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"What is Consciousness For?"


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#441 Paul's Here

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 07:20 PM

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The one causal efficacy of consciousness that we humans know from our own direct experience is conscious choice. Such choice includes not only the choice to think, but also the choice to look at something, to scrutinize something, to actively listen to something, to actively touch something, to smell something, to taste something--and all of these choices are informed by conscious experience.


An why do "we humans know from our own direct experience" that conscious choice is causally efficacious? It is because we have the power of self-awareness. We are aware that we are conscious of the objects out there.

(The neural processes that are involved in the pickup of perceptual information from the environment are automatic, but there is more to perception than automatic neural processes.) Conscious animals do not have our power of conceptual thought, but they do share the power of perception (and/or sensation, but I do not want to get into that distinction here). Arguably, they can choose to attend to one object of perception rather than another on the basis of their conscious experiences, and that attention can in turn lead to the selection of one action rather than another. If they could not do that, their conscious experiences would be superfluous.

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To "choose to attend to one object of perception rather than another on the basis of their conscious experiences," an animal would have to be self-conscious. The evidence shows that an animal perceives two objects and then uses that conscious experience to direct its action. Where is the choice? A cat sees a horse and a rat. It chases the rat. Ever see a cat chase a horse?
ANTHEM
"It is my eyes which see,
and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth.


It is my ears which hear,
and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world.


It is my mind which thinks,
and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth."


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#442 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 11:10 PM

But this is where the advocates of physical determinism for animal action are hoist by their own petard: if cat behavior is entirely automatic and physically deterministic—which in the cat’s case means entirely causally explainable by physiological processes, particularly neural processes--then why does the cat consciously feel pleasure and pain? Why does the cat have such conscious experiences--since the brain can react automatically, differentially, and deterministically to noxious stimuli perfectly well without them.

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No it can't because the pleasure/pain mechanism IS the "entirely automatic and physically deterministic" MEANS by which physiological processes are translated, automatically, into life-preserving actions.

Ayn Rand explained the automatic function of the pleasure-pain mechanism in lower animals this way:

This method [of a concrete-bound, perceptual level mentality], of course, is as near to a perceptual level of epistemology as a conceptual, human consciousness can come. It consists of treating memories as percepts, as "package-deal" irreducible primaries, and of forming value judgments by a primitive, animal-like standard of "pleasurable'' or "painful," these two standing for "good" or "bad," without any further analysis or understanding, without any knowledge of why something is good or bad, why something was pleasurable or painful. This is exactly what an animal's "pleasure-pain mechanism" would do. In the case of an animal, this mechanism works as an immediate response to immediate concretes and is assisted by memory. An animal's memory is purely associational, and thus an animal can be trained by a repetition of pleasurable or painful experiences, of rewards or punishments (the repetition makes the animal memorize or associate).

To continue with Lee's post --

They have no possible causal role in a physically deterministic system. It is not necessary for the execution of the “wired in” automatic functions of the nervous system that the animal consciously feel pain, or have any other feeling (note that reactions to painful stimuli often occur before the conscious experience of pain, e.g., one removes one’s finger from the top of a hot stove before feeling the pain of burning).

The pleasure/pain mechanism is necessary so that an animal's automatically stored and retained past perceptions -- i.e., memories -- can automatically guide the animal in the here and now.

There is no sensible explanation within the physically deterministic theory for the occurrence of conscious experience.

The pleasure/pain mechanism is the automatic causal mechanism by which past perceptions can automatically generate self-sustaining, self-generated actions in the present.

So, then, what are conscious experiences for? They are crucial for the guidance of actions outside the realm of the physically determined, namely, consciously chosen actions.

But that only pertains to human beings as far as we have any evidence for.

The one causal efficacy of consciousness that we humans know from our own direct experience is conscious choice. Such choice includes not only the choice to think, but also the choice to look at something, to scrutinize something, to actively listen to something, to actively touch something, to smell something, to taste something--and all of these choices are informed by conscious experience. (The neural processes that are involved in the pickup of perceptual information from the environment are automatic, but there is more to perception than automatic neural processes.) Conscious animals do not have our power of conceptual thought, but they do share the power of perception ...

That is not being argued or disputed.

Arguably, they can choose to attend to one object of perception rather than another on the basis of their conscious experiences, and that attention can in turn lead to the selection of one action rather than another. If they could not do that, their conscious experiences would be superfluous.

The biologically built-in pleasure/pain mechanism combined with stored memories leads an animal to attend to one object rather than another in his current environment automatically without any need for choice.
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#443 B. Royce

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 11:22 PM

In connection with the above two posts I add this about my cat: if I throw two small objects of the same size and shape in front of my cat, he freezes. Normally, he would go after either one if thrown separately, because he "likes" doing so. Two objects at once is like a contradiction presented to his brain and, having no power to choose, he lays down as if bored.

#444 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 05:29 PM

Well, I have exceeded the time I had indicated, and I am now officially closing this thread. I want to thank all of the participants for their involvement, especially Lee Pierson who has taken the brunt of the criticism. I know firsthand that that is not an easy position to be in.

This has been a very long and contentious thread, and despite some overheated discussion I hope that all of our members have enjoyed it and hopefully learned something in the process. Thanks again to all.
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