In 1996′s ANU (Australian National University) philosopher David Chalmers took on what most philosophers, particularly in Australia, had been ignoring. The big question of consciousness or as he put it why it feels like anything to have a brain. Philosophers had pretty much handed over the problem to scientists, neurologists, psychologists and biologists, abdicating their true responsibility as the puller-together of specialised fields . The deterministic argument is that for truth to be discovered all we lack is enough information, once we have enough causal analysis we will know everything, it is just a matter of work and time. Essentially they believe consciousness, that sense that there is a YOU inside your body, or head is just a trick of memory. You create a self to help place your body in a physical environment nothing more. You are just a biological creature of information processing, a very complex and error ridden machine.
I, like Chalmers, am not satisfied with this explanation. It feel intrinsically wrong, I feel like I do have a self, a real me that can think, ponder, self question, have internal dialogues with many created characters, and that while having this dialogue am certain of the true me, and this Me is greater than the sum of its physical parts. It is not reducible to electronic on off switches, but may be the product, the natural product, of complex organisms.
Chalmers posited that like gravity, electro/magnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces, that consciousness just comes about in organisms, or structures when they reach a certain complexity. Gravity is not reducible to its parts it just appears with mass, as with electro/magnetism when iron and movement are together they create something which is not inherent in the separate things. The force which can change and alter matter appears with matter and interaction, the universe is greater than the sum of its parts.
So consciousness, a self is the product of a complex system with randomness, it is not reducible to the brain or body, but is a product of the body. It is a form of dualism. Actually this idea leaves the a priori open, the body could be a product of the self, or a self, once decoupled from determinism there is no need to have a progressive causal lineage. Brain does not need to cause the creation of the mind and then the creation of consciousness. They could all arrive together, they could be fluid one affecting the other with no hierarchical relationship or it could work in reverse. As you may imagine from my other articles on fluidity I sorta like the idea of things being more interactive rather than linear.
You may well be thinking as I have previously in my musings that if our complex brains can create a consciousness, a self, can other complex interactions? Could the universe create a self, a God? I can’t see why not, and it makes a bit of emprical sense. Ant nests, and beehives are separate individuals all acting for one purpose, they create a greater self, this also occurs when large groups of people interact, there is a collective self that wills the individual to follow. I usually use a mosh-pit metaphor to show this. Once part of the mosh-pit all the punters move as one in a flow losing themselves to the motion of the whole, and it is sublime. And at times we can feel we are in-tune with a greater self, a world self, or call it in tune with nature if you prefer. This to my thinking is the I joining the greater self, and I think many religious thinkers and practiser’s refer to this after their meditations. The kingdom of god, nirvana, the Tao, are all reflections of this global or universal self.
Mind you this does not mean God created the universe, it actually implies the opposite that the universe created God, but that is no less wondrous. Of course as I said earlier, once decoupled from determinism the door is ajar for many possibilities.
The jury is still out, there is no definitive answer but I like the idea of dualism because it pulls theology which has a great philosophic tradition – although the hierarchical dogmatic religions have a horrid record – with scientific discovery. It is a product of the happy flow between the logos and the mythos, the rational with the metaphorical that Greek philosophers found natural and complimentary, as do Daoist’s and Buddhist’s. And I think it fits best with what we know about ourselves.
There is a me, and there are you’s and when we join we become greater and different from ourselves.
David J Campbell