The Mystery of Consciousness

If you are like me, you probably have a bunch of books that you bought somewhere at sometime for some reason but still have yet to read. For me these books always seem like something I want to read at the time but, for various reasons, I barely crack them open before they move to a pile then later to a shelf mostly unread. That’s the case for me with The Mystery of Consciousness by John R. Searle (1997). The book is largely a reprint of book reviews Searle wrote for the New York York Review of Books. My paperback copy of the book has a cartoonish man on the cover with a third eye in the middle of the forehead. Looking for something else in my double stacked shelves, I ran into the Mystery again and decided to pull it off the shelf, to place it near my nightstand.. Since the book is compact, it immediately attracted my attention placed near a pair of mammoth tomes which I also desire to read someday but don’t quite have the energy or inclination to read now. They may too migrate to the shelves to be rediscovered one day.

Mystery was something of a surprise to me. The book covers many of the big hitters in consciousness academia at the time of its publication: Crick, Edelman, Dennett, Chalmers, and Rosenfield (maybe not so big a hitter but interesting nevertheless) with others like Ned Block, Churchland, and Nagel mentioned a lot in passing. It not only explains the positions of each of them in concise and readable prose but it also shows the problem of each of their positions. Several chapters have an addendum with other information including exchanges with Dennett and Chalmers. The book is over twenty years old but the arguments seem still current. Searle’s refutations and objections are on the mark. Maybe I’ve discovered I’m a Searlean because so much of what he writes seems straightforward, obvious, and almost commonsensical.

To clear up one thing right away – Searle is not arguing that consciousness is a mystery. What he is arguing is that many people – even philosophers – think it is a mystery but for Searle it is a scientific and primarily biological problem. The objective of the book is to move beyond mystery to science. Searle agrees consciousness is produced by neurons firing in the brain. The scientific problem is figuring out how neurons firing in the brain generate a subjective experience that is so completely unlike the underlying physical phenomena that are producing the experience.

Early in the book Searle address one of the seemingly obligatory explanations required for a book on consciousness. He explains what he means by consciousness:

“consciousness” refers to those states of sentience and awareness that typically begin when we awake from dreamless sleep and continue until we fall asleep again at night, or fall into a coma or die or otherwise become “unconscious”… Consciousness so defined is an inner, first person , qualitative phenomenon. Humans and higher animals are obviously conscious but we do not know how far down the phylogenetic scale consciousness extends. (p. 5)

Even though Searle can’t avoid the use of terms that tightly relate to or imply what he is defining (sentience, awareness) , he does make a useful contrast with sleep and coma in his definition. Sleep and coma are states about which we have no memory. While Searle doesn’t draw directly the conclusion that consciousness is related to memory, his definition would seem to imply that consciousness is a state in which we could potentially form memories. Consciousness for Searle is either on or off but it can vary in intensity from drowsy to full awareness with the boundaries being states of which we can have no memory. More about this later when we discuss Edelman and Rosenfield.

In Searle’s accounting, consciousness is real, not an illusion. In his review of Dennett’s Conscious Explained, he invites the reader to a small experiment of pinching the skin on the forearm. What happens, of course, are a bunch of reactions in physical sensory neurons, the spinal cord, and the brain that culminates in a unpleasant sensation on the skin of the forearm. This resultant feeling is qualitative and subjective. It is known only to you. Its mode of existence is first person. The description of the reactions of neurons and in the brain is third-person objective. The feeling of unpleasantness is real and is what science must explain.

Searle begins with Crick. He finds Crick’s Astonishing Hypothesis an excellent book for its explanations of neuroscience but finds the author himself “badly advised philosophically.”

