What happens to non-materialists about consciousness?

It seems to me that once one leaves materialist view of consciousness, it is not easy to stop there.

One can’t stop on epiphenomenalism, because:

  1. If knowledge is connected to the physical domain, and consciousness is not, then knowledge of being conscious is impossible. But we know that we are conscious, and that’s why all those books, papers and thoughts on consciousness are there.
  2. Or when one tries to combine epiphenomenalism with evolution we get that evolution has:
  • Created beings which act as conscious (e.g. talk about consciousness, write papers and books about it), and…
  • Incidentally created them in such way that they are conscious.

The second possibility sounds like the pre-established harmony of Leibniz, but I can’t escape the feeling that there is something wrong with this situation. It surely goes against the intuitions of what proper explanation should be, as formalized by Occam.

And one can’t stop being non-materialist only about consciousness because:

If the causally potent (non-epiphenomenal) consciousness isn’t product of the physical, and the genetic build up work just on level of physical, and determine only the physical attributes of the organism, then this consciousness can’t be product of such evolution.

So, if we don’t accept dualism, and if we don’t accept that somehow consciousness developed separately from the rest of the body we will have to accept that genes, organisms, life and evolution will appear not as entirely physical, but including some otherness. (By otherness, I mean here something which would be analogous to consciousness in case of humans – something other then physical, but it doesn’t have to be consciousness). So this otherness would not be epiphenomenon of the physical, but actually something that affects/interacts with the physical.

But why stop there?

This post was inspired by the post “Jaegwon Kim comes out“, on Fragments of Consciousness weblog.

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Paper on irreducibility of consciousness to a classical physical system

Few posts ago, I added a post called “replay argument”, which shows by reductio ad absurdum why a neural network can’t be conscious.
Here is a paper which is based on that thought experiment, and attacks not just possibility of conscious neural networks, but also the idea of reducibility of consciousness to a classical physical system in general.

You can download it here:Replay argument paper
The original post is here:Replay argument

What “meaning” means ?

The word “meaning” seems to be used uncritically, as if there are such things as meanings which exist as meanings separate from words.

We speak of meaning of the words, or meaning of the act, and so on. What meaning points to in this kind of relation, is that there is certain other thing, which serves as a meaning of a word, act, and so on. But that other thing is not because of that in some realm of the meanings, it is merely in “is a meaning of…” relation with the word, act, etc…

Let me explain by an analogy: In the relation “being sister of”, there is no specific thing about a woman which makes her sister in general, she is not kind of sister; she is a sister only because she is in a specific relation with the other sibling. Same is the case with other words of that type, which depict relations between people, like father of, mother of, brother of, friend of, enemy of… and so on. What is important in those examples is that though just instances of some class (e.g. females in case of sister, males in case of brother, humans in case of friend, etc…) can stand in that certain relation, those classes can’t be equated with the relation itself.

In similar way we can talk about “meaning” (similar to “sister of”). We say that the word “tree” means a tree, but that doesn’t make trees to belong to specific class of meanings, a tree is not a meaning per se. Analogous to the previous comment, we can say that trees belong to that class of things which can be meanings of a word, act, etc…

There are no things which are meanings in themselves in the same way as there is no things which are friends in themselves. There are things which can serve as meanings. Meaning is just that relation between the sign and signified (to use the terms from semiotics).
So that leaves two separate questions:

  • What can be sign, and what can be signified?
  • How does this connection between sign and signified happen?

Let’s check few sentences about meanings and words, and how they sound when we comprehend “meaning” as signifying a relation…

  1. “The meanings are not in the words” , sounds like “The sisters are not in their siblings”
  2. “Words don’t have meanings”, sounds like “People don’t have sisters”

One other problematic usage of the term “meaning”, connected again with the misconception that there is specific class of things which are meanings, (whose essence is that they are meanings), is saying that “the meanings are in the head”. It is based, I guess, on the idea that meanings are mental phenomenon. But, nobody just means – we don’t ask people “What are you meaning?”, or “What do you mean about current events in France?”. We ask them “What are you thinking about?”, or “What do you think about current events in France?”. Though “the meanings aren’t in the head” is not much better, it again seems to assume some ontological category of meanings, that exist as meanings outside in the world.
The question about this last issue, in my opinion, would be better stated as.. “are those things which we mean by words in the head, or in the world?”
Is that which we mean by “tree” in our head ?

Existence of Abstraction (as result)

As result of certain abstraction, be it focus or attention, we get to a certain and concrete given, which is not given in general, but is the specific given (on which we can do further abstractions).

The concrete, as given, and not as abstract, exists as actual.
It can be further determined as abstract.

For example, if you focus on the color of the ball, the resulting quale is what is concrete and actual, and which exists. It can be further determined as red for example, but it doesn’t have its existence as abstraction; but that which is given, and which is existant can be further determined as abstraction.

Note 1:If we combine this with what was said about where the concrete meets the abstract, we get to the funny result that one abstraction which is same with the given,”nothing”, can be said that comes closest to concrete existence then any other abstraction.

Note 2:This connection between given and existence, ammounts in its simplest form to the giveness of fact that “experience of something exists as experience of that something”. How that something is further determined (real thing, or illusion, or ostensible object, or maya, etc..), is separate question.

Note 3:Existence of abstractions as acts (abstractions as result is concrete) will need to be analyzed in some other post. Do they exist? If true, in what way do they exists, as Platonic forms, as transcendental categories, as cognitive powers, or something else?