Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Monday, June 04, 2007

Consciousness Explained?

I recently read a longish pseudo-profound quote from a book called "Consciousness Explained". It was a very complicated explanation of what the self is, the complications required because it began with the assumption that there is no self, only a body and an incredibly complicated reason for a body to require the "center of narration" we (who?) call "self".

Such silliness is far more intelligent than the truth (or at least a workable truth -- something that can lead us to more interesting games). I don't mean it's smarter to believe that you and I don't exist. What I mean is that it's so stupid that it requires numerous graduate degrees to explicate. It sounds intelligent because it takes so much intelligence to articulate the complexity that results from such stupidity.

For example, if you assume that the sun and other planets revolve around the earth, the mathematics required to "demonstrate" this and predict motions and positions of sun and planets are far more complicated than those required if you assume that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun.

If you delight in paradoxes and complexities, don't look for truth. Look for desperate attempts to avoid truth. It's tempting for any intellectual to avoid truth, since truth is often simple: For example, you're you, I'm me, we aren't our bodies; that seems simple enough and obvious enough, and it's a workable hypothesis. Using it, you can cure illnesses, reduce crime, reduce insanity and a do a number of other desirable things. (OK, it may not be obvious to everyone, but some of us have seen what it can do as a hypothesis. The point I'm making here is that it's as reasonable a hypothesis as "We are the delusions of chemical actions in a brain pudding.")

But that's far too simple. It's too much like truism. It's something that just about any laborer or beggar could understand, most children, too. So it's useless to an intellectual. Intellectuals are a lot like pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies aren't much interested in letting people know what mineral and vitamin and some herbal supplements can do for them, because these things aren't patentable, so there's no profit in them.

Similarly, intellectuals profit (or win glory and rave reviews in the New York Review of Books and other lofty venues and tenure at universities) by coming up with complex brilliance that only a few people can grasp.

And yet the stupidity of "Consciousness Explained" is excruciating: The title says it all: Consciousness precedes explanation and is a far more basic concept than "Explanation". Another way to put it is that you can't resolve consciousness or get a clearer idea of it by explanations, but you can resolve explanations or get a clearer idea of them by consciousness. So the book is bass-ackwards.

We don't have a verb "to conscience". We can't say "Explanation Conscioused". Consciousness is basic enough that we don't do it. We are it. We are that which is aware of being aware -- and which (as described eloquently at this site) can create things to be aware of and agree about them with other similar creators. A less awkward title might be "Awareness of Explanation".

"Consciousness Explained" is a bit like starting with the idea that the books in the library were here before we were and that we are their delusion, and that these books are somehow culminating -- by evolution of language all by itself -- in a book about books that explains how and why all the books that exist have come up with the illusion of authors and readers and a world that exists elsewhere than on the pages of books.

The best way to understand consciousness is to be aware of being aware. Lately, have you noticed that you are?

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