There are different ways of spelling out [the argument for the irreducibility of consciousness] but the fundamental point is the same: the sheer qualitative feel of pain is a very different feature of the brain from the pattern of neuron firings that cause the pain. So you can get a causal reduction of pain to neuron firings, but not an ontological reduction. That is, you can give a complete causal account of why we feel pain but that does not show that pains do not really exist. (p. 31)

The Edelman chapter next was particularly interesting to me since it provided a sort of “Edelman in a Nutshell” type of explanation for his ideas. Edelman’s Neural Darwinism is another one of those books on my shelf that I have hardly read. One of the core ideas of Edelman is Neural Group Selection. The brain selects assemblies of hundreds to millions of neurons and pares back or lets die other groups. Up to 70% of neurons are lost during development in some parts of the brain in a process that strengthens some groups and eliminates others. Key to consciousness is notion of his neural maps. These are actually sheets of neurons with physical mappings that first relate the neurons to sensory input. However, Edelman views the brain as layers upon layers of maps that relate processing at one level to processing at other levels. Consciousness arises through reentry where signals go back and forth between the different levels of maps in parallel. For all of this to work, the brain requires memory, ability to learn, ability to differentiate self from non-self, and systems of categorization. Searle finds the neurological theory impressive but finally finds that Edelman has the same problem as Crick. There still is no accounting for how these interacting maps generate subjective experience.

Searle praises Penrose’s Shadows of the Mind for its explanations of quantum mechanics and writes it is among clearest non-technical accounts of it he has seen. While he spends some time on the idea of quantum computing occurring in the brain through cytoskeletons in neurons, Searle’s mainly focuses on the Penrose’s idea that consciousness is incomputable because of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. The problem Searle finds with the argument is it “fails to distinguish between normative algorithms that are supposed to provide ‘unassailable mathematical reasoning’ and the sorts of algorithms that just simulate natural processes such as rainstorms and cellular mechanisms.” Searle accepts Weak AI: human cognitive processes can be simulated with a digital computer. He rejects Strong AI: information processes by themselves do not have and are not able to generate consciousness. Penrose’s argument tries to disprove both Weak and Strong AI.

The question “is consciousness computable?” only makes sense relative to some specific feature or function of consciousness and at some specific level of the description. And even if you have some specific function that is noncomputable, my seeing the truth of Gödel sentences for example, it does not fellow that the underlying processes that produce the ability are not themselves simulatable computationally at some level of description. (p 86)

In his “Consciousness Denied” chapter, Searle takes on Dennett’s Consciousness Explained by comparing it to a “performance of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.” Searle’s point is that Dennett denies the existence of exactly what he promises to explain in the title of his book. Searle praises Dennett’s explanations of neurons and neural connectivity but declares the book “makes no contribution to the problem of consciousness, but rather denies there is any such problem in the first place.”

You can’t disprove the existence of conscious experiences by proving they are only an appearance disguising the underlying reality, because where consciousness is concerned the existence of the appearance is the reality [bold is italic in original text]. (p. 112 }

Science might discover consciousness is an illusion like a sunset is an illusion but there is a difference between sunsets and Dennett’s consciousness. “Sunsets science does not deny the existence of the datum, that the sun appears to move through the sky.” Dennett’s version of consciousness denies the existence of the datum itself.

The simplest take on Searle’s view of Chalmers (The Conscious Mind) is that Chalmers is conflicted and can’t really make up his mind what he wants:

He accepts the entire materialist, functionalist story- strong AI and all – as an account of the mind up to the point where he reaches consciousness; but then to his general commitment to functionalism he wants to tack on consciousness which he says is not subject to functionalist analysis. In his view, the material world, with a functional analysis of mental concepts, has an irreducible nonfunctionalist consciousness mysteriously tacked on to it… Chalmers wants both functionalism and dualism. (p. 143-144)

Searle isn’t a fan of functionalism or dualism. About functionalism he writes:

The theory is, in my view, utterly implausible, but to understand its appeal you have to see it in its historical context. Dualism seems unscientific and therefore unacceptable; behaviorism and physicalism in their traditional versions have failed. To its adherents. functionalism seems to combine the best features of each. If you are a materialist, functionalism may seem the only available alternative, and this explains why it is the most widely held theory in the philosophy of mind today. (p 141)

Searle traces much of the “mystery” of consciousness to Descartes and Galileo from the seventeenth century. Their dualism broke the world into matter and a soul which was outside the scope of scientific research. I didn’t found the term “hard problem” mentioned in the index, although it was discussed implicitly in the Chalmers’s chapter. Some may get the wrong idea that Searle might think the “hard problem” can be solved by science. I think he would mostly likely think the “hard problem” is manufactured problem arising from Cartesian dualism.

