Is selfness necessary for consciousness?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Do you have to be a self to be conscious? Are there modes of consciousness that transcend identity as a discrete being? If one is NOT a self what or who then can be said to be conscious?
     
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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Surely most would contend that brained creatures which lack language are nevertheless conscious in some fashion. Yet if that is considered in the context of Daniel Dennett's argument that "human language is a necessary precondition for consciousness in the strong sense of there being a subject, an I...", then such organisms would be generating a kind of awareness that is devoid of self. http://edge.org/q2005/q05_10.html#dennett

    While I at best would only partially agree with that, one could still point to mobile automatons that can analyze data about their environment and respond to it -- make conclusions for applicable action: Stay on the road, avoid or grip obstacles, perform tasks, etc. This raises questions about how one is defining consciousness, though; if being able to recognize and understand environmental circumstances in elemental ways doesn't qualify as a base level of consciousness, then just what is going to be the marker for when it begins? But also, can such machines really accomplish their goals minus any need to keep track of their own locations or their own physical involvement? This alone could be regarded as the first glimmer of emerging selfhood, of an entity exercising distinctiveness from the rest of its surroundings, from necessity. Thus, a "consciousness" fully devoid of a self might have to be minus a body or housing that is interacting with anything, a spectator uninvolved in the world it scrutinizes, immune to retaining a long-term memory that might jeopardize its disinterest. Even the sleeping brain fabricates an avatar for itself in its dream-worlds, for "involvement" in its invented realities.
     
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  5. wlminex Banned Banned

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    I subscribe to the Jungian concept that infers a "collective (cosmic?) consciousness". Consciousness is "there" and we (living organisms) take advantage of that existence.
     
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  7. Mazulu Banned Banned

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    Good question. What I wonder is how science would program feelings of selfishness into a computer.
     
  8. wlminex Banned Banned

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    IMPO: I 'think' we are on the right track with parallel processing and quantum computing research.
     
  9. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

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    I think consciousness precedes self, and generates the concept of selfhood as the conscious entity becomes an id-entity. In that progression, i see no reason that an individual consciousness (or ego-entity) might not merge with others to form a collective or aggregate consciousness....or super-entity. But it would have to be in that chronological order. (If mechanised, the result is Borg.)
     
  10. The Marquis Only want the best for Nigel Valued Senior Member

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    That is a good question, actually.

    I would imagine that there is very little difference.
    Either one is conscious, or one is part of a consciousness; if one is a part of a consciousness, then is one aware that one is only a part? If so, then the one is conscious and no longer a part of it.

    In the end, no difference.
     
  11. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    I think it would surprise us to know how often we enter a state of totally selfless consciousness. Some people take these to be spiritual moments like when communing with nature or being worked up into an emotional frenzy in a group setting. But even on an everyday basis I catch myself participating in a consciousness that appears to operate without a self. Television-watching for example. Here we enter a totally passive trance state to an artificially-created succession of images and narratives that seems void of any reliance on ourselves. The experience is entirely vicarious and empty of any self-referring awareness. Reading also may be a kind of selfless consciousness. We are like disembodied ghosts experiencing images and feelings that are being totally fabricated by an outside source. Strangely ironic that as cutting edge technology approaches its own threshold of becoming a conscious self we should begin losing ourselves in artificially-created modes of depersonalized liminal consciousness. Will we meet our own machines halfway--merging with the inhuman even as they merge with the human?
     
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Not at all. Activities like watching tv may simply make us unaware that we have a whole lot of activity going on in the mind.
    If you wouldn't think as you watch tv, you couldn't follow the program.
    If watching tv would really be "entirely vicarious and empty of any self-referring awareness", then you could watch a program in a language and with imagery you don't understand, and still feel as involved as with a program in a language you understand about things that are at least remotely familiar to you.

    Just try watching an old French film (provided you don't speak French) and notice how entirely direct and full of self-referring awareness that will be.
     
  13. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

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    I don't mean any offense but if you are experiencing visual arts without assessing symbology and hidden meanings/metaphors, trying to break it down to ascertain what the artist intended etc. then you are missing out bigtime. Try to look for personifications and representations of the real world within the art you are experiencing and you will begin to find that watching any fictional piece, and even good documentary, is far more than the eye can see, and will then become a very resource heavy experience for the mind.
     
  14. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    I didn't say I wasn't using my mind. I said I wasn't experiencing a self. Big difference.
     
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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  16. lalalandscape Registered Senior Member

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    I don't think that the first part of what you have said addresses the questions raised by the OP. If the argument is that language is a requirement for consciousness, then animals would not be conscious but would still have a self. This is the opposite of what you said, "then such organisms would be generating a kind of awareness that is devoid of self" and this opposite cannot be logically deduced from the original premise. The accurate deduction to make: animals would not be conscious but would still have a self, which is irrelevant to the question being posed about whether or not it is possible to be conscious and selfless. (animals would be selves and conscious-less).
    Also, I was unclear of what your intent was in bringing up machines; since you concluded they are both selves and conscious. But I am guessing from the last part that you meant it in terms of establishing an example of something that interacts with its environment which would rule out it fitting the requirements of selflessness.
     
