Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Roots of Consciousness

The Roots of Consciousness by Jeffrey Mishlove, PHD

Can't wait to read more - the section on Consciousness and the New Physics is very thorough.


brutus said...

Without delving beyond the table of contents, this appears to be a fairly comprehensive historical survey of the study of consciousness. However, I note that if one begins by accepting various shamanic and spiritual practices and explanations at face value, that acceptance pretty much sidesteps and invalidates the entire materialist explanation provided by the scientific orthodoxy. Bringing in quantum sciences only increases the muddle, as that's all theoretical, unobservable, and untestable.

Jeff said...

I'm finding that what matters to me most is precisely that - theoretical, unobservable & untestable (to others). I live in the world of my subjective experience; and the fact is, the scientific materialists can say nothing about it. The best they can do is describe the mechanics of my brain. It's rather like asking a scientist what a movie is about, and the scientist describing the mechanical process of projecting film on a screen... it really misses the point -- what matters is the content. The only way we can learn about the subjective world we live in is by listening to the content of other people's subjective experiences.

Also, it's interesting to see that shamanic and spiritual accounts are not muddled by quantum science, but fit right in with it-- furthermore, I find it quite telling that the rational materialist viewpoint is muddled by its own findings.

brutus said...

It's all about the questions one asks. If you want meaning, science is the wrong road to travel. But if you want truth, science hews closer than any other way of knowing. Personally, I can't warm to purportedly meaningful areas of subjective human experience if I simultaneously know they're garbage or just wishful thinking. Others clearly have no similar compunctions. Some envy others who live in a world of magical, mystical meaning. I don't.

We'll have to agree to disagree that quantum science adds anything useful to spirituality. Although I'm no expert, it looks like a gigantic self-con for those who seek such a synthesis.

Jeff said...

I agree that science, physics & mathematics are the best instruments for figuring out what is going on out-there; however, in the realm of consciousness (the in-here) science really takes a back seat to subjective experience. I'm with you on garbage/wishful thinking- and I'm not saying we take all accounts at face value- to do so would amount to contradictions on almost every level. What I am saying is that to dismiss subjective experience is to miss out on a great deal of wisdom.

So, you might ask, how do we distinguish the bunk from the truth when dealing with subjective experiences? In much the same way you'd come to any conclusion -- assess what they are saying, compare it to what others you trust are saying, look at their possible biases, check with your own intuition &/or test it out yourself.

I agree we need to be careful using using something confusing as a convenient explanation-- but just one more thing on QM, as I think it relates to our discussion of consciousness: I think it's interesting that the observer plays an important role in the deepest levels of QM.

brutus said...

We're now in a philosophical debate about epistemology. You're right that science (the umbrella term) tells us practically nothing about subjective experience. Various attempts to apply scientific rigor to aesthetics and psychology have failed or obtained only limited results. However, rational inquiry and the pose of objectivity are still the best ways of knowing, even though they can't tell us much about why a sunset looks pretty, why a melody works, how words fit together into poetry, or how and why our passions are inflamed. QM may well be an attempt still in its infancy to bridge the space between subjectivity and objectivity. However, as it currently exists, it's a bunch of doubletalk, and from the scientific perspective, embodies a fundamental error: solipsism.

So yeah, asking science to provide answers to questions about subjective experience or meaning misses the point, but seeking truth and knowledge through subjective experience is similarly ill advised. QM doesn't integrate those two ways of knowing nearly so much as you appear to believe.

Jeff said...

Thanks to your thoughtful comments, i've been giving a lot of thought about all of this. I think you're quite right about using QM to answer questions-- I've come to some new conclusions, here's what I gleam from it all:

The world exists as swirling potentialities -- which is really all QM can say-- and when we observe the world, these swirling potentialities appear as matter. We're pretty good at figuring out how this matter works and interacts with other matter. However, this ability to distinguish matter can be lost with the ingestion of certain hallucinogens (what people would call "melting") or when people have brain trauma (as happened in Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight). So what we learn is what Daniel Dennet seemed to be saying about this all being a 'user illusion' -- there is no matter, just what we observe to be matter. This is important for coming to the realization that many spiritual teachers have taught: we are all one.

As for seeking truth & knowledge through subjective experience -- that's the only way we can do it. Even science is based on subjective experience-- albeit well reasoned inter-subjectivity. But- there are many people out there who are wise, much wiser than myself, who i think i can learn things from and i think its wise to listen to those folks.

brutus said...

There is an unbridgable discontinuity between raw matter -- especially at the atomic or subatomic level -- and human experience. Just like the human ear translates wave forms into sight and sound, our consciousness translates phenomenology into narrative. But we can't perceive the underlying strata; it's beyond us. Trying to do so is chasing a chimera. And discounting matter and reality to mere swirling potentialities is to me quite silly. Sure, it can all be dissolved in altered states of consciousness. So what? Sleep does that, too.

It's true that human subjectivity is our only means of knowing; I knew that observation was coming. However, if trained to do so, we can adopt the pose of objectivity (not true objectivity in any sense) to get closer to universal truths as opposed to mere argument or interpretation.

As some point, this discussion may stack up as your gurus (shamans and QM folks) against my gurus (scientists), or even more reductively, your gods vs. my gods. We won't resolve it, and frankly, I expect mine to lose the debate because we're quickly becoming the folks depicted in the movie Idiocracy. Ah, well. They're still fun mental gymnastics.

Jeff said...

It seems like we're on almost the exact same page:

-"chasing a chimera" is precisely what i mean by "swirling potentialities."

-"so what?" I think the 'we are all one' realization is an important one that it has changed the lives of people throughout history, including mine. That's all.

-I love your gurus. They can't say much about the realm I'm primarily interested in (metaphysics, personal-enhancement, spirituality) but I don't mean to discount their work.

-My god includes your gods. Your gods tend to ignore mine.