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Posts Tagged ‘consciousness

“In the oldest religion, everything was alive, not supernaturally but naturally alive”*…




One of science’s most challenging problems is a question that can be stated easily: Where does consciousness come from? In his new book Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism,” and Goff guides readers through the history of the idea, answers common objections (such as “That’s just crazy!”) and explains why he believes panpsychism represents the best path forward…

Goff answers questions from Scientific American editor Gareth Cook: “Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?

* D.H. Lawrence, “New Mexico,” Phoenix: the posthumous papers of D. H. Lawrence


As we think about thinking, we might neon-pink birthday greetings to Don Featherstone; he was born on this date in 1936.  An artist, is is surely best remembered for his creation of the plastic pink flamingo in 1957 while working for Union Products.  It went on sale the following year– and now ornaments lawns nationwide.

In 1996, Featherstone was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize for his creation; that same year, he began his tenure as president of Union Products, a position he held until he retired in 2000.


A Featherstone flock



Written by LW

January 25, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life”*…



Peter Carruthers, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, is an expert on the philosophy of mind who draws heavily on empirical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. He outlined many of his ideas on conscious thinking in his 2015 book The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought. More recently, in 2017, he published a paper with the astonishing title of “The Illusion of Conscious Thought.”…

Philosopher Peter Carruthers insists that conscious thought, judgment and volition are illusions. They arise from processes of which we are forever unaware.  He explains to Steve Ayan the reasons for his provocative proposal: “There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought.”

See also: “An Anthropologist Investigates How We Think About How We Think.”

* Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience


As we think about thought, we might spare one for Georg Ferdinand Ludwig Philipp Cantor; he died on this date in 1918.  Cantor was the mathematician who created set theory, now fundamental to math,  His proof that the real numbers are more numerous than the natural numbers implies the existence of an “infinity of infinities”… a result that generated a great deal of resistance, both mathematical (from the likes of Henri Poincaré) and philosophical (most notably from Wittgenstein).  Some Christian theologians (particularly neo-Scholastics) saw Cantor’s work as a challenge to the uniqueness of the absolute infinity in the nature of God – on one occasion equating the theory of transfinite numbers with pantheism – a proposition that Cantor, a devout Lutheran, vigorously rejected.

These harsh criticisms fueled Cantor’s bouts of depression (retrospectively judged by some to have been bipolar disorder); he died in a mental institution.

220px-Georg_Cantor2 source


Written by LW

January 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”*…


Consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it’s the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter.

This sounds like easily-dismissible bunkum, but as traditional attempts to explain consciousness continue to fail, the “panpsychist” view is increasingly being taken seriously by credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists, including figures such as neuroscientist Christof Koch and physicist Roger Penrose…

The materialist viewpoint states that consciousness is derived entirely from physical matter. It’s unclear, though, exactly how this could work. “It’s very hard to get consciousness out of non-consciousness,” says [David Chalmers, a philosophy of mind professor at New York University]. “Physics is just structure. It can explain biology, but there’s a gap: Consciousness.” Dualism holds that consciousness is separate and distinct from physical matter—but that then raises the question of how consciousness interacts and has an effect on the physical world.

Panpsychism offers an attractive alternative solution: Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness, says [Philip Goff, a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest]. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle…

More at “The idea that everything from spoons to stones are conscious is gaining academic credibility.”

(For a speculative playing out of this notion (and a basketful of other mind-twisting conceits of consciousness) at a cosmic scale, enjoy Vernor Vinge’s exquisite A Fire Upon the Deep…)

* Stephen Hawking  (Panpsychists argue that consciousness is the answer to his question.)


As we treat inanimate objects with more respect, we might send carefully-catalogued and phrased birthday greetings to Émile Maximilien Paul Littré; he was born on this date in 1801. A philosopher (friend and supporter of Auguste Comte, and contributor, with Comte, to the development of positivism), he is better remembered for his Dictionnaire de la langue française, commonly called “The Littré,” a project that ran from 1844-1872, and was originally issued in 30 parts– the largest lexicographical work on the French language at that time.



Written by LW

February 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Artificial intelligence is growing up fast”*…


Every moment of your waking life and whenever you dream, you have the distinct inner feeling of being “you.” When you see the warm hues of a sunrise, smell the aroma of morning coffee or mull over a new idea, you are having conscious experience. But could an artificial intelligence (AI) ever have experience, like some of the androids depicted in Westworld or the synthetic beings in Blade Runner?

The question is not so far-fetched. Robots are currently being developed to work inside nuclear reactors, fight wars and care for the elderly. As AIs grow more sophisticated, they are projected to take over many human jobs within the next few decades. So we must ponder the question: Could AIs develop conscious experience?…

It’s not easy, but a newly proposed test might be able to detect consciousness in a machine: “Is anyone home? A way to find out if AI has become self-aware.

* Diane Ackerman


As we ponder personhood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that US Navy recalled Captain Grace Murray Hopper to active duty to help develop the programming language COBOL.  With a team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon, Hopper – who had worked on the Mark I and II computers at Harvard in the 1940s – created the specifications for COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) with business uses in mind.  These early COBOL efforts aimed at creating easily-readable computer programs with as much machine independence as possible.

A seminal computer scientist and ultimately Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, “Amazing Grace” (as she was known to many in her field) had invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and appears also to have also been the first to coin the word “bug” in the context of computer science, taping into her logbook a moth which had fallen into a relay of the Harvard Mark II computer.

She has both a ship (the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper) and a super-computer (the Cray XE6 “Hopper” at NERSC) named in her honor.

 source [and here]


Written by LW

August 1, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way”*…


The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness.

But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected…

Find out how the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics at “Is Matter Conscious?

For more on the conscious controversy– what is it?  who/what has it?– see also “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”

* Kingsley Amis


As we think, therefore are, we might send analytic birthday greetings to Sigismund Schlomo Freud; he was born on this date in 1856.  The father of psychoanalysis, he revolutionized the field of psychotherapy– so much so that later practitioners have often failed to recognize Freud’s scientific predecessors.  Throughout his work (in such books as Interpretation of Dreams and the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis) he emphasized the role of unconscious and non-rational functioning, going against most contemporary thought by suggesting that dreams and “mistakes” may have affirmative meaning.



Written by LW

May 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

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