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Andy SmithAndrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).


Unconsciousness, Qualia, Self-reflection and Awakening

Andy Smith

The responses from Illuminists or their sympathizers continue to come in. Let's get right to their comments. The first response comes from someone who appears to be Mike Hockney himself, or whoever wrote the book that I originally reviewed:

To understand one-another, it is important that we agree on our terms. I did say monads are unconscious, that does not mean they possess no qualia. By consciousness I mean reflective self-awareness and self-knowledge of the contents of the mind. An animal has no consciousness, nor would a human who grew up on an island, with food, water, but no other humans with which to interact and develop language and self-awareness. You have no consciousness of a lot of your dreams, nor of your earliest experiences (age 2 for example).

If you want to communicate with the larger scientific and philosophical community, I think it's important that you use their terms. If monads have qualia, I would say that they're conscious. This is generally the way in which philosophers of mind and neuroscientists use these terms. Many animals almost certainly do experience qualia and are conscious to some extent, as are small children. We don't remember our earliest experiences, but that's not to say we weren't conscious of them at the time. Same with dreams, as opposed to deep sleep.

However, if by consciousness you simply mean human self-reflective consciousness, you still haven't explained where the qualia come from. This is the hard problem. You have just implied that qualia are always present, in the original monads. This is traditional panpsychism, and I don't have a problem with it. In fact, I'm very sympathetic with this view, too. But speaking as someone who is sympathetic with panpsychism, I would not say this solves the problem of qualia. It simply avoids it. Qualia become a fundamental property of matter—or mind, if you wish—and we can't say anything more about them.

Moreover, if this is your position—that qualia were just there from the beginning, and we can't explain why--you have removed one of the two major problems that science hasn't been able to solve. Because if you are going to be allowed to make this assumption, then so can science. Science can simply say that qualia in some form were present from the beginning of material existence, as a property of all matter (several important philosophers are sympathetic with this view, such as David Chalmers and William Seager).

To have an advantage on science, you would have to explain how or why qualia are generated by the Euler monad. But you haven't done this, and I'm very sure you can't.

But what's it like, to be, to a great degree, unconscious? It's basically when the mind switches to 'auto-pilot' .Like when you have a couple to many drinks, and you find yourself home, with no memory of you got there. You acted on reflex. A complex series of 'programed' actions. The point is, the more unconscious you are, the more machine-like your behavior (acting merely on impulse), whilst the more conscious you are, the more you can exercise meaningful choice (the kind which would baffle materialists).

Now you are talking about unconsciousness in the sense of no qualia. While there are probably animals who are unconscious in this sense, there are also animals, as I just said, who experience qualia, and who are not unconscious in this sense. You really need to distinguish (at a minimum) between unconsciousness, forms of consciousness that may not involve reflective consciousness, and reflective consciousness. There are further distinctions that can be made with regards to levels of consciousness, states of consciousness, and access to consciousness, but I will not get into any of that here.

I don't disagree with your point that unconsciousness is somewhat correlated with rote or stereotyped behavior. But that is a very broad generalization, for many kinds of very sophisticated behavior are also carried out unconsciously. In fact, most human behavior is unconscious. It isn't just when we've been drinking. The typical human being acts to a large degree on auto-pilot her entire life. Almost all language is processed unconsciously, as well as most physical movements and any behavior that we are quite familiar with. This has been appreciated for at least several decades.

What is not generally appreciated is that even when we appear to be conscious, we are still acting for the most part unconsciously. For example, there is an often-used example by philosophers of driving a car. We do so unconsciously, missing most of what is going on around where we are traveling, until another car suddenly looms too close, and bingo, we suddenly become conscious of what we are doing.

But we are not in that moment any more conscious. What has changed is the focus of attention, which is often conflated with consciousness (though a number of recent studies have now demonstrated the two are distinct, and do not always occur together). When we are awake, we are at the same level of consciousness, more or less, all the time. Think of it as a light of constant brightness. Attention refers to where the light is focused.

When we are driving a car and don't have to pay much attention to the road, much of our attention is focused instead on other things, various thoughts, memories, ideas, etc. When traffic suddenly changes, our attention may rapidly shift from those thoughts to thoughts—not awareness of, another very widespread misunderstanding, but thoughts—of the car that is too close. As soon as the danger passes, attention shifts back to various other thoughts.