Searle wraps up his reviews with Israel Rosenfield’s The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten. I must admit some shock reading this chapter and discovering Rosenfield had already written several ideas that I thought were my own. I don’t recall ever reading this chapter. I don’t have any Rosenfield books as I would most likely have if I had liked his ideas. Either I developed my own ideas independently and after Rosenfield or, more distressing, is the thought that I actually I did read this chapter and incorporated its ideas as my own.

It’s a matter of memory. For Rosenfield, “not only is it impossible to have memory without consciousness, but equally it is impossible to have anything like a fully developed consciousness without memory. Consciousness arises from the dynamic interactions of the past, the present, and the body image…. our sense of self is precisely a sense of experiences affecting the body image, and all experiences involve this sense of self, and hence involve this body image.” From the persistence of this body image over time, through accumulation of memories, arises the self.

The discovery of the body image is not new in neuroscience, but it is one of the most exciting discoveries in the history of the field. In a sense all of our bodily sensations are phantom body experiences, because the match between where the sensation seems to be and the actual physical body is entirely created in the brain (p. 182)

We ought to think of the experience of our own body as the central reference point of all forms of consciousness… any theory of consciousness has to account for the fact that all consciousness begins with consciousness of the body. (p 184)

My conscious experiences of my own body as an object in space and time, an experience that is in fact constructed in my brain, is the basic element that runs through all of our conscious experiences (p. 185)

Searle believes consciousness is real and something science, primarily biology, must explain. He doesn’t rule out consciousness might exist in nonbiological entities, but he is clear that computation by itself, since it is nothing more than symbol manipulation, can’t provide an account of it. Whether the “hard problem” can be solved probably isn’t relevant. Science explains by finding regularities and correlations, then developing a plausible explanations for how the regularities and correlations relate to other known science. It isn’t so much explaining why “blue” looks blue. That may be never answered. It is about explaining how known or discoverable fields, forces, or information can produce consciousness.

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25 Responses to The Mystery of Consciousness

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    Well, you made me want to read the book! :o)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jjhiii24 says:


    As usual, you present your thoughts and discuss the ideas of others in a coherent and readable manner. Your inclusion of the story about your unread books and how you came to read Searle’s book and to examine Rosenfield’s ideas gave your posting a lift to a level of sound reasoning and thoughtful reflection. I enjoyed considering the ideas of the writers you included and found myself in general agreement with your approach to their perspectives.

    The neurological underpinnings of our conscious experience of existing as specific individuals are indeed fascinating to contemplate and investigate, and regardless of where one lands on the subject of consciousness generally, just to be able to read your thoughtful treatment of the subject is a boost to all of us who are engaged in the study of it, and I appreciate very much that you discussed the different views with fairness and a degree of balance which isn’t often the case.

    It still continues to be a bit of a sticking point when the conversation turns to how all of those underpinnings and brain mechanisms are accompanied by subjective experience, and while I agree strongly that without a body and a brain which is capable of such extraordinary functionality neurologically, biologically, and physiologically, we cannot even begin to discuss the true nature of consciousness, but none of the ideas you discussed eliminates the potential for additional layers of functionality as yet undetected or at least as yet understood regardless of the level of sophistication achieved by our sciences.

    I find Searle’s attitude toward the “mystery” to be dismissive, and he seems determined to reduce what is responsible for a comprehensive understanding of consciousness to biology mostly, which, in my view, seriously undermines not only the whole history of human intellectual and philosophical thought, but also leads to a very unsatisfying conclusion–that it’s all just a coincidence that our brains ended up being capable of pondering this and other “mysteries.”

    What’s so bad about acknowledging that aspects of our physical existence cannot be adequately understood by science alone? There are plenty of thinkers and scientists who recognize the state of modern physics as indicating a degree of unfathomable aspects to physical reality as we think of it these days. We gain nothing by eliminating all avenues of exploration that have no empirical foundation or as yet undetectable characteristics.

