Consciousness/sentience

Where agnostics and atheists can freely discuss

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
goodwithoutgod
Scholar
Posts: 335
Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:47 pm
Location: Virginia

Consciousness/sentience

Post #1

Post by goodwithoutgod »

Hello fellow atheists, As a consistent debater of religion, although no where near the level of expertise that some of you display who write posts that blow my mind :shock: , I have a question. I usually do quite well in debates, have built a large database of info, counters etc, have many books on hand for reference, but I am having a hard time feeling confident about countering the consciousness argument. You know, "how do you explain the fact that you have the ability to love, think, reason, have consciousness...sentience...all from evolution from apes." Or words to that affect.

I gotta admit, that kind of stumps me. Christopher hitchens work hasnt done me much good on that particular spin.....any hints from the more experienced among you who have maybe dealt with that previously?

Thanks

User avatar
Divine Insight
Savant
Posts: 18080
Joined: Thu Jun 28, 2012 10:59 pm
Location: Here & Now
Been thanked: 15 times

Post #2

Post by Divine Insight »

I certainly can't answer you from the point of view of being a pure secular atheist, because I'm clearly not a pure secular atheist. ;)

I am a very strong atheist when it comes to the Abrahamic mythology. I refuse to call it anything other than mythology for this very reason.

However when it comes to "believing" in a purely secular exist that refuses to acknowledge any sort of mystical element to reality at all, then I'm actually in the same boat with you. Especially when it comes to the topic of "consciousness awareness" or the fact that we can actually have a sentient experience.

We can't simply define "consciousness" as the objective brain activity. If that were the definition then we would need to concede that computers must also have "consciousness" because we can objectively see activity going on there that results in decision making.

Clearly the concept of having a sentient experience goes far beyond this. In fact, sentient experience cannot even be made 'objective', since it is entirely a subjective experience. So because of this, the very topic is hopelessly beyond the reach of an objective-oriented scientific method.

Many secularists and some scientists proclaim that subjective experience is an "emergent property" of complexity. But this is a very abstract concept that I find hard to accept as having any "objective reality".

The question still remains, "Just what is it that is having this experience?"

Can a complex pattern of electromagnetic activity have an experience?

It seems to me that if we have already argued that the energy and matter of the universe is not capable of having an experience, then to proclaim that some complex configuration of this stuff could have an experience is not truly rational or logical.

So this is certainly one aspect of reality that keeps me free to believe that something deeper and more profound is going on.

And of course, the mere fact that anything exists at all rather than nothing is itself a similar problem. From whence did anything come? :-k

That is already a mystical magical concept. I mean we think it's magic that a magician should be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat, yet we're going to claim that it's not magic that an entire universe was pulled out of nothing by no one? :-k

There seems to be a double-standard on the meaning of magic here.

So I am not at all convinced that there cannot be a mystical or spiritual essence to reality. On the contrary, I personally believe that is more likely to be the case than not.

However, this does not send me running of to worship Zeus and Greek mythology as the "One True God". And neither should it cause me to run off and worship Yahweh or Jesus as the "Two True Gods".

Let's face it, it's a very long leap to get from the idea that there might be a magical basis for reality, to proclaiming that any one particular mythology might actually have the correct description of that reality.

So even though I consider that reality may very well be mystical and magical, I still see no reason to believe that our creator is a male-chauvinist pig. If you get my drift.

Of all the mystical philosophies that mankind has come up with I believe that Taoism is the one that most likely to has a chance of potentially representing possible truth. But even then we must recognize that this is just a guess, albeit a very well thought-out guess.

I suppose it's possible that reality could somehow be a purely secular accident and that this accident somehow evolved to become aware of itself. But still, even in that scenario we have an accident evolving to become aware of itself.

This still seems to come right back full circle again. What is it then that is having this experience? The accident? And what is the accident? A configuration of matter/energy?

Duh? We're right back to having matter/energy having the experience again. But in the secular premise matter and energy aren't supposed to be able to have an experience.

So yes, it's an extremely difficult problem. And I have yet to meet a secularist who has a rational answer for any of this.

Proclaiming that experience is just an emergent property, simply doesn't cut it for me. So I guess it really comes down to what an individual is willing to accept.

I don't think there is any definitive answer that can be had.

So I'm certainly no help to you since I'm clearly in the same boat you're in. ;)
[center]Image
Spiritual Growth - A person's continual assessment
of how well they believe they are doing
relative to what they believe a personal God expects of them.
[/center]

goodwithoutgod
Scholar
Posts: 335
Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:47 pm
Location: Virginia

Post #3

Post by goodwithoutgod »

Great stuff Divinity, thanks.

Anyone else have a point of view?

keithprosser3

Post #4

Post by keithprosser3 »

I can't see where religion comes into it. If you ask an honest atheist how consciousness works he'll say 'I don't know'. I you ask an theist, he might say 'God makes us conscious', but if you ask 'How does He do that?' what can a theist say except 'I don't know'.

No-one - AFAIK - has ever had an insight in how consciousness works, at least not one that didn't involved waving hands all over the place. After 2000 years we know little more that we did when we started.

Maybe in another 2000 years we will know how consciousness works, but if a practical theory of consciousness (ie one that lets us design and build conscious machines and not just talk about them) happens in my life time I will be surprised - although very pleasantly surprised.

goodwithoutgod
Scholar
Posts: 335
Joined: Wed Nov 13, 2013 4:47 pm
Location: Virginia

Post #5

Post by goodwithoutgod »

keithprosser3 wrote: I can't see where religion comes into it. If you ask an honest atheist how consciousness works he'll say 'I don't know'. I you ask an theist, he might say 'God makes us conscious', but if you ask 'How does He do that?' what can a theist say except 'I don't know'.

