14.1.14

Hardly A Problem At All?

I have been hoping to sit down and sketch out some ideas on what a 'theory of consciousness' might look like for a while now but never get around to doing so. The bottom-line, for me, is that "qualia" is the not-so-simply coordinated sensation of evolved functional life. If you bind together sensate bodies with particular organic capacities for recursion, retention (memory), association and projection (biological imagination) – all of which can be explained with reference to neurology and functional anatomy –you get animals with a sense of self. Sapience emerges when ongoing rudimentary perceptual categorization is linked via neural reentry to emotionally coded / value-dependent memories creating a so-called “remembered present”, or emergent (and strange?) loop of referential awareness. The systemic coordination of the relevant biological components results in a dynamic and reactional neuro-functional core (see Edelman and Tononi 2000) and informational basin of attraction capable of generating what is traditionally know as internal volition or “intentionality”. This ‘wired’ complex generates structured (limiting and affording) ‘feelings’: a recursive neurocognitive simulacra of affective intensity. Thus “qualia” is what it feels like to be a particular kind of organic body. We collect and project and speculate and cope in our attempts at surviving, copulating and generally party hard via the interplay between evolved/emergent biological capacities and eco-social relations. Not much left to explain once all the details are traced out and observed in situ in my opinion.

No big deal, right? The problem is many academic careers have been maintained in making much ado about not that much. So, unfortunately, many philosophers and humanity professors still haven’t read the memo on the explanatory powers of scientific research, nor have they been motivated to develop a reasoned response to how such findings completely obliterate the past musings of their heroes.

Much later I plan on mashing together and stretching out the details of a genuine pet theory on how sentience and sapience emerge but for now I just want to note that others are also trying to get past the pseudo-debate (in my opinion) about the so-called "hard problem of consciousness":
One of the many and varied modes of post-humanism hails an end to human exceptionalism and cognition-oriented models, and instead begins from one already integrated, dynamic and connected world. There is no ‘really hard problem’ about the relation between mind and world, for the mind is an effect of relations, not something that has to act in order to represent a world to which it must subsequently relate (Flanagan 2007). It is not the case that we begin life as observing, representing beings who then become through receptivity. Rather, in the beginning is a dynamic and world-oriented receptivity from which organized cognition, and the sense of the self as subject or man emerges. It is from a primary openness to the world, a primarily sensed world, that there emerges the sense of one who sees.” – Claire Colebrook [source]
The "primary openness" of all assembled bodies (see here, here and here) takes place within the field of possibility or context afforded by a myriad of actual evolved-dynamic systems: a wild, uncapture-able matrix/ecology of affective materials, intensive powers, differences and assembled networks. This 'general ecology' (wilderness of Being) is simultaneously where we come from AND where we are thrown into. Referencing the deep (and dark) context in which all experience emerges requires and AND-logic that renders this simultaneity negotiable and all talk about how 'mind' and 'world' relate a little less problematic.

4 comments:

noirrealism said...

In your quote: "One of the many and varied modes of post-humanism hails an end to human exceptionalism and cognition-oriented models, and instead begins from one already integrated, dynamic and connected world. There is no ‘really hard problem’ about the relation between mind and world, for the mind is an effect of relations, not something that has to act in order to represent a world to which it must subsequently relate (Flanagan 2007). It is not the case that we begin life as observing, representing beings who then become through receptivity. Rather, in the beginning is a dynamic and world-oriented receptivity from which organized cognition, and the sense of the self as subject or man emerges. It is from a primary openness to the world, a primarily sensed world, that there emerges the sense of one who sees.” – Claire Colebrook

What's interesting is how much metaphysics underpins a lot of these statements. Such as that first sentence: "and instead begins from one already integrated, dynamic and connected world." This relationism or almost Aristotelian hylomorphism and monism goes almost unregistered unless one stops and sees what it is doing. And, this "in the beginning is a dynamic and world-oriented receptivity from which organized cognition" an almost panpsychic passivity in premise.