    I appreciate the interest in Searle’s approach and applaud those who continue to investigate the mechanisms of the brain to explain what’s going on up there, but if we suppose right from the start that there are no mysteries at all and that everything will eventually be explained solely through the scientific method, we won’t ever truly make sense of our complex existence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • James Cross says:

      ” none of the ideas you discussed eliminates the potential for additional layers of functionality as yet undetected or at least as yet understood regardless of the level of sophistication achieved by our sciences”

      I agree. In fact, I would expect “additional layers” certainly as part of scientific progress. I also don’t think anything science discovers will denigrate our appreciation for the phenomenon of consciousness.

      Eventually I believe science and other ways of contemplating existence will do more than coexist but will actually become entwined.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m definitely the same way when it comes to books. Although these days they tend to accumulate in my Kindle account, only coming to the surface if I download it to the device. I often go to buy a book only to have Amazon inform me I already own it. Some of the pressure gets relieved because I’m increasingly giving myself permission to skim and read only portions of many non-fiction books.

    I think you know my views on Searle. The only thing I’ll note here is that his bolded remark: “where consciousness is concerned the existence of the appearance is the reality” can be interpreted in a couple of ways. One is that he’s referring to the appearance, and only the appearance. If so, then that’s trivially true and compatible with what illusionists say. The second possibility is that he’s referring to the ontology implied from the appearance. That would a contrast with illusionism, but it’s an assertion that I think needs justification. (Maybe he provides it in the book.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • James Cross says:

      I think the evidence comes from the example of pinching your arm. If you feel something, then it is real in some sense of the word “real”. Searle, I think, would say feeling, perception, and consciousness are simulations but that does not make them unreal.

      The word “illusion” makes no sense without both an underlying reality and an apparent reality. Calling consciousness illusory doesn’t deny its existence and its existence is what needs explaining. You can’t cleave the underlying reality from apparent reality and declare the apparent needs no explanation. The mirage of an oasis in the desert may not be the water it appears but it is still something with a scientific explanation. Searle is looking for the explanation for the apparent reality consciousness presents.

      Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      The big problem I have with the illusionists is that once they’ve declared consciousness illusory they think they are done. Nothing else is required to explain.

      Searle’s example of “sunset science” might be more appropriate. That the sun sets is certainly an apparent phenomenon. But it is certainly also real. We can see it every evening if we want as long as we have a clear view of the horizon. It is the interpretation of it as the sun actually setting that is wrong. Nevertheless, ancient civilizations built calendars from the illusion. Predictions can be made even on the mistaken interpretation of appearance. So it is both real in the sense that we can all objectively agreed we are seeing a sun setting (even if we know that is not the complete explanation) but it is also real in the sense that we can derive accurate predictions from the appearance.

      I would argue this is much like consciousness but the illusionists leave us with only a denial of sunsets, which is absurd, and no explanation for how or why the illusion works.

      Consciousness may be an emergent phenomenon irreducible to its parts, or it may be reducible, but neither the illusionists or the neuroscientists have made any good argument for how it can be reduced.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The problem with the pinching the arm example, it it’s just establishes the seeming, the appearance, which illusionists don’t deny. But it doesn’t establish the implied ontology.

        The sunset analogy is actually pretty close to analogies that illusionists use. This tweet from Dennett endorses a blog post by Frankish using the rainbow in a very similar way.

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          The problem with the rainbow analogy (as well as sunsets and mirages) is that we have an explanation for why we appear to see a rainbow. The explanation uses other known science about the properties of light and water droplets to account for rainbows. The illusionists offer no explanation whatsoever for why we appear to have consciousness or how it works. Simply declaring it an illusion like a rainbow doesn’t accomplish a thing unless you have an explanation for the illusion. It is just a way of avoiding the question.

