Nature of Consciousness
Parisi & Watson
niche at AMERITECH.NET
Mon Jul 19 21:16:03 CDT 1999
From: Greg Goode <goode at DPW.COM>
To: ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG
<ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG>
Date: Monday, July 19, 1999 4:54 PM
Subject: Nature of Consciousness
>>How can a living person have _any_ state in the absence of brain
>This is a question about persons and brains. In the scientific realms of
>physiology, biology, psychology themselves, the causal or primary role of
>the brain is part of the accepted toolkit. But it is not a metaphysical
>In metaphysics, we question and investigate the concepts of brain, person,
>states and consciousness themselves. We don't take these concepts or their
>definitions for granted.
Excuse me, but you're making this too complicated. I simply asked how a
living human being can have any mental (or other) state in the absence of
brain physiology. Living, conscious people have functioning brains, and
these brains cannot be arbitrarily excluded from our understanding of people
and their mental states. Brain physiology is _always_ a key element in any
mental state of a living person.
>>It's true that we can't explain how or why random thoughts arise, in terms
>>of brain physiology or anything else. But that's still not to say that
>>thoughts and states are not produced by the nervous system, although in a
>>way that is unknown to us. If it were not so, then why would a person's
>>thoughts become bizarre and deranged after the ingestion of certain drugs?
>>Why would lack of blood flow to the brain produce unconsciousness? Why
>>various types of brain injuries, which have been documented in detail in
>>books like those of Oliver Sacks, produce various grotesque distortions of
>>personality, perception, and self image?
>Yes, these phenomena can be observed, but they can't count against the
>non-dual view. (How could anything?) Remember the case of Suzanne Segal?
The "How could anything" is part of the problem. When a position becomes
true by definition, so that its inevitable truth is entailed by the way it
is framed, then we have a right to wonder whether anything of substance is
actually being said. "All bachelors are unmarried."
>(i) Do brain states cause psychological or experiential states? In
>scientific observations, what is actually observed is only succession and
>regularity. Causation as a forceful power or phenomenon is NEVER observed.
> See David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. So there can be
>statistical generalities laid out as theorems. But to say that A causes B
>is unscientific. What can be accurately said is that in a large percent of
>cases, B is observed to follow A. That is what we have here with Oliver
We can observe not only succession, but dependence. We know without doubt
that massive injury to the brain results in loss of consciousness,
awareness, and personality. Does it not seem reasonable and realistic to
infer some dependence, and thus causality, in this case? If consciousness is
prior to and independent of the nervous system, then why is its quality and
very existence contingent on the proper functioning of that system? Doesn't
it seem to obvious even to mention?
>Also, the brain is not unique as a "necessary condition" for these
>obervations. On the regularity theory, many things could be added, like
>mother, food, air. Mother is a good one. How can there be any
>experiential state of a person without a mother? Dysfunctional behaviors,
>neuroses, etc. can be observed when predictable pathological relationships
>with one's mother are observed (may take a while to show up!)
It's not quite the same. If my mother dies tomorrow, my consciousness,
personality, self image, sense of 'I-am,' and so on will continue
unimpinged, even if I have been plunged into grief. The same cannot be said
of the destruction or injury of my brain. And of course food and air are
necessary in order to sustain life, without which the brain also has a rough
time of it.
>(ii) Do we take any phenomenal object to be real, or independent of
>consciousness? Later in your message you say that
> >We have only our perceptions, and can never compare
> >them to any thing in itself.
>And you argue -- from the successful use of perception and inference in
>navigation and survival -- to the conclusion that we CAN say something
>about what is Out There.
>But if all our states and the brain itself occur only as perceptions,
>sensations and thoughts, then whatever we hypothesize as being Out There is
>again occurs only as perceptions, sensations and thoughts. Nothing ever
>breaks out of the loop, for it is "in" consciousness whenever we say it is
>not. For the very "it" itself is something cognized in consciousness.
Again my point: the argument you are making is true by definition, and so
supports nothing. Human consciousness _is_ the medium of all human
experience, whether or not it is produced and sustained by the nervous
system. In other words, the same considerations remain inevitable even under
a totally materialistic set of assumptions. Therefore how can they be used
to support one position over the other - either consciousness as the basis
of all being, or consciousness as produced and sustained by the organism?
>(iii) The third is "What is consciousness"?
I don't think the foregoing provides a firm enough foundation even to frame
this question. I know I don't have any definitive answer for it.
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