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  1. Jeb Jeb

    Or compaired the prison where they live “unto the world”

    “And these same thoughts people this little world,
    In humours like the people of this world,
    For no thought is contented.”

    I love that speech.

  2. jeff jeff

    All of those cartoon bubbles have meaning within one consciousness: yours.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      How so? That begs the question that there is a unity to consciousness; many voices (“I am large, I contain multitudes”) indicates the lack of such unity. You can’t merely assert the unity as evidence or argument.

      Th “society of mind” metaphor is Marvin Minsky’s, and he and many others have argued that consciousness is what we term the final consensus of the many shouting voices. On this view there is no more a unity to consciousness than there is to parliament.

      • jeff jeff

        The unity is self-apparent and obvious to anyone, and you wouldn’t have a cartoon without it. If you can’t put the pieces together, the cartoon would senseless to you, even if sub-parts of you did comprehend individual bubbles, words, letters, images, etc.

        And yes, I read society of mind back in the ’80s.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          The unity is not self-apparent and obvious to me. Like Hume, I look for this unity and do not find it; instead I find that my mind is a series of disconnected thoughts and ideas, which are shaped into a more or less continuous narrative when I speak and act. As E. M. Forster once wrote: “How do I know what I think until I see what I write?”

          The unity of consciousness is an illusion brought about by consistent grammar, in my view. All the evidence points in that direction.

      • jeff jeff

        “How do I know what I think until I see what I write?”

        The simple use of pronouns like “me” and “I” betrays the unity, even if you have to wait until you see it in writing. If not, then what is “I”?

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Again, an argument from grammar. The Queen of Great Britain refers to herself as “we”. Does she mean that she is a multitude? I can use first person pronouns without it meaning anything metaphysical.

      • Brian Brian

        Yeah, but, isn’t like almost mandatory for philosophers to use their categories (Aristotle, Kant, etc) as if they did have metaphysical import? Therefore, aren’t you being a renegade philosopher by not giving your pronouns metaphysical import?

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I’m atypical, perhaps…

          I’m of the view that words do not give you the world. I don’t know if that disqualifies me from the Philosophers’ Guild.

      • Brian Brian

        Is that a discworld reference?

      • jeff jeff

        “Again, an argument from grammar. The Queen of Great Britain refers to herself as “we”. Does she mean that she is a multitude? I can use first person pronouns without it meaning anything metaphysical.”

        “We” is still a pronoun indicating a subject and not an object. When you start referring to yourself as “you” or “it” or “he”, then I’ll start to worry 😉

      • Several people are known to refer to themselves in the third person. The guitarist Robert Fripp for example.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Isn’t he Bob Dole’s friend?

      • jeff jeff

        Well yes, he would, wouldn’t he? Fripp likes playing mind games with people. But I would argue that these are not just language games. If “tree” or “atom” refers to something real, why shouldn’t “I”. In fact, one could argue there might as well not be any trees or atoms if there is no “I” or subject to comprehend them. I suspect John tends to think about everything in terms of species, which can be a fuzzy language concept. But I’d be wary of applying it in other domains.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          No, “species” is one instance of a more widespread conceptual necessity: of thinking of ensembles as kinds. This is not what is happening in this case. It is more like considering an F-15 as an object composed of interacting parts, not all of which actually fly.

  3. Brian Brian

    I understand that what we call consciousness is whatever subsystem of our brain has grabbed the microphone for a second and is thus the focus of attention. Then attention shifts to whatever other part grabs the mike for it’s brief karaoke bit. We can’t step outside the brain to notice the switch, so it seems seemless or unified somehow.

  4. Robin Craw Robin Craw

    Try altering your “consciousness” – liminal crises are a good start or you could drop a tab…

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I. Am. Never. Doing. Acid. Again.

  5. bob koepp bob koepp

    Brian says, “I understand that what we call consciousness is whatever subsystem of our brain has grabbed the microphone for a second and is thus the focus of attention.” I think that if we state the case more carefully, we need to say that consciousness is an effect caused by “whatever subsystem of our brain …. etc.” What seems to be missing is a scientifically respectable way of characterizing that effect independently of the machinery that generates it.

  6. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    So, in conclusion, ooh shiny!

  7. I don’t have any issue with the notion that the mind is a debating society, but the pieces aren’t singularities, just less impressive or extensive unities. And if you’re really going to claim that I’m just just imaging things when I claim that I’m simultaneously aware of two nearby points in my visual field, aren’t you getting pretty close to the sentiment of the guy in the limerick:

    A Christian Scientist from Theale
    Said, “Though I know that pain isn’t real,
    When I sit on a pin
    And it punctures my skin
    I dislike what I fancy I feel.”

  8. Matt S Matt S

    I have been going back and forth on how to and whether to respond to this post. Somehow that seems relevant to me.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I was in two minds whether to post it in the first place. My better angel got the best of me.

      Alas! Two souls reside within my breast! – Goethe.

      • Brian Brian

        Did someone section your corpus-collosum? I’ve heard somewhere that doing that can give you two ‘souls’……

      • jeff jeff

        There are some behavioral abnormalities with split-brain patients, but they can still drive, play sports, play the piano with both hands, etc. The two halves are still connected at the brainstem.

      • Brian Brian

        The two halves are still connected at the brain stem. The abnormalities occur at ‘higher’ parts of the brain, that would’ve interacted or been mediated through the corpus-collosum. What we have is different parts of the brain on the left and right doing individual processing of the same stimuli. Sort of two brains at work, which under normal circumstances gets integrated. I understand that a split-brain person can compensate, but the act of compensation underlies that there are now two ‘minds’ or higher processing regions out to grab control of attention whereas before there was some internal communication/mediation I would’ve thought.

  9. Jeb Jeb

    Looking at the Goethe cite, struck once more by how fascinating the history of ideas surrounding this subject are.

    A very rich blend of science, philosophy, art and history.

    On first glance Goethe looks rather like a text book example of the way concepts of genii and demon developed in a post 12th century Christian context.

  10. I’d be more inclined to accept your disavowal of a unified self if it you didn’t express concern for it’s impermanence right in your blog’s tagline. 😉

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I say it’s one man’s struggle, not one self’s

      • jeff jeff

        And just who is that one man, if not the self? Can you speak for another?

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I am the one man I am, made up on many selves, like everyone else…

      • Brian Brian

        The borg!

      • jeff jeff

        “I am the one man I am, made up on many selves, like everyone else…”

        I AM…

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Like I said, a purely verbal argument. Do you think the Queen is many people?

    • And, let it not go unnoted, “impermanence”, not “it’s impermanence” or even “its impermanence”. We struggle with impermanence every time we clean a room we already cleaned last month, to give an example meant to underline the pervasiveness of the struggle in life.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        Entropy is a bitch, who we do not understand…

    • The Queen neither believes nor expects others to believe she is plural. The royal “we” serves a social function (“I am not to be approached as an ordinary mortal”) but not an ontological one.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        Right, so also my use of “I”… (I am not to be treated the same way you treat a pile of sand or a tree).

  11. My punctuation error aside, that’s, again, unconvincing. Why care about entropy unless it interferes with self interest? The clean room serves the self, and the man. John can claim that he is ontologically a bundle of sensations, and that the self is a fiction, and I will even agree that this is a possible fact (the buddhists keep saying so), but until he *acts* like he doesn’t unify his society of selves into a single narrative, with interests, quirks, desires and aversions of a definable character, I will insist that this is a distinction without a difference. (It’s not just John. Hume was unconvincing on this matter too. It’s a stance of faux disinterest, easily refuted with the tiniest of bees in a bonnet).

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I have said here and elsewhere that we call the consensus a “self”; and that is still what I think. I act like a bundle of selves because there is a public interface (literally!) that is the person, which is where these competing voices issue forth in more or less coherent behaviours. My “quirks”, as you put it, are where I have unresolved competitions… my aversions and preferences are where there is some kind of consensus.

      And the easy refutation remains purely a verbal one. I am a unity because I have interests? Every corporation and nation disproves that.

      • A heap of sand or bucket of water only has interests so far as some human agent assigns them to it. Same for a corporation or state. Interests are articulated exclusively by human minds (so far as we know). It is the articulation, not the assignment, of interests that indicates a conscious mind.

        Heaps of sand and corporations do not have subjective experiences. We do, with the possible exception of a few zen masters (and I doubt even they are free from the fiction of the self all the time). What follows from this experience? What is accomplished by calling it ontologically unreal?