          These analogies do break down at some point. Consciousness is different from rainbows in that the appearance in consciousness itself represents the world with an unreasonable degree of accuracy. When we mash our hands, our hands hurt and we might nurse them. When we walk down the sidewalk, we don’t stumble every step because the representation of sidewalk omits critical details like raised surfaces and holes. The illusion makes enough good predictions about the world that we manage to survive and thrive as organisms. Even if all of the real work occurs unconsciously then there should be some explanation for why illusory consciousness would represent the world in so much agreement with how we act within it.

          Liked by 1 person

        • “Simply declaring it an illusion like a rainbow doesn’t accomplish a thing unless you have an explanation for the illusion. It is just a way of avoiding the question.”

          If that’s what illusionists were doing, then I’d agree. But most of them say something like this.

          Illusionism replaces the hard problem with the illusion problem — the problem of
          explaining how the illusion of phenomenality arises and why it is so powerful. This
          problem is not easy but not impossibly hard either. The method is to form hypotheses
          about the underlying cognitive mechanisms and their bases in neurophysiology and
          neuroanatomy, drawing on evidence from across the cognitive sciences. There are many theoretical options available, and I have indicated some dimensions along which illusionist theories may differ.

          Click to access Frankish_Illusionism%20as%20a%20theory%20of%20consciousness_eprint.pdf

          p 20

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          The problem with illusionism is two-fold:

          1- The claim of illusion is a hollow without an explanation that exposes the illusion. Ideally it should not only explain what the illusion really is but also provide an explanation for why it appears the way it does. That can be done with rainbows and mirages. “Many theoretical options” doesn’t quite do that. That it can offer no definitive explanation for how the illusion works makes its claims hollow if not wrong.

          2- Even if “illusion of phenomenality ” is explained, consciousness is different from illusions like rainbows and mirages. It is different because it mirrors the actual world, displays regularities about the world, and thus matches in its representation with real information about the world.

          Frankly I just think the term “illusion” is being badly misused in this context. Consciousness is a simulation that models the world. Most of the time it is correct enough that we do well acting in the world. Calling it an illusion without an explanation for it or an understanding of its function and why it arises seems like gimmick. It’s a little like the person cheating on the math test who has all the answers but doesn’t have enough understanding to show the detail of work. Frankish et al have supplied an answer but doesn’t show any work in how they got to it.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. shajanm says:

    I could never understand how anyone can claim consciousness to be an illusion.

    Assume the argument is true. What should one do after being convinced of the illusory nature of phenomenal consciousness?

    Get over the illusion and start to live in reality? I can’t imagine what such a life will be like. How is life possible ‘feeling like nothing’?

    Or continue living with the illusion because we can never escape this trap?

    Phenomenal consciousness is real but we are yet to figure out how to prove it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      “I could never understand how anyone can claim consciousness to be an illusion”

      That’s pretty much my position too. How is anything – anything at all – known except through mental activity of some sort? To know that the activity that causes you to know is an illusion would require that your knowledge itself be an illusion.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First Cause says:

    “If you are a materialist, functionalism may seem the only available alternative, and this explains why it is the most widely held theory in the philosophy of mind today. (p 141)”

    This is a sound assessment made by Searle; but what I do find interesting is the short sighted assumption of what material actually is. Seriously, is it scientific to dogmatically insist that this stuff we call matter dead and yet, this same dead material arranged in a certain complexity is now alive? Or in contrast, is it scientific to assert that matter should be the very definition of life and that the basis of this life is sentience?

    Personally, I appreciate living in an age where science is the prevailing paradigm in place of superstition. But still, this grounding, original assumption made by the discipline and the dogma that supports that assumption is still a form of superstition in itself. We’ve all grown up in a culture where contradictions and paradoxes are the acceptable norm and science itself is the father of that type of nonsense. Nice essay Jim…….

    On another note: have you found any other blog site on consciousness that is worth reading??

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      If you click SelfAwarePatterns, one of the commenters above, that would be one.

      I’ve said said in various places that I thought the concept of “matter” was incoherent. Some, however, may expand the concept to be the same as physicality – what we can identify as events and measure.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I should read this book as well, though not so much to grasp where Searle’s position is strong (as I’m already a general supporter), but rather to better grasp where his message hasn’t been strong enough. In hindsight clearly people like Edelman and Dennett, followed by Frankish today, have trounced him. If they’re generally wrong and he’s generally right however, how might that be illustrated effectively enough to some day straighten science out in this regard? That’s the question that people on this side ought to be thinking about today. Where has his message not been succinct enough to help people understand its sensibility? And where has Searle tried to sell mistaken ideas?

