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[Xmca-l] Re: Fate, Luck and Chance

Martin, to say "consciousness is an illusion" does not exclude the fact that thanks to life-experience it is a useful illusion; "completely an illusion" is not what anyone said and nor is that a useful expression. For example, when I am driving I use my rear-vision mirror, which presents me with an illusion - the car appears to exist ahead of me in inverted form - but thanks, as you say to the fact that I am "educated" with respect to mirrors, I can nonetheless steer my car successfully with the use of a mirror.

But of course it is not an illusion *that I have consciousness*. Using this word "illusion" (Vygotsky says "appearance" and "phantom" which are OK as well) is useful, not to argue against long-dead mediaeval French philosopher-scientists, but to deal with present-day neuroscientists who also tell us that "consciousness is an illusion" - that is, that they have looked into the brain and taken images of neuronal activity and sliced up the brains of animals and have not found consciousness. So to say that "consciousness is an illusion" is a very odd and ambiguous thing to say. It *is* an illusion, but I am not deceived in believing that I have consciousness. It is only thanks to this fine distinction used by Feuerbach, Marx, Lenin, Vygotsky and Ilyenkov that we can make sense of the claim by neuroscientists that "consciousness is an illusion" even though it is "real". It does not exist (since to exist means precisely that it exists outside of my consciousness) but it is real and an essential component of human activity.

The fact that we learn about consciousness "by making inferences" is not at all something unique to consciousness. As Vygotsky points out http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1925/reflexology.htm the historian, the geologist and the nuclear physicist and in fact *all* the sciences also study the object of their science "by making inferences" - not because history or geology or subatomic reactions are "personal."

*Andy Blunden*

Martin John Packer wrote:
Well I think we are generally in agreement, Andy. However, there are some points of difference that it might be worth exploring.

First, from the fact that consciousness is fallible it does not follow that consciousness is completely an illusion.  If that were the case, how could one come to judge its fallibility? How can you state with certainty that "My consciousness is an illusion"? No, consciousness is incomplete, and partial, but it can also be educated. Importantly, consciousness can come to know itself. And since I know the world not only from what I experience directly, in the first-person manner, but also from what others tell me and from what I read, I can become aware of the limitations of my own consciousness in this manner. (Consciousness is both natural and social, as I mentioned in a previous message.) I know, these are also given to me in my consciousness, but I don't see that any insuperable problems arise as a consequence. Unlike Descartes, I don't believe that an evil demon is bent on deceiving me. Consciousness is our openness to the world, as Merleau-Ponty put it.

Second, since consciousness is personal, I have to make inferences about another person's consciousness. (With the exception of a few occasions of experiencing things together with another - like dancing salsa!) However, I also have to infer that, and rely on the fact that, my own consciousness is a material process. My own consciousness can be, and often is, outside my consciousness - this is, in a nutshell, LSV's argument in Crisis. In just the same way I come to learn that my digestion is a material process. I come to learn that my life itself is a material process - there is no 'life spirit' that animates me. Both life and digestion are, like consciousness, first-person processes, and nonetheless material processes. Perhaps I am helped in coming to these conclusions by observing other people, whose processes of living and digesting I cannot experience directly.
Where is the paradox here? It seems to me the paradox lies with those who say that experience is all in the mind, and yet at the same time that we can know the world. That was Descartes' paradox, and it remains the paradox, unresolved, of most of contemporary social science.


On Nov 24, 2014, at 5:48 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

I'll try to explain it my way, why "consciousness is a material process" despite the fact that "matter is what exists outside of and independently of consciousness" as you say, Martin.

In https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm#A
Marx said "My relation to my environment is my consciousness" although he crossed it out in the manuscript. But why did he suddenly introduce the first person pronoun here?

Everything I know of the world, in any sense of the word "know," I know through my consciousness, but my consciousness is an illusion, a phantom, and fundamentally different from that which is outside my consciousness and reflected in it. Nonetheless it is what I use to determine my actions in the world. I do not act exclusively through conditional reflexes like a simple organism as an immediate material process, but on the contrary, mediate my relation to my environment through my consciousness, which I learn, is not 100% reliable, because it is just an illusion, but is reliable enough and in any case is more effective thanks to socially constructed mediation, than nervous reflexes.

But *your* consciousness is also outside my consciousness, and therefore I must regard it as material, and if I am to get to know it, I rely on the fact that it is a material process, arising from your behaviour and your physiology, and although *like anything* I cannot have unmediated access to it, I can learn about it only through material interactions, the same way in that sense that I learnt your name and age.

But you are of course in the same position. A world of phantoms and illusions is all you have to guide your activity in the material world, too. Vygotsky says that the confusion arises "When one mixes up the epistemological problem with the ontological one". That is the relation between consciousness (an illusion) and matter (interconnected with all other processes in the universe) is actually an epistemological one, that is, of the sources and validity of knowledge, and not an ontological one, that is a claim that consciousness is something existing side by side so to speak with matter. So it is important that while I recognise that for any person the distinction for them between consciousness and matter is absolutely fundamental, I must regard their consciousness as a material process, explainable from their physiology and behaviour. This is not a trivial point. Consciousness is not neuronal activity. Neuronal activity is the material basis, alongside behaviour, of consci
 ousness, but the world is not reflected for me in neuronal activity, which I know about only thanks to watching science programs on TV. Consciousness is given to me immediately, however, and I am not aware of any neuronal activity there.
So yes, what you said was right, "consciousness is a material process," but I think it unhelpful to leave it as a paradox like that. And I admit it is unhelpful to be rude. Perhaps we both ought to exercise more restraint?


*Andy Blunden*

Martin John Packer wrote:
Don't get your point, Huw. A rectangle is generally defined as having unequal sides, in contrast to a square, so that's not helping me. Obviously (I would think) I am not saying that consciousness is the entirely of matter. Perhaps you can help me in my struggle...



I don't see that being rude advances the conversation.  When I assert a
position here in this discussion I try to base it on an argument, and/or in
sources that we all have access to. I'm certainly not trying to cloud any
issues, and I don't think that arguing from authority (one's own assumed)
dispels the clouds.  I guess I simply don't have access to "a whole
tradition of science."  :(

To respond to your other message, yes, I am arguing that consciousness
(and thinking) are material processes. They are consequences of (certain
kinds of) matter in (certain kinds of) motion.

Against whom am I arguing? I am arguing against all those psychologists
who argue that consciousness (and thinking) are mental processes -
processes which they believe take place in some mysterious realm called
"the mind" that is populated by "mental representations" of the "world
outside." I deal with people who make this argument on a daily basis. They
believe that the proper object of investigation for psychology is "mind,"
and so they have no interest in setting, or culture, or practical

Yes, Haydi's message is the portion of Crisis that I pointed to in my last