and not penetrable via free-floating idealistic Vulcan mind-meld techniques — which is highly consistent with a materialistic understanding of consciousness. But Nagel invokes teleology in this book, which hopefully speaks to Deacon’s views on teleology and “ententionality.”

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 4:48 pm

  48. “But the impossibility of occupying someone else’s first-person perspective confirms the crucial idea that consciousness is embodied, linked to a particular organism and not penetrable via free-floating idealistic Vulcan mind-meld techniques — which is highly consistent with a materialistic understanding of consciousness.”

    Yes! That’s exactly the part I had to get past before getting the Virtual Reality Sex adjusted so as to form my life’s new goal and give me a new dose of ambition. You get ‘new clothes’ in VR, even in old Michael Crichton novels, but you still have to quit and go back to your day job or just get addicted to lookiing at the VR, the way some people’s apartments stink because they got addicted to World of Warcraft. It’s PLASTIC SURGERY that points the way toward true Virtual Reality Sex, although that means it’s still at a really low point, since Ray Kurzweil still looks like Bill Maher and a cockroach after we first started talking about him 6 years ago. I don’t want Ray Fuller’s ‘first person perspective’, I just want to don him body just like an overcoat or stockings. He was a great porn star in the 60s and 70s and is about 68 now! I want to wear his nude clothing with my Patrick ‘first person perspective’ just like he was when he was about 25 years old. And I think that’s something even the .01% of the 1% haven’t gotten round to acquiring yet. Cryonautism, yes, but that’s not really fun. At least I have something to live for again. Maybe I can do it with mind over matter, as I’ve been imitating Ray for some years, but haven’t recently been in the mood to believe I could take it that far. Yes, I had never figured out that some of my role models were none too bright, and there was this, like, aporia I couldn’t get past…

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  49. There’s no need to move up a stage in complexity if the simpler variants are getting the job done adaptation- and survival-wise. From a strictly combinatorial perspective the complex organisms have more possible permutations available to them than do the simple organisms. Yet homo sapiens is the only living member of its genus, the other variants having either gone extinct or never come into existence. Something for future geneticists to work on, kind of like pharmacogeneticists systematically permuting molecules to see what therapeutic effects they produce in rats.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  50. Asher:
    ‘what it’s like’ I have always taken to be ‘what is its felt quality’. Necessarily that world of the bat is opaque to us for the various reasons that he mentions. Other humans feel the world differently from us but being of the same species is a bridgehead of empathy. What then of qualia? Aren’t all our qualia different? How could we know if they were? Moreover if this is what our primary experience is, how is language possible? Maybe these questions are an artefact of the demand for an empirical basis, not that there’s anything wrong with that but an empirical basis for language must be intersubjective.

    Like

    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 August 2012 @ 5:06 pm

  51. In that science fiction novel, humans of the future discover an asteroid on which have been parked a whole fleet of space ships built by some superior species that has either gone extinct or gone away, I can’t remember which. These aliens had figured out how to surpass the speed of light, a trick the human scientists still hadn’t figure out yet. They had figured out how to launch these ships, which would take them to parts of the universe that they otherwise could never reach. Problem was, these space ships had their courses preset and unalterable, so riding one of these vessels was a crapshoot. Still, the expectation was that the aliens had locked in these particular trajectories because there was something valuable to them at the other end, so investors would pay space adventurers huge fees to undertake these voyages. A pretty good premise. The story is told in retrospect, as the adventurer who manages to return from the black hole voyage discusses his survivor guilt with his AI therapist.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 5:11 pm

  52. “A pretty good premise.”

    I’ll say. I think that’s one of the cleverest things I ever heard.

    “The story is told in retrospect, as the survivor of the black hole voyage discusses his survivor guilt with his AI therapist.”

    I think I am just emerging from survivor guilt myself after long years, and must have had AI therapists without knowing it. Now I can give up all guilt, just like Damian Hirst.

    I do think complexity is sometimes needed for its own sake. It’s just that when you gotta promote complexity, it won’t work too well to praise simplicity, because complexity is always very expensive to evolve, as we found in one of the more agreeable moments at Nick’s bleug. ‘The one answer to all problems is more capitalism’ and the seccy. says ‘Bingo’ to ‘the singularity’ that results in isolated ‘pockets’,. But great art has always robbed the poor. Why should it stop now? Anyway, Pierre Boulez in music was specifically ardent when it came to the ‘necessity of greater complexity in music’, and it allowed him to get funding for some truly great work too. He wouldn’t have gotten it had he not been such an arrogant prick. .

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    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  53. Ktis: Since you’re interested in that Deacon book (I note a very mixed reception for that, and it looks too much like work for me), on how mind came out of matter, you might be interested in this interview on how inanimate matter came to life in the first place, from today’s Counterpunch:

    An Interview With Doron Lancet
    The Origin and Synthesis of Life
    http://tinyurl.com/ch36lg6
    by SUZAN MAZUR

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 8 August 2012 @ 7:41 pm

  54. Suzan Mazur: Is the public sufficiently informed about artificial life?

    Doron Lancet: The public is utterly uninformed about science in general, including the serious attempts taking place to understand how life began. So let’s try to make them informed.

    There’s a little battle going on throughout this interview. Lancet the scientist wants to talk about the origins of life, while Mazur the interviewer keeps trying to get Lancet to discuss artificial life. Evidently Mazur regards artificial life as a more glamorous project, with the possibility of pharma breakthroughs, biochemical warfare, cheap fuel alternatives, and turbocharged bionic humans. Lancet keeps resisting, bringing the topic back to simulating origins.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 8:33 pm

  55. I think Nagel’s pretty clearly talking about subjective experience. The subjectivity/objectivity thing was the focus of the famous bat piece.

    I don’t really mean to pick on him. I’ve always liked the bat piece, even if he seems to be arguing against a point of view that its adherents have mostly moved on from (and it looks like he’s still arguing against it in the newest book). The issue often seems to me less complicated than the philosophers of mind make it out to be. Of course we can’t experience a bat’s experiences. And, exactly as you said, John, it lends support to a physicalist view (I’m avoiding the term “materialism” because to me it represents a “stuff and properties” view that metaphysically downplays process).

    Things like “experience”, “qualia” and “felt qualities” are always going to lead us in circles, in my opinion. The “what it’s like” formulation obfuscates that, but doesn’t get us any further. Is anyone saying, “we will understand consciousness when we can experience the experiences of a bat”? Not as far as I know. We’re asking whether we can describe consciousness in such a way that we feel pretty sure that we know why it happens and why it has the features it does. We probably won’t be able to explain why it has the particular “felt quality” that it does, because that’s essentially expecting a description of a thing to be the thing itself (category problem), or at least expecting a description of a thing to be in terms of itself (circular problem). In it’s weird way, the “what it’s like” formulation gets to the heart of the problem — we can only understand things in terms of other things. I don’t know if this is ironic or just absurd. But Nagel does seem to understand (or at least intuit) that the problem he’s talking about is really a phenomenological problem. We may, in other words, end up getting really good at describing to an alien what it’s like to be a bat — but that won’t tell us what consciousness is.

    One of our big problems with understanding consciousness seems to be that we are somehow dazzled or stunned by the weirdness of felt experience. Apart from the fact that our knowledge is admittedly incomplete, does anyone get worked up about the visual or olfactory system and say that we don’t or can’t really understand it? What if consciousness is like that — like a sensory system in our brains whose job it is to sense the goings on in the brain? Is that any more problematic than a sense of touch or hearing or proprioception? If sensing motion or resistance is not difficult to wrap our heads around, why is sensing a self or identity?

    Like

    Comment by Asher Kay — 8 August 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  56. http://www.channer.tv/wednesday.htm,%2004-22-10%20NO%20OK.htm

    Yes, she’s much more attractive than he is, although she could turn into Ann Coulter. She should have taken that babe’s place who used to push Philip-Morris on Macneil Lehrer Report.

    This was sort of depressing:

    Suzan Mazur: What should some of the societal concerns be regarding artificial life?

    Doron Lancet: I see no problems. The artificial life that we discuss is so far from being able to do anything wrong or good that it’s not an issue.

    If it can’t do any good, like sex with robots by 2050, who needs it?

    Like

    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 8 August 2012 @ 9:53 pm

  57. It’s quite clear in the research that from earliest childhood ordinary visual perception occurs unconsciously, without focused attention or cogitation. It’s also clear that humans perceive colors not directly as wavelengths or frequencies but as red, blue, green — as qualia. Qualia are intrinsic characteristics of the kind of representation that human brains construct from the optic array in their environments. So it doesn’t make sense to attribute subjective phenomenal experience specifically to consciousness. It is subjective first-person experience to be sure, but it’s not distinctive of consciousness. On the other hand, to ask me what it’s like to see red or blue or green is to ask me to reflect intentionally on my subjectivity, to bring my unconscious experience into the content of my conscious awareness — not just to experience qualia but to become conscious of qualia. This ability to scrutinize reflexively the contents of my unconscious representation of color is, I would say, characteristic of conscious attention as it’s usually understood. So it’s important to distinguish experience (unconscious) from the intentional scrutiny of experience (conscious).

    What about perception of self? We become aware of pain or itch without consciously attending to it. Pain and itch are also qualia: they are ways in which our brains represent damage or irritation to the body. But we can consciously attend to bodily qualia, trying to understand the cause, figuring out ways of getting the discomfort to stop, etc. Again, there’s the distinction between the unconscious experience of bodily self and the conscious attention to the experience.

    What about perception of mind — of thought, problem solving, language, etc.? Velmans argues, and I agree, that most if not all cognitive processing occurs unconsciously. Again, ideas, words, and so on are intellectual qualia, representations of neural activity of which we have no direct awareness. We can focus our attention on our thoughts and solutions to problems and meaningful sentences, but again it’s the distinction between the unconscious experience of brain processes and the conscious attention to mental experience.

    In short, qualia are distinctive features of subjective experience but not of consciousness.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 10:13 pm

  58. Judy Woodruff — good call!

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 8 August 2012 @ 10:31 pm

  59. Feelings and experiences vary widely. For example, I run my fingers over sandpaper, smell a skunk, feel a sharp pain in my finger, seem to see bright purple, become extremely angry. In each of these cases, I am the subject of a mental state with a very distinctive subjective character. There is something it is like for me to undergo each state, some phenomenology that it has. Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’) to refer to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives

    That is the opening paragraph from the Stanford Ency. of Philosophy article on Qualia. It has emerged as a problem field out of a range of associated age old issues which probably go back to Plato. Naturally enough being of Philosophic interest there is very likely no definitive empirical way that these puzzles can be resolved. Now, there is a school of thought that holds that questions that cannot be answered are not questions at all but a form of delirium. When psychologists look at Qualia they forego the aporiai and devise experiments. When I read in a book on memory of Prof. Rose sacrificing chickens I think to myself ‘hmm reading the entrails, would that work’.

    Like

    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 9 August 2012 @ 2:33 am

  60. Judy Woodruff?

    Suzan Mazur had a bit of brand recognition with me – I associated her, rightly or wrongly, with the really quite good New Zealand online investigative magazine ‘Scoop’, but I don’t really know her history.
    Her book attracts some VERY dismissive reviews here on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/9mlbvkv

    She seems to do a wide range of in-depth work, generally on what seems the right side to me, and seems to be very bright, and also an able self-promoter obviously… take each piece on its merits, I suppose?

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 9 August 2012 @ 3:45 am

  61. She does resemble Judy Woodruff more, but that’s not who I meant. Woodruff was a fegular for a long time, then when left for probably twice the salary at CNN, acted sad and pitiful.

    No, there was this really SUPER HOT BABE that was a spokesman for Philip Morris and cigarette companies who would appear from time to time as a guest and was so good at what she did that you knew why they hired her. I’ve even guiltily looked her up madly googling and can’t find her name. She looked more like a real model than a goodlooking news presenter, with that mean, scornful look they have in the ads, and was smart. I remember one time she proved she had her eye on the baseball back in the Charlayne Hunter-Gault days, when she said “It’s not tobacco, it’s CIGARETTES”, and you could tell just enough without it being unattractive that she herself smoked, so could be hypocritical in other ways. Most wouldn’t remember her, but she glinted. I just thought Ms. Mazur was a little too good for this sort of interview, even if the guy was an expert in his irritating Israeli way.

    Like

    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 9 August 2012 @ 10:40 am

  62. “In short, qualia are distinctive features of subjective experience but not of consciousness.”

    I woke up this morning thinking about this interim conclusion. You know though — and this is something Velmans asserts as well — our subjective experience of the world is of the world, not of qualia. I.e., we experience the world as naive realists. It’s not until philosophers and scientists consciously attend to the world and compare it with humans’ experience of the world that the idea of a disjuncture between the two — of qualia — even comes to mind. For purposes of survival it’s important that the organism’s subjective view of its environment adequately represents or corresponds with the world. From a survival standpoint it wouldn’t matter if an organism smells light and sees sound, as long as it does so with enough accuracy to find food, evade predators, etc.

