Lee Pierson

"What is Consciousness For?"

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You don't need a big scientific study to show that that animal action is deterministic.  Anyone can see that simply by introspection.

In human consciousness, some functions are automatic and some are volitional.  It doesn't take any choice to integrate sensations into percepts.  It happens automatically.  We remember huge amounts of information by simple exposure to it automatically and without effort (like that stupid advertising jingle you can't get out of your head).  Pain feels bad and pleasure feels good automatically.  Conceptual thinking, however requires volitional direction and volitional effort.  It doesn't happen automatically.

There are many examples available to introspection of effortful, non-automatic action in perception. I generally have to intentionally pay attention to what I'm looking at to see as much as possible. I intentionally turn my head in the direction of something interesting (say, some machine I've never seen before). I may walk around it to see it from all sides, and to pickup more information than is available in a static optic array. I may run my hands over it to get further information about it. I may turn my ear towards to listen to its humming, and so on.

Perception is an active, not a passive, process.

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Choosing between vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

An infant selecting which of several toys it wants to play with.

Now, how about a cat sitting on a window sill which it has been observed will then do any of a dozen or more other things after that (with variations), from getting a snack, to taking a snooze (in any of several places), to scratching on the door to be let out, etc. etc.

Now if you don't think your choice of the ice cream or the infant's of the toy is "automatic" and "wired-in", why do you assume the cat's is? When the cat jumps down from the sill and goes upstairs to snooze on the bed in the  bedroom vs. any of dozens of other things it could have done (including snoozing in about six or more other places it likes to snooze), is it doing that because it had to and had no choice in the matter? Or did it go upstairs because that's where it wanted to go?

I'm not assuming that the next thing the cat will do is fill out an application for admission to Harvard. But why couldn't it be assumed that it has a certain degree of choice in the actions it takes?

In my opinion, making perceptual choices is NOT the same as volition. Volition applies only to conceptual issues in which the process itself is volitional. The process of perceiving that chocolate or vanilla ice cream is present in one's field of view is not volitional: perception is automatic. The same applies to an infant. There is no volition involved. All that's happening is "I want ice cream, I see ice cream, I go get ice cream." "I see toy, I want toy, I go get toy." Where is the conceptualization or volition?

Now for man, this example is not comparable to animal choices/alternatives because humans (after a certain age) cannot automatically separate out their conceptual knowledge from the perceptual awareness unless there is a process of abstraction. When you perceive an entity, you instantly grasp that it is a member of a class of entities. When you see an object that looks like a table, you don't have to consider all of the factors that classify the object within the concept. You simply perceive a table. and know that it is a table because perception of similarity and differences is an automatic, non-volitional process of consciousness.

A cat perched on top of windowsill does not grasp that the alternative confronting him are members of a class of various alternatives. He only "knows" from past experience what can be accomplished in a specific situation. I don't think anyone has maintained that animals can't learn or remember past events. However, they do not retain such memories in conceptual, volitional, form. The memories become ingrained in their sensory/perceptual level of consciousness.

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I don't know for sure about whether or not earthworms possess sensation (although I'm inclined toward thinking that they do), but I'm quite positive that flies, bees, and a great many other insects DO possess a sensory consciousness. Are you saying that they possess volition?

Hypothetically, if a bee were to have tiny bit of conscious experience (which is doubtful), then, yes, I would expect it to have a tiny bit of volition. Perhaps it could buzz off this way, overriding its "programming" to buzz off that way. However, the bee is not worth discussing if you haven't yet acknowledged volition in the chimp!

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Your  "Or did it go upstairs because that's where it wanted to go?" implies self-consciousness in the cat, an "I".

You make an important identification. I'd considered pointing out that logical necessity but I'm really starting to avoid posting on this subject.

If all of life is implicitly self-oriented, it is logical that the emergence of consciousness should have an inherent element of self-awareness - *some* sense of "I", albeit implicit and non-conceptual. Why wouldn't it? "To be conscious is to be conscious of *something*." And the consciousness itself, is definitely something real, as are the animal's senses/perceptions.