The mistake philosophers make is, first, believing that there is an increase of awareness at that moment. There is a shift in attention; the level of awareness is the same. The brightness of the light doesn't change; where the light is focused on does. And second, the level of our ordinary awareness is so slight as to be barely more than what we call unconscious. We are not completely unconscious in the waking state, but we are far from full conscious awareness. We are barely conscious at all of that other car. We think we are, and that is precisely the problem. Thinking we are conscious is very different from being conscious.

But one does not awaken by becoming more rational. I have great respect for rationality, obviously, and think the world would be better off if more people were more rational. That said, one can be extremely rational, and just as asleep as someone less rational. On the contrary, what prevents us from waking is our thoughts. Even a brilliant philosopher, a Leibniz if you wish, almost certainly spent most of his thinking not on philosophical ideas, but junk, thoughts that had nothing to do with his work and which he for the most part was not even aware of. This alas is the human condition.

Scientific materialism is an excuse, a story that prevents man from facing his own self. Man looks outwards to explain atoms and particles, yet he who explains remains most unexplained. Man should look inwards.

This is a tired old cliché. The distinction to be made is not inner vs. outer, but simply awake vs. asleep. As we awaken, the distinction between inner and outer disappears. It's revealed to be an illusion.

Consider that person driving a car again. We say that most of the time he's thinking thoughts that have nothing to do with the here and now of being in car driving on the road. He's inwardly focused. When he suddenly notices the car that is too close, he shifts to becoming focused on what is outside him.

Except this is not what's really going on. The thoughts that are going through his mind at that time are manifestations of the outer as much as the inner. The particular thoughts he thinks are determined to a substantial degree by his particular environment, by sights and sounds impinging on him from moment to moment. Anyone can confirm this with enough self-observation. And conversely, when he suddenly notices the car that is too close, the act of noticing involves other thoughts. He doesn't see the other car; he thinks he sees it.

As we become more aware, we begin to understand that inner and outer are part of the same process. I certainly agree with you that science does not understand this, and is certainly not designed to awaken people. I'm not so sure, though, that Illuminism understands this process, either.

Each mind has its own private, individual 'mind-space' ,whilst all minds also share a collective mind-space/dreamscape. By releasing energy/thoughts into this collective dreamscape, minds generate what we call the material world.

As I said in my original review, this is just putting common knowledge into your own words. I would just add here, Where is this collective dreamscape, given that everything occurs in zero dimensions? How can monads release energy into anything, if space-time is an illusion? How can a term like “release” even make sense in zero dimensions? Release from where to where?

The mind-body problem in this system is just like the mind-body problem in an MMORPG. It simply does not exist.

Again, the mind-body problem today is understood as the problem of qualia. And again, panpsychism does not solve the problem of qualia (which are essential for the notion of MMORPG to make any sense); it simply avoids the issue. And again, I say this as someone sympathetic to this view.

You can't simply wave your hands, and have the mind-body problem disappear. Even in the limited sense that you define it, as unextended vs. extended, the theory proposed in the book fails. As I discussed in detail in my review, I see no way that minds can change, as described in the discussion of reincarnation, without changing the balance necessary to maintain zero-dimensionality. I've laid this out several times now, and am not going to go over it all yet again. If you or someone else thinks he has a response to this criticism, I will certainly listen to it, but so far, no one has addressed this point.

Existence seems more like a game of chess than a clockwork. The rules make the game what it is, but they do not determine it. The rules + the players do.

If you want to use this analogy, I'll simply point out that the players also follow rules. They may be more complex than those of the game itself, but they still are the outcome of causal chains. A player, for example, would never intentionally make a move that allowed the other player to checkmate him, if any alternative move were possible. Why not? Because one of the rules players follow is, always maximize your chances of winning.

The rules of the game specify what you must do to win. The rules of the players specify what you must do to follow the rules of the game. The rules of the players are meta-rules, so to speak, and inevitably result in behavior that is much harder to predict, but that does not mean that it isn't rule-based. As I pointed out in an article posted here previously, Consciousness: So Simple, So Comples, cellular automata show how very simple rules can result in quite complex patterns that are very difficult if not impossible for us to predict.

