Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Harris tries to convey that belief resides in and is a result of the various linguistic properties of the brain. He defines it as the acceptance of a statement based on already known evidence or trust in the origin of the statement. I agree with this, but I also think there is another level of belief beyond this.

For as long as I can remember I have had this unshakeable feeling that there is more to this world than what science has so far described, not that what it says is wrong, but rather it's only looking at one small part of the picture. I don't know where this feeling comes from; it does not seem to have arisen from any experience or perception I have had. It's just there.

I believe that consciousness is an existence in and of itself, not just an effect of the physical machinations of the brain. I believe that the brain serves merely as a conduit for this consciousness into the physical realm and as a feedback system to help it think in terms of physical reality. I believe that within its own realm, consciousness is pure knowledge and will, and it is from this knowledge that the feeling I have described comes from. And so this is, I think, another source of belief.


  1. I have to say Erik, though I don't agree with the specifics of all your views, this is really where Sam Harris has lost me in much of his argument this last chapter or two. I remain not quite convinced that consciousness is simply a complex electrical/chemical phenomenon resulting from our brain. It's clear that the brain is important, indispensable even, to our consciousness, but it's entirely possible to watch yourself think, watch your brain work. Even Sam's language (as inadequate as language is) betrays this. Who is the 'I' that is having all these thoughts and brain chemical impulses?

  2. Not quite convinced that consciousness is simply a phenomenon resulting from brains, eh? Care to name an example of a consciousness that exists *apart* from a brain? That would surely help to clarify the argument.

  3. Of course, you ask the question because you know I can't. But as Sam Harris says, a lack of answers in practice is not the lack of an answer in principle. ;)

    That being said, again, the "I" of consciousness seems to present itself to our awareness quite separately from thinking, because we can 'watch ourselves' think, we can observe and manipulate our thought processes. This seems to suggest that we're separate from them. Maybe this is just a perceptual illusion, Sam Harris certainly seems to believe it is. Of course, if that's true, then any sort of pharmacology that we DID invent that could change your emotions and feelings and the way you think, would be tantamount to suicide. If we are nothing more than the specific functions of our brain, then it would seem people's perceptions (like my friend's) that they "just aren't themselves" on psycho-active drugs is actually very accurate, taking such drugs means you really aren't yourself anymore, you're someone different, the old you has been erased, or whatever word fits the situation.

    At any rate, no one is arguing that science won't completely figure out consciousness at some point, who knows, maybe it will, I'm just saying that it seems to be leaping out quite a bit ahead of my understanding of where we are now in the research.

  4. But we do have lots of answers in practice. In fact, every single answer regarding consciousness being a result of brains counts in favor of that observation. We have every reason to think that consciousness cannot exist apart from a brain, and no reason not to. Well, no good reason anyway. But you basically admit as much, so I assume it's just your persistent tendency to leave the door cracked for something "other" that leads you remain unconvinced. Or maybe you think being convinced about this particular hypothesis entails some sort of dogmatic commitment to naturalism? I mean, the fact that naturalism has been born out every single time so far doesn't mean that it couldn't be falsified tomorrow, right?

  5. Maybe it's my wanting to leave the door open for free will, because now that I'm thinking much harder about it, I see that this is really the core of my objection. If Sam Harris is right about this view, then it seems to me that he is also right about free will. In that if our consciousness is based entirely on brain states and chemical/electrical reactions in the brain, then those are determined by cause and effect as everything else in the universe, and the culmination of a long long chain of events in which we have no control.

    I do see how one view quite naturally leads to the other, if he is right about the brain, then he is right there is no such thing as free will.