The Instigator
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Losing
18 Points
The Contender
GeoLaureate8
Con (against)
Winning
32 Points

Philosophy: The Nature of Consciousness

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/10/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,826 times Debate No: 9432
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (66)
Votes (10)

 

TheSkeptic

Pro

In a conversation via profile comments, Geo and I touched upon the philosopher Alan Watts. In particular, Geo professed to share Watt's claims about the nature of consciousness. The following is a quote of which he supported (do note that all these come from my profile, but after awhile will be unaccessible if more comments are made [comments that are pushed down one's wall far enough will be unaccessible, it seems]). If you doubt the validity of any of these quotes, then refer to Geo to be reassured by my honesty. Anyway, here it is:

"We must see that consciousness is neither an isolated soul nor the mere function of a single nervous system, but of that totality of interrelated stars and galaxies which makes a nervous system possible." - Alan Watts (Geo says this makes sense to him, i.e. he supports it)

I'd like to have Geo defend this claim. While I find Watt's beliefs to be utterly preposterous, all positions should be treated in the same manner.

So this is how it's going to work. For Geo's 1st round, I ask of him to explain this claim in further detail -- which is why I made it 4 rounds instead of a normal 3 -- and perhaps give an argument for it if he wishes. I will then start my 2nd round attacking his position and it will then proceed as a normal three round debate.

Any comments or suggestions should take place in the comments section toting rounds.
GeoLaureate8

Con

I thank TheSkeptic for challenging me to this debate. He asked that I use this round to explain my claim in further detail, but since it's fairly self-explanatory, I will represent it as a syllogism to make it more clear.

Syllogism:

P1: Consciousness (C) is not an isolated soul (S).
P2: Consciousness (C) is not the mere function of a single nervous system (N).
P3: Consciousness (C) is of the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies (U)

C = ~S
C = ~N
:.U --> C

I'll leave it at that for this round.
Debate Round No. 1
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank Geo for his respond. Further, I will make it known to the audience that my opponent has supplied a syllogism, as he has quickly stated in the comment sections and in a PM to me - it simply is an outline of the position he holds. Obviously the premises don't follow to the conclusion (among other flaws if we were to view this as a syllogism), and I will treat it more like a notepad.

So in my response, I will demonstrate that consciousness likely is a "mere function of a single nervous system", the brain, and set the stage for my opponent to demonstrate otherwise.

====================
Premises that lend support for the claim that consciousness is a function of the brain
====================

My first premise is that physicalism, the philosophical doctrine that claims all that exists is physical, is true. In other words, things are no more extensive than their physical properties, and there can be no two physically identical worlds that are even in the least bit different in some other respect.

Secondly, I will make the relatively uncontroversial claim that most, if not everyone, people we meet are conscious beings. While we can't know this for certain (as is the same for most things), we can be assured that those with similar brain structures and makeup will have consciousness; they will have a "mind". We can claim that others are aware, subjectively experiencing, and have self-concepts.

The connection is that if everything is physical then consciousness must be physical as well. This would also mean that the cause of consciousness is physical - which I purport to be the brain. And indeed, it would seem obvious that our brain is the causal origin of consciousness; after all, when people become brain dead then they are considered to be permanently unconscious. This relationship would lead credence to the idea that the brain and consciousness are causally connected.

My job isn't to argue for functionalism over other monist theories of the mind (since they all support that consciousness arrives from our brain among other possibilities), and dualism is probably not an ontological theory my opponent supports.

====================
Conclusion
====================

My opponent's job is to demonstrate that under the same world view we both share (which I am assuming he is a monist physicalist; if he isn't then by all means try your way at arguing against either) the idea that consciousness is "of the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies" is by all means more reasonable than the claim that consciousness is generated from our brains.

I propose given our understanding of how our brain works, and of the insignificant effect heavenly bodies has on our own nature, Geo's position is far from just being wrong - it's absurd.
GeoLaureate8

Con

TheSkeptic has agreed to defend consciousness as the "mere function of a single nervous system." I will be contending that and argue instead that consciousness is "of the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies that make a nervous system possible." I accept my opponent's premise of monistic physicalism and will construct my argument under that assumption.

==============
Meaning of the Quote
==============

It appears that my opponent is either attacking a strawman or misunderstood the quote. He says: "I propose given our understanding of how our brain works, and of the insignificant effect heavenly bodies has on our own nature, Geo's position is far from just being wrong - it's absurd."

Alan Watts never suggested that heavenly bodies have an effect on our nature in a sort of astrological sense. Notice in the quote he says "TOTALITY of interrelated stars and galaxies," meaning "the Universe." He is implying that the Universe gives rise to consciousness rather than the mere function of a nervous system.

Alan Watts elaborates on the matter which further clarifies his position:

Quote: We do not come into into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the Universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, *a unique action of the total Universe.* - Alan Watts

As you can see, this has nothing to do with heavenly bodies affecting our own nature.

======================
The Universe Yields Consciousness
======================

Pro agrees with and defends the assertion that consciousness is the *mere* function of a nervous system. However, if we were merely just the function of a single nervous system, then we would be able to function *without* our environment. Of course, it is self evident that everything in our entire nature, including consciousness, relies on the environment, not just as an external experience, but as an integral part of our very being. To assert that consciousness is the mere function of our brains is to imply that consciousness is of an isolated nervous system only, and thus ignoring the unity of conscious beings and the environment which gives rise to such consciousness.

Let's put it this way. Apples grow from trees. If you remove the apple from the tree, it will rot. A flower grows from the earth. If you remove it from the ground, it will die. This same analogy applies to us (as conscious beings) and our environment, more so in fact, a direct correlation than an analogy. We and the environment are dependent on each other directly. We could not live or survive without the food and energy provided by the environment or go one day without the light provided by the sun. We are just as dependent on our environment as the flower and the apple.

So let me reiterate what Alan Watts said: "Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total Universe." Consciousness arises out of nature, not our brains.

========================
Support from Scientists / Philosophers
========================

I will list some quotes from scientist and philosopher Carl Sagan and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that support my position. (Please note that this is not an appeal to authority if the referenced people are specialized in this area.)

"We've begun at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff contemplating the stars."
- Carl Sagan

"The exploration of the cosmos is a voyage of self discovery."
- Carl Sagan

"We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically"
- Neil deGrasse Tyson

"The molecules in my body are traceable to phenomena in the cosmos!"
- Neil deGrasse Tyson

"The cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."
- Carl Sagan

=======
Conclusion
=======

My opponent has yet to demonstrate that consciousness is the mere function of a nervous system. I have effectively demonstrated that the Universe yields consciousness as suggested by the quote: "consciousness is of the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies."

I await my opponent's response.
Debate Round No. 2
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank Geo for his response, and I am glad to see that we both agree to the premise of physicalism. Seeing as how we are working under the same metaphysical framework, it would lead to an interesting spectacle as to how Geo will argue for his version of consciousness' nature.

Since he has supplied a format similar to mine, I will closely follow it for the sake of convenience and clarity.

=====================
Meaning of the Quote
=====================

Ironically, it seems you are the one who are misunderstanding me. What I meant was that I find it highly irrelevant and suspect that if we want to figure out the nature of our subjective experiences, we would look at the universe in a holistic manner (which Watts seems to do). I'm not saying this is some form of astrology, but I am saying that how the Universe is functioning is already irrelevant to our consciousness as long as we have a central nervous system intact.

However, this point itself hasn't much worth to be musing over. Even if you are right in how you interpret my words in correspondence with Watt's theory, all I can do is agree to your revision and move on. Nonetheless, I will be attacking the idea that consciousness is the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies - you've explicitly stated this and there shouldn't be any miscommunication here.

======================
CON: The Universe Yields Consciousness
======================

Your entire argument hinges on one simple claim: human consciousness necessarily needs the Universe to exist (or function in a way in which to sustain life such as us). Interestingly enough, when you strip away all the words it becomes this simple claim, and at once one can see the oddity in connecting this claim with your version of consciousness. So in conjunction, I will have two very simple responses:

1. While it is true that it's necessary for the universe to exist in order to have consciousness exist as well, this serves as an illegitimate basis for tying the two concepts together. Because firstly, there is no SUFFICIENT connection, as even though the universe may exist we can have no life (thus no consciousness) or no highly developed organisms in which brain function allows for consciousness (unless you want to argue there is some other way...which I would love to entertain). Indeed, your little fact here is a little trivial and useless...practically everything that exists hinges on the universe first existing. So do we start to base the nature of everything as the TOTALITY of interrelated stars and galaxies?

2. I want to point out that we don't only need a nervous system to generate consciousness, since as a functionalist I advocate the idea of multiple realizability[1], which is the " thesis contends that a single mental kind (property, state, event) can be realized by many distinct physical kinds." This means we don't only need to have biological systems to have consciousness.

====================
Support from Scientists / Philosophers
====================

As a foreword, I will say that I can give a damn about support from scientists and philosophers - especially when you only list two scientists, when often the question of consciousness' nature is primarily dealt by philosophers.

Furthermore, nothing in their quotes show a strong allegiance to the position you are upholding. Instead, they are making romanticized remarks about our Universe (how we are all made of the same particles that are composed of the suns) - and while this is quite exhilarating for most, it in no way exalts this idea of a universe-consciousness. Remember, while the universes' existence and continuation is necessary for consciousness it is NOT sufficient.

I mean, really, to support such a position would be very controversial given it's large lack of support (and since they are famous - look at Tom Cruise and Scientology). Undoubtedly if they followed this idea, they would have explicit writings on and supporting philosophic ideas similar to Watts'...care to share?

====================
Conclusion
====================

If my opponent's only argument for this extreme position is to tell me the trivial fact that for anything to exist, the universe must exist first, then I would recommend him to seriously reconsider such a belief. It would seem to me that Watts is engaging in romanticized philosophic sophistry, and not anything that can be seriously analyzed.

---References---
1. http://plato.stanford.edu...
GeoLaureate8

Con

=======================
The Universe Yields Consciousness
=======================

C1. {*There is no SUFFICIENT connection, as even though the universe may exist we can have no life (thus no consciousness) or no highly developed organisms in which brain function allows for consciousness*}

My opponent claims that there is no sufficient connection between the Universe and consciousness other than the necessity of the Universe to exist. This is obviously not the case as I demonstrated in my first argument. The Universe is the environment from which we depend on to live. The Universe not only gives rise to consciousness, but is directly linked with and provides essentials for consciousness to survive. Again, I point to the analogy of the apple tree. The apple and the tree can be separated, yet the tree still exists. The apple cannot survive (stay fresh without rotting) without being attached to and relying on the tree. Just like we and our nervous system cannot operate as a single, separate entity independent from the Universe.

Remember, my opponent claims that consciousness is the *mere* isolated function of a nervous system, in which case, it should be able to fully function on its own. Clearly, that's not the case.

{*Indeed, your little fact here is a little trivial and useless...practically everything that exists hinges on the universe first existing. So do we start to base the nature of everything as the TOTALITY of interrelated stars and galaxies?*}

It appears as if my opponent concedes that Alan Watts' proposition is an obvious fact.

C2. {*I want to point out that we don't only need a nervous system to generate consciousness, since as a functionalist I advocate the idea of multiple realizability[1], which is the " thesis contends that a single mental kind (property, state, event) can be realized by many distinct physical kinds." This means we don't only need to have biological systems to have consciousness.*}

No disagreement there.

==============
Meaning of the Quote
==============

"[Consciousness is] of the totality of interrelated stars and galaxies."

There is a very key word in this statement; the word "of."

Of: "Used to indicate derivation, origin, or source" - Dictionary.com [1]

Given the above definition, this is quite an obvious statement, as pointed out by my opponent. The Universe is clearly the origin or source of consciousness.

=======
Conclusion
=======

My opponent concedes that Alan Watts' statement was an obvious fact. He was also unable to demonstrate that consciousness is the mere function of a nervous system as an isolated unit.

I await my opponent's response.

Sources:

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com...
Debate Round No. 3
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for his response and this debate. And while I remain thoroughly unconvinced of his position, at least we have entertained it.

====================
CON claims: The Universe Yields Consciousness
====================

"The Universe is the environment from which we depend on to live. The Universe not only gives rise to consciousness, but is directly linked with and provides essentials for consciousness to survive."
----> Again, read my argument. I noted that there is a necessary connection between the universe and consciousness (for consciousness, and everything else, to exist the universe first must do so), there is not an adequate sufficient one. In other words, even if the universe existed this does not mean that in all cases consciousness will arise -- you can have a universe devoid of life or anything conscious. In fact, this relationship is synonymous with anything that exists, thus showing more of the triviality your claim is.

"Again, I point to the analogy of the apple tree. The apple and the tree can be separated, yet the tree still exists. The apple cannot survive (stay fresh without rotting) without being attached to and relying on the tree. Just like we and our nervous system cannot operate as a single, separate entity independent from the Universe."
----> I'll use your apple tree analogy against you. While the apple is necessarily connected to the apple tree for vitality and supplement, it is not the case that ever time an apple tree exists so do apples (you can have a barren apple tree). Thus, take the analogy to the universe-consciousness relationship.

"It appears as if my opponent concedes that Alan Watts' proposition is an obvious fact."
----> Yes, but I also point out that this obvious fact is a useless fact for defending your position.

====================
Meaning of the Quote
====================

There is no disagreement here, except for the fact that this is useless ammunition for defending your proposition. As I've pointed out, given the fact that your claim establishes no special ground for consciousness, we should revert to the commonly supported conceptual models.

====================
Consciousness
====================

"He was also unable to demonstrate that consciousness is the mere function of a nervous system as an isolated unit."
----> Now hold on, when the hell was I supposed to do that? In your fast round, you never added the additional phrase "isolated unit", which if taken to mean 'outside of the universe' I obviously do not uphold. As I've said before, FOR ANYTHING TO EXIST, it necessarily depends on the universe to first exist -- an absolutely trivial claim. What you are seeking to do is to show some mystic, "higher consciousness" that finds it's explanation and description in relation with the cosmos. Not only does you have insufficient philosophical grounds even lift off, but how can you even start to explain the mechanics of consciousness in relation to stars? It's an incoherent attempt.

Rather, we should take a much more closer and intimate look at it - the position I propose. Not only is viewing it as a phenomena emerging from one's nervous system much more accurate and useful, but it allows us to answer many problems found in the philosophy of mind that Geo's philosophy is unequipped for.
GeoLaureate8

Con

=======================
The Universe Yields Consciousness
=======================

{Quote}
Con: My opponent claims that there is no sufficient connection between the Universe and consciousness other than the necessity of the Universe to exist. This is obviously not the case as I demonstrated in my first argument. The Universe is the environment from which we depend on to live. The Universe not only gives rise to consciousness, but is directly linked with and provides essentials for consciousness to survive."

Pro: Again, read my argument. I noted that there is a necessary connection between the universe and consciousness (for consciousness, and everything else, to exist the universe first must do so), there is not an adequate sufficient one.
{/Quote}

As you can see above, I explained that there is a connection between the Universe and consciousness other than the necessity of the Universe to exist, yet my opponent appears to have overlooked it because he brought up the same argument I have already contended.

{*In other words, even if the universe existed this does not mean that in all cases consciousness will arise -- you can have a universe devoid of life or anything conscious.*}

This is a Red Herring and has no relevance to the debate. I have never claimed, that in all cases, consciousness will arise out of a universe. This debate is about consciousness being "of" the Universe as opposed to a mere nervous system. It matters not if consciousness will arise out of a universe in all cases. We are talking about this universe where consciousness has already arised.

{*I'll use your apple tree analogy against you. While the apple is necessarily connected to the apple tree for vitality and supplement, it is not the case that ever time an apple tree exists so do apples (you can have a barren apple tree). Thus, take the analogy to the universe-consciousness relationship.*}

Another Red Herring and a concession that my argument is true. He agrees that the apple is connected to the apple tree for vitality and supplement the same way consciousness is to the universe. He then tangentially claims that it is not the case that apples necessarily arise out of apple trees. Again, this has no relevance to the argument because consciousness has arisen out of this universe.

{Quote}
Con: It appears as if my opponent concedes that Alan Watts' proposition is an obvious fact.

Pro: Yes, but I also point out that this obvious fact is a useless fact for defending your position.
{/Quote}

My opponent concedes the argument once again. He agrees that Alan Watts' proposition is an obvious fact and says it's useless for defending my position. However, my position is just that. My job in this debate was to defend Alan Watts' quote (see Round 1), in which case I have done successfully because my opponent agrees that it is a fact.

==========
Consciousness
==========

{*Now hold on, when the hell was I supposed to do that? In your fast round, you never added the additional phrase "isolated unit", which if taken to mean 'outside of the universe' I obviously do not uphold.*}

Notice, you are defending the position that consciousness (as specified by the quote) is the MERE FUNCTION of a nervous system. You agreed to defend that. "Mere" means "considered apart from anything else; being nothing more nor better than; pure and unmixed." [1] "Isolated" means "free of external influence; alone." [2] I think I was warranted to use the word "isolated," however, this is irrelevant as it is purely semantics. The point that I was making was that you were unable to show that consciousness is the mere function of a nervous system as opposed to having a connection to the Universe.

{*how can you even start to explain the mechanics of consciousness in relation to stars? It's an incoherent attempt.*}

This has already been explained. We are talking about consciousness in relation to the Universe, not stars.

========
Conclusion
========

In conclusion, my opponent has conceded this debate. In the first round, he specified: "I'd like to have Geo defend this claim [Alan Watts' quote]." He later concedes that Alan Watts' quote is an obvious fact.

{Quote}
Con: It appears as if my opponent concedes that Alan Watts' proposition is an obvious fact.

Pro: Yes
{/Quote}

Thank you for reading.

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com...
[2] http://dictionary.reference.com...
Debate Round No. 4
66 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by GeoLaureate8 7 years ago
GeoLaureate8
Um, I don't think I hold those exact views on consciousness anymore. I'm still trying to revise and refine my views on that.
Posted by J.Kenyon 7 years ago
J.Kenyon
Well?
Posted by J.Kenyon 7 years ago
J.Kenyon
Geo, I would SO take you up on this if you're willing to go at it again.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Obviously, emphasis added.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
@daniel: Are you reading your own words correctly?

"When did I ever claim that you said that?...And I say again, you can't know that such a universe COULD have happened, logically possible doesn't mean ACTUALLY possible."

"Of course the concept of a universe in which consciousness never arises can be imagined (unicorns can be imagined too,) but that doesn't mean that such a universe could ever ACTUALLY exist."
Posted by Mangani 7 years ago
Mangani
@TheSkeptic- Before/after to Con, but I don't think that generates points. Everything else but arguments tied. Arguments, I believe, is 3 points.
Posted by daniel_t 7 years ago
daniel_t
@TheSkeptic:
"When did I say [a universe without consciousness] could every actually exist?"

When did I ever claim that you said that?

"I said they existed in a possible world, they are logically possible, they COULD have happened."

And I say again, you can't know that such a universe COULD have happened, logically possible doesn't mean actually possible. You have no evidence to support your assertion.
Posted by GeoLaureate8 7 years ago
GeoLaureate8
I have yet to vote, so I'm not sure how any of the points have been distributed.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
I'm a little intrigued at the voting paradigm right now - what I see is 3 votes for CON, equaling 15 points. Would somehow please point out how he had better sources, spelling&grammar, or conduct?
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
"Of course the concept of a universe in which consciousness never arises can be imagined (unicorns can be imagined too,) but that doesn't mean that such a universe could ever actually exist."

When did I say they could every actually exist? I said they existed in a possible world, they are logically possible, they COULD have happened. I think you're getting your head a little too far stuck in to this topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org...
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