The Kekule Problem: Language and Consciousness

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  • 18 Apr 2017 at 10:48 am #9149

    Candy Minx
    Member

    I also remembered this interview on Charlie Rose about 10 years ago….

    “Free will is an illusion. Free will is just a miscast problem in my opinion and that is what I try to do in the book is not just assert that but to tell the story about how the brain is built what we know comes from the factory and the brain how its organized in terms of all these modules to ultimately paint a picture that our brain works in an automatic way just like a wristwatch. And we have this belief that we’re acting as if we’re in charge and I say that it is an illusion.

    The mechanism is a special module that we discovered in the left brain, your left brain my left brain, it’s called “‘the interpreter’. And what it does is it looks at our own behaviour, our own thinking, our own feelings, and it builds a theory, a narrative about, “Why am I feeling? Why did I just do that? Why am I having this hypothesis?” And it’s a storytelling mechanism of all our actions of all our feelings and it begins to become your idea of yourself. What you believe you to be. So this big strong thing we have, ‘the interpreter’ no wonder we think, ‘well that must be me moving my arm’ ‘I must be in charge’. So we build up this convenient theory to explain a vastly complex but automatic machine that is the human brain.”

    Michael Gazzaniga on Charlie Rose.


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    19 Apr 2017 at 9:15 am #9150

    Candy Minx
    Member

    The Stone Mind

    Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

    While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: “There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?”

    One of the monks replied: “From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind.”

    “Your head must feel very heavy,” observed Hogen, “if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

    Three Days More

    Suiwo, the disciple of Hakuin, was a good teacher. During one summer seclusion period, a pupil came to him from a southern island of Japan.

    Suiwo gave him the problem: “Hear the sound of one hand.”

    The pupil remained three years but could not pass this test. One night he came in tears to Suiwo. “I must return south in shame and embarrassment,” he said, “for I cannot solve my problem.”

    “Wait one week more and meditate constantly,” advised Suiwo. Still no enlightenment came to the pupil. “Try for another week,” said Suiwo. The pupil obeyed, but in vain.

    “Still another week.” Yet this was of no avail. In despair the student begged to be released, but Suiwo requested another meditation of five days. They were without result. Then he said: “Meditate for three days longer, then if you fail to attain enlightenment, you had better kill yourself.”

    On the second day the pupil was enlightened.

    From here: http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/zenindex.html


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    19 Apr 2017 at 9:16 am #9151

    JVH5
    Member

    Thanks for those math book suggestions, Richard. I really will check them out in the near future, as I have some additional reading time opening up for me shortly.

    McCarthy mentions Chomsky’s generative grammar, which is a theory of the genesis of language. His reflections on metaphor/figuration seems to hearken back to an older theory of language interested rather in structure. So it’s cool he brings structure and genesis together. Perhaps he is searching for a theory of generative rhetoric, grounded in an ontology of relations and multiplicities. Or perhaps that’s just a willful misreading.

    One thing I do really admire about the article and McCarthy himself is the way he, as a cultural authority of global stature, and one whose works attract religious readers, has remained consistent in his love, praise, association and endorsement of the maths and sciences. How important is that in these our Dark Ages?


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    19 Apr 2017 at 10:15 am #9152

    Candy Minx
    Member

    Well, that’s true…and so well said that he is a writer who attracts religious readers and he is publicly endorsing science.

    I love it that he is such a geek about his friends…even if it might not be very professional/scientific to write by name-dropping LOL

    In other thoughts…about endorsing science….I think McCarthy endorsing William James, mystical mythology, characters who embrace a folk tale motif…to the science community is also a valuable act.

    I think we are painfully unable to find… when we look at all the ways one can produce a self-portrait right now….on social media….to see someone publish or interview about mysticism, science, or the consciousness, because…really when we talk about the unconscious…aren’t we also automatically talking about the our self and our own struggle to be conscious? To integrate? To be connected within ourselves and with each other?

    In a time when having a self and unconscious or conscious…is seen to be a tool for a government to utilize and spy on….speaking of the unconscious or consciousness becomes an act of heroism.

    “They’re missing the point of what life is about. You grow into consciousness. You grow into a more expansive knowledge of the world. And as you get more complex in your thinking and life becomes more and more challenging I think you realize you have a lot to hide and you don’t want people to take your privacy and the things that are crucial to your sense of self. All through Western literature, that I know of, going back to the Greeks…I mean we’ve always respected the idea of a self. Socrates brought it up, Buddha brought it up in the East. There is a self. It’s a very important aspect of your life. It’s the one thing you can govern that you can have some control over. There is a self. And the self is what you must expand the knowledge of the consciousness of. And this government assumes they have a right to take that self and broadcast it out to the world. It’s the most vile. To me it’s a vile defilement of everything that’s sacred in the world. Don’t do that.” Oliver Stone

    https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vice-talks-film-oliver-stone-snowden


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    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by  Candy Minx.
    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by  Candy Minx.
    20 Apr 2017 at 10:35 am #9155

    efscerbo
    Member

    Dunno if you all saw, but the official version published online. Way easier on the eyes.

    http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/the-kekul-problem


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    20 Apr 2017 at 11:00 am #9156

    efscerbo
    Member

    Also, regarding the article: Anyone think they have a sense of what he means by “You have to be careful about inviting Descartes to the table.”?


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    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by  efscerbo.
    20 Apr 2017 at 12:38 pm #9158

    puremultiple
    Member

    efscerbo: Also, regarding the article: Anyone think they have a sense of what he means by “You have to be careful about inviting Descartes to the table.”?

    When I teach Descartes in my class, I always refer them to Nietzsche, who points out that Descartes argument runs something like this: the one thing that cannot be doubted is the activity of thought itself, and since action is always (linguistically) bound to a subject, we must infer subjectivity if thought is occurring. This kind of subjectivity is how Descartes defines the human being, and so we should “be careful about inviting Descartes to the table” when discussing the nature of human subjectivity because if McCarthy is right, then we’re conceiving of humans purely as linguistic creatures, and leaving out our biology.

    Maybe?


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    20 Apr 2017 at 1:36 pm #9159

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re: “Anyone think they have a sense of what he means by “You have to be careful about inviting Descartes to the table?”

    Actually, you need more of the McCarthy quote:

    “To repeat. The unconscious is a biological operative and language is not. Or not yet. You have to be careful about inviting Descartes to the table. Aside from inheritability probably the best guide as to whether a category is of our own devising is to ask if we see it in other creatures.”

    In times like these I wish I could join in a conversation with Cormac. Language is not a biological operative but the capacity for syntax certainly is. The capacity for syntax is programmed into us like an algorithm and always awaits exposure to a language to trigger it.

    This why, universally, languages share the same syntax, although vocabulary and word placement differs. This capacity exists in primative man and men whose native languages are clicks respond when transplanted to another culture and graduate from Oxford or Cambridge speaking like Englishmen. In Keith Devlin’s THE MATH GENE, he provides evidence in the way that two-year-olds respond under experimental conditions–among other things.

    The capacity for math/syntax seems to be hardwired into us.


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    20 Apr 2017 at 2:50 pm #9160

    efscerbo
    Member

    puremultiple,

    A clarification: You say “since action is always (linguistically) bound to a subject…”. When you say “action” do you mean “thought”, as in your previous clause when you refer to “the activity of thought”?

    If that’s the case, I think you’re saying Nietzsche says Descartes says (whew!) “I speak in language, therefore I think, therefore I am.” That is, for Descartes (at least, following Nietzsche), language is a prerequisite for subjectivity. And that’s potentially what McCarthy’s bothered by. Does that sound about right? If that’s what you’re saying, that makes a fair bit of sense to me in the context of the article.

    Also, have you ever read Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”? Language being a prerequisite for subjectivity is all over that book. Super interesting.

    ________________________________

    Richard,

    The idea of the rest of the passage giving context for the Descartes reference crossed my mind, but I couldn’t tell how it might help.

    Also, I really wish I knew what you meant by “math”. I have a feeling you must mean something different from me, hence our frequent disagreements. Surely you cannot mean something like Fourier transforms or ZFC or group theory. If you ever tried to teach, say, epsilon-delta proofs to undergraduates you’d realize very quickly that “capacity for math” is not at all hardwired into us in this sense.

    Do you mean something like “reasoning ability”? In that case, what’s to distinguish the reasoning ability of humans from that of gorillas, dolphins, or dogs? Or is it something like “capacity for abstraction”? But I’m skeptical that that’s even possible without language.


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    20 Apr 2017 at 3:44 pm #9161

    JVH5
    Member

    Descartes is a dualist. The Cartesian distinction between res cogitans and res extensa makes the human a two-substance creature: made of material stuff and mind/soul stuff. (The pineal gland somehow being the connection point between soul and body.) McCarthy seems to realize that his distinction between biology and language is suggestive of a Cartesiany ontological dualism. Which perhaps as a science-friendly guy he is not keen on endorsing. His conundrum is that biology does not seem capable of explaining everything, but he doesn’t want to fall into some kind of simplistic dualism.


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