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Re: [xmca] Consciousness


You have lightened my load and clarified my thoughts on this discussion 
pertaining to consciousness,  thank you.  I admit I do want to attach 
concepts to consciousness because only then can I move forward with my own 
stream of thinking on the topic.  I agree that human consciousness is 
different then other animals.  However, Temple Grandin has a fabulous book
entitled, "Animals in Translation".


Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
09/23/2009 09:06 AM
Please respond to ablunden; Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, 

        cc:     "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        Subject:        Re: [xmca] Consciousness

Eric, this thread arose from Mike's persistent requests for 
a definition of consciousness, observing that it seems that 
on xmca people are using the word with a host of different 
meanings. I responded that I thought is was best *not* to 
try to tie the concept to one particular grade of Cs (which 
you seem to be asking for Eric), but to accept it as a 
category which includes a host of different entities and 
phenomena all of which interpenetrate and transform into one 
another ...

But then I thought, that is not a sufficient answer, because 
it offers no concept of what is includes and part of this 
whole process.

This is what the current discussion between Martin and me is 
trying to clarify. I.e., what is Cs as a philosophical 
category, that may or may not include all those dozens of 
different things we refer to as "consciousness."

Chimps do not participate in the construction of human 
culture (including philosophy and psychology), so the idea 
of the Cs of non-human animals is another question 
altogether. It is a legitimate question, but not one which 
can be answered by a definition.


ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:
> Andy:
> I will raise my hand with the dense crowd.  What could possibly be your 
> definitiona of consciousness Andy?  I am lost in the forest and can't 
> see any trees.  Would your definition allow animals besides people to 
> have consciousness?
> Does consciousness utilize concepts?  Is this stream of consciousness 
> flow from Paula's recreation of the blocks experiment?
> help?
> eric
>                *Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>*
> Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
> 09/22/2009 10:50 PM
> Please respond to ablunden; Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, 
>      Activity"
>         To: 
>         cc:        "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" 
>         Subject:        Re: [xmca] Consciousness
> Because consciousness is what we are given. Everything we
> know we know only in and through consciousness. Metaphors
> are impossible here.
> By way of a roundabout explanation ...
> Natural science is based on the assumption that outside of
> consciousness there is a natural world, which exists
> independently of consciousness and prior to consciousness
> and changes in a lawful way according to laws which are
> intelligible to us, through our consciousness. I.e., matter
> is the substance of natural science.
> But two things. (1) This works only up to a point. Quantum
> mechanics, Heisenberg and all that went beyond the limit,
> and not concsciousness but *activity* had to step in to
> provide a rational foundation for even natural science, and
> (2) in the late 19th century, and notably in the "human
> sciences," this also proved untenable because concepts are
> not names for things existing in nature, but thought forms
> through which we grasp nature (a la Kant).
> I say this only to point to the fact that when the point of
> view you are espousing gets into trouble, it has to take a
> step back and rethink its fundamentals, temporarily
> abandoning its self-confidence.
> Specifically, what you are doing, as I see it, is building a
> model of the universe in your head, and then testing its
> validity according to some criteria which we haven't
> burrowed down to yet.
> So for example, you suggest that in an ontological model of
> the world god-the-scientist could have decided to make
> animate/inanimate the first distinction. Of course, a system
> builder can make any distinction they like the first one.
> But there are objective reasons why in the history of
> rational philosophy that in which we stand, the first such
> categorical distinction was the one Rene Descarte made. Why?
> Because we begin with thought forms and from there we
> speculate about where they come from, how, if and what may
> lie out there behind them and then maybe if we want to make
> animate/inanimate a fundamental distinction.
> I go on with this annoying stuff about God's eye views
> because you are taking a kind of extra-terrestrial
> model-building, observer standpoint. The reality is: you
> open your eyes, you see things, and *then* you question
> whether what really exists out there (matter) corresponds to
> what you think exists out there (consciousness). And not
> only individuals, but humanity as well. Now, 300 years down
> the historical track and further down the logical train of
> reasoning, quite different questions are posed ... except
> that every so often your basic categories get thrown into
> crisis and you have to, so to speak, go back to basics, and
> rework Descartes' initial problem.
> Being and Nothingness: Hegel raised this issue and made it
> the beginning of his Encyclopedia, but Being and Nothing
> were both throught-forms. You have to read the Phenomenology
> to find out where they came from: they came from the real
> history of thought reflecting on itself; the Logic is the
> truth of the Phenomenology. And the Phenomenology begins
> with the history of reflective thought.
> The Existentialists, as I see it, take their cue from
> Husserl, who is only dealing with forms of subjective
> thought. Hegel at least was dealing with real people and
> real history and objective thought-forms, however
> frustratingly idealistically. So when Heidegger and people
> go at these questions, they are only dealing with thought forms.
> Pity that the word "ontology" lost its meaning about 50
> years ago. We seem to have forgotten about it in its
> original meaning.
> Does that help?
> Andy
> Martin Packer wrote:
>  > Andy,
>  >
>  > I guess I'm being dense. Why is this THE fundamental question? and 
>  > the distinction between animate and inanimate, or the existence of 
>  > soul, or the meaning of being, or the distinction between being and
>  > nothingness, or...?
>  >
>  > Martin
>  >
>  > On Sep 22, 2009, at 8:13 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>  >
>  >> Martin, indeed the argument about what characterizes living matter, 
>  >> opposed to not-living matter, has a history. In my reading, it 
>  >> a peak and resolution in the late 19th century with Helmholtz's 
>  >> of the Conservation of Energy principle, considered proved when he
>  >> refuted the idea of a "life force" by physical/chemical methods.
>  >>
>  >> But this is a question of a different order. The thing about
>  >> consciousness and matter is that it is THE fundamental question, 
>  >> is NO prior question. There is not a gradual emergence or transition
>  >> or a multiplicity of intermediate stages or continual interchange of
>  >> material at the categorical level.  There are just two categories,
>  >> well, one to begin with: consciousness, and its negation.
>  >>
