Friday, January 12, 2007

The nature of consciousness -- Logic vs. Pattern Recognition -- Spooky?

This is a good interview and typifies the sort of material that started me questioning dualism and got me to think more logically about the nature of consciousness (there is also a lot of reading I did on logical fallacies and critical thinking in general [more on that in another post]).

From the NPQ interview with Professor Gerald Edelman on Neural Darwinism:
I do not believe consciousness arises from spooky forces. I don’t believe in some Cartesian dualistic domain that is inaccessible to science. The brain is embodied and the body is embedded in its environment. That trio must operate in an integrated way. You can’t separate the activity and development of the brain from the environment or the body.
A religious friend of mine was surprisingly upset at the use of the word "spooky". I'm afraid I cannot excuse the usage or back away from that term. I think "spooky" is exactly the right term.

When I look back in my personal history to satisfy my friend's interest in what event triggered my "loss" of religion or my anger at god (since there are no gods how can I be angry at an idea with no basis in reality?), I find nothing to satisfy this assumption of an event. Like most things in my life the current state of my mind and beliefs were gradually acquired and gradually changed. Never much drama. However, I do remember being afraid. I remember fear of the supernatural and religious prophcy. From the ridiculous childhood fear that the rapture would come before the weekend trip to Disneyland, to the more teenage fear of what might be around the next corner (reading the "Amityville Horror" while working alone in a Radio Shack at night). All of it a bit, "spooky".

My current rejection of dualism has freed me from all this worry. The only residual I feel is from books and movies, where the skeptic is always the one who is killed by the thing they disbelieve. Somewhat like this fun little scene from the movie Lady in the Water:
Why you're not a dog at all. My god, this is like a moment from a horror movie. This is precisely the moment where the mutation or beast will attempt to kill an unlikable side character. But, in stories where there has been no prior cursing, violence, nudity or death, such as in a family film, the unlikable character will escape his encounter, and be referenced later in the story, having learned valuable lessons. He may even be given a humorous moment to allow the audience to feel good about him. This is where I turn to run. You will leap for me, I will shut the door, and you will land a fraction of a second too late.
[Turns to run, and is killed by the scrunt]
OK, so the character was a movie critic and not a skeptic. And clearly M. Night Shyamalan was making a slightly different point/joke, but still, I'm going to be more careful suspending my disbelief in the future.


Note: I first got excited by Professor Gerald Edelman's ideas after I heard him on the Berkeley Groks Podcast - Science of Consciousness
.. the brain is not in fact a digital computer. That the brain is in fact something that evolution has put together in terms of an incredible circuitry, which is capable of carrying out pattern recognition rather than logic. Of course, it can carry out logic in civilization after you train a person who has higher order consciousness. But, it’s not a logic machine first and foremost. It’s a pattern recognition device, and it has not been engineered it has been developed by natural selection.
I remember where I was in the car when I heard this. Pounded the steering wheel and shouted "YES!" This makes real sense, perhaps it is the computer nerd in me.

I'm finally getting around to reading his book: Wider than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness

1 comment:

daddy_phantom said...

The very day I posted this entry mentioning my long ago brush with reading the book "The Amityville Horror" one of my new favorite podcasts did an episode on this spooky story. Well worth the listen/read at

Brian Dunning (our host at Skeptoid), strikes a very even and balanced show with advise for believers and skeptics alike. Well worth a listen.