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Re: [xmca] Consciousness


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 

Does consciousness utilize concepts?  Is this stream of consciousness flow 
from Paula's recreation of the blocks experiment?


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, 

        cc:     "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        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?

Martin Packer wrote:
> Andy,
> I guess I'm being dense. Why is this THE fundamental question? and not 
> the distinction between animate and inanimate, or the existence of the 
> 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, as 
>> opposed to not-living matter, has a history. In my reading, it reached 
>> a peak and resolution in the late 19th century with Helmholtz's proof 
>> 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, there 
>> 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 is 
>> 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 quantum 
>> 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 in 
>> 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, and 
>> 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 is 
>> a material action, and a cause.
>> But we get the same kind of problem with psychology. While continuing 
>> to reject the idea of thinking developing according to laws 
>> independent of the material world (I mean WHO makes such a claim??) we 
>> 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 consciousness." 
>>> I completely agree. Earlier you wrote "matter is what exists outside 
>>> and independently of consciousness." I suppose that's one concept of 
>>> 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 don't 
>>> know either the history of science or the history of philosophy well 
>>> enough to name examples of the top of my head, but I would be willing 
>>> 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 be 
>>> 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 reproduction, 
>>> 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 matter. 
>>> You say "if everything (even Cs) is matter, then matter is nothing." 
>>> Would you also say "if everything (even life) is matter, then matter 
>>> 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 matter 
>>> 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 of 
>>> investigation, separate from science. Perhaps one day it will seem a 
>>> truism to say that Cs is material, but that certainly isn't the case 
>>> today.
>>> I suspect that, as usual, we are more in agreement than disagreement, 
>>> 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 you 
>>>> 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 have: 
>>>> 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 the 
>>>> 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 consciousness.
>>>> 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 the 
>>>> 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 mean 
>>>> what it is commonly taken to mean, and Descartes' claim that thought 
>>>> 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 Althusser's 
>>>>> 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 the 
>>>>> 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 considered 
>>>>> 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 (mine, 
>>>>> at least) a general description of the formation of stars, planets, 
>>>>> early forms of life, and the evolution of hominids. In this 
>>>>> evidence-based description the material world existed prior to Cs. 
>>>>> 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 will 
>>>>> continue to do so. Matter in the C19 sense *did* cease to exist in 
>>>>> 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, considered 
>>>>> 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 recognition 
>>>>> that embodied Cs is important, and neglected. The kind of Cs that I 
>>>>> am depending on when I ride a bicycle is often ignored by cognitive 
>>>>> science yet it is essential to our daily lives, and it is surely a 
>>>>> 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, I 
>>>>>> appreciate your frustration.
>>>>>> You know, I would never quote Engels or Lenin unless I had to. As 
>>>>>> it happens Lenin is completely right on this point, even if he did 
>>>>>> boringly spin it out to sledgehammer weight. It was not without 
>>>>>> reason that Ilyenkov devoted a whole book to defending MEC in the 
>>>>>> 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 about 
>>>>>> is consciousness as a *philosophical category*. Note that *matter* 
>>>>>> 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 we 
>>>>>> are given immediately, and the idea of "matter" is derived from 
>>>>>> that, i.e., the conviction that something else exists. So we can't 
>>>>>> 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. natural 
>>>>>> science or psychology) from these philosophical categories. Hegel 
>>>>>> 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 of 
>>>>>> 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 ask 
>>>>>> 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 trained 
>>>>>> by Plekhanov who had read everything. Plekhanov was his teacher in 
>>>>>> 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 obviously 
>>>>>> 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 a 
>>>>>> 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 the 
>>>>>> dollar in my pocket has no categorical difference from the dollar 
>>>>>> 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 is 
>>>>>> 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 is 
>>>>>> 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 way 
>>>>>> into falsehood, but if you start from a falsehood - that you know 
>>>>>> (??) 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 
>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>> -- 
>>>>>> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>>>>>> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
>>>>>> Ilyenkov $20 ea
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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>>>>> _______________________________________________
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>>>> -- 
>>>> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>>>> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
>>>> Ilyenkov $20 ea
>>>> _______________________________________________
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>> -- 
>> Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
>> Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov 
>> $20 ea
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Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, 
Ilyenkov $20 ea

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