When we perceive something, what is the phenomenological experience of that perception? Do we experience it, as Edmund Husserl would have said, as a series of objects in space? Or do we experience it in a doxastic way, as an immediate sense of there is particular thing X – a sort of proposition that happens without words? Or do we experience it as a web of significance as Martin Heidegger thought? Here I will explore some of these ideas.
In the twentieth century, Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that existence precedes essence, which is the reverse order of what the Medieval philosophers believed. In this line of thinking, a thing first exists, and then due to its form of existing, it has essence bestowed upon it by observers. This is where the Existentialist idea of radical freedom came from. In the Medieval philosophy, you were your essence first, and it was God that bestowed upon you your existence. But that means your essence is immutable. In Existentialism, it is you that creates your essence to be what you want, and your essence is only determined by what you do, not by your intentions. What this idea ultimately concludes is that there is nothing special about an existing object apart from the meaning given to it by minds, or being-for-itself in Sartre’s parlance, denoting the objectness of the mind. But if the mind is an object, then what is it about the mind that makes it special, allowed to bestow meaning on the objects around it?
The following post is an excerpt from a book I’m writing that has to do with human consciousness and the human condition. In this section I discuss why materialism offers only an incomplete explanation for consciousness.
I am currently reading David J. Chalmers’ 1996 book “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory” which claims that, due to consciousness not being logically supervenient, there is no reductive explanation for consciousness. Thus Chalmers concludes that consciousness must be explained through a dualist paradigm. I have some issues with the argument.
Cartesian dualism has been a point of contention in philosophy since at least, well, Descartes. The dispute is whether the mind is a separate, immaterial entity from the physical body. Problems have plagued the dualist view since the time of Descartes, primarily how it is that the immaterial mind and material body interact.
Consciousness and qualia are problems that are still unsolved by philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. My way of viewing consciousness and qualia is that consciousness is the process by which our brains organize the world into working models and qualia is the ‘stuff’ that consciousness uses to generate those models. For better or worse, both of these exist due to evolutionary forces. That means they’re fine tuned to a very specific sort of survival, not for any pure understanding of the world or ourselves. In order to understand the limitations of our own minds, we need to know the inner workings of how the world is organized in our minds on a fundamental level. That requires knowing the structure of our minds.
The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted into other forms of energy – for example, if you slap the wall, the mechanical energy that goes into the slap is converted into the energy needed to produce sound. With Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 it is easy to see that conservation of energy translates into conservation of matter.
This dictum applies to the physical reality that we inhabit. But what about the individual that experiences this physical reality? What is the mind?