No-one - AFAIK - has ever had an insight in how consciousness works, at least not one that didn't involved waving hands all over the place. After 2000 years we know little more that we did when we started.

Maybe in another 2000 years we will know how consciousness works, but if a practical theory of consciousness (ie one that lets us design and build conscious machines and not just talk about them) happens in my life time I will be surprised - although very pleasantly surprised.
Oh I agree no one can truly answer the question of How do we have consciousness, at least all inclusive. My problem is trying to not fumble the ball when I have a theist in the corner, and their come back is, "explain why we have consciousness, how we feel love etc...if we are just a bag of meat with electrical pulses jumping around in some gel in our skull, evolved from time and chance circumstances...how do you explain how we have arrived here with sentience"

and for the life of me, I cant come back with anyhting substantial besides, "Great question, I don't know, and neither do you. Science may someday be able to answer that, but for the time being, we don't know, and the genie in the sky must have made us that way isn't an answer either because that is based on faith, and as we both know faith is belief in something without evidence, which makes it a failed epistemology, a failed approach to understand and gain knowledge of the world around us."....seems a bit hollow though.

User avatar
unfogged
Student
Posts: 30
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 12:47 pm

Post #6

Post by unfogged »

You know, "how do you explain the fact that you have the ability to love, think, reason, have consciousness...sentience...all from evolution from apes." Or words to that affect.
I completely agree that "I can't explain it" is the answer but there is plenty of evidence that many animals including apes, horses, dogs, cats, crows, and others exhibit simple problem solvings skills which require some degree of the ability to reason. I would certainly accept that they exhibit conciousness and that they show emotions in varying degrees. That tells me that whatever conciousness and sentience is, it is linked to the development of the brain and nervous system. I don't know how conciousness works but it appears to be based on and constrained within potentially knowable limits.

We may have a long way to go yet in order to understand it or be able to reproduce it but looking for any sort of mystical answer is just a 'god of the gaps' argument.

keithprosser3

Post #7

Post by keithprosser3 »

Science isn't - any perhaps never will be - complete. What was there before the big bang? I don't know. I don't know if it even makes sense to ask, or what it means to say it doesn't make sense to ask!

My adage is that atheism isn't about knowing the answers to such questions but knowing what the answer isn't. If you want certainty and have all the answers, religion is the thing to go for. Only problem is you get certainty about what is not true and the answers you get are the wrong ones.

I think atheists do overstate the power of science to explain stuff - especially its power to explain stuff right this minute. It is annoying that theists have pseudo-answers to the 'deep questions' of life, but that is all they are - pseudo-answers. C'est la vie.

My advice - Just present the facts as well as you know them. If a theist is open to argument that will be enough. If they are not open to argument no amount of scientific facts would change their mind anyway.

Bust Nak
Savant
Posts: 9459
Joined: Mon Feb 27, 2012 6:03 am
Location: Planet Earth
Has thanked: 117 times
Been thanked: 182 times

Re: Consciousness/sentience

Post #8

Post by Bust Nak »

"How do you explain the fact that you have the ability to love, think, reason, have consciousness...sentience...all from evolution from apes?" is the easy part. Our apes ancestors had the ability to love, think, reason, have consciousness and sentience, we inherited these traits from them.

Explain consciousness from evolution from single cell organisms, that's the hard part. We have no exact answer as to how and when that happened. For the time being, they'll have to make do with the explaination that consciousness is an emergent property of complexity of our brains. Explaining how brains evlove from single cells is a much easier prospect.

User avatar
Furrowed Brow
Site Supporter
Posts: 3725
Joined: Mon Nov 20, 2006 9:29 am
Location: Here
Been thanked: 1 time
Contact:

Post #9

Post by Furrowed Brow »

At the moment I think science does a fair job of explaining how there is stuff like pain, and that tingly butterfly feeling, and the feeling of pins and needles, and how there is a sense of the colour blue, but it can't tell us how these things have an experience attached to the physics and biology. That is a deeper question and if there is ever an answer it will probably requires a complete rearrangement of some fundamental concepts and probably letting go of others. After much deliberation on the subject I came to the conclusion these things can only be if determinism is on some level false. I don't think consciousness in its rawest sense of some very basic sense data is a question of reaching some threshold of complexity. That is a non answer. Whilst it is true if an organism has no eyes it can't see blue, the lack of a sense organ or a simple nervous system does not explain why there is every qualia in the first place. Maybe there is something like being a stone....it is very boring, it does not reflect on what it is, or recognise that has an experience, and not much goes on, and it all happens very very slowly. So folk might think that is nuts but there is a valid point here. Why would a complex physical process have an experience attached make anymore sense than a very simply chemical reaction having an experience. Maybe not a conscious or directed one, but still a rudimentary experience of sorts.

Jashwell
Guru
Posts: 1592
Joined: Sun Feb 23, 2014 5:05 am
Location: United Kingdom

Re: Consciousness/sentience

Post #10

Post by Jashwell »

goodwithoutgod wrote:"how do you explain the fact that you have the ability to love, think, reason, have consciousness...sentience...all from evolution from apes."
"Are you saying apes can't love, think, reason, have consciousness, sentience?"

If they actually cared about the origin of sentience they wouldn't mention evolution from apes. They're assuming it's insufficient and that they have the only possible explanation a priori.

Post Reply