The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

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The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:31 am

Hi all,

I'm sure the following blog articles by Neuroscientist, Sam Harris will pique your interest
Maybe for some! Given that Sam Harris is looking at consciousness from the viewpoint of modern neuroscience, i would like to know what you think. Here are some extracts but do read the blog posts in their entirety by following the link.
As always, I look forward to your comments!

The problem, however, is that no evidence for consciousness exists in the physical world.⁠[6] Physical events are simply mute as to whether it is “like something” to be what they are. The only thing in this universe that attests to the existence of consciousness is consciousness itself; the only clue to subjectivity, as such, is subjectivity


Naturally, it all depends on how one defines “nothing.” The physicist Lawrence Krauss has written a wonderful book arguing that the universe does indeed emerge from nothing. But in the present context, I am imagining a nothing that is emptier still—a condition without antecedent laws of physics or anything else.


http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the- ... ciousness/

At some point in the development of certain complex organisms, however, consciousness emerges. This miracle does not depend on a change of materials—for you and I are built of the same atoms as a fern or a ham sandwich. Rather, it must be a matter of organization. Arranging atoms in a certain way appears to bring consciousness into being. And this fact is among the deepest mysteries given to us to contemplate.


But other analogies seem to offer hope. Consider our sense of sight: Doesn’t vision emerge from processes that are themselves blind? And doesn’t such a miracle of emergence make consciousness seem less mysterious?


http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the- ... usness-ii/

kind regards,

Ben
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby alan » Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:14 am

Thank you Ben for this thought-provoking post.
The mystery does not have to be seen as a "miracle". Another way to say it is:
"From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident."
(though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on).
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:20 am

Hi alan,
Great to see you back here.
Yes, I thought it was an excellent essay.
I'm not sure whether you have read the essay in its entirety so I am not sure whether you are responding as though Harris is saying that 'consciousness is a miracle' or not. In the essay his contention is a rebuttal to that particular idea.
kind regards,

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby alan » Wed Oct 26, 2011 3:06 am

Hi Ben
Had to take a few weeks off to cool down. When I saw you post it seemed like a good opportunity to start a discussion.
Over 60 views and no comments? There must be some opinions out there.
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 1:42 pm

What harris is missing is that consciousness didnt emerge from anything. Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc. The difference between the merely physical and the subjective is just that some organisms have enough complexity to focus this fundemental property in the same way that large masses possess more gravity.

Its interesting that westerners start from the objective and their question is "How did consciousness arise from the physical?" Other cultures attribute primary place to subjectivity. Personally i like the analogy in the sheaves of reeds sutta. Subjectivity and objectivity being interdependent.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 26, 2011 1:55 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.

Says who?
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby daverupa » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:00 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc. The difference between the merely physical and the subjective is just that some organisms have enough complexity to focus this fundemental property in the same way that large masses possess more gravity.


Care to back this up with anything resembling evidence?
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:01 pm

Ben wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.

Says who?


Me :) and a few others too i think. iirc i might have first seen the idea in a David Chalmers essay.

EDIT: found this from Mr. Chalmers:

I suggest that a theory of consciousness should take experience as fundamental. We know that a theory of consciousness requires the addition of something fundamental to our ontology, as everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness. We might add some entirely new nonphysical feature, from which experience can be derived, but it is hard to see what such a feature would be like. More likely, we will take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time. If we take experience as fundamental, then we can go about the business of constructing a theory of experience.

Where there is a fundamental property, there are fundamental laws. A nonreductive theory of experience will add new principles to the furniture of the basic laws of nature. These basic principles will ultimately carry the explanatory burden in a theory of consciousness. Just as we explain familiar high-level phenomena involving mass in terms of more basic principles involving mass and other entities, we might explain familiar phenomena involving experience in terms of more basic principles involving experience and other entities.


http://consc.net/papers/facing.html

Its not really a brand spanking new idea tho, the above is reminiscent of the buddhist cittamaran and yogacaran philosophy.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:20 pm

daverupa wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc. The difference between the merely physical and the subjective is just that some organisms have enough complexity to focus this fundemental property in the same way that large masses possess more gravity.


Care to back this up with anything resembling evidence?


Well i do have evidence, the problem being of course that its all subjective :smile: It is an idea tho that seems to be gaining ground these days and just on a common sense level, can you describe anything in the "physical" universe without a subjective referrent?

EDIT: The physical sciences pursued reductionism to the point that what they were looking for dissapeared in front of them, finding that objects were energy fields, subject to weird effects like quantum entanglement. The biological sciences seem to be having a better go at holding on to a reductive, purely materialist model, at least in terms of an explanation of consciousness as being a sort of symptom of brain function, but i think thats doomed too. I think that one of the reasons that the biological sciences are clutching at materialism is that its not so scary to find out that your car or toaster are not what you thot and may have mysterious connections to the rest of the universe, otoh finding out that you are not what you thot and may have mysterious connections to the rest of the universe, is a bit unsettling.
Last edited by m0rl0ck on Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby daverupa » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:38 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:just on a common sense level, can you describe anything in the "physical" universe without a subjective referrent?


To quote your Chalmers snippet:

everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness.


Seems as though we're having our cake and eating it, too.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:44 pm

daverupa wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:just on a common sense level, can you describe anything in the "physical" universe without a subjective referrent?


To quote your Chalmers snippet:

everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness.


