Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tapping Philosophy: Consciousness

Hi Tapping,
I PITY the fool who didn't come to tapping last week. Christina has written this week's topic, which is consciousness. It will make your head explode. Meet in Connelly center at 7:30 for rides, or Yeats at 8:00 on Thursday.

Love and Peace,


What is consciousness?

How can consciousness exist? Does consciousness rely on an external world around us? Can having a consciousness infringe on our ability to be conscious

Descartes is the granddaddy of consciousness and he mainly defines it through self-awareness or reflexive thought. I think it would be interesting to ask why consciousness has evolved in human beings. The awareness we have of ourselves and of our abilities enables some humans to do extraordinary things. We can construct buildings, examine the molecular biology of moss, or write symphonies—what is their (if any) evolutionary reason for this kind of understanding?

I think another interesting direction we could go with this is where Descartes leaves off. Part of Descartes' analysis blends the focal points of consciousness into indistinct parts where Sartre redefines consciousness into two basic forms: 1) consciousness that is focused on an object or an idea (i.e., I think therefore I am) or 2) consciousness focused on the state of thinking that I'm in. Sartre is clear in saying that these two states cannot bleed into each other; the subject is always held apart from the object.

This brings up another series of questions, and the one I find to be the most interesting is how we perceive ourselves subjectively while living in a world where objective things exist in a realm that no one is able to recognize absolutely. How can we examine this phenomenological experience? How do we draw line between a mental representation and an actual event? Does our subjective consciousness allow us to rationalize objects or events as different than how they happened in reality? Where does reality and subjectivity meet? Or can consciousness only exist with an external world around us?

Nietzsche would argue (more eloquently and with different wording) that most of the time many of us walk around lacking an actual conscious will. While we are always conscious in the strict biological sense of the word, many times we go through the motions in our own lives without consciously considering the weight of our actions or what it is we are doing? Or is going through the motions a form of consciousness? Is individual consciousness reliant on social relations, norms or ideologies? Is our idea of who we are and our interests imaginary? Can we lose consciousness?

What about the relationship between consciousness and language? Does a smaller vocabulary limit your self-awareness? Does your awareness of your self and how you identify yourself play a role in how your consciousness behaves? For instance, we all want to think of ourselves as good people, but does our consciousness promotes this by seemingly limiting or options for things through rationalizing our identity through what we do or by leaving out parts of the story that are dissonant with the theme?

The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.

Sigmund Freud

To be conscious means not simply to be, but to be reported, known, to have awareness of one's being added to that being.

William James

Analysis brings no curative powers in its train; it merely makes us conscious of the existence of an evil, which, oddly enough, is consciousness.

Henry Miller

Imagination is always the fabric of social life and the dynamic of history. The influence of real needs and compulsions, of real interests and materials, is indirect because the crowd is never conscious of it.

Simone Weil

Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
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1 comment:

Francis Prior said...

Whew! Good topic, if a bit weighty.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it, as I'm heading north for the weekend Thursday evening.
But by the by, why is Descartes the "granddaddy" of consciousness? Is he being given this name because he pulled conscious thought OUT of the whole person, as something separable? Re the Sartre distinction: couldn't one just say the first is consciousness, and the second is a form of self-consciousness?
Enough of my two cents,
Michael Prosch