How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
User avatar
Consul
Posts: 1172
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Consul » May 11th, 2018, 1:22 pm

Greta wrote:
May 10th, 2018, 10:44 pm
Consul, thanks for joining me in this naughty, tangentially relevant chat :)

Yes, I remember an earlier conversation we had about brains where we agreed that the start of consciousness as as we (roughly) know it was perhaps most fundamental in C. elegans, the most neuronally-challenged brained organism.

However, a short exchange later seemed to encapsulate our differences:

G: In short, a rather alien and unfamiliar sense of sense of being may be present in organisms that are not strictly speaking conscious.

C: As I already said above, to have some subjective sense or feeling of being is to be conscious.

I suggest that the above is an assumption. This is how things seem to us, but I find it impossible to conceive that being a plant does not feel like anything, no different to how it would feel to be a grain of salt. Consider a sense of being with neither memory nor emotions.

Another possibility. It's possible that a single plant is part of a sensing entity (ecosystem? smaller grouping?) rather than being one itself, just as neurons don't think and feel but are part of systems that do. The octopus point you make is a good one - one alternative model, but there may well be more.
Consciousness—what Gerald Edelman calls primary consciousness—is not the same as higher-order or self-consciousness (consciousness of consciousness). Entities needn't have the higher-order cognitive/intellectual capacity for introspection or self-reflection in order to be conscious. The most primitive subjective sensation or emotion is a case of consciousness.

There is the well-known epistemological problem of other minds/consciousnesses, especially of other nonhuman ones. (See the SEP entry on animal consciousness!) Nonetheless, from the scientific point of view, there can be little doubt that brains are the organs of consciousness, and that therefore nonanimal or plant consciousness is naturally impossible or extremely improbable at least. You write that you "find it impossible to conceive that being a plant does not feel like anything," whereas I find it impossible to conceive (realistically) that it does. How can this be true when plants just don't have any nervous system, let alone a central one?!
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

Tamminen
Posts: 517
Joined: April 19th, 2016, 2:53 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Tamminen » May 11th, 2018, 3:39 pm

Consul wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 1:22 pm
There is the well-known epistemological problem of other minds/consciousnesses, especially of other nonhuman ones. (See the SEP entry on animal consciousness!) Nonetheless, from the scientific point of view, there can be little doubt that brains are the organs of consciousness
The cosmic evolution produces complex structures like animal organisms that have this strange property we call consciousness. Now we have this “hard problem”: how can there emerge from the evolution of matter something so fundamentally different, something that cannot be described with the same set of concepts as material things? And what is still more strange: this phenomenon is essentially connected to the first person: it is the first person's point of view to the world.

Now we come to the solution of the problem, and the solution is simpler than we thought. There is no hard problem: consciousness is the subject's way of being in relation to the material world. The material organism does not generate consciousness in a mysterious way, and the organism is not the material subject of that consciousness. If it were, there could not be any first person point of view. The material organism is such that it makes it possible for the subject to exist by offering the information needed for that purpose. But the subject is there already, letting the organism work for it and open the world for its existence.

And what is the subject then? It is nothing but the first person point of view. No substance, no soul, no spirit. Not even a point. It is each of us here and now: the present of subjective time abstracted from its content. We cannot define it by giving it properties any more than Heidegger could define Dasein. It defines itself by being in the world. It is “a hole in the universe”, as Sartre wrote.

And this hole in the universe is the reason for the being of the universe and everything there is. It is what some philosophers have called the absolute.

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 1172
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Consul » May 11th, 2018, 4:04 pm

Tamminen wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 3:39 pm
And what is the subject then? It is nothing but the first person point of view. No substance, no soul, no spirit. Not even a point. It is each of us here and now: the present of subjective time abstracted from its content. We cannot define it by giving it properties any more than Heidegger could define Dasein. It defines itself by being in the world. It is “a hole in the universe”, as Sartre wrote.
Your philosophy is inconsistent, because a point of view or perspective entails the existence of something/somebody whose point of view or perspective it is. A subjective or first-person point of view entails the existence of a subject or person viewing her-/himself and the world from this point of view.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 1172
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Consul » May 11th, 2018, 4:37 pm

Greta wrote:
May 10th, 2018, 10:44 pm
Another possibility. It's possible that a single plant is part of a sensing entity (ecosystem? smaller grouping?) rather than being one itself, just as neurons don't think and feel but are part of systems that do. The octopus point you make is a good one - one alternative model, but there may well be more.
A colony or society of organisms doesn't have a collective, superorganismic consciousness. There is such a psychosocial phenomenon as collective intentionality, but it doesn't exist beyond, over and above the individual minds of different people. There is no "supermind floating over individual minds." (John Searle)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

BigBango
Posts: 63
Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:15 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by BigBango » May 11th, 2018, 6:14 pm

Excellent discussion everyone! I finally have gotten my modem fixed so I can be more responsive to these issues without sending and losing posts.

