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Nagel's Batty Explanation of the Mind-Body Problem

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
In 1974, Philosopher Thomas Nagel published his classic 17-page explanation of why it is so difficult to understand the physical basis of consciousness: What is it Like to Be a Bat?

In internet discussion forums, people love to argue over the nature of consciousness. Most people seem to believe that brains cause consciousness, and I will not try to argue otherwise. That goes without saying. But how? How can there be an objective explanation of subjective experience? People believe that there must be some explanation that reduces to physical activity, but reductionism never seems to get us anywhere. People who wish to discuss this question intelligently really need to start by reading Nagel's brilliant essay, because Nagel nails it. And, no, the paper is not mostly about bats. That is just the  intuition pump that Nagel uses to make his argument about why reductionist claims are so unsatisfying.

One can come away from Nagel's essay with the rather unsatisfying answer that What it is Like to Be a Bat is just What it Feels Like to be a Bat. But that is just as unsatisfying as saying that the bat's consciousness is some kind of physical phenomenon. Sure, the bat has a brain, but it doesn't experience reality in the same way a human brain does. So what is consciousness in a bat? You can come up with all sorts of thoughts on what you imagine it to be like, but you don't sense reality in the same way that a bat does. You don't use echolocation to paint a 3D picture of reality (although some blind folks do develop a more limited ability to detect objects and distances through sound and other senses). And bats are more like us than snakes or worms or plants. At what point does consciousness of our sort go away? Worms have very rudimentary nervous systems. Are they conscious at all? We like to say that robots are not conscious, yet they behave in ways that give the illusion of conscious behavior. Is it possible for a robot to be conscious? In my opinion, it is. And robots quite often rely on echolocation to map out their local space.

The answer to the mind-body problem is grounded in the nature of experience. Brains have experiences, but what is an experience from a physical perspective? That's all I want to say for now--to point people at Nagel's explanation, if they have not already read this seminal paper. I will give my thoughts later on the way to think about the objective side of subjective experience.
 

rousseau

Well-known member
It's a hard problem to solve in part because this ability has evolved over literally billions of years. The nervous systems of animals are unfathomably complex, the brain is difficult to study, and science is pretty young.

For my part I'm satisfied with saying it works and moving on to more interesting problems. When it comes to pragmatics how consciousness works physically really isn't that important. But I think it's worth noting that we seem to frame consciousness as a thing we have, rather than a thing that's happening. This is worth noting, because a lot of philosophy has been preoccupied with confirming that humans are somehow special, and not just like every other animal.

Most of what we call 'conscious' experience is just parts of our physiology sensing and reacting to the environment across time, just like any other animal. How does it work? Billions of years of iterations.
 
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Treedbear

Well-known member
In 1974, Philosopher Thomas Nagel published his classic 17-page explanation of why it is so difficult to understand the physical basis of consciousness: What is it Like to Be a Bat?
...
The answer to the mind-body problem is grounded in the nature of experience. Brains have experiences, but what is an experience from a physical perspective? That's all I want to say for now--to point people at Nagel's explanation, if they have not already read this seminal paper. I will give my thoughts later on the way to think about the objective side of subjective experience.

Thanks for the reference to the article, which I haven't had time to read yet but look forward to. I went right to the last paragraph though and found this which subscribes to my own views on understanding the subject of conscious experience (my bolding):

Apart from its own interest, a phenomenology that is in this sense objective may permit questions about the physical basis of experience to assume a more intelligible form. Aspects of subjective experience that admitted this kind of objective description might be better candidates for objective explanations of a more familiar sort. But whether or not this guess is correct, it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective. Otherwise we cannot even pose the mind-body problem without sidestepping it.

As is often the case when dealing with paradox it might be a matter of not addressing the right question. Also a more objective point of view requires adopting a broader perspective.

... At what point does consciousness of our sort go away? Worms have very rudimentary nervous systems. Are they conscious at all? ...

What if an extremely advanced space-traveling race visited Earth? People like to worry about whether human would be bred like cattle for food. But would they look at us as lower on the consciousness scale? Perhaps barely conscious at all? We likely would be, compared to their level of understanding and general awareness.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
Nagel was writing at a time when computer technology was leading to a revolution in our understanding of chaos theory, although the concept of  emergence was very old, going back at least to Aristotle. The point is that an entity interacting with other entities in a system can exhibit properties or behaviors that its parts do not have. Those properties emerge only when there is systemic interaction. Nagel does not speak of emergence, but it seems clear that subjective experience emerges from objective interactions in a running neural system. Generally speaking, we can analyze chaotic interactions in a system by reducing the system to simpler interactions between entities within the system. Cellular automata are one way of formally capturing simple emergent behaviors, so it is possible to achieve a kind of reductionist explanation that seems almost intractable by other methods. We just need to identify the major components of the system that are interacting with each other and discover how they interact. The people who are building such systems from the bottom up are roboticists--the creators of autonomous systems that interact with the same environmental factors that human beings interact with, including especially other human beings.
 

bilby

Fair dinkum thinkum
Consciousness doesn't exist.

I am only able to observe a single instance of it, amongst billions of human brains and trillions of brains with varying degrees of difference from human brains. Therefore that single datum is clearly an outlier and can be discarded from the dataset.

Problem solved.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Did you check your sub vocalizations or visual reenactments while you were making that statement? Whatever it is it is physical and, for you and those around you, an illusion. There is no 'You' to bring it forth.
 

rousseau

Well-known member
it seems clear that subjective experience emerges from objective interactions in a running neural system.

I hesitate to say much about subjective experience based on what philosophy has said. We need to open up the brain and understand the mechanics, then the mechanics are what can be said. It seems like a trivial point, but I think what I mentioned earlier about consciousness as something that happens is important.

Classically we've phrased experience as something that happens to 'us', where I'd argue that it just happens. We're a material system that senses and responds to the environment. We don't experience, the body has an interface with the environment that allows it to respond. So when our foot touches the ground, a sensation that the ground is there happens. In some way the brain processes and interprets that information.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
it seems clear that subjective experience emerges from objective interactions in a running neural system.

