Consciousness & the Brain

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Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Fri May 18, 2012 9:55 am

Impressions of the following?

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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby steveb1 » Fri May 18, 2012 7:35 pm

Audience seems weighted toward the materialist position.

No discussion of category differences, e.g., the brain is some thing, the person is some one.

Harris saying that non-dual consciousness is unaware of what the brain is doing during that state. But why should it be? Materialists are fond of saying, "Neurologists have been investigating the brain for a long time, and have never discovered anything like a soul" (category error again). The statement can be reversed: "Meditators have been investigating consciousness for millenia, and have never discovered anything like a brain". Exactly. The two categories are unmixable, even if the production theory claims turn out to be true.

Chopra needs to drop the metaphysics and meet the materialists on their own ground, i.e., not make unprovable assertions that consciousness creates molecules. Perhaps he should step down from the debate until he can marshal scientific/philosophical reasons for mind-brain dualism, as Raymond Tallis and others have been doing with some success.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby undefineable » Fri May 18, 2012 7:41 pm

Rather dissappointing, but then Chopra is no Buddhist, and when I googled the debate I found it took God as its main theme :zzz:

I also note that Harris tried to persuade Chopra to apologise for 'making claims for which he has no evidence' (consciousness creating Reality in either the New Age or the Buddhist vision would be a good example), but this seems perverse when neither man is known as a scientist. If I make a claim about your health based only on a hunch, your belief in my claim -and therefore the damage it may do if it turns out to be wrong- will depend on whether I am a qualified medical Doctor whom you and others can vouch for. Likewise, a scientist cannot claim "consciousness created the Universe", or indeed "consciousness doesn't exist" and call this a scientific statement, as it's self-evidently impossible to either verify or falsify such claims using material evidence alone. At the same time, many people, not realising that fact (given the long and pretentious-sounding words used), may accept such claims on the back of the "priestly" authority that our societies grant to scientists, doctors, and others. Those who practice disciplines such as philosophy which make no claims on absolute proof may, though, make similar arguments using logic, authority, or perhaps other means, since anyone listening is likely to be aware of their limitations.

As for consciousness, conscious mental events -since they so often form a contributory cause of actions- are likely at the very least to have a physical correlate within the body that performs such actions; it seems odd to me now that anyone would be surprised by this.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby undefineable » Fri May 18, 2012 8:15 pm

steveb1 wrote:Audience seems weighted toward the materialist position.

No discussion of category differences, e.g., the brain is some thing, the person is some one.

Harris saying that non-dual consciousness is unaware of what the brain is doing during that state. But why should it be? Materialists are fond of saying, "Neurologists have been investigating the brain for a long time, and have never discovered anything like a soul" (category error again). The statement can be reversed: "Meditators have been investigating consciousness for millenia, and have never discovered anything like a brain". Exactly. The two categories are unmixable, even if the production theory claims turn out to be true.

Chopra needs to drop the metaphysics and meet the materialists on their own ground, i.e., not make unprovable assertions that consciousness creates molecules. Perhaps he should step down from the debate until he can marshal scientific/philosophical reasons for mind-brain dualism, as Raymond Tallis and others have been doing with some success.


Yeah, New Agers tend not to cut it in rational debate :lol:

From a Buddhist point of view (or atleast my own) a person is both something and someone, though to a strict materialist (i.e. one who follows that view to its logical conclusions), it is definitely just something (i.e. there are no subjects, only objects)! Personality could be defined as the more-or-less functional end product of certain mechanisms responsible for traits (along with the relative absence of others), formed from easily-repeated brain function, that allow one (through favourable traits and their combinations) to express some combination of the desires that one could have, given the fundamental nature of Ego that we're so familiar with as Buddhists and as human beings. Character directs desires to begin with, though there is no reason why these should always be in line with what the personality promotes. In this picture, the brain forms the repository of past karma, thus channelling and limiting what would otherwise be (in theory atleast) a free display of any and all character and personality traits imaginable, along with others possible but not yet imagined, whilst those conceivable but not yet possible clamour at the door, with nothing to decide between all these eventualities, and no basis for any choice {It's not hard, in this vision, to see why Buddhas aren't subject to rebirth!}

The materialist position doesn't really come unstuck until we delve deeper into consciousness. For a start, consciousness *is* often dimly aware that there is something *going on* even in the absence of obvious physical correlates (as in pain and sensual pleasure). There is an obvious category error in claiming consciousness to be a material artefact, which myself and others here would be happy to explain, though at the same time, the day-to-day reality you describe appears more like a case of not seeing the trees for the forest or else not seeing the forest for the trees.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Fri May 18, 2012 8:46 pm

undefineable wrote:I also note that Harris tried to persuade Chopra to apologise for 'making claims for which he has no evidence' (consciousness creating Reality in either the New Age or the Buddhist vision would be a good example), but this seems perverse when neither man is known as a scientist.


Sam Harris is in fact a neuroscientist.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Fri May 18, 2012 8:54 pm

steveb1 wrote: Materialists are fond of saying, "Neurologists have been investigating the brain for a long time, and have never discovered anything like a soul" (category error again).


Rather that consciousness appears to be an emergent property of a brain, and no indication of consciousness absent a brain has been discovered.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Nosta » Fri May 18, 2012 9:23 pm

Deepak Chopra is just another New Age guy. Not a real buddhist, neither a real defender of Dharma.

Second, a buddhist will not enter this kind of useless discussions. Or you believe or you dont, and if you dont there is no point on keeping a discussion that will end in a predictable way: with no conclusions but where the "rational" side will be slightly shining. [Super] Skeptical people are really annoying.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Sat May 19, 2012 9:04 am

Nosta wrote:Deepak Chopra is just another New Age guy. Not a real buddhist, neither a real defender of Dharma.


No one suggested Deepak Chopra was a Buddhist or defender of Dharma.

Second, a buddhist will not enter this kind of useless discussions.


You can only speak for yourself, not Buddhists.

That being said, you see the discussion as useless, while others may find it pertinent to the Buddhist idea of consciousness absent a brain- a basis for karma and rebirth, without which Buddhism in a true sense (Bodhisatt/va path, etc.) does not really function.

Or you believe or you dont, and if you dont there is no point on keeping a discussion that will end in a predictable way: with no conclusions but where the "rational" side will be slightly shining.


Why do you think it is that the "rational" side will predictably come out slightly shining? Is it because your faith is a matter of "you believe or you don't". In other words you have no good reason to believe what you do and can offer nothing in response to scientific findings, which at this point oppose your faith.

Do you care if your beliefs are justified or not?

[Super] Skeptical people are really annoying.


Why do they annoy you? Is it because they press important questions which you cannot or do not feel comfortable exploring, because your current situation of belief is satisfying to you?

-----

To put a real question on the table here in this topic:

Is there any justifiable reason to believe there can be consciousness absent a brain, while all scientific indications point toward it being an emergent property of a brain?

Or-

If you do believe such, why do you believe so in the face of current scientific indications to the contrary?
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby steveb1 » Sat May 19, 2012 10:57 am

Dexing wrote:

= = = = =
"To put a real question on the table here in this topic:

Is there any justifiable reason to believe there can be consciousness absent a brain, while all scientific indications point toward it being an emergent property of a brain?

Or-

If you do believe such, why do you believe so in the face of current scientific indications to the contrary?"

= = = = =

One path toward a non-materialist answer might be phrased in questions like, "Once created by, or emerged from, brain activity, in what way does consciousness continue to keep and express its purported physical origins and functions?
Does it in fact 'behave' in the same way as matter - or even the same way as the brain - behaves?
For example, vapor released from warming ice is 'liberated' from the constraints of solidity, and it takes on new properties and a new 'life' of its own quite separate from ice. Perhaps a similar comparison can be made to consciousness once it has been 'projected' out of its material matrix; in which case it is possible that, like ice-released vapor, consciousness has a seperate being and category level than the matter from which it supposedly originated".

But a more pertinent question might be - considering that Dharma Wheel is a Buddhist site - "What did Shakyamuni say about consciousness? And what do the Theravadan, Mahayanist, Vajrayanist, and Shin schools say? To what extent does Buddhist consciousness-experience, philosophy, and theory/speculation support, agree with, confirm ... OR conflict with and contradict ... the modern materialist point of view?"
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Sat May 19, 2012 12:14 pm

steveb1 wrote:One path toward a non-materialist answer might be phrased in questions like, "Once created by, or emerged from, brain activity, in what way does consciousness continue to keep and express its purported physical origins and functions?
Does it in fact 'behave' in the same way as matter - or even the same way as the brain - behaves?
For example, vapor released from warming ice is 'liberated' from the constraints of solidity, and it takes on new properties and a new 'life' of its own quite separate from ice. Perhaps a similar comparison can be made to consciousness once it has been 'projected' out of its material matrix; in which case it is possible that, like ice-released vapor, consciousness has a seperate being and category level than the matter from which it supposedly originated".


I don't think you understand what is meant by "emergence" when it is said consciousness is an "emergent property" of a brain. That is not to say consciousness in some way becomes independent of a brain, ever becoming "liberated from its constraints".

"Emergent properties" or "emergence" refer to those properties that arise from the collaborative functioning of a system, but do not belong to any one part of that system. In other words, emergent properties are properties of a group that are not possible when any of the individual elements of that group act alone.

Current scientific indications suggest consciousness to be an emergent property of a brain. If consciousness is "projected out of its material matrix" as you say, then it should continue to function even if the brain is damaged, shuts down or is destroyed.

The problem is, there is no evidence to suggest consciousness is ever projected in such a way and can persist with normal function in the event of brain damage or destruction. In fact, there is no indication of consciousness existing absent a brain in any case.

But a more pertinent question might be - considering that Dharma Wheel is a Buddhist site - "What did Shakyamuni say about consciousness? And what do the Theravadan, Mahayanist, Vajrayanist, and Shin schools say? To what extent does Buddhist consciousness-experience, philosophy, and theory/speculation support, agree with, confirm ... OR conflict with and contradict ... the modern materialist point of view?"


I've studied Yogācāra philosophy in depth for years which goes into great detail on the topic of consciousness, in all its supposed layers. However, if it ever suggests any connection to a brain it says that the brain, as a physical aggregate, is a production of consciousness, not vice-versa. Or more precisely, it is consciousness itself, physical aggregates merely being layers of consciousness.

I'm not aware of Śākyamuni ever talking about the brain, and I wouldn't expect him to.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Sat May 19, 2012 12:32 pm

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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dave The Seeker » Sat May 19, 2012 1:04 pm

Just a thought here.
Our brain has an "electrical" system in it correct? Now what's to say this isn't our conciousness.
Electrical energy is not destroyed or used up, so in that line of thought, what's to say that our "electrical energy" or consciousness doesn't continue on after the cessation of this physical existance.

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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Andrew108 » Sat May 19, 2012 2:26 pm

Talking about the brain can make buddhists feel uncomfortable and they usually fallback on faith because they see the mind as different from the brain. But I don't think there is a problem and there are buddhist schools of philosophy that dismiss this body/mind dualism. In fact I think more than ever it's actually important for buddhists to get in line with scientists and accept that the brain is the site for the arising of consciousness. This doesn't diminish the buddhist view at all in any way. Why not?
Buddhism isn't really interested in establishing which relative truth is more truthful. The 'fact' of dependent origination isn't undone by the the statement that 'consciousness' resides in the brain and is produced in the brain. Both the brain and the consciousness that abide there lack any essential nature.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby catmoon » Sun May 20, 2012 6:48 am

Can we talk about this term "emergent property" for a minute?

I mean, it could just be a very nice academic materialist way of saying, well we really have no idea what is going on.


