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RE: [xmca] Q: can we define consciousness?

I don’t make any particular use of “consciousness.” It’s not a special
category or construct of concern for me. In my zu/vorhanden message I wrote
in effect mind/attention/consciousness, indicating my indifference toward
specification of these terms (while I am concerned about recovering such
terms for use without Cartesian dualism).


Although I’m not much concerned about a scientific definition of
“consciousness,” I happen to be working tonight with a chunk of Peirce in
which he writes about it. I’m working with his important published
anti-Cartesian paper on “Some Consequences of the Four Incapacities,” which
includes the final paragraph below (except that he used “man,” “he” and
“his” in the published version, and switched to “we” and “our” in the
revised (?) version.


The paragraphs below are from a “book” on Consciousness that was actually
cobbled together by the editors of the Collected Papers. Each chapter of
this “book” appears to be a separate manuscript, some of uncertain dates. (I
just picked a few paragraphs that I thought might be of interest to people
on this list.)


A couple things to note:


1.      Peirce was emphatic about being a logician, NOT a psychologist
(although it strikes me that his suggestion about recovery time in 553
anticipates some cognitivist psychology). 

2.      Paragraph 551 seems to me the best reflection of the core of
Peirce’s thinking, theorizing consciousness in terms of his three
fundamental categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness.




Collected Papers, Volume 7



Paragraph 551. There are no other forms of consciousness except the three
that have been mentioned, Feeling, Altersense, and Medisense. They form a
sort of system. Feeling is the momentarily present contents of consciousness
taken in its pristine simplicity, apart from anything else. It is
consciousness in its first state, and might be called primisense. Altersense
is the consciousness of a directly present other or second, withstanding us.
Medisense is the consciousness of a thirdness, or medium between primisense
and altersense, leading from the former to the latter. It is the
consciousness of a process of bringing to mind. Feeling, or primisense, is
the consciousness of firstness; altersense is consciousness of otherness or
secondness; medisense is the consciousness of means or thirdness. Of
primisense there is but one fundamental mode. Altersense has two modes,
Sensation and Will. Medisense has three modes, Abstraction, Suggestion,


                553. We are going to shock the physiological psychologists,
for once, by attempting, not an account of a hypothesis about the brain, but
a description of an image which shall correspond, point by point, to the
different features of the phenomena of consciousness. Consciousness is like
a bottomless lake in which ideas are suspended at different depths.†18
Indeed, these ideas themselves constitute the very medium of consciousness
itself.†19 Percepts alone are uncovered by the medium. We must imagine that
there is a continual fall of rain upon the lake; which images the constant
inflow of percepts in experience. All ideas other than percepts are more or
less deep, and we may conceive that there is a force of gravitation, so that
the deeper ideas are, the more work will be required to bring them to the
surface. This virtual work, which the mathematicians call the 'potentials'
of the particles, is the negative of the 'potential energy'; and the
potential energy is that feature of the image which corresponds to the
degree of vividness of the idea. Or we may see that the potential, or depth,
represents the degree of energy of attention that is requisite to discern
the idea at that depth. But it must not be thought that an idea actually has
to be brought to the surface of consciousness before it can be discerned. To
bring it to the surface of consciousness  would be to produce a
hallucination. Not only do all ideas tend to gravitate toward oblivion, but
we are to imagine that various ideas react upon one another by selective
attractions. This images the associations between ideas which tend to
agglomerate them into single ideas. Just as our idea of spatial distance
consists in the sense of time that it would take with a given effort to pass
from one object to another, so the distance between ideas is measured by the
time it will take to unite them. One tries to think of the French for shark
or for linchpin. The time that it will take to recover the forgotten word
depends upon the force of association between the ideas of the English and
French words and upon circumstances which we image by their distance. This,
it must be confessed, is exceedingly vague; as vague as would be our notion
of spatial distance if we lived in the body of an ocean, and were destitute
of anything rigid to measure with, being ourselves mere portions of fluid.



                565. The word synechism is the English form of the Greek
{synechismos}, from {synechés}, continuous.†27 For two centuries we have
been affixing -ist and -ism to words, in order to note sects which exalt the
importance of those elements which the stemwords signify. Thus, materialism
is the doctrine that matter is everything, idealism the doctrine that ideas
are everything, dualism the philosophy which splits everything in two. In
like manner, I have proposed to make synechism mean the tendency to regard
everything as continuous.†28

                575. But, further, synechism recognizes that the carnal
consciousness is but a small part of the man. There is, in the second place,
the social consciousness, by which a man's spirit is embodied in others, and
which continues to live and breathe and have its being very much longer than
superficial observers think. Our readers need not be told how superbly this
is set forth in Freytag's Lost Manuscript.†33


                585. A man has consciousness; a word has not.†42 What do we
mean by consciousness, for it is rather an ambiguous term. There is that
emotion which accompanies the reflection that we have animal life. A
consciousness which is dimmed when animal life is at its ebb, in age or
sleep, but which is not dimmed when the spiritual life is at its ebb; which
is more lively the better animal a man is, but is not so the better man he
is. You can all distinguish this sensation I am sure; we attribute it to all
animals but not to words, because we have reason to believe that it depends
upon the possession of an animal body. And, therefore, this difference is
included under the first that we mentioned and is not an additional one. In
the second place, consciousness is used to mean the knowledge which we have
of what is in our minds; the fact that our thought is an index for itself of
itself on the ground of a complete identity with itself. But so is any word
or indeed any thing, so that this constitutes no difference between the word
and the man. In the third place, consciousness is used to denote the I
think, the unity of thought; but the unity of thought is nothing but the
unity of symbolization; consistency, in a word -- the implication of being
-- and belongs to every word whatever. It is very easy to think we have a
clear notion of what we mean by consciousness, and yet it may be that the
word excites no thought but only a sensation, a mental word within us; and
then because we are not accustomed to allow the word written on the board to
excite that sensation, we may think we distinguish between the man and the
word when we do not.

                "Most ignorant of what we're most assured

                Our glassy essence!"



-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 9:01 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Q: can we define consciousness?


Mike Cole wrote:

> And, can i repeat my request for what people are talking about in their 

> various invocations of the term, consciousness? How many meanings 

> floating around there.

> Is there also one correct way of defining consciousness or are people 

> using that term as a pseudoconcept while thinking they are thinking 

> scientifically?? I fear the latter.

> But will celebrate learning how and when I am wrong and how to know.

> mike


Thinking aloud ... consciousness is all those active

processes of the person which form part of the person's

relationship with their environment.


Such a definition covers a wide range of things, because I

think you have to have a "definition" of "consciousness" as

a whole process, and not try to restrict it to one "grade"

of consciousness.


But I admit, that's the first time I've actually tried to do

a definition of "consciousness", and it's probably deeply






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