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View Diary: Let's Teach the Controversy of Evolution vs Intelligent Design **Updated with Poll question** (365 comments)

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  •  What about Consciousness? (3+ / 0-)
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    exterris, Joieau, wilderness voice

    I'm agnositic and would not question the overwhelming evidence in favor of evolution.  Thus, I agree with this post whole-heartedly.

    One interesting question that I am always intrigued, however, in support of "religious" type thinking is the nature of consciousness (as seemingly non-physical).

    For instance, from the perspective of the physicist "particles" of physics exist indepedent of consciousness (having mass, permanency, position in time and space, etc) and thus, are fundamentally different than the nature of experience.

    For physicalist cognitive scientists, however, consciousness and its experience are physical in nature such that experience is taken as being produced by the brain whereby consciosness (and its experience) are fundamentally the same to  physical reality.

    Thus, from these two perspectives, physicalism seems to contradict itself.

    There are a plethora of other issues such as the cicularity of explaining the physical world from consciousness and observation and -- in turn -- explaining consciousness in terms of the physical world.  Another example is how to design a computer that enjoys playing chess ... too many here to write.

    Does the nature of consiousness provide a compromise between scientific re-evaluation and testing with religious awareness of something "more" to reality than physical existence?  I could be wrong, but seems to me -- unlike the debate over evolution -- like it does.  

    Of course, this is not appealing to either religious folks are scientsts who take their expertise as authorative in understanding reality.  

    Although we need more examples of science in the classroom, I say we also need more epistemology... the study of the nature of knowledge.  I think most would be humbled.

    •  you made a bad assumption (3+ / 0-)

      ""religious" type thinking is the nature of consciousness (as seemingly non-physical)"

      "Seemingly" is the problem.  You assume that consciousness is separate from your brain.  You then take that assumption and treat it as a fact.  Bad logic.  First show what is consciousness, then prove it is non-physical (or not).  Only then will you be able to go on with the rest of your points.

      •  " First show what is consciousness, then prove it" (1+ / 0-)
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        I don't think it is possible to show what is consciousness other than appeal to Introspection.    One's own consciousness is private ... if there was a means to show it to you, then it would not be my consciousness.

        Now, of course, you might say I need to show you physically what is consciousness, but that is starting with the physicalist assumption that I'm not granting.  Thus, I think it is up to the physicalist to address my points or at least admit to the issue.

        Thanks for the response BTW ... not trying to be argumentative as these are my genuine thoughts.  I'd gladly stand corrected.

        •  You are the one making the assertion. (1+ / 0-)
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          I'm not asking you to show me "your" consciousness.  I am asking you to define the word you are using.  If consciousness is metaphysical, then you are not talking about science, you are talking about philosophy.  The nature of science is that it is testable even if its not tangible.

          You are the person claiming the brain is more complicated than what we can see, but you demand that I prove there is not more.  Why should I have to prove what you say is wrong, when it is you making the extraordinary claim?  What was that Hitchens quote?  Something like "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."  You claim that consciousness is ... something more.  All I am asking is that you please define the something more.

          •  I'm glad to clarify any specific questions. (1+ / 0-)
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            Knowledge is based on observation and I can only observe my own consciousness.  Thus, prior to providing a definition, I'll first quality that I only define my own consciousness.

            In that regard, I define my consciousness as the whole of my bundled experiences.  Per Descartes 'I think therfore I am'  is the evidence. (We might not agree how to define evidence although I agree with Hitchen's claim essentially that an argument must be falsifiable to have meaning.)

            I'm not sure if this statement qualifies to you as either 'showing' or 'defining'.  For instance, I don't say anything about the cause-and-effect nature which is what you might be requesting of me?  

            To clarify about whether or not I'm intending consciounsess as being metaphysical, I don't think that terminology adds any meaning.  For me, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that may be studied and  not a way something exists.  If you are meaning to define metaphysical as something different, then I'd be happy to explain -- if it would help --if your definition could be provided.  Of course, if you are just throwing the word out there to get me to clarify, then I hope I've answered.

            If you can agree introspectively that you can define your consciousness the same way I define my consciousness, then perhaps we can go to the next step.  But you are correct that it is important to first define our terms. Without that, we'll talk past each other.

