A Solution To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness Pt 2

The above picture of an Ambilight television should help illustrate the mental duality described in Pt 1. The TV screen represents one mind’s focus on the phenomenal field and the ambient light that surrounds it represents the emotional “coloring” of our other mind. Now, as I suggested in Pt 1, that emotional coloring can even find its way, somehow, mysteriously, onto the screen itself without a full-blown hallucination taking place. This happens when “I” vaguely realize “My” addition to the screen; when I notice my other mind projecting, coloring, or deepening “our” mutual experience.

I don’t like the screen-within-a-screen analogy found in this exquisite summary of Julian Jaynes, because we usually have this viewing arrangement on our televisions such that one screen is a little box in the corner of the other. The Ambilight television analogy, on the other hand, illustrates that the screen-within-a-screen is more like peripheral vision versus focal vision, which I actually intend to be more than an analogy. The two screens are not exactly the same, such as the picture produced when two mirrors face each other. Julian Jaynes was correct when he suggested that the processes of reasoning are opaque to us, that we only are really aware of the preparation, the materials, and the results of thinking. What he left out was the feeling of thinking, which we are quite painfully aware of. That feeling of mental toil is the ambient light around the TV screen, while the TV screen holds the preparation, materials, and later the results of the thinking. This feeling tells us that even though we can’t see the mental cogs turning, that they are in fact doing so. We can’t see them turning because one mind has to be occupied holding the preparation, the materials, and later the results in place while the other mind does most of the simulation or processing. To see precisely those cogs turning in the mind we would have to hold that exact feeling of mental toil in place as the preparation and materials for another bout of thinking which will itself also be opaque to consciousness until the results are obtained. When observing a scene that is happening “out there,” a feeling is what informs me that if I chose to introspect right then, I would immediately see content. The feeling is that content literally bursting at the seams! Qualia is often defined as how things “seem to us,” but is more accurately how things “feel to us.” To be more precise still, it is how our emotional mind sees whatever the other mind is looking at.

Anybody reading this can quickly detect their duality of mind by doing the following: focus your eyes on something in front of you, but then, without letting your eyeballs actually move, shift your mental “focus”or “awareness” around that phenomenal field, especially towards the outer edges. The fact that we can do this at all demonstrates mental duality quite nicely. What I have given you is a set of instructions. One mind must do the preparation and hold the materials in place (hold the insructions in place), while the other mind follows the instructions and runs the desired simulation. One mind keeps your eyes fixed on a point and gives the go-ahead, allowing your other mind to examine parts of the phenomenal field other than that fixed point.  This is a rare case in which you are not only seeing the preparation, materials, and results of thinking, but are actually seeing those results from the start! The feeling of doing this just is the part of your phenomenal field that is moving around! Those intrigued by such a demonstration should read this illuminating article on Night Walking and peripheral awareness.

Getting back to the Ambilight metaphor, if you were to shift your focus from looking “out there” at the TV screen to looking “inside,” or introspecting, what you will see will be an image related to that on the TV screen. The road to introspection is the emotional “coloring” of the ambient light and the contents found therein will be semi-articulate thoughts that we normally refer to as “feelings” or “intuitions.” The more our left hemisphere is privy to and digests these feelings, the more they cannot help but become articulate. That is, the two streams of consciousness are changing each other in their interaction, usually leaving in “focus” a markedly logical image that starts to become digested by the RH mind as soon as it is complete, only to repeat the cycle again and again, so long as the person keeps introspecting. It is from these feelings, from the “intuitive map,” that all true ideas come from (or at the very least where the recognition of their truth or value comes from). That is, our conscious, semantically parsed “logical map” is really a copy of the intuitive one; a copy that is constantly being updated, with varying degrees of accuracy to the original. As stated earlier, the relationship goes both ways as well, with the articulate, rational map forming more general “values” (Plato’s “calm passions”?) that can update or reprogram the RH mind. We all intuitively know this relationship already, which is why we don’t often need to “sink back” into introspection in order to articulate the message implicit in the emotional coloring that we feel. We have done this introspection so many times that we know what that feeling must mean. However, this is one very large source of miss-communication between the two minds. If the logical mind thinks it knows what its after in a given situation or environment it might too hastily settle on a fitting interpretation of the feelings of the intuitive mind. This is incredibly easy to do. You might know, for example, that you feel angry and quickly direct that anger at the object that seems to have caused the situation. However, had you sunk back into yourself and really searched your feelings, you might have found that the anger was directed at yourself for allowing the situation to evolve as it had, or for putting yourself into the hands of an untrustworthy person, etc. One thing that seems to characterize truly “charismatic” people is their utter certainty regarding their judgments combined with how often they avoid such internal confusion.

