Lee Pierson

"What is Consciousness For?"

444 posts in this topic

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

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

Electronic sensors do that.

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Electronic sensors do that.

I suppose they do, so it doesn't really work.

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Can we get a specific definition of consciousness here? By genus and differentia.

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

Ayn Rand was able to define it by genus and differentia:

"Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

QUOTE("The Metaphysical Versus The Man-Made @ " The Ayn Rand Letter

Vol. II, No. 12 March 12, 1973)

The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists
Consciousness is the faculty of awareness—the faculty of perceiving that which exists.
Consciousness, to repeat, is the faculty of perceiving that which exists. ("Perceiving" is used here in its widest sense,  equivalent to "being aware of.") To be conscious is to be conscious of something.

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Ayn Rand was able to define it by genus and differentia

Those descriptions by Ayn Rand are descriptions, not definitions. ""Perceiving" is defined in terms of "consciousness," not the other way around. Consciousness is an "irreducible primary," an "axiomatic concept," and cannot be defined by genus/differentia:

"Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition e.g., to define "existence," one would have to sweep one's arm around and say: "I mean this." " (IOE ch 5)

"The first and primary axiomatic concepts are "existence," "identity" (which is a corollary of "existence") and "consciousness."" (IOE ch 6)

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In response to my example of a cat going upstairs to take a snooze,

"Trying" to decide?  Sounds like an assumption to me with no evidence.

Yes, it is "an assumption" - as much of an assumption as that it is driven deterministically to do it by forces outside of its control. To demonstrate that it is deterministic, you'd have isolate the factor(s) that makes the cat go upstairs vs. half a dozen or more other possible places it likes to snooze. Then you'd have to show that given those factors it will invariably go upstairs vs, say, to the couch in the den.

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.

Are you now just referring to a cat or also including human choice? I hope you are not including human choice because if you are what you are saying is that when you select one ice cream over another you *had to do it* and you had no choice in the matter. But if you didn't have to do it, why did the cat?

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Those descriptions by Ayn Rand are descriptions, not definitions.

"Consciousness is the faculty of awareness" most certainly IS a definition because:

(1) It differentiates all units of the concept "consciousness" from that which is not a unit of the concept "consciousness." The identified characteristics are true of any consciousness and only of a consciousness.

(2) It is in the form of genus (faculty) and differentia (of awareness).

(3) It names the essential characteristics that are causally related to every other characteristic of consciousness.

""Perceiving" is defined in terms of "consciousness," not the other way around. Consciousness is an "irreducible primary," an "axiomatic concept," and cannot be defined by genus/differentia:

"Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition e.g., to define "existence," one would have to sweep one's arm around and say: "I mean this." " (IOE ch 5)

"The first and primary axiomatic concepts are "existence," "identity" (which is a corollary of "existence") and "consciousness."" (IOE ch 6)

Consciousness is ostensively defined to begin with, but so are most concepts that refer to physical entities like "man" or "table." Later, however, as man's knowledge expands, he further differentiates and defines his concepts and can develop verbal definitions in terms of genus and differentia.

That's what Ayn Rand did.

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"Consciousness is the faculty of awareness" most certainly IS a definition because:

(1)  It differentiates all units of the concept "consciousness" from that which is not a unit of the concept "consciousness."  The identified characteristics are true of any consciousness and only of a consciousness.

(2) It is in the form of genus (faculty) and differentia (of awareness).

(3) It names the essential characteristics that are causally related to every other characteristic of consciousness.

Consciousness is ostensively defined to begin with, but so are most concepts that refer to physical entities like "man" or "table."  Later, however, as man's knowledge expands, he further differentiates and defines his concepts and can develop verbal definitions in terms of genus and differentia. 

That's what Ayn Rand did.

Not with axiomatic concepts she didn't, because "the only [emphasis added] way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition." "Consciousness is the faculty of awareness" is not a definition, because of the circularity involved in using the term "awareness" to describe consciousness. Note that nowhere does Ayn Rand claim to be defining consciousness by genus/differentia.

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Those descriptions by Ayn Rand are descriptions, not definitions. ""Perceiving" is defined in terms of "consciousness," not the other way around. Consciousness is an "irreducible primary," an "axiomatic concept," and cannot be defined by genus/differentia:

Then give a description of consciousness. We still have a thing (apparently a bee) that has sensations without awareness, and experiences without awareness.

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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Then give a description of consciousness. We still have a thing (apparently a bee) that has sensations without awareness, and experiences without awareness.