        •  No, no, no! (1+ / 0-)
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          Appealing to introspection is exactly the wrong approach to understanding consciousness. The right approach, IMHO, is to study the brain in the most minute detail possible. When we gain an understanding of what the brain does, and how it does it, we are on the right track toward understanding consciousness.

          Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

          by Tim DeLaney on Mon May 06, 2013 at 04:14:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
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            Tim DeLaney, cybersaur

            Ultimately, the mind must map upon the brain.  

            As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

            by BPARTR on Mon May 06, 2013 at 04:40:42 PM PDT

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          •  Yes Yes Yes (0+ / 0-)

            Ruling out introspective knowledge also rules out study of the brain.

            How do you have any knowledge of the brain without referece to your own experience/observation.

            Did you read a book about the brain ...that is an experience.

            Did you perform surgery, open up the skull and take a look at a real live brain ... that is an exerience.

            In the same way, I'm referring also to experience.  If you are saying I can't trust my experience, can't I turn it back on you and see you cannot trust yours?

            •  You evidently have a different definition (0+ / 0-)

              of "introspection" than I do. Reading books or performing surgery are not my idea of introspection.

              Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

              by Tim DeLaney on Tue May 07, 2013 at 09:33:20 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, perhaps we do have different definitions. (0+ / 0-)

                In using the term introspection, I meant being sensitive to the whole of one's experience.  If there is a better term for such a thing I'd be thankful for the input.

                Hopefully this helps and we can get beyond semantics and back to  substance... according to this specific definition of introspection (or whatever word you might feel more appropriate) does this clarify or do you have remaining issues with what I've said?

              •  I just read your definition after posting above. (0+ / 0-)

                Actually, your definition might serve my purpose.

                "observation or examination of one's own mental and emotional state, mental processes, etc.; the act of looking within oneself. "

                does that not include this?

                "observation of one's own mental processes"

                If so, is not reading a book an [observed] mental process?

      •  I agree with you 1000%. (2+ / 0-)
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        wilderness voice, Joieau

        I'm actually trying to write a book to what might even be more difficult for the materialist/physicalist ... defining the nature of truth.

        My friends and relatives mention I should not post my ideas on the internet as the might be "stolen" but -- at the same time -- I'm looking for feedback. What I wish to write I think, however, would be very appealing and interesting to the community here.  One day, perhaps I'll get everything written down and figure out how to protect it.

        Altough not the ultimate goal of knowing truth, It's nice to connect with a 'like' mind..  It seems like most folks are either religious fundamentalist or materialist/physicalist fundamentalist where neither side fully appreciates the great mystery and awe to reality.

    •  I follow the scientific quest (1+ / 0-)
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      Jeffersonian Democrat

      to quantify consciousness, as one of the more fascinating investigative projects in my lifetime (it was ignored in favor of Cartesian dualism for far too long because it's so uncomfortable a subject). Most prominent funding coming from "The AI Guys." Still don't know if I qualify as a monist or a dualist, but it sure seems to me that consciousness 'evolves' and is represented to greater or lesser degrees across the huge variety of life forms on this planet.

      The quest accepts for the most part the 'given' that there must be physical correlates of consciousness [PCCs] - physical structures by which and through which consciousness is expressed in this physical world, to the degree that consciousness does have real effects on matter. Some hold tight to the idea that these physical correlates must be neural, thus exist solely in life forms that have developed specialized neural cells (and brains). Others hold that it's more ubiquitous than that, thus must be found in structures within cells rather than some organic collection of cells. I lean toward the latter, but don't claim to know for sure.

      Seems obvious that consciousness is a phenomenon of the living, not the dead. IOW, I do not believe raw matter - any form - is somehow conscious in and of itself. A given life form can be (and always is at some point) alive in one moment and not alive in the next. All of the particulate matter is the same either way (pre-decomposition/ recycling), in exactly the same physical order and structure. But we clearly recognize the difference between alive and dead. Thus the expression of consciousness must be a process - even an energetic process - rather than just a physical arrangement of atoms.

