A Summary of How I think Consciousness Works


Well, at least one of my hopes has been fulfilled: I have found some time to muse not all that long after my last musing. In spite of the passage of only a week or so, my thoughts and ambitions have changed quite a bit. I have altered my reading plans and I have been given a new problem to think about and maybe work on.

First, my reading plans. I finished reading the Tractatus and I have posted the notes I took while reading it. In summary, it was worth reading and it was eye-opening to me. As I moved on to tackle the Philosophical Investigations I came to the conclusion that I would abandon that objective altogether. There were several contributing reasons for that.

First, I discovered that the Philosophical Investigations was not published during Wittgenstein's lifetime, so in fact, I had already read all of his published works. What had happened after his death, was that various people gathered his unpublished manuscripts, tried to make sense of them, and published such of them as seemed to be the right thing to do.

Those opinions varied so there ended up being several different collections of his notes, accompanied of course, by commentaries by the people doing the gathering, selecting, and publishing. As I discovered by browsing Amazon's offerings, there are many such "interpretations" of the "Philosophical Investigations" to choose from.

I sampled one such edition which contains many essays by different people, all interpreting and commenting on Wittgenstein's notes.

In the process, I began to recall some of what I had read years ago when Bob Burton had me read one such volume. I could not identify which volume it was from among the books on Amazon, but I could clearly recall the idea of "Language Games" which comprise the meat of the ideas dealt with in the Investigations. I could even recollect the discussions I had with Bob about the meanings of the sentences, "Slab." and "Bring me a slab."

About then, I decided that I did not want to get mired back down in that kind of pointless effort. I see it as exactly the same kind of fruitless and meaningless project as Medieval Theologians trying to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I decided that I had read enough (about) Wittgenstein for the time being.

But the conclusions reached by Prof. Grim and by Wittgenstein, as I understand them, are still very important and should not be set aside. Those conclusions are that if there is a knower, he/she/it is not only limited but also very elusive. And, since one should not say anything without knowing it, there is very little we (assuming we are, or are among, the knowers) can say. To drill down, the only things we can say for sure are mathematical results. And all mathematical results are simply tautologies and completely devoid of any meaning pertaining to the putative "world".

Of course mathematics, and life itself, are useful and precious, so the fact that we can't quite come to grips with the ideas of knowledge, knowing, and deliberate conscious willful action, we need to pay close attention to those ideas anyway.

So, as I think all philosophers, ancient and modern, and all theologians, again ancient and modern, would advise, it is worthwhile examining ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves, and try to determine what course of actions we should pursue in order to make things better. And this admonition applies to the simplest of personal behavior choices all the way to the establishment of large-scale social institutions like the city-state or the EU.

That brings me to the second of the new developments since my last musing, and that is of the problem I seem to have been given to think about and work on. That problem is to work on the question raised in a recent podcast I listened to in which Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett tried to smooth over some ruffled feathers after Harris had written a scathing rebuke to what he perceived as a scathing review, by Dennett, of his book Free Will.

Harris posed his question as, and I can only paraphrase it, "Why is it so difficult to persuade anyone to change his mind by using logical argument in a rational discussion?"

Over the years, I have pondered and debated the same question with many people. In one form, I asked why do the political leanings of parents seem to have a life-long influence over children who heard politics discussed from their parents' point of view over the dinner table when they were kids? Political party affiliation seems to be heritable.

In another form we could ask, Why do the old scientists have to die off in order for a Kuhnian Paradigm Shift to take place?

With respect to Sam Harris, he and I have some substantial differences of opinion, both politically and philosophically, but strangely enough (at least to me) there are also a surprising number of points on which we agree. Since I have the utmost respect for Sam's intellect, and his ability to participate in calm, reasonable, and logical discussion, I have wanted, ever since I first became aware of him, to engage him in discussions on our points of disagreement. I have been looking for an opening ever since.

As I reported in these very musings, at one point I planned to read his Free Will, write a review of it, and attempt to engage him in a discussion on the subject somehow. As I also reported, those plans were dropped, then reinstated, and partially acted upon. I did read the book, I documented my rebuttal arguments in my notes, but I did not write a review or make any further attempt to get Sam's attention.

Instead, I have watched him grapple with the frustration embodied in his question above, and in particular most recently, in his podcast with Dennett. From these examples, I have concluded that I am far too small a fish to expect to get any serious time or attention from Sam, and worse, I am persuaded by Sam's frustration about the imprinting effect that I wouldn't be able to change his mind, nor he mine, anyway.

So backing away from that project, I am left to ponder what I have called the "Imprinting question". That is, are we imprinted with political, philosophical, and religious opinions from our childhood experiences in the same way that a newly hatched chick is imprinted with the belief that the first thing it sees move is its mother? If so, that would go a long way toward explaining why rational logical argument is so ineffective in changing people's minds.

To close off this musing session, I will try to apply my own personal, and I expect unique, view of reality to the imprinting question and see if I can answer it.

To do so, I will need to come up with a terse summary of my view of reality, and in the spirit of these musings, this is probably a good time and place to do exactly that. Here goes.

Reality is a finite, evolving, work-in-progress. Reality is discrete and finite in all respects. Therefore, it had a beginning of some sort and that beginning was no doubt extremely simple. Effects like time, space, energy, information, life, and consciousness appeared in rudimentary form and evolved into their present forms in some kind of progression.

The progression of change produces dimensions of time, one of which is experienced by us humans as the familiar notion reckoned with our clocks and calendars. Others, in my opinion, undoubtedly exist but are not included in most people's view of reality. We'll skip past the idea of multiple time dimensions for now.

The changing configurations of space and energy have led to the visible astronomical universe we see around us. The changing configurations of matter, information, and energy have led to the life and consciousness we experience as humans at this point in the progression.

The simple view of reality from the human perspective, is, as Plato suspected, not the whole story. Extra temporal dimensions probably hide a much more complex field of interaction than the simple linear inexorable progression of time as we typically envision it from the Big Bang, through the 14.8 billion-year evolution of matter and energy bringing us to this point. And, the spatial world is similarly more complex than the simple 3D Euclidean spatial world, or even the 4D Einstein-de Sitter space-time continuum. It probably contains 11 or more spatial dimensions, as Plato also guessed.

In this complex greater reality, consciousness exists in a hierarchy of what are described by Gregg Rosenberg in his book A Place for Consciousness, as Natural Individuals (NI). These NIs, being the seats of consciousness, are the only reasonable candidates for "knowers". And, consistent with Grim's conclusions, any particular NI can only know about the hierarchy below its position. So the notion of "all" applies, not to all of reality, but only to that subset which lies below the knower in its position in the hierarchy. This also fits nicely with the hierarchical approaches to logic as described by Prof. Grim.

Departing somewhat from Rosenberg, in my unique view of reality, the NI are not exactly conscious. Instead the consciousness is somehow spread between vertical pairs of NIs connected between two successive levels of the hierarchy.

That relationship is similar to that of a car and its driver. From a high vantage point, cars appear to be autonomous and to move in deliberate, purposeful ways. They episodically move from point A to point B and somehow stay on the narrow road, avoiding most collisions, as they proceed. From that vantage point, the cars exhibit conscious behavior so we might say that they are conscious.

From another vantage point, however, we know that cars can only exhibit that behavior when under the control of a human driver who exerts occasional small but critical forces on the various control mechanisms in the car. The consciousness seems to reside in the driver and not the car.

In my world-view, this same car/driver relationship applies up and down Rosenberg's entire hierarchy. But that presents a problem. Taken to its conclusion, all consciousness would reside in the top NI only. And if that's the case, that top NI must be extremely powerful and capable. We could jump to the conclusion that it must be God, Himself.

But if we go back to the starting point of reality and assume that it was simple, there is no place for such a powerful and capable NI. It, too, would have to have evolved from simpler, less capable, precursors.

In my world-view, there is much more room for this process (the development of consciousness) than in the conventional simpler view. There are all those extra dimensions, both spatial and temporal, in which the development could (have) take(n) place. Of course I don't have a description of that process, but I maintain that if we posit such an expanded spatio-temporal environment, we are in a position to speculate and maybe even deduce a reasonable explanation.

It would mean that when "I think", what is really going on is that a series of NIs that are driving my body are really doing the thinking. At the moment of consciousness, when thought happens, the thinking NI seems to be located behind the human eyeballs and it builds a world-model in the human brain that reflects that illusion. That accounts for the current scientific opinions that consciousness itself is an illusion and is strictly an effect of physical brain processes. The existence of an NI outside the brain is never considered, much less acknowledged by brain scientists.

Finally, to get to the point, imprinting of perceived world-views occurs as the experiencing NI documents, or writes, that view into brain structures in the body which then color and influence future experiences of perception by the NI that drives the body.

I realize that this explanation will be satisfactory to no one, but it is simply one more example of a case in which logical argument (and I have the temerity to call my argument "logical") fails to change anyone's mind. There is much more work to do.

Until next time, thanks for reading this.

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