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Against the Illusion of Consciousness
or
Sum, ergo Cogito


In The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that you and I (and he) do not exist as real things, but rather as casual agglomerations of matter, which I suppose illustrates Nietzsche's dictum that from the death of God follows quickly the death of Reason. 

Dawkins states that you and I are more like waves than permanent 'things' and quotes Steve Grand:

[Think] of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren't you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren't there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place...  Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn't make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.

The ontological insight of this would make a sophomore stagger in astonishment.  "Man, that's heavy."  So you, me, Dawkins, and Grand are not composed of the same material today as we were yesterday.  But to say that You weren't there is to confuse "you" with the "single atoms" that comprise your body.  Grand is perfectly correct to say: "Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made," although if Dawkins is quoting him with approval, he probably hasn't drawn the logical conclusion. 

In case there is any mistake, Dawkins gives the example of a permanent dune - a barchan - that the wind pushes across the desert but which maintains it shape even while individual grains of sand are being blown into and out of the dune.  He would have us believe that organisms are the same such "casual agglomerations of matter."  In effect, he cannot tell a sand dune from a sandworm. 

[Plants and animals possess natures that make them wholly what they are.  They move, grow, develop from their own inner principles, whereas a sand dune moves and organizes only under external forces.  It's ironic that Dawkins considers himself a "naturalist," but does not seem to recognize natures.] 

If we are purely matter, then we really are not the same entity today as in the past.  In fact, we are not an entity at all -- which is what Dawkins is getting at -- and the concept of "I" is only an illusion.  But how can anyone say, "I think that I do not exist."  If "I" do not exist, then how can "I" think?  And the implications for science are catastrophic.   If "I" do not exist, how can "I" know the existence of anything else, including scientific evidence? 

The persistence of identity -- the "I" -- despite the "wave" of matter comprising us then drives folks like Dennett to deny the existence of consciousness as being "an illusion." 

As Searle puts it: "On Dennett's view, there is no consciousness in addition to the computational features, because that is all that consciousness amounts to for him: meme effects of a von Neumann(esque) virtual machine implemented in a parallel architecture."
Dennett's view implies that conscious states are as illusory as God, the devil, witches and goblins. In reality, there are no conscious states! But as Searle rightly points out, "where consciousness is concerned, the existence of the appearance is the reality."

But the concept of an illusion presupposes a consciousness to be "illuded."  Thus, to say that consciousness is an illusion presupposes that consciousness exists and, hence, presupposes that which it explicitly denies.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
whswhs
May. 6th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
I think you've just reinvented cogito, ergo sum.
m_francis
May. 6th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Not quite. Cogito is 1st person singular and therefore explicitly assumes "I". The correct formulation is "Sum, ergo cogito." http://l-stat.livejournal.com/img/talk/sm10_eyes.gif
m_francis
May. 6th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Not quite. Cogito is 1st person singular and therefore explicitly assumes "I". The correct formulation is "Sum, ergo cogito."
deiseach
May. 6th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
I'd love to see that tried in a court of law
"M'lud, my client cannot be charged with these offences, much less tried for them, as they took place on Saturday the 16th of June 2008 and this is now Wednesday the 21st of September 2009.

Not a single atom in my client's body is the same today as it was or they were at the time these alleged incidents took place; therefore even if the person whom my client was formerly did commit these offences, he cannot now be charged for them as he is not the same person and therefore the person in the dock is a completely different individual to whomever it was did indeed commit these offences."

I wonder how that would go down? Hmmm? ;-)
carbonelle
May. 7th, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
Re: I'd love to see that tried in a court of law
Very good, sir~!
paul_carlson
May. 7th, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
Re: I'd love to see that tried in a court of law
The Greeks wrestled with this a loooong time before Dawkins.

Consider the Ship of Theseus puzzle.

http://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/theseus.html

(Wonder if that's where Peter Watt got the name for his spaceship in Blindsight?
deansteinlage
May. 7th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
hammer time
A friend of my father's told me when I [or the atoms in the configutation that was me :0)] that he had his grandfather's hammer. The head had been replaced twice and the handle 3 times.
carbonelle
May. 15th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
Re: I'd love to see that tried in a court of law
I'd forgotten about that! Good link, btw.
paul_carlson
May. 8th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
Legal Ramifications
Okay, let's try it this way:

According to this concept, if someone commits a crime or fraud against Dawkins, after a couple of years there is no longer a case. The victim is "gone," and so there's no one left to press charges, or who is owed any restitution.

He'd readily agree to that, yes?

: : : pauses to laugh for about five minutes : : :
(Anonymous)
May. 8th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
Dawkins?
Why does Richard Dawkins not want to exist (and therefore tries to prove he shouldn't)? Maybe it's because he doesn't believe that he belongs here in this physical and metaphysical world. The sense I get from what he says is that he is in a state of dispair because he doesn't know why he's here. He doesn't understand he can use the transforming power of human sentience to learn why he is put here. What each of us is, contains the reason why we are here, constituting a sort of mission, a purpose in life. The purpose he believes he has is to prove is that reality itself is an illusion. What I want to tell him is, we're here; get used to it. Calling it an illusion does not make it not so. In fact, it is rather a wonderful world, God or no God! Jul Owings
m_francis
May. 8th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
Re: Dawkins?
Ya-but.

Dawkins is already committed to the notion that the universe comprises matter in motion and nothing else, and that the universe is purposeless. He tries to have it both ways. We can create purpose through human will. But if the mind is nothing but matter in motion, and matter in motion is purposeless, how does he propose the mind comes up with these purposes?

He tried the same sleight of hand in The Selfish Gene, his paen to the Fates and Predestination. (Dawkins is a Calvinist, I think; albeit an atheist Calvinist.)
johncwright
May. 9th, 2009 11:24 am (UTC)
Why?
Why does this argument (call it the argument of anti-solipsism, where the thinker deduces that he does not think, can make no deductions, and indeed does not exist) which can refuted in a single sentence by a schoolboy, and which makes no sense on any level, continue to attract partisans to support it?

To a degree this is simply word-play: if I say I am a different "entity" one second before or after I drink a glass of water or have a haircut because the exact composition of atoms of my body has changed, all that has happened is that I have defined "entity" by nonessentials. One wonders how a naturalist like Dawkins deals with categorizations of living beings into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species: not one atom involved in one dog belong to another dog, much less to "dogness" as a concept.

The inability of nominalists to explain universals is an ongoing philosophical problem.

m_francis
May. 9th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Why?
Unfortunately, the Wright who wrote that comment no longer exists - he is no longer composed of the Wright Stuff. The problem of a purely materialist conception of the world: it almost forces one into solipsism. Or worse. A solipsist at least presumes his own existence. No wonder Ockham himself denied being a nominalist.
pagadan
May. 11th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
"In The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that you and I (and he) do not exist as real things, but rather as casual agglomerations of matter, which I suppose illustrates Nietzsche's dictum that from the death of God follows quickly the death of Reason."

The death of Reason--very apt. Frankly, I think giving credit to molecules and matter for all we've accomplished is like giving credit to aliens for building the pyramids, etc.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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