I hesitate to say much about subjective experience based on what philosophy has said. We need to open up the brain and understand the mechanics, then the mechanics are what can be said. It seems like a trivial point, but I think what I mentioned earlier about consciousness as something that happens is important.

Classically we've phrased experience as something that happens to 'us', where I'd argue that it just happens. We're a material system that senses and responds to the environment. We don't experience, the body has an interface with the environment that allows it to respond. So when our foot touches the ground, a sensation that the ground is there happens. In some way the brain processes and interprets that information.

I am thinking along the same lines that you are, but I disagree that we "don't experience". Of course we do, and we even have a name for what we do. That's exactly what the nervous system does for us. And I would stop just referring to "the brain". It is the entire nervous system, including the peripheral nervous system. Our ability to model reality and predict future events is entirely constructed out of experiences that we can reconstruct every time we remember something. Just "opening up" the brain isn't really going to help us solve the mind-body problem, and Nagel explained why, in my opinion.
 

rousseau

Well-known member
it seems clear that subjective experience emerges from objective interactions in a running neural system.

I hesitate to say much about subjective experience based on what philosophy has said. We need to open up the brain and understand the mechanics, then the mechanics are what can be said. It seems like a trivial point, but I think what I mentioned earlier about consciousness as something that happens is important.

Classically we've phrased experience as something that happens to 'us', where I'd argue that it just happens. We're a material system that senses and responds to the environment. We don't experience, the body has an interface with the environment that allows it to respond. So when our foot touches the ground, a sensation that the ground is there happens. In some way the brain processes and interprets that information.

I am thinking along the same lines that you are, but I disagree that we "don't experience". Of course we do, and we even have a name for what we do. That's exactly what the nervous system does for us. And I would stop just referring to "the brain". It is the entire nervous system, including the peripheral nervous system. Our ability to model reality and predict future events is entirely constructed out of experiences that we can reconstruct every time we remember something. Just "opening up" the brain isn't really going to help us solve the mind-body problem, and Nagel explained why, in my opinion.
My claim isn't that we don't experience, it's that there is no central experiencer. I think it's more accurate to say that the body 'senses' the environment by various means, and what is stored in memory is our 'experience'.

IOW there is nothing called 'mind' that experiences. There is a body that senses. We imagine ourselves as a 'something' that senses, where in reality we're a body of disparate sensory organs that interact with the environment in conjunction with each other.

I tried reading your article but had trouble really gleaning the central message. But overall I'm skeptical of the role of philosophy in understanding neuroscience. Certainly the brain is a physical system and in theory the phenomena it projects can be modeled. So until we have the means to model it I don't know what value there is in thinking or writing about it.

Perhaps if you explained the paper it would help those that don't have the time to really commit to it.

Sent from my SM-A520W using Tapatalk
 

bilby

Fair dinkum thinkum
it seems clear that subjective experience emerges from objective interactions in a running neural system.

I hesitate to say much about subjective experience based on what philosophy has said. We need to open up the brain and understand the mechanics, then the mechanics are what can be said. It seems like a trivial point, but I think what I mentioned earlier about consciousness as something that happens is important.

Classically we've phrased experience as something that happens to 'us', where I'd argue that it just happens. We're a material system that senses and responds to the environment. We don't experience, the body has an interface with the environment that allows it to respond. So when our foot touches the ground, a sensation that the ground is there happens. In some way the brain processes and interprets that information.

I am thinking along the same lines that you are, but I disagree that we "don't experience". Of course we do, and we even have a name for what we do. That's exactly what the nervous system does for us. And I would stop just referring to "the brain". It is the entire nervous system, including the peripheral nervous system. Our ability to model reality and predict future events is entirely constructed out of experiences that we can reconstruct every time we remember something. Just "opening up" the brain isn't really going to help us solve the mind-body problem, and Nagel explained why, in my opinion.

It's worse than that, Jim. There's the endocrine system to consider as well.

It tends to get ignored, but it's much more complex than the nervous system, it's much more influential in many circumstances, and its effects tend to be systemic, while nervous system effects are more localised.

If you ignore the endocrine system, you are ignoring a very large part of the question, and if you don't, you need to consider pretty much every cell in the body - including many that are not even human, or eukaryotic for that matter.
 

rousseau

Well-known member
I am thinking along the same lines that you are, but I disagree that we "don't experience". Of course we do, and we even have a name for what we do. That's exactly what the nervous system does for us. And I would stop just referring to "the brain". It is the entire nervous system, including the peripheral nervous system. Our ability to model reality and predict future events is entirely constructed out of experiences that we can reconstruct every time we remember something. Just "opening up" the brain isn't really going to help us solve the mind-body problem, and Nagel explained why, in my opinion.

It's worse than that, Jim. There's the endocrine system to consider as well.

It tends to get ignored, but it's much more complex than the nervous system, it's much more influential in many circumstances, and its effects tend to be systemic, while nervous system effects are more localised.

If you ignore the endocrine system, you are ignoring a very large part of the question, and if you don't, you need to consider pretty much every cell in the body - including many that are not even human, or eukaryotic for that matter.

Yea. I'd add that the reason I'm referring to the brain and not the entire nervous system, is because from my cursory understanding a lot of the magic happens in the brain, where the greater nervous system is understood a little more clearly.

On the whole, when you consider how small a single cell is, and you consider how many atoms make up a single cell, the brain (and body) is overwhelmingly complex, and it's no wonder that we don't completely understand it when it wasn't even two centuries ago that we figured out evolution was a thing. When I hear of papers like that of Nagel's it's very reminiscent of Greek philosophers waxing poetic about how 'atoms' must be a thing, but having absolutely no clue how they work in practice.

