7.21.2011

The Grand Illusion: Not the one by Styx

Ok, my last post was a bit sarcastic but it's really not far from the claims of philosophers who insist on the immutable nature of consciousness. Essentially it is what they are claiming: brain and mind are analogous to computer and software. It's the software that makes us human and special above all others. Kind of the way Mac users feel. It is software as a service. We get access to our soul under certain limited terms and conditions which can be revoked at any time. So all those people who complain about Gates or Jobs thinking they're God, really aren't too far off...

I, of course don't buy this. I think that what we have named consciousness, doesn't really exist. It is a grand illusion. Over the next many months I hope to share my reasons. I've already started with the beginnings of some very basic primers on the basics of our anatomy. Fleshing out the basics will take several installments. In between I hope to continue to post bad poetry, sarcastic political commentary, self-amusing anecdotes, and the occasional story.

The question is complex and brings together a number of disciplines. But in the end, I think we'll be able to show that the basic structure of cognition is written not in some lore, but in our neurons.

Let the games begin!

16 comments:

pboyfloyd said...

Cool.

Jared said...

I have a post on this which has been in the works for a very long time (almost a year) which I have kept glancing at and adding or removing things, but I'm finding it very difficult to concisely describe the brain in a manner most people could actually grasp. I finally decided to look at it again after the recent discussions over at Evangelical Realism, but I fear I could write a book without ever really scratching the surface. The genetics of potentiation modification are complex in themselves, add to that the induction of these processes, potentiation maintenance, and how, in the brain, the "hardware is the software." Most people, in my experience, just can't grasp this. (Most IT people I've talked to really have problems with this) Perhaps when we get memristors in heavy use, people may generally understand the brain more, but I doubt it as even those don't function in quite the same way and may only serve to further confuse the issue.

Harry C Pharisee said...

Well Jared you've got me pegged (^_^') heh.

My knowledge of biology is minimal, but I'm with the science camp concerning 'mind' and all the silliness entailed with that assumption.

Michael Lockridge said...

This should prove interesting. My own move from science (as perceived by an adolescent) to mysticism and fringe Christianity (I am far from mainstream, thank God,) was in part due to the lack of approachable science relating to the apparent existence of a mind better explained in mystical terms than scientific.

Of course, those adolescent impressions and subsequent decisions led me on my current path. A path I have found satisfactory. Being satisfied, however, is not being sated. I continue to long for knowledge, and this should be a pleasant addition to my experiences.

I look forward to your contribution to my ongoing journey.

GearHedEd said...

Pliny said,

"I think that what we have named consciousness, doesn't really exist."

What is it, then? Can it be analogous to persistence of vision, only on a more complex scale, and referencing our memories? A sort of...

Persistence of Memory?

Jared said...

GearHeadEd, "consciousness" has nothing to do with memories as I understand the term, here's a little snippet from my long-in-progress blog post:
The first of which is "consciousness," in common usage, this is almost synonymous with perception with the distinction that "consciousness" also implies the ability to respond appropriately to perceptions. For the purpose of additional clarity, I will define "the mind" as "the collective behaviors, actions, thoughts, which are are used to characterize an individual" i.e. the "self" or the "soul" of philosophers.

I haven't come across any use of the word "consciousness" which requires the direct formation of memories or potentiation alterations of any kind. (temperature sensative BDNF and CREB deactivation still results in "conscious" fruit flies, they just can't make new memories). Taking moderate levels of ethanol doesn't make one unconscious either (referencing, of course, that ethanol is an NMDA receptor antagonist, which is necessary for forming new memories--in case you ever wonder about one of the contributors to blackouts--NMDA and GABA are two major ones). Ketamine is a potentially useful tool in the investigation of consciousness for this exact reason and is a bit more specific than ethanol.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

GHE, I think Jared has summed it up. Consciousness is the label we have given to our perceptions and coping mechanisms for same.

GearHedEd said...

Well, I was responding to the idea that Pliny implied in the OP re: the illusory nature of what we call consciousness. It seems to me it's another problem in definition.

I admit I'm not well-versed in the biochemical particulars, but it seems that one of the main things that separates us from lower animals (just barely) is our ability to remember things much more effectively. I agree with Jared that "...this is almost synonymous with perception with the distinction that "consciousness" also implies the ability to respond appropriately to perceptions."

And for us to respond appropriately to perceptions, we would need a memory of relevant background experience from which to evaluate possible courses of action, no?

I'm discussing the process of consciousness, not so much the biological mechanics. Perception is always immediate; our responses are necessarily reactions to what is already in the past. This is the bit I was pointing out, that a stronger functionality of "memory" (the persistence I was talking about) provides this illusion of consciousness.

Maybe I'm all wet, but isn't thinking outside the box one of the things that points up new areas to investigate? I don't know where the limits of the box are, so anything I say may be either important or stupid, depending.

I won't feel bad if y'all still think what I'm proposing has no merit. But is my take on the matter definitely out to lunch or is it just outside of the mainstream?

Harry C Pharisee said...

Ed,

If you look at his second sentence again he uses the word 'mind.' This is what I took his usage of 'consciousness' to mean.

GearHedEd said...

Harry,

If 'mind' and 'consciousness' are interchangeable, then we haven't really addressed the 'streaming memory' as a possibility for what we call our illusion of consciousness, have we?

Harry C Pharisee said...

"If 'mind' and 'consciousness' are interchangeable, then we haven't really addressed the 'streaming memory' as a possibility for what we call our illusion of consciousness, have we?"

Well no.

I should clarify something.

Understand, I'm not asserting that mind and consciousness are interchangeable, simply that it really really seems like Pliny was accidentally conflating them, as his argument best fits a reductionist theory of mind.

Here's his reply to you. "Consciousness is the label we have given to our perceptions and coping mechanisms for same."

When we get to the core ideas of mind and soul, the above, sans 'consciousness,' is what reductionists believe.

So for me, this, "This is the bit I was pointing out, that a stronger functionality of "memory" (the persistence I was talking about) provides this illusion of consciousness," is a non-starter, unless you're referring to mind, or soul, or self.

GearHedEd said...

Link

GearHedEd said...

Harry,

It looks like we need some agreed-upon definitions of terms before we attempt to go much further.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Ahh you have been busy while I was away! I agree Ed, I'm working on a discussion thread for proposed definitions to frame the conversation.

GearHedEd said...

Splendiferous!

Harry C Pharisee said...

Ed, Pliny,

Fair enough. I await further instruction. :)

Those breaks in 'Come Sail Away' are hysterical.