1 of 2
1
Consciousness - does Harris believe in emergence?
Posted: 22 October 2011 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22

I just read both his articles on consciousness. Pretty good and i think its time the subject gets more attention in debates about god/religion. Personally im not religious, wasnt raised it either, but i think consciousness is right at the heart of issue. Most(all?) religions portray god as a conscious being, so if it can be shown that consciousness is limited to brains then the core of all those religions takes a direct hit.  Is there a larger consciousness out there in the universe? If so then that is close to a concept of “god” and it would be a blow to atheism.


Anyway, after i read the articles i noticed that Harris doesnt address this at all. In the second article he simply states that “emergence” (of consciousness) is a fact, or appears to be a fact:

The universe is filled with physical phenomena that appear devoid of consciousness. From the birth of stars and planets, to the early stages of cell division in a human embryo, the structures and processes we find in Nature seem to lack an inner life. At some point in the development of certain complex organisms, however, consciousness emerges. This miracle does not depend on a change of materials—for you and I are built of the same atoms as a fern or a ham sandwich. Rather, it must be a matter of organization. Arranging atoms in a certain way appears to bring consciousness into being. And this fact is among the deepest mysteries given to us to contemplate.


I looked closely at the language he uses (see the green bits) and it seems he does realise that “emergence” is not actually a fact. I think anyone who wants to contemplate the existence of god should become familiar with the concept of “emergence”. Simply put: if emergence exists, then consciousness may have arisen in brains. If emergence does not exist , then consciousness is not limited to brains, large parts (if not all) of the universe wouldve been conscious since at least the big bang.


Harris seems to realise the importance of emergence, yet he does not address the issue in the 2 articles. I hope he makes a 3rd article, and the central question he should ask and answer is “are there examples of emergence to be found anywhere in nature?”.  After all, before believing in the emergence of consciousness in brains, we should look if emergence actually can be found anywhere else in nature. If not, then emergence and consciousness-producing-brains are basically supernatural nonsense, just like a waterwalking or ressurrected jesus are (that doesnt happen in nature either).


So im wondering: does Harris believe in emergence? Does anyone here?

[ Edited: 22 October 2011 11:57 AM by srrr]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 October 2011 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 22 October 2011 03:54 PM

I just read both his articles on consciousness. ...
...
So im wondering: does Harris believe in emergence? Does anyone here?

The context of the term emergence is important. The way I understand it is in levels of analysis; Reductionism<—->Holism.
If one doesn’t quite understand how a property (like consciousness) results from underlying mechanisms (like neurons) then there are two approaches one can take; The bad approach, which is favoured and hasn’t resulted in any success, is holism; stating that the parts don’t result in the phenomena and… Well, something else does, like (enter favourite cognitive bias here). Then there’s the success story of reductionism, where you chomp systems to smaller bits, see how they interact, and try to find if there are different interactions among different groups of chopped bits. So how does a car work? (Obviously I don’t know, but I’m giving the philosopher answer; which reminds me, you’re not really posting this topic in the right forum.) People of a holistic bent would say “There’s some force driving it, perhaps a little demon that is pedaling it forward.” A reductionist would pop up the hood, see the pumps, pipes and motors and the engine and conclude that the parts must somehow interact to provide the force to move the car, then study those… But what would be redundant, would be to examine the particles of the car, as that doesn’t tell you of the bigger clusters of interactions. I’m working under Hierarchical Reductionism here, coined by Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. Also see Peter Atkins at Beyond Belief 2.0 (thesciencenetwork.org, it’s about 20-30 min long).

Emergence is simply put under this light our not yet fully knowing how to put the parts together to know how they make up the system. Therefore I don’t like emergence either and see it as a red herring (that is, irrelevant to the issue of inquiry and possibly a diversion) if we pursue emergence for its own sake.

Don’t see how it relates to religion, other than religious people normally are of a holistic bent (but then again, few people are proud reductionists, which is a shame).

Sam Harris has shown himself of faulty logic in these latest pieces he’s written, I disagree with you that they’re good, read rather something like Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained for a picture of what is at issue.

Please point out if you feel I’ve missed the point (a probable thing) and hope my take was of any value.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 October 2011 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 22 October 2011 04:52 PM
srrr - 22 October 2011 03:54 PM

I just read both his articles on consciousness. ...
...
So im wondering: does Harris believe in emergence? Does anyone here?

