The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Friday, 14 January 2011

Behaviouralist Awareness

There is a growing band of academics that use the words "Consciousness" and "Awareness" entirely behaviourally. For them, if an agent acts in a way that is indistinguishable to external observation from another agent which is (somehow) known to "be aware" than this second agent is also - by the very fact of external superficial correspondence - also definitely aware.

Moreover, the fact that a slug reacts to being pricked by a needle is also taken as showing that the slug is minimally "aware" - but does it "subjectively experience" that of which it is "behaviourally aware"?

Awareness can come to be understood as meaning nothing more than the fact that the internal system of some agent/creature/thing is responsive to its external environment and contains some kind of mapping or representation of that environment. On this basis the question "could a robot be aware?" has a trivially easy answer: a definite "yes". However, this is only the case because by this process of thought one has eviscerated the idea "awareness" of what I take to be its central meaning - which is, however supernally difficult to enunciate.

The true meaning of awareness is transcendent of materialist categories. Even if one constructed a robot which had a computer generated mind which behaved in a way indistinguishable from the human mind - and was programmed to exhibit the behaviours associated with feelings - it would not be clear (one way or the other) whether it was aware as a subjective experiencing person. It would be VERY clear that it was "aware"in the behaviourist sense, of course.

The reason that it is very difficult to talk about the difference between "behaviouralist awareness" and what I call PSEC (personal subjectivel experiential consciousness) is that it is absolutely unlike any thing of which we are aware. It is the singular foundation (hypo-stasis) of awareness by which we are aware of the plurality of things, while not being aware of it (at least directly) at all.

When we understand what a thing is we are able to give a reasonable account of it in terms of how it is alike and unlike other things and how it relates to other things. This reasonable account is called an "explanation". However, because the PSEC is entirely unlike any thing, it is not possible to give a reasonable account of it - except entirely in the negative.

The situation of the PSEC is analagous to that of God (who is also unknowable in the mode of knowing things) - which is why I am happy to use the word "spirit" as a synonym for the PSEC.

Logic cannot determine what I mean by "extravagance". A logical argument only determines truth and falsehood, on the presumption that its premises are true. When it comes to evaluating at basic premises (which themselves are not supported by logical deduction from more primitive premises) logic is inapplicable. One has to rely on one's "gut feeling" in such matters. I think that such "gut feeling" is a subconscious evaluation or the implications of the premise in question - a feeling as to where one is going to end up if one adopts this premise. When I say that I suspect a premise of being "extravagant" I do not mean that it is wrong; only that it decides many issues in a rather automatic way and closes down discussion in a manner that strikes me as being unwarranted.

So, in the case in question: the behaviouralist hypothesis that: "awareness is nothing more  than the fact that the internal system of some agent/creature/thing is responsive to its external environment and contains some kind of mapping or representation of that environment," is extravagant. This is because it outlaws further discussion of the issue and rules the fact that "I am aware as a person" as inadmissible evidence.

Similarly, Solipsism is an extravagant theory - though it is entirely logical, perfectly coherent and utterly irrefutable.

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