Thank you! I’m not really sure how the Nietzsche quote fits in with all of this (I’m not ‘here’ mentally right now; I had 4 straight hours of philosophy discussion today and gave a presentation, so…ugh), but I’ll have to think about it and come back to it another time.
And I’m going to put the rest of this under a ‘read more’ because it’ll likely be long/incoherent/whatever.
Ok so I haven’t been so rigorously trained in philosophical analysis but this is also a problem that I’m very interested in so I’m going to try my hand at engaging with it (and your formulation of it).
I’m glad you replied, since this is a topic I just wrote a paper for a class on, and I’m thinking of possibly turning it into something I send in the hopes of attending the Pacific University conference this year, so all feedback is very welcome (especially since I’m super unclear on a lot of these ideas).
[Further, if anyone else would like to join in on this, I’d really appreciate it, because I am trying to get my head straight about a lot of these things, so any and all input is welcome.]
You’re right in thinking about the relation between H2O and water, as far as I’m concerned (there’s debate over whether H2O=water, but I think the discussion’s stupid, and find it absurd to say that a single molecule of H2O is water because they just don’t share the same set of properties - if H2O and water doesn’t work though, I think H20 and translucence pretty definitively does). But there would be a difference between water’s causal ability to dissolve things, I think, and whatever causal powers H2O as a molecule has. This is due to the fact that knowing all the physical facts about H2O doesn’t tell you that some such material will end up being a solvent when combined with water (or that water even has the capability of such a thing). Or maybe it does - my knowledge of chemistry is lacking. But in any case where a property or characteristic of an object can’t be accounted for by knowing all the brute physical facts about that object, then those properties are emergent.
And that’s how I’m viewing the effects of consciousness - as a property* that couldn’t be accounted for, or characterized, by knowing all the physical facts about neurons, or even about the entire system of neurons that compose the brain. I think language would be a good example of these possible causal powers of consciousness (that tends to be Johnston’s argument at least), though I am somewhat dicey in the details there (since a lot of linguistic ability comes from functions in different areas of the brain and such). Causally though, the effects of consciousness’ use of language can’t be reduced to neurons firing in the brain (maybe in terms of how singing a song to yourself can make yourself feel more calm or something?). Also, I think the fact that conscious interaction with the world, and with things in the world, can end up rewriting the structure of the neurons in the brain (neuorplasticity) shows that while that collection of neurons generated consciousness, consciousness has some way of causally producing effects upon those neurons that can’t be reduced to any of their brute physical characteristics. Does that make sense?
Memory I’m more uncertain about, and I wouldn’t want to say action is one of those type of causal conscious powers either, since that would seem to beg the question (right? I always seem to use that term wrong) when I would try to show that this idea of emergence leaves room for free will later on.
Also, I’m not sure what else would fall in to this emergence2 category, but I hope that some large class of objects does, or else I think we start falling into problematic notions (correlationism, first off, and then the question of “why does consciousness have such a special position” which could lead to bad anthropocentric views, and even reintroduce counterproductive images of humans being created as the special snowflakes of God’s will or something). I have to think more about what would fall into that category besides consciousness though (it’s difficult because Searle just talked about consciousness).
And your links are useful food for thought, but I haven’t digested them enough to comment on them intelligently (though I am glad you brought Kim into the discussion; he’s someone I really need to read sometime since people have been telling me he comments on all the things I’ve been discussion really heavily).
I am a little confused by what you were trying to point out with this piece though:
However, it could be our neuronal hardware does structure what sorts of social practices and methods of differentiation are available to us. But when you take plasticity into consideration, you can’t delimit the scope of consciousness with regard to our 21st century brain or any sort of brain that has existed in the past; whatever properties and powers of consciousness that may emerge in the future are beyond our faculties of comprehension and prediction.
Maybe it’s just my addled brain, but I read that a few times, and couldn’t figure out exactly what you were trying to get across (like, why bring up the difference between our 21st century brain and a possible future brain?)
