Paint Chip Salad
Aphorism of the Day: The mind is simply the dim shadow of what the brain sees peering through the glutinous fog of itself.
One last eye-crosser…
When Metzinger’s Being No One came out, I snapped it up thinking that at last I had found a theoretically kindred spirit. Metzinger himself told me he thought the differences between my position and his were ‘insignificant’ after he had read Neuropath. But Metzinger is a representationalist (a very open-minded one), whereas I see ‘representations,’ the notion of ‘things’ standing in causal-cum-logical relationships to other ‘things,’ as being precisely the kind of conceptual confusion blind brains are apt to indulge in. Because we are trapped with the products as given, the tendency is to think of them as distinct from the processes that underwrite them–to think ‘tree for me here’ is linked to ‘tree in itself out there.’ The intuitive tendency, in other words, is to conceptualize all the intervening processes under the conceptual rubric of relations, something which possesses an implicature all its own–one which could very well be a blind alley. To risk running afoul a kind of product/process ambiguity.
Thanks to conceptual path dependency, the differences between me and Metzinger stack up from there. So Metzinger, for instance, likes to talk about models (such as the famous ‘phenomenal self model’). Even though there is no such thing as a ‘self,’ in his account, there is a phenomenal self, which is to say, something illusory. In my account, I’m not even sure there’s even this!
Do we experience selfhood? Certainly. So the pivotal question then becomes one of quiddity: Just what do we experience? A kind of simulation, Metzinger would say (one requiring NCC’s). As crazy as this sounds common-sense-wise, it makes wonderful intuitive sense at a conceptual level. My position doesn’t even enjoy this intuitive advantage (which is probably why no one seems to know what the hell I’m talking about–me included). Does it make sense to say that the ‘trailing into absent oblivion’ of our visual field is a kind of simulation? Not at all. And yet I’m suggesting that nothing less than self-identity is a version of this. Pile onto this a welter of other functions, some possessing NCC’s, some not, and you arrive at the morass we ‘experience’ as selfhood. The self is neither real nor a simulation.
Then just what is it? Got me. Confused, maybe? Incoherent. Given its evolutionary youth, perhaps this is what we should expect.
As someone, I think, pointed out in the comments, the thumbnail ‘explanation’ of transparency I provided earlier has been around a long time. All I’m adding is a different conceptual spin, and suggesting that the blindness that enables the brain to open up a window on the world within itself, also mandates many other things, the frame for a ‘self’ among them.
Encapsulation Theory, you might say, attempts to explore what happens when the skin of things is constitutively confused for the meat. (You could imagine an ‘encapsulation account’ of say, mathematics, moral reasoning – pretty much anything). It is an attempt to correlate the peculiarities of experience with the structural and developmental facts of our blind brains. Why is today always the first day of the rest of my life? Why is it always somehow the same now, the same here, even though it is most definitely not the same now or the same here? Because a corresponding temporal oblivion accompanies the visual oblivion that encloses our visual field. Because the conscious brain hangs in temporal oblivion, the result of an information environment it has no access to. Because, in a strange sense, we’re bubbles without an outside.
So, IF consciousness is the product of neural reflexivity, the brain tracking itself, then, because of blindness and encapsulation, we should expect it to run into difficulty placing itself in its environments, for one. Since the brain cannot see itself as another object in the environment, it has to see itself as something else–like a soul, mind, Dasein, transcendental ego, and so on.
We should also expect it to have difficulty relating itself to its environments. Given the complexity of its inner environment, its relative evolutionary youth, and so on, there is no way it can use the machinery it uses to track causal transactions in its outer environment to track itself–or other brains for that matter. Heuristic kluges are all the conscious brain possesses, things such as purpose, morality, aboutness, and so on. Since these kluges are its cognitive baseline, they are literally what it means to ‘comprehend’ (to enjoy the feeling of understanding) whether they are in any sense ‘accurate’ or not. Since these kluges turn on the actual machinery of our environmental interaction, they will always appear ‘adequate,’ no matter how they distort they actual processes. Since these heuristic kluges exhaust the conscious brain’s access to its own inner workings, they will always seem the ‘most real,’ and therefore the primary explananda.
Because of all this, and since these heuristic kluges are just that, heuristic kluges, the conscious brain will be perpetually mystified, even moreso as it begins thoroughly decoding the causal complexities of its external environments. Some conscious brains will affirm the priority of the heuristic kluge (everything has a purpose), while others will affirm the priority of the causal environment (like, shit just happens, dude), and still others will continually attempt to reconcile the two (enter Dennett).
We should expect, in other words, something like the philosophy of mind. What is more, we should expect that any extra-terrestrial intelligence will also have its own philosophy of mind, with its own debates regarding its own heuristic kluges, which may or may not resemble our own.
High on the long list of Books-I-Want-to-Write, is an SF piece where the aliens possess genuinely alien categories of consciousness. Imagine a species who evolved to ‘own’ their behavioural outputs not with the ‘feeling of willing’ as we did, but with something different, a ‘feeling of accompanying’ say. Imagine something like ‘morpose,’ a category that fuses purposiveness and propriety/morality. Or how about a consciousness that experiences its environment under the rubric of from instead of about, so that the witness catches a glimpse from the murderer, rather than of…
The list goes on and on. Playing the philosophy game might be like eating paint-chips, but you have to admit, there’s something to be said for barfing art…