Re: Book preview: Theory of Nothing

From: Russell Standish <>
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2005 11:06:31 +1000

Awareness has its usual English meaning, ie being cognisant of some
aspect of the environment. I think it is not an oxymoron to be
unconsciously aware of something - but I'm not trying to split hairs
here. I have no problem in saying that a chemotactic bacteria is aware
of the source of chemicals, for instance. I do have problems with
notion of conscious bacteria, however.

Self-awareness is the property of being aware of one's own mind. The
mirror test would seem to indicate the presence self-awareness, but a
negative mirror test result does not necessarily imply absence of
self-awareness (eg Gorilla example).

And in your answer to your question of whether one is self-aware when
watching TV etc. - I'm self-aware when doing these activities, I don't know
about you though! The corner case of dreams, as pointed out by David
Pearce is more interesting however.

Consciousness is meant to have the usual everyday meaning too, however
I do use it in a technical sense to refer to the distinguishing
characteristic of the "reference class" in anthropic arguments. The
reference class is the set of conscious beings, non-conscious beings
by definition are outside the reference class.

The connection between self-awareness and consciousness is established
by means of the Occam catastrophe. Without self-awareness, there is no
reason for the Anthropic Principle to hold (assuming an ensemble type
of TOE). Without the AP, Occam's razor would imply a simple, boring
existence, contrary to experience. The Occam catastrophe argument
implies either that self-awareness is a necessary property of
consciousness, or we are not living in an ensemble (people believing
in a single concrete reality created by God may prefer the second
conclusion of course).

Perhaps this aspect of the logic is not clear in the book...


On Mon, Aug 29, 2005 at 04:57:32PM -0700, "Hal Finney" wrote:
> I am a little confused about Russell's use of the term "self-aware".
> I have only had a chance to read a few pages of his book but I don't
> particularly see it defined in there.
> As Russell uses the term, is our normal, day to day state of consciousness
> "self-aware"? When I am reading, or watching TV, or eating, am I
> self-aware?
> I'm not sure how literally to interpret the phrase, whether seeing my
> foot makes me self-aware (since my foot is part of my self) but seeing
> my shoe does not? That's probably not right.
> It would be helpful to see how Russell distinguishes (or identifies)
> awareness, self-awareness, and consciousness for example.
> Hal Finney

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Received on Mon Aug 29 2005 - 21:36:44 PDT

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