Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness
Kaiserschmarren mit Apfelmus
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three positions on consciousness, which we’ve decided to define simply as the feeling that accompanies our being alive, aware of perceptive experience. The popular and orthodox view: consciousness is produced by your brain and exists exclusively in your head. This is supported by almost all neuroscientists and many philosophers. Most textbooks give this view as proved. The minority enactivist view: consciousness arises from our active engagement with the world and requires both subject and object to happen, so conscious experience is extended through the body and into the environment. Available in a wide range of variations, this view is supported by some philosophers and a few neuroscientists. The minority minority view, the Spread Mind, in which experience is made possible by the meeting of perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object. Excogitated by my friend, Riccardo Manzotti, there are hints of this position in the Presocratics, in the Buddhist tradition, in William James, in Bishop Berkeley, and many, many artists, novelists and poets. Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Wallace Stevens. ‘What are called outside and inside are one and the same,’ Beckett wrote. ‘She being part’, Woolf writes of Mrs Dalloway, ‘of the house there, being laid out like mist between the people she knew best . . . it spread ever so far, her life, herself.’ ‘This here and now seems to require us,’ says Rilke. And so on. Intuitions, not science.
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Another idea is that consciousness is a special quality that “supervenes” on, or simply emerges from, the neural activity, something that just starts to happen when you have enough neurons sparking and they’re all connecting and interconnecting and feeding back and forth in sufficiently complicated ways. Not the neurons themselves then, but a kind of cloud lifting off them. But at that point you might as well say it’s magic, because they don’t know why consciousness would emerge or supervene from huge quantities of connecting information. There is no scientific principle, or even hypothesis of a principle that purports to explain such a metamorphosis.