Location: Darmstadt, Hessen, Germany

I'm a sort of creative person, seeking the meaning of life . Hard to capture the essence of the mind/brain/soul - but I delight in arguing with ultra-materialists on consciousness. Ah! the smell of a rose and its redness, the smell of a fine wine, a sunset, - great stuff, and all subjective. Oh yeah and actually am Scorpio by 4 hours according to expert astrologer friend - blogger auto-star-sign system missed the fact that I'm on the cusp. Though I agree with Casius when he said "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings".

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What is the mind?

I find the idea of being any old lump of matter as somewhat anonymous and pejorative. Anyway the idea of a simple lump of matter ain't what it used to be. First, 'matter' is not the hard and fast stuff it used to be - break it up and you find ghostly probability patterns - the stuff of which dreams are made. Secondly saying that consciousness is the 'totality of feelings corresponding to being a lump of matter' reminds me of Colin McGinn's book on mind and matter - he ridicules rather skillfully the idea that we are nothing but a computer made of meat. Particularly brilliant I found his description of space and mind - every phrase and idea relates to space, but thought is not of space - consciousness is not located in any one place and does not have spatial extent. The brilliant idea that before the big bang there was no matter and maybe just mind and that the universe oscillated between mind and matter states and our consciousness now is sort of pockets of the primordial consciousness entering the special conditions offered by brains. In a way, though, the 'computer made of meat' idea is true in so far as the subjective aspect of consciousness has objective correlates that are the fluxes within the lump of matter, those fluxes being partly electrochemical in the classical sense and partly quantum with its superpositions, non-locality and interconnectedness. But although we know that the subjective aspect is associated with the objective correlates, it is perhaps too much to say that the former arises from the latter, e.g. as an 'emergent' property. Science at the moment is silent on the connection between the two: that's why behaviourism tried to ignore and deny the subjective side of the coin. And that's how it is: two sides of the coin, the subjective and the objective, or as Malik puts it nicely, the subjective aspect or feeling is the 'inside' of the system: e.g. in meaning - there's an outer or objective aspect, but to get the full shilling you have to be in the driving seat, i.e. inside the feeling. That horrified the behaviourists: the little man in the centre of the brain - that leads to infinite regression or the 'soul'. Also to say you 'are' a lump of matter restricts to locality: but take that lump of matter consisting of two electrons in an orbital or two photons in coupled polarisation states that in an experiment are separated and shot apart, one going to Alpha Centauri and one to here. Aspect showed that until you burst the bubble of the wave function by measuring here or in Alpha Centauri this pair of particles has no fixed locality - it is spatially extended and interlinked in Einstein's feared 'ghostly action at a distance'. In the same way a brain seems to be interlinked in a non-local way - certainly our inside experience of it 'binds'
inputs from disparate areas into one unified whole: so your internal TV screen incorporates info from all over the brain – there is no central place where it all comes together.

If a "materialist" is a person who wants his explanations to be in terms of things that exist, then if a 'soul' or 'interconnectedness of all things' existed, then his explanations would have to encompass them. We know from Aspect that the latter exists, so already the old style materialist with his surly countenance and gloomy insistence on brute matter is passe. Thus Occam's razor now is a two edged blade, as far as the lugubrious hero of the last sentence is concerned, for it urges us to explain as much as we can in terms of the molecules, atoms, particles, superstrings and ghostly action at a distance (Einstein’s description). And even that is mostly airy fairy, as atoms and even molecules have now been superposed in double slit experiments: matter is all ghostly wavefunctions interacting. Even the entanglement that leads to the illusion of hard matter that fooled our old style buffoon may be seen as evidence for proto-consciousness reaching as far as the atomic level: One entity (electron, atom or molecule) wandering on it's own is lost in the dream (of Gerontius) that blurs it into a ghost to all others, until it bumps into another ghost, at which point both come briefly to their senses as something measured and definite. Each atom then becomes Von Neuman's or Wigner's (proto-)conscious collapser or collapsed. This is what gives the illusion of solid matter. However, the fact that matter even at room temperture is full of ghostly ineffable quantum effects (mmmm... lovely, as the Brauerei Fest band play 'let it be' as I write) was shown recently in new confirmation of that
anomaly of ordinary water - it is H(3/2)O and not H2O since probing lasers always show a bit of the second H missing! The latter is evidence that good old H2O is not quite there. And this quantumly suspect liquid is the basis of all life, so via Occam life is riddled with quantum!
Thus your, as a materialist's, demand that extra (w.r.t. old fashioned matter-as-a-hard-brick) fundamental ingredients be as existent (and therefore as susceptible to investigation) as our beloved atoms is met: the investigators are investigating them!

Anecdotal evidence: Reproducibility is all well and good for electric currents, pendulums,
and the more regular action-at-a-distance quantum effects, but it is not vouched safe for many things we know to be real but which dissolve in the white heat of the lab: Conscious states, for one - each is unique: in fact some of the more 'materialist' neuroscientists make much of the fact that the same wine will never taste the same twice as the brain/mind will be in different state each time depending on a complex mix of emotions, alcoholic stupor, circadean or menstrual rhythm etc. Thus a wine tasting is not reproducible in the narrow sense: just as a meteor causing a giant crater in Arizona is not exactly reproducible: telepathy and other psi effects are more reliable as they are occasionally reproducible - just not always, no more than wine tasting or Arizonan craters. Come on, who are we fooling here? Physicists don't want to accept psi on philosophical grounds and thus will always shift the goalposts to suit their desired result. However, that notwithstanding, even religion and mysticism are achieving a synthesis with science - doctors showed in some studies that patients prayed for (without their knowledge) did better than control patients not prayed for. Just read a review of William James' "Varieties of religious experiences" in which the founding father of American psychology urges a union of religious-mystic ideas and psychology.


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