Necessary conditions for consciousness

Glen M. Sizemore gmsizemore at triad.rr.com
Thu Feb 8 17:03:48 EST 2001


Lew: You may want to consider the possibility that
it is not brains that are
conscious (or that produce conscious experience),
but rather bodies.
This is not to say that brains aren't an important part,
clearly they
are. What I'm suggesting is that it might not make
sense to focus on the
brain alone and exclude the rest of the body. It might
be argued, for
example, that your eyes are really just your brain
sticking out the
front of your head. If I'm not mistaken, there is also
some evidence
that rudimentary processing is occurring in the
retina. I can't think of
any principled reason to say that the computational
processes that
underlie consciousness occur only in the brain but
not at all in, say,
the spinal column. Where subjective experience is
concerned, it
certainly feels as if my body is conscious (toes,
fingertips, etc.).
There's also unilateral neglect, phantom limb
syndrome, synesthesia,
etc. which at least suggest that the body is best
understood as a whole
as opposed to a mode of transportation for the brain.
If there is
someone at your University who teaches Merleau-
Ponty you might want to
take a course or an independent study. He argues
(persuasively I think)
that notions like "intelligence" and "consciousness"
belong to the body
as whole, and not to the brain alone (although once
again, the brain is
clearly a very important piece of meat). With regard
to Cartesian
dualism, Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out that the best
way to unify the
mind and body is not to separate them in the first
place. You might want
to consider the possibility that it would be better not
to separate the
brain from the body if you plan to explain how they
function together at
some later time.

Glen: You are on to something here. The reason that
"'intelligence' and 'consciousness' belong to the
body as whole" is that such terms are "used as
references to behavior." If we examine the
circumstances under which we allege that others are
"conscious" we will find that we are observing
behavior. Further, we will find that there are two
general kinds of observations that "cause us to use
the term consciousness;" I refer to these two kinds
of circumstances as 1) consciousness in the general
sense, and 2) consciousness in the restricted sense
(CRS) of self-aware . The former is used simply to
refer to the fact that an organism is "responding to
stimuli." The latter is used to refer to the fact that
humans can "respond to their own behavior or states
of their bodies." Only the latter deserves much
further comment, but this is not to say that the
behavior of organisms, in general, or the
neurobiology of behavior in general, is well
understood - it is not.

In any event, it is not membership in the human
species that confers CRS, it is the special social
milieu in which humans are embedded. Humans
respond to their own behavior (or states of their
own bodies) because the "verbal community"
arranges contingencies of reinforcement that force
such responses. As has been pointed out (all to
seldom) is that non-human organisms can be "made
conscious" of their own behavior (or states of their
bodies). This is routinely done in the laboratory
using the procedure known as drug-discrimination
where responses on one lever are reinforced if the
organism has been injected with, say, cocaine, and
responses are reinforced on another when saline has
been injected.

Thus, consciousness is a behavioral phenomenon
and behavior is part of the functioning of whole
organisms. Referring to the brain, or parts of the
brain, in terms relevant to whole organisms is
nonsense, and embodies everything that is wrong
with psychology and behavioral neurobiology.

Glen
"L.A. Loren" <lloren at mitre.org> wrote in message
news:3A8173E7.BA1D80EB at mitre.org...
> Jeffrey Kazuo Yoshimi wrote:
> >
> [snip]
> > Assume that for a brain to produce conscious experience...
> [snip]
>
> You may want to consider the possibility that it is not brains that are
> conscious (or that produce conscious experience), but rather bodies.
> This is not to say that brains aren't an important part, clearly they
> are. What I'm suggesting is that it might not make sense to focus on the
> brain alone and exclude the rest of the body. It might be argued, for
> example, that your eyes are really just your brain sticking out the
> front of your head. If I'm not mistaken, there is also some evidence
> that rudimentary processing is occurring in the retina. I can't think of
> any principled reason to say that the computational processes that
> underlie consciousness occur only in the brain but not at all in, say,
> the spinal column. Where subjective experience is concerned, it
> certainly feels as if my body is conscious (toes, fingertips, etc.).
> There's also unilateral neglect, phantom limb syndrome, synesthesia,
> etc. which at least suggest that the body is best understood as a whole
> as opposed to a mode of transportation for the brain. If there is
> someone at your University who teaches Merleau-Ponty you might want to
> take a course or an independent study. He argues (persuasively I think)
> that notions like "intelligence" and "consciousness" belong to the body
> as whole, and not to the brain alone (although once again, the brain is
> clearly a very important piece of meat). With regard to Cartesian
> dualism, Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out that the best way to unify the
> mind and body is not to separate them in the first place. You might want
> to consider the possibility that it would be better not to separate the
> brain from the body if you plan to explain how they function together at
> some later time.
>
> Just a thought.
> Lew







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