      So while I probably won't be around when/if they ever do figure out what the PCCs are and how they work (Physical Correlates of Consciousness), it would not surprise me that the sub-cellular process of its expression turned out to be involved in the process of evolution as much as it's involved in the process of gene expression during individual lifetimes. That would go pretty far toward explaining how rudimentary 'developments' like photosensitive cells end up being actual eyes - per the existential circumstances of the critter and its immediate kin in the struggle to survive and reproduce. Nod here to cave-dwellers who lost their eyes altogether because they weren't needed at all. Mammals, fish, reptiles and birds (etc., "higher" forms) are not the first to have developed photosensitivity - some protozoa are quite photosensitive. Is that "Intelligent Design?"

      And what does "Intelligent" actually mean in all this? That's a sticking point, for sure.

    •  There's nothing inherently impossible about (5+ / 0-)

      designing a computer that "enjoys" playing chess, if the criterion for success is a Turing test:  the computer acts like it enjoys playing chess and says that it does.  Why do you think it would be impossible to built a computer model of the dopaminergic pleasure system?  

      As a neuropsychologist, I've never quite understood the whole purported mysteriousness surrounding consciousness, which seems to me to be comprised basically by the brain taking its own action and physiological effects as an object of cognition.  When somebody can demonstrate that consciousness can exist without a physical substrate or that substantial deterioration of the physical substrate doesn't lead to deterioration of consciousness (e.g., in Alzheimer's), let me know.  

      "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

      by Oliver St John Gogarty on Mon May 06, 2013 at 02:41:58 PM PDT

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      •  I'll try my best to answer. (1+ / 0-)
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        One of the greatest mysteries of consciousness, for me, is the unity of conscoiusness.  Regular physical processes occur as a chain reaction of events down, it would seem, down to the quantum particle level.  Macroscopically, a computer keyborad inputs data to the computer in this way.  The memory of the computer is not directly attached to the keyboard but get populated following from a chain reaction of events such as the signal travelling down the wire from the keyboard.

        Consciousness is diffierent that its events exist collectively.  My consciousness is aware simultaneously of my thoughts, field of vision, noises that I hear, etc.  There is a non-arbitrary togetherness that seems not otherwise idenitifiable in the material world.

        Materialist Daniel Dennett said the unity of consciounsess  (what he calls Cartesian theater) will never be found in the brain precisely because there is no point or location in the brain of pre/conscious versus post/consciousness.  For him there is only separate streams of parallel processing (as we would normally think the physical world).  I think this point can be used against him as I introspectively know there is unity to my consciousness.

        •  Neural networks (1+ / 0-)
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          Consciousness really isn't all that different. The brain is essentially just a biological neural network. We can and have built those. They're really good at pattern recognition-- just like the brain. Take away the neural network and there is no consciousness. The brain is the mind.
          And humans really aren't capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. Parallel processing does occur, but that isn't unique to the brain.

          +++ The law is a weapon used to bludgeon us peasants into submission. It is not to be applied to the monied elite.

          by cybersaur on Tue May 07, 2013 at 08:29:48 AM PDT

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          •  Is your computer conscious? n/t (0+ / 0-)
            •  not yet (0+ / 0-)

              Once we build neural networks that approximate brains in animals the answer will be very different.

              +++ The law is a weapon used to bludgeon us peasants into submission. It is not to be applied to the monied elite.

              by cybersaur on Tue May 07, 2013 at 11:11:12 AM PDT

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              •  Only if consciousness (0+ / 0-)

                is a magically 'emergent property' of the wiring. I don't believe in magic, myself. That's probably because I know far too many magicians...

                •  That doesn't follow (0+ / 0-)

                  If you don't believe consciousness is a magically 'emergent property' of the wiring between your own ears, there's no reason to make that assumption with a man-made neural net.
                  That's like asserting computers can't "remember" things because they're made out of silicon and copper...

                  +++ The law is a weapon used to bludgeon us peasants into submission. It is not to be applied to the monied elite.

                  by cybersaur on Tue May 07, 2013 at 11:41:51 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Of course it follows. (0+ / 0-)

                    You claim that a complex enough 'neural net' built on the model of, say, a rat brain, would be as conscious as a rat. Or am I misunderstanding your contention?

                    Hence, per my understanding of what you've said, consciousness is an emergent property of the 'neural net' and its complexity. Presuming of course we are to believe that rats have consciousness, and the computer speaks English (with a rat's level of consciousness). Is that not so?

