Friday, May 25, 2018

The Foundation of Morality

You can't feel others feelings and sensations; if you did "they" would be "you"! Instead the third person account of humanity only yields: a) behavioral patterns at the macroscopic level and b) a
complex dynamic molecular network at the microscopic level. 


I recently had a discussion with a Facebook friend (Chris Erskin - he's happy having his name published here) about the basis of morality. Although Chris is not an atheist (He is in fact a Christian) he is troubled by the question of what atheists base their morality on. Like myself he can't quite write-off atheism as a world view which necessarily leads to an amoral stance and he believes they do have grounds, even apparently without God, to behave morally. But if so, from whence does this morality come?  The following was Chris' opening gambit:

I am struggling to wrap my head around the atheist perspective of good and evil. If it is purely natural, as in a genetically evolved reflex or emotional response then how can it be said to exist at all? If it does exist then does it matter, if something that is said to matter is something that is of consequence. Nothing mankind does is of consequence as it it will all be forgotten and eventually destroyed. The only way I can see that it matters is if an atheist thought that we had transcended our nature somehow to achieve morality and that a good action remains a good action despite it being brief. That is hard for me to understand so any help?

True, atheism does have an abstract philosophical problem over the nature of morality; why should behavior be constrained by anything other than a mere survival ethicBut in spite of atheism's philosophical difficulties here, atheists themselves, on a practical level, can display exemplary morals by human standards. After all: 


13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:13-16)

But can we say more about conscience and those inner secret thoughts which give atheist and theist alike their hidden inner universal moral compass?  I believe we can.

Below I reproduce the discussion I had on the question with Chris E. But my own answers to this question depend on what I consider to be axiomatic; namely, that human beings have a private first person conscious perspective; without this axiomatic foundation the universal basis for morality disperses like an early morning mist; even for Christians. Having said that, however, I can't answer for those atheists* who attempt to deny the existence of consciousness and regard it as illusory. In fact Barry Arrington, supremo of the de facto Intelligent Design site Uncommon Descent, criticises atheist Sam Harris who, according to Arrington, claims consciousness is an illusion  Below I quote from Arrington's article (With my emphases):


Long time readers know we have occasionally indulged in Sam Harris fricassée in these pages.  See here, here and here for examples.  Harris is one of the leading proponents of the “consciousness is an illusion” school, which means he denies the Primordial Datum – the one thing that everyone (including Sam Harris) knows for a certain fact to be true — that they are aware of their own existence.  [See here for more on Harris' views on consciousness]

I agree with Arrington's objection. As Arrington says Harris will, in fact, know the Primordial Datum to be a self-evident reality; but of course, that doesn't necessarily stop him outwardly denying it as a reality. My own view is that even if we should have in our possession a complete neuro-molecular account of human brain functioning (an idea I'm actually in great sympathy with - I'm not a fan of ghost-in-the-machine dualism) it would still not do away with the first person conscious perspective - in fact it requires it. (See here for more on this subject. See also my footnote below on John Searle*). 

However, I depart from Arrington in his next comments:

That said, we will be the first to admit there is an integrity – of a sort – to Harris’ silliness.  He understands that his materialism precludes, in principle, the existence of immaterial consciousness, and so he denies consciousness exists.  Yes, I know, it is gobsmackingly stupid.  But at least it is an honest sort of stupidity.

Where I disagree here with  Arrington is his implicit dualist ID mindset which envisages there to be a sharp dichotomy between the "immaterial" and the "material". It is this dichotomy which leads to de facto ID's self-inflicted philosophical fault line between intelligence and so-called "natural forces". In my view one can not separate cognitive self-awareness from the so-called "material" (Once again see here for more on this subject). I've taken de facto ID to task over this false dichotomy many times before on this blog so I will say no more at this juncture. That Arrington somehow perceives an honest logic in Harris' position is a sign that they share a Western dualist category system which sets "the supernatural" against "natural forces". 

Nevertheless, I agree with Arrington that Harris' position, if in fact he holds it, is gobsmackingly stupid; it is the self-beguiling of someone who is unwilling to accept something he knows not only to be true and but which also underwrites truth. For as Arrington suggests, Harris will in his heart of hearts be aware of the Primordial Datum; it is the starting point on which objectivity is rooted in as much as all observation of the objective must evidences itself via our first person experiences. Likewise, as I propose below,  it is also the corner stone of morality and one's secret moral compass within.  

