Monday, January 12, 2015

Waking, Dreaming, Being, chapter three continued

Continuing from this post:

In discussing the inadequacy of claiming consciousness doesn't require a physical body, Thompson makes an interesting distinction. He notes that forces and fields are physical but not material (95). This harkens back to the DL admitting that most states of consciousness have a physical basis, though some of those states may be very subtle, energetic, physical bodies. Nonetheless, the DL as well as Tibetan Buddhism generally still maintain that pure awareness can exist without a material and physical energetic basis.

The DL tries to get out of the phenomenological trap Thompson describes by noting that while one is in pure awareness they don't know they are, since that knowing requires conceptualization, which is absent in this pure state. After one has this experience they can look back and reflect that they were in it, so in that sense it is a third-person perspective. Thompson however does not buy this circular logic, finding them self-fulfilling prophesies based on one's traditional interpretations. And to date there is no physical evidence that can detect a pure awareness devoid of a physical body.

And yet Thompson does accept the primacy of direct experience. Science cannot detect consciousness like it can detect temperature. That is, the scientific observer cannot step outside his own consciousness to measure it. Science can measure the neural correlates of consciousness but not consciousness per se. Science can measure such correlates via verbal reports and/or actions performed by those being measured, showing that they have conscious access to such experiences. The best we can do is infer based on those experiments.

But we can also infer consciousness based on empathy. We instinctively know what it feels like another to be sad or happy because we have those experiences ourselves. We feel though our embodied emotions, and have come to rely on their veracity though generations of interaction with environments that challenged our very survival. This kind of direct experience is prerequisite to the scientific method itself, though often unconsciously and therefore not given sufficient weight. But this reinforces the claim that consciousness is embodied, not metaphysically beyond it. Thompson sums up: “We can never step outside consciousness to see how it measures up to something else, and consciousness never appears or shows up apart from some context of embodiment” (100).

Given the above we cannot realistically infer that consciousness is the primary reality out of which everything is composed. Thompson sees consciousness as embodied, embedded and enactive within an environment. While consciousness might belong to us specifically it belongs to, or is enacted with, this overall physical and material matrix. In this sense consciousness is not one, not two, i.e., both consciousness and embodiment occur together in mutual entailment.

He then asserts that he subscribes to philosophical emergentism, in that consciousness is a natural phenomenon, its complexity arising in concert with the complexity of its physical basis. Consciousness can also then affect its physical basis in a two-way exchange. However we can come to know how it is a natural process, so its not mysterious. He parts ways with emergentism in its scientific claim that physical being of lower orders is not experiential, hence no consciousness. He therefore thinks we need “a radical revision of of our scientific concepts of nature of physical being” (104). This is similar to my earlier comments about how OOO and dynamic systems theory sees any physical suobject as having some form of 'experience.'

In this endeavor he rejects both dualism and pan-psychism. He says the latter assumes experience down to protons, which he just can't see. I think he needs to expand his notion of experience to mean, like OOO, how a suobject responds to others. Protons most certainly do that, yet we can't compare that with human experience. Still, it is a form of experience under this expanded definition. This fits nicely with his attempt to expand the nondual notion of consciousness and the physical to include this expanded notion of experience. This after all is in line with his project of neurophenomenology, to use both inner reports with neuroscientific experiment to discover where the twain shall meet.

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