The hard problem

I hope that some of you have had, or will have, the opportunity to see Tom Stoppard’s play “The Hard Problem” at the National Theatre. I saw it conveniently at my local Odeon – along with a grandson who is studying philosophy at Durham. It is of considerable interest to Secondsight Blog.

The plot itself is a little thin, but it provides a matrix in which a number of important issues are argued out between the main characters. A central theme is what I call the “Turing” problem. You will remember that Turing spoke of the possibility of developing a computer so sophisticated that anyone entering into conversation with it would be unable to distinguish it from a human being. We are faced with the question of the difference between a person and a machine, when the latter is at least equally competent, and often more so. This brings us up against the “Hard Problem” of the title , which is of course the question of our consciousness.

On the way we have to consider whether there is such a thing as altruism. One character argues strongly that there is no such thing as altruism in the sense of someone making a sacrifice for another. In all the examples presented to him he is able to show reasons why the ‘altruistic’ person is in fact seeking to gain direct or indirect advantage from his action. There is no room for an element of choice to benefit another at a cost to oneself. We can see this to be true at the level of the computer – where, ultimately, all operations are causal. The thought of a computer being kind just doesn’t fit the bill.

As you would expect, the idea of free will gets short shrift. In the mechanical (scientific) world a choice which is uncaused has no place. I was interested to read this weekend a draft dissertation from another grandchild who is studying philosophy (at London). He takes for granted that our decisions are all determined by our existing mental states, and bases his argument on that assumption. So much for five years of education at a distinguished Jesuit school!

The problem of consciousness is indeed hard. It faces the difficulty that one has to assume consciousness in order to enable it to be considered. That is, unless your brain can accept the idea that a philosopher or a scientist can solve a problem without using his consciousness. I have read many articles which promised to solve the problem but, in the end, they all turn out to be possible ways in which the brain is able to gather and present the stuff of which we are conscious, while leaving out the key step of consciousness itself.

In fact, although this was not mentioned, I think the real “Hard Problem” is freedom of the will. Consciousness is a necessary part of this of course, but it adds the additional problem of choice. Or we could take this further by considering the difference between good and bad choices. The computer has no use for “good” except as an alternative for “useful” or some such.

It is an irony that the scientific sceptics in practice accept altruism, freewill, consciousness as a personal quality, morality and the value of the good, in the conduct of all their daily life. How they live with the inconsistencies between their real life value systems and their intellectual denial of any basis for them intrigues me.

I will have given the impression that Stoddart is championing scepticism in this play. But the impression I received was that the jejune arguments of the sceptics became more and more incredible – not because they received an intellectual battering but because they appeared more and more ridiculous and irrelevant as the plot worked itself out with its all too human emotions and outcomes.

About Quentin

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94 Responses to The hard problem

  1. tim says:

    It’s wonderfully entertaining, as usual with Stoppard – at least if you don’t mind, certainly if you enjoy, having so many popular preconceptions challenged. He doesn’t give scepticism an easy time – some might even feel he is too keen ‘not to let the Whig dogs have the best of it’.

    Most shocking scene in the modern theatre – a woman kneeling by her bed to pray. I’m not sure if you’re just in saying it’s thin. I wish more people would write plays like this. I’ve ordered the text on Amazon, and expected to be temped to quote some of the good bits.

  2. Brendan says:

    Comments from those who have seen it would be most welcome .

  3. Peter D. Wilson says:

    “How they live with the inconsistencies between their real life value systems and their intellectual denial of any basis for them intrigues me.” Sometimes we know that there must be a reason
    for certain obligations, but we just can’t see it. Nevertheless we accept the obligations. Perhaps this is a case in point.

  4. tim says:

    First quotation:
    Hedge-fund boss to bright young physicist, who thinks mind merely a very complicated computer:
    “I don’t think you can write a prediction for a non-linear complex system, even for a mixer tap”.

    But maybe that one would be more appropriate for last week’s thread, “Knowledge – or mere entertainment?”?

  5. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    I am fascinated by the way believers treat problems like free will and consciousness. Instead of simply saying that we don’t know all the answers to everything but we must keep trying, they invent the all-purpose solution, and call it God. As, by their definition, this entity can do anything their problems are immediately solved. Hey Presto!

    • tim says:

      Not quite like that, AD. We don’t invent the ‘God solution’ – instead, when we have problems, we find this solution ready to hand – providing some of the answers. However, for non-believers, this avenue of attack is ruled out a priori.

  6. Horace says:

    As an ex ‘Senior lecturer in Artificial Intelligence’ (my professor was Donald Michie who worked with Alan Turing in Bletchley Park) I have obviously thought about the problems of consciousness and free-will quite a lot.

    Presumably a machine even though behaving intelligently is not conscious. But what about my dog or cat? Is it conscious; does it have free-will? How do I find out?

    Human consciousness is clearly related to brain activity and when the brain stops working properly the patient is (or least appears to be) unconscious. [When the brain stops working altogether then the person is dead.]

    Is this what underlies the concept of the ‘resurrection of the body’? If there is consciousness after death then there must be a functioning brain to support it.

    Eccles put forward the idea of the ‘liaison brain’ – a part of the brain which is able to communicate with our soul and hence provide us with consciousness. If we take this view then it is, of course, not possible to design a ‘conscious machine” – the soul is the seat of consciousness.

    I myself am inclined to the view that consciousness is actually a manifestation of the functioning of the brain, not a property of a completely separate entity (i.e. the soul is the “form” of the body – Catechism II 365).

    • milliganp says:

      The consciousness of other mammals does raise questions about the human tendency to consider ourselves unique. In a recent documentary a crew filming whale behaviour came across a whale caught in netting. It stayed calm as they cut it free but what happened next was extraordinary; as a “thank you” it gave them a virtuoso performance of leaps, twists and dives. Through the human ingenuity which made the filming possible, I was able to share the moment. I don’t think anyone who saw the programme could retain a belief that animal nature is fundamentally different to human, the whale obviously possessed consciousness and free will in some degree.

      • tim says:

        Yes. I think the same reasonable conviction can come from close acquaintance with individual domesticated animals, eg dogs or horses. That’s not to say that there are no important differences.

    • Quentin says:

      The issue of lower animals’ consciousness is an interesting one. Would it be more accurate to speak of human consciousness as a ‘reflective consciousness’ since it has the power of internal review and judgment?

      • milliganp says:

        We are currently commemorating the carnage of Gallipoli and words like courage and valour feature prominently in the script. CS Lewis in “the man with no chest” talked of the phrase “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” and how it is rendered meaningless without some higher ideology. Reducing the most courageous or imaginative human actions to merely being sophisticated self-interest does not offer much hope for building a better world since, in the absence of a sense of greater purpose utility must inevitably become the dominant basis for judgement.

      • Alan says:

        Milliganp – “Reducing the most courageous or imaginative human actions to merely being sophisticated self-interest does not offer much hope for building a better world since, in the absence of a sense of greater purpose utility must inevitably become the dominant basis for judgement.”

        Can you explain this further. The better world serves our interests? If not then in what way is it better? If it does serve our interests then how does the utility let us down when it is shaped by that which serves our interests? We might make a mistake in determining what course of action should be taken in order to better the world or we might fail to apply the course of action effectively, but I don’t see how the principle can let us down.

      • Martha says:

        I wonder where self consciousness fits in? Our human awareness of our own thoughts and some of the the motives for our choices and actions is certainly greater than that of animals, but they know, or some can be trained to know, which of their actions can elicit a reward or a punishment. They can show appreciation and affection. Is this mainly to encourage more of the same, or is it ‘unselfish’ gratitude? Humans usually take into account how their actions will affect others, but to very varying degrees. Those who consider it too much in social situations are considered to be self conscious and would usually wish to be less aware of themselves.

      • St.Joseph says:

        It is amazing what animals can understand.
        If a puppy does something wrong they can be trained by tappipg its nose and saying NO.
        My daughter has a Jack Russel, he not only can understand words, he can also understand when the word is spelt, like WALK, as he got used to the word, now runs to the door when it is spelt-just a small descriprion of what dogs do know.
        They can understand what to do and not to do.
        Humans are far more intelligent, so are able to understand more.If the Spirit guides them through the love of God, and for our salvation.

      • milliganp says:

        Alan, I’m using general philosophical concepts and this blog is not supposed to be Philosophy 101. The problem of utility has been summed up as “The fundamental problem for utilitarianism is justifying the altruistic principle of self-sacrifice in order to benefit others” since utility dictates that you never do something that has no ultimate personal benefit. Thus a utilitarian might risk his own life to save one of his children but would not do so for someone else’s child (unless there was a reward).Utility can be quite at ease with abortion (unwanted children) and euthanasia (useless old people). Many who favour utilitarianism try to deny the philosophies less desirable ramifications.
        This does not mean that utility can play no part in our thinking. Almost all philosophies which try to answer the question “what is good” have areas of weakness. In the past it was “good” to burn heretics at the stake, to hang thieves and to transport petty criminals to penal colonies. These actions were often justified on the basis of Divine authority and I’m more than aware that I need to throw stones carefully from my glass house. However we live in an age where utility is a dominant component of any peoples thinking and many of these same people are unaware of the philosophy’s more unpleasant results.

  7. milliganp says:

    Since the premise of the artificial intelligence element of the play is that the brain is just a very big machine that we will be able one day to model and recreate using computers, it would be worth reflecting on progress in the technology applied to AI.
    AI research and implementation relies on computers typically 1000 to 1 Million times the power of a 2012 desktop computer (I say 2012 because the previous exponential growth in desktop computing power has largely stalled). By using the specialist chips used for advanced graphics and games consoles it is now possible to build a workstation 5000-10000 times faster than a typical PC and these workstations can do real AI work doing recognition tasks (checking for cancer cells, analysing X-Rays or deconstructing photographs). Researchers have shared access to machines nearing 1 Million times the power of the PC. However it is generally accepted that general intelligence requires at least 1 Billion times the power of a PC (and 20 years ago we thought the number would be much smaller). Such a machine will probably exist in the early 2020’s but it will cost ~£250 Million+ to build and cost £50M a year to run.
    By 2025 there will be 8 Billion people on the planet and humanity might just have made a machine as smart as one of them! Obviously the fans of exponential technical progress will say that if we can model the mind on a supercomputer in 2025 we’ll be doing it on a mobile phone by 2050.

  8. Nektarios says:

    your consciousness, with which you have identified yourself as your `individual’ consciousness, is an illusion. It is the consciousness of the rest of mankind. You are the world and the world is you. Please, consider this, see the seriousness of it, the responsibility that is involved in it. You have struggled all your life, as an individual, something separate from the rest of humanity, and when you discover that your consciousness is the consciousness of the rest of mankind, it means you are mankind, you are not individual. You may have your own particular skill, tendency, idiosyncrasy, but you are actually the rest of mankind, because your consciousness is the consciousness of every other human being. That consciousness is put together by thought. That consciousness is the result of millennia upon millennia of thought. Thought has always been most extraordinarily important in our lives.

    • milliganp says:

      Nectaries, sometimes I haven’t a clue what you are talking about; this is one of those moments.

      • Nektarios says:

        Sorry about that, I will try to simplify the matter about consciousness if I can for you.
        But before I go into that, lets first look at how we live. Most people live on the periphery of their minds, in their thoughts in other words. So getting to grips with consciousness when living at the periphery is rather difficult, nigh impossible.

        Consciousness, is the sum total of all your thoughts, your memories, experiences sorrows and joys, fears, trial and difficulties and so on.
        All that I sought to show you, is that consciousness is not an individual thing, but something belonging to all of us, as mankind. Accessing that consciousness, the mind must be still
        and we can observe its movement. Has that made clear what I was talking about in my last post? I hope so.

      • Quentin says:

        To save confusion: consciousness as explained and debated among scientists, and in The Hard Problem, is confined to our internal reflective awareness. It is by definition personal. I, and no one else, am conscious of writing this contribution. My consciousness will embrace all manner of things outside myself but that is another matter altogether.

        The problem is hard because, while neuroscience is learning more and more about what is processed in the brain, no progress has been made in their hope of finding or defining consciousness as a physical element in the brain. Nor indeed has anyone described what a satisfactory solution would look like. This is a serious problem for those who hold that we can all be explained through science.

    • milliganp says:

      If you are saying that no man is an island and that every life is the product of interrractions with many others to the extent that it is ultimately all others then I understand. If what you propose is that humanity has a collective conciousness then I would differ but not argue as it is an area of thought I know little about.

      • Nektarios says:

        Not exactly – that is Buddhist teaching. What I am suggesting was we all share one nature
        in Adam. What befell Adam the first of mankind, is also true of us. Like Adam, we have and share his fallen nature. The consciousness is collective only in the ssense we all share the same sorrows, darkness, fears, trials and difficulties and at the end death.
        Now please read what I posted to St. Joseph she agreed with. The Christian consciousness is very different.

      • overload says:

        Nektarios, you may think this is nit-picking, I would not agree…
        Hinduism I think teaches that our individual consciousnesses are fabricated from what you call a “collective consciousness”, and that we can be reunited with, or reabsorbed into, this God-consciousness. Buddhism on the other hand teaches that consciousness is itself a fabricated “aggregate of clinging”, dependant upon a prerequisite condition, and thus not an attribute of that which is uncreated, unborn, and deathless. Comparing this with the Christian God, we can consider that the Trinity is not created, but is born, thus it follows that consciousness is a (necessary) attribute of the 3 persons of God—or at least that the existence of the Trinity is dependant upon consciousness.

  9. Peter Foster says:

    Quentin writes: “As you would expect, the idea of free will gets short shrift. In the mechanical (scientific) world a choice which is uncaused has no place.”
    I see this as an example of a “truth” in the form of an assertion established and accepted by repetition, as discussed in our previous blog, rather than by cogent argument and evidence.

    The first prerequisite for free will is that the world is open, namely that its future state cannot in its entirety be predicted from a complete knowledge of its present state; in other words, that it be indeterminate.

    This might seem contrary to our experience in science and engineering where prediction is good enough to build aeroplanes. But we can see that mental thoughts can produce effects in the physical world which are not the consequence of the blind unfolding of physical laws.

    Following Karl Popper: “An indeterminate physics is not enough to make room for human freedom. We need at least the causual openness of what he calls World 1 towards World 2, as well as the causual openness of World 2 towards World 3, and vice versa.”

    By ‘World 1’ he means the world of physics: of rocks, and trees and physical fields of forces.
    By ‘World 2’ he means the psychological world of the human mind, but also of the minds of animals.
    By ‘World 3’ he means the world of the PRODUCTS OF THE HUMAN MIND: abstract things, such as problems, theories and arguments, including mistaken ones; works of art, ethical values and social institutions.

    We can see that World 3 can produce an effect in World 1.
    For example, aeronautical theories are products of the human mind in World 3; however, they result in an aeroplane.
    An aeroplane is an object in World 1 whose existence is NOT a deterministic outcome of World 1 through its laws of physics.
    Such artefacts are not seen on the moon where there are no creatures with mental worlds.

    There are many other demonstrations and arguments against alleged “scientific determinism”.

    • milliganp says:

      This is, if I understand it correctly, a fruiful philosophical course to follow. Determinism would mean that not only would humanity learn to fly (the aeroplane) but that we would have to design the A330 Airbus.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I suppose you may be right as’ man’ has designed ‘babies’.
        They can choose what sex or colour of eyes and hair, what diseases they will be born with ,then destroy them.If they do not suit.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    I was going to say a computer can not pro-create, but then I thought a computer designs another compiuter, by the brains of humans.
    Similar to God really.
    Sorry if that sounds stupid.
    Then I am a women who doesnt know too much about the subject, just my ha’penny worth.

  11. milliganp says:

    “It is an irony that the scientific sceptics in practice accept altruism, freewill, consciousness as a personal quality, morality and the value of the good, in the conduct of all their daily life. How they live with the inconsistencies between their real life value systems and their intellectual denial of any basis for them intrigues me.”
    Is this just the inverse of the “God of the gaps”. The scientist attributes all the arguments for things outside science as just “stuff we haven’t yet worked out”.

    • Quentin says:

      Yes indeed – ‘stuff we haven’t yet worked out’. This invites our response ‘I am not asking you for the answer, but what would the answer have to look like in order to be satisfactory?’

      Not that it’ll get you very far. I was once involved in a long argument on the Dawkins’ website. It ran, believe it or not, for about 30,000 words. But I fear that all the great brains (and some of them were clearly well qualified) were unable to answer the question.

      • Alan says:

        Milliganp – The scientist attributes all the arguments for things outside science as just “stuff we haven’t yet worked out”.

        I would imagine that they mostly accept the possibility – perhaps favour it given the history of such unknowns – rather than attribute anything.

        Quentin – “were unable to answer the question.”

        They made no attempt to? I tried to imagine how someone in the past would have responded had you asked them that question of something we once knew little/nothing about. You had some expectation of the answer that wasn’t met?

      • Quentin says:

        What I was hoping for (but not expecting) was that they would realise that their empirical explanations could not in principle solve the problems. Thus, to take a simple example, since we do not have 30,000 words, I wanted to show them that a causally determined universe was incompatible with freewill. And so that, without free will, moral obligation was meaningless. I was confident of my grounds because no philosopher who has tackled the subject has found an empirical answer. In fact much of the contemporary debate is how to justify legal punishment if the ‘crime’ is the outcome of previous causes which (because he has no free will) the ‘criminal’ can neither control nor resist.

        My view on the subject was, if anything, strengthened by the way they twisted and turned to evade the issues.

    • St.Joseph says:

      God worked it all out when He made Man.
      It needed Himself to come and work the stuff out for them!

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, I try hard not to get driven mad by your pious interjections. We are in a discussion about what constitutes conciousness. Revelation speaks to our conciousness but it does not explain how it works.

      • St.Joseph says:

        For you to have to restrain yourself from going mad by my comments seems to me to be a lack of your ability to understand them..
        It boils down to the stuff you don’t understand
        Only God knows everything.

    • milliganp says:

      St. Joseph and Nektarios, revelation is only meaningful to those who accept its validity. Thus quoting Christ, or explaining the Adamic fall are not, of themselves, helpful in trying to explain the difference between mind and brain to an atheist.

  12. Nektarios says:

    Right, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of consciousness.
    What I said earlier is true of this world of human beings in a fallen state.
    He/she is walking around in the dark trying to make sense of it all, and keeps repeating the same mistakes for millenia. What use is ones consciousness then?
    So the consciousness aspect is either unknown and we are guessing, or we ignore it and follow our inclinations and understanding such as it is. Really, it gets one nowhere as one is still walking in the dark.
    Now, a true heaven born-again Christian is a very peculiar person in this world, and is perceived as such by those of this world.
    A Christian is in this world but not of it. He is a new creation altogether, not a patch up job by God.
    Hence I ask the question, why it is the Christian is continuing to walk in the dark, not understanding himself or herself as one can?

    How is the Christian different in consciousness from someone who is not? Well for a start, the Christian has Christ the Light of the world – believe me when I say this changes ones whole understand entirely.
    Secondly, our consciousness is very different from the world, in that it has and operates out of a new principle which is in tune with God.
    As for Altruism that point Quentin made, I would use a different word, `goodness’ which comes out of a nature in tune with God by His grace.
    I’ll stop there for now.

    • milliganp says:

      Although interesting, your statements do not accord with Catholic theology. Baptism is an ontological change in as much as we receive an indelible mark and an openness to grace but it doesn’t change the workings of our mind; Christians continue to sin and suffer mental illness at much the same rate as the unbaptised.