I do think you’re right, possibly, in pointing out that the problem of consciousness has a lot to do with the fact that our brain doesn’t represent objects, but only the differences between them, along with this socially conditioned part of differentiation. It almost seems like there’s a material set of objects and an immaterial set, and that interactions amongst the former explain the former, and the same for the latter, but that trying to explain one in terms of the other doesn’t work. That may commit me to a sort of problematic dualism, but oh well.
And I honestly don’t feel qualified to make many remarks on qualia. I don’t think that was even a term I had heard of very long before this semester, but it’s something I’m reading more into. This question of how the immaterial can be causally efficacious in regards to material things is in some senses the core problematic I’m trying to deal with here.
I take as a jumping off point Harman’s ideas about vicarious causation. If, following Heidegger (as Harman does) we care up the world, and individual objects, collections of objects, etc. into elements of presence and nonpresence, and if we saw that the nonpresent side of objects is the dominant side (Harman says that objects are “infinitely withdrawn” from one another), then how can objects ever interact. The idea of vicarious causation is supposed to answer this problematic. Harman notes that the parts of any object are only seen as parts given that we’re looking at an object at a certain “level” (for example, we generally think of an arm as part of our body, but if we’re getting surgery done on our arm, then the arm becomes an object, specifically the object being focused on in the surgery). He then goes on to make the (somewhat dicey) claim that parts don’t have this withdrawn character, only objects do. So insofar as any object can be subsumed into another ‘level’ of observation (or being), it can have causal relations with other parts of this ‘higher level’ object.
If the something nonpresent can have causal effects on material so long as it can be consider a part of some ‘higher level’ object, then I think there’s hope for immaterial things having causal effects on material things. The questions of what the ‘higher level’ object for consciousness is, and whether immaterial/material things exist on two separate plains of the presence/nonpresence dualism are questions for another investigation, though - I think the important point is that it’s rather possible for this gap to be closed in on (even if only in a speculative, metaphysical way).
And, continuing, it’s not that culture and neurons aren’t to be studied, but that studying cultural effects and neuronal properties won’t give us the full picture of what consciousness is (capable of). Though determined by these two things, to some extent, consciousness isn’t fully determined by them. So the study of consciousness would have to focus on properties and effects of consciousness (in the same way that, to study a heart, say, you would study the properties [tissues, shape, whatever], and the effects [pumping blood, keeping things alive, etc.]). So focusing on cultural and material effects are essential in studying consciousness, but only to a point - and that point is what is currently out of reach for present-day scientific practice. That isn’t a fault in science, but it is a current limit upon it’s possibilities.
And what I mean by the whole ‘mystical’ thing, is that I think this advancement in science (studying the ‘point’ just mentioned above), can only come about the way that our current science did - that is, by studying the history of attempts to study the material that “science proper” now studies. For example, by our modern concepts of a proper biological science, the investigations Aristotle undertook on plant life and such wouldn’t be “scientific” by the modern standards, but the biological sciences had to take this history of investigation into account in trying to create their more rigorous field. In the same sense, I think science will have to take into account “ancient” mystical accounts of what the immaterial consists of, along with more modern “metaphysical” accounts of such, as a jumping off point in trying to create this new way of doing science. This means that, where strict metaphysics (and I mean, like, Derrida/Deleuze/Heidegger type metaphysics here - not the set theoretical metaphysics logicians sometimes engage in) has been largely ignored by the sciences for the past century+ (and vice versa), the two of them will have to enter into explicit dialogue in order to make the virtual “science to come” a possibility.
I know I have a lot more to look into before being able to make some of these claims really strongly (need to know more about debates over qualia, neuroplasticity, free will, etc.), I’m mostly hoping that getting a lot of these ideas out will help me study these things further. So I might be completely wrongheaded, due to my ignorance, in thinking some of these things, but if that’s the case, I’m hoping that dialogue about it will help me improve them (or even discard them, where necessary).
*I know I argued that we should view consciousness as an object in my last post, but I’m going to refer to it pretty interchangeably as an object and property, just to make things flow better