Let me put it this way: A honeybee has a primitive nervous system that enables it to respond to various enviromental situations, in a way that perhaps a robot bee could someday be programmed to do. But do flowers smell fragrant to it? Does honey taste sweet to it? Does it feel pleasure and pain, not just respond behaviorally to beneficial and noxious stimulation?

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Does it feel pleasure and pain, not just respond behaviorally to beneficial and noxious stimulation?

This question leads me to ask another:

Are pleasure and pain necessary parts of conscious experience, or are they types of sensations which may be felt by some conscious organisms?

I can think of a great many conscious sensations that I find neither pleasureable nor painful. For instance, the sight of my backpack on the floor next to me, or the sound of a car that just drove by.

Of course the bee just responds behaviorally to the stimulation. In my view, that is because it is only conscious on the level of sensations, and volition only comes into play on the conceptual level. In your view, it seems, it is because the bee, although it can see, is not conscious. I've clearly stated why this is contradictory. All one has to do to validate it is introspect to see that sight is a form of sensory consciousness, which isn't even a particularly difficult bit of introspection.

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In response to my example of a cat going upstairs to take a snooze,

Yes, it is "an assumption" - as much of an assumption as that it is driven deterministically to do it by forces outside of its control. To demonstrate that it is deterministic, you'd have isolate the factor(s) that makes the cat go upstairs vs. half a dozen or more other possible places it likes to snooze. Then you'd have to show that given those factors it will invariably go upstairs vs, say, to the couch in the den.

Are you now just referring to a cat or also including human choice? I hope you are not including human choice because if you are what you are saying is that when you select one ice cream over another you *had to do it* and you had no choice in the matter. But if you didn't have to do it, why did the cat?

Perhaps you haven't followed everything I've said in this thread, but I do not believe that "deterministic" is the correct way to describe conscious experiences, either in animals or in man. Neither do I accept that consciousness is volitional control of action. I accept the terms exactly as described in the Objectivist literature as being is the correct usage. I will not repeat myself further here.

My comment does not assume that animals are controlled by forces outside of their control. The cat has learned from past experience where comfortable places are located or what a comfortable place might look like if it sees it. The cat simply makes a perceptual choice based on its observation and memory. The cat is fully capable of perceiving similarities and differences among objects, just as man can perceive them. The cat does not "have to do it" unless it wants the object directly within it perceptual range. There is no volition in the matter, no conceptual integrations occurring within the cat's "mind." Humans have the capacity to act in a similar manner and this can be observed by introspection and observation, especially children. This is the perceptual level of consciousness. If you want to deny that volition consists only of conceptual processes, then perhaps you'd at least acknowledge that you repudiate the Objectivist epistemology.

Again, with the ice cream example. As an adult human, it is impossible to separate one's conceptual faculty from one's perceptual processes except by abstraction. When faced with "chocolate or vanilla" in front of my face, I don't need to make a volitional choice if the specific example is to select one or the other. I can just point to one or the other and make a selection in much the same way as someone who is out of focus could. However, since I choose to think about how the ice cream relates to my context of values (perhaps I don't want any choice if I want to loose weight), my volition consists of relating my action to my values and not just to the choice of selecting one or the other.

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Let me put it this way: A honeybee has a primitive nervous system that enables it to respond to various enviromental situations, in a way that perhaps a robot bee could someday be programmed to do. But do flowers smell fragrant to it? Does honey taste sweet to it? Does it feel pleasure and pain, not just respond behaviorally to beneficial and noxious stimulation?

So what if it did none of these? Why would I assume that it grasps these things in the same form that you or I do? It only matters that it can detect differences in its environment in some way that enables it to successfully act in the world. This is not only consciousness (albeit on a wholly primitive level), but the whole purpose of consciousness.

Maybe (and let's even assume it to be true for a moment) that what makes flowers smell fragrant to us causes the bee's "nose" to vibrate in such a way that we would call it a pleasure response. The bee, wired in such a way, automatically will pursue the flower such as its nature has deemed it to do. On the other hand, it will avoid smoke much as it will attack that which threatens the hive, automatically as a threat.

To be sure it has a primitive nervous system, but there is stuff attached to it. These are its sense organs. These sense organs and the corresponding nervous system (that feed the information to whatever passes as its brain) constitute its consciousness. What it thusly perceives is its conscious experience. These allow it to respond behaviorally to beneficial and noxious stimuli.

I also cannot assume that the pleasure/pain mechanism are the only "enforcers" of behavior in the animal kingdom. Maybe a bee encounters smoke and only receives an impulse that would translate to "veer left". Maybe as well the fragrance of flowers does not give it pleasure, but gives it the message "fly straight ahead, brother."