Seems as though we're having our cake and eating it, too.


Yes, and lets not forget that there has to be someone to make the cake, to describe its appearance and to taste it as well :smile:
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby chownah » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:50 pm

m0rl0ck wrote: Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.

In the Buddhas dispensation The All contain consciousness, space, matter, and energy and they all have the same degree of fundamentalness in that they are all fabrications......so I guess you are correct.
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 2:54 pm

chownah wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote: Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.

In the Buddhas dispensation The All contain consciousness, space, matter, and energy and they all have the same degree of fundamentalness in that they are all fabrications......so I guess you are correct.
chownah


Wow... that kind of puts the whole discussion into perspective doesnt it ? :D
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby gavesako » Wed Oct 26, 2011 3:48 pm

The article is a good challenge to materialistic reductionism. The neuroscientists often claim to "understand how the brain works" but as some recent findings show, their claims are far from certain. Compare this one:

Unexplained communication between brain hemispheres without corpus callosum

Ah, yes, the brain is an amazing and wonderful thing - just when we think we get one piece figured out, we find something we never expected. In this case, researchers have found that folks without a corpus callosum (the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) still are able to exhibit communication between the two hemispheres.
Could the brain be using electromagnetic fields to communicate between hemispheres — the electromagnetic field theory of consciousness proposed by Johnjoe McFadden (School of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Surrey)?

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/20 ... brain.html

:jawdrop:
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Moggalana » Wed Oct 26, 2011 4:56 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Its interesting that westerners start from the objective and their question is "How did consciousness arise from the physical?"

On the contrary! The modern study of consciousness began with Descartes, and Descartes is widely known for his theory of mind-body dualism. Fast forward 350 years and there is (more or less) only one prominent dualist remaning: David Chalmers. All the others think that dualism just doesn't work because how should a non-physical entity interact with a physical brain?

m0rl0ck wrote:Other cultures attribute primary place to subjectivity.

Subjectivity doesn't necessarily imply dualism. Personally, I find Metzinger's and Blackmore's theories of consciousness pretty interesting. They are both (materalistic) monists and they are also long-term meditators, so they don't discard phenomenology like some of the other materialists.

Consciousness studies is still a pretty young science and much remains to be discovered but it doesn't look too good for non-materialist neuroscience.


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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:07 pm

Moggalana wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Its interesting that westerners start from the objective and their question is "How did consciousness arise from the physical?"

On the contrary! The modern study of consciousness began with Descartes, and Descartes is widely known for his theory of mind-body dualism. Fast forward 350 years and there is (more or less) only one prominent dualist remaning: David Chalmers. All the others think that dualism just doesn't work because how should a non-physical entity interact with a physical brain?

m0rl0ck wrote:Other cultures attribute primary place to subjectivity.

Subjectivity doesn't necessarily imply dualism. Personally, I find Metzinger's and Blackmore's theories of consciousness pretty interesting. They are both (materalistic) monists and they are also long-term meditators, so they don't discard phenomenology like some of the other materialists.

Consciousness studies is still a pretty young science and much remains to be discovered but it doesn't look too good for non-materialist neuroscience.


-----
interesting books:



I was actually talking about subjectivity vs objectivity of experience not mind / body dualism.
I read a little of the metzinger and couldnt make a go of it, it assumed too much prior knowledge of his work. After googling him tho and reading about his theories, he sounds like any other materialist to me, someone who beleives the brain and its function compose the self. I know, he says that he is deconstructing the self, but all he has really done is just pin it to brain function the same way every other materialist does. If he is a long term meditator i would like to know what he has gleaned from his practice. It seems to me that a beleif in the self as brain and brain function would be a major stumbling block. I will investigate the blackmore link later, ty for the links :)

BTW that non materialist neuroscience link is a real hoot, ty for the laugh. I especially found this amusing:

The combination of computational modeling and non-invasive imaging of living brains has allowed researchers to begin describing how complex thought emerges from the firing patterns of neurons.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:39 pm

Please return to topic. Off-topic posts will be removed.
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby Alex123 » Wed Oct 26, 2011 9:52 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:What harris is missing is that consciousness didnt emerge from anything. Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.


Why is it when one affects the brain, the consciousness is affected? If one drinks alcohol or takes drugs, the consciousness and perhaps even behavior will alter.

If one damages one part of the brain, one kind of conscious function alters. If one damages another part of the brain, another kind of conscious function alters.

So there does seem to be requirement of properly functioning physical brain for consciousness.
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby m0rl0ck » Thu Oct 27, 2011 2:49 pm

Alex123 wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:What harris is missing is that consciousness didnt emerge from anything. Consciousness is a fundemental property of the universe, like space, matter, energy etc.


Why is it when one affects the brain, the consciousness is affected? If one drinks alcohol or takes drugs, the consciousness and perhaps even behavior will alter.

If one damages one part of the brain, one kind of conscious function alters. If one damages another part of the brain, another kind of conscious function alters.

So there does seem to be requirement of properly functioning physical brain for consciousness.


For fear of being off topic, ill respond via pm, check your in box :)
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: The mystery of consciousness: Sam Harris

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Thu Oct 27, 2011 3:51 pm

I'll take a crack at it. :tongue: Only the expression of consciousness is affected by damage to the machine, ie; the brain. Consciousness itself--the quality of awareness--remains. Until it doesn't and then the person is declared dead.

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