    One concern I have is his references to our biological nature. Biology reduces back to physics in the end so I don’t think he should have permitted others to characterize him to believe that biological dynamics are mandated. I realize that he has refuted these accusations, though he needn’t have let himself be framed this way in the first place.

    Also permitting his opposition to characterize him to believe that the brain doesn’t function “computationally”, when it quite obviously does function that way, seems like a weakness that needs to be improved upon. Things might have gone better for him here if he would have mainly focused upon the way that computers are known to function so he might have effectively illustrated how his main opposition fails those standards. Essentially they leave consciousness as plain code rather than code which animates an associated kind of physics. This is quite marketable since it opens up the sci-fi dream that theoretically your or my consciousness could be uploaded to a human made computer. This seems to leave something out however. Theoretically to create a phenomenal you or me the right information processing would also need to animate the function of an associated physics based dynamic that exists as us. And what might that physics be? The only reasonable candidate associated with brain function that I know of, suggests that this exists under certain parameters of electromagnetic fields that neurons sometimes create through synchronous firing. I don’t know that Searle ever gave this idea any consideration, though it does conform with his position. Much might have been different today if he’d have adequately explored such potential.

    Regarding illusionists, I think they do actually have an answer for how consciousness arises, though they keep this implicit rather than state it explicitly to help shied themselves from critical analysis. Their implicit belief (as implied above) is that consciousness arises when the brain takes certain input information and properly processes it into other information. Thus theoretically such processing could occur by means of neuron function, computer chip function, or the function of certain inscribed paper that’s properly converted into other inscribed paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      Regarding Searle and EM fields.

      I don’t recall anything in this book but maybe somewhere else he’s commented on it.

      In my first blog post where I raised the possibility that EM fields were involved in consciousness, I pointed out that EM field theories of consciousness carried a little of tinfoil hat stuff surrounding it. Some of the people who promoted the idea would use EM fields/brain waves to explain telepathy and other PSI phenomena. So, a lot of people don’t even try to take the idea seriously. Searle may have never seriously considered the idea when he was writing these reviews of the works of others. I think this was before either McFadden or Pockett had published anything on the topic so I don’t think the idea had much publicity in the 1990’s.

      I don’t see how you think illusionists have an explanation for how consciousness arises. I think most illusionists are in the Dennett camp and want to deny consciousness, but instead of denying what every one of us plainly experience, they simply diminish it and relegate it to useless side effects, It isn’t surprising that Dennett would tweet approvingly of Frankish’s tweet about rainbows as Mike’s link above shows. Still the nuts and bolts of how information processing by itself leads to consciousness is missing from all of their accounts. They could be right even if McFadden is right. That is, even if consciousness arises from the brain’s EM field, that doesn’t make it necessarily able to cause anything. On the other hand, establishing a physical basis for it, whether it be based on EM fields or something else, would increase the possibility that it could be causal.

      Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I’ve felt that the idea that consciousness cannot or does not cause anything to be completely unproven. That, in part, is what I think makes the consciousness as illusion argument so misguided. Until they can prove it doesn’t do anything any conclusion about its illusory nature would seem at best to be premature.

      But there is a problem with the argument that consciousness cannot or does not cause anything. Almost every illusionist thinks consciousness is material or physical in some way. If it is not physical, then what would it be? It would have to be supernatural. But if it is physical or material, there is no a priori reason that it cannot or does not cause anything. The only way for it to be completely unable to influence matter would be if it were not physical. Its physical existence in itself would almost certainly mean it is doing something, although it could be doing not much in the end.