>  >> It is true that what Lenin is doing is only stating the bleeding
>  >> obvious, and in fact to "get" it, you just have to be prepared to
>  >> settle that what is bleeding obvious is just that and not try to
>  >> complicate it.
>  >>
>  >> How many times do you hear on this list claims like "Consciousness 
>  >> material"? Usually not in an effort to reframe basic philosophical
>  >> categories, but to make some point about the material preconditions
>  >> and the basis of consciousness. Also, I think, a very obvious point.
>  >>
>  >> Lenin was working in the wake of the discovery of the range of 
>  >> phenomena which said that the existence (or speed or position) of a
>  >> material particle was dependent on its observation. Many people,
>  >> including the physicists who discovered this amazing fact, took this
>  >> to mean that the speed and position of thing in the material world
>  >> depended on the consciousness of them. Consciousness act as a cause 
>  >> the world perhaps, that is a different point. It is the idea that
>  >> "electron x is in position p at time t" is a senseless statement, 
>  >> has to be reformulated "I determined the position of electron x as p
>  >> at time t". It is the action not the consciousness tied up with the
>  >> action which determines the electron of course. The electron is
>  >> ontological independent of my thought, but the determination of it 
>  >> a material action, and a cause.
>  >>
>  >> But we get the same kind of problem with psychology. While 
>  >> to reject the idea of thinking developing according to laws
>  >> independent of the material world (I mean WHO makes such a claim??) 
>  >> also reject the identity of thought with its material substratum,
>  >> e.g., the idea that for every thought or memory there is a neuron
>  >> somewhere storing that atom of consciousness, and so on. But even
>  >> people like Antonio Damassio still theink the homunculus (now called
>  >> the subject or "control centre") will be discovered any day now. And
>  >> John R Sharpe who thinks that freedom rests on teh randomness of
>  >> quantum transitions.
>  >>
>  >> Andy
>  >>
>  >> Martin Packer wrote:
>  >>> Andy,
>  >>> I agree with most of what you have said; I just don't see how it
>  >>> follows from what Lenin wrote. In this message you write "we cannot
>  >>> frame a concept of matter other than derivative from 
>  >>> I completely agree. Earlier you wrote "matter is what exists 
>  >>> and independently of consciousness." I suppose that's one concept 
>  >>> matter that can be framed. I just don't think that it helps us
>  >>> understand either matter, or consciousness.
>  >>> Let me try an analogy. I suppose it would be possible to draw a
>  >>> categorical distinction between living and non-living matter. I 
>  >>> know either the history of science or the history of philosophy 
>  >>> enough to name examples of the top of my head, but I would be 
>  >>> to bet it's been done. One might even try to define the two:
>  >>> "non-living matter is what exists outside and independently of the
>  >>> life process," because it lacks a soul, or the life-spirit, or
>  >>> something.
>  >>> But such a definition would hinder more than it would help, because
>  >>> we now know (from scientific investigation rather than philosophy)
>  >>> that living matter emerged from non-living matter. We may not yet 
>  >>> clear on the details of the transformation (on the surface of
>  >>> asteroids? in shallow pools? in deep-sea vents?) and we may have a
>  >>> tough time defining the transformation (is something alive when it
>  >>> shows growth, or response to stimuli, or metabolism, or 
>  >>> or all of the above?), but it's clear it occurs.
>  >>> It follows, then, that non-living matter, inanimate matter, has the
>  >>> *potential* to give rise to, to transform into, life, animate 
>  >>> You say "if everything (even Cs) is matter, then matter is 
>  >>> Would you also say "if everything (even life) is matter, then 
>  >>> is nothing"? I don't see why. Life is a particular arrangement of
>  >>> matter, but that doesn't make matter nothing, it makes us see 
>  >>> in a new light.
>  >>> In the same way, to say that Cs is material is to invite us, or
>  >>> demand of us, that we view matter (and Cs) in a new light. LVS
>  >>> devoted pages and pages of Crisis to debunking the idea that Cs is
>  >>> ideal, something separate from matter that requires a special type 
>  >>> investigation, separate from science. Perhaps one day it will seem 
>  >>> truism to say that Cs is material, but that certainly isn't the 
>  >>> today.
>  >>> I suspect that, as usual, we are more in agreement than 
>  >>> and are to some extent arguing past one another. Perhaps it's our
>  >>> different circadian rhythms!
>  >>> Martin
>  >>> On Sep 22, 2009, at 10:08 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>  >>>> The issue is not at all to draw a line between science and
>  >>>> philosophy. I stand by my original suggestion to Mike that
>  >>>> "consciousness" should not be tied by definition to one of its
>  >>>> particular grades, but had to be seen as a whole process. But a
>  >>>> process of what? What process? So in fact to do good psychology 
>  >>>> have to be clear about what it is that you are thinking about. You
>  >>>> can call that philosophy if you like, or just doing good science.
>  >>>>
>  >>>> This means recognizing that you cannot stand outside of the world
>  >>>> and look at matter and consciousness, any more than you can study
>  >>>> thought under a microscope. You have to proceed from what you 
>  >>>> a thinking body.
>  >>>>
>  >>>> I say that your position is taking a God's eye view, and you can