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This question leads me to ask another:

Are pleasure and pain necessary parts of conscious experience, or are they types of sensations which may be felt by some conscious organisms?

Sorry, wasn't stealing your idea in my later post. I ws thinking along the same lines while you posting! :)

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This question leads me to ask another:

Are pleasure and pain necessary parts of conscious experience, or are they types of sensations which may be felt by some conscious organisms?

I can think of a great many conscious sensations that I find neither pleasureable nor painful. For instance, the sight of my backpack on the floor next to me, or the sound of a car that just drove by.

Of course the bee just responds behaviorally to the stimulation. In my view, that is because it is only conscious on the level of sensations, and volition only comes into play on the conceptual level. In your view, it seems, it is because the bee, although it can see, is not conscious. I've clearly stated why this is contradictory. All one has to do to validate it is introspect to see that sight is a form of sensory consciousness, which isn't even a particularly difficult bit of introspection.

But possibly a bee responds in the manner a bee robot might, without "seeing" anything other than in the "electronic sensor" sense? Another example: plants turn to the sun, but have no conscious experiences.

(And pleasure/pain are just examples of conscious experiences, albeit important ones)

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"Consciousness is the faculty of awareness" is not a definition, because of the circularity involved in using the term "awareness" to describe consciousness.

All definitions are identifications -- statements of identity -- so they are circular in that sense.

Note that nowhere does Ayn Rand claim to be defining consciousness by genus/differentia.

But observe that is exactly what she is doing. She is identifying consciousness as a faculty -- a certain kind of capability that a living thing possesses. That is certainly not circular. Then she is differentiating it from other faculties such as the faculties of sight, hearing, memory, etc. A person can lack the faculty of sight and still posses the faculty of awareness. A lower animal can lack a conceptual faculty and possess the faculty of awareness.

Ayn Rand's definition of consciousness IS a definition and a damn good one, too. It tells you, in essentials, what consciousness has to be (a faculty) and what it doesn't have to be (sight, hearing, or conceptual ability).

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All definitions are identifications -- statements of identity -- so they are circular in that sense.

Not in the sense that defining consciousness as a faculty of awareness is (what's "awareness"?).

Did you read what Ayn Rand says here? "Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only [emphasis again added] way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition " She doesn't say "the only way until I can do it by genus and differentia, she simply says "the only way."

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But observe that is exactly what she is doing.  She is identifying consciousness as a faculty -- a certain kind of capability that a living thing possesses.  That is certainly not circular.  Then she is differentiating it from other faculties such as the faculties of sight, hearing, memory, etc.  A person can lack the faculty of sight and still posses the faculty of awareness.  A lower animal can lack a conceptual faculty and possess the faculty of awareness.

While we're at it (though this discussion should probably be moved to a new thread) your notion of "faculty" does not differentiate "consciousness" from other "faculties." Your examples of "sight, hearing, memory" look like subcategories of the faculty of consciousness, not contrasting faculties, unless you are referring to some kind of non-conscious "seeing," et al, in which case the differences bewteen "faculties" and consciousness would be too great to unite all of them under the same concept.

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Did you read what Ayn Rand says here? "Since axiomatic concepts are identifications of irreducible primaries, the only [emphasis again added] way to define one is by means of an ostensive definition " She doesn't say "the only way until I can do it by genus and differentia, she simply says "the only way."

That is true of consciousness as an axiomatic concept. In this thread we are discussing it in a different context, as as faculty possessed by certain biological entities.

In that context, it is NOT an irreducible primary. It is an attribute that some entities (like people) have and some entities (like rocks) don't have. Which entities do and do not have that attribute and what that attribute consists of are facts we can, and have been, arguing about.

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That is true of consciousness as an axiomatic concept. In this thread we are discussing it in a different context, as as faculty possessed by certain biological entities.

In that context, it is NOT an irreducible primary.  It is an attribute that some entities (like people) have and some entities (like rocks) don't have.

In any context, it is true that "Existence, consciousness, identity are presupposed by every statement and by every concept..." (OPAR) One cannot properly define a concept using concepts that presuppose the concept defined. In that sense, consciousness in any context is irreducible.

Which entities do and do not have that attribute and what that attribute consists of are facts we can, and have been, arguing about.

True! So let's get back to it, or move this topic to another thread!

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In any context, it is true that "Existence, consciousness, identity are presupposed by every statement and by every concept..." (OPAR)

MY consciousness is presupposed by MY every statement and by MY every concept, but that says nothing about whether other entities have the faculty of consciousness and the nature of the consciousness they have.

