Might as well make my first churchless blog post in 2023 about a subject that first caught my attention back in 2011, which was the first time I read Alex Rosenberg's book, The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.
It's the notion that our thoughts aren't about anything at all. That link leads to a blog post where I did my best to describe why Rosenberg says this. I won't repeat most of what was said in that post, so I invite you to read it if you want to have your mind blown so early in the new year.
This quotation from the book that I included in the previous post lays out what's at stake here, according to Rosenberg, a philosopher at Duke University and codirector of the Duke Center for Philosophy of Biology -- a pleasingly cool title.
What you absolutely cannot be wrong about is that your conscious thought was about something. Even having a wildly wrong thought about something requires that the thought be about something.
It's this last notion that introspection conveys that science has to deny. Thinking about things can't happen at all. The brain can't have thoughts about Paris, or about France, or about capitals, or about anything else for that matter.
When consciousness convinces you that you, or your mind, or your brain has thoughts about things, it is wrong.
Don't misunderstand, no one denies that the brain receives, stores, and transmits information. But it can't do these things in anything like the way introspection tells us it does -- by having thoughts about things. The way the brain deals with information is totally different from the way introspection tells us it does.
Seeing why and understanding how the brain does the work that consciousness gets so wrong is the key to answering all the rest of the questions that keep us awake at night worrying over the mind, the self, the soul, the person.
As I said in the blog post, this question of the about'ness of thoughts is the most difficult part of the book, which I've been re-re-reading parts of. Rosenberg tries different approaches to convince the reader that he's correct, several of which I described in the earlier blog post.
One approach I didn't describe, but noted in my recent re-re-reading (third time, I'm pretty sure), concerns an admittedly difficult to understand conception of the regress necessary if neurons in the brain were to be about something.
I won't try to summarize this concept, as Rosenberg does a good job himself in these paragraphs.
Now the problem is clear. We see why the Paris neurons can't be about Paris the way that red octagons are about stopping. It's because that way lies a regress that will prevent us from ever understanding what we wanted to figure out in the first place: how one chunk of stuff -- the Paris neurons -- can be about another chunk of stuff -- Paris.
We started out trying to figure out how the Paris neurons could be about Paris, and our tentative answer is that they are about Paris because some other part of the brain -- the neural interpreter -- is both about the Paris neurons and about Paris. We set out to explain how one set of neurons is about something out there in the world.
We find ourselves adopting the theory that it's because another set of neurons is about the first batch of neurons and about the thing in the world, too. This won't do.
What we need to get off the regress is some set of neurons that is about some stuff outside the brain without being interpreted -- by anyone or anything else (including any other part of the brain) -- as being about the stuff outside the brain.
What we need is a clump of matter, in this case the Paris neurons, that by the very arrangement of its synapses points at, indicates, singles out, picks out, identifies (and here we just start piling up more and more synonyms for "being about") another clump of matter outside the brain.
But there is no such physical stuff.
Physics has ruled out the existence of clumps of matter of the required sort. There are just fermions and bosons and combinations of them. None of that stuff is just, all by itself, about any other stuff. There is nothing in the whole universe -- including, of course, all the neurons in your brain -- that just by its nature or composition can do this job of being about some other clump of matter.
So when consciousness assures us that we have thoughts about stuff, it has to be wrong. The brain nonconsciously stores information in thoughts. But the thoughts are not about stuff. Therefore, consciousness cannot retrieve thoughts about stuff. There are none to retrieve. So it can't have thoughts about stuff either.
Now, I view this excerpt, and Rosenberg's entire book, as evidence that philosophy is a good marriage partner with neuroscience. What Rosenberg has done is apply a form of philosophical analysis to neuroscientific knowledge about how the brain works.
Which demolishes many common sense notions, including that we can think about things in the world, and that there is an independent self having such thoughts.
However, I can understand why others might view what Rosenberg says as gibberish. My response to that is this: if you look upon his book that way, do your best to grasp why he dismisses the idea that thoughts are about stuff in the world. Only then can you make an informed judgement about what he says.
Great topic to start 2023.
To the sleeping agents, and the sheep of RSSB , thoughts are infact nothing, and never their own. The thoughts the initiated get are guilt related for not going satsangs for an indoctrination injectio ), or going to seva (slavery). Their thoughts are also fear related, so you are never allowed to ask the real questions about RSSB and the personal life of the king of clowns, gurinder singh dhillon and his family as they have allot of skeletons hidden in the closet. Your certainly not allowed to have thoughts of fun without thinking of the vampiric master - the sexual demon. However you are definitively encouraged to mentally repeat the toxic satanic names in the secret mantra given at initiation, 247. The first name being jot niranjan, the light of the devil, then onkar, rar unker, sohung, satnam - not so secret anymore lol !!! So in short your not allowed to think beyond surrendering your mind to a stranger lord (lol) and master gurinder singh dhillon - guru by family privilege and contract.
The good thing is you can get out of this satanic control by starting to question and getting back in your power.
Posted by: Kranvir | January 03, 2023 at 02:26 PM
"However, I can understand why others might view what Rosenberg says as gibberish."
Haha, count me in that camp!
