Class Warfare Blog

January 6, 2021

A Slight Difference in Approach

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:18 am
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In a online video (Mister Deity) one of the presenters being critiqued brought up a valid question—where did human consciousness, imagination, introspection abilities come from?

Science has an answer and some religions do, too.

Both see the same question. Humans are made of organs, the organs made of cells, the cells made of molecules, and the molecules made of atoms. In this there is no dispute. But all animals show these same characteristics, so why is man the animal different?

The religions, those which have an opinion (setting aside the Buddhists, et. al.) any way, claim that their god has injected something they call a soul into us at birth (exactly when this happens varies with the religion) and it is the soul which has these amazing abilities. The other animals lack this soul, you see, and so lack these abilities. This soul continues to exist after we die and goes on various adventures depending upon the religion.

Science’s answer to the main question is simpler. It is “We do not know, yet.” Science’s answer also has the advantage of science being how we found out that humans are made of organs, the organs made of cells, the cells made of molecules, and the molecules made of atoms. Since science has discovered every previous step in the chain, it seems more likely that it will continue to unravel this puzzle, and unravel the last bit.

The religious say, no, science will be confounded and the truly mysterious will happen, all orchestrated by a god that no one can provide any physical evidence of its existence.

So, what say you. If you had to bet on which approach is correct, which would it be?

For me, to abandon the scientific approach and favor any of the religious approaches is a little like taking a trip via horseback and when you had gone three quarters of the distance, abandon the horse and claim that a flying carpet will take you the rest of the way, having neither a carpet, nor any evidence that there has ever been a flying carpet.

I guess you just have to have faith.

February 16, 2020

A Little More On Consciousness

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:38 pm
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In a blog post (on whether the “hard problem” of consciousness could be differentiated from the “soft problem” of consciousness, the author felt that the dichotomy was unnecessary and the main question was simply “Why am I aware?” I made a comment which I have paraphrased here:

As to “Why am I aware?” I have to believe it has to do with the evolutionary benefits of having an imagination. To benefit from an imagination we need short term memory and the ability to keep a number of things “in mind” while we do the modeling that imaginations allow us to do and survive thereby (Is the wind rustling the grass or is that a predator sneaking up on me? These are two scenarios. Long term memories are also helpful but are not at the crux of the matter.) I believe this leads logically to some form of awareness of oneself as me, myself and I am a player on the stage of my consciousness. That predator may attack me or one of my family or …

I want to expand upon this a tiny bit here.

The common example of the role imagination plays in our survival of the “predator in the grass” scenario was not created by me and I don’t remember where I first encountered it. But compare the differences in responses of a typical prey animal and a human being. The prey animal hears a suspicious rustling in the grass and immediately stops what it is doing and becomes hyper vigilant. It may stand taller (to get a better view) and prick up its ears (to hear better) and swivel around (to see what is happening in other directions). But if nothing happens in short order, it goes back to what it was doing. I have seen this interaction filmed many, many times. The stalking predator seems to have learned how much it can get away with without spooking the prey, so it performs iterations of: stalk, stalk, stalk, freeze . . . repeat. Since a great many of the times, the prey figures it out and high tails it out of there and the predator goes hungry, this approach works often enough that both species pass on their genes and survive. It is not a bad survival technique

But consider the advantage the human has. He/she hears the rustling in the grass, knows that it could be a predator which it cannot see or just a zephyr of wind. Since the penalty for a misjudgment can be severe, the human moves away from that spot, making him-/her-self a less likely prey. The cost of making a mistake in the case of there being no predator is tiny compared to the cost of making a mistake and there is a predator there.

All of these scenarios play out in human imagination. We create a simulacrum of reality in our mind and we can run experiments in it. (Imagine . . . our own personal Matrix! Pun intended.) In order to run such experiments effectively we need both long and short term memories available to us. Just observing the family dog, I am quite aware that he possess both of these memory capabilities, so us having them is no big thing. The imagination function, however is quite different. In order to make the little plays in our heads that help us evaluate the merit of various courses of action, we need to keep in mind quite a few things simultaneously. We need to know what kinds of predators might prey on us. (Being attacked by a killer field mouse would frighten no one.) We need to know something about their stalking patterns. We need to have in memory other times the wind blew the tall grass around. If we have a hunting partner or family member with us, we need to have those characters there, too. So, imagining them as well as ourselves is all part of the process.