I want to respond specifically to Tam's questions because I think he is asking the right questions. The subject does exist but not without "properties". Each "fractal" layer of reality below ours exhibits less socialization and more simple "subjectivity". To that point, I think reality eventually converges, as the scale diminishes, to eventually arrive at a state that is consistent with Tam's very good analytical conclusions. What we do not want to miss are the metaphysical properties of the subject that are on the way down to his excellent analysis.

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 6848
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Greta » May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm

Consul, I'd like to break out of the panpsychism model.

Consider the logic of the situation - if there are more things that feel existence than we know, why should that necessarily extrapolate to everything?

So I'm looking at the space between panpsychism and the orthodox view. Panpsychism must be wrong to some extent because barely integrated groupings such a pile of gravel cannot have sensory level integration. The orthodox view must also be wrong, given the regular findings of sentience and responsiveness where we thought there was none this century and the near certainty that more discoveries will be made in this relatively unexplored space.

I'm not convinced that one needs a mind or psyche for life to feel like, when we know for sure that some things, eg. a pile of gravel, have insufficient integration for senses something. Feeling surely comes before mind. Note that that "something" is often not impressive by animal standards - very weak raw, basic sensing. Rather than memory there would be some physical or chemical resonances (like a bell ringing), and rather than emotion there would just be quickening or slowing. It's not consciousness as we know it, more akin to dreamless sleep, but it would seemingly feel like something.

Then there are actual consciousness-bearing structures, which tend to comprise of many purportedly completely insensate single cells (neurons). The emergence of humanlike consciousness from entirely insensate entities would seem even less plausible than the "summing", you referred to. I think "synergising" is a more realistic term) - the sysnergising of smaller elements into something more complex and tightly integrated. Having said that, emergence is not always intuitive and a regression problem looms since, if a neuron has some small sense, then what of the proteins and molecules?

This line of thinking would seemingly lead us to IIT and the kind of tightly integrated feedback patterning that is required for sensing or conscious systems, which of course is a work in progress. The thread's question also logically leads to possibilities as regarding AI; if AI is found to be "awake" then that has implications as regards other complex systems such as the Earth.

For instance, the Earth clearly cannot have an equivalent "mind" of a human or a deity, given the significant amount of chaos (lack of control) inherent in the Earth's systems. Still, I take seriously the reports of astronauts living on the ISS who routinely remark that the Earth is a living system - but not Lovelock's Gaia. Rather than parasites, humans appear more to be agents of change in nature, seemingly related to the emergence of "spores" (resettlement and off-world vitalisation projects) and a "nerve net" (telescopy, LIGO, SETI, asteroid detection) in what is looking increasingly like a fractal reiteration of chordate evolution on a larger scale.

BigBango
Posts: 63
Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:15 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by BigBango » May 11th, 2018, 7:50 pm

A question I would like everyone or anyone to address is: What is the significance of the fact that all organisms are descendants of a single "ancestor cell" rather than different organisms originating from different ancestor cells?

BigBango
Posts: 63
Joined: March 15th, 2018, 6:15 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by BigBango » May 11th, 2018, 9:05 pm

Biology is chemistry animated by consciousness.

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 6848
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Greta » May 11th, 2018, 9:17 pm

BigBango wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 7:50 pm
A question I would like everyone or anyone to address is: What is the significance of the fact that all organisms are descendants of a single "ancestor cell" rather than different organisms originating from different ancestor cells?
It means that we all share a significant amount of DNA, which I suppose provides a vague sense of kinship although, if there are no disease or other compatibility issues, there's no logical reason not to embrace organisms that stem from a different line.

I suspect that abiogenesis would have occurred more than once, perhaps many more times. Consider the lifespan of newly emergent life if it was surrounded by more established, "hardened" life. Each new emergence would simply be like a helpless infant, just food for established life.

It's roughly same reason why there is such an intelligence gap between humans and other species, that is,all other hominid emergences were out-competed, leaving only the victors standing.

