Re: Identity

Sun, 22 Nov 1998 18:58:11 +0100

These universalist theories of consciousness always seem to have the property that our livers should be conscious. They are pinched off from the rest of the universe just like our brains; they receive data about the state of the external world as our brains do (in the case of the liver, via chemicals in the blood); they even have a sort of model of the outside world in the sense that they try to maintain an equilibrium that is appropriate for current conditions.

If we explain consciousness by saying that the universe is somehow conscious, and the brain is just a pinched off piece, then we have a hard time explaining why all the other pinched off pieces aren't conscious.

David Chalmers proposes a similar theory. He suggests that the universe is filled with what he calls "proto-consciousness", every atom and particle imbued with a little bit of this mysterious stuff. Only when it is combined together in the proper way does it form consciousness as we know it. All we have to do now, he says, is to discover the laws which control when and how proto-consciousness combines to form true consciousness.

Personally I think he's just trying to sugar-coat an unpalatable theory. We can't be sure that livers and baseball's *aren't* conscious. For all we know, they could have a merry internal life, full of laughter and love. But still the idea seems ridiculous. By saying that they're not conscious, they're just "proto-conscious" (and not defining what that means), Chalmers hopes to escape derision. But there's no more reason to believe that they are proto-conscious than that they are conscious. It's really the same idea, just dressed up nicer.