      • Nektarios says:

        Your posting above is too wide in scope to discuss here. Yes, Christians continue to sin, I cannot comment whether they sin at the same rate as unbaptised but I think that is a bit of a red-herring and suspect.

        We live in a fallen world, we still have an old nature, and a true born again Christian,
        has also a new nature that does not sin,
        Our frame coming out of our Adamic nature, suffers from illness including mental illness – yet I have been surprised how close God keeps these souls to Himself. How rich they are in faith, though mental illness and medication dampens down their feelings they still have some joy and the grace of God and His peace.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Christians are tempted by Satan as Jesus was, sin will corrupt the body and mind.
        As Christians and being Baptised as the children of God with Sanctifyimg Grace on our soul, we do have a better chance to remain in Grace-especialy as we have the grace that comes to us through the Churches teaching that will correct our consciouness to a correct conscience., against the errors of scientific knowledge regarding morals such as abortion, IVF designer babies, the contraceptive pill as an abortafacient.prostitution, free sex outside a loving relationship.
        Even some christians believed in the scientific reveloution as a better way to live, perhaps the world will recognise Christian values and not the errors of the sexual explosion
        Our soul is made in the likeness of God which makes our bodies fit to be with Him for all eternity.
        I call that Christian Consciouness, what seperates us from the animal world.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, I get particularly irritated by those who post drivel about mental illness. Many people with serious mental illness get little joy or peace from God.

  13. Nektarios says:

    Word should have read -`understanding.’

    • St.Joseph says:

      Well said
      Try telling that to atheists. who call them selves Christians. I mean by that those who do good works for the sake of advancement for humanity.
      You say ‘A Christian is in this world but not of it.’
      We need to be part of it so that the message of Jesus is prolaimed even if not listened to.We can not hide our heads in the sand,just for a comfortable life, we have a duty to proclaim the Gospel. Thats where the problem lies, people have their own definition of that.
      I mean out in society!! We must do it!
      We all glory in bigger planes, bigger boats, bigger and faster trains, more space travel, more expensive holidays etc.
      whilst millions are suffering and dieing for their faith.,and hungery and thirsty, not only for water!
      For the Word of God, here in the UK too..

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph
        This I would say, we are in this world, but not of it. That is not quite the same as being part with it, that is with the spirit of it which essentially is pride and deceit.
        I can totally agree with you, that this world is indeed in need of the Word of God. I have noticed over my lifetime a marked declension in the preaching of the Word of God,
        of sound biblical teaching by way of expository preaching.
        Has the day come when faithful preachers, ministers and priests are kicked out because they are faithful to God and His Word. It will not be the first time in the Churches long history and this has happened in our country, Then it knew nothing but trouble, wars, sickness both with and from abroad
        What have these liberals, humanists and egotists got to say to this world with all its needs you highlight – nothing but lies and deceit, and we all know who the father of lies is, and so from where and whom it is coming from.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, by your measure anyone who doesn’t share your view is merely a false preacher.

  14. St.Joseph says:

    You may have misunderstood my meaning of being a part of this world.
    God made this world to which we will rise again on the last day.
    God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that we can rise again on the Last Day. We can not even imagine what that means.
    Do we as Christians not enjoy the earthly pleasures that The Lord gave us ‘be fruitful and multiply, He did not call everyone to the religious life, but ‘to be religious’
    We as Christians take the train, the boat and the plane, there again that depends to where and why?.
    I will stop now, as I am going to Holy Mass as I am not able to go in the mornings,or have I been for a while, my last chemo was last Thursday, please pray for my scan results, and thank you and all for their prayers in the past!

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph
      I see what you are saying, however there is the temptation to become too attached to the pleasures of this world and become entrenched again, and become worldly and carnal, As one gets entrenched, too caught up with this world and the spirit of this world, which is emnity with God and ones state can become worse than it was when we first believed.

      You have remained in our prayers and we pray the treatment will be efficacious and the Lord grant you many years.

  15. Brendan says:

    Apologies for coming into this debate a bit late , and also for going over ground that has been covered already.
    I do not see how empirical science can ever explain personal human consciousness ; therefore I can’t ever foresee science producing a machine imbued with a personal consciousness of being conscious. Free will does not seem compatible with a mechanical causal universe ( a-theist mode ). However I do see as Quentin says that the state of consciousness hinges around making one aware of ones consciousness under the pre – condition of free will ( and hence choice ). I make the case for myself ( perhaps tediously ) , where , if I take the right meaning given by Quentin ; reflective consciousness is the state in which an infant ( pre and post -natal ) is yet to be ‘ endowed ‘ with free will ; similar to a person who under a state of hypnosis has consciousness but no free-will to action on that consciousness. Sleep or sudden unconscious state (violence ) is not dissimilar in state.Therefore without personal consciousness of oneself one cannot be seen as culpable for any action – deemed by others as ‘good’ or ‘ bad ‘. The conscious world cannot ‘ give ‘ anything / anyone a state of consciousness to know and reason with things – only God then as first cause and endow free -will to to precipitate personal consciousness.