So, a sense of self and of others, at least as a form of labeling in these imagined scenarios seems reasonable.

And the characters in our little mind plays would not all have the same degree of knowledge associated with them. We would know a great deal more about our self than about them just because we are always present and they are not.

All of these aspects of imagined scenarios leads, in my mind, to a sense of awareness of us versus anyone or anything else.

These boundaries are not at all sharp, though. I am reminded that it is likely that the idea of ghosts/spirits arose from the fact that we observed our relatives dying and being dead and buried and then we dream about them; they seem to be alive again or still. Since they are not visible when we are not asleep, we assumed they were in some sort of spirit realm or that they were now invisible or. . . . The belief in spirits of this type seems to have been universal in primitive cultures.

I will be fascinated to learn, if we can, how imagination developed as an emergent property of brains with sufficient neural connections., as that is where I think the bridge to understanding consciousness begins. And, as always, I could be dead wrong!

November 16, 2016

Philosophical Selfies

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:02 pm
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I have been reading a sociology book of late, which is stretch for me as I have a low opinion of the field. (I used to claim that I had invented a perfect cure for insomnia: simply give the insomniac a sociology textbook and ask them to read it and 15 minutes later they would be asleep.) But I like to challenge my prejudices, so onward I read. There were a number of points made I found interesting, then the subject of “self” came up. What constitutes a self (myself, yourself, themselves, etc.) comes up in sociology (needed for definition of society) as well as psychology and philosophy.

What I find is that often people become entranced with the idea of “self” and carry it to extremes. People start with the fact that all of us can carry on a conversation in our heads that no one else can hear. This leads to the idea of having an “inner self” versus “our outer selves.” We “are” variously: parents, workers, volunteers, musicians, cooks, etc., each of which, to some, is a “self.” Writers often emphasize searching for our “real self” because there are so many of these “selves.” These people, I think, confuse “what I am doing now” as some kind of different persona. In actuality, in order to fit into any group you need to conform to the rules of said group. Showing up to a cooking class wearing a baseball catcher’s gear would definitely be considered weird as would showing up for baseball practice wearing a chef’s hat. each of these behaviors would lead to others judging you and possibly shunning you. In general, we all tend to “go along to get along” and adopt each subgroups norms for the time we participate in them. If our job requires “business attire,” we wear a suit. When we are invited to a party that recommends “cocktail attire” we do not show up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Each of these activities is really not a separate entity we could label as a “self.” They are just something we are doing.

“Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be
a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists.”

But the idea that we can talk to ourselves, think to ourselves, gives the impression that the outer projection of our personality is not our real self. On the contrary I think it is. If we are a “go along to get along” type, we readily conform to any group’s norms, no problem. If we are rebellious, we tend to be rebellious across the board. There is no mystery here, people tend to be quite consistent.

So why this persistent feeling of “layers upon layers” and “I contain multitudes” when we think of our mental lives? Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists. It has to be down there somewhere. The mindset that we have a soul presupposes the idea of an inner self and fuels such language and thinking.

Reality seems just the reverse. Consciousness is an emergent property of human brains. It really exists only on the “outside.” All of the different manifestations we present to the world outside of us are simply ways to “fit in” and not attract undue attention and to attract “due attention.” This is even exemplified by those who are otherly directed: the flamboyant extroverts. Even those who want to be “the baddest dude in town” are looking for attention of a particular sort. They avoid “undue” attention but revel in the ability to attract attention that repels the rest of us, their “due attention.”

So, each of us wants to be part of society or a subgroup of society, we want to be acknowledged as existing and having some standing in our community. Even the “born to be wild” outlaw bikers formed clubs (the Hell’s Angels, etc.). If I may reiterate a famous football coaches frustrated comment: “They are who we thought they were.” It should not be such a surprise.

Since consciousness is an emergent property it is on the outside. Dig down an inch or so and it becomes dark and unilluminating. The light is on the outside. We should be looking at how that outer skin of consciousness interacts with those around us rather than looking deep inside for a non-existent soul-self.

You can see who you are in a selfie … if you just look.

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