A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Disappearing Being (and Consciousness)

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on February 4, 2008

Let’s suppose that so called ‘phenomenal experience’ or ‘conscious experience’ is nothing but but being such and such physical system in such and such conditions. (something I wrote about in the last post)

By replacing talk about consciousness with talk about being a such and such configurations, we move from the philosophy of mind to metaphysics.

Namely the starting move implicitly assumes that there is such thing as ‘being such and such physical system’ (and this is related to consciousness). But do all physical systems have such being, or is this a special case.

First lets note that if we want to say that some physical systems don’t have being and some do, it means that we would need to claim of some physical system that *it is not* (anything). Of course this sounds weird. If we take likely things of which we might say such things, like ‘my nose’, ‘left part of the cake’, it really sounds weird to say “my nose isn’t anything” or “left part of the cake isn’t anything”.

But the alternative, that is, saying that anything that we can think of is being something, related to our identifying consciousness with being something produces weird result that it is not just me being conscious, but that there is astronomical number of other consciousnesses in this same body. So for example whole person is being something, the whole brain is being something, the brain without specific neuron – N1 is being something too (as all those are physical configurations of which I can think), etc… And certainly if the brain looses neuron N1 there still be consciousness, so it means that to the same body, there corresponds an astronomically  (given the number of possible combinations of neurons, and even molecules or atoms we can loose and still be conscious) huge number of consciousnesses.

And the weirdness doesn’t stop here. If we relate being with any configuration, and equate this being with consciousness, if this configuration disappears the consciousness should disappear also (as we are assuming identity). So with any dying of one neuron, and even an electron leaving, one of those consciousness would disappear. Given that, and given that we don’t know which ‘being such and such configuration’ relates to our consciousness, it would be possible for our consciousness (*this* ME) to disappear any of those moments just because some electron left the configuration which is me.

So, it seems that indeed we might want to deny being to some things of which we think. Things like the left side of the cake or my nose.

I guess the easiest way to go here, is to say that we are talking about two different kinds of being – which we might equate with ‘thinking of something as being’ and ‘being something’. We might point that thinking of something as being can be done even for things which are imaginary or that have disappeared. We think of Napoleon as being something, but he is not actually anything.

I’m not sure that this is quite enough linguistic disentanglement, but let’s say that we have some sense of this distinction between ‘being something’ and ‘though of as being something’.

So, we now ask, in virtue of what does something of which we think actually be something. What are the criteria?

Getting back to the identity between ‘conscious/phenomenal experience’ and actually being something, we can say that whatever the conditions are, they are satisfied for the physical system that is me. So, some NCC should be there which relates to some causal/spatiotemporal or other conditions (I guess it is important that this is in the pretty fundamental ontological categories, because we are talking BEING after all).

Anyway, there are interesting things we can ask then…

Are the conditions for a system that thinks and perceives necessarily coextensive with conditions for actually being something? Or is this just coincidence?

One approach is to deny that formulated thus the question makes sense, because it is hard to make sense of the possibility for a system which thinks and perceives but isn’t actually anything. Can we say about a system that it perceives and thinks , while it being just thought by us as being something (but it is not really)? Wouldn’t it be more fair to say for such system that we only think of it as a system (which thinks and perceives)?

But if this previous objection is problematic, we can probably reformulate the question and ask – are the conditions for a system *being thought by us* as perceiving and thinking coextensive with the conditions for that system actually being something? Here is a more concrete example to get the sense of the question… If we create a perfect simulation of a brain in a computer, because of it having exactly same behavior, we can think of it as thinking and perceiving (we might throw in here some talk about derived intentionality). But will this computer have being? Will it BE something, and hence be something which thinks and perceives, and hence can we speak about consciousness there? I would go with NO, but I’m not a physicalist in first place, so my intuition shouldn’t really matter here.

Further question could be, does this ‘actually being something’ appear on level of creatures (which would go with our intuitions that we are this body), brains, parts of brains, or something else?

Anyway as lot of the times, I guess in this post I did nothing but succeeded in confusing myself. Serves me right for thinking about a way in which physicalism might make sense :)

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2 Responses to “Disappearing Being (and Consciousness)”

  1. NooProcess said

    Confusing yourself preempts the occurence of my confusing you.

  2. OK, that did it. I officially pronounce confusion level – orange.

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