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 1172
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Consul » May 11th, 2018, 10:03 pm

BigBango wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 9:05 pm
Biology is chemistry animated by consciousness
Life ≠ conscious life!
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

User avatar
Consul
Posts: 1172
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Consul » May 11th, 2018, 10:47 pm

Greta wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm
I'm not convinced that one needs a mind or psyche for life to feel like, when we know for sure that some things, eg. a pile of gravel, have insufficient integration for senses something. Feeling surely comes before mind. Note that that "something" is often not impressive by animal standards - very weak raw, basic sensing. Rather than memory there would be some physical or chemical resonances (like a bell ringing), and rather than emotion there would just be quickening or slowing. It's not consciousness as we know it, more akin to dreamless sleep, but it would seemingly feel like something.
There's nothing it is like to sleep dreamlessly, because it's a nonconscious state.

"The irreducible minimum involved in mentality would seem to be the fact which we express by the phrase 'feeling somehow', e.g., feeling cross or tired or hungry. It seems to be logically possible that this characteristic, which we might call 'sentience', could belong to a thing or event which had no other mental characteristic."

(Broad, C. D. The Mind and its Place in Nature. 1925. Reprint, Abingdon: Routledge, 2000. p. 634)

The evolution of consciousness started with primitive sensations or "raw feelings", but it didn't start before the evolution of animal brains.

Note that the human brain is the most complex material object in the known universe. It contains at least 90 billion neurons and even much more combinatorial possibilities of neuronal connection and interaction.

"The brain is arguably the most complex entity that has ever existed. It is made up of a vast number of cellular components (neurons) whose abundance compares with cosmological numbers. Recent estimates for the number of cells in the normal human brain (based on measurements by Ananthanarayanan, Esser, Simon, and Modha, 2009; Azevedo et al., 2009) are that there are about 86 to 100 billion neurons in the brain (along with possibly an equal number of glial cells). Astronomers, for their part, estimate that there are between 10 and 100 billion stars in a typical galaxy like ours. Thus, the numbers in a galaxy and a brain are of roughly the same order of magnitude.

Such a comparison is misleading, however. Although the components of brains and galaxies are both heavily interconnected, the natures of the respective interactive forces among their respective components are very different. Stars interact by means of a single, uniform, and well-described force—gravity—that declines uniformly with distance. Quite to the contrary, the brain’s neurons are both locally and remotely interconnected with one another by what other estimates suggest may be thousands or even tens of thousands of synapses with idiosyncratic effects. Each of these synapses (or combinations of them) may produce distinctively different interactive effects on a neuron quite unlike the uniform influence of gravity between stars. Interconnections between the brain’s neurons, therefore, are not simple or uniform nor are they likely to be as simple as the forces operating among a galaxy’s stars. Thus, the combinatorial complexity of the brain’s neuronal network is probably far greater than that of a galaxy!

Given this level of complexity as well as the microscopic nature of neurons and synapses, formidable obstacles exist to learning about the mechanisms by means of which tangible brain activity becomes or produces or is intangible thought."


(Uttal, William R. The Neuron and the Mind: Microneuronal Theory and Practice in Cognitive Neuroscience. New York: Routledge, 2017. p. xi)
Greta wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm
Then there are actual consciousness-bearing structures, which tend to comprise of many purportedly completely insensate single cells (neurons). The emergence of humanlike consciousness from entirely insensate entities would seem even less plausible than the "summing", you referred to. I think "synergising" is a more realistic term) - the sysnergising of smaller elements into something more complex and tightly integrated. Having said that, emergence is not always intuitive and a regression problem looms since, if a neuron has some small sense, then what of the proteins and molecules?
According to reductive materialism, consciousness hasn't always existed in the universe, but it isn't (ontologically) emergent either, because experiential events/states are reductively identifiable with purely physical brain events/states, and their contents, i.e. the experiential properties they contain, are reductively identifiable with (complex, structural) physical properties of the brain.

By the way:

"Panpsychism, taken literally, is the doctrine that everything has a mind. In practice, people who call themselves panpsychists are not committed to as strong a doctrine. They are not committed to the thesis that the number two has a mind, or that the Eiffel tower has a mind, or that the city of Canberra has a mind, even if they believe in the existence of numbers, towers, and cities.
Instead, we can understand panpsychism as the thesis that some fundamental physical entities have mental states. For example, if quarks or photons have mental states, that suffices for panpsychism to be true, even if rocks and cities do not have mental states. Perhaps it would not suffice for just one photon to have mental states. The line here is blurry, but we can read the definition as requiring that all members of some fundamental physical types (all photons, for example) have mental states."