The context of the term emergence is important. The way I understand it is in levels of analysis; Reductionism<—->Holism.
If one doesn’t quite understand how a property (like consciousness) results from underlying mechanisms (like neurons) then there are two approaches one can take; The bad approach, which is favoured and hasn’t resulted in any success, is holism; stating that the parts don’t result in the phenomena and… Well, something else does, like (enter favourite cognitive bias here). Then there’s the success story of reductionism, where you chomp systems to smaller bits, see how they interact, and try to find if there are different interactions among different groups of chopped bits. So how does a car work? (Obviously I don’t know, but I’m giving the philosopher answer; which reminds me, you’re not really posting this topic in the right forum.) People of a holistic bent would say “There’s some force driving it, perhaps a little demon that is pedaling it forward.” A reductionist would pop up the hood, see the pumps, pipes and motors and the engine and conclude that the parts must somehow interact to provide the force to move the car, then study those… But what would be redundant, would be to examine the particles of the car, as that doesn’t tell you of the bigger clusters of interactions. I’m working under Hierarchical Reductionism here, coined by Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. Also see Peter Atkins at Beyond Belief 2.0 (thesciencenetwork.org, it’s about 20-30 min long).

Emergence is simply put under this light our not yet fully knowing how to put the parts together to know how they make up the system. Therefore I don’t like emergence either and see it as a red herring (that is, irrelevant to the issue of inquiry and possibly a diversion) if we pursue emergence for its own sake.

Don’t see how it relates to religion, other than religious people normally are of a holistic bent (but then again, few people are proud reductionists, which is a shame).

Sam Harris has shown himself of faulty logic in these latest pieces he’s written, I disagree with you that they’re good, read rather something like Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained for a picture of what is at issue.

Please point out if you feel I’ve missed the point (a probable thing) and hope my take was of any value.

So then you agree that the success of reductionism actually indicates that emergence doesnt happen in the physical world: with the car, nothing new actually emerged, it just seemed to be doing something new to the observer who was ignorant of its parts.


So do you think consciousness didnt emerge in brains?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 03:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21

Well yes, in a sense, ‘emergence’ is a placeholder term for not knowing fully how something comes to be, but what we can say, is that all evidence points to consciousness being dependent upon brains. There is no doubt on that, but how? Does the activity resemble a Turing computer? Or is there some other model for brain activity which we haven’t stumbled upon yet that covers more fully the experience of subjectivity (though, I think, we’re muddling the issue with words like subjective and experience, as I’m not sure what everyone else thinks those words mean).

Reading Sam’s take on consciousness, I think he wasn’t really sure what to think, a great example illustrating Dennett’s point on how muddled and sad the discussion on consciousness in philosophy has become.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 07:06 AM

Well yes, in a sense, ‘emergence’ is a placeholder term for not knowing fully how something comes to be

So emergence is actually a psychological phenomenon, it takes place in the mind of the ignorant observer. And that means C (consciousness) cannot have emerged, since in order for it to emerge, an ignorant observer is required. Agree?

but what we can say, is that all evidence points to consciousness being dependent upon brains. There is no doubt on that

Whats the best evidence? I think i can show it to be insufficient for the conclusion that C depends on brains.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 23 October 2011 07:32 AM
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 07:06 AM

Well yes, in a sense, ‘emergence’ is a placeholder term for not knowing fully how something comes to be

So emergence is actually a psychological phenomenon, it takes place in the mind of the ignorant observer. And that means C (consciousness) cannot have emerged, since in order for it to emerge, an ignorant observer is required. Agree?

No, you seem to be now using emergence as two different concepts, I said consciousness doesn’t emerge, but consciousness has evolved, that is two different things, and natural selection could build consciousness without a first observer. And observing could be multiple different phenomena, that seem whole and united now. So we could have observing without consciousness (like perhaps fish and lizards) or consciousness without self-awareness (see Nick Humprhey). You’re leading in a direction I see as unfruitful.

but what we can say, is that all evidence points to consciousness being dependent upon brains. There is no doubt on that

Whats the best evidence? I think i can show it to be insufficient for the conclusion that C depends on brains.