                    An 'emergent property' is a property/quality of something that emerges suddenly from the underlying complexity without being any sort of inherent property of any component or combination of components from which it emerges.

                    IOW, consciousness would not be considered an inherent property of the wires or the electrons running through them, or of the gates that allow its logic functions and/or memory to operate. To where if you gather enough of them in one place, it suddenly wakes up and says, "Hi, there. I'm conscious and self-aware, and your programs are intolerably stupid."

                    You are instead saying that the WAY they are interconnected will at some point (X number of connections and cross-connections) magically produce the consciousness that would wake up and say, "Hi, there. I'm conscious and self-aware, and your programs are intolerably stupid."

                    I'm not buying it.

      •  A question... (1+ / 0-)
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        Do you think observation (which arises from conscoiusnes) provides the foundation to know the cause-and-effect nature of reality as being physical.  Or do you think the knowledge of the physcial work provides the foundation to know consciounsess?  If both, how is the circularity avoided?

      •  Illegitimate requirement. (0+ / 0-)
        When somebody can demonstrate that consciousness can exist without a physical substrate or that substantial deterioration of the physical substrate doesn't lead to deterioration of consciousness...
        You cannot demand physical 'proof' of anything non-physical. To do so abandons science altogether and enters the realm of metaphysics - philosophy. At which point you're arguing beliefs, not evidence and/or facts. And since you don't believe that there is anything non-physical, the exercise would be entirely pointless.

        That said, the existence of base-level rudimentary consciousness in the fabric of reality (given a presumption that there must exist a "Totality of Reality" even if we don't yet know what it is or looks like, or even how many dimensions it encompasses) is certainly conceivable, cannot be ruled out arbitrarily simply because we don't yet know what it is or looks like.

        I rather like Penrose's theory of Orchestrated Objective Reduction [Orch-OR] attempting to explain the objective existence of the reality we perceive, expanded beyond the simpler "observer effect" actuating the subjective reality of concentrated (embodied) consciousness. It involves a separation of space-time itself which collapses a wavefunction once it reaches Planck 'distance' via the quantum of gravity ['graviton']. Does away with the apparent need for a universal observer, a problem for anyone who doesn't want to subscribe to deific ideas. Penrose is a Platonist.

        It has its issues (we will probably never 'see' a graviton, for one), but it does propose a physical substrate that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed as you have attempted to do here.

        •  bad logic using science terms is still bad logic (0+ / 0-)

          Just using the words "graviton", "wave function" and "Planck length" does not make what you said reasonable nor logical.  Sorry, doesn't fly.  

          Of course anyone can and should demand proof that what you call non-physical even exists.  We can prove that photons exist, and they do not have mass.  Black holes, which do crazy things to space-time, have theories which make predictions.  Your word salad?  Not so much.

          •  Sorry, not your hypothesis. (1+ / 0-)
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            I still don't agree with Penrose's hypothesis, but I can't lay it on you.  I do regret calling something I do not fully understand a word salad, and apologize for doing so.

            •  I don't guess there are more (0+ / 0-)

              than a handful of people on this planet who 'understand' Penrose's hypothesis, but at least he's not shy of formulating it and putting it out there for discussion/criticism. I personally am highly skeptical of gravitons existing at all - and am semi-amused every time a team of researchers claim to have established that erstwhile "gravity waves" travel at the speed of light, only to find in the end that all they've managed to measure is the speed of light. Again. Duh...

              But they are trying, which is laudable. More experiments coming this year, we shall see if those end up measuring the speed of light too, rather than the speed of gravity. Which I suspect (because I care to suspect) is more like magnetic flux - instantaneous throughout space-time. But then again, that has the little problem of monopoles, and Lord knows those are as hard to find as gravitons! §;o)

              I also suspect that the most fundamental component /operative /phenomenal process of what we call consciousness is inherent to the Totality of Reality itself. Thus I find it entirely non-surprising that life - and the evolution of life - serves to concentrate this quality in our experiential reality. I suspect that for lots of reasons that seem very good to me, but probably wouldn't convince anybody else. Still, if one can consider that consciousness is somehow a fundamental quality of the universe itself, it is entirely rational to then suspect that it does not cease to exist when the physical structures which concentrate and express it in living organisms cease to function and are dissociated/recycled. Because nothing we know of that fundamentally exists can be created or destroyed. It can only change form...

