Sam Harris on why Materialism is Nonsensical

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sciborg2

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« on: October 20, 2018, 11:31:44 pm »
The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

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Consciousness—the sheer fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience—is precisely what unconsciousness is not. And I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for it. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.
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TaoHorror

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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2018, 01:21:51 am »
The Samster is fun to read. Appears no gains still on where our thoughts come from and worse, the activity we witness in the brain does not seem near enough to produce our conscious experience which occurs without error - unless it doesn't as we can see with survivors of brain trauma/damage. I wonder what fractured/damaged consciousness is like ... but I'm not so curious to find out. That really horrifies me - that one day I fall to cracked/missing parts of consciousness, seems like it's hell, but maybe only as viewed by others - do sufferers actually suffer in such a state, or as their conscious is impaired maybe their experience of suffering is also impaired ... or maybe not and our mind is caged. I have no mouth, but I need to scream.
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2018, 08:49:33 pm »
The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

Quote
Consciousness—the sheer fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience—is precisely what unconsciousness is not. And I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for it. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.
Sam Harris seems to have run into the "Hard Problem of Consciousness", i.e. the relationship between conscious experience and physical processes. If you ask me personally, it's just a trivial non-problem. Why is it such a big deal that we "can't explain consciousness" in intentional terms or what have you? A physical description would be enough, and even if that's not tractable, approximations will do fine. I don't feel uncomfortable thinking about how my conscious experience is the result of proteins opening and closing due to ion concentrations etc. a trillion neurons etc.

TaoHorror

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« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2018, 10:16:13 pm »
The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

Quote
Consciousness—the sheer fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience—is precisely what unconsciousness is not. And I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for it. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.
Sam Harris seems to have run into the "Hard Problem of Consciousness", i.e. the relationship between conscious experience and physical processes. If you ask me personally, it's just a trivial non-problem. Why is it such a big deal that we "can't explain consciousness" in intentional terms or what have you? A physical description would be enough, and even if that's not tractable, approximations will do fine. I don't feel uncomfortable thinking about how my conscious experience is the result of proteins opening and closing due to ion concentrations etc. a trillion neurons etc.

But how/why does consciousness arise from that? If nothing else, it's a cool mystery worth exploring - might find some cool stuff.
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Callan S.

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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2018, 12:34:19 am »
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Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Removing 'information' and using 'physical interactions', I don't know why he'd say he doesn't understand it. Maybe he expects to suddenly understand every little part - but that's like looking at a print out of code for a program and if you don't understand all of it then you don't understand any of it. It's just giving up.

TLEILAXU

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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2018, 05:20:16 am »
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Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Removing 'information' and using 'physical interactions', I don't know why he'd say he doesn't understand it. Maybe he expects to suddenly understand every little part - but that's like looking at a print out of code for a program and if you don't understand all of it then you don't understand any of it. It's just giving up.
As Tao mentioned above, it's more about how e.g. a video-game arises from code. I still have a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around this problem and I still feel inclined to scoff say "what's the fucking problem?" but it's like, you gotta try putting yourself in the shoes of somebody who has spent a lot of time thinking about consciousness and how it arises etc. through intentional means.

sciborg2

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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2018, 09:08:39 am »
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Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Removing 'information' and using 'physical interactions', I don't know why he'd say he doesn't understand it. Maybe he expects to suddenly understand every little part - but that's like looking at a print out of code for a program and if you don't understand all of it then you don't understand any of it. It's just giving up.

IIRC Sam is a Neuroscience PhD, as such I doubt he's telling people in his own field to just give up researching the brain. Rather he's asking how you can go from matter that lacks consciousness to something that has consciousness - his object[ion], AFAICTell, is that there's a Something from Nothing problem.

I think Nagel said something similar, how describing the arrangement of atoms* that bring about consciousness wouldn't give you the answer as to why that arrangement works.

*Or chemicals, or cells depending on how far down you think you can go before you hit some disunity in levels of reduction.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2018, 10:04:25 am by sciborg2 »
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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2018, 02:48:17 pm »
Perhaps I am simply too dumb to understand Harris' point here, but I read both articles and am none the closer to why he chooses to bridge the gap from "don't understand" to "can't understand."  In the same sense, we cannot discern the nature of a human being from an one part.  So, my finger nail, so examined does not explain why I like vanilla over chocolate.  It also does not explain why there is an I at all.  This is self evident.  In the same way, I don't see why examine any neuron would give us an "answer" to what consciousness is.  Harris is also almost certainly right, in that consciousness is most probably an emergent property.  Brains most certainly give rise to consciousness.  So, then it must be some property of brains that allow for this, no?

I mean, I must be missing something, because 3,000 years for people way smarter than me have considered this and not gotten an answer...
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themerchant

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« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2018, 05:43:05 pm »
Quote
Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Removing 'information' and using 'physical interactions', I don't know why he'd say he doesn't understand it. Maybe he expects to suddenly understand every little part - but that's like looking at a print out of code for a program and if you don't understand all of it then you don't understand any of it. It's just giving up.

IIRC Sam is a Neuroscience PhD, as such I doubt he's telling people in his own field to just give up researching the brain. Rather he's asking how you can go from matter that lacks consciousness to something that has consciousness - his object[ion], AFAICTell, is that there's a Something from Nothing problem.

I think Nagel said something similar, how describing the arrangement of atoms* that bring about consciousness wouldn't give you the answer as to why that arrangement works.

