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Camp Statement

Go live Time : 08 January 2009, 02:22 AM

Everything that people agree is real is known only via consciousness. Nothing, real or unreal, is known, conjectured or fantasised about other than through consciousness. Only using consciousness can the judgement of real or unreal be made. Only something that's conscious can be deluded, so consciousness cannot be an illusion. (That is arguably the real significance of Descarte's "Cogito, ergo sum".) It therefore makes most sense to consider consciousness to be real, even though "real" is difficult to define precisely.

Strictly speaking, "objective" does not mean "real", and "subjective" does not mean "unreal", even though these words are sometimes used in this way. "Objective" means "associated with the object" and "subjective" means "associated with the subject". To assume that association with the subject implies unreality is a very serious mistake, and a very common one, that bedevils such discussions.

In the first paragraph, "subjectivity" could be substituted for "consciousness" with little or no change in meaning. Consciousness is subjective, but it's not just that, it is subjectivity. Subjectivity, with its close associate intersubjectivity, are what make life worth living. Enjoyment is subjective (as is suffering). Social activity of any sort is intersubjective. Science, though it strives toward objectivity, is intersubjective in practice, depending very heavily on intersubjective verifiability. All values are entirely subjective in themselves, though putting them into practice involves practical and relatively objective considerations.

Subjectivity and intersubjectivity are, in their own way, just as good as objectivity. On a proper understanding of these, to call something "subjective" is not to denigrate it in any way, except in the very particular circumstance where objectivity is required but is lacking, such as a biased judgement. That consideration does not apply here. Consciousness, though entirely subjective, is entirely real.

However, its subjective nature does have certain implications. For instance, as it is no sort of object, its presence is necessarily unverifiable. Scientific hypotheses might well involve the functions that we associate with consciousness, such as short-term memory, but any hypothesis that involves the concept of consciousness itself, as opposed to such functions, is unscientific. In reconciling oneself to this fact, it might help to consider that science isn't everything. While entertainment can be considered essentially frivalous and unnecessary, art is serious, and it is an arena in which important insights into consciousness can be shared. A similar argument can be made for some aspects of some religions, with meditation as the most obvious example. (It is a matter of opinion as to whether such aspects of religion are better categorised as "applied philosophy" or some such term: they are associated with religions mainly for historical reasons.) The "softer" side of psychology can contribute here too.

On this account, free will is subjective, while determinism is objective. However, in addition to what has already been said about subjectivity, it should be noted that determinism is entirely theoretical, while to consider that we are to some extent and in certain ways quite free is eminently practical. This is how we have evolved, and it works for us, which is arguably the most important consideration of all ("instrumentalism"). Theory is very important, but we need to retain a sense of its limits, even so.

Consciousness is subjective, and in this context that word has no denigratory implications whatsoever. Science can study the functions associated with consciousness, but the arts/religion/philosophy/psychology, activities that legitimately and effectively incorporate elements of subjectivity, are better equipped to deal with consciousness itself, which is not a scientific concept. The hard problem is not a real problem because it supposes that consciousness is some sort of object that could and therefore should have its relationship with the brain-object fully explicated in objective terms. In fact, as consciousness is entirely subjective, that is neither possible, nor is there any need for it.

Much more information on this position is available at http://www.robinfaichney.org.

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