It's been 13 years since I studied anything remotely resembling neuroscience, and at the undergrad level, so I have no idea where the field is now, but I get the sense that understanding the brain fully is a tough one.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Well there you go. He did make a claim. That does not make it so that he has experience or consciousness or has an internal self. The individual typed a claim IAC with his knowledge of language and use of a keyboard. Its fair that it wasn't another person. He did it. It's his product.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
Well there you go. He did make a claim. That does not make it so that he has experience or consciousness or has an internal self. The individual typed a claim IAC with his knowledge of language and use of a keyboard. Its fair that it wasn't another person. He did it. It's his product.

What made the claim?

His foot?

His brain?

His mind? The singular thing that experiences all.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
This discussion is taking shape along the lines that it usually does, but I just wanted to focus on the main question that Nagel raised. He is really asking how it is possible to explain the way in which the subjective emerges out of an objective substrate, i.e. neural activity. That is the central question. Of course, he spends a lot of time comparing human experience to the experience that a bat or some other animal might have, because that seems to be more insightful than, say, explaining cognition in purely physical terms. Nevertheless, I would maintain that subjective experience produced by a neural system is just as physical as any systemic behavior that emerges from a physical substrate. In fact, I would go further and say that we can, in principle, build machines that do not have neurons but still produce subjective experiences. I would maintain that, because I think it is only necessary to produce a system that functions like our brains function. The physical substrate that produces the function can vary.

Bat brains create subjective experiences, but those experiences are very different from ours. Normal human beings rely a lot on vision to produce their models of reality, but bat brains rely more on hearing. Those models are necessary for the types of complex animal bodies that we possess, because both bats and humans need to navigate safely within their environmental niches. Brains are guidance systems for bodies. What humans and bats have in common, besides being mammals, is that they integrate their visual/auditory sensations with other kinds of sensations--touch, taste, smell, etc. Emotions guide their goals and choices. Volition controls their motor behaviors. How does all of that emerge from a physical machine whose parts are not conscious per se? We have some understanding of the environmental forces that influence the behavior of physical objects--gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear. Are the mental forces that influence human and bat behaviors also physical forces in some sense? I think that it is possible to answer that question positively or negatively, depending on how you frame it.

Where I am headed with this is a discussion of the nature of emergent properties of physical systems. That is, I want to make the case that physical reality as we construe it is built up out of layers of emergent systems, where each system can be framed in two different ways--the mechanical functions of the substrate and the systemic functions that emerge from it. Both layers are real and have very different properties, so it makes no sense to say that the systemic layer doesn't exist when one is talking about the mechanics or the mechanical layer doesn't exist when one is talking about the systemic layer. Both layers coexist, but in their different conceptual frames. Those who claim that thoughts don't exist because they are not material things and that only material things can exist are wrong. The problem is that the words "material" and "mental" are presupposed to exist independently of each other, but one is just another systemic functional layer that emerges from the mechanical layer that serves as its substrate.

In the physical sciences, atoms, molecules, and solutions are very different objects with different properties. H2O molecules have systemic properties that are very different from the systemic properties of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. And water has very different systemic properties that are not derivable from just the behavior of H2O molecules. When talking about the cognitive system of a human being, one necessarily talks about the same two system-of-system layers, where each entity has properties that can be very different from the properties of the entities in their substrates. Robots have bodies with sensors and actuators, just like biological animals. They also have guidance systems that operate without neurons, although the programs that drive them can in some sense mimic the behavior of neurons. In principle, we could build a robot with enough complexity to have cognitive experiences that are as similar to ours as perhaps a bat's experiences are. I'm not saying that our species will survive long enough to achieve it, but I think that there may exist intelligent animal species on other planets that may have achieved that feat.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
Where I am headed with this is a discussion of the nature of emergent properties of physical systems. That is, I want to make the case that reality as we construe it is built up out of layers of emergent systems, where each system can be framed in two different ways--the mechanical functions of the substrate and the systemic functions that emerge from it. Both layers are real and have very different properties, so it makes no sense to say that the systemic layer doesn't exist when one is talking about the mechanics or the mechanical layer doesn't exist when one is talking about the systemic layer. Both layers coexist, but in their different conceptual frames. Those who claim that thoughts don't exist because they are not material things and that only material things can exist are wrong. The problem is that the words "material" and "mental" are presupposed to exist independently of each other, but one is just another systemic functional layer that emerges from the mechanical layer that serves as its substrate.

Unfortunately all these discussion about the nature of consciousness and the nature of a mind experiencing don't really go anywhere because the phenomena of a mind experiencing a thought is not understood in any way. Saying it happens in the brain is not an understanding.

Mental and material ARE two separate things.

Color is a mental experience.

It is not made up of any material.

It does not exist in any way except as a mental experience.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
Untermensche, I think that these discussions go somewhere for those of us who are open to looking at the subject from different angles, but I'm not sure that you are. For example, you responded to a paragraph about emergence without making any reference to the concept or showing that you understood the difference between a system description and a description of its substrate. I'm not saying that I disagree with anything that you said in your post. I'm just saying that it doesn't really address the point I was trying to make. You appear to disagree with what I posted, but AFAICT you don't agree or disagree, because you aren't talking about what I actually posted.

Lets consider the difference between two cars--one powered by a gasoline engine and one powered by an electrical engine. That fact alone does not make one an automobile and the other something else. They both perform exactly the same functions from the perspective of a driver, although the operating instructions may be a bit different. Start thinking of different ways to alter those cars, taking away some components and adding others. At what point do they cease to be automobiles? I think you'll find that it is easier to describe their differences when their functions change rather than the physical components. That is, you can describe an automobile in terms of its mechanical components and how they interact to produce an operational product. However, what really defines something as an automobile is the way in which we interact with it--its functional properties. Automobiles emerge from physical components, but they are not just the sum of their physical parts. They exist as functional objects, too.

I will grant you that you don't understand thought "in any way", just don't include others in your generalization. People understand a great deal about what thought is, and those who make their living by studying it and things related to it must certainly know a great deal more than you do. I don't believe that you understand what "we" understand about thought.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
OK

I want to make the case that physical reality as we construe it is built up out of layers of emergent systems, where each system can be framed in two different ways--the mechanical functions of the substrate and the systemic functions that emerge from it.