Non-conceptual sense-of-self is true even for human beings at some stages - an infant certainly does not have concepts but it has some sense of "I". Is anyone here saying that a pre-conceptual human infant is deterministic up until the point that it learns its first word?

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You make an important identification. I'd considered pointing out that logical necessity but I'm really starting to avoid posting on this subject.

If all of life is implicitly self-oriented, it is logical that the emergence of consciousness should have an inherent element of self-awareness - *some* sense of "I", albeit implicit and non-conceptual. Why wouldn't it? "To be conscious is to be conscious of *something*."  And the consciousness itself, is definitely something real, as are the animal's senses/perceptions.

Non-conceptual sense-of-self is true even for human beings at some stages - an infant certainly does not have concepts but it has some sense of "I". Is anyone here saying that a pre-conceptual human infant is deterministic up until the point that it learns its first word?

I don't see that self-awareness necessarily follows from awareness. The question isn't, "Why wouldn't it?", but Why would it?

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Your  "Or did it go upstairs because that's where it wanted to go?" implies self-consciousness in the cat, an "I".

Maybe. So? I don't have a problem with that.

And what would be the purpose of assuming that it has a certain degree of choice?  And, what is a degree of choice?

What is the purpose of assuming it doesn't - although obviously its choices are limited to those possible to a cat.

Unfortunately, we can't ask the cat. We can only observe its behavior and draw conclusions from that.

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In my opinion, making perceptual choices is NOT the same as volition.  Volition applies only to conceptual issues in which the process itself is volitional.  The process of perceiving that chocolate or vanilla ice cream is present in one's field of view is not volitional: perception is automatic.

There are two different issues here. The perception itself is automatic. But I wasn't referring to that in my example. I was referring to the choosing of one or the other of the ice creams.

A cat perched on top of windowsill does not grasp that the alternative confronting him are members of a class of various alternatives. 

So? Why does he have to? Remember, our cat is just trying to decide where to take a snooze, not get into Harvard.

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Our view is that conscious experiences exist to inform, motivate, and sometimes even inhibit volitional action--not that they must all occur concurrently with, or as a result of, volitional action.

So, in other words: Conscious experiences exists to inform, motivate, or inhibit volitional action, except in cases where it doesn't? If that is your view, I agree; that certainly is the function of some consciouness (i.e. conceptual consciousness, and the cases where it doesn't are all other consciousness, where it exists to inform, motivate, or inhibit non-volitional action.

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So, in other words: Conscious experiences exists to inform, motivate, or inhibit volitional action, except in cases where it doesn't? If that is your view

If you read carefully, you will see that I didn't say that. We hypothesize that the adaptive purpose of conscious experience is to inform, motivate, or inhibit volitional action.

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Your  "Or did it go upstairs because that's where it wanted to go?" implies self-consciousness in the cat, an "I".  And what would be the purpose of assuming that it has a certain degree of choice?  And, what is a degree of choice?

I think that you are right, in the sense that self-awareness seems to be required (or perhaps even possible) only in the context of the possibility of volitional action. But self-awareness is a feature of all awareness. Here is an interesting discussion from the IOE appendix:

"AR: ...you are the precondition of the concept of "consciousness." In every state of consciousness that you experience, part of it is the fact of the person who experiences. And in that sense you are implicit in every state of your consciousness.

Prof. E: In other words the only fact of reality that you'd have to get in order subsequently to form the concept "self" or "I" would be your being conscious.

AR: That's right.

Prof. B: Is this correct? When you introspect, it's not that what you observe is a state of consciousness, so that when it comes time to form the concept of "self," there's nothing to form it from. When you introspect, what you experience each time is "me being conscious of something."

AR: Yes."

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Hypothetically, if a bee were to have tiny bit of conscious experience (which is doubtful), then, yes, I would expect it to have a tiny bit of volition. Perhaps it could buzz off this  way, overriding its "programming" to buzz off that  way. However, the bee is not worth discussing if you haven't yet acknowledged volition in the chimp!

