The Metaphysics of Da-sein

A Guide to the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger

Heidegger deliberately eschewed the term ‘consciousness’ (a strategy for which I have developed the utmost sympathy of late), and even coined his own word to describe human beings; Da-sein, literally: there-being. In Being and Time, ‘Da-sein’ didn’t really go beyond a synonym for human being, although the idea was to emphasise human being; specifically denoting the way our mode of being is considerably different from that of other objects, and even other living beings. In Heidegger’s post-B&T work, however, Da-sein gets a fuller treatment, where it is revealed as the ground, or site, for the opening up of Being.

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Taking A God’s Eye View

Pin by Kathy Fulkerson on spending time with Jesus | Jesus, Worship jesus,  Worship

Let’s imagine, just for the sake of argument, that all of us atheists are wrong and God actually exists. What would He see when He looks at the universe? What would He think? Before you dismiss me and my hubris (something along the lines of, “How dare you presume to know the mind of God (puny mortal)?”), we supposedly know something about the answer to these questions; after all, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” So, at the very least, we know God is capable of perceiving things, and thinking about them (in this case, making a judgement). That is all I am going to assume in this article, but it’s enough for us to draw a problematic conclusion about the perspective of a being like God.

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The Delusion of Consciousness

True nature of consciousness: Solving the biggest mystery of your mind |  New Scientist

I’ve talked a lot recently about consciousness, vaguely complaining about the vacuity of the term as it is used by almost everyone these days; philosophers, scientists, and laypeople alike. For me personally now, my frame of mind concerning consciousness is such that every time I hear people using the word, it’s almost like a black hole opens up in the sentence, only instead of sucking in light, it sucks in meaning, turning what might otherwise have been a valid, meaningful sentence into nonsense. In this article, I want to flesh out my uneasiness with this word, and, in the process, see if I can’t maybe convince you that it’s not me who’s crazy; it’s everyone else (or, if I’m wrong, at least find a few people to share in my craziness)!

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Rethinking Consciousness

Consciousness: The Mind Messing With the Mind - The New York Times

This is the third, and final, article in my short series attempting to dissolve the mystery surrounding consciousness. In the first article, The Qualia Delusion, I argued that qualia weren’t genuine features of lived, in the moment, phenomenal experience. Instead, they were psychic-objects we constructed after the fact in a vain attempt to explain it. Since qualia are the mysterious accompaniments to mental states that supposedly make it like something to experience X, thereby making the hard problem of consciousness hard (how can we explain that the perception of red comes with a particular, subjective feeling (a quale) of redness?), exposing them as second-order, reflective concepts, effectively dissolves the hard problem, at least, in its current form. The world and things in it are lived through the body, not thought by the mind through mental objects called qualia. The second article, Towards an Understanding of Consciousness – Henri Bergson, outlined a number of important concepts we will need in this article, specifically becoming, continuity, duration, perception, and memory. In this article, I assume a knowledge of both of those earlier articles. With that said, let’s sort out this consciousness thing once and for all.

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Towards an Understanding of Consciousness – Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson (1859-1941) Poster by Granger

In my last article, The Qualia Delusion, I argued that qualia were a second-order, reflective phenomena, rendering the so-called hard (read: impossible) problem of consciousness a non-issue. However, this doesn’t fully explain consciousness. To do this, I’ll need one more article, but in order for anything I expect to say in that article to make sense, we will need a bridging article. All of the concepts I intend to draw on there come from the late 19th, early 20th century French philosopher Henri Bergson, and so this article aims to give a whirlwind primer of Bergson’s philosophy. Strap in and let’s get this show on the road.

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The Qualia Delusion

File:Inverted qualia of colour strawberry.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Now that I’ve gotten your attention with that outrageous title, let me reassure you, I am not going to argue that qualia aren’t real. What I am going to do is suggest that while they’re real, they aren’t what you think they are. The “delusion” I am talking about here doesn’t concern the existence of qualia; rather, it concerns what they are and when they arise. It is vitally important that we get some clarity on this issue because until we do, we will never understand consciousness and how it fits into the world, meaning we will never understand ourselves. Hopefully this article, much of which arose directly out of a string of ongoing, intensely thought-provoking discussions I have enjoyed with a good friend, Luke Oliver, gets us a little closer to that clarity.

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Blindsight (2) – The Brain and Consciousness

This is the second in my article series discussing philosophical issues raised in the excellent SF novel Blindsight by Peter Watts. In this article we will be looking at the brain. I will focus on the relatively recent idea that the brain is modular and also look at a number of fascinating neurological disorders Watts describes in the story.

 

The Brain and Neurology

There are three brain- and neurology-related issues Watts raises, which I will tackle in turn. The first concerns the protagonist, Siri Keeton. To prevent the seizures he was prone to as a child, Keeton had to have an operation which effectively involved the removal of half his brain. The effect of this operation was to leave him completely lacking in emotions and emotional understanding, so much so that in the book, he appears to be autistic, although highly functioning.

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Blindsight (1) – Consciousness as Impediment / Life in a VR Simulation

Blindsight is an exceptional 2006 SF novel, in which Peter Watts raises so many fascinating philosophical and psychological/neurological issues that I couldn’t stop myself from writing a couple of articles dedicated to some of them. As my primary concern in these articles will be the discussion of some of the key issues, I won’t bother with an outline of the plot (for that, you’ll have to read the book; a task I highly recommend).  However, a proper discussion of the issues will necessitate a little context which will unavoidably involve sneak peeks of scenes at varying points in the book. Although I will deliberately avoid plot spoilers, if you plan to read the book (which, again, you should – it’s almost worth reading just to see the highly original way in which he has interpreted and brought the vampire myth to life – bonus point to Watts for the ingenious crucifix glitch!), please bear this in mind.

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Mind Upload

Image result for mind upload

This is a follow-on article from an earlier one I wrote entitled A Case Study in Personal Identity: Altered Carbon, where I argued that a person’s mind/consciousness could not be ‘stored’ in a digital medium, and even if it could, transferring that stored information into another body wouldn’t grant the original mind/consciousness immortality. After writing this, I came across an Australian RN Radio podcast (on a program called The Philosopher’s Zone) called Mind Upload. In it, the host, David Rutledge, discusses with Max Cappuccio, a philosophy professor from the United Arab Emirates University, whether it will ever be possible to upload the mind into some type of digital environment. Cappuccio turns out to be as sceptical as I am about this and while his argument was similar to the one I originally put forward, it was different enough that I felt compelled to spell it out in this separate article.

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In Search of Reality – It’s all just Particles

The two topics I discuss in this article, downward causation and panpsychism, both come from Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast #124 in which he sits down with physicist Sean Carroll to discuss… well, reality. Rather than working through these ideas in any detail, what I will mainly do is respond to Carroll’s criticism of them as “…attempts to wriggle around basing reality in stuff obeying the laws of physics [which] don’t quite hold together”.[1]

 

Downward Causation

Early on in the podcast, Carroll brings up downward causation, which is the idea that activity at a macroscopic level can somehow feed back and affect behaviour at the microscopic level in a way you wouldn’t understand if you were only studying the microscopic. With this, he is taking aim at the idea that consciousness can affect any of the ‘real’ physical constituents and processes from which it emerges. Now, if you start with the idea that the ‘real’ is the world as described by physics, which, by definition, means elementary particles and the physical laws that govern their behaviour, then Carroll is obviously right. But is this apparently reasonable claim as reasonable as it seems?

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