July 29, 2007

Problems of a Supreme Consciousness

This morning in the shower, I was thinking about the various philosophies which place Consciousness "above" Existence. I'm talking about these people who think that either objective reality doesn't exist or, if it does exist, is unknowable as an objective reality.

In extreme cases, people expounding these philosophies claim that consciousness actually creates reality, that what you think you see is really what you imagine. I'm not sure what these people imagine contains this consciousness. Where does this amazing machine exist? No idea. But some people think this.

Most of the time, the claim isn't that one's consciousness actually creates reality, but blinds us to reality.

I can see how this line of thinking might arise from Plato and his analogy about shadows on a cave wall. It's an obviously imperfect analogy and why no one challenged it at the time is somewhat mysterious to me. I digress.

If your brain is obscuring reality from your knowledge or understanding, it must do so either consistently or inconsistently.

If it does so consistently, then there really doesn't seem to be a reason to think that your brain is doing it at all because you would lack any reason to believe that you're being blinded as the whole of your perception and understanding of reality would fall in line with the alleged illusion.

Allow me to illustrate: let's say you are presented with the illusion of a large puddle of water. You might walk around it and never know that it is an illusion, in which case the illusion would seem to be of little consequence at all. But let's also say that you decide to confront the illusion obviously not aware that it is an illusion.

You might drop a rock in the puddle and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would make you see ripples. You might bend down and stick your hand in the water and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would have to make you feel the wetness of the water. You might splash a passerby and your brain would have to present you with the image of them complaining or dodging in order to maintain the illusion. You might fill a glass and drink from the puddle and in order to keep deceiving you, your brain would have to give you the sensation of drinking water complete with wetness and flavor. It might also have to make you sick for having drunk from a puddle or hydrate you for having had water.

If at any point, however, you do not have the corresponding sensations and perceptions of reality, you may safely conclude that you aren't being deceived at all because no matter way it appears that you aren't being deceived. The assertion that you are being deceived is but an arbitrary claim without any evidence.

Even if presented with mirages or tricks to the eye, we can test them in other ways and learn to not only exclude the data that lead us to make mistaken judgments like there being a puddle in front of you, but you can also discover the mechanism by which you are tricked and why your eye can be tricked in that way.

So, that leaves us with the notion that our brains deceive us inconsistently. That simply doesn't hold up. Sometimes you see the puddle and sometimes you don't? In those cases, you can again test and see what results are most consistent and go with that as your conclusion.

If the results of your tests are consistently balanced to both conclusions, then that's not exactly your brain being inconsistent, but actively and consistently working to prevent you from discovering any truth about reality.

At this point, we have some other problems.

First, how does your brain know what is the right and what is the wrong conclusion? Is your brain actually, secretly omniscient?

It is perhaps a separate, malevolent being that is sharing your sense organs and living only to torment you? If that were the case, we'd immediately have to investigate the question of how it serves this evil creature's interest to inhibit your survival capabilities.

I can see how a person might be tempted to think that reality is unknowable given the number of mistakes a person makes in their lifetimes, the ease with which one's senses can be fooled, and with the seemingly eternal chorus of people saying that truth is a matter of opinion.

I do not, however, understand philosophers who have spent the greater part of their careers contemplating these things continuing to repeat this notion.

It is the fundamental task of every human being to think for themselves, so don't think that I'm letting people off the hook just because I understand that there is a not insignificant amount of peer pressure asking a person to stifle their good sense.

But if you make it your job to think about these things and you still espouse the notion that reality is unintelligible because our brains are inept... well, I find myself raising an eyebrow: are you really trying to use reason to disprove reason?

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at July 29, 2007 11:16 PM | TrackBack
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