Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Recap

This might be a good place to stop and summarize what's been proposed. The key posts, in order, have been:


From this, the following points are most important:

  • First of all, there is a crucial distinction between consciousness as such -- aka "awareness" -- and language-based consciousness (which enables self-consciousness or self-awareness, reflection, etc.). That is, consciousness in general does not imply self-awareness, introspection, etc. -- it simply implies (or is identical with) awareness, or experience, or so-called "raw feels".
  • Consciousness just as such, or just as awareness, is a general behavioral control system that has evolved in mobile organisms. The crucial feature of this control system is that it introduces a gap or "slippage" between environmental stimuli and behavioral response, and this gap allows for more complex and adaptive responses by providing an opening for other inputs such as memory, expectation, and system state.
  • The gap of consciousness is a function of its two subcomponents -- a world-creating mechanism and a behavior-determining mechanism -- and, crucially, of the loose connection between those subcomponents. "Loose connection" just means that the world that consciousness creates is made up purely of information-bearing tokens -- i.e., irreducible, qualitatively distinct signals, or "qualia". Since it's only the information contained in their qualitative distinction that provides the input to the decision-making algorithm of consciousness, qualia are not just functional, they're required.
  • The advent of language introduces a new order of complexity into this control system, by providing a way to separate experiential memory into "chunks", structure those chunks through abstractable features, and provide a handle for such structured fragments of experience by associating them with specific experiential signs, such as word-sounds. Among the most powerful of such sign/symbol combinations is that for the "self" or "I", which is something that only comes into being through language, and which provides the basis for a recursive self-awareness or introspection.
  • Unlike general consciousness, however, this special or language-based consciousness is an inherently social phenomenon, and is learned through a developmental process that imprints an entire "memetic" structure on each individual's mental apparatus, a structure that can be called a cultural imprint. This structure undergoes constant change not just in every "communicative encounter" between individuals within a cultural group, but also as individuals use the structure to think and formulate plans on their own. And this change provides the basis for Darwinian-like selection pressures on the cultural imprint, and hence for cultural adaptation and evolution.


To summarize the recap, the key ideas here are:

  • General consciousness or simple awareness is not the same as linguistic consciousness, and any discussion of consciousness should be aware of the distinction.
  • The function of general consciousness is as a highly flexible behavioral control system.
  • The qualia of consciousness are signals or bearers of information essential to its operation as a mechanism.
  • The advent of language produces a new or special kind of consciousness characterized by a socially learned and maintained cultural imprint or "memotype", which in turn provides the basis for social/cultural change or evolution.


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5 Comments:

At 7:49 PM, October 22, 2005, Blogger John Rogers said...

I realy love this blog, I have same intrest. Meditate as often as possible. email me some time

Home Business.

 
At 10:53 PM, November 16, 2005, Blogger Unsane said...

Interesting.

However, I would be surprised if the "raw feels" themselves are not also mediated by cultural values, at least at some level. Whether or not one registers a raw feel as significant -- and therefore, whether or not it registers in consciousness at all -- relates to the specificity of cultural conditioning. Raw feels -- a smell, for instance, can signal a danger or be a sign of pleasure, depending on the type of natural environment one's cultural conditioning took place in to begin with.

There is not ALWAYS a slippage between response and environmental input, when certain raw feels impact us on an unconscious level -- as they tend to do, I assume.

The qualia -- I would see qualia as already tainted/modified by particular environmental conditioning, and therefore somewhat "unobjective" in nature. I think there is scientific basis for this view in the fact that we cannot register every stimulus that comes near us (on one particular level, those who have taken LSD attest to how much environmental stimulation is actually repressed, as a matter of normal brain function. I also assume that cultural conditioning performs a similar repressive function as natural brain repression of stimulii, since what is notice between different cultures appears to be different.)

I think that the "loose connection" which you speak about as existing between one's behaviour self-regulation and the phenomenological grasp of one's world might only become present as a gap between two things in a complex cultural environment, where one can conceptualise a difference between, let's say, other people's expectations of one and one's own otherwise unfettered tendencies. I am sincerly not sure whether all cultures have this practical positing of a conceptual gap. I tend to think that less advanced societies do not have this.