Are you saying?

Our ability to experience and our experiences of reality are constructed by various subsystems. These subsystems have an activity associated with them and this activity results in the emergent phenomena of subjective experience.
 

abaddon

Well-known member
Copernicus,

I think your idea of a systemic layer is an intriguing idea. But I don't think it explains the emergence of mind. To me, it seems a more complicated way of asserting that "mind" (as the systemic layer with emergent traits differing from the mechanical parts) is "created by" those mechanical parts.

A little time back I read a couple articles about panpsychism that are also very intriguing to me. In panpsychism, the mental emergent traits aren't "created" by matter. In this view, "emergent" wouldn't be synonymous with "create". Rather, consciousness is there all along, just in a super-simple form, in the particles or atoms. When configured in a mechanical system, they form your "systemic layer".

This way there's no "when complex enough, mind pops into existence" implied. Rather, "when complex enough, then from particle-consciousnesses emerges a bat-consciousness" (or a human-consciousness, or an AI-consciousness, or whatever the neural and bodily configuration is).

In this view, mind and matter are the same thing all along, just the mental trait of everything is not recognizable to us until it's a neural system.

Pretty much everything you say still applies. Just, I guess some of us are allergic to the notion of "create". Matter "creates" mind... hm, even when that notion is reframed as complex systems of stimulus-response, it sounds a little "magical". That is, not explanatory.

Is "wateriness" there in H2O? No. But then the proposition of panpsychism is not the feeling quality that you and I experience as our "minds" is there in molecules or atoms or particles either. It's still talk of a variety of emergence. Just, it's not an emergence that involves "creating" something that's utterly new in the universe.
 

Treedbear

Well-known member
This discussion is taking shape along the lines that it usually does, but I just wanted to focus on the main question that Nagel raised. He is really asking how it is possible to explain the way in which the subjective emerges out of an objective substrate, i.e. neural activity. That is the central question. ...

I like to reduce problems into their most basic components to understand things. Conscious experiences seem to come in two forms: thoughts and feelings. Thoughts seem to be the product of the model-creating ability of brains. Whether we are conscious of it or when we are not our brain is processing information based on perceptions and learned behavior in order to model its environment. That environment includes everything we encounter in the external world as well as everything that arises within our personal sense of awareness. The latter is usually our most continuously stimulated and intimate source of input, and we identify it as the "Self". So how models are built would be a great place to begin to analyze the functionality of the objective substrate. Frankly I don't have a clue. As far as I'm aware computer science doesn't either.

Feelings cover a wide range of experiences from touch sensations to emotions. They frequently serve as an input for thought processes and often provide a necessary motivation for it. But the word is normally used to describe something that is not the result of thought. In fact we tend to use the term when we describe what we think of some matter when in actuality we don't really understand why. "This is what I feel about it" rather than "what I think about it." So it can be inferred that some connection exists there.

At any rate I find that reducing something to its most basic level is often helpful in discovering what it is. I think there's an explanation for feelings in general, which is that all feelings are associated with some level of arousal that varies on a scale from serenity to anxiety. Arousal translates in the substrate as the level of neural activity, requiring that energy resources be managed. Indeed as the brain evolves in size and complexity this becomes a critical, and so an integral function in order that the brain functions efficiently and avoids the buildup of excess heat. Energy requirements and heat buildup determine the upper limit of brain size, just as with electronic microprocessors. There are many types of cells that support and moderate neuron activity. Those subsystems naturally effect a wider region of brain cells than would signals between neurons. Therefore the effect can be either more localized or generalized as required in order to influence specific processes.

What I'm thinking here is that this paradigm of energy management is integral to the evolution of brains in general. And since it has been so from the earliest times there is quite possibly some integral ability to sense (if that's the right word) that level of arousal and identify it as either good (serenity) or bad (anxiety). And if that is so then the rest of our so called feelings can be characterized accordingly and "colored" (so to speak) with whatever type of experience the brain's thought processes associate with it. Whether it's love, hate, joy, sadness, compassion, etc., there are various combinations of experience that we associate with them. So I can't say how exactly arousal is sensed but I can rationalize how all feeling can be simplified as an expression of that one faculty.
 
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Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
Untermensche, that is roughly what I was saying, but the important point about emergence is that the functional entities that emerge from the substrate have properties that are not necessarily predictable from the properties of the components that make up the system. I don't think that we are having a substantive disagreement here.

Copernicus,

I think your idea of a systemic layer is an intriguing idea. But I don't think it explains the emergence of mind. To me, it seems a more complicated way of asserting that "mind" (as the systemic layer with emergent traits differing from the mechanical parts) is "created by" those mechanical parts.

A little time back I read a couple articles about panpsychism that are also very intriguing to me. In panpsychism, the mental emergent traits aren't "created" by matter. In this view, "emergent" wouldn't be synonymous with "create". Rather, consciousness is there all along, just in a super-simple form, in the particles or atoms. When configured in a mechanical system, they form your "systemic layer".

I really don't like the term "pansychism", because it sounds like an unnecessarily anthropomorphic term. For example, you can measure a magnetic field and observe how it is affected by interactions with different environmental conditions. However, there is a sense in which magnetic physical objects are "aware" of each other, because bringing them closer together either repels or attracts, depending on how the poles are aligned with each other. Human bodies are also repelled and attracted by animate and inanimate things, but in a far more subtle and less measurable way. Unlike with magnets, the forces that repel and attract human bodies are far more complex and difficult to explain. We could call them cognitive or mental forces, but the fact is that bodies are attracted or repelled by their neural guidance systems. So it is really misleading to use a term like "panpsychism" when referring to physical interactions that are not mediated by a kind of neural guidance system. The objects that we call "human bodies" are not at all like the objects that we call "magnets". It is a mistake to conflate the forces of attraction and repulsion with a term like "panpsychism". Self-awareness, for example, is an emergent property of a neural system, and it seems to have no useful analog in an electromagnetic system.