*Or chemicals, or cells depending on how far down you think you can go before you hit some disunity in levels of reduction.

Sam Harris payed to do a phd (as opposed from coming up through undergraduate, masters then phd) he didn't do his own experiments, and then he wrote a book based on his phd work.
 
I'd be astounded if he could add anything to the field.

sciborg2

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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2018, 07:04:36 pm »
Brains most certainly give rise to consciousness.  So, then it must be some property of brains that allow for this, no?

I mean, I must be missing something, because 3,000 years for people way smarter than me have considered this and not gotten an answer...

Sam's definitely not saying nervous systems (and possibly other aspects of the body) have nothing to do with consciousness - even Idealists have to find some role for our biological systems, especially our brains.

He's saying there's likely no going further than finding the pattern of matter that corresponds to consciousness, in that we won't understand why that pattern of matter is the right one + why other patterns are wrong.

Of course this isn't something that will be settled by philosophers, barring one of them actually bruising the onta of our reality through sorcery. :-)
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #10 on: October 23, 2018, 03:38:48 am »
Brains most certainly give rise to consciousness.  So, then it must be some property of brains that allow for this, no?

I mean, I must be missing something, because 3,000 years for people way smarter than me have considered this and not gotten an answer...

Sam's definitely not saying nervous systems (and possibly other aspects of the body) have nothing to do with consciousness - even Idealists have to find some role for our biological systems, especially our brains.

He's saying there's likely no going further than finding the pattern of matter that corresponds to consciousness, in that we won't understand why that pattern of matter is the right one + why other patterns are wrong.

Of course this isn't something that will be settled by philosophers, barring one of them actually bruising the onta of our reality through sorcery. :-)
Thinking more about it, I definitely do think I completely agree with Sam Harris in this regard. I don't see us being able to understand why some neurophysical process is accompanied by experience, precisely because this is something that emerges from intentional reasoning.

sciborg2

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« Reply #11 on: October 23, 2018, 03:57:18 am »
Brains most certainly give rise to consciousness.  So, then it must be some property of brains that allow for this, no?

I mean, I must be missing something, because 3,000 years for people way smarter than me have considered this and not gotten an answer...

Sam's definitely not saying nervous systems (and possibly other aspects of the body) have nothing to do with consciousness - even Idealists have to find some role for our biological systems, especially our brains.

He's saying there's likely no going further than finding the pattern of matter that corresponds to consciousness, in that we won't understand why that pattern of matter is the right one + why other patterns are wrong.

Of course this isn't something that will be settled by philosophers, barring one of them actually bruising the onta of our reality through sorcery. :-)
Thinking more about it, I definitely do think I completely agree with Sam Harris in this regard. I don't see us being able to understand why some neurophysical process is accompanied by experience, precisely because this is something that emerges from intentional reasoning.

Yeah I share his pessimism - his logic seems sound - but I do accept that it might be awhile before we really get deep into the biological systems of consciousness let alone going down to the chemical then atomic levels.

Only then would this question be somewhat settled, if there were no answers at the bottom.
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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2018, 09:21:28 am »
IIRC Sam is a Neuroscience PhD, as such I doubt he's telling people in his own field to just give up researching the brain. Rather he's asking how you can go from matter that lacks consciousness to something that has consciousness - his object[ion], AFAICTell, is that there's a Something from Nothing problem.

I think Nagel said something similar, how describing the arrangement of atoms* that bring about consciousness wouldn't give you the answer as to why that arrangement works
They don't seem to be thinking about looking at an arrangement that would result them saying 'wouldn't give you the answer as to to why that arrangement works'.

Their critique is being done at a recursive level and absent a third recursive level to see the second, they don't consider seeing an arrangement that not only shows their critical responce, but makes sense that it would result in those critical words being uttered.



sciborg2

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« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2018, 06:51:59 pm »
IIRC Sam is a Neuroscience PhD, as such I doubt he's telling people in his own field to just give up researching the brain. Rather he's asking how you can go from matter that lacks consciousness to something that has consciousness - his object[ion], AFAICTell, is that there's a Something from Nothing problem.

I think Nagel said something similar, how describing the arrangement of atoms* that bring about consciousness wouldn't give you the answer as to why that arrangement works
They don't seem to be thinking about looking at an arrangement that would result them saying 'wouldn't give you the answer as to to why that arrangement works'.

Their critique is being done at a recursive level and absent a third recursive level to see the second, they don't consider seeing an arrangement that not only shows their critical responce, but makes sense that it would result in those critical words being uttered.

I don't understand this reply at all.
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« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2018, 08:33:43 pm »
I don't understand this reply at all.

I still don't understand this whole tread, nor Harris' point actually.

I must be missing several somethings...

In my mind, Harris points out that consciousness is an emergent propery of human brains.  OK.  He points out that emergent properties cannot be discerned by study of it's constituent parts in isolation.  OK.  Therefor, we cannot understand the emergent phenomena via it's parts alone?  This is obvious.

Stars are emergent properties of hydrogen.  But studying hydrogen up close doesn't tell us about sun spots.  In this same sense, consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, which is a collection of neurons (among other things).  Looking just at the neurons, fails to tell me why exactly I like vanilla more than chocolate.  Naturally, because we need to take into account the whole system. Consciousness is not just neurons, it's the whole function of all neurons and the whole system of the brain, in a similar way as to how a hydrogen atom doesn't tell us why there are sun-spots.

Clearly my understanding must be flawed.
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasűrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira