Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is conscioiusness primary?

Several threads at IPS have become involved in an ongoing debate about quantum mechanics and consciousness, from quantum enlightenment to will machines ever become conscious? to Varela to ontological leaps. On p. 4 of the Varela thread I introduced some excerpts from Bitbol's essay "Is consciousness primary?," following (in NeuroQuantology, 6:1, 2008, 53 - 72). This one lays out the general theme:

The view according to which consciousness derives from a material basis (that it is so to speak secondary to special arrangements of material entities) turns out to be much weaker than what is currently believed. I will try to show that its scientific and philosophical credentials are indeed highly disputable. But in the end, I will not try to endorse any alternative metaphysical view such as “consciousness is some self-existent stuff independent from matter”, or “consciousness and matter are aspects of a common underlying stuff”, which would not be easier to support than their opposite. In line with Francisco Varela, I will rather advocate a radical change of stance regarding objectivity and subjectivity (1).

This one specifically challenges the Penrose-Hameroff theory:

Their root assumption is that quantum mechanics is a theory describing the objective world, and that every single alteration of the formal elements of the theory is to be ascribed to a change in the objective world.... Some of the latter interpretations, from Bohr’s to Quantum Information, even challenge the underlying belief that quantum mechanics is aimed at describing anything “out there”....far from being a picture of the world construed as detached from us, quantum mechanics would be a picture of the bounds of detachment in physics.

Microphysical phenomena adhere to the contraptions in which they arise; they are not independent of the experimental situation which makes them manifest; accordingly, they cannot be said to “reveal” an underlying independent property.... Just as microphysical phenomena adheres to experimental device and cannot be detached from them, conscious experience adheres to conscious beings and cannot be detached from them.... Just as there are no true “quantum properties” but only “observables”, there are no experiential properties, but only “livables” (13 - 14).

This one ties the above to Varela:

Can we go further? Should we say that conscious experience is ontologically primary?... I am
reluctant to take this additional step. Indeed, the negative arguments I adduced are not sufficient to support any such thesis.... Instead of an alternative thesis, what is then needed is an alternative framework of thought, or even better an alternative stance....the “Varelian stance” “mutual generative constraints" (16 - 17).

Tom, in the machines thread, said:

“Awareness is the experience of wholeness.... Wholeness is the beyond of physical, the meta physical.... Meta, interestingly, means both beyond, beside and through. Add those together and meta becomes consistent with what I've said above.”

I replied:

"It seems Bitbol would agree with the definition of metaphysical if it involved with and through the physical, but beyond? As if awareness (wholeness), in addition, is also beyond or outside the physical? The latter is in this sense the kind of objectivist metaphysicality criticized by Bitbol, and of the kind criticized in Bohr's late period, this return to a completed detached, outside the system and all pervasive a-priori, a-causal cause! (Spit, curse.)"


  1. Bortoft said in this thread:*

    “This process tells us something significant about the whole in a way that shows us the significance of the parts. If the whole presences within its parts, then a part is a place for the presencing of the whole. If a part is to be an arena in which the whole can be present, it cannot be ‘any old thing.’ Rather, a part is special and not accidental, since it must be such as to let the whole come into presence. This specialty of the part is particularly important because it shows us the way to the whole. It clearly indicates that the way to the whole is into and through the parts. It is not to be encountered by stepping back to take an overview, for it is not over and above the parts, as if it were some superior, all-encompassing entity. The whole is to be encountered by stepping right into the parts. This is how we enter into the nesting of the whole, and thus move into the whole as we pass through the parts.”


  2. Tom: "A sign of negation necessarily implied and thus inhering in any position.... The duality of implication---a posit implying a negate---is one movement."

    When you describe in these terms it makes sense to me, like in this prior post* about the negation of negation.



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