              •  while I would _like_ to believe this idea, (1+ / 0-)
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                I cannot.  It is a hope, a wish-fulfillment fantasy, not science.  We all want to leave something behind that endures.  We all want to not stop living, death is scary.  That does not make any of these ideas true.  Given that consciousness cannot be defined very well in words, never mind described in scientific or even mathematical terms, we're not even close to having a science of what we loosely call being conscious.  For right now, we just "know it when we see it".  :)

                •  Speak for yourself. (0+ / 0-)

                  I am not scared of death. But I've lived a pretty long time, and I've met death more than once. Dying is scary, but death is not. In fact, it's a lot surer an outcome than [live] birth ever was. Of course, that's philosophical, a rumination of consciousness and conscious experience of life and death on planet earth.

                  So in my investigations of the subject of consciousness, it is not my "wishes" or "wants" that dictate what avenues appear to be the most promising to me. It's a genuine curiosity about the Totality of Reality. I'd love to know. Don't expect I ever really will. Just curious that way, I guess.

                  I'm not a big believer in magic. Can't help it, just know way too many magicians to believe in any of it as anything more than clever sleight-of-mind. And even that presupposes there's a mind to be fooled. I do have some experience in the fields of biophysics and quantum physics, so I am at least able to follow the gist of the most interesting arguments and hypotheses in this quest. In that vein, I'd have to say that Sir Roger Penrose and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff have fairly described their theories - both physical and biological - with some pretty darned good scientific and mathematical terminology.

                  Why, they even have precise boundary limits for when rudimentary process crosses the line into actually measurable consciousness. That's a lot more than simple denial ever has or ever will produce.

                  P.S. I've said nothing about "left behind," haven't broached the subjects of ghosts and goulies, afterlives, heavens, hells, or even reincarnation. I have approached the subject of Hilbert Spaces and the so-far indeterminate number of dimensions there may be in the Totality of Reality.

                  Fact: So far, all attempts to unify the few forces we know of/experience in our reality require the mathematical addition of "extra" dimensionalities (to do away with those pesky singularities that keep rearing their ugly heads). Anywhere from 7 to infinity - favorite so far has 22. If indeed there are more than 3+1 dimensions in the Totality of Reality, it is impossible - a fatal fallacy - for us to arbitrarily rule out the existence of consciousness in any or all of them.

                  Worse, we do not yet have a decent handle on the true nature of time, do we?

                  •  Way ahead of me, Joieau. (1+ / 0-)
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                    You're far ahead of me in thinking about these matters.  
                    "I are jest a simple biochemist."

                    •  LOL! Well, to tell the truth, (0+ / 0-)

                      I've been at it for quite awhile now. Even worse than that, one of my favorite "Theories of Everything" - lots and lots of those out there these days - has a mere 8 dimensions, but applies to a multi-sheeted space-time (at least one more than Penrose's, though Sir Roger did give Matti credit where credit is due for in OR theory). Unlike Penrose's 'graviton', Pitkaanen's extremal has a hedgehog vector. Like a monopole. Requires more than one collapse of wavefunction to become 'real'...

                      I've always figured that if a "Theory of Everything" can't account for consciousness and all the very odd phenomena of consciousness, it's not worth the paper it's printed on - or the memory in which it's stored.

                      Nobody's got the answers at this point in time and space, so it's all good brain-exercising fun!

                    •  And because I am enjoying (0+ / 0-)

                      the exercise, I'll say that in truth, there's no irrefutable physical evidence out there to establish that ANYTHING ever exists apart from the present moment - which we always experience with a time-delay of several microseconds, so we're not really 'here now' either. The entire universe could be recreating itself completely in between 'instantons' of time as everything moves through space (trajectory-driven, ever-evolving coordinates). If we had a decent handle on time, that is, and we don't.

                      Personally, I think reality is mostly habit. You could spontaneously fly apart to opposite ends of the universe one moment to the next. Or find yourself being a crow instead of a human, or walk through walls, or... But our atoms are "used to" being what they were in the moments past, so tend to be the same in moments future. Sort of a 'sum of histories' probability thing. With occasional oopses, that is. Given that matter is cheap, but spontaneously decays on occasion for no apparent reason. §:o)

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