Whatever an atheist like Harris may say in public, his morality, such as it is, only makes coherent sense if he believes the reality of other human beings to not merely reside in a facade of elaborate behavioral patterns registering in Harris' solipsistic interface of personal experience, but are also centers of conscious sensations of joy, pleasures and pains like himself. The occasional denial of the first person perspective may actually have its roots in anti-theism: For to admit that human beings have a first person perspective which necessarily doesn't and cannot figure in a third person account of human beings is uncomfortably close to theism's positing of a cosmically embracing divine first person perspective.

The contents below appeared on Facebook.

***

Hello Chris;

A rather long post I’m afraid. The contents here were destined for my blog, but I’ll lumber you with them as well. Below I take quotes from your post and interleave my own comments. 

The secret of morality (in my view) is that we see other human beings as having a first person perspective like our selves - that is, as entities with a consciousness of pains and joys etc. If we are well tuned into this empathetic extrapolation the feelings of others become our feelings to a greater or lesser extent. This is probably the basis of the Golden Rule (See James 3:9 and Romans 13:8-10) and also atheist morality. However, we have a big issue here. The third person (scientific) perspective only ever yields human beings as patterns of behavior and/or configurations of particles. Accordingly,  some people  (notably some atheists) have proposed that that sense of conscious feeling which is the basis of morality (that is, the first person perspective) is entirely illusory! It may be that these atheists feel uneasy about something which as far as science's third person language is concerned remains (by definition) unobservable and may look like the thin end of the theistic wedge. It is when one attempts to reduce the first person perspective to just a third person perspective that the meaning of morality becomes a problem. The two perspectives of the first and third persons must run in parallel for a meaningful morality to emerge. One needn't be a theist for this to happen. Take for example the atheist philosopher John Searle who acknowledges the first person point of view as an irreducible feature of our universe.**

QUOTE: I am starting to see I have stumbled on an area of philosophy that hasn't changed much in the last few hundred years with a consistent clash between free will and determinism. I think you are right to put the moral decisions of right and wrong within the gaps of the two greater theories but it also fairly unsatisfying! If free will is an illusion through biological evolution then so is the decision making process of moral law. The problem is then justifying through evolution alone the huge amount of resource of calories and blood that goes into making us under an unnecessary illusion of free will. UNQUOTE:

MY COMMENT: I have always had a major problem identifying a coherent meaning to the “Free will vs determinism” dichotomy. I’m neither denying nor affirming either side of this dichotomy – I’m just saying that neither are intelligible as concepts. For every finite pattern you observe there is at least one mathematical function of greater or lesser computational complexity which can be used to generate that pattern. Therefore because this kind of mathematical predictability is an almost trivial mathematical theorem it raises the question of just how useful “determinism” and its negation “free will” are as concepts. Patterns are just patterns with varying levels of mathematical tractability. Ergo, in my view, “determinism” and “free will” are both of illusory significance. If I may put it stronger; they are both bogus categories. Forget them.

QUOTE: The other end of the spectrum is the theist [does he mean atheist? Ed] that denies the physical attributes of consciousness who is also wrong. I see why you agree with Leighton in his middle ground. Yes biological evolution produces real free will (probably) and with free will comes an external understanding of empathy which can be used to want to buffer others experience of pain, as an example, as you would yourself. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Well OK, let’s accept for the sake of argument that evolution has generated entities called humans, entities which have the first person perspective of conscious cognition. Given the latter humans therefore have the potential to engage in a kind of empathetic projection which means they are able to identify one another also as centres of conscious cognition. This realisation, however, has amazing implications: It means that so-called “matter”, if assembled into the right configurations, results in the first person perspective of conscious cognition. This is an astounding property of matter for it suggests that the potential for conscious cognition and personality is an inherent and implicit property of matter.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think you are agreeing with me that the innate ability of human beings to project empathetically, thus enabling them to identify other humans as centres of conscious cognition, is an important precursor of morality. But if consciousness is an implicit property of matter (that is, matter in the right configurations) it follows that our taboo against obnoxious behaviour isn’t just a kind socially constructed rule that arbitrarily defines the category of “obnoxiousness”: This follows because the taboo actually has its origins in the fundamental character of matter and its implicit potential for giving rise to a social network of self-conscious beings who in turn have the potential to infer something about what one another are feeling. If the first person perspective and its potential for empathetic projection has its origins in particulate configurations of matter it follows that the fundamentals of morality also have their basis in our physical regime and not merely in social construction. This understanding should be no problem for a Christian because for the Christian the physical regime is God created and therefore it is no surprise that it has what in Western dualistic language would likely classify as something tantamount to a “supernatural” attribute; that is, the potential to generate the first person perspective of conscious cognition. No wonder some atheists find consciousness hard to stomach. 


