May 18, 2010

Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. . . . Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless. (T. Nagel, 1979, pp.165–166)]
Necessity of Consciousness isn’t Sufficient to give it a Form
It is from the problem of mind-body dichotomy that mind and body have been conceptualized as different entities. What brings forward this problem is consciousness. Yet most of the viewpoints in this area tackle with many secondary products of the dualism vs. monism conflict, leaving consciousness unexplained by every possible and debatable angle. Consciousness has initiated the mind-body problem but still is undefined to either be a mental or a physical state [hardly anyone considers it to a physical state but it is undefined]. Thomas Nagel has stated that without consciousness the mind-body problem has no substantial grounds to raise questions about dualism or distinct ontological existence of both the mind and body. In other words, what brings in the interest in this issue is the nature of consciousness and its inexplicability, without that most of the other corresponding physical and mental phenomena do not necessitate the mind-body conflict. Yet the very existence of consciousness as a phenomenon leaves many queries in this issue unsolved as much as it raises them. I would support this argument by explaining the pivotal role of consciousness in the mind-body problem, doctrines explaining this problem without necessary consciousness and arguments that hold necessary consciousness and create newer questions in the mind-body problem.
Consciousness in the Mind-Body Problem
The mind-body problem is basically of the nature- dualism as against monism and thus giving rise to emergentism. Both ends accept consciousness; the argument starts form the existence of different physical and mental states of a being. Consciousness is the awareness of having a mind and its functioning. Thus from this argument follows the question- what states of a being give him his identity- physical or mental- and therefore what creates consciousness- where does it lie- what form does it have?
Physical states of our body are known to us; this knowledge about body is not consciousness, as knowing observable facts is not awareness. Awareness is the key word to understanding of consciousness- it is synonymous to wakefulness and responsiveness. Thus it implies a state of interaction: when P is conscious of his thoughts he is aware of his thoughts i.e. he has them not just as memories but reinforces a known route of thinking to a particular thought x and thus knows it actively. E.g. ‘I am aware that I love burgers’ implies that my love for burger is because of certain known reasons and that my love can’t be a dead fact because- love implies certain conditions and the absence of it means no love, therefore it can’t be memory; ‘I love’ implies continuity even though that thought as per its content doesn’t remain in the focus of thinking all the time. Therefore this awareness of having a certain thought is not knowledge through perception- no matter if it’s stored in the brain as memory or is in the focus of thinking i.e. the activity in hypothalamus. It requires necessary to be in a mental state.
Consciousness as a mental state: Now that one knows that consciousness is not reducible to brain states, why should it be a mental state? That is pretty obvious if the point is establishing either existence or inexistence of mind, but the question is how did this problem follow from proposed existence of mind? It would be very cyclical if this is established from the definition of consciousness as it means awareness of having a mind and its functioning. So what are the various senses of consciousness- awareness of existence, awareness of thoughts and awareness of awareness. The first sense seems trivial if we look at it this way- If I know I exist then can I know the same without existing. The complexity lies in the fact that what do I know as my existence- if it implies all by physical states as observed by me, then I haven’t yet observed that ‘I know’. My awareness is thus my belief and a belief is definitely a mental state but not a mental fact. Therefore the necessity of a mind-like entity follows from that. The other sense as in the example of the burger is awareness of having thoughts and not the state of thinking. For instance when it is said that p is morally conscious, he is aware of his thoughts about morality. If someone asks him a question are you aware that you think it is unethical to murder. If an obvious yes doesn’t come from him then he may have forgotten the reasons as to why he accepted that morality in the past, but then reinforcement is possible only when there is memory and loss of memory means need for fresh thought about any issue. If he says he yes, does it simply imply that he remembers- actually it means he still holds it to be valid which makes it a state of mind. Last sense of it is awareness of awareness. Let us continue with the same example- is p aware that he is aware of his thoughts about morality. The answer is – at this instant: no; but when he thinks about it: yes. The issue gets worse as, if there is awareness of awareness which is inactive at a particular instant and gets turned on with thought then, where is it? Is having this kind of awareness a mere belief formed on because of no counterevidence? If we can establish that this thinking in two layers is possible then it is not just a belief but such awareness exists and thus the need of explaining it in terms of mental state.