That is a different matter entirely, and hardly is "irreducible" or "undefinable." It is, properly, a subject for scientific observation and inference. I was also assuming it was the subject of this thread.

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In any context, it is true that "Existence, consciousness, identity are presupposed by every statement and by every concept..." (OPAR)

--------------------

Then how can you ask "What is consciousness for?" Remember, consciousness is not an independent feature of reality, it is an attribute of specific types of entities.

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MY consciousness is presupposed by MY every statement and by MY every concept, but that says nothing about whether other entities have the faculty of consciousness and the nature of the consciousness they have. 

Consciousness of any kind, if it is consciousness, is irreducible.

That is a different matter entirely, and hardly is "irreducible" or "undefinable."  It is, properly, a subject for scientific observation and inference.  I was also assuming it was the subject of this thread.

The irreducibility of consciousness means that consciousness is not an example of something else, e.g., it is not a material phenomenon. It is sui generis. That does not exempt it from scientific study.

Ayn Rand said that consciousness can only be defined ostensively, not that it is "undefinable."

But, again, the subject of this thread is the function of consciousness

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Consciousness of any kind, if it is consciousness, is irreducible.

The irreducibility of consciousness means that consciousness is not an example of something else, e.g., it is not a material phenomenon. It is sui generis. That does not exempt it from scientific study.

Ayn Rand said that consciousness can only be defined ostensively, not that it is "undefinable."

But, again, the subject of this thread is the function of consciousness

In your view what are other examples of irreducible existents?

Also, I think you are missing Betsy's true point - the axiomatic nature of consciousness, in Objectivism, is in the context of a conceptual consciousness performing any operation at all. It is there as a block on anyone who claims to have a theory denying the existence of human consciousness - any such claim is automatically refuted and contradictory every time anybody tries to make the claim.

The flip side of this context is also important. I do not think that the consciousness of non-humans was Ayn Rand's primary concern. It is obvious that her primary concern was Man. She was not a scientist. And as I've noted before, the true statement "All men possess volitional consciousness" (which is a propositional way to state the axiom we're discussing) cannot be logically converted to "All non-men possess non-volitional consciousness" - that is the logical fallacy of the Denial of the Antecedent, of the form: A implies B, therefore not-A implies not-B. If *only* men possess volitional consciousness, then and only then is that true, but such a claim would require omniscience. (And is particularly ironic, given recent discussion about the universe being eternal and boundless and thus providing a boundless eternity of possibilities for other conceptual consciousness to evolve besides Man - i.e. a virtual certainty, unless you adhere to the religious view that Man is some unique product of the hand of God, rather than the natural product of evolution from the same elements appearing throughout the rest of the visible universe.)

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In your view what are other examples of irreducible existents?

Also, I think you are missing Betsy's true point - the axiomatic nature of consciousness, in Objectivism, is in the context of a conceptual consciousness performing any operation at all. It is there as a block on anyone who claims to have a theory denying the existence of human consciousness - any such claim is automatically refuted and contradictory every time anybody tries to make the claim.

The flip side of this context is also important. I do not think that the consciousness of non-humans was Ayn Rand's primary concern. It is obvious that her primary concern was Man. She was not a scientist. And as I've noted before, the true statement "All men possess volitional consciousness" (which is a propositional way to state the axiom we're discussing) cannot be logically converted to "All non-men possess non-volitional consciousness" - that is the logical fallacy of the Denial of the Antecedent, of the form: A implies B, therefore not-A implies not-B. If *only* men possess volitional consciousness, then and only then is that true, but such a claim would require omniscience. (And is particularly ironic, given recent discussion about the universe being eternal and boundless and thus providing a boundless eternity of possibilities for other conceptual consciousness to evolve besides Man - i.e. a virtual certainty, unless you adhere to the religious view that Man is some unique product of the hand of God, rather than the natural product of evolution from the same elements appearing throughout the rest of the visible universe.)

Well, I'd like to know what you mean by "existent" before I attempt an answer to your initial question.

Betsy has been arguing about definition. One cannot properly define a concept in terms of other concepts that are synonymous with or derive from it. This point can be found in any comprehensive text on logic, it isn't even unique to Objectivism, and is why concepts at the base of knowledge (such as "consciousness") must be defined ostensively, as Ayn Rand said. Do you, Phil, disagree with that?

Naturally, I agree with your last paragraph, but the animal volition skeptics would no doubt claim that they are not making the fallacious argument you describe.

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----------------

Naturally, I agree with your last paragraph, but the animal volition skeptics would no doubt claim that they are not making the fallacious argument you describe.

Without a doubt!!

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