>  >>>> call it the standpoint of many years of experience if you like, it
>  >>>> doesn't make any difference. But the claim to *know* that matter
>  >>>> existed prior to consciousness *in time* has nothing to do with 
>  >>>> necessity of deriving a concept of matter from a concept of
>  >>>> consciousness *at the categorical level*. What is given to you is
>  >>>> consciousness. If you know something, that means that it exists in
>  >>>> your consciousness. To know is to be conscious of. So we cannot
>  >>>> frame a concept of matter other than derivative from 
>  >>>>
>  >>>> This does not prevent us from then discovering that matter existed
>  >>>> prior to consciousness and is reflected in consciousness. And it
>  >>>> does absolutely nothing to prevent use from discovering exactly 
>  >>>> material foundation for consciousness, and from moving on to the
>  >>>> category of activity.
>  >>>>
>  >>>> We had to have Descartes before we could have Kant, or Hegel or
>  >>>> Marx. (BTW, "substantia" Latin for "substance" does not at all 
>  >>>> what it is commonly taken to mean, and Descartes' claim that 
>  >>>> was a substance does not at all mean that it is some kind of stuff
>  >>>> just like matter).
>  >>>>
>  >>>> What do you think?
>  >>>> Andy
>  >>>>
>  >>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>  >>>>> Hi Andy,
>  >>>>> I've been trying to understand Lenin better by reading 
>  >>>>> commentary (perhaps not the smartest strategy!), and like you
>  >>>>> Althusser says that Lenin was drawing a distinction between
>  >>>>> philosophical categories and scientific concepts. The concepts
>  >>>>> scientists form about matter will change - and as you said, at 
>  >>>>> time that Lenin wrote MEC that was indeed the case, I assume with
>  >>>>> the discovery of electromagnetic radiation. The philosophical
>  >>>>> categories, such as matter and Cs, will not change.
>  >>>>> So this is Lenin's position, apparently. To me it seems to draw a
>  >>>>> strange line between science and philosophy, and treat the latter
>  >>>>> as though it were timeless. This might please Hegel, who 
>  >>>>> philosophical thinking to have reached its zenith, after which it
>  >>>>> would no longer change. It might please Kant, who considered all
>  >>>>> reason, including that of the philosopher, to be universal and
>  >>>>> timeless.  It seems to me (no philosopher!) simply false.
>  >>>>> Philosophical categories can and do change, in part influenced by
>  >>>>> science.
>  >>>>> I don't think of myself as arguing from a God's eye viewpoint. I
>  >>>>> think of myself as arguing on the basis of years of research by
>  >>>>> many scientists, research which has established beyond doubt 
>  >>>>> at least) a general description of the formation of stars, 
>  >>>>> early forms of life, and the evolution of hominids. In this
>  >>>>> evidence-based description the material world existed prior to 
>  >>>>> As a solitary individual I can be sure of very little. As a
>  >>>>> participant in a scientific community I can be sure of this, at
>  >>>>> least. Of course the concept of matter has changed greatly and 
>  >>>>> continue to do so. Matter in the C19 sense *did* cease to exist 
>  >>>>> the early C20. Indeed, we *need* a concept of matter that is rich
>  >>>>> enough to allow Cs as a possible material phenomenon.
>  >>>>> My original point was simply that although Lenin's statement may
>  >>>>> have served a helpful function at the time it was made, 
>  >>>>> performatively I don't think it is a very useful starting point
>  >>>>> today. And one plug for Foucault (just to give you a sleepless
>  >>>>> night!): he (and Bourdieu and others) have increased my 
>  >>>>> that embodied Cs is important, and neglected. The kind of Cs that 
>  >>>>> am depending on when I ride a bicycle is often ignored by 
>  >>>>> science yet it is essential to our daily lives, and it is surely 
>  >>>>> material kind of Cs.
>  >>>>> Martin
>  >>>>> On Sep 21, 2009, at 11:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>  >>>>>> Apologies for my time zone, Martin, aggravated by lots of
>  >>>>>> domestics this morning. Usually those in Europe and America are
>  >>>>>> blissfully unaware of the roundness of the world, so believe me, 
>  >>>>>> appreciate your frustration.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> You know, I would never quote Engels or Lenin unless I had to. 
>  >>>>>> it happens Lenin is completely right on this point, even if he 
>  >>>>>> boringly spin it out to sledgehammer weight. It was not without
>  >>>>>> reason that Ilyenkov devoted a whole book to defending MEC in 
>  >>>>>> 1970s, and had great difficulty getting it published inside or
>  >>>>>> outside of the USSR.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> It is most important to recognize that what Lenin is talking 
>  >>>>>> is consciousness as a *philosophical category*. Note that 
>  >>>>>> is simultaneously defined in the same way, and whatismore matter
>  >>>>>> is defined as a category *derivative* of "consciousness"! How
>  >>>>>> about that for philosophical materialism! Consciousness is what 
>  >>>>>> are given immediately, and the idea of "matter" is derived from
>  >>>>>> that, i.e., the conviction that something else exists. So we 
>  >>>>>> turn to Hegel for an answer to this question, because for Hegel
>  >>>>>> *it is all thought*! "Being," for example, the starting point of
>  >>>>>> the Encyclopedia, is a category of thought. Again, Hegel derives
>  >>>>>> matter as a subcategory of Spirit, but only through the
>  >>>>>> Matter/Form dialectic, not the Matter/Thought dichotomy.