But that's only on first reading, and of this limited exceprt. I googled Alex Rosenberg, just now, to try to take his measure: and he's a an atheist (which is good, God bless him), and he's philosopher not a scientist (not so good, these come in all stripes, from the very incisive and brilliant to the ...well, not; so not so good I guess). But at the end of the day he's a professional philosopher not a dilettante, so I'm fully willing to consider that my opinion of this is based either on not understanding what he says, or on not fully appreciating the arguments he marshals to make his case (arguments that I haven't even heard fully, not having read his book). So yeah, all those qualifications.
That said, this reminded me of a discussion I saw, a recording, between Dawkins and Rowan Williams, at that time the Archbishop of Canterbury. He kept objecting to the idea of AI ever achieving consciousness and sentience, Wiliams I mean, on the basis that it's all binary ones and twos at the end of the day, and how could that ever achieve that. To which Dawkins pointed out that that's just the technical components of the hardware of it, and the software itself, and further meta levels to it if applicable, is what is releveant here. And to that commonsense argument added his professional expertise to assure him, and to briefly show him, that that's exectly what happened with us humans as well, via evoluation.
Well, isn't this something like that here? What on earth is a thought of Paris? Would one expect fairy dust from Paris to suddenly reveal itself in the neurons? All this says is that we've not yet advanced to the level of knowledge and expertise where we can access the contents of people's thoughts by neurobiological means. We well might one day advance to where we can do that; or it may be that that's just not possible, but if that's so then we most definitely don't know that now, that that's not possible. All it means is that we can't do that now.
I think, unless I misread him from this excerpt, that Rosenberg's saying that this is something we never can do. I don't see how on earth he might know that, ouside of reading tea leaves.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | January 04, 2023 at 09:14 AM
Just went back and read all the Wiki entry on the man, Rosenberg I mean. (I'd only read the initial introduction paragraph when I wrote that comment.)
He seems pedigreed enough. I shouldn't be surprised if I'm completely mistaken, either about what he's saying, or else about how shallow are his reasons for saying it.
Which is simply my earlier qualification revisited, but I'd like to emphasize it here one more time. But be that as it may, what he says, or at least what understand of what I see here of what he says, still doesn't make sense to me, and it does come across to me as ...well, gibberish.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | January 04, 2023 at 09:37 AM
>> That said, this reminded me of a discussion I saw, a recording, between Dawkins and Rowan Williams, at that time the Archbishop of Canterbury. He kept objecting to the idea of AI ever achieving consciousness and sentience, Wiliams I mean, on the basis that it's all binary ones and twos at the end of the day, and how could that ever achieve that. <<
Etc. ...AR by accident I had to inform myself about the work of neuroscientist Anil Seth. Instead of going through his book "being You", I decided to listen to some of the available interviews on Youtube. He is at the same level as the Archbishop but for scientific reasons.
Maybe that is something you might like.
Posted by: um | January 04, 2023 at 09:37 AM
Any particular talks you'd recommend? (If none come to mind, then that's fine, don't trouble digging through things; I might generally give that name a whirl, over at Youtube, in that case.)
Incidentally, if we're looking for quality to be impressed with in that discussion I'd referenced, then that would squarely vest with Richard Dawkins. Rowan Williams's uncritical irrationalities were, for the most part, elementary enough that any layman could probably pick them apart easily enough. Although, that said, I found him very ...civilized, very tolerant both of other faiths as well as of opposing views, and apart from his particular relgion, not an irrational man, so there's that.
*follows train of thought*
We tend to rail at the age of the Internet for the deleterious effect it's had on people's reading habits and attention spans --- including, to some extent, on one's own --- but it's a fact that a great deal of educative content has now become effortlessly available in video format, that one earlier would either not be able to witness at all, or else be able to partake of them only with a great deal of trouble and expense. It would be silly to keep turning our noses up at this unprecedented intellectual bounty that's now been thrown on to our laps as it were, much of it completely free.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | January 04, 2023 at 10:29 AM
Hahaha .. you are right in your observation .. no doubt.
AR in the previous post I had an additional part that I decide to delete before sending but for your sake I will write it again.
It has become my personal point of view, related to the place i happen to stand metally, that inorder to understand, appreciate, value what experts write etc, be they scientists or mystics, one has to be on their level.
If one is NOT at that level, one is allowed only the role of an " blind, selective, believer of hearsay" ... to be compared with the consumer at the table of an restaurant ... he or she, can only say "I like it or I don't like it"
There is no end to experts in the world and I was not born to digest whatever they produce, in describing the world according their typical academical language or the musings of mystics. No amount of lifes would be enough. So Ar I gave up., I am no longer interested in the works of others, whoever they are whatever their level of expertise.
I do my best to accept the consequences of my point of view, of which I have tried to put that before you and others in the time that lays behind.
Not able to distinguish between real experts and snake-oil sellers, not having the desire to be an expert on any field of experience and knowledge, I prefer to withdraw in the "darkness"of my own life were the "keys of life" are to be found in the first place and not in the lime light of the streets of the world
And ... have some coffee.
Please do not take we wrong AR ... I have nothing to say about experts, their expertise and those that do their utmost to appreciated what they have to offer to the world ... absolutely NOTHING ... it is just an personal decision
Posted by: um | January 04, 2023 at 11:19 AM
Yes of course, you've expressed that POV often enough in the past, and we've explored its implications in some detail as well, you and I.
Fair enough, I understand.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | January 04, 2023 at 11:34 AM