QUOTE: I still think this middle ground lacks the explanation of moral law unless it can be reasoned as a sort of mutually developed group approval. Even in this case I would argue it is just the methodology behind an evolved mechanism and therefore holds little value as the thing by which we feel we understand values such as justice. The wrongdoer would just be someone who failed to have the genetic or social make up in which to maintain correctly the normal values that we assume within the culture. The truth that this isn’t the case is acted out constantly in people’s furious anger against those who they know to have done wrong. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Although I think it’s true that morality does become socially embroidered with a lot of arbitrary rule driven complexity obeyed by way of rote rather like a computer following its program (especially in religion), I’m proposing that the underlying kernel of morality is based on the fact that matter has the potential to generate self-conscious cognating identities and with it the potential for empathetic projections to be made between those self-conscious identities. Thus it follows that what underwrites morality is not arbitrary social convention, but surprisingly, the fundamental physical regime itself which, of course, for the Christian is created, sustained and managed by God himself.

Human anger results when they believe that another centre of conscious cognition, of which it is assumed has the capability to make the right empathetic projection, nevertheless insists on engaging in offensive behavior which is careless of the feelings of others. In this sense the meaning of "sin", the word which appropriately has  the "i" in the middle, is clear, but there is an epistemic problem in identifying whether "sin" exists in particular cases. The epistemic problem is that a person’s offensive behaviour may have mitigating unseen circumstances like, for example, an autistic problem with identifying people’s feelings etc. But if one’s genetic makeup has given one the ability to make a correct empathetic projection and yet one still engages in offensive behaviour then sin is sin, even if it takes an omniscient divine perspective to identify its presence with certainty. It is an irony that what you identify as “genetic determinism” is the very thing which bestows the responsibilities of morality upon us: For surely it is the right genetic make-up which is required to generate the brain capable of giving us insight into the feelings of other minds and therefore the choice on how to respond to those inferred feelings. (Psychopaths may be deficient of the ability to empathetically project)

QUOTE: The response you would expect if it was merely a deviation from the expected behaviour would be more like - "Apologies we the majority have decided that your physical individual interpretation of morality does not fit in well with our society at this time. Despite the fact that it seems unreasonable to lock you up we have decided to take this course of action. We hold no hard feelings or ill will towards you as we understand you are only working with the confines of your genetics, your experiences and your ability to empathize" UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Yes and no. “No” because we’re not talking arbitrary social fiat here. For reasons I’ve already given fundamental morality has its basis in the fundamental character of matter and its God given potentiality to generate conscious personalities and by implication the potential for empathetic projection. And “Yes” because judging whether or not an individual has willfully neglected his/her capability for empathetic projection is, as I have already said, epistemically precarious. Hence human social justice, in my view, should err on the side of serving the role of pragmatic deterrence and restorative justice, rather than judging sin – the latter is God’s role not ours.

QUOTE: Instead now more than ever the response is fury and disgust at those that dare disagree with your world view. In this way I think they prove the belief in a right to hold others to a far higher account then merely the biological. UNQUOTE:

MY COMMENT: Ironically (in my view) it is the mere biological that gives us morality! That “higher account”, as you call it, is, I propose, found in the very low level details of created matter itself; to be precise (I suspect) the details of quantum biology. If true, what an irony!

 QUOTE: Leighton’s point that it isn't evidence of a higher being is probably true. Despite using Jesus summary of the entire Bible as evidence that we no longer need a higher beings morality. It does show that the idea of moral law itself could be part of the illusory sense developed. My point about the overzealous commitment of those willing to condemn others also works as well to prove that the higher moral law is an abstraction that solidifies conviction and doesn't necessarily make it more true. UNQUOTE

MY COMMENT: Evidence is always an interpretation; in the light of this understanding of what constitutes so-called “evidence”, it is awfully easy to interpret the fact that conscious cognition, personality and therefore morality are implicit in our physical regime as “evidence” of theism. After all, it suggests that conscious personality is a fundamental potential of the cosmos. It’s then a very short intellectual journey into the world of the anthropic principle and the question of theism! This may be why some, repeat some, atheists prefer to declare the first person perspective as an illusion in order to cut this dangerous line of thinking in the bud.

