The Irreducibility of Consciousness

From: Tom Caylor <>
Date: Thu, 03 Aug 2006 09:28:22 -0700

I totally agree that consciousness requires "outside" interaction.
That's the way we are. We are living beings that exist in a world.
We, as we are, couldn't exist otherwise. Things happen. We interact.
We make other things happen. The question of consciousness is a
contradiction. The question is trying to reduce consciousness to
something less than it is. Even Bruno's number world leads him to
believe in the irreducibility of consciousness. It is a mystery. We
need to get off of our modern reductionistic thrones or we will die
before we live.


Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Brent Meeker writes:
> > > The brain-with-wires-attached cannot interact with the environment, because
> > > all its sense organs have been removed and the stimulation is just coming from
> > > a recording. Instead of the wires + recording we could say that there is a special
> > > group of neurons with spontaneous activity that stimulates the rest of the brain
> > > just as if it were receiving input from the environment. Such a brain would have
> > > no ability to interact with the environment, unless the effort were made to
> > > figure out its internal code and then manufacture sense organs for it - but I
> > > think that would be stretching the definition of "potential interaction". In any
> > > case, I don't see how "potential interaction" could make a difference.
> >
> > Yet you had to refer to " if it were receiving input from the
> > environment" to create an example. If there were no potential interaction
> > there could be no "as if". So istm that the potential interaction can be an
> > essential part of the definition. That's not to say that such a definition
> > is right - definitions aren't right or wrong - but it's a definition that
> > makes a useful distinction that comports with our common sense.
> It's very difficult to define "potential interaction". With even a completely solipsistic
> computer we could imagine taking readings at various points in the circuit with an
> oscilloscope and/or changing circuit voltages, capacitance, resistance etc. Is the
> fact that we *could* do this enough to make the computer conscious? Or would it
> only be conscious if we had access to its design specifications, so that we could in
> principle communicate with it meaningfully rather than just making random changes?
> What if the human race died out but the computer continued to function, with no
> hope that anyone might ever talk to it? What if the computer had very complex
> (putatively) conscious thoughts, but rather simple input and output, eg. it beeps
> when the counts from a connected geiger counter matches the number it happens
> to be thinking of at the time: would that be enough to make it conscious or does the
> environmental interaction have to match or reflect (or potentially so) the complexity
> of its internal thoughts?
> > >If you had
> > > two brains sitting in the dark, identical in anatomy and electrical activity except
> > > that one has its optic nerves cut, will one brain be conscious and the other not?
> >
> > Where did the brains come from? Since they had optic nerves can we suppose
> > that they had the potential to see photons and they still have this
> > potential given replacement optic nerves? Not necessarily. Suppose one
> > came from a cat that was raised in complete darkness. We know
> > experimentally that this cat can't see...even when there is light. The lack
> > of stimulus results in the brain not forming the necessary structures for
> > interpreting signals from the retina. Now suppose it were raised with no
> > stimulus whatever, even in utero. I conjecture that it would not "think" at
> > all - although there would be "computation", i.e. neurons firing in some
> > order. But it would no longer have the potential for interaction; even with
> > its own body.
> Yes, the cat would be missing essential brain structures so it would not be
> conscious of light even if you somehow gave it eyes and optic nerves. But I think
> this makes the point that perception/consciousness does not occur in the environment
> but in the brain. If you have the right environmental inputs but the wrong brain,
> there is no perception, whereas if you have the right brain with the neurons firing
> in the right way, but in the absence of the right environmental inputs, the result is
> a hallucination indistinguishable from reality.
> Stathsi Papaioannou
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Received on Thu Aug 03 2006 - 12:34:01 PDT

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