On his facebook page Shaviro makes an interesting observation about the neurological work of Metzinger and Noe:

Neurophilosophy: Thomas Metzinger (The Ego Tunnel) and Alva Noe (Out of Our Heads) draw opposite conclusions from the same experimental data… Metzinger takes recent neurological research as proof that consciousness is entirely delusional, a false representation of what is going on in our brains, and a virtual simulation of the outside world. Brassier of course picks up on this. Noe, to the contrary, argues for a post-pragmatic, embodied and distributed notion of consciousness, undermining any dualism of inside vs outside, or self vs world. But what makes this even more interesting is that he argues this from much of the same scientific data that are the basis for Metzinger’s diametrically opposed claims.

Here I hope Steven won’t mind that I’ve condensed a couple of his posts together. Bhaskar argues that we must be vigilant with respect to the “nocturnal philosophies” of scientists. I take it that when he refers to “nocturnal philosophies” he’s referring to the specifically philosophical implications they draw from their research, independent of what that research directly shows. Thus, for example, you get nocturnal philosophies among a number of researchers in quantum mechanics, as well as in biology. Now, there is nothing a priori wrong with nocturnal philosophies. It’s just important for us to be aware that they are philosophies and not identical to the scientific findings themselves.

Returning to the specific discussion of neurology and its implications, the question to ask, I think, is whether consciousness has any powers of its own. Here we have a clear criteria for emergence and the individuation of objects. We can agree with both Noe and Metzinger that where there are no brains there is no consciousness, just as we can agree with the chemist that where there is no hydrogen or oxygen there is no water. The ontological question revolves around whether consciousness is exhausted by its neurological explanation or whether consciousness has powers and capacities of its own that while impossible without the neurological are nonetheless unique powers of its own. If consciousness has powers of its own, then it would be an object of its own. If not, then we would be warranted in excluding consciousness from our inventory of what is or what exists. With respect to this latter option, consciousness would merely be an effect and would not be a being in its own right.

It’s important to emphasize here no substance dualism is being asserted here. In entertaining the hypothesis that consciousness is a distinct object in its own right, the point is not to claim that consciousness could exist independent of brains, that it is separable from brains, or that it has spooky powers at odds with its neurological substrate. I would argue that water is distinct as an object from hydrogen and oxygen or even the relation between hydrogen and oxygen. This is because water has powers that are found in neither hydrogen or oxygen, nor in a single molecule of H2O. For example, water can wet paper and slide about on a table, yet a single molecule of H2O does not have these powers. The powers of water are entirely consistent with those of atomic chemistry, but something new emerges when these atoms are linked together and when molecules of H2O are linked together. The question is whether or not something similar is the case with consciousness. Does the emergence of consciousness generate powers that cannot be found at the lower level stratum upon which it is based? That would be the question and would be determinative of whether or not things like subjects are themselves objects.

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