How about Alzheimer? Brain damage? Anosognosia? Prosopagnosia? Electrical stimulus of the cortex to inhibit modules and limiting consciousness? Beyond reasonable doubt, I don’t think this sort of nit-picking is worth while.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 04:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 07:59 AM

No, you seem to be now using emergence as two different concepts, I said consciousness doesn’t emerge, but consciousness has evolved, that is two different things, and natural selection could build consciousness without a first observer. And observing could be multiple different phenomena, that seem whole and united now. So we could have observing without consciousness (like perhaps fish and lizards) or consciousness without self-awareness (see Nick Humprhey). You’re leading in a direction I see as unfruitful.

You didnt mention “evolved” untill just now. Calling it “evolved” is not going to help. We were talking about reductionism, and how reductionism shows that new things do not physically emerge. That goes for any evolved trait of any organism. All those traits are reducible to basic physical ingredients, no?

How about Alzheimer? Brain damage? Anosognosia? Prosopagnosia? Electrical stimulus of the cortex to inhibit modules and limiting consciousness? Beyond reasonable doubt, I don’t think this sort of nit-picking is worth while.

All those examples are about consciousness interacting with the brain. Change the brain and C changes. Change C and the brain changes. But where is the evidence of consciousness being created by the brain? There’s a big difference between the two. If you throw a rock in the water, the water and the rock interact. That doesnt mean the rock creates the water or the water created the rock. If you hit an electric eels shock-organ with a hammer, it wont do electric shocks anymore. That doesnt mean electric charge is created only by eels and didnt exist before eels evolved.

[ Edited: 23 October 2011 04:24 AM by srrr]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 23 October 2011 08:22 AM
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 07:59 AM

No, you seem to be now using emergence as two different concepts, I said consciousness doesn’t emerge, but consciousness has evolved, that is two different things, and natural selection could build consciousness without a first observer. And observing could be multiple different phenomena, that seem whole and united now. So we could have observing without consciousness (like perhaps fish and lizards) or consciousness without self-awareness (see Nick Humprhey). You’re leading in a direction I see as unfruitful.

You didnt mention “evolved” untill just now. Calling it “evolving” is not going to help. We were talking about reductionism, and how reductionism shows that new things do not physically emerge. That goes for any evolved trait of any organism. All those traits are reducible to basic physical ingredients.

I didn’t think it was necessary to make this into a discussion about evolution, as that is not what you were originally talking about, but since your interested into leading this topic into other waters, I had to make the distinction. Evolving is exactly what will help. I agree with your last statements, they sit perfectly well with what I said. Though seeing that you felt it was necessary to state them, I think there’s still some misunderstanding between us.

How about Alzheimer? Brain damage? Anosognosia? Prosopagnosia? Electrical stimulus of the cortex to inhibit modules and limiting consciousness? Beyond reasonable doubt, I don’t think this sort of nit-picking is worth while.

All those examples are about consciousness interacting with the brain. Change the brain and C changes. Change C and the brain changes. But where is the evidence of consciousness being created by the brain? There’s a big difference between the two. If you throw a rock in the water, the water and the rock interact. That doesnt mean the rock creates the water or the water created the rock. If you hit an electric eel with a hammer, it may not be able to do electric shocks anymore. That doesnt mean electric charge is created only by eels and limited to them.

The interactions and more are however revealing, where does the consciousness go? I argue it’s parsimonious to say it gets destroyed. The rock/water example is irrelevant and the electric eel example is a straw man, or you just didn’t understand me. If you want to consider a theory that is unparsimonious and assumes consciousness to be separate and perhaps exists in other objects, then ok, so long as it makes better predictions and explains more, then it might pay over its unparsimoniousness. As in a proper scientific spirit.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 08:42 AM

I didn’t think it was necessary to make this into a discussion about evolution, as that is not what you were originally talking about, but since your interested into leading this topic into other waters, I had to make the distinction. Evolving is exactly what will help. I agree with your last statements, they sit perfectly well with what I said. Though seeing that you felt it was necessary to state them, I think there’s still some misunderstanding between us.

So do you think some evolved traits are irreducible, and that some new kind of force “emerged”? If so, pick an example and lets focus on it. I think i can show you that whatever trait you pick, it still just consists of basic physical ingredients.

The interactions and more are however revealing, where does the consciousness go? I argue it’s parsimonious to say it gets destroyed. The rock/water example is irrelevant and the electric eel example is a straw man, or you just didn’t understand me.