Another point of some disagreement: I think that "thinking" occurs prior to language development, but ALSO in conjunction with language development. It is both -- but it does not occur exclusively through a process of longuistic training. Perhaps the term "language" needs to be taken more broadly than to imply that which is merely linguistic usage? My view is that thinking is based upon aspects of environmental accident as well aspects of particular environment's more consistent form, which act like operant conditioning on the individual (as well as on the group "culture") being formed within a particular historical and geographical context, among other variables. So, "thinking" can be preconscious and is, in part, prelinguistic, but not exclusively so.

So, I differ from you in thinking that many of the pertinent "memes" which emerge to affect our social evolution are actually pre-conscious and conditioned reflexes. I also happen to think that these memes are close to being irreducible biological components of an individual (and, more broadly speaking, a culture) -- kind of like irremovable software components on a computer. (Not exactly hardware, but not as changeable as software either -- somewhere in between, rather.)

I think that a certain "higher consciousness" allows us to make non-deterministic decisions, despite the levels of programming which we fall prey to (programming which is there to make our adaptation to particular environments reflexive, therefore full of ease).

I suspect we all have an overabundance of conditioned memory markers, which enables us to have options, picking and choosing quite roughly, as is necessary, but by an act of will -- much as a biker can control the direction they take by leaning to left or right around a corner. We are not totally predetermined by the quality of our environmental conditioning -- particulary not in enriched environments, which teach us a range of options.

jennifer

 
At 1:44 AM, November 17, 2005, Blogger Ellis Seagh said...

You make a number of good points, Jennifer, and I really respect the thought you've put into this. Let me just quickly make a few responses:

1) A key point of this whole approach is to make the case that "consciousness" in the sense of "raw feels" doesn't require language or culture at all. That said, I can certainly agree that a cultural overlay can affect the import or "meaning" of raw feels.

2) I'd also want to make a distinction between consciousness as such and self-consciousness or self-awareness. If there is a "raw feel" at all, in other words, then it's "in" consciousness by definition, but may well not be something of which we're aware through self-reflection.

3) On the other hand, the environment can certainly have an affect on our behavior without the mediation of consciousness ("raw feels") at all, as in reflex arcs. Apparently, for example, our hand will jerk away from a hot surface before there's time for us to feel the heat. The contast with the reflex arc, in fact, is a good illustration of the difference that the gap or "slippage" of consciousness makes.

4) You make a good point about the presence of some sort of "thinking" in non-verbal consciousness -- clearly dogs and other animals exhibit abilities to make plans, solve problems, etc. But just as clearly language provides an enormous boost to this ability, so much so that I think it makes sense to see language-based thinking as qualitatively different.

5) So I would see what you call a "higher consciousness" as simply a language-based consciousness. I think the phenomenon of "will" is present in any consciousness, non-verbal as well, but, like everything, becomes significantly more complex in linguistic consciousness. Finally, though, I do think that we're simply an evolved species within nature, and as such as subject to deterministic processes as any other natural system. It's another and longer story, but I don't think that's incompatible with free will.

Here are two other key posts for these views (again, if you're interested): on the nature of "general" or non-verbal consciousness, and on the nature of culture as imprint.

 
At 4:51 PM, November 18, 2005, Blogger Unsane said...

I'll have a look at the two posts you put at the bottom of your post. However:

You say:
>1) A key point of this whole approach is to make the case that "consciousness" in the sense of "raw feels" doesn't require language or culture at all. That said, I can certainly agree that a cultural overlay can affect the import or "meaning" of raw feels.

One would have to look at the implications for this idea that raw feels have no language or culture at all. I discern that there are two layers of functioning which produce raw feels -- possibly more. The first is the universal mechanism by which sensory data is produced in all animals, at the most basic level of production by the 5 (I assume)senses. In so far as such sensations can be measured positivistically, perhaps there is no "cultural overlay" that is relevant to their meaning. However, the methodology chosen to measure can always affect what is found out about these raw feels...

Nonetheless, they must exist as a general pool of data for an individual to draw from, humanly universal, not culturally specific -- or we would never be able to convey our sensations across cultural boundaries.