    I’m not endorsing an eliminativist argument that the subjective experiences of the world are purely epiphenomenal or illusory. Clearly the qualia map onto features of the world: subjectively experienced E flat corresponds to a particular vibrational frequency of the violin string and so on. When thinking about the distinctive features of consciousness, though, I’d suggest that the phenomenal subjective experiences of qualia — which are unconscious anyhow, as noted in my last comment — aren’t as important to consciousness as, say, concentrated attention to the world and systematic integration of multiple sensory and cognitive modalities. As Lafayette remarked in comment 12: “Just a sense of self digging the ride on the roller coaster?” Not that essential.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 August 2012 @ 10:46 am

  63. English physiologist A.V. Hill, on his first visit to the US after having been awarded the Nobel prize at age 36, was asked about the practical use of his research. “To tell the truth, sir,” Hill replied, “we don’t do it because it’s useful; we do it because it’s amusing.”

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 August 2012 @ 2:50 pm

  64. I didn’t read that last post too closely first time, so I just assumed the guy was a philosopher; but I note now that he was a physiologist – surely of some practical value.

    I think maybe the philosophy of mind is about the only area left where philosophy has any possible contribution to make to the general welfare.

    Like

    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 15 August 2012 @ 3:49 am

  65. “I find the process of doing science, of exploring biological mysteries on a day-to-day basis, deeply rewarding, not only intellectually but also emotionally and socially. Doing experiments gives me the thrill of discovering anew the wonders of the world. Moreover, science is done in an intense and endlessly engrossing social context. The life of a biological scientist in the United States is a life of discussion and debate — it is the Talmudic tradition writ large. But rather than annotate a religious text, we annotate texts written by evolutionary processes working over hundreds of millions of years.”

    – Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory, p. 417

    Kandel and Hill represent the old-school tradition of science being its own reward. Still, while continuously holding an academic post Kandel has worked in the pharmaceutical industry and established his own neuroscience entrepreneurial venture. He notes that industrial labs now do exciting cutting-edge science while at the same time developing useful applications. He never mentions the money. Writing about the rapidly-expanding collaboration between academe and industry over the past 30 years or so, Kandel writes: “Before long, most self-respecting molecular biologists had been recruited to the advisory board of one new biotechnology company after another.” He doesn’t mention the fact that these “self-respecting” scientists became attractive to industry after building reputations financed by government grants, student tuition, and cheap grad-student labor. So maybe there is still room also for politico-economic philosophers of science, inasmuch as the scientists themselves often seem indifferent to the topic.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 August 2012 @ 7:10 am

  66. ” … it is the Talmudic tradition writ large. But rather than annotate a religious text, we annotate texts written by evolutionary processes working over hundreds of millions of years.”

    I hope it doesn’t also mean that the work will be restricted to those of a certain persuasion. (I know you’ll delete that if you want)

    ” He doesn’t mention the fact that these “self-respecting” scientists became attractive to industry after building reputations financed by government grants, student tuition, and cheap grad-student labor”

    A lot of that about, but

    ” So maybe there is still room also for politico-economic philosophers of science, inasmuch as the scientists themselves often seem indifferent to the topic”

    No, I think there’s more than enough philosophy to be going on with. Wasn’t even Kuhn’s ‘ Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ just stating the obvious at great length’. Who needs more of it?

    As Chomsky said, ” the workers need facts, not theories”, the sort of facts he more than anyone tries to get across to us all. Fair play to Suzan Mazur for her investigative work into peer review and patents – that’s the sort of thing that’s needed; not more longwinded talk for the sake of it.

    Pertinently, just the other day zNet reposted a classic Chomsky piece ” Postmodernism?” which has a lot to say about the proliferation of pointless ‘theory’: http://tinyurl.com/cx2j95q

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    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 15 August 2012 @ 8:29 am

  67. Earlier in the thread I contended that I liked empirical science more than philosophy, just as I had preferred detailed Biblical exegesis to systematic theology. Kandel makes a similar point, which is largely why I quoted him here and now. Kandel explores his Jewishness a bit, especially when he talks about leaving Austria as a boy during the Nazi purge and then revisiting his old home town many years later. He never contends that being Jewish gave him a cultural or genetic advantage as a scientist. Actually he credits the American scientific culture. In the paragraph immediately following the one about the Talmudic tradition Kandel writes:

    “The egalitarian social structure of American science encourages this camaraderie. Collaboration in a modern biology laboratory is dynamic, extending not only from the top down but also, importantly, from the bottom up. Life at an American university bridges gaps in both age and status in ways that I have always found inspiring… Yet this would not — could not — have taken place in the Austria, the Germany, the France, or perhaps even the England of 1955. In the United States, young people speak up and are listened to if they have interesting things to say.”

    I know a physicist from Hong Kong who says the same thing. He contends that research labs in Hong Kong are hierarchical, demanding that the younger scientists defer to their elders. Not so in the US, in his experience.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 15 August 2012 @ 9:46 am


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