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Friday, August 5, 2016

Harry Binswanger on The Metaphysics of Consciousness

"What does it mean to say that consciousness is irreducible?

"We need a contrast, so let's contrast it with reducible.

"What are some things we can reduce? What is a reduction in the sense we are talking about?

"Well, we can reduce a whole to it's parts. Say, a box can be reduced to its top, bottom, front, back, sides. The reduction is possible because the whole is the sum of its parts. Or, we can reduce the box to the material of which its made, wood. The box is wood. An object is the material of which it's made.

"Now, can we do that with consciousness? Well, consciousness doesn't have parts, and it isn't made of stuff. Now, you might say, yeah, that's because consciousness is an action. Okay? So let's look specifically at what it is to reduce an action. Take a wave. Now fortunately we have a perceptual level wave in our culture, the wave that people do in sports stadiums. I could ask each row to stand up and do the wave by having you...I'm not going to, but you got the picture in your mind of what I mean by the wave? You foreigners know this phenomenon, people standing up in sequence? Okay.

"We could reduce that. We could say the resulting wave motion comes from the individual people standing up, going like this, and sitting down. Plus the order, the sequence in time. Now, this is a kind of reduction, reducing the overall wave to the individual people. It's a reduction of an action, because we've analyzed the overall wave into stages that are not themselves waves. Standing up, going like this, and sitting down, is not itself a wave. The wave is nothing more than these non-wave actions over time. So, in general, to reduce an action is to identify its constituents, and the constituents of an action are the entities that are acting and the stages of their individual changes. In the wave, the entities, the constituents, are the people, and the subprocesses or the sub-events are their individual standing up, raising their arms, and sitting down.

"Now, can we reduce the action of consciousness in that way? Consider a conscious action more closely now. Do we find that it's composed of nothing but non-conscious constituents in the way that the wave is composed of non-wave constituents?

"No. We don't.

"You're hearing my words right now. Now, let's analyze that to try and find something like we did for the wave. You hear word by word, maybe even sy-la-ble by sy-la-ble. There are smaller scale actions that make up the hearing over time, but you can't reduce it to non-conscious sub-events. You can reduce it to smaller bits of hearing, but you can't reduce the hearing to non-hearing in the way that you could reduce the wave to smaller scaled non-wave events.

"Now, I admit there are indeed unconscious sub-events going on, notably the brain events underlying hearing. But what do these brain events add up to? Remember that people standing up in the right sequence are the wave. It's just an issue of scale, right? So what do the brain events add up to? Small little brain events add up to: a big brain event. It doesn't add up to consciousness. Nor are there sub-entities for consciousness like the individual people who compose the wave."

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