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Nebulous Notions

I'm wrestling with an idea that as yet remains so nebulous that I can only make reference to it by posting excerpts from essays written by clearer minds. The first, by Erik Davis, from an essay on his website called "The Omega Network" that he describes as a remix from his book Techgnosis
Teilhard [de Chardin]’s appeal to Christians wrestling with the theory of evolution is clear. John Haught, a Roman Catholic theologian who aruges in a number of influential books that church teachings are not incompatible with Darwin, holds up Teilhard as a model for understanding how a purposeful God might be working through the apparently wayward, and sometimes obscenely cruel, development of material forms. The key for Haught, as for Teilhard, is consciousness: the world of human experience and its forms of understanding overlaps the objects and processes described by physics and information theory, but is not identified with them. The material world produced by Darwinian forces is thus layered with human meanings and perceptions exactly the way that Teilhard’s physical planet is layered with the noosphere.

The second comes from an article called Consciousness is Nothing but a Word by Henry D. Schlinger:
As the title of my article suggests, consciousness is not a thing, a place, or a cognitive process (whatever that is); it's only a word that we use in a variety of ways. For example, we can say that an organism is "conscious" if it is awake and/or alert (versus asleep or in a coma). We can then study the behaviors associated with wakefulness and the underlying neural structures that mediate them. Or, like Francis Crick and Christoph Koch, we can use "consciousness" to refer to visual perception, which is acceptable as long as it points to actual behaviors involved in perceiving and their ultimate evolutionary and learned causes. But wakefulness and visual perception are not what most scholars are referring to with the word "consciousness."

So, what the heck is consciousness? Given the title of my podcast, you might reasonably expect me to keep a provisional definition at the ready. Well, all I can say to that is that we're out of toilet paper and I need to make a run to the grocery store.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
"So, what the heck is consciousness?"

It's a word.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Have you watched that massive 6 DVD set on consciousness?

I <3 de Chardin. Consciousness and teleology form the crux of my cosmogony.

(Deleted comment)
Mar. 3rd, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Consciousness As Awareness
I think that the neuro-reductionists who are on a quest to find the NCC (neurological correlates of consciousness) would accept "awareness" as an uncontroversial folk psychology definition of "consciousness," but this is not what they're talking about when they use the term "consciousness."

Consciousness as a certain kind of awareness is certainly what Robert Grudin is talking about in American Vulgar: The Politics of Manipulation Versus the Culture of Awareness (of which the C-Realm listeners have heard much in recent weeks), and it's pretty central to my interest in consciousness these days, but it doesn't really get at the problematic kind of consciousness mentioned in the excerpts from Erik Davis and Henry D. Schlinger.

I tend to agree with Dr. Schlinger in that the word "consciousness" as used by the neuro-reductionists and other contemporary philosophers of mind may have no actual referent, but I can't follow him to the conclusions that he draws from that, e.g. that animals and pre-verbal human infants have no subjective experience.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
The way I see it is like this. Consciousness is when you actually enter into the present time (the here and now) and you become aware of your mind but without thinking. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said you become conscious "when there is no space between the observer and the observed".
As all thoughts are ether in and of the past or future, no real time is experienced until thinking stops and pure observation of the present begins.
Mar. 5th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
So, what the heck is consciousness?
It's the process that constructed the grocery store and put the toilet paper in it. It's also the process that created the belief that if you go to the grocery store, you'll find the toilet paper you need.
Mar. 6th, 2008 04:53 am (UTC)
Chiming in as a disgruntled philosophy major...

The ridiculous debates in analytical philosophy regarding qualia, zombies, and non-conscious children and animals were one of the main things that turned me off of the field. All the literature on the subject strike me as terminally confused and not particularly useful. This goes for the second article you link to, which sounds quite sensible until it goes completely off the rails when it tries to come up with its own "One True Definition" of consciousness as "the ability to describe and report on your surroundings". Groan.

I suspect we'd be best off just ignoring the field of "consciousness studies", and focus on other aspects of mind more amenable to empirical study in psychology and neuroscience. Punt the question til' later, in other words.

Mar. 10th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)
Consciousness is a word?

Maybe the opposite. Maybe consciousness is outside of language. Reaching higher states of it doesn't come from words, seemingly.. And where entheogens help out, they usually lead to a very personal discovery that can also not be communicated through words.

As Martin mentioned on his salvia episode, you can't really understand the salvia experience by hearing about it. I don't think you can understand consciousness except through doing it. You have to be and become conscious.

Of course, we're still posting here talking about it, so hopefully we can communicate and learn about consciousness through language anyway.. I just have a feeling the big "lessons" are outside of language.
Mar. 10th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting all those Terence McKenna quotes along with the time at which the are to be found in the lecture. I think your efforts will prove useful to a lot of people.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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