Either way I'm glad you're querying a lot of this dataset Michael... good job!

Mark Crosby said...

Hey Michael, hope you can get back into it! I'd read your post yesterday and then, today, saw a relevant post on Peirce-L by John Collier, my favorite anarchist professor of Philosophy and Ethics (University of KwaZulu-Natal), on CS Peirce's PHANERON as the pre-linguistic source of consciousness:
"It's only language that forces us to distinguish between mind and phaneron, and it's only logic that forces us to distinguish ebtween appearance and reality. Phaneroscopy is an attempt to see what's behind the curtains of language and logic, and thus it necessarily betrays itself when it resorts to language in order to express itself as a science... I am currently agnostic, and have never seen much hope for an bojective phenomenology (not psychologistic), whether Peircean or Husserlian... I am more inclined to rely on the bootstrapping of abduction based on existent relations among thoughts to get to the external world".

Best, Mark (battered but not beaten)

michael- said...

Hey Craig (or do you prefer Steven?),

I think every statement is grounded in what John Searle refers to as background assumptions. There are implicit ontologies supporting all utterances via a general repertoire of reference. This cannot be avoided. The interesting part of that story is what we might glean from a comparative investigation of different background ontologies. What remains when we strip down a particular semantic apparatus - with its various patchworked narratives, tropes, ideologies, etc. – and THEN apply a handful of different verification methods to check guiding assumptions against the push and pull of a non-theic or pre-linguistic reality? For example we can examine the effects of “ancestral statements” (Meillassoux) on our evaluations of life and human understanding. Ancestral statements enter into our reference systems via scientific practice augmenting (or not depending on the level of denial) the outcome of our deliberations and communications. All of this is to say that statements like the one you pulled out can look like unchecked metaphysical assertions be may instead be a general statement about empirical ‘facts’. I think a lot of scientific data suggests that both continuity and dynamical process are fundamental features of reality. So is Claire really going out on a limb here?

I suggest that there is a “transcendental” (immanent) plane of consistency and consequence that cannot be explained away. When investigated empirically the universe seems to hangs together in a particular way. Same with ‘dynamic receptivity’, or what I would refer to as potency-vulnerability, or ‘affectivity’ generally. From a perspective informed by rigorous ontographic practice expressions indexing the fundamental reality of both consistency and vulnerability are less about metaphysical assumption and more an issue of thetic association and interpretative sophistication. So I do think Claire is articulating some important issues with regard to how embodied humans relate to the wild and sprawling forces of reality.

I also think we need to get away from constantly re-coding statements like Claire’s via the abstract machinations of traditional philosophy. Linking certain ‘soft’ claims to the fashionable ‘problems’ framing traditional debates and arguments can often distract from what the larger chain of arguments in a particular essay/book/film is actually trying to accomplish. The devil will always be in the details, and in my opinion all discourses are always tentative approximations and poetic resonance machines adapted for the purpose of focusing attention and discussion on more practical issues. It matters less what Aristotle had to say than what can be learned and then done with a particular discourse via actual engagements with the world.

How might we talk about and act in the world if we were to finally get past the erroneous Cartesian and ancient theological frameworks of dualism and embrace a radically naturalist view of hominid cognition? Claire’s work pushes our thinking and discussions in that general direction.

michael- said...

Hey Mark, great to hear from you again. What a fascinating quote!

Yes, we always betray ourselves (or at least our egoic need for certainty and truth) when we start to use language to talk about the pre/non-linguistic. That is the crux of doing philosophy (whether academic or otherwise): the Symbolic can never fully capture the Real, or rather all thinking and asserting is poetic intimation (phantasy) at best and superfluous ideological delusion at worst. We project and share our phantasies to accomplished cognitive and, less frequently, utilitarian tasks. It can all be deflated into a basic need for coping-with, in my opinion, but there are a wild variety of contexts in which our resources and motivations either align or conflict (or mix) with what is going on beyond our bodies.

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