    • Brendan says:

      P.S. How to ‘ explain ‘ personal consciousness remains I feel, God’s mystery in our dimension – like The Holy Trinity.
      Maybe, that consciousness will be known by us … ” just as we are known by God ” .. at The Second Coming.

      • St.Joseph says:

        ‘Understanding’ is a Gift from God (without being too pious which upsets milliganp)
        Some things are mysteries as you say.
        Perhaps The Lord keeps things from some to prevent them from becoming too proud!

  16. Brendan says:

    In some way consciousness by complication , seems itself to fall into categories ; day-dreaming, out-of-body experience , even bi-location and ?-suspended animation. Christian transcendent meditation – centreing prayer ( which I have practiced ) – appears ( partially ) to suspend free will in favour of ‘ another will – ( Gods ) ‘ while retaining the ability to return to self-conscious freewill at any given time.! By this phenomenon by suspending ones own free-will ( ? limbo ) one ‘ feels ‘ that one is united to Gods will . Again, esy to describe , to explain it.. ? ….. PHEW !

  17. Brendan says:

    Our self-consciousness allows us to see into ourselves. Yes, He runs the show !

  18. Martha says:

    This article in today’s DM about “human rights” for animals may be of interest. Not surprisingly there is no discussion of consciousness as such, but some of the behaviours described must surely indicate its reality.

    • Brendan says:

      Martha – There is no settling this of course , but one strives to give an opinion by all the tools of human consciousness at ones disposal. Reason dictates that animals and humans have a ‘ broader shared consciousness ‘ – whatever that is. What I believe seems clear from subjective criteria from a human point of view ( since animals cannot add to the debate by clear communicative speech ) is that we possess awareness of and can act on the belief that there is something beyond outside of ourselves that has ‘ another consciousness .’ For someone having a belief in religion this ‘ other consciousness ‘ is God
      . In effect , God infuses in every human his consciousness , called ‘ soul ‘ ; special to humans because we are likened to God Himself. Animals as Gods creatures , have a different infusion ( soul ) in this ‘ broader consciousness ‘ , – which cannot give awareness of the reality of God – but allows humans a knowledge of God, never quite perfect in living reality .
      Science therefore can provide entertainment for humans by animals but not animals by humans however close our genetic make-up. Science fiction – the link between us ( humankind ) and the scenario of ‘ The Planet of The Apes ‘ is unbridgeable.

      • Quentin says:

        Brendan, can you develop your thoughts on animal consciousness? Clearly they must be aware of pain and other emotions. Do they reflect on these or just experience them?

        Is their capacity to experience a result of material evolution or is there some spiritual element? Do they have free will or are their actions and reactions determined by previous circumstances? Presumably the answers would also have to apply to bluebottles as well as the family dog – at least in principle.

        Others may have ideas, too.

      • overload says:

        Regarding animal consciousness, dogs are a good study point, since they are emotionally intelligent; they look us in the eye such as to be closer to us than apes. I would suggest dogs have a collective will towards humanity, which began presumably because they were the weaker wolves (less able to hunt and survive) who needed to scavenge from humans (mans best friend). This ‘will’ may (I believe) also reflect genetic adaptions to an emotional affinity with mankind, to try and become humanlike.

        From my own personal experience, I have clearly seen in my dog (bitch): depression, empathy and humour. (And I know many others who say similar things about their dogs.) She has occasionally a mysterious capacity to emotionally understand the content of what I am talking about if it is something of the heart (I can perceive this clearly). Of course there may be a dimension of emotional/spiritual ‘projection’ on my part (by virtue of talking in human language to a dog as if humanly able to understand), however I am not inclined to say that this is just me talking to me; rather this is her capacity to be open to and respond to projection.

        Dogs are well recognised as being emotional and self-projection sponges, especially in the west where many treat them like retarded human children, and/or an extension of oneself. This peculiar relationship can be positive and negative, as I see it. I have also observed a tendency in western man in his weakness to think of dogs as gods; this is how to be simple and devoid of the human responsibility of who one, in ones fallen nature, truly is. And there are people who are depressed who don’t know how to care for themselves, so the dog becomes the object and reason for getting out of bed in the morning, even for living. “As long as I feed the dog, thats ok. Doesn’t matter about myself.”

      • Quentin says:

        You mention wolves. Interestingly, wolves apparently do not produce oxytocin, even when they have been raised by humans, and they lack the mutual ‘gaze’ which is present between dogs and their owners.

  19. Nektarios says:


    `Nektarios, I get particularly irritated by those who post drivel about mental illness. Many people with serious mental illness get little joy or peace from God.’

    Just so you know, I have a very close relative with severe mental illess over many years. I also know and are in communication with a few others with severe mental illness.
    What I said is not drivel, for I personally have witnessed those who are Christians, God keep such in their trials very close to Him.
    Others I have encountered with mental illness when I was still a pastor told me of their stories.
    Many in the priesthood and other Church ministries have episodes of mental illness and need treatment. It is a known fact that among Psychiatrists around 51% suffer from periodical mental
    breakdowns and have to go elsewhere to be treated.

    So if you are referring to what I posted as drivel to you, my experience of working with and living with others with severe mental illness is true and known to me.
    If you suffer from mental illness which I suspect, please relax about it – as I personally am well acquaint with many with mental issues affecting people.

  20. Nektarios says:

    There are true preachers of the Word of God and there are false preachers.
    This was evident in the Early Christian Church, and it is clearly evident today.
    I will ask you, one thing for the moment: Why are you firing antagonistic disjointed remarks at me?

  21. Brendan says:

    Quentin, 8.34am.
    Falling well-short of neuro-scientific or any other knowledge , I’ll try.
    For the animal world it seems their neuropathy is our neuropathy fulfilling that part of the ‘ broader consciousness ‘ which we share ; they make alarming sounds and cringe etc. like human beings – ‘ us ‘. Metaphysically speaking , with this special area of consciousness ( the ‘ soul ‘ – infused in us by God ) not available to the animal world – we are given the power ( grace /favour ) to know and understand the cause and effect that physical pain and other emotional states ‘ mean ‘ in our existence.
    Because of this infusion ( and your help here Quentin ) the animal world can only reflect – possibly in the same way as an infant child temporarily , in a stage of moving towards understanding of itself and its surroundings – but not experience and know as we do . Having this singular consciousness ( soul ) , not available to the animal kingdom we can both reflect and know and experience God and therefore His prescribed destiny for humankind – .’ us ‘.
    It is Gods pleasure to favour us from the infinite depth of his love , over and above his Creation.

    • St.Joseph says:

      What is the connection between conscioness and memory’
      My daughters dog says ‘home’ if my daughter says ‘are we going home’ when with me, also he is a rescue dog from an elderly lady who died, and she must have gone to bed at 8.30, so he goes into his bed at around that time.
      He will not stay in the house on his own, he will scratch the door down, ( he stays willingly with a minder, and also no problem in a cage when in the car.
      Even in the car ,considering he can not see out the window, he knows when my daughter is coming up the Common (hills) to me, he thinks he is going for a walk, and gets excited., but not up any other hills. The moment I go in he ges for his ball!!.
      These things are not trained, he picks these and many other things up himself.
      He has his own ‘will’ and wont go out in the rain! Of course it is not free because he has a master-bit like humans really!!

  22. Brendan says:

    St. Joseph – Is remembering past things from a dog in connection with an action ‘ Pavlovian ‘ in essence ? Even speech or perceived speech seems to relate to memory which falls within the remit of the ‘ broader consciousness ‘ which covers human and non-human species . In which case I don’t believe that the dog understands what the word ‘ home’ means and can only relate it to its memory ; therefore there is a disconnect between his area of consciousness and memory.
    I’m not even sure if the dog has his own ‘ will ‘. He just connects ‘ rain ‘ with being an unpleasant past memory not what it actually is. Again he cannot reflect on that experience , otherwise he would enter the realm of moral decision making – our exclusive domain.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you.
      I expect when my daughter says ‘home’ and he says it ,then runs to the is his memory of where he is going.
      I wonder if he had a bad experience of home,perhaps he would not do that-I suppose.
      As far as moral decisions go, perhaps they know how to defend their owner,if they were being attacked.If that comes into moral thinking,Maybe just protective instincts.

  23. Alan says:

    If you were looking for the bare bones of reflective consciousness in a person that you could not communicate with – but could only observe – what would you imagine might demonstrate that quality?

    • Brendan says:

      I would hope it would be through the eyes Alan – the window to the soul ; even though it cannot be seen on first observance, as Martha says in the terrible disease of human dementia. Only we have that conscious God-given capacity.

  24. Martha says:

    ‘Reflective consciousness’ takes time to develop in humans through childhood, and then tragically disappears later in those who suffer from dementia. I have read, and observed, that they may not remember the details of a recent enjoyable, happy day, but they will feel a warm glow afterwards, because they know something good has happened, which sounds rather like the memory of a pet dog. Our little rescue dog hates going out anywhere in a car, but is always quite happy on the homeward journey. It all seems to shade into degree, rather than kind, I wonder if neurologists can really distinguish.

    • Brendan says:

      Is that wishful thinking on our part ? Doesn’t the dog just remember the pleasant memory of the experience without actually understanding . As I maintain earlier ; we discern hours of entertainment from the animal world , but it cannot be reciprocated .

  25. Brendan says:

    ” Is their [ the animal ] capacity to experience the result of material evolution or is there a spiritual element .”
    As Quentin hinted earlier , at the heart of the question is the human capacity of ‘free will ‘ as part of our divinely infused consciousness not possessed by the animal kingdom. Because of this capacity our actions always follow from moral decision – making. However , in this broader consciousness we share with the animals , it is not inconceivable that the God as Prime Cause who made all of Creation , may induce in them a ‘ reflective homage .’ Anecdotal stories in history of horses seemingly ‘ genuflecting ‘ at some spiritual manifestation ?