(Chalmers, David J. "Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism." In Panpsychism: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla, 19-47. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. p. 19)
Greta wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm
This line of thinking would seemingly lead us to IIT and the kind of tightly integrated feedback patterning that is required for sensing or conscious systems, which of course is a work in progress. The thread's question also logically leads to possibilities as regarding AI; if AI is found to be "awake" then that has implications as regards other complex systems such as the Earth.

For instance, the Earth clearly cannot have an equivalent "mind" of a human or a deity, given the significant amount of chaos (lack of control) inherent in the Earth's systems. Still, I take seriously the reports of astronauts living on the ISS who routinely remark that the Earth is a living system - but not Lovelock's Gaia. Rather than parasites, humans appear more to be agents of change in nature, seemingly related to the emergence of "spores" (resettlement and off-world vitalisation projects) and a "nerve net" (telescopy, LIGO, SETI, asteroid detection) in what is looking increasingly like a fractal reiteration of chordate evolution on a larger scale.
There is a relevant difference between speaking literally and speaking metaphorically.
There is a biosphere on Earth, but the Earth itself (qua planet) is not a living being or organism.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 6848
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Greta » May 12th, 2018, 12:45 am

Consul wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 10:47 pm
Greta wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm
I'm not convinced that one needs a mind or psyche for life to feel like, when we know for sure that some things, eg. a pile of gravel, have insufficient integration for senses something. Feeling surely comes before mind. Note that that "something" is often not impressive by animal standards - very weak raw, basic sensing. Rather than memory there would be some physical or chemical resonances (like a bell ringing), and rather than emotion there would just be quickening or slowing. It's not consciousness as we know it, more akin to dreamless sleep, but it would seemingly feel like something.
There's nothing it is like to sleep dreamlessly, because it's a nonconscious state.

"The irreducible minimum involved in mentality would seem to be the fact which we express by the phrase 'feeling somehow', e.g., feeling cross or tired or hungry. It seems to be logically possible that this characteristic, which we might call 'sentience', could belong to a thing or event which had no other mental characteristic."
Actually, there is exponentially more interactivity, complexity and awareness in mammalian deep sleep than in the fully awake state of C. elegans. Neither is impressive, but the comparative sensing and neuronal activities between sleeping humans and C. elegans's basic existence are enormously different.

As you said yourself, "the human brain is the most complex material object in the known universe. It contains at least 90 billion neurons and even much more combinatorial possibilities of neuronal connection and interaction". How many of them are active in deep sleep as compared with C. elegans's total 302 neurons?

These are basic states of being, so subtle as compared with our florid waking state that we perceive them to be "nothing". Once bacteria were "nothing" too.
Consul wrote:Although the components of brains and galaxies are both heavily interconnected, the natures of the respective interactive forces among their respective components are very different. Stars interact by means of a single, uniform, and well-described force—gravity—that declines uniformly with distance. Quite to the contrary, the brain’s neurons are both locally and remotely interconnected with one another by what other estimates suggest may be thousands or even tens of thousands of synapses with idiosyncratic effects.
Yet, if intelligent life can work past its natural barriers (Fermi) then in 10 billion years there may be far more interconnection in the galaxy than is present today. By the same token, there was a time before even nerve nets existed; this does not necessarily imply a final state, especially with entities that change over deep time.

This sounds speculative but, given the number of potential civilisations in the universe before, now and in the far future (the Stelliferous Era is anticipated to last another trillion years), it's actually a strong probability.

The universe in another 14b years may be shockingly different to the one we observe today (aside from upcoming the Milkromeda merger).
Consul wrote:
Greta wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 6:49 pm
This line of thinking would seemingly lead us to IIT and the kind of tightly integrated feedback patterning that is required for sensing or conscious systems, which of course is a work in progress. The thread's question also logically leads to possibilities as regarding AI; if AI is found to be "awake" then that has implications as regards other complex systems such as the Earth.