Subtract consciousness from the idea of mind
Before arguing for the necessity of consciousness in the mind body problem, I would like to discuss the other aspects of the issue and certain doctrines that go against this necessity.
Reasons behind the mind body problem: Given that mind and body have distinct ontological entities [a materialist would deny mind completely, but that very problem has been addressed to, therefore let us analyze between dualism and monism] mind has no empirical evidence. Therefore a dualist would argue that they are different components of the self. Also for instance the process of reasoning is explained by brain states, but what is implied by ‘having rationality’ doesn’t occur anywhere as a state by observing an association formed. Qualia are the subjective characteristics of experience; they are initiated by physical states but aren’t explained by them. So comes the question where do these mental events exist? All these problems also contribute to necessity of mind. The epiphenomenalists [mental states are causally ineffective but both mental states and brain states exist], panpsychists [both physical and mental states exist but only physical states create mental states] and the functionalists [mental states are functional, mind doesn’t exist] give solutions to these problems in a reductive manner. Hence what remains is consciousness.
A mind that requires no consciousness: Parallelism is doctrine that says mind and body function parallely and do not interfere with each other. Therefore if we accept that then there is no question of consciousness as- what is one aware of and who is the one that is aware? If mind and body don’t interact we cannot reach the peripheries of consciousness as every question about this issue doesn’t stand valid. If P sees a green parrot, then his perception is different and his thought of a green parrot isn’t related to that, therefore from where did the thought follow from if the brain state created from perception didn’t create it? How can he think of a green parrot as colour is dispositional in nature though may not be physical reality and why does he call the creature in his thought a parrot if he perceives something called a parrot too. Occasionalism [Malebranche] also argues on similar lines that mind and body have parallel functioning and occurrences of similarity between mental and brain states is because of God’s intervention. The same problem as parallelism persists here along with an assumption of intervention and undefined idea of God.
Mind is accessible to a conscious being. Simple questions revolving around identity of an entity and that unique attribute his beliefs will have is because he is aware of them. The mind body problem without consciousness is a reductionist approach.
If not this reductionist approach, then consciousness is the central problem of mind-body problem. So comes the question why is the problem unresolved because of consciousness again.
- Thomas Nagel explains consciousness to be a subjective character of experience. He puts forth the term- ‘what is it like’nes. By his thought experiment of a bat he explains a bat’s consciousness as only a bat knows what it is like to be one. The unique experiences constitute his character of consciousness and thus only the physical states aren’t sufficient to create the mental state of consciousness. Physical states are common to everyone who can perceive a certain object but there is subjective character to that experience which makes his consciousness. The other minds problem also raises the question that how do we know that a mind other than us thinks like us though we know it to have the same body.
- Hilary Putnam’s multiple realizabilty argues against functionalism by stating that one mental property, state or event can be implemented by different mental properties, states or events. Thus the mental property of consciousness is not functional in nature. This is true because our constant awareness cannot be result of every brain state. Seeing a red book doesn’t necessitate that one is aware of his thoughts [not just one thought about the red book] and aware of being aware.
- The concept of phenomenal consciousness states that phenomenal conscious properties are experiential properties. This argument is monist. It doesn’t explain every sense of consciousness- the awareness of being ware of thought isn’t any experience initiated by physical reality or isn’t purely mental too. Therefore consciousness requires independent mental states.
Any doctrine that doesn’t deny the ontological existence of consciousness cannot support its reducible existence. Yet none of them actually establish consciousness. There is no acceptable theory that explains the nature of every kind of consciousness as in terms of the nature of a mental state. Nagel too has defined consciousness but he establishes the need of it and the unique character of it only. Why is this insufficient then? Putnam’s semantic externalism says that meaning just ain’t in the head. The head implies internal counterpart of meaning of something and not just the brain state but a mind too; but the point is that if consciousness has meaning as understood by us, it has existence as a mental state independent of someone who thinks about it. This problem of consciousness cancels out almost every solution offered to the mind-body problem.
· Consciousness only offers strong grounds for interactionism and creates mind-body problem. Consciousness in every sense of it also goes against reducible monism. Consciousness disproves parallel functioning of the mind and the body.
· Most of the arguments in the mind-body problem have necessitated consciousness and have inclination towards explaining it as a mental state, but do not provide its exact mental form. This is the major reason for the mind-body problem to persist.