        What you are really refuting here is the myth of a fully unified rational self, and that’s fine & well-deserved. But I think you push this refutation to the point of absurdity by saying that because the self is analyzable it is non-existent. Any such unity can be shown to be illusory by this means, with the result that only the void is ontologically real (and again, here the Buddhists beat you to it by several centuries).

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I do not say, and have not said, that the self is nonexistent. Instead I say that it is not unitary. Nor do I claim originality.

      • I guess your citation of Hume confused me–“bundle of perceptions” typically being an argument for no-self. We’ll winnow it all out next time.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          I cited Hume because he perceived no single self, that’s all. I don’t think that implies no self; just that it is composite. Sorry if I confused the issue.

      • I’m not sure what the difference is between not unitary and not real. Saying that something is the sum of its parts does not mean it has no functional identity. Is a car not a single car because it is made up of subassemblies? What hair are you trying to split here?

        I still think you are having it both ways, happy to treat the “I” as real as long as it can expose itself as a linguistic fiction. Who is the “I” that has searched for a conscious self and not found it? A verbal convention–or John Wilkins? (In other words there are serious epistemic problems with the assertion that I have looked into the matter and determined that I am not unitary.)

  12. Clem Stanyon Clem Stanyon

    What I love about this entry is that it’s a *cartoon* and a joke and there are *pages* of comments in the discussion. “Oooh. Shiny.” has my vote for most amusing comment so far, followed by “Entropy is a bitch, who we do not understand…” – to which I respond, that just puts Miss E in the same box as all the other biatches, dunnit?

    Seriously, though, this smells like another discussion about a metaphysical phenomenon without due consideration of the physical – apart from the brief mention of the split corpus collosum. Maybe acid has more subtle effects than a scalpel; it does act at a much lower level of structure, after all…which is what it’s all about. How a whole is defined when it is a collection of self-interested parts: not like an F-15, the parts of which are not alive, therefore lack self-interest; forgive my attribution of properties to cells of the brain, it’s just a convenient tool of language.

    That the transition to a higher, emergent state in many systems – from “weather” to “life” – is poorly understood does not make those states less real. Competition for resources in the brain – the clamouring to be heard – does not stop the brain from being a unified and ramified structure. It seems to me that if a structure is coherent then any properties emergent from it may also be so; even if one can be in “two minds” about something, that’s a trivial distinction not indicative of a lack of consciousness, rather the reverse. When a consciousness is non-coherent, we call that person insane: none of the parts can hold the mike long enough to tell a coherent story.

    More creative people, in my experience, tend to be more internally disconnected and capable of jumping from one state to another with none of the work I would have to do to make in the transition. I have also heard that Schitzophrenia could arise as a lack of connection between parts – hence, audio hallucinations arise when the consciousness is unaware that the ears are not hearing anything and is thus able to dub the mind’s own internal dialogue as *external* “voices”. Finally, I worked on a gene (LIMK1) during my PhD for which a haploinsufficiency (only one copy) was enough to create William’s Syndrome – 26 genes are lost in this case – which includes the capacity to recognise pieces of an object, but be unable to reconstruct & depict the object in a coherent manner. This related to developmental defects in the brain.

    So, maybe we have two populations here: I am someone who is quite sure of my own consciousness and unity. There are others who are equally sure that an internal unity of consciousness is not apparent to them. This may simply reflect differences in underlying structure, too fine for material science to describe, and both statements can be true – each for their respective populations.

    • jeff jeff

      “part from the brief mention of the split corpus collosum.”

      It is also a mistake to think the two sides of the brain are separate but equal. The left and right brains take on very different functions. Relevant to this discussion, the analytical left brain tends to be correlated with ego and language (constantly chattering away internally), whereas the more mysterious right brain tends to be correlated with the conscious experience of now. It is interesting to read the case of neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, who had stroke in her left brain only – essentially, her left brain went offline, but the right brain remained intact. She was still conscious and self-aware, but in a different way. Among other things, she said felt euphoria and “as big as the universe”.

  13. Robin Craw Robin Craw

    But F-15’s in formation have “swarm intelligence”.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      It is said that an F-15 is a couple thousand parts flying in formation…

      • Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

        I think the original saying referred to the Douglas DC-3 Dakota as being ‘a collection of parts flying in loose formation’ although it was also applied to helicopters, I think.

        Personally, I see myself as a huge colony of cells manoeuvring through spacetime in close formation.

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