Consciousness - science or philosophy?

FYI: It’s important to be sparing in insulting the same person, lest they become as impervious to your insults as I am.

Sorry… but am I suppose to remember what you might be complaining about?

FYI: it’s important not to carry grudges from other discussions in order to have rational discussions with people rather than just be a troll.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to my “Ignore” list. I hope you enjoy your stay. I will.

And yet it is possible to have epistemic evidence for phenomena which are ontologically subjective. I’ve been watching a couple of youtubes by John Searle and he frequently presses this point in relation to consciousness. I agree with him and think it is a helpful clarification. I’d be interested in what you think if you have time.

In this six minute clip he makes this point. No video, just Searle standing in front of a painting while the soundtrack comes from one of his classes or seminars.

Do you suppose that I’d have difficulty ascertaining your approximate state of ontologically subjective consciousness from an epistemic measure of your brain waves? I don’t think so.

No, not an an approximate sense.

Edited to say I wonder how well if at all such devices can distinguish between states that are held consciously and those taking place below that threshold.

I agree with John Searle’s conclusions with regards to this objection to whether you can have a science of consciousness. Though I would respond to the objection differently.

It would say that the difference between of objectivity and subjectivity is an epistemic distinction and I am not sure what an ontological sense of the words would refer to. I think the problem with the objection to a science of consciousness is more about a difference between the experience of something and the study of it. But perhaps that is just a difference in the way I would express things.

I would also suggest that the complaint is like the common rhetoric that science cannot be objective because all our experience of things (including every experiment performed) are subjective. All it requires us to do is acknowledge that the objective is an abstraction rather than the immediate experience – it makes science difficult but not impossible. Likewise the subjective nature of the experience of consciousness makes the objective scientific study of it difficult but not impossible – not something which is logically incoherent.

…okay I got to the point where he talks about objective and subjective “modes of existence,” to explain his notion of the difference in an ontological sense. He says, objective things having an existence apart from anyone’s experience of it, and subjective things only have an existence in so far as they are experienced. And… uh… I am not buying it. My problem is that these seem to be empty claims to me. The experience of both is just as subjective and the scientific study of both of these things can be just as objective.

I’m not schooled in the details, but … ignoring the setting in which I found these assertions, I think measuring brain waves could be useful in distinguishing a dead person from one in a vegetative state and both from a person in a minimally conscious state:

  • (I) DELTA BRAINWAVES. At the deepest level of the subconscious mind, delta waves appear on an EEG as high amplitude brainwaves with a frequency of oscillation between 0.5–4.5 Hz. These are usually associated with the deep stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM), during slow-wave sleep (SWS).
  • (II) THETA BRAINWAVES. In humans, the theta brainwave frequency is in the 4.5–7.5 Hz range, regardless of their neurological source. As part of this, cortical theta is often experienced by children. Whereas, in adults, theta waves tend to appear during certain kinds of meditation, hypnosis, drowsiness, and/or sleep.
  • (III) ALPHA BRAINWAVES. Alpha waves are neural oscillations in the frequency range of 7.5–12.5 Hz. This happens during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes, often while in a state of meditation, rumination, and/or contemplation. Much of this alpha brainwave activity occurs in the occipital lobe.
  • (IV) BETA BRAINWAVES. A beta wave is a neural oscillation in the frequency range of 12.5–25.5 Hz. This can be further subdivided into low beta waves (12.5–16.5 Hz), beta waves (16.5–20.5 Hz), and high beta waves (20.5–25.5 Hz). These are the experiential states associated with the normal everyday waking consciousness in most people.
  • (V) GAMMA BRAINWAVES.
    A gamma wave is a pattern of neural oscillation with a frequency between about 25 to 100 Hz, with 40 being typical. This is the result of entering transcendental mental states that generate gamma brainwave activity. This level of consciousness often takes years to achieve, but can eventually become permanent with enough practice.