      I know McFadden has talked about the EM field as a information integration mechanism for the brain. If we take that literally, qualia in the broadest sense of the term may lie exactly at the point where information from neuron firings feedback into the same neural circuits. What we are feeling is the actual integration taking place itself. If Edelman is on the right track with reentry across multiple neural sheets, the end point of reentry might be precisely at the generation of EM field(s) as a sort mental exclamation point to end the current round of firings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • First Cause says:

        I think the key word for tracking consciousness is the context of “wakefulness”. Without wakefulness there is no experience of consciousness, and like you’ve stated before Jim, the experience of consciousness relies explicitly upon being awake and accessing what has been learned and stored in the memory.

        It is self-evident that the classical brain animates the so-called Cartesian who, as a separate and distinct physical system with casual power has access to the information that has been stored in the brain and uses that information for its own purposes.

        There is some excellent scientific research being done by Penrose and Hameroff on the role that microtubules play in wakefulness in humans and plants as well as the mechanism that might be responsible for memory; a protein that attaches itself to microtubules.

        There are some recent youtube videos available, just do a search for consciousness, Penrose, Hameroff, 2022. Maybe you will be inclined to write a post about the research……… maybe not…..

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          I wrote about Penrose and Hameroff a long time ago. I am pretty much with Searle on the idea that Gödel doesn’t disprove that consciousness could involve computing in some fashion. It is just might not be Turing/classical computing. But if it is nonclassical, does it have to be quantum? Why would not a different form of wave mechanics suffice?


        • First Cause says:

          I don’t have those answers; but based upon their research it is apparent that quantum effects are involved and the mechanism for those affects reside in the microtubules. The videos are informative and worth the investment.

          Will we ever nail down the mechanisms with any precision? Probably not, because the current metaphysics upon which science is based is faulty. A structure is only as good as the foundation upon which it is built.

          Engineering principle number one: Form follows function; and subject/object metaphysics is the faulty foundation upon which science is based…..

          Liked by 1 person

      • Given Searle’s age it could be that McFadden’s publishing began a bit late (2001) for Searle to potentially back that perspective. And even though McFadden has told me that he agrees with Searle’s position, I have no indication that McFadden has ever championed Searle’s ideas publicly or presented his own position as a way to stay right with him. Of course Searle wasn’t sued for sexual harassment until 2017, or excommunicated from UC Berkeley until 2019, so there was a reasonable period for them to potentially collaborate. By that point in his career however I suspect that Searle wasn’t all that bothered about having his ideas manifest themselves in the form of a falsifiable theory. And perhaps McFadden had heard too much about Searle’s general character to seek such collaboration anyway.

        On illusionism, first let me say what I agree with. I agree that many people conceive of an idea of consciousness that I consider to not exist. I stand with illusionists in denying that it inherently be ineffable, private, intrinsic, otherworldly, or anything non-causal. That’s merely a definitional issue however. Observe that if everyone defined consciousness just as innocently as Eric Schwitzgebel does, then illusionism would become irrelevant. So instead of advocating an innocent definition to thus perhaps cure science’s troubles here, illusionists effectively seek to maintain the status quo. Given all their rhetoric I can see how one might decide that illusionism equates with epiphenomenalism. Note that here they might complain, “Oh no, we’ve been mischaracterized again!” and yet realize that being obfuscatory is part of their plan.

        On their explanation for how consciousness arises, it’s crucial for them that this be what’s implicitly left over given their general sympathies rather than be stated for people to explicitly understand. Observe that if we were able to read in Wikipedia how they think consciousness arises, then this should substantially diminish their support. For example consider what would happen if it were explicitly stated that they believe the brain creates consciousness by means of information processing alone (neurally in this case), and therefore other systems should be able to create consciousness by means of computer chip function, inscribed paper that’s properly converted into other inscribed paper, and so on. Thus Wikipedia might state that if a certain set of inscribed paper were properly converted by a vast scanning and printing computer into another set of inscribed paper, then theoretically something here would feel exactly what you do when your thumb gets whacked. Unless already indoctrinated, who would buy that?