>  >>>>>> Nonetheless, it is absolutely ruled out that you can derive a
>  >>>>>> "science of matter" or a "science of consciousness" (i.e. 
>  >>>>>> science or psychology) from these philosophical categories. 
>  >>>>>> on the other hand, tried to derive natural science from the
>  >>>>>> concept of space, and he was wrong in that. Likewise in 1908, a
>  >>>>>> lot of scientists and Bolsheviks were concluding that "natural
>  >>>>>> science had proved that matter does not exist," and a whole lot 
>  >>>>>> other rubbish which was causing havoc inside the Bolshevik Party
>  >>>>>> suffering at the time from a period or repression and reaction.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> If you want a deconstructionist response to the question, then 
>  >>>>>> M. Derrida or M. Foucault exactly what exists "beyond the text"
>  >>>>>> ... if anything.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> Random points.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> Lenin had not read Hegel or Kant in 1908, but he had been 
>  >>>>>> by Plekhanov who had read everything. Plekhanov was his teacher 
>  >>>>>> philosophy. (BTW, Plekhanov was also one of LSV's teachers in
>  >>>>>> philosophy I suspect)
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> You say that LSV's claim that "consciousness is material"
>  >>>>>> contradicts the claim that matter as a philosophical category is
>  >>>>>> "that which exists independently of consciousness." The only way
>  >>>>>> that I can interpret your meaning here is that you insist on
>  >>>>>> interpreting the conceptual claim in "substantialist" terms. If
>  >>>>>> you want to insist on concepts as names for things, then 
>  >>>>>> clarity can never be achieved here. See Davydov.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> If I make a distinction been marble and statue, does that really
>  >>>>>> prevent me from claiming that Michelangelo's David is marble? or 
>  >>>>>> million such examples. A categorical distinction does not divide
>  >>>>>> the universe into two groups of stuff or things.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> You are now claiming that Cs is material. OK, so my thought of 
>  >>>>>> dollar in my pocket has no categorical difference from the 
>  >>>>>> that may actually be in my pocket? Consult your Kant. Lenin was
>  >>>>>> perfectly aware of the symmetry between his claim and Kant's and
>  >>>>>> says that the difference, however, is that the thing-in-itself 
>  >>>>>> continuously passing into appearance, rather than there being an
>  >>>>>> impenetrable barrier between appearance and thing-in-itself (not
>  >>>>>> the categories of course, but the content). Arguing here exactly
>  >>>>>> along Hegelian lines, though it is certainly possible to argue
>  >>>>>> with Lenin's philosophy on this as well as other points in the 
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> You say: "to write that material reality is what exists
>  >>>>>> independently of Cs is really misleading." (NB, not "material
>  >>>>>> reality, but matter - not the same at all) And OF COURSE we add
>  >>>>>> that "Cs does not exist independent of material reality." This 
>  >>>>>> Lenin, the philosophical materialist remember. But you kow, you
>  >>>>>> can't argue this from God's eye view, looking down on human life
>  >>>>>> from the heavens. Descartes had a point: how does he (Descartes)
>  >>>>>> know that the material world exists? Only by means of
>  >>>>>> consciousness. Now, you can start from a truth and argue your 
>  >>>>>> into falsehood, but if you start from a falsehood - that you 
>  >>>>>> (??) that the material world exists even without consciousness -
>  >>>>>> then you cannot argue your way to truth.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> Enough.
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> It is a difficult question, and one known to often lead to 
> acrimony!!
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> Andy
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> --
>  >>>>>> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>  >>>>>> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
>  >>>>>> Ilyenkov $20 ea
>  >>>>>>
>  >>>>>> _______________________________________________
>  >>>>>> xmca mailing list
>  >>>>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>  >>>>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
>  >>>>> _______________________________________________
>  >>>>> xmca mailing list
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>  >>>>
>  >>>> --
>  >>>> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  >>>>
>  >>>> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>  >>>> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
>  >>>> Ilyenkov $20 ea
>  >>>>
>  >>>> _______________________________________________
>  >>>> xmca mailing list
>  >>>> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>  >>>> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
>  >>
>  >> --
>  >> 
>  >> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>  >> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
>  >> $20 ea
>  >>
>  >> _______________________________________________
>  >> xmca mailing list
>  >> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>  >> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
>  >
>  >
> -- 
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
> Ilyenkov $20 ea
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
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Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
Ilyenkov $20 ea

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