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    A part of being a self is in how you use your mind.
     
  18. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    To repeat the Dennett quote: "human language is a necessary precondition for consciousness in the strong sense of there being a subject, an I..."
     
  19. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, one might get "lost" in a dream, novel, movie, computer game, spectator event/sport, etc., to the point of the usual identity arguably disappearing for awhile, but the body is still using that "person's" conceptions and past (memories) to understand what is going; and the background sense of there being a distinct, spatiotemporal-located receiver of such information / perceptions lingers as that very POV. (Barring any possible claims of losing even that under certain states / conditions: "Living a world of concepts and inherited beliefs, says Zen, we have lost the power to grasp reality directly." --David Darling).
     
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    What's a 'self'? What does 'conscious' mean? I don't think that your question makes a whole lot of sense, unless we have a clearer idea about what we are speculating about.

    It seems to me that there's a weak meaning of 'conscious' that means something like 'responsiveness to the surrounding environment'. An insect might arguably be conscious of its environment in this weak sense, which appears to reduce to causality. A thermostat is minimally aware (of ambient temperature) in that sense.

    And there's a much stronger sense of 'conscious' that refers (in an unsystematic way) to 'experience' and 'awareness' and ultimately to the idea that human life has a phenomenal and subjective side. To steal Thomas Nagel's phrase, there's something that it's like to be conscious of something in the stronger sense.

    The problem in the philosophy of mind is whether the strong sense can be reduced to the weak sense, and if so, how.

    My own view is that the key to that might lie in the idea of self-consciousness, in other words, in the ability to process information not only about the surrounding environment, but also about our own internal information processing activities. I'd speculate that our abilities to remember, to plan future activities and to imagine counterfactuals, and the general ability to self-monitor our own internal states, are what creates our sense of subjectivity.

    That addresses consciousness, but it still leaves self. That word is usually used in kind of a reflexive grammatical way to refer to the subject of consciousness, to whatever being generates particular thoughts, awareness and actions. My own tendency is to apply the word to whatever information processing system is performing these tasks, and in our own human case, to human bodies with functioning nervous systems. I don't have any problem with the idea of robots being aware and generating their own sense of self. On the other hand, I don't believe in the existence of transcendental selves in the idealist sense, I'm very inclined to be a naturalist in that regard.
     
  21. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    My dog can't speak, but I'm absolutely convinced that she's conscious in a fairly strong sense of the word. She's aware of herself as a being in the world, she can distinguish between her own physical self and other things, she remembers, displays intentions and so on. And she definitely reacts to other dogs, cats, skunks and human beings in ways that are very different from how she behaves around inanimate objects. (Even ones that move under their own power, like cars. Interestingly though, she generally ignores insects.)

    I don't know what Dennett's argument is for that, but at least initially, I'm inclined to think that he's wrong. Obviously, my dog can't speak, so she can't tell me what it's like to her to be a dog. She can't even represent that kind of description to herself in verbal abstract-conceptual form. But despite the fact that she can't think "me" even to herself, I think that she definitely is aware of herself in a non-verbal way.

    Put another way, I don't believe that human stroke victims who suffer from aphasia are merely automatons. There's the famous "Brother John" example, in which a French-Canadian monk who suffered from severe epilepsy would periodically go into and out of a non-verbal aphasic state. When he was able to process language, he was able to tell psychologists what it was like for him when he couldn't think in words. He was still aware of wanting to turn on the TV for example, and still knew what the TV remote control did, even though he couldn't speak those things, even to himself.
     
  22. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Your objections to my post have forced upon me a reexamination of what I mean by a selfless experience.And I concluded I need to state it a little more clearly. The way I see it, when I watch TV, I'm totally identifying with a camera perspective instead of that of my own body. I'm identifying with the words other people are speaking, their facial expressions, the perspective other people have on other people, and their thoughts and feelings instead of my own. I have minimal presence to myself as a person or a subject primarily BECAUSE I am not interacting in a causal way with my environment. I am only REacting and taking in a fabricated simulation of experiencing the world. Now ofcourse the sadness or the humor or the fear I feel while watching TV is still mine and are characteristic of still having a self. But in the immediate spectacality (word?) of TV-watching, that is not entering my consciousness. I CAN step back and analyze TV yes. But at that point it is questionable as to whether I am really watching it anymore.
     
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Those are your projections, though. You see and hear those characters on tv, and then you project what it is must be like to be them. You're not actually them, so you can't know what it is like to be them.
    For many people, projection is an unconscious process, one they are not aware of.


    It seems that the more one is aware of oneself, of what one is doing, doing on the mental level, the harder it is to watch tv or read fiction literature, at least in a way that would imply a sense of "lose myself in a good movie/book."

    The more one becomes a professional tv watcher or professional reader, the more one becomes aware of one's own activity (and there is a lot of it) as one watches tv or reads. - One becomes a meta-reader.
     

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