***

Let me finish by noting again the irony that the so-called  “higher law” of morality is in fact written into the very low level fabric of matter! Western philosophy is held back by a gnostic “spirit vs. matter” dualism which sees them as two very different categories. In Western thinking either one of these categories tends to be dominated by the other, perhaps leading one or the other being declared as unreal or unworthy: That is, atheists tend to declare the spiritual to be unreal and Christian Gnostics declare the material to be profane. This dualistic philosophy also holds back our church life with its modern stress on a quasi-gnostic rendition of Christian experience. This alienates many Christians whose faith isn’t just based on “wow!” experiences. To be frank I've never really developed any synergy or rapport with Western Christianity myself, so I know the feeling.

Christian scientist Denis Alexander is worth reading on this subject. Like myself he is not in favour of dualism. See:

http://quantumnonlinearity.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/christian-world-views-part-2-christian.html




Footnotes:


* Atheist Daniel Dennett has also been accused of denying the existence of consciousness.  Philosopher John Searle says of Dennett's view:

To put it as clearly as I can: in his book, Consciousness Explained, Dennett denies the existence of consciousness. He continues to use the word, but he means something different by it. For him, it refers only to third-person phenomena, not to the first-person conscious feelings and experiences we all have. For Dennett there is no difference between us humans and complex zombies who lack any inner feelings, because we are all just complex zombies. ...I regard his view as self-refuting because it denies the existence of the data which a theory of consciousness is supposed to explain...Here is the paradox of this exchange: I am a conscious reviewer consciously answering the objections of an author who gives every indication of being consciously and puzzlingly angry. I do this for a readership that I assume is conscious. How then can I take seriously his claim that consciousness does not really exist?

** John Searle has been accused of sexual harassment. An accusation has surfaced that "Searle has had sexual relationships with his students and others in the past in exchange for academic, monetary or other benefits". It seems that when a pattern of such accusations emerge about influential males in high places we can safely conclude that there is no smoke without fire. It is ironic that in identifying the necessary precursor of morality (i.e. conscious cognition) Searle should show such a flagrant disregard for the feelings of those he has offended against.  Because philosophy tends to follow the vagaries of fashion, it is quite likely that Searle's behaviour has damaged his philosophy. More's the pity. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Atheist vs. Atheist, Evangelical vs. Agnostic.

The same spectrum of epistemic challenges, responses and moral attitudes can
be foundwherever you are. I think I know where I fit in this rough schematic! 


I have been aware for some time that all isn't well within the atheist sector andits not exactly a peaceful bed of roses. I haven't followed the squabbling in any detail but crudely speaking it seems to be the old left vs right split, with the former erring on the side of a "cultural" view of humans as social animals and the latter wanting to factor in what they consider to be the firmware of evolved biological realities; it is almost as if the row revolves around a software/hardware fault-line. According to the New York Times the biological hardware school of thought have come out and identified themselves as the "Intellectual Dark Web".  Once again I owe my news to PZ Myers' blog. Myers, needless to say, waxes lyrical about this atheist sub-group with his inimitable line in anti-superlatives:

They aren’t particularly intellectual, they’re not part of some “web” of something or other, but they are rather dark. Can we rename them the Dark Dorks? The list of members consists mainly of people who are demonstrable assholes.

Myers then lists some of the "Dark dorks":

Sam Harris
Eric Weinstein
Christina Hoff Sommers
Dave Rubin
Jordan Peterson
Heather Heying
Ben Shapiro
Douglas Murray
Joe Rogan
Maajid Nawaz
Bret Weinstein
Michael Shermer
Camille Paglia
Steven Pinker
James Damore

This list isn't 100% pure atheism: I believe Jordan Peterson has some kind of regard for Christianity. The New York Times article has melodramatic pictures of some of these protagonists in atmospheric darkened surroundings with deep contrasts between light and shade. Thus, the article gives them all the mystique of a group of radical, edgy anti-heroes, swooping in from the margins to save us from the grip of mean left-wing delusions. They are, it seems, the latest "cool-set". This glorification of the "intellectual dark web" is bound to go down like a feather sandwich with those who think they themselves are the heroes bulwarking the advance of evil! Myers goes on to say this about the "Intellectual dark web":

You know, if you really wanted to compile a list of the worst people in America, the shallow populists who poison the discourse with conservative toxins and Libertarian lies, that wouldn’t be a bad start. These are not particularly smart or interesting people — they are good at inflaming other assholes and acquiring a following, but that’s about it. And now they’ve got a great big long article in the New York Times, with grimdark portrait shoots of them standing about in the shrubbery at night.

My general impression of Myers is that he is basically an upstanding citizen and good person, but he is incredibly cantankerous and abrasive - you wouldn't want to be his carer when he gets old and grumpy, (no make that "old and grumpier") especially if you vote republican. He's posted a long running critique of Sam Harris. See here for a sample: 


I'm not getting into this fight in any depth: It's just an indication that humans take their epistemic and moral weaknesses with them wherever they go, no matter what "ism" they get into. The evangelical atheists are far from ushering in a brave new world any more than are the Christian fundamentalists. All in all, it just looks to be more of the same but with some different knobs on. 

However, let me just comment on the following taken from Myers blog which includes a quote from the New York Times: 

And just what is the dark intellectual foundation they’re trying to promote?
 Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women.
 Yes? So? No one argues against that. What we argue against is the idea that you can find consistent, biological differences in their minds, or that one gender is the lesser to the other.

As far as I can tell this quote gets close to the nub, if anything does, of the issue that divides the atheist left and "intellectual dark web"; in a word, the question of human nature. Although I haven't studied the subject hard my guess is that there is a mental skew between male and female although it is very likely to be highly statistical and the boundaries fuzzy.* Therefore there is no absolute justification for straight jacketing individual genders and/or channeling them against their natural grain.  People are very individual and unique in make up, just as are the planets:

39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 1 Corinthians 15:39-41

God made them male and female, but inevitably like many natural language categories the boundaries between male and female are fuzzy and provide no basis for doctrinaire and sectarian attitudes. The question of the nature of human nature, the most complex thing in the cosmos, still has so many uncertainties that it isn't sufficient justification for vicious infighting. But then I suppose it's true that where facts are scarce rows reign and political & religious interests move in to fill the gaps; that's part of the human epistemic predicament.  Moreover: 

Polarisation passion feeds. 
Passion polarisation breeds. 
Polarisation is passion's cause, 
for crusade and holy wars.

The voice of the crowd
is nothing but loud;
the nod and the wink
supports a group think.
Beware the crony.
It may be baloney.


Footnote
* The cognitive differences between male and female may have less to do with intrinsic capability differences than intrinsically different motivating interests which tend to push males and females, statistically speaking, in different directions of endeavor. Or, if we don't want to even admit this different starting point and maintain that there is no statistically significant difference between the cognition of males and females, it could be that the human mind is set up to drift in alternative directions if nurture should give it a little push, thus fixing in statistically significant differences between male and female minds with age. The possible combinations here are many and I'm not going jump on the polarised band-wagon.

Friday, May 04, 2018

On Consciousness and Matter

If the third person attempts to grasp the low level
reality of the first person this is "all" he sees. 

1. Introduction

I hold two concurrent views on the nature of consciousness, views that I believe to be logically symbiotic - that is, they are logically dependent on one another. These two views are:

View A): I'm certainly not the first to express the opinion that consciousnesses is unlikely to be some kind of special vitality over and above the general providential covenant of matter; that is, it is not  a feature patched in ad hoc style by God in order to turn what would otherwise be an insentient "robot" into a being with conscious cognition. I support the anti-dualist school of thought which sees conscious cognition as an inherent but potential property of matter. This potential is part of the divine providence of our physical regime. But this potential is only realized if matter is configured correctly; there is something about the way matter is used in the complex network we call the brain which gives it that first person perspective of having a conscious identity.

View B) And yet in spite of  view A I also hold the view that any model of the conscious mind and its so called “material” substrate only makes sense if we presuppose the a priori existence of an up and running complex conscious cognition. That is, it makes no coherent sense to talk of material elementa without assuming, a priori, the context of a fully blown consciousness by which these elementa are conceived and understood. 

So which is primary;  elemental matter or conscious cognition? Neither; they are co-dependent.

Let me explain…



2. Logical positivism


Opinion B goes back to my early philosophical days when I was impressed by the compelling nature of logical positivism. We tend to think of “logical positivism” as highly atheistic in nature but inadvertently it actually gives the game away because it places the observing cognating agent centre stage; that is, anything above and beyond immediate experiences and the theoretical thoughts of the cognating observer has a problematic claim to being a meaningful reality. Logical positivism presupposes that meaningful reality can only be hosted as a mix of observation and theory by a full blown conscious cognition engaged in the activity of embedding its experiences in theoretical narratives. It reminds me of what I have said before about the “bits” of a binary sequence: Binary “bits” are only intelligible entities in so far as they are, by definition, embedded in the complex higher level reality of the sequence. The sequence is presupposed to exist in order to give the concept of a “bit” meaning; a "binary bit" is meaningless without reference to a sequential context. Likewise, the elementa of so called “material reality" only have an intelligible existence if they have their place in the experience and thought life of a cognating agent and have been crystalized in conscious cognition as a coherent object.

So, that’s logical positivism for you in a nutshell. Logical positivists may wave their hand and accept that there is some kind of "material" reality out there which underwrites our coherent thought life, but it can offer no deeper meaning to that reality other than the immediacy of thought and experience.

But logical positivism  actually leaves us with considerable problems: Unless we are solipsists logical positivism prompts the question of just where it leaves the reality of things we don’t experience and cognate like, for example, long past histories, the planets of galaxies far, far away and the experiences of persons we never meet; these things suggest a reality independent of perception and cognition. If we are to retain the basic compelling idea from logical positivism that “material” objects only have meaning if they are hosted by an experiencing & thinking agent and yet at the same time give reality to what is not perceived and theorised about then there is one solution which presents itself: This solution is some kind of Berkeleyean idealism whereby we take Berkeley's cue to introduce God as the omniscient experiencer and cognator whose thoughts and feelings host a whole cosmos in every fine detail, thus underwriting reality and truth with the Divine.

In the forgoing form of idealism the reality of the world is less an independent gritty “material reality” – a concept which to my mind is not particularly intelligible – but rather a network of communicating conscious cognating agents with God centre stage as head cognater and experiencer who underwrites the meaningfulness of all that proceeds in the cosmos. This takes the basic idea of logical positivism that only experience and thought have a meaningful reality and at the same time addresses its main problem of fragmenting reality into a few islands of subjective human consciousness by suggesting there is an underlying universal cognating agent which gives us a harmonious & coherent cosmos: In order to bring a coherent unity to the fragmented world of pure logical positivism we introduce the all-embracing perceiver; an omniscient thinking and experiencing God whose thoughts embrace a whole cosmos. For it is clearly an intuitively outrageous idea to suggest that the cosmos “goes away” whenever human beings simply close their eyes and go to sleep!

This philosophical idealism won't, of course, be to the tastes of many, particularly as thought and mind have such a central place in idealism; that's likely to be seen as the thin end of the theistic wedge. Rather, those who have a preference for atheism are likely to feel that the concept of a gritty material world being the primary reductio makes much more sense to them. Fair enough, we all have our own a priori. philosophical preferences.




3. Complementary perspectives

A human being is an entity that can be grasped from two perspectives: 

Firstly from the first person perspective: “Inside” we all know what it feels like to be a stream of conscious thought and experience. So unless one is in denial about this as are, for example, those who subscribe to philosophies which declare “consciousness” is an illusion, a trick somehow played on us by a primary “gritty material reality”, the first person cognating perspective is a compelling and irreducible reality for those who know it.

Secondly, there is the third person perspective:  This is the perspective that one human being has of another human being. When I look at another human being I only ever see that person as “downloads” to my own experience, experience which is then organised by cognition into a concept (or theory) of that person. At the macroscopic level this perspective sees human beings as patterns of behaviour; namely, talk and action. At the microscopic level, however, the brain presents itself to the third person perspective as a complex pattern of chemical activity; namely, networks of neurons, molecular motions, atoms, fields etc.  By definition when a first person perspective takes a third person view of another human being that third person doesn’t see anything else other than his own experiences and the theoretical narratives about the nature of humanity into which these experiences are organised. Ergo, the third person perspective can only ever register first person consciousness as a blend of macroscopic behaviour and nano-machinery. But the latter turns out to be a very exotic kind of quantum machinery, if machinery it can be called. Moreover, the third person, unless he is some kind of sociopath, must see this exotic machinery to be evidence that it has, in fact, its own “internal” conscious first person perspective. But a third person perspective clearly can’t experience directly this first person's experiences without becoming that person!

I don’t accept the dichotomy of the material vs the spiritual.  The so called “material account” of the human mind, an account rendered in the scientific language of the third person, is simply one first person’s perspective on another first person perspective. The first person and the third person accounts of human consciousness are complementary accounts and must be held together as two sides to the same coin.

But when a first person perspective looks beyond himself at other human beings all he perceives is what God’s world delivers to his senses; namely, macroscopic behavioural patterns of action and if he looks closer the seething motions of microscopic configurations. Clearly, when we look at other human beings we are only going to see what our senses (and theories) deliver to our perception. But, and this is the big ‘but’, the  normal empathetic human observer sees past his third person observations  to infer the presence of a fellow conscious first person perspective.