You havent given any evidence for the creation of consciousness by brains yet. You said “there was no doubt” that C depends on brains, because of the evidence there is. So where is it?


So far we have established that emergence doesnt exist in nature. And now it seems that there is no evidence that consciousness depends on brains. I think you understand the direction this is going in. Im just interested in counterarguments.

[ Edited: 23 October 2011 05:12 AM by srrr]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 23 October 2011 08:56 AM

So do you think some evolved traits are irreducible, and that some new kind of force “emerged”? If so, pick an example and lets focus on it. I think i can show you that whatever trait you pick, it still just consists of basic physical ingredients.

I never said that. What on earth are you reading into my words??

You havent given any evidence for the creation of consciousness by brains yet. You said “there was no doubt” that C depends on brains, because of the evidence there is. So where is it?


So far we have established that emergence doesnt exist in nature. And now it seems that there is no evidence that consciousness depends on brains. You dont have to be a genius to realise the direction this is going in. Im just interested in counterarguments.

Let me ask you first - and say honestly - what kind of evidence would convince you that consciousness is ‘created by the brain’ ( a silly sentence, but you seem to prefer it so we’ll go with it)?

Beyond reasonable doubt is what is scientific, there are no absolutes, so don’t make me into such a straw man.
I’m tired of your misrepresentations.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 09:10 AM

I never said that. What on earth are you reading into my words??

The topic is about the supposed emergence of consciousness in brains. If emergence doesnt exist in nature, and evolution offers no examples either, then why did you mention evolution? Remember we are trying to find something in nature that “emerged” so as to show that the supposed emergence of consciousness in brains is not just supernatural nonsense.

Let me ask you first - and say honestly - what kind of evidence would convince you that consciousness is ‘created by the brain’ ( a silly sentence, but you seem to prefer it so we’ll go with it)?

Its not relevant what would convince me, i never claimed there was such evidence or that its even possible to have such evidence. If its not possible then thats not my fault either, just like scientists being incapable of travelling back in time isnt my fault. I just pointed out that the evidence you gave is merely evidence for interaction between the brain and C.


If you do not know of evidence that C is created by brains, then perhaps you should ask yourself why you believe it is true. Combine that with what you already know about emergence (that its a psychological thing and so C cannot have emerged) and you end up with something as simple as 1+1=2.

Beyond reasonable doubt is what is scientific, there are no absolutes, so don’t make me into such a straw man.
I’m tired of your misrepresentations.

Well so far im just sticking to well known scientific facts (about evolved traits of organisms (i mentioned the eels organ as 1 example, but any trait will serve as an example), about the reducability of physical properties to lower level ingredients and forces), and the direction it is going in is completely opposite to the “brain creates consciousness” idea.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21

This has turned into a topic of semantics. I’m not interested in your ghost chases. So don’t bother. I’ve got better things to do. Put a spin on that.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 09:41 AM

This has turned into a topic of semantics. I’m not interested in your ghost chases. So don’t bother. I’ve got better things to do. Put a spin on that.

^ youve been debunked

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 23 October 2011 10:13 AM
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 09:41 AM

This has turned into a topic of semantics. I’m not interested in your ghost chases. So don’t bother. I’ve got better things to do. Put a spin on that.

^ youve been debunked

My goodness you’re ignorant if you think I’m the one with faulty logic.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 October 2011 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
Member
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  233
Joined  2011-10-22
Daniel OMalley - 23 October 2011 10:59 AM

My goodness you’re ignorant if you think I’m the one with faulty logic.

Feel free to offer some counterarguments.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 October 2011 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  22
Joined  2011-10-21
srrr - 23 October 2011 04:42 PM

Feel free to offer some counterarguments.

Counter-arguments to what?

Look, I read you quoting me, then responding to me, but I don’t see a connection between the two.

There are a few possibilities that come to mind:

1. One or both of us were carrying implicit assumptions.
2. We were talking at cross-purposes.
3. Misunderstanding on either one or both sides.
Or 4. You were putting words into my mouth (which was my first impression reading your comments).

It seems stupid to try to carry on with this already derailed discussion. Either, it seems most logical, we try a fresh with clear objectives and shared terminology, or we let it go.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1
 
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed