All The More Reason

…am I?
March 31, 2007, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Philosophy

Here is a somewhat uninteresting article on the nature of consciousness. I link to it in large part to draw attention to the dearth of pieces that discuss this subject in attractive terms (sometimes autobiographies do a great job). On consciousness, Broks says:

It matters more than anything. Of course it does. Yet the fact of its mattering so much goes mostly unremarked by scientists and philosophers of mind.

Really? It matters more than my subconscious that controls my respiratory and digestive functions? Later on, Broks waxes philosophic about the nature of consciousness and whether or not we’re the only ones invited to the party.

One day I’ll be dead. It’s an oddly exhilarating thought. Something unimaginable—nothingness—awaits us all. I have a hunch that getting an imaginative purchase on mental nothingness would help us also grasp the “somethingness” of sentience. What else was conscious in that summer’s evening scene? The tree? No. The bugs? I doubt it. The cat? Who knows?

Firstly, I don’t see how nothingness is unimaginable. I was “nothing” for at least a good four hours last night while asleep. Perhaps it wasn’t absolute nothingness, but just as silence is not absolute silence, it is still a pretty good approximation of its platonic ideal. There is an interesting idea here though, unfortunately unnoticed by the author. Is the idea of consciousness something binary, such as an elevator reaching a floor, or is it a linear progression from near–zero consciousness to high–levels of consciousness? Pursuing the elevator analogy, it would be more like simply climbing a hill to see farther. For example, according to Broks a tree is decidedly not conscious. And yet, many of its actions are similar to ours, albeit they take much longer to realise. If it is sunny, the leaves turn, and if it rains, the leaves turn again to catch the rainfall. (I don’t know the specifics of how the process happens, or how much turning the leaves in fact do. However, we can say with certainty that there are reactions based on the elements.) Well on a warm sunny day, people are far more likely to languish around outside, and to reveal more of their skin to the sun. Does the fact that we can notice this, and that trees cannot, mean that consciousness is a decidedly separate thing and not simply a more elaborate way of existing?

In the piece Broks does make reference to the awesome Pat Martino. He is a guitarist that lost all his memory and had to relearn how to play the guitar. You can listen to him here.

Jonathan Smith


1 Comment so far
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“Does the fact that we can notice this, and that trees cannot, mean that consciousness is a decidedly separate thing and not simply a more elaborate way of existing?”

I’m not sure what the answer is, but your commentary persuades me that the burden of proof lies with those who believe the former. I’ll prefer the simple and natural explanation until somebody can convince me that the complex one is necessary (which, I suppose, it could very well be).

Comment by hydralisk

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