For instance, the Earth clearly cannot have an equivalent "mind" of a human or a deity, given the significant amount of chaos (lack of control) inherent in the Earth's systems. Still, I take seriously the reports of astronauts living on the ISS who routinely remark that the Earth is a living system - but not Lovelock's Gaia. Rather than parasites, humans appear more to be agents of change in nature, seemingly related to the emergence of "spores" (resettlement and off-world vitalisation projects) and a "nerve net" (telescopy, LIGO, SETI, asteroid detection) in what is looking increasingly like a fractal reiteration of chordate evolution on a larger scale.
There is a relevant difference between speaking literally and speaking metaphorically.
There is a biosphere on Earth, but the Earth itself (qua planet) is not a living being or organism.
Biology cannot exist without active geology. Biology and geology are separated by emergences but they remain are still inextricably lined as a single system, that includes the atmosphere and magnetosphere.

I recommend this video, Inevitable Life? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElMqwgkXguw. It is serious and I am confident you will like it as much as I did (relevance to this part of the conversation at a shade after 14 mins and onwards).

All living systems require some scaffolding to support those systems, which is exactly the issue at hand in the thread. Biology's scaffold is both itself (eg, microbes, plants) and geology.

Thus, our areas of difference pertain to the possibility of high levels of integration, now and in the future, of large entities and the possibility that undiscovered substrates may (or may not) exist in either other dimensions (string theory) or via other undiscovered mechanism. This is an area still rife with "unknown unknowns", and that will remain the case until the precise mechanisms of life and consciousness are understood and, perhaps, replicable.

Tamminen
Posts: 517
Joined: April 19th, 2016, 2:53 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Tamminen » May 12th, 2018, 3:21 am

Consul wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 4:04 pm
Tamminen wrote:
May 11th, 2018, 3:39 pm
And what is the subject then? It is nothing but the first person point of view. No substance, no soul, no spirit. Not even a point. It is each of us here and now: the present of subjective time abstracted from its content. We cannot define it by giving it properties any more than Heidegger could define Dasein. It defines itself by being in the world. It is “a hole in the universe”, as Sartre wrote.
Your philosophy is inconsistent, because a point of view or perspective entails the existence of something/somebody whose point of view or perspective it is. A subjective or first-person point of view entails the existence of a subject or person viewing her-/himself and the world from this point of view.
As I said, the first person point of view is the absolute from which the world opens up. It opens up as an individual project like 'Tamminen', but there is a temporal continuity in subjective time between all the projects we call individuals. So the subject, or subjectivity, is something that everything refers to. It is the present that wanders through physical spacetime adopting all its manifestations one after the other. The subject is eternal.

When I say: "Hey, I am here", you see a person whose name is perhaps Tamminen, but for me this 'I' is the absolute that is always there as the precondition of everything. It only happens that it has now this manifestation with this body and these memories.

The connection between individual subjects is the difficult part of all this, and it needs some metaphysics to make sense of it. I have found that there are others who have thought about the same problems and developed a naturalistic theory called 'Generic Subjective Continuity', introduced on this forum by Cycswan. My views are very similar.

Tamminen
Posts: 517
Joined: April 19th, 2016, 2:53 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Tamminen » May 12th, 2018, 5:15 am

These kinds of metaphysical hypotheses may seem unnecessary speculation, but in fact they try to answer our basic existential and logical questions: (1) My nonexistence means nothingness, and still there is the world after my death; so what is death? (2) How is it possible that there are experiences that I do not experience? Isn't that against the whole concept of experience? An experience that I do not experience seems to be as self-contradictory as an entity that does not exist.

It seems that these are not relevant questions for most of us, but for me they are the most concrete existential questions. And they are questions about the very logic of our existence, not emotions arising from an existential crisis.

Tamminen
Posts: 517
Joined: April 19th, 2016, 2:53 pm

Re: How does a disembodied soul/mind/consciousness operate?

Post by Tamminen » May 12th, 2018, 9:35 am

Just to clarify the relation between subjectivity and an individual subject: As I said, individual subjects are manifestations of subjectivity. This means that we are all subjectivity's projects of existing. What unites subjectivity's experiences so that they are the experiences of Tamminen, for instance, is what can be called an individual subject. It is what makes the identity of an individual. It has something to do with memory, and also has its material correlates, especially the body as a whole. But we must make a phenomenological analysis of the identity of an individual, including its material correlates. I have only a preliminary and vague theory of it. I can only say that it is something that stays the same as long as the project lasts, something that ties our experiences together to make us all separate individuals. And when we die, our individual subjects vanish, because our projects have ended, but we cannot vanish as subjectivity, because there is nothing in it that can vanish. The present keeps on wandering in one form or another. The present is eternal.

So we can say that each individual subject is subjectivity's way of making projects of existence, and the material world is the medium and instrument for realizing those projects.

Post Reply