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October 28, 2010


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Hi Brian,

I'm a long time reader of your fine blog. This is my first comment however.

I'm 61 years old and went through many of the same transitions that you have and in the end I have also found myself perched on the door of your Churchless Church just kind of resting in the Mystery.

I appreciate Sam Harris's work and unlike some of the other popular atheists, Sam has a PhD in NeuroScience and is well aware of Consciousness Studies and "the hard problem" of mind/brain interaction.

I am a PhD Psychologist (over 30 years) and also have a professional take on the mind/brain interaction. I understand that I open myself to the charges of being a , heaven forbid, dualist but I would like to remark to Number 7 from Sam;

(7) If we have (or are) an immortal soul, why is our consciousness so obviously altered by brain damage? This is like saying the soul of a diabetic produces abundant insulin. Sure, you can say anything. But where's the evidence?

There is another equally plausible hypothesis regarding mind/brain interaction that was entertained by the eminent American psychologist William James as well as many others in the field and that is the transmission theory. A N Whitehead, the great 20th century mathematician and philosopher, built a top to bottom epistemology that includes consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality in the universe, embedded within the universe from the Big Bang. The brain is now being studied on a quantum level in tiny particles called microtubules that make up the billions of neurons firing in creative, unstable patterns throughout the brain. When quantum theory is applied to microtubules (see Stuart Hammeroff MD and physicists Roger Penrose) consciousness MAY be studied as a quantum event subject to the many strange laws of quantum physics e.g nonlocality and various time/space anomalies. The point I'm trying to make is that we are still far away from locking up the problem of consciousness and the nature of qualia, the intimate individual experiences of consciousness (the redness of red, the taste of champagne) than presented in this quote. Although Quantum Models are 105 years old, many researchers remain locked in a Newtonian Cause and Effect Mindset thus conceptualizing a model that is rapidly becoming inadequate for such Problems of Consciousness.

nice comment by Richard Stuart!

Richard, I agree with david: nice comment!

The Penrose/Hammeroff theory of consciousness is speculative. Maybe it's true, but it doesn't resonate with me. And if consciousness is linked up with the microtubules, this still means that it is a physical phenomenon, needing a brain to manifest.

Yet you're right: nonlocality and other mysterious aspects of quantum physics could point to some sort of universal consciousness in the cosmos (or "as" the cosmos).

In a few days I'll probably put forward another perspective of Susan Blackmore's -- that we're basically deluded about our consciousness, and this creates all the questions we ponder that can't really be answered, since they're founded on a delusion.

If the non-locality aspect of quantum physics could POINT to "some sort of universal consciousness" what consciousness would that aspect be a part of? Another universal consciousness? There is no way to conceptualize it or write it down. Some scientist may say, "Aha!" but then would be in a bind forever contradicting himself trying to explain it. As I am going to do now...

I will never see "myself" because it is "myself" that is looking. If I see myself, it is something other than myself that is being seen, a reflection, a concept. What I am is the process of seeing and living. All I am is seeing, doing, feeling, but 'I' cannot be found. There is 'I' but not as any sort of thing that can be isolated from this perceiving of life. We see it written here and there: "I am that but I am not". To me, there is no 'that', rather just 'this'. 'That' can be conceived as a 'thing' which may be misleading. 'This' is It when 'this' is not conceived as an object, otherwise 'this' could be misleading as well. Spontaneous immediacy may be a better way of putting 'It'.

I am aware that I am typing on this machine and that I call this typing entity "tucson". But where does tucson really exist except as an object in mind, except as a reflection of what really is. "Really is" cannot be objectively known. Where do YOU exist except as an object in mind? Can you really find you? What is it that is seeing you? You? Are there two 'you's'?

How could God show up at the rally as a thing to be known or seen? Yet "God" was entirely there, utterly obvious and present as seeing, hearing and feeling the rally, AS the rally.

This is a feeble attempt to explain something I can't explain, but I keep trying.

tucson, your "feeble attempt to explain" above actually is pretty darn consistent with modern neuroscience, so you're not as enfeebled as it might seem.

I'll probably write a blog post about this subject -- what is consciousness? -- in a couple of days. Assuming I don't commit suicide while watching the election returns tomorrow night.

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