You can tell when someone speaks with authority and has thoroughly sifted through both his feelings and his subsequent reasoning. He seems “self-possessed,” as opposed to merely focused or determined. His eyes are fixed on yours, instead of briefly being fixed on an imagined point. He doesn’t have to spend a single instant searching his feelings and intuitions (looking up and left), nor does he require any time to confabulate a story that would patch up the holes in his performance (looking up and right). A self-possessed or charismatic person is of one mind as opposed to being single-minded. The fact that we have such terms and use them often is yet another demonstration of our double-mindedness. Being “of one mind” implies the earlier division of two minds. Being “single-minded” implies a divergence of minds, where one mind has usurped power.

It is crucial to clarify that true self-consciousness involves both minds interacting with one another. In fact, both minds interact even when unconscious, albeit minimally. The fact that you can remember your dreams at all illustrates this point, which is just a restatement of the cocktail party effect. The picture I am trying to articulate here is not one of easy dichotomies: unconscious vs conscious, linear versus parallel, etc, etc. What we think of as our unified mind is not such a mistake: our self-consciousness is a unification, but a unification of two minds, each of which can more easily be placed in such a dichotomy. As I argued in a prior post, the mind must be seen not in terms of these easy dichotomies, but instead as a continuum ala Gelertner’s “continuous spectrum of mental focus” or McGhilchrist’s “hierarchy of attention.” The crucial piece that I am adding to these two authors is that the continuum has a different mind at each end of the spectrum. Gelertner, for example, makes the mistake of suggesting that “high-focus thought, just in virtue of being high-focus, must be numb. It is literally unfeeling. Just because it is unfeeling, it excludes creativity and intuition and spirituality.” He is almost correct, but as the Ambilight metaphor above shows us it can never succeed in completely excluding feeling. You can try to narrow your focus to the space inside the black frame of the screen. You might even succeed for a moment in grasping so hard that you are briefly unaware of the feelings that border and spill into the screen. However, if you are being honest about the situation you will have to admit that this “grasping” is itself a feeling. Even if you succeeded in this perfectly high-focus thought, you will have to admit that it feels barren or meaningless, which is a feeling! Ultimately you just can’t help but feel your thoughts, just as you can’t help but articulate, interpret, or think about your feelings, so long as they are in view. We fall into the mistake that Gelertner does because an odd “rent in the fabric of the universe” normally separates our inner and outer worlds. What the Ambilight metaphor is aiming to show you is that this division, this “rent in the fabric” is not clean, but is already allowing color, meaning, and feeling to spill around and onto the screen.

When you run a simulation of what someone else must be doing, you are running this simulation using your own body image, using your own right hemisphere, which means that you can’t help but feel your own feelings along with that person’s simulated feelings. If you see someone feeding off of their emotions while physically attacking someone else, truly relishing the kill, you can simulate their mental state using your own body image, but you will not be able to cleanly separate his feelings of enjoying the kill with your feelings of moral disgust, because you would be disgusted with yourself if you were actually in this situation instead of just simulating it. You don’t need to hit “pause” on the simulation in order to have subsequent feelings of moral disgust in response. This is one reason why it is so hard to accurately model another person’s mental state and why we are so often shocked by others’ unconscionable behavior: we literally cannot image doing what they are doing and feeling what they are feeling without those feelings also including moral disgust. The person doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any such disgust, and so our simulation wouldn’t include those feelings, except for the fact that it is actually one of our selves upon which the simulation is run. If we are conscientious, we cannot simulate doing the unconscionable without feeling concomitant pangs of conscience. The limitations and abilities of human mentality become clear when seen as the interpenetration of two minds instead of being the “illusion” of one. The following from Gelertner is a good starting point from which to see where our respective viewpoints diverge:

Our sense of our conscious selves hinges on the notion of an internal observer of our thoughts–that observer being my “self.” Of course, there can’t literally be any such observer. As Searle (1992, 144) writes, discussing the idea of “introspection,” “the metaphor suggests that we have a capacity to examine our own conscious states, a capacity modeled on vision. But that model or analogy is surely wrong. In the case of vision, we have a clear distinction between the object seen and the visual experience that the perceiver has when he perceives the object. But we can’t make that distinction for the act of introspection of one’s own conscious mental states.” A mental picture has no observer; you perceive it not by forming an internal representation of some external object, but immediately. “Automatically.” Clearly there can’t literally be an observer inside my brain.

As you may have guessed, I am suggesting the opposite: that there can literally be an observer in your brain; that this relationship of observer to observed is not some kind of “illusion” of dualism, but is instead quite truth-containing. Searle is simply mistaken when he asserts that in the case of vision we have a clear distinction between the object seen and the visual experience of the perceiver. That we think we have such a clear distinction is really the big “illusion” here. In reality, as the Buddhists are overjoyed to remind us, there is no clear distinction between the object seen and the visual experience of the perciever, the perciever just thinks and acts like there is. The person lost in participation mystique wouldn’t even think or act like there is! So, if Searle is wrong about visual experience, then he is wrong about introspection and we can actually “examine our own conscious states” analogous to our examination of objects out there in the world. This happens “automatically,” as Gelertner notes, because one mind has been processing this picture in the background the whole time, as indicated by whatever feelings were going on before we chose to introspect. To go back to our Ambilight picture, the ambient glow around the TV screen actually is the processing-in-the-background, or more precisely, the small part of it that is spilling out into phenomenal experience. Daniel Dennett (1991) believes that the observer is nonexistent and that (regarding introspection) this is the crucial fact about consciousness. In his hasty attempt to free philosophy from all forms of dualism he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Dualism is so intractable because it is telling us something true about ourselves: namely, that each of us is actually two minds wrestling or playing with each other; that our experience of mental unity is not an “illusion,” per se, it is just true and not true at the same time. Just like the music that we hear is both an objective series of pitches and a subjective melody at the same time, a Gestalt organized in two ways at once, so our experience of self is an experience of unity and of duality at the same time. Subjective consciousness is a Gestalt organized in two ways at the same time. It is the result of a spatial metaphor being applied to another spatial metaphor, creating a “trippy” sense of extra dimensions; adding emotional depth to our more logical depth perception.

Gelertner summarizes my objection to Dennett quite nicely: “Dennett is telling us it isn’t really there! Can’t you see it’s all just a trick? Our response should be But we see it anyway! And that’s the whole point.” That is, you haven’t explained something by calling it an illusion if that illusion then fails to vanish. If the illusion is still there even though you have been notified of it’s existence, then it is not an illusion. Dennett needs to explain not only what kind of illusion it is, how “illusory” compared to other illusions, why it came about in the first place, but most importantly, he has to explain why it won’t go away! As an analogue, the Buddhists were far ahead of Bishop Berkeley in declaring that phenomenal experience is an illusion, but what they both failed to explain was the persistence of this illusion! What supports such an illusion? Why is this illusion so consistent? Why do all of us report to be seeing just about the same illusion? So be careful when you disregard illusions, you might be missing the whole material world, or something equally important, like your self!

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