I’m familiar with the first four but gamma I’m only familiar with from my childhood reading of comic books. :wink:

I wouldn’t have thought that would be controversial but I’m curious to understand your objection. I think “things” here covers all nouns like cups, smiles, bodily functions and mental states.

He compares molecules and techtonic plates with anxiety and depression, to say that they have “different modes of existence.” I just don’t see it that way. Instead, I see both having both so called “modes of existence,” if you want to call it that. There is our experience of molecules and anxiety and there is also the existence of these same things outside of ourselves which we can study. I am not denying that there are differences. But I doubt it is in the things themselves or ontological, and it looks entirely epistemological to me. Namely we primarily know that molecules exist from the objective measures of them and we primarily know about anxiety states from the subjective experience of them. But that is an epistemological distinction and it is not as if I think the molecules are more real or have more existence apart from our experience of them just because of that.

Ok… maybe the problem I am having is coming from the word “ontological” which is causing me to expect a more fundamental difference. And maybe the reality is that the word “ontological” is often used more loosely to describe obvious differences like this – the obvious difference being why my objection is surprising you. Perhaps it is also my own tendency to get hung up on a precise use of words, which causes me trouble when people use words more loosely which looks kind of vague and shallow to me.

Like what?
There are things that I do or that my body does that I never learned to do and there are things that I do or that my body does that I learned, with some or after frequent repetition and which I became more or less expert at doing and which, consequently don’t require any noticeable delberation. And as I age, I find some things that I do require some noticeable deliberation, like driving or microwaving hot water.

You’ll get no argument over any of that from me.

The day that an unconscious portion of my total bandwith of consciousness decides to carry out an intention that I don’t yet realize consciously that I have is the day I make an appointment with my general physician and demand an MRI to see if I’ve got a brain tumor and/or I consult a Hypnotherapist or a certified Interactive Guided Imagery Professional or a priest/exorcist.

Unconscious Intention:
" a goal that one has not explicitly chosen to pursue or a motivational structure of which one is unaware but that nonetheless influences one’s thought and behavior. Compare conscious intention."

Note: The only example of pursuing a goal that I have not explicitly chosen that I can think of is, … well, darn! I can’t think of one, especially now that I no longer smoke, drink, or chase women. And what’s “a motivational structure that one is unaware of but nonetheless influences one’s thought and behavior”?

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  • Here’s a link to Cowen and Keltner’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) on-line 2017 article: Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients.
  • The researchers identified 27 categories of emotion. I challenge anyone to identify just one of the emotions which a human being can genuinely “feel” (i.e. experience) that he or she chose to feel instead of another emotion that is natural (i.e. not chosen) and spontaneous.

I’ve always had trouble with the concept of ontology and thought it was something unique to religion. But here it is used simply to talk about what a thing is in itself as opposed to how it can become known by beings capable of that sort of thing. I find this pretty sticky to talk about myself but I have to hand it to Searle for clearly differentiating two entirely different contexts for objective vs subjective. Getting hung up on the exact use of words is worth the bother. There may be times when it doesn’t accomplish much, but when it does you get more clarity.

The way I first encountered and the only way I have used the word “ontology” is to make the distinction between two types of metaphysical explorations – and for ontology I have pretty much stuck with Aristotle’s hylomorphism and haven’t seen much merit in the ideas of other philosophers on the subject.

By “unique to religion” I guess you are referring to the “ontological argument,” but you must know by now that I am pretty dismissive of arguments like that.

But we have no access to any thing in itself, and thus this just looks to me like an excuse to project one’s beliefs on reality.

Yes I’ve noticed. ‘Proofs’ on both sides are weak because of the nature of the difficulties.

True but the idea of depression is about a subjective state while the idea of a molecule is about things in the world, not about our impressions of them. The things each word refers to are different in kind in that way. Of course one can investigate molecules and states of depression in a way that emphasizes how they impress us subjectively or what their effects are in the world. But what we understand them to be differ in a way that is captured by the words “objective” and “subjective”. Doesn’t mean we couldn’t be wrong about that but it is what people more often intend.

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