This way there's no "when complex enough, mind pops into existence" implied. Rather, "when complex enough, then from particle-consciousnesses emerges a bat-consciousness" (or a human-consciousness, or an AI-consciousness, or whatever the neural and bodily configuration is).

In this view, mind and matter are the same thing all along, just the mental trait of everything is not recognizable to us until it's a neural system.

Panpsychism sounds almost like a kind of pantheism to me, and I suppose that is because deities are so anthropomorphic to begin with. It doesn't really seem to say much other than that the mind is a mysterious force that somehow just works to move bodies around. If you want to explain how a mind works, you have to analyze it into functional components, and that takes us very far away from simple interactions between physical objects.

Pretty much everything you say still applies. Just, I guess some of us are allergic to the notion of "create". Matter "creates" mind... hm, even when that notion is reframed as complex systems of stimulus-response, it sounds a little "magical". That is, not explanatory.

I'm not wedded to the term "create". You could just as well say "gives rise to". The point is that chaos theory helps us to understand how minds came into existence without a need for us to just throw up our hands and declare that everything is explained by materialism. To me, physical reality is a multi-tiered system of emergent layers, each of which can be explained in its own functional terms or by reference to the underlying mechanics that give rise to the system. An important corollary of this idea is that very different mechanical interactions can converge on the same functionality by serendipitous means. Both fish and aquatic mammals acquired fins through evolution, but the fins don't necessarily have a common origin. The jawbone in reptiles is said to correlate with bones in the human ear, but both reptiles and humans have hearing. The functional aspect of hearing just happened to emerge from different parts of the anatomy over millions of years of evolutionary divergence.
 

abaddon

Well-known member
I really don't like the term "pansychism", because it sounds like an unnecessarily anthropomorphic term. For example, you can measure a magnetic field and observe how it is affected by interactions with different environmental conditions. However, there is a sense in which magnetic physical objects are "aware" of each other, because bringing them closer together either repels or attracts, depending on how the poles are aligned with each other. Human bodies are also repelled and attracted by animate and inanimate things, but in a far more subtle and less measurable way. Unlike with magnets, the forces that repel and attract human bodies are far more complex and difficult to explain. We could call them cognitive or mental forces, but the fact is that bodies are attracted or repelled by their neural guidance systems. So it is really misleading to use a term like "panpsychism" when referring to physical interactions that are not mediated by a kind of neural guidance system. The objects that we call "human bodies" are not at all like the objects that we call "magnets". It is a mistake to conflate the forces of attraction and repulsion with a term like "panpsychism". Self-awareness, for example, is an emergent property of a neural system, and it seems to have no useful analog in an electromagnetic system.



Panpsychism sounds almost like a kind of pantheism to me, and I suppose that is because deities are so anthropomorphic to begin with. It doesn't really seem to say much other than that the mind is a mysterious force that somehow just works to move bodies around. If you want to explain how a mind works, you have to analyze it into functional components, and that takes us very far away from simple interactions between physical objects

I don't think I said anything that remotely suggests EM energy or pantheism or a "mysterious force". You have very different associations to the word, and somehow that overrode all my effort to say what I mean by the word.

If interested, here's a brief summary of the panpsychism that I mean. And a fuller explanation here.
 

Treedbear

Well-known member
...

If interested, here's a brief summary of the panpsychism that I mean. And a fuller explanation here.

From the second link -
The worry with dualism—the view that mind and matter are fundamentally different kinds of thing—is that it leaves us with a radically disunified picture of nature, and the deep difficulty of understanding how mind and brain interact. ... Panpsychism, strange as it may sound on first hearing, promises a satisfying account of the human mind within a unified conception of nature.

My take is that the mind-body problem that occurs with dualism is still present with panpsychism. Just that the connection between mind and brain is transferred to a level of less complexity. The atomic particles. It's chopped up into little pieces. The same fundamental problem still arises. What is consciousness and how is it that it's a property of these particles? The problem only seems to disappear because there are no reasonable explanations to be had with these basic particles, whereas there are lots of possibilities to explore with a complex brain. Sorry to have to point this out but it's also the sort of reasoning that leads people to use God as an explanation for everything.
 

abaddon

Well-known member
...

If interested, here's a brief summary of the panpsychism that I mean. And a fuller explanation here.

From the second link -
The worry with dualism—the view that mind and matter are fundamentally different kinds of thing—is that it leaves us with a radically disunified picture of nature, and the deep difficulty of understanding how mind and brain interact. ... Panpsychism, strange as it may sound on first hearing, promises a satisfying account of the human mind within a unified conception of nature.

My take is that the mind-body problem that occurs with dualism is still present with panpsychism. Just that the connection between mind and brain is transferred to a level of less complexity. The atomic particles. It's chopped up into little pieces. The same fundamental problem still arises. What is consciousness and how is it that it's a property of these particles? The problem only seems to disappear because there are no reasonable explanations to be had with these basic particles, whereas there are lots of possibilities to explore with a complex brain. Sorry to have to point this out but it's also the sort of reasoning that leads people to use God as an explanation for everything.

Mind isn't an emergent property of the particles. It's the substance of them. They're "mental" from the get-go, the "mental" does not "arise" out of them like with the guess about "brain activity" causing consciousness.

I think the problem you're posing is that it suggests particles are like little brains, with consciousness attached as an add-on or like a spirit lurking "inside". But, no. In panpsychism, mind (or "interiority") does not emerge from the particle and is not merely associated with it like a secretive spirit, so they're not like little brains. Mind is the substance of the particle, whereas the observable, measurable behaviors of the particle are just that - the outer behaviors of the same. So it's all one, it's an absolute monism.

The implicit dualism is there in the hypothesis that mind emerges out of matter if that matter is a brain. Here people are still talking about mind AND matter as distinctive things, but they try to make mind a subordinate, emergent property that's "squeezed out" when a brain is "complex enough" (invoking the magic word "complex") to somehow just start doing this "squeezing out" of interior experience. The problem is [un]resolved by just stopping talking about mind at some point and saying "brain" instead.

"Processes" and "systems" are just matter in motion and still nothing at all like subjective, interior experience.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
Because I'm juggling a lot of things at once right now--today being my 75th birthday--I don't have time to absorb all of the above posts yet, so I'll try to read more carefully and post some responses when I get the chance. I just want to say that lack of response on my part just means that I am running into some turbulence on other fronts at the moment. Abaddon, I had a problem with the term "panpsychism", not necessarily everything that you were trying to say about it. I think that the term's inherent anthropomorphist flavor puts a spin in the wrong direction.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Congratulations on your 75th junior. Getting back off the free will express? Congrats there as well Copernicus. Even those pushing quantum reasoning are finding reasons to to reject such reasons for the existence of fee will. Doesn't matter whether it's this way or that way whatever takes place next is determined.

From: Agency and Causal Explanation in Economics https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/23006/1007155.pdf?sequence=1#page=16

Chapter 5 in Causation and Agency
Abstract:
‘Causation’ covers a variety of dependent relationships between and among objects and events. The axiom concerning the unicity of reality has been thought to warrant the assumption that causal relationships of social phenomena, including economics, share common properties with corporeal objects, that, in short, agency is a form of causation. This paper defends the opposite view, to wit, that causation based on the properties and powers of corporeal objects (be they natural or man-made) is unlike causation based on agency. Whereas causation among the former is a function of the properties and powers of the objects at play, agency ‘causation’ is the product of human intentionality. Any theory of agency must account for free will even where, as in the case of rule based roles, the instantiation of free will is qualified. An agent’s action may, of course, set in motion a causal law by instantiating the properties of the object(s) producing the intended effect (eg. pulling the trigger of a loaded gun), and the agent will be responsible for the consequences, but the discharge of the bullet is the result of the properties and powers of the gun and the bullet and not of the agent. The profound ontological difference between causation and agency cannot be overcome with resort to epistemological, logical or linguistic considerations.

In economic and social life the agent relies not on the causal properties of corporeal objects, but on her action authorized by social rules. The causal properties and powers of objects are fundamentally different from the causal powers of rules, because, unlike the former, the latter are designed for the achievement of an intended result and cannot operate without intentional application. The proper study of economics is not the study of the properties of objects contrived by economic theory, but the nature of purposeful human action.

(take your time on this bit)

Conclusion:
Causation in the sense in which the term has meaning in the natural sciences does not obtain in economics because economic phenomena do not have the sort of causal properties that obtain in natural objects; the subject matter of economics isnot a natural kind. The study of dependent relations in economics, therefore, is entirely the study of agency, where any inductively obtained generalization about a dependent relationship is a consequence not a of the properties of a natural kind, but of human action. This remains to be the case even if agency and the sort of intentionality traditionally associated with agency implying the autonomy of the agent is being replaced by the rule-based role, and the rule-based role is increasingly replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence. Dependent relationships secure \d through algorithms depend neither on the properties of the objects involved nor the intentionality of the agent, but, rather, are prescribed relationships based on the rule posited in the algorithm. The algorithm is given the capacity and power to override both Causation and agency and brings about consequences that could not be obtained without it. This phenomenon requires analysis going beyond both causation and agency, and therefore beyond the scope of this paper.

The triumph and the tragedy of modern economics rests not in its failure to discover law-like regularities resembling those found in nature, but in its imposition on society of a surrogate reality, built with concepts borrowed from the determinist world of Newtonian physics. But the application of Newtonian causality to economic life is illegitimate. Instead of discovering something about an existing reality, economics generates its own - in Hobbes’ phrase a ‘made with words’ reality - that conforms to its agenda. Economic optimality is just as much a subjective telos, the choice of which just as much the product of value judgment as any of the other value judgments economics purports to exile. Something is optimal in relation to something else the choice of which is not a matter of either science or logic. With its materialist determinism economics has compromised the moral autonomy of the agent, expelled moral responsibility for the morally loaded choices it compels us to make, and transformed for the worse the physical world around us.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
Congratulations on your 75th junior. Getting back off the free will express? Congrats there as well Copernicus. Even those pushing quantum reasoning are finding reasons to to reject such reasons for the existence of fee will. Doesn't matter whether it's this way or that way whatever takes place next is determined.

From: Agency and Causal Explanation in Economics https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/23006/1007155.pdf?sequence=1#page=16

Chapter 5 in Causation and Agency
Abstract:
‘Causation’ covers a variety of dependent relationships between and among objects and events. The axiom concerning the unicity of reality has been thought to warrant the assumption that causal relationships of social phenomena, including economics, share common properties with corporeal objects, that, in short, agency is a form of causation. This paper defends the opposite view, to wit, that causation based on the properties and powers of corporeal objects (be they natural or man-made) is unlike causation based on agency. Whereas causation among the former is a function of the properties and powers of the objects at play, agency ‘causation’ is the product of human intentionality. Any theory of agency must account for free will even where, as in the case of rule based roles, the instantiation of free will is qualified. An agent’s action may, of course, set in motion a causal law by instantiating the properties of the object(s) producing the intended effect (eg. pulling the trigger of a loaded gun), and the agent will be responsible for the consequences, but the discharge of the bullet is the result of the properties and powers of the gun and the bullet and not of the agent. The profound ontological difference between causation and agency cannot be overcome with resort to epistemological, logical or linguistic considerations.

In economic and social life the agent relies not on the causal properties of corporeal objects, but on her action authorized by social rules. The causal properties and powers of objects are fundamentally different from the causal powers of rules, because, unlike the former, the latter are designed for the achievement of an intended result and cannot operate without intentional application. The proper study of economics is not the study of the properties of objects contrived by economic theory, but the nature of purposeful human action.

(take your time on this bit)

Conclusion:
Causation in the sense in which the term has meaning in the natural sciences does not obtain in economics because economic phenomena do not have the sort of causal properties that obtain in natural objects; the subject matter of economics isnot a natural kind. The study of dependent relations in economics, therefore, is entirely the study of agency, where any inductively obtained generalization about a dependent relationship is a consequence not a of the properties of a natural kind, but of human action. This remains to be the case even if agency and the sort of intentionality traditionally associated with agency implying the autonomy of the agent is being replaced by the rule-based role, and the rule-based role is increasingly replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence. Dependent relationships secure \d through algorithms depend neither on the properties of the objects involved nor the intentionality of the agent, but, rather, are prescribed relationships based on the rule posited in the algorithm. The algorithm is given the capacity and power to override both Causation and agency and brings about consequences that could not be obtained without it. This phenomenon requires analysis going beyond both causation and agency, and therefore beyond the scope of this paper.

The triumph and the tragedy of modern economics rests not in its failure to discover law-like regularities resembling those found in nature, but in its imposition on society of a surrogate reality, built with concepts borrowed from the determinist world of Newtonian physics. But the application of Newtonian causality to economic life is illegitimate. Instead of discovering something about an existing reality, economics generates its own - in Hobbes’ phrase a ‘made with words’ reality - that conforms to its agenda. Economic optimality is just as much a subjective telos, the choice of which just as much the product of value judgment as any of the other value judgments economics purports to exile. Something is optimal in relation to something else the choice of which is not a matter of either science or logic. With its materialist determinism economics has compromised the moral autonomy of the agent, expelled moral responsibility for the morally loaded choices it compels us to make, and transformed for the worse the physical world around us.

I don't think that "fee will" is usually defined well enough to have a coherent discussion of the subject, and those who advocate for it seldom seem to know what it would be like for someone not to have free will. My own opinion is that human machines are run by very sophisticated autopilots. Volition is a matter of tweaking the autopilot to perform desired actions ahead of a need for action. Anyway, that is a topic for a different discussion. I would prefer to keep this one focused on the question of subjective experience systemically arising from objective "mechanical" interactions. It's true that volition is a big part of that, but whether such volition can be characterized as "free" or not sucks us down into a rabbit hole.
 

Copernicus

Industrial Grade Linguist
I really don't like the term "pansychism", because it sounds like an unnecessarily anthropomorphic term. For example, you can measure a magnetic field and observe how it is affected by interactions with different environmental conditions. However, there is a sense in which magnetic physical objects are "aware" of each other, because bringing them closer together either repels or attracts, depending on how the poles are aligned with each other. Human bodies are also repelled and attracted by animate and inanimate things, but in a far more subtle and less measurable way. Unlike with magnets, the forces that repel and attract human bodies are far more complex and difficult to explain. We could call them cognitive or mental forces, but the fact is that bodies are attracted or repelled by their neural guidance systems. So it is really misleading to use a term like "panpsychism" when referring to physical interactions that are not mediated by a kind of neural guidance system. The objects that we call "human bodies" are not at all like the objects that we call "magnets". It is a mistake to conflate the forces of attraction and repulsion with a term like "panpsychism". Self-awareness, for example, is an emergent property of a neural system, and it seems to have no useful analog in an electromagnetic system.

Panpsychism sounds almost like a kind of pantheism to me, and I suppose that is because deities are so anthropomorphic to begin with. It doesn't really seem to say much other than that the mind is a mysterious force that somehow just works to move bodies around. If you want to explain how a mind works, you have to analyze it into functional components, and that takes us very far away from simple interactions between physical objects

I don't think I said anything that remotely suggests EM energy or pantheism or a "mysterious force". You have very different associations to the word, and somehow that overrode all my effort to say what I mean by the word.

If interested, here's a brief summary of the panpsychism that I mean. And a fuller explanation here.

Thanks for the reference, abaddon, but, after reading the article, I still find the idea of panpsychism quite unsatisfying for the reasons that I stated above. It seems to be an attempt to extend the meaning of words like "conscious" and "consciousness" to simple physical interactions. Objects that interact must in some way become "aware" of each other in order to have any interaction at all. Awareness of other entities is a component of what we call "consciousness", but so are self-awareness, emotions, volition, memory, calculation, and so on. To understand what consciousness is, you have to break it down into at least the mental functions that we attribute to it. So I do think that neural systems in animals are a necessary systemic cause of what we normally refer to as consciousness. Physical objects interact with each other, but I don't se what it really buys us to call that "consciousness" or even "awareness". That seems to be a very anthropomorphic projection on physical interactions that doesn't really help to explain the nature of subjective experience or how the physics of neurochemistry give rise to it. I do think that the emergence of orderly behavior in complex physical interactions is a better way to approach the subject.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Congratulations on your 75th junior. Getting back off the free will express? Congrats there as well Copernicus. Even those pushing quantum reasoning are finding reasons to to reject such reasons for the existence of fee will. Doesn't matter whether it's this way or that way whatever takes place next is determined.

From: Agency and Causal Explanation in Economics https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/23006/1007155.pdf?sequence=1#page=16

Chapter 5 in Causation and Agency


(take your time on this bit)

I don't think that "fee will" is usually defined well enough to have a coherent discussion of the subject, and those who advocate for it seldom seem to know what it would be like for someone not to have free will. My own opinion is that human machines are run by very sophisticated autopilots. Volition is a matter of tweaking the autopilot to perform desired actions ahead of a need for action. Anyway, that is a topic for a different discussion. I would prefer to keep this one focused on the question of subjective experience systemically arising from objective "mechanical" interactions. It's true that volition is a big part of that, but whether such volition can be characterized as "free" or not sucks us down into a rabbit hole.

The summary is a chapter in a book on Economics titled . Seems these people thought enough of the topic to spend a lot of effort on it and get it published. I can't think of much more objective and mechanical than "Agency and Causal Explanation in economies." Can you?
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
Perhaps I'm an extreme reductionist, but I don't see the problem!

We all agree that some non-human animals are intelligent, and that robots can be made hugely more "intelligent" than man. At some point an intelligent animal will develop a sense of "self." Robots can be programmed with a sense of self: e.g. trained to optimize criteria that include self-survival. They can even be programmed with some sort of sex drive!

