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Saturday, January 28, 2012


Bill Fleming

Great topic, KB. At first blush, your read on "pleasure" seems to make a philosophic argument for hedonism.

A few random observations. The other day I was eating a few broiled chicken legs and the flavor sensation was so wonderful I was practically transfixed by it. Then it occurred to me that I was basically eating an animal and that there were likewise other animals that would gladly consume me with equal relish. I began to wonder if we are the only animal to whom such thoughts ever occur and of course came up with the answer that we don't know.

Tangent here is that, according to Joseph Campbell, it is perhaps this very line of thought that gave rise to humanity's first religious/spiritual instincts.

That would argue for consciousness being a product of evolution.

On the other side, especially in quantum theories involving "entanglement" there is the idea, as you suggest, that such consciousness is part of the very fabric of our being... perhaps even the ground of it. That's certainly what vedanta argues.

Again, interesting topic. Thanks for posting it.


Im considering that conciousness is before DNA any comments

Bill Fleming

Peter, I'll go just a short distan down that path with you. When it comes to consciousness, as KB points out, we are faced with both the "easy" and the "hard" peoblem. What he left out was the fact that we don't as yet even know the answer to the "easy" one. As far as we know, the brain is a machine and consciousness resides in it. When the brain ceases to function, the light of consciousness apparently goes out along with it. Further, if the corpus collosum is severed so that the left and right hemispheres no longer communicate with each other, the individuals perception is that of having two "selves."

Add to this the essential observation that the most essential functions of our brain are hard wired so as to disallow interference from the conscious mind, and we start to see questions challenging KB's assertion about free will arise. Certainly he's not suggesting that he makes a conscious decision to take every breath or trigger every heartbeat. Is he? Are you?

larry kurtz

Cool post, KB. I would just add that we are just another species competing for food and reproduction on a planet with finite resources.

Ken Blanchard

Thanks, Bill. I very much doubt that any other terrestrial organism ever asked itself the questions that you suggest. There is some indication that Chimpanzees have a "theory of mind", that is, that a chimp may be aware that some other creature doesn't know something he knows. A chimp knows, for example, that an experimenter with a bag over his head couldn't see where the goodies are hidden.

That is a long way from putting oneself in the other's shoes or paws as it were. I think that that level of empathy and reflection is probably a result of the lon evolution of reciprocity and social exchange among humans. Moral thinking drove intelligence, rather than vice versa. That is a very gratifying truth, if it is a truth, to someone trained in classic political philosophy.

Peter: No. Not on this world. Even if one goes as far as the philosopher Hans Jonas to say that all life is conscious, even down to the single cell, DNA still has to be there first. I am not considering Gods and angels here. That is above my pay grade.

Ken Blanchard

Thanks, Larry. I am well aware of what you mention. We find ourselves in the position of gardeners if only because we are the only species that can conceive of a garden. All life is precious.

Bill Fleming

Yeah, that's a new twist on the old "bag over the head /goodies" scenario alright. ;^)

Donald Pay

Consciousness is neurons and chemicals structured and operating in certain ways. At what point consciousness develops as an emergent property of the neurological system is an interesting question.

I work with people with brain injuries or other cognitive deficits or with mental illness, so I see a lot of different aspects of human consciousness that has been altered by these deficits. Typical human consciousness requires a type of memory that tracks autobiographical information. For example, many people with Asberger's syndrome have a reduced autobiographical memory (though they may be very gifted in other sorts of memory). We seem to think of consciousness as one thing, but it is a very complex, depending on which areas of the brain are and are not working "normally."

larry kurtz

@markos Markos Moulitsas
Ha ha ha Obama is so stupid he uses teleprompters! But Republicans using them are okay. 4 minutes ago


John Walker

An interesting approach toward this topic is the book THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL BRAIN by James Jeans. I'm not saying I really buy into James' theory, but it's sure sort of neat to think about.

Ken Blanchard

Donald: I tend to agree with your statement that "Consciousness is neurons and chemicals structured and operating in certain ways." I would only amend it to read that consciousness IS the operation of that system. I would not, however, declare it as if it were knowledge. Dualists like David Chalmers still have a case to make.

I appreciated your reflections on mental dysfunction as a probe to be used in the analysis of C. It is certainly a very complex phenomenon.

Bill Fleming

Whew. I finally made it all the way through the review you attached, KB, and what a complete waste of time it was. For far more fertile ground on the topic, I recommend "I Am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter and "The Information" by James Gleick. Walker's recommendation of Jayne's book (above) is also a good one but somewhat outdated. He'll no doubt enjoy the way Gleick has followed up.

Ken Blanchard

Bill: about the Tallis essay, one of us is wrong.

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