Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tallis on neuroscience and consciousness

Read it. He explains some of my thoughts much better than I can:



  1. Sensei -- Yes. Very, very good essays. (At least the first one, I didn't yet read the second.)

    The final paragraph of the first one expresses it best, I think:

    These questions are posed because the case outlined here has been, necessarily, quite negative. It has merely been meant to clear the decks so we can set sail on the real work of finding a positive description of our nature, of the place of mind in nature, and, possibly, of the nature of nature itself. We need to start again thinking about our hybrid status: as pieces of matter subject to the laws of physics, as organisms subject to the laws of biology, and as people who have a complex sense of themselves, who narrate and lead their lives, and who are capable of thinking thoughts like these.

    That's pretty much where I find myself: standing at that unbridgeable gap. And it always brings me back to Wittgenstein 7: whereof you cannot speak, thereof you must be silent. Perhaps that's also why I find the notion of a nonphysical quality that can nevertheless affect the physical universe as unsatisfying as the notion that there is nothing more to consciousness than neural activity following deterministic physical laws.

    Funny how this little discussion has been a good reminder of just how mysterious that mystery is. Thank you for bringing it up.

  2. Hi --
    Tallis' Book is brilliant. We seem to be on a similar wavelength as far as these issues are concerned. I too practise meditation reguarly, mainly for my own sanity!

    See my blog:

  3. Hi Matt. I agree that Tallis bok is brilliant! Have been looking at your blog for some time, now, and will add it to my #likes#

  4. Hi!
    Interesting stuff, can’t help it, I must write something...

    “I think, therefore I am” should, in my opinion, be replaced with “I experience, therefore experience exists”. This subjective experience is the only thing that IS, without question.

    When neuroscientists say that consciousness can be fully explained by brain activity, I really wonder what they mean by “consciousness”. If it’s just a name for something abstract - like some state of information and processes in the brain - then okay. But that would be misusing the word. The way I see it, consciousness is something very concrete: it is all about this subjective, living experience. And it would be kind of strange to claim that such experience is generated by the material brain, when according to the same materialist view, there is no need for anything like that to happen: brain the supercomputer can handle everything just fine thank you very much.

    It should give any scientist a serious headache if their theory includes a piece that is not really needed there at all. Especially when this piece is the only thing we all know, firsthand, to be real.

  5. I have not formed any opinion on these things, but here are my musings:

    Consciousness does not seem to have any attributes or properties. Every property attributed to consciousness describes objects within consciousness (objects of our awareness) or some other cognitive function that has been shown to work also without conscious experience, alternatively not every conscious moment has that property. Even the feeling of being conscious or alive does not always go together with consciousness (in some rare conditions, person does not believe that he/she is alive or conscious). This last case if of course paradoxical because only indicator of free will is when somebody says that he has it.

    Those who think consciousness is something special, have only their own "but it's self evident" experience or feeling to rely on. Those who think it's just functioning of neurons have their own "it's not anything special" experience as starting point.