In electronics, one might say that video games are an emergent property of transistors. But in that case we a can trace the emergence step by step from transistors to logic gates to programmability to computer languages graphics and finally games. But we can't do that with the brain and consciousness. We can't come within a million miles of creating a circuit that generates , say, compassion. So what do we do? We throw the "emergent property" label at it - without having the faintest idea of the mechanisms involved.

In such a case, it means the same thing as saying "A miracle has occurred" or "At step 4 some magic happens". The speaker has exactly the same knowledge of the mechanism - none whatsoever.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Mon May 21, 2012 5:36 am

catmoon wrote:I mean, it could just be a very nice academic materialist way of saying, well we really have no idea what is going on.


Materialism is immediately taken as the opposition in this topic here, but it's really just scientific investigation and discovery. When scientific finding is clung to it can result in materialism, but science never holds a position always being open to development when new information is attained. It is actually religion that most often attempts to supply definite answers to everything instead of honestly admitting we don't yet know. All the popular religions do this. Buddhism does it just as much as Christianity.

But what we're talking about here really is the Buddhist perspective on consciousness versus what science has been able to reveal, and what justification there is for the Buddhist beliefs in the face of science. Neuroscience is the most rapidly growing field. We've learned more about than brain in the past 20 years than ever before.

In electronics, one might say that video games are an emergent property of transistors. But in that case we a can trace the emergence step by step from transistors to logic gates to programmability to computer languages graphics and finally games. But we can't do that with the brain and consciousness. We can't come within a million miles of creating a circuit that generates , say, compassion. So what do we do? We throw the "emergent property" label at it - without having the faintest idea of the mechanisms involved.

In such a case, it means the same thing as saying "A miracle has occurred" or "At step 4 some magic happens". The speaker has exactly the same knowledge of the mechanism - none whatsoever.


The model states that the combined neural and glial system with multiple synapses and astrocytes interacting electrically and chemically results in the emergent property of consciousness.

There is a difference between theory and scientific theory. "Emergent properties" of the brain are not just theories or labels thrown on something we don't understand. Otherwise it would be a religious doctrine and not scientific theory. It is scientific theory with indication.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Mon May 21, 2012 6:15 am

Andrew108 wrote:I think more than ever it's actually important for buddhists to get in line with scientists and accept that the brain is the site for the arising of consciousness. This doesn't diminish the buddhist view at all in any way. Why not?
Buddhism isn't really interested in establishing which relative truth is more truthful. The 'fact' of dependent origination isn't undone by the the statement that 'consciousness' resides in the brain and is produced in the brain. Both the brain and the consciousness that abide there lack any essential nature.


According to the 12 links of Dependent Origination, 'consciousness' conditions 'name and form'. Science suggests the exact opposite, because that is saying consciousness can arise absent a brain, and actually condition the arising of corporeality and mentality.

So accepting that "the brain is the site for the arising of consciousness" or that "'consciousness' resides in the brain and is produced in the brain" certainly does undo the theory of Dependent Origination.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Mon May 21, 2012 7:16 am

The Seeker wrote:Our brain has an "electrical" system in it correct? Now what's to say this isn't our conciousness.
Electrical energy is not destroyed or used up, so in that line of thought, what's to say that our "electrical energy" or consciousness doesn't continue on after the cessation of this physical existance.


Consciousness is an emergent property of a brain like light is an emergent property of a lightbulb. Electrical energy must be converted to produce consciousness and light. That is to say electrical charge or energy itself is not conscious or bright.

Just as when the filament in a lightbulb breaks it ceases to produce light, when a brain stops working so does consciousness. Unlike light from a lightbulb that is emitted outside the bulb and eventually becomes heat, there is no evidence of consciousness exiting the brain.