This gets into the question of free will. One of the other respondents said there was no compelling evidence for or against the existence of free will. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the entire notion of free will is incoherent. Think of something you do, some act you perform. There is either a reason for doing it, or there is no reason, right? If there is a reason, then that reason is a cause, or more likely, the summation of several or more causes. If there is no reason, then that act is random or spontaneous, but it's still not free.

Free will implies a choice, picking one act among several possibilities. How can one make a choice unless there is a reason? How can you talk about choosing something without a reason for making that choice? Do you do something for absolutely no reason at all? If you acted that way very long, you would end up dead.

Now we can say that some people act more consciously than others. As I said earlier, most people, most of the time, act unconsciously. It's possible to awaken, to become much more conscious of ourselves and our surroundings. But this still does not allow us to choose freely. It simply makes us more aware of the causes of our behavior. This is why I say that anyone who observes herself carefully and persistently will eventually understand that she has no free will.

And paradoxically, with this greater awareness comes a kind of freedom. Not free will in the way it's conventionally understood—freedom to act in a particular way. As I said before, this is impossible, not in the sense that we are unable to act in this way, but in the sense that it's incoherent, it's conceptually impossible. But freedom from the consequences of our actions.

A very crude metaphor is offered by the weather. We can't control the weather, for the most part. We can't determine when or where it will rain or snow, or the winds will blow. But we can control how the weather affects us. In fact, for us moderns the weather (as opposed to climate) is to a large degree irrelevant; it doesn't matter whether it rains or not. If it rains, we go indoors, or wear appropriate clothing, if it becomes cold, we have heating. In the same way, awakening does not allow us to control what we do; it just no longer matters what we do.

Most of the rest of your response, as far as I can see, is just a rehash of the rationalist position that the PSR, or something similar, is superior to empiricism (though you seem to concede the necessity for empiricism to a greater degree than was apparent in the book). I'm not going to repeat my arguments in response to that. As I said to one of the other respondents, this may be a permanent impasse between us. The illuminists have a belief in reason that at times, in my view, is akin to blind faith.

You also have some more criticism of materialism. Again, I'm aware of its weaknesses, what it doesn't explain. There are serious problems that I don't deny. It doesn't necessarily follow that the Illuminist view does a better job of addressing these problems.

Ravi Maheshvar, replying to my response, says:

Theo van Gogh was murdered by a jihadist in the heart of Amsterdam, only a few years ago, and every day thousands of European bloggers and authors are receiving death threats. Salmon Rushdie was living in Great-Britain when a fatwa was desclared on his life. Dutch politicians speaking out on the Islamization of Europe need 24/7 protection. You may not have noticed from reading The Mathematical Universe, but the Illuminati literature is very outspoken about Islam and related religions. To think there is no need for secrecy because the Inquisition is no longer in existence is foolishness.

OK, this I can accept, maybe. I was not aware that the Illuminati discussed Islam in particularly negative terms. I have read some of their views on Buddhism and Hinduism, but have not yet seen anything on Islam.

Still, nothing in Hockney's book, nor more generally, nothing that discusses scientific and philosophical ideas, would raise a Muslim's ire. After all, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others are outspoken atheists, and their lives are not at risk. I don't see why someone could not publish such ideas under his own name. Doing so would not necessarily link him with other ideas at the Illuminist site. An author of such scientific-philosophical ideas would not even have to admit to any membership in the Illuminati. Though in fact, those targeted by the Muslims have been outspoken directly against this religion, not simply associated with some organization that may have criticized this religion.

Consider the various revolutions that resulted from the Enlightenment, including the American Revolution culminating in the Declaration of Independence, penned (mostly) by Freemasons. When I said "spiritual ideas", I didn't necessarily mean mysterious, esoteric secrets, but rather any new, enlightening paradigm. Even atheism could be said to be a spiritual movement, because contrary to Abrahamism, it values individuation, human rights, gender equality, and an unbiased search for truth.

To the extent that these revolutions were the result of a new paradigm, they occurred in support of that paradigm, so I would have thought you would encourage revolution in that sense. If I understand you correctly, you're concerned that a revolution against Illuminism might emerge, in which identified authors might be at risk. This seems to me quite unlikely, but who's to say?

Anyway, I think you've answered the question of why the secrecy. I'm really arguing that those are not very good reasons, but if that is what in fact motivates the secrecy, that is the answer to my question.

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