RE: The Irreducibility of Consciousness

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2006 11:37:56 +1000

Tom Caylor writes:

> 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.

It's one thing to say that consciousness has evolved to interact with
the world, would not develop in a particular individual without the
appropriate interaction, and wouldn't be of much use without the
possibility of such interaction, but quite another thing to say that
therefore it *must* be this way. We can only deduce that there is a
physical world out there on the basis of patterns of neurons firing in
our cerebral cortex. Are you suggesting that a brain with the same
pattern of neurons firing, but without the appropriate environmental
stimulus, would not have exactly the same conscious experience?
That would imply some sort of extra-sensory perception, and there is
no evidence for such a thing. It is perfectly consistent with all the facts
to say that consciousness results from patterns of neurons firing in the
brain, and that if the same neurons fired, the same experience would
result regardless of what actually caused those neurons to fire.

As for consciousness being fundamentally irreducible, I agree
completely. It is a fact that when neurons fire in a particular way,
a conscious experience results; possibly, complex enough electronic
activity in a digital computer might also result in conscious experience,
although we cannot be sure of that. But this does not mean that the
conscious experience *is* the brain or computer activity, even if it
could somehow be shown that the physical process is necessary and
sufficient for the experience. Consciousness is something entirely
different and, if you like, mysterious, in a category of its own.

Stathis Papaiaonnou
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Received on Thu Aug 03 2006 - 21:39:59 PDT

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