Even granting that electrical energy could exit the brain at the cessation of physical existence, it being transmitted to a new brain and regenerating consciousness would violate the Buddhist theory of Dependent Origination, which states that it is 'consciousness' that conditions 'name and form'. So there would be no brain to receive this electrical energy and convert it into consciousness.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dave The Seeker » Mon May 21, 2012 11:29 am

Dexing wrote:Consciousness is an emergent property of a brain like light is an emergent property of a lightbulb. Electrical energy must be converted to produce consciousness and light. That is to say electrical charge or energy itself is not conscious or bright.

Just as when the filament in a lightbulb breaks it ceases to produce light, when a brain stops working so does consciousness. Unlike light from a lightbulb that is emitted outside the bulb and eventually becomes heat, there is no evidence of consciousness exiting the brain.

Even granting that electrical energy could exit the brain at the cessation of physical existence, it being transmitted to a new brain and regenerating consciousness would violate the Buddhist theory of Dependent Origination, which states that it is 'consciousness' that conditions 'name and form'. So there would be no brain to receive this electrical energy and convert it into consciousness.


First I will admit I am not very versed in the theory of Dependent Origination.
That said your quote which says
it is consciousness that conditions name and form


Is a brain actually necessary for name and form?

Does a Deva, Hungry Ghost, Asura or even a Buddha have a brain? A brain is a physical attribute.
So unless ones existence is in a physical realm there is no brain but still the energy of consciousness.

Your example of the light bulbs filament being broke and hence no energy going through it still doesn't mean the energy doesn't exist. I'll refer to the point made on the forum before, Since the tv is off does that mean there is no programming happening? Of course not, just that that television is not on broadcasting it.


Kindest wishes, Dave
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby catmoon » Mon May 21, 2012 1:12 pm

Dexing wrote:
The model states that the combined neural and glial system with multiple synapses and astrocytes interacting electrically and chemically results in the emergent property of consciousness.

There is a difference between theory and scientific theory. "Emergent properties" of the brain are not just theories or labels thrown on something we don't understand. Otherwise it would be a religious doctrine and not scientific theory. It is scientific theory with indication.


I don't think this qualifies as a scientific theory. I do think it is a case of just throwing a label on something we do not understand. And I don't think it's anymore valid rationally than oh, say Scientology.

Why? Well, we have a lot of knowledge of nerves and impulses and structure and such but there is nothing, absolutely nothing in this knowledge that suggests that consciousness ought to arise from them. It is like observing that there are bees in the orchard and then assuming that bees cause orchards without any understanding of how orchards actually arise. I could say well, "Orchards are obviously an emergent property of bees" and be just as correct as those who are saying consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

In logic, this is called a post hoc fallacy.
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Re: Consciousness & the Brain

Postby Dexing » Mon May 21, 2012 1:29 pm

The Seeker wrote:
it is consciousness that conditions name and form


Is a brain actually necessary for name and form?


Name and form is usually defined as the five aggregates. The feelings, perceptions, volitions, etc. of a human being can certainly be shown to be the responsibility of the brain.

Does a Deva, Hungry Ghost, Asura or even a Buddha have a brain? A brain is a physical attribute.
So unless ones existence is in a physical realm there is no brain but still the energy of consciousness.


I'm familiar with how these other planes of existence are understood and explained in Buddhist terms— but as plausible as they may be in theory, there is really no way to prove such conscious immaterial beings actually exist. So they can't really be used as evidence of consciousness existing absent a brain, no more than the Christian god can be an example or evidence of a disembodied consciousness.

Your example of the light bulbs filament being broke and hence no energy going through it still doesn't mean the energy doesn't exist. I'll refer to the point made on the forum before, Since the tv is off does that mean there is no programming happening? Of course not, just that that television is not on broadcasting it.


How would this relate to either the Buddhist or scientific understanding of consciousness? The programming would have nothing to do with the individual TV, but be something that can be transmitted to and simultaneously broadcasted by a numberless number of TVs. Even the Yogācāra school does not suggest that all sentient beings share a single consciousness. But the biggest difference is that light and radio waves are something that can be measured in space. Conversely, there has been no such evidence of disembodied consciousness.
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