  26. St.Joseph says:

    Last year I had a tiny little spider who every evening came out from under a unit and sat by my feet,then crawled back to where it came from.
    It must have known I would not kill it!

  27. Brendan says:

    St. Joseph – I’m beginning to appreciate your circumstances – it’s just my quirky sense of humour. Believe me , personally I would feel more poorer in myself but for your presence with us on this blog. Please pray for me as I pray for you.

  28. Brendan says:

    St.Joseph – In this moment of ‘ discovery ‘, do you remember having a heightened perception ( spiritual ) of a closeness to God at the same time as realising that you were ” born ” – knowing yourself ?

    • St.Joseph says:

      That was not my first memory,as I remember things from the early age of 2. I know this from places where I lived at that time.
      I having a catholic upbringing,have always from an early age felt a closeness to God, especially the Holy Family.
      When a Gypsy called to the door and asked me to ask my Mammy(her words) to buy me a statue of the Holy Family, my mother said no ,that a Half a Crown (2/6 in those days) was a lot of money, but I begged my mother to buy it for me, so she did,that a was a wonderful present to me. I still have it now in my dining room.still painted in the terrible way I painted it then..
      So I dont suppose I could say that the experience I had was any diffirent to any other time. I just realised that I was a ‘one’ person, ME, It was definitely a peculier feeling as I remember it still.So I have always thought that- that I am me my own person,what I do I am responsible for it.

  29. Peter Foster says:

    With regard to Quentin’s grandson philosopher, it would be interesting to see whether there are any references to Popper’s arguments in his dissertation!

    Karl Popper in the Open Universe, chapter I (7) “Kinds of Determinism” (“Arguments from Psychology) writes:

    “For scientific determinism asserts more than the existence of causes. It asserts (as indicated in my quotation from Kant) that these causes allow us to predict an event with any desired degree of precision. ………But there is no reason to believe this principle can be satisfied in the field of psychology of learning, or of MOTIVATION (my capitals), any more than it can in that of behaviour or of physiology. …….
    The idea of predicting, by psychological methods, a man’s action with any degree of precision is indeed so completely foreign to all psychological thinking that it is hard to realize what it would entail. ……
    I do not deny that a question like ‘What was the motive of his action? Or a why-question such as ‘Why did he do it’ may be perfectly reasonable; and so may an answer like ‘He did it out of jealousy (or from ambition or revenge). But all answers of this kind, even if they are highly sophisticated, are not much more than crude attempts to classify; or at best, to construct a hypothetical situational schema (ref.6) which makes the action rationally understandable. They are throughout attempts to understand post hoc; ……….”

    • Quentin says:

      There was no mention of Popper in the dissertation. As I understand it, scientific determinism is a principle – tending towards a dogma. So it would follow that the claim that a choice is uncaused is meaningless. If we cannot, in many circumstances, exhaustively track the causes which lead to an apparent choice, that is a failure in our knowledge rather than in the principle.

      It is an irony that the great David Hume, who wrote “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” argued at length that causality was itself an illusion.

      • Peter Foster says:

        Quentin: a dissertation which accepts determinism without considering and criticising the foremost philosopher of indeterminism would seem to be gravely defective.

        The notion you have advanced that determinism is a self-serving principle which renders all criticism meaningless is false. It is a theory. Like any theory it needs to be tested and demonstrated; and should be tested by looking for contradiction. Those who promote it without engaging with its critics become dogmatists and have no place in the practice of science.

      • Quentin says:

        Peter Foster, you will appreciate that I have a fairly strong influence over my grandchildren, so I have to be careful not to cause confusion. Which is why, on the whole, I stick to commenting on paras which are not clear, and asking a few questions to wake up their minds. To say nothing of tightening up their punctuation!

  30. tim says:

    Bluebottles? The line has been drawn somewhere….

    “‘He prayeth best, who lovest best
    All creatures, great and small.’
    The streptococcus is the test:
    I love him least of all.”

  31. Alan says:

    I read that plants can “count” and that some of them use this talent to “choose” whether their food is the sort of insect treat they are wanting to catch or whether it is just a leaf or a raindrop landing in their trap which they would be better off ignoring. We don’t consider them conscious because we understand the chemical mechanism by which they make this choice.

    We’ve also learnt how some of them will warn other plants of an impending threat with their dying “breath” enabling the other plants can take defensive actions and perhaps save themselves. Another mechanical process.

    And if the mechanism behind the behaviour were much, much more complex how could we tell that the “decisions” were fundamentally different? Would I still want to punish/rehabilitate someone for a crime that I thought they couldn’t help but commit? Like the plants receiving a warning I might take action to protect myself from them at least.

    I don’t know that this would make us any less remarkable or interesting or important. We would still be one of the most remarkable, interesting, important things we know of.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I was listening to the radio the other morning and it was saying how birds put code marks on their eggs in their nest to keep the cuckoo from throwing their eggs out of a nest, and how the cuckoo have been able to copy this mark within 10 seconds on their own eggs in that nest.
      I think I have that right it was early on Saturday morning-however I was fascinated as to how they did it.

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