Re: Modern Physical theory as a basis for Ethical and Existential Nihilism

From: Eric Hawthorne <>
Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2004 01:24:07 -0800

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:

> fact vs. value;
> formal vs. informal;
> precise vs. vague;
> objective vs. subjective;
> third person vs. first person;
> computation vs. thought;
> brain vs. mind;
> David Chalmer's easy problem vs. hard problem of consciousness:
> To me, this dichotomy remains the biggest mystery in science and
> philosophy. I have very reluctantly settled on the idea that there is
> a fundamental (=irreducible=axiomatic) difference here, which I know
> is something of a copout. I really would like to have one "scientific"
> theory that at least potentially explains "everything". As it is, even
> finding a clear way of stating the dichotomy is proving elusive.
> Some previous posts in the current thread have attacked this idea by,
> for example, explaining ethics in terms of evolutionary theory or game
> theory, but this is like explaining a statement about the properties
> of sodium chloride in terms of the evolutionary or game theoretic
> advantages of the study of chemistry. Yes, you can legitimately talk
> about ethics or chemistry in these terms, but in so doing you are
> talking meta-ethics or meta-chemistry, which I think is what Bruno
> means by "level shift".
I really think that to get a good grasp on this kind of issue, one has
to "get over ones-self". Step outside for a moment and
consider whether you "feeling conscious" is as amazing or inexplicable
as you think. Consciousness may very well just be
an epi-phenomenon of a self-reflection-capable world-modelling
representer and reasoner such as our brains.
Minsky's society of mind idea isn't fully adequate as a consciousness
explanation, but it makes inroads.
Some of the most exciting work in this area IMHO is being done by the
neurologist Antonio Damasio. Here is a
review of his book on the topic of the feeling of consciousness:

One of his key idea is that the lowest level of consciousness is just
the brain's representation of the sensor data about
what our body is doing (how it is positioned and moving, if it aches
anywhere, and what we're seeing, hearing in each instant
etc). He says this is the brain's representation for the purpose of
"homeostasis" i.e. the instantaneous "status" of the body.
This homeostatis awareness (reflection of sensor data in the brain) he
calls the proto-self.

Then comes a level (he calls core consciousness) at which those
low-level sense data are integrated into a conceptual
(or object-modelling) level to form a continuous "stream of
consciousness feeling". This is the "watching a movie but
you are in the movie" sense.

Finally, at the high level, is added (or filled in) ideas from the
memory and planning facilities of the higher brain.
So what we are doing here is adding in ideas about things which take
time. We are adding in (to help explain
the "stream of consciousness "object-movie that we're in") a whole bunch
of remembered specific episodes and
facts and generalized space-time-world-situation-model concepts that we
produced by processing experience
after experience after experience. And we are adding in hypotheses about
how things could go if (i.e.
object-movie-that-we're-in-explorations of counterfactuals and
hypotheticals and desired future states and
plan run-throughs for getting there.) This is just using the same
"watching-object-movie-that-I'm-in" capability
but to daydream (remember, or wish, or plan) alternative scenarios
rather than the sense-data direct movie
of the core-self. This highest level self, he calls the
"autobiographical self" because the highest level sense of
consciousness is in effect, us "writing the story of ourselves (that
we're in)" as well as "reading the story of ourself (that we're in)"
at the same time. It is a story, and not just a stream-of-consciousness,
because it has added in memories and
experiences from the past, to provide a meaningful causal narrative to
ourself about what is going on now, and
what is going to happen next.

So highest-level consciousness IS an autobiographical story of ourself
and our doings and present-time but
past-experientially interpreted experiences.

And that is just the back-and-forth-in-time (or sideways to
hypotheticals/counterfactuals) extension of the
core-self "movie that I'm both watching AND sensing that I'm in it"
sense, which itself is the
CONCEPTUAL-OBJECT-INTERPRETATION of the continuous stream of homeostasis
raw sense-data
that the brain is continually receiving and processing in real-time to
know what the state of the body is
and what it senses to be around it.

This makes PERFECT sense (and feels almost adequate, as an explanation
of the "feeling of consciousness") to me.


p.s. before someone jumps in about how off-topic this is, I think that's
narrow minded because understanding
consciousness is integral to understanding observers and their role in
Received on Fri Jan 30 2004 - 09:46:56 PST

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