Where your theory is concerned, I think the bee is far more worth discussing than the chimp. For one, I have seen (videotaped) evidence that cimpanzees, at least, have the ability to regard entities as units, which is the "gateway" to the conceptual level of consciousness. I have seen none that they are able to abstract and form concepts, but I haven't spent a great deal of time with them... I'll leave that for a chimpanzee expert with a knowledge of concept-formation to decide. Since I think they can regard entities as units, I can accept that chimps possess some limited form of self-awareness (i.e. can regard themselves as a particular kind of unit), although being able to introspect would require a conceptual consciousness. I can also accept that they have some limited ability to choose, say, a banana over a peanut butter sandwich for lunch (recognizing from perceptual memory that it tastes better), but that does not mean that they have the ability to raise or lower their level of focus, to think or not to think, which is what the Objectivist theory of volition is all about.

Chimps are right on the borderline of conceptual concepts, so they are a really bad example to use; it may even be that their consciousness will evolve, as ours did, into a conceptual one. If it is ever proven that chipmanzees can abstract (and I'm open to that proof right now), then I will accept that they have volition. Those who are asking that "our side" prove these animals possess no volition may as well ask that we prove unicorns do not exist. You can't prove something about nothing, which is why the onus of proof is always on those making a positive assertion.

Because your theory states that consciousness itself exists to guide volitional action, not just higher consciousness, in order for you to prove it, you must demonstrate that volition is available even on the lowest level--that of sensations.

I'm sure you can validate that bees have a sense of sight--they see light in the ultraviolet spectrum, by the way--using a simple web search; I think they may also have a sense of smell, too, although I'm not positive. Since sensory experiences are counscious experiences, bees must be conscious. Or are you now claiming that consciousness does not begin on the leval of sensations?

An even better example of entirely non-volition animals with a sensory consciousness is ants. They're behavior is extremely systematic, unwavering, deterministic, and they possess both a sense of smell and a sense of touch, which guide their non-volitional actions. They smell food, leave the nest (or whatever you call it with ants), go get the food, come back. If they collide with each other along the way, they have a very limited sense of touch which is receptive to a specific chemical secreted somewhere around the ants head; whichever ant has the weaker secretion moves out of the way. I have never seen any evidence of an ant choosing to waver from this behavior, nor has any scientist I know of.

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I'm sure you can validate that bees have a sense of sight--they see light in the ultraviolet spectrum, by the way--using a simple web search; I think they may also have a sense of smell, too, although I'm not positive. Since sensory experiences are counscious experiences, bees must be conscious. Or are you now claiming that consciousness does not begin on the leval of sensations?

Yes, their nervous systems detect light. But how do you know that they have conscious experiences?

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I think that you are right, in the sense that self-awareness seems to be required (or perhaps even possible) only in the context of the possibility of volitional action. But self-awareness is  a feature of all awareness. Here is an interesting discussion from the IOE appendix:

"AR: ...you are the precondition of the concept of "consciousness." In every state of consciousness that you experience, part of it is the fact of the person who experiences. And in that sense you are implicit in every state of your consciousness.

Prof. E: In other words the only fact of reality that you'd have to get in order subsequently to form the concept "self" or "I" would be your being conscious.

AR: That's right.

Prof. B: Is this correct? When you introspect, it's not that what you observe is a state of consciousness, so that when it comes time to form the concept of "self," there's nothing to form it from. When you introspect, what you experience each time is "me being conscious of something."

AR: Yes."

Ayn Rand is speaking of man's consciousness here, not All consciousness. The purpose of self-consciousness in man is his regulation of his consciousness IN ORDER that he may live. There is no evidence that animals need to regulate their consciousnesses in order to survive and, that being so, suggests the conclusion that there is NO self-awareness in animals. Besides, since self-regulation of cosciousness is a volitional matter, it is a moral matter. What are Rover's ethical principles? What are his virtues and vices?

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Yes, their nervous systems detect light. But how do you know that they have conscious experiences?

Because sensuous experience is conscious experience.

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Because sensuous experience is conscious experience.