        I don’t think they need a nuts and bolts explanation of how information processing alone creates consciousness, but rather just a belief protected by rhetoric that it does. Take away that protection to analyze the underlying position, and we’re clearly left with magic. In an natural world information processing requires instantiation mechanisms in order for realization to exist. McFadden proposes such an instantiation mechanism, though even if empirically validated for centuries, a final explanation should never exist for us. “Why does that sort of physics create subjectivity from non-subjectivity? Because that’s part of the causal dynamics, first theorized by Johnjoe McFadden centuries ago, that we seek to grasp but can never fully.” If his proposal were experimentally validated in a clear enough way however, such as tampering with a person’s consciousness through appropriate technological EM fields for oral report, in one stroke countless ridiculous consciousness proposals should be abandoned to perhaps achieve science’s most transformative paradigm shift ever.

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          A couple of things.

          Wasn’t McFadden writing a book on consciousness? Do you know where that is? I would think at some point he would have to go through Searle, Dennett, Chalmers, etc – exactly what Searle wrote about in this book even if the main focus was on his theories and neuroscience. I would like to hear McFadden’s opinion on some of the research finding topographically complex physical patterns in neuron firings.

          I’m aware of Searle’s legal/professional issues. That’s always a problem when trying to evaluate the ideas apart from the man or woman. But as long as the ideas don’t reflect the legal/professional issues then I don’t see a problem.

          Liked by 1 person

        • The only news I’ve had of McFadden writing a consciousness book was in this October 2020 comment of yours Apparently in an email you asked him if he was writing such a book, to which he said that he expected publication in 2022. But then how much time has his 2021 book on Occam’s razor taken from it? And though he does continue to write academic papers on the topic, with the latest in 2020, and discuss it in media interviews at least a few times a year (which I find through his tweeting), does he feel that the general public wants to read a book like this? Given the crazy landscape associated with this topic, I don’t know why he should be optimistic. The field is dominated by charismatic figures with slick podcasts and such. McFadden however is more of a true scientist than showman like Dennett, Frankish, and Goff. Even if you and I would be enthralled by such a book, would the general public be interested?


        • I just went through his 2011 consciousness paper again ( I was thinking that he might have mentioned his thoughts on some of the big players in it. Nope. I’m happy I did however. Previously I hadn’t appreciated that this was the place where he demonstrates that the brain’s synchronous neuron firing (which sets up stronger electromagnetic energies that tend not to get canceled out), is by far the best neural correlate for consciousness discovered so far. Furthermore he went into evidence that such EM fields seem to affect brain neuron firing in ways associated with his theory.

          As you know I’m partial to the notion that we try to disrupt a person’s consciousness by means of the proper technological EM fields for oral report. Apparently something not altogether different was done to demonstrate this in certain insects however:

          ”For instance, Stopfer et al. (1997) used picrotoxin to disrupt neural synchrony in the honey bee and demonstrated that desynchronization of odour-encod- ing neural assemblies impaired the bee’s ability to discriminate differ- ent odours. Similar experiments have been performed in several other insects, for instance drosophila (Tanaka et al., 2009), and demonstrate that patterns of neuronal oscillations represent particular odours in the olfactory bulb and that disruption of these patterns disrupts odour dis- crimination (Kay et al., 2009).”

          Then for cats: “The study demon- strated that increased neuronal synchronization increased perceived brightness independent of any effect on neuronal discharge rates.”

          For the human they showed that tagging an image with a 50 HZ modulation of it in a non perceived subliminal sense, would synchronize associated neuron firing, as well as significantly enhance target detection: “So inducing synchronicity appears to have a causal role in directing conscious attention in humans: it is not a steam whistle.” .

          You may find some of this “topographically complex physical patterns in neuron firings”. This reminds me of the way Lisa Feldman Barrett notes how the brain isn’t nearly as compartmentalized as many think. Thus she proposes that emotions are entirely learned rather than exist to be manipulated by circumstance. I consider that idea ridiculous. But given all of the apparent contributions of different parts of the brain to create a combined and singular subjective experience, I don’t know what other naturalistic proposal could make sense of existing evidence than McFadden’s.


        • James Cross says:

          So I myself was the source of information about McFadden writing a book? 🙂

          I think topography could have an influence on synchronous firings, but also might serve to amplify the EM effects of the firings.


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