Re: On the subjective experience of consciousness

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Tue Mar 30 2004 - 10:15:16 MST

Metaqualia wrote:

>>Because evolution discovered a fitness adaptation that involves keeping
>>a mental model of the world, as well as a model of self, as well as
>>reasoning capability, etc. Any time you query that system through
>>introspection, you're dealing with the model of self, and of course it
>>(yourself) answers in the first person as expected.
> and why should _that_ mechanical process feel like it does?

I'll give this one more go-around and then (out of respect for the
group)leave it for such time that perhaps a newer, more effective
approach or materials might be available.

It seems that when people approach the question of "What is
consciousness?" they come at it from generally one of two directions:

(1) A first-person experience of self awareness

(2) A third-person conceptualization of how things seem to work

In either case, we want to understand the underlying physical basis for
how seeing a red object results in the distinct experience of perceiving
redness. (Already, we are slipping into semantic quicksand here.)

By "understand" we mean to fit this observation into our existing
knowledge base of linked concepts of how the world "really is". (Now, we
find ourselves in quicksand, surrounded by a treacherous bog, all hidden
in fog, but let's proceed on the assumption that we can feel our way

As Ben pointed out, the simplest conceptualization depends on our
pre-existing knowledge base. This holds true for comparing two
viewpoints until the context is widened to the extent that one viewpoint
begins to include the other. As we widen the context to allow for
further observations, we encounter stuff that doesn't fit, apparent
paradox. This is where the so-called "hard problem" is found.

Paradox is always due to insufficient context. Whether there is missing
information, or logic improperly applied, or the question is improperly
stated or meaningless, there is no paradox in the physical world -- all
the parts must and do fit. Paradox is a condition of apparent
inconsistency due to insufficient conceptual context.

The core of the "hard problem" of consciousness is that it includes the
built-in assumption that there is someone doing the experiencing.
Someone who is somehow separate from the process and who can report
objectively on the experience.

The solution to understanding the "hard problem" of consciousness is to
widen the conceptual context (the third-person perspective) and see that
all the behaviors and reported experiences appear to be explainable in
naturalistic/mechanistic terms.

But, this leaves some with the disturbing and unresolved feeling that
something is missing. Although all the processes can be described (in
theory) in mechanistic terms, where is the direct feeling of experience
in all this? The answer is that this perception, this feeling of direct
experience, is the natural result of these processes.

*The only way we have to know how we feel is by using these processes to
both ask and answer the question.*

Our consciousness is not outside these processes, but part of these
processes. We're built to feel that it's real and we have no other way
to experience it.

There are known dysfunctional cognitive states where this perception of
the direct experience of reality is missing. Zombie states, Capgras
syndrome, split brain experiments and hundreds of other examples show us
that our conscious experience is the *result* of brain processing, and
that in fact, our "direct experience" is full of gaps and fabrications.
  Mind-altering drugs can provide satisfyingly convincing personal
evidence that our mind is not as coherent as we assume, or can feed even
more elaborate speculations on the nature of mind. Buddhism and some
other philosophies teach that the sense of self is an illusion, but
these too struggle with the natural perception that our experience is
what is most real. And in a limited philosophical sense, what we
experience *is* what is most real to us -- this just doesn't help us get
out of that box and past the paradox mentioned earlier.

So it's interesting that our minds are able to build conceptual models
that can include the workings of the mind and the greater universe, but
  humans are currently at a stage of development where their direct
experience, with all it's known limitations, is still given preferred
seating in the Cartesian theater.

- Jef

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