However, at a certain point in the production in consciousness -- at, perhaps a very early point in our becoming aware of them -- a cultural FILTER, rather than overlay, will be imposed. Operant and classical conditioning cut in at this point to determine what is emotionally important in this pool of sensations which is ever changing, and what isn't.



>2) I'd also want to make a distinction between consciousness as such and self-consciousness or self-awareness. If there is a "raw feel" at all, in other words, then it's "in" consciousness by definition, but may well not be something of which we're aware through self-reflection.


What are the implications of seeing it in this way? Is is that whatever is in consciousness becomes part of a motivational source of meaning, which does not undermine ostensibly rational goals (as perhaps the Freudian unconscious might be seen as doing)? If this is the meaning implied, then I agree that these raw feels can be "in consciousness". However, there are culturally conditioned feels, (more culturally trained than merely raw...let's call them "complex "feels"), which when acting as an effect of a PARTICULAR culture, can go against the grainof another culture -- thus appearing to guide on in ways which by a different cultural standard are "irrational". And arguably, one is not aware of them doing this, until they have played themselves out in actual behaviour and been censured.

>3) On the other hand, the environment can certainly have an affect on our behavior without the mediation of consciousness ("raw feels") at all, as in reflex arcs. Apparently, for example, our hand will jerk away from a hot surface before there's time for us to feel the heat. The contast with the reflex arc, in fact, is a good illustration of the difference that the gap or "slippage" of consciousness makes.


Right -- but this relates more to the basic, universal quality of animal raw feels. It's at a level of basic animal function.

>4) You make a good point about the presence of some sort of "thinking" in non-verbal consciousness -- clearly dogs and other animals exhibit abilities to make plans, solve problems, etc. But just as clearly language provides an enormous boost to this ability, so much so that I think it makes sense to see language-based thinking as qualitatively different.


I agree. But also I think that humans do not subsume all of their thinking -- at least not successfully so, into the net of language. Complex feels must be interpreted by language -- and sometimes words fail. Language, however, can give the impression that the complex feels are more uniform from individual to individual and from culture to culture than they in fact are, as language casts a net which employs narrow formal terms for what is probably a wider range of actual experiences than the relative simplicity of abstractions and linguistic labels would seem to imply.

5) So I would see what you call a "higher consciousness" as simply a language-based consciousness. I think the phenomenon of "will" is present in any consciousness, non-verbal as well, but, like everything, becomes significantly more complex in linguistic consciousness.

That may be correct, that higher consciousness is linguistics based. However, if so, that means that reification of our experiences via the abstractions of language is, in fact the norm -- whereas I perceive that it MAY, in fact, be only the western norm, perhaps specifically the norm of those who come from more repressed and formal cultures" eg. the British norm.


>Finally, though, I do think that we're simply an evolved species within nature, and as such as subject to deterministic processes as any other natural system. It's another and longer story, but I don't think that's incompatible with free will.

I don't believe in a totalising determinism.

 
At 9:28 PM, November 19, 2005, Blogger Ellis Seagh said...

Another thoughtful comment, Jennifer, thanks. It looks like we agree on some things and disagree on others, as you'd expect.

You seem to be concerned about the notion of cultural bias, and how that might affect even our basic perceptions of the world, which I think is both plausible and interesting. The one point I'd make is that cultures too are subject to selection pressures just like biological species, and so such biases must either confer an adaptational advantage of some sort or they (or the culture) won't last long.

As I've said, though, an important concern for me in this blog is the difference between the kind of awareness animals and pre-verbal infants possess ("raw feels") and the language-based self-awareness that forms the basis for culture of any sort. I'm concerned about this because, first, I think people may tend to underestimate the problems presented by just that basic awareness, and second, I think mixing up the two kinds or levels of consciousness is the source of much confusion about many other issues.

Finally, you say that you "don't believe in a totalizing determinism". I'm not sure if a totalizing determinism is different from the simple kind (I'm only in favor of the latter, if so), but I'd just point out again that I don't think determinism is incompatible with with free will, since the two concepts originate from wholly different orientations -- so it makes sense to say, for example, both that our will is "caused" and that it's "free", or able to make choices for reasons. Which may not, in any case, make you feel any better about determinism.

 

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