4. The physical basis of consciousness

There remains however one pressing question. Viz:  What is the necessary and sufficient conditions  in the third person account of human beings for us to infer the presence of a fellow first person conscious perspective?  After all, it seems conceivable that with enough technical skill it is possible to construct a computer simulation that from a behavioural  point of view passes the Turing test. Is passing this test, as some suggest, sufficient criterion to infer the presence of consciousness or is it just a clever façade? If we go behind the scenes of a Turing-test-passing-computer we will, of course, find very different hardware to the human neural structure; I propose that the physical basis of human consciousness is very different to a silicon based machine; formal isomorphism is not a sufficient condition for consciousness; I suggest that certain potential qualities of matter must also be tapped into before we can say consciousness is present. I think it likely that a biological object like the human brain, being God’s biological object, (and not some “material” reality independently created by a demiurge) supplies clues from its microscopic physics and chemistry which tell us that this is a cognating object with a first person conscious perspective and not a mere Chinese room simulation (See Searle).  But this is a question I am working on.

In contrast if “consciousness “ is something which has to be patched in to the human brain as a kind of “supernatural” endowment by God himself then it follows that the first person conscious perspective could be absent from a biological object which otherwise is identical to a human being in both microscopic physical structure and behaviour. Such an idea is consistent with the dualist conception of humanity which sees people as machines inhabited by ghosts. This is not a sound philosophy in my opinion.


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5. Conclusions

It is common to believe that what we see around us has some kind of gritty particulate reality and that in some mysterious way humans “reduce” to this primary “concrete” reality. “Gritty”, “concrete”, “material”, “solid” are some of the metaphors which may be used to express the gut-feeling that a non-sentient reality is primary and that conscious cognition is secondary. This to my mind, however, should really be the other way round; “Gritty”, “concrete”, “material” and “solid” are unintelligible concepts if posited without positing mind first;  but this requires the positing of the complexities of mind, primarily God’s mind, as an a priori reality. “In the beginning God…”; only then does existence make sense

In this idealist vision of reality the mathematics of physics is not about primary elemental entities whose existence we try to express with metaphors like “concrete”, “grit”,  “matter” and “solid”  but rather this mathematics is about the organising principles which constrain the experiences, perceptions, and thought life of a community of first person conscious perspectives thereby giving their world coherence, intelligibility, harmony and not least provide the means by which sentient beings can understand their own inner workings. However, this idealist vision is only saved from fragmentation if one admits: “In the beginning God….”. 

Below is a quote taken from the prologue of my book "Gravity and Quantum Non-linearity" where I try to express why the first perspective and the theoretical third person perspective are mutually necessary; that is, they are co-dependent. 



Mind is thought to be composed of matter but this common sense view is challenged by a persuasive case for idealism; that is, that matter is composed of thought. The material of the cosmos is mathematically conceived as the interplay of complex loci in a Riemann space, but what actual reality does such abstraction have outside the mind? Is there anything beyond the stuff of minds corresponding to space-time loci? Can points and coordinates be anything other than cognita hosted by an advanced mind? In fact, is it even meaningful to make the “outside/inside mind” distinction given that the totality of our known world can only be that which impinges upon our minds? Even if we posit an independent “material world beyond the mind” we can only do so because it has been given to us to be able to conceive such a concept in the first place; the very idea of the “external” otherness of a material world must be constructed by the mind. We are therefore prompted to ask if there is any fundamental distinction between noumena and phenomena.

Purely third person accounts of the nature of the conscious mind - that is, narratives instigated by other conscious observers who make conscious beings their object of study - are clearly possible. But what do these third person observers find? They find that much about their sentient objects of study resolve themselves into the theoretical abstractions the mind itself has conceived, e.g. as computation and information realised in chemistry and physics. Thus, the mind as the creator and translator of scientific narrative is itself paradoxically an object written in that self same narrative. Conscious cognition can be theoretically described in terms of its own conceptual artifacts. In effect neural theory is consciousness as it appears from the point of view of someone else's consciousness, and to claim consciousness is just the activity of neurons is to obscure the a-priori role of consciousness by admitting it through the back door of third person descriptions. Of course, it may be that a complete neural description of mind can not be made, but if it should, then it would amount to little more than a mathematical reduction; a telling of the story of consciousness in terms of logical cognita. This logical reductionism does not imply the strong ontological reductionism of the kind of materialism that imputes a primary metaphysical reality to “concrete” elementa, such as fundamental particles.

For myself I have no problem with the concept of logical reductionism, for if God is a master mathematician then why not? Should this kind of mathematical reduction be possible it would constitute the ultimate elegant stroke of the whole rational coherent system we perceive the world to be: conscious cognition, like a software compiler that is written in the very language it compiles, can be described in its own terms. Those so called “objective” third person material concepts - neural computation, molecules and fields etc. - are none other than consciousness's view of consciousness, and are so bound up in a symbiotic relationship with mind as to make nonsense of the mind versus matter dichotomy.  Our theoretical constructions have a holism about them in that they presuppose an up-a-running sentience in order that they can be perceived; they have a self-affirming circularity built into their very structure.  The primary cosmic reality may be less some causative physical agency independent of sentience, but rather a kind of convoluted self-descriptive logic. Whether the structure of a good theory actually has a deep correspondence with some “hard material reality” beyond mind is really difficult to say. But the least we can say is this: our world presents such an integrated, consistent, seamless and coherent interface and is so thoroughly amenable to our simulations that sentience finds itself both subject and object. In this sense our world survives an in depth reality test and thereby fulfills a criterion of reality analogous to Turing's test for machine intelligence. The hard reality of our world exists at least in as much as it is capable of surviving the best test by which conscious cognition probes for that reality; namely, that this world comprehensively submits to theoretical simulation. We can ask for little more. 

 The ontology of the cosmos may be one of appearance only, it may be more than one of appearance, but either way our experiences, our perceptions, and our theoretical apprehension of them jointly constitute a nexus that is so internally coherent and consistent as to be beyond the wit of finite beings to expose them as superficial fabrications. Like Turing's hypothetical intelligent machine, the logical depth of our world is such that it stands up to elaborate cross checking. Thus, as far as we are concerned the reality of our world is constituted in its ability to survive this in depth testing and cross-examination. It is this grand rationality which gives this world its touch and feel of reality, a reality to which a radical anthropocentric or nihilistic notion of ontology fails to do justice: We don't contrive our experiences; we don't even, in actual fact, consciously construct our theories; they assemble themselves from unconscious depths. The rationality of our world is not some arbitrary anthropocentric construction, for mind and experience, if we allow them, conspire together, independently of whim, to create the perception of a comprehensible world that can be rendered using theoretical logic. The intuition that the physical world has a life of its own, independent of the minds that perceive it, is therefore difficult to gainsay, although we must concede that this intuition is itself a resident of mind. It is very difficult to prove that the basis of this intuition goes further than a logical positivist’s take on the coherence and consistency of our perceptions. At the very least, however, our world is an elaborate logical construction, and its very faithfulness to the principles of coherence and consistency is perhaps a sign of a deeper integrity which means that it actually is what it purports to show.

If sentient beings are to become aware of one another, they need a medium by which to understand one another; that medium they call "matter" with its full complement of theoretical sophistication. They then find that conscious cognition is "written" in the language of conscious cognition.  



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Postscript on Quantum observation

What constitutes an observation? Is the ambiguity in superpositions of quantum states only resolved when a conscious observer makes an observation? As has been pointed out before, if an observer is needed to remove quantum ambiguity it follows that even macroscopic objects could exist in a mixture of states: Take for example a motorised toy vehicle which has been arranged to go backwards or forwards depending on the detection of the output of a single quantum event. e.g. if the event is detected the vehicle moves forwards, whereas if it goes undetected it moves backward. Since quantum events can be ambiguous (that is, they can happen and not happen at the same time) does it then follow that this vehicle can move both backwards and forwards at the same time? So, if quantum ambiguity is allowed to influence the state of macroscopic objects up until some kind of observer is invoked then it follows that the vehicle can exist in a state where it could be in two positions at once; at least up and until an observer observes it!  This kind of scenario perhaps could be extended to whole galaxies affected by the butterfly effect of single quantum events thereby leading to a galaxy occupying several locations at once, all separated by millions of light years; that is, up & until an observer does some observing!*

This kind of reduction to the absurd has led me to doubt that observers are needed to “collapse” wave functions. Instead I have been thinking along the lines that there is some physical criterion which means that when there is a danger of an ambiguous quantum state mixing the states of a macroscopic system there is a discontinuous jump of the quantum state which ensures that the macroscopic world maintains its coherent integrity (BTW I don’t accept the decoherence account of quantum collapse). Anyway, this is an area I’m still working on and it also relates, I believe, to the question of consciousness.


Footnote:
* My work on gravity may suggest that the weak gravitational field is in fact a faint residue of this very process of macroscopic ambiguity!