This does not answer the question, which I will rephrase as "how do you know that bees have conscious sensuous experiences?"

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This does not answer the question, which I will rephrase as "how do you know that bees have conscious sensuous experiences?"

Because they can see, i.e. can detect and distinguish between different wavelengths of light. Sight is a sensuous experience. Sensuous experiences are the most basic form of consciousness. I can't possibly be any clearere than that. I don't really know what you are looking for here.

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Ayn Rand is speaking of man's consciousness here, not All consciousness.  The purpose of self-consciousness in man is his regulation of his consciousness IN ORDER that he may live.  There is no evidence that animals need to regulate their consciousnesses in order to survive and, that being so, suggests the conclusion that there is NO self-awareness in animals.  Besides, since self-regulation of cosciousness is a volitional matter, it is a moral matter.  What are Rover's ethical principles?  What are his virtues and vices?

For now, I will answer just one point in the above with which I disagree. Morality is a code of values, that is, it is conceptual, so it is inapplicable to non-conceptual organisms.

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This does not answer the question, which I will rephrase as "how do you know that bees have conscious sensuous experiences?"

Can we get a specific definition of consciousness here? By genus and differentia. Before everyone is talking about unconscious sensations. If this is acceptable, why not unconcsious perceptions since they would only be made up of the unconscious sensations?

What is an experience that is not consciousness of some aspect of reality? Are these bees tripping out and hallucinating all over the flower beds?

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Can we get a specific definition of consciousness here? By genus and differentia. Before everyone is talking about unconscious sensations.

I'll give my definition and wait for Lee to give his.

Consciousness: the faculty which detects and/or distinguishes between aspects of reality

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Can we get a specific definition of consciousness here? By genus and differentia. Before everyone is talking about unconscious sensations. If this is acceptable, why not unconcsious perceptions since they would only be made up of the unconscious sensations?

Sorry, request denied, because it is not possible for an axiomatic concept such as consciousness.

"Sensation" may be a problem, here, though. An input to a sensory nerve is not equivalent to, nor does it necessarily entail, a "sensation" in the sense of some kind of conscious experience. (Robert Efron wrote an excellent article, "What is Perception?", that nicely detailed the ambiguities in the concept of "sensation.")

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Sorry, request denied, because it is not possible for an axiomatic concept such as consciousness.

Oops, my slip. But, what I was looking for was this: consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

Still left open is what you mean by consciousness, and what a conscious experience is. Since perceiving an aspect of reality, being it ultraviolet rays or the use of the olfactory in scents, is not sufficient to be included as conscious experience, what is required to count as a conscious experience? Or to be short, what then is needed for up to say it is conscious?

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We hypothesize that the adaptive purpose of conscious experience is to inform, motivate, or inhibit volitional action.

The function of conscious is to inform, motivate, and inhibit action. Given your hypothesis, whether that action is volitional is what you have the burden of proving.

To just assume that it is, or to smuggle it into the argument by pairing "volitional" with "action," is begging the question.

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The function of conscious is to inform, motivate, and inhibit action.  Given your hypothesis, whether that action is volitional is what you have the burden of proving. 

To just assume that it is, or to smuggle it into the argument by pairing "volitional" with "action,"  is begging the question.

Why do you think I said ""We hypothesize ..."?

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There are two different issues here. The perception itself is automatic. But I wasn't referring to that in my example. I was referring to the choosing of one or the other of the ice creams.

So? Why does he have to? Remember, our cat is just trying to decide where to take a snooze, not get into Harvard.

"Trying" to decide? Sounds like an assumption to me with no evidence. Deciding where to take a snooze does not require volition. All it requires is past experience with several snoozing places. Same comment with the ice cream. All that is required is having seen and tasted the alternatives. No volition there.

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This does not answer the question, which I will rephrase as "how do you know that bees have conscious sensuous experiences?"

The relevant evidence is that they are capable of altering their movements in response to certain conditions or changes in their environment.

Bees fly toward flowers and away from smoke consistently. That is evidence that they can be aware of the differences between flowers and smoke. An insect physiologist could tell you WHY.

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