At some point, any sufficiently intelligent self-aware entity will exhibit "consciousness"; in fact the threshold for consciousness is probably fuzzy. One can imagine an advanced version of IBM's Watson being asked to write an essay (or programmed so that its libido "wants" to write essays) and coming up with a sentence like "I think therefore I am."

If a creature behaves just as though it were conscious, then isn't it conscious? We may be unable to imagine what that machine's consciousness feels like to it — that's one part of the Nagel essay I understood and agree with — but it's still "conscious."
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Swammerdami I agree a being is conscious, has a brain and nervous system, etc.

However, consciousness is an aspect, attribute, of a being. It is not a separate thing, like are being parts brain and heart, from the being called consciousness. It's is the being's consciousness. Most of those here who use descriptors of parts like brain speak of it, the brain or consciousness, doing something that, in actuality, should be attributed to the being who is doing.

The brain does not create consciousness, consciousness doesn't do, etc. Consciousness is a construct it is not a thing. Is it a subjective thing if anything at all. Even as subjective the consciousness doesn't do create, or anything else beyond serving as a construct to frame notion. Don't bless it as being alive or even an actual part of the being. Hypothetical construct! No more.

That is what I call reductionist.

I agree with untermensche that humans and many mammals exhibit what we call conscious behavior. It's just that we can't package create in the construct. Color may be expressed by beings somewhat differently under similar conditions that is not proof that a construct, called conscious, creates anything. Creation, if there is such a thing among living beings is a being thing, being created.
 

Swammerdami

Squadron Leader
Staff member
Swammerdami I agree a being is conscious, has a brain and nervous system, etc.

However, consciousness is an aspect, attribute, of a being. It is not a separate thing, like are being parts brain and heart, from the being called consciousness. It's is the being's consciousness. Most of those here who use descriptors of parts like brain speak of it, the brain or consciousness, doing something that, in actuality, should be attributed to the being who is doing.

The brain does not create consciousness, consciousness doesn't do, etc. Consciousness is a construct it is not a thing. Is it a subjective thing if anything at all. Even as subjective the consciousness doesn't do create, or anything else beyond serving as a construct to frame notion. Don't bless it as being alive or even an actual part of the being. Hypothetical construct! No more.

That is what I call reductionist.

I agree with untermensche that humans and many mammals exhibit what we call conscious behavior. It's just that we can't package create in the construct. Color may be expressed by beings somewhat differently under similar conditions that is not proof that a construct, called conscious, creates anything. Creation, if there is such a thing among living beings is a being thing, being created.

I agree with all this; and apologize if my prior post left these distinctions unclear.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
I agree with untermensche that humans and many mammals exhibit what we call conscious behavior. It's just that we can't package create in the construct. Color may be expressed by beings somewhat differently under similar conditions that is not proof that a construct, called conscious, creates anything. Creation, if there is such a thing among living beings is a being thing, being created.

You're arguing semantics.

The word "consciousness" has two meanings. It can mean the ability to be aware of thing. Or it is used sometimes like people use the word "mind". As that entity that is aware of things.

Consciousness used as a noun requires two things. One of them is consciousness as a verb.

To have consciousness you need that which can be conscious of things, know they are there and know what they are. And all the things that a human can possibly be conscious of. The brain creations. Like sound and sight and smell and taste.

When you have some thing aware that it is experiencing a sound and recognizing it as their favorite song you have consciousness.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
You have a definitional problem. A variable can't be part of what it defines. Such would be an intervening variable which is never necessary nor existent. Variables are singular. Consciousness doesn't know that it is conscious or even what it does. It is a construct. Ergo conscious doesn't create consciousness or experience. Only the being does or estimates those things. Both conscious and experience are referent to states of being. The being is conscious. The being experiences.

They're subjective statements/entities for Christ sake.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
You have a definitional problem. A variable can't be part of what it defines.

Says who? The grammar police?

Consciousness doesn't know that it is conscious or even what it does.

Who's consciousness is that?

When I eat ice cream I know I am eating ice cream. No doubt.

I know. The subjective experiencer knows.

Because that is what awareness is. One thing being aware of some other thing.

That is what experience is. One thing experiencing some other thing.

It is a construct.

Yes. The mind is a brain construction.

That is how it exists and can experience other brain constructs. Like sound or color.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
We presume mind is a brain construction simply because it is easier to record from the brain than it is from spinal ganglia. That it is a construction does not mean the brain created it. In fact we know that glands and other tissue make up mind as well. Mind is not just for reason yano.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
We presume the table experienced is a construction because the table is not being experienced.

It has not entered the eye in any way.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
Of course we see a table. Light reflecting off a table enters the eye, activates representative spatial and hue sensitive cells then that information is passed up the nervous system for processing to be done with as the being attending to it deems necessary for satisfactory disposition.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
You experience a brain created representation of the table from reflected energy that has nothing to do with tables.

Light is an anthropocentric term that describes the human reaction to the energy and nothing about the energy.
 

none

Well-known member
You experience a brain created representation of the table from reflected energy that has nothing to do with tables.

Light is an anthropocentric term that describes the human reaction to the energy and nothing about the energy.

what table?
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
I've carried tables. So I can experience what it is like to do so. Fortunately my eyes, muscles, joints, and nervous system provides me information and from that memory to which I can refer when seeing a table.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
I've carried tables. So I can experience what it is like to do so. Fortunately my eyes, muscles, joints, and nervous system provides me information and from that memory to which I can refer when seeing a table.

You need no memory to reach out and experience the resistance of the table.

Any information YOU (a mind) have is a brain creation you are experiencing.

The table is not in your head.
 

fromderinside

Mazzie Daius
No one said the table was in my head. A wonderful thing about information is that it can be stored bit by bit in any substance that is capable of recording it if it is served by processes which can provide such information.
 

untermensche

Well-known member
No one said the table was in my head. A wonderful thing about information is that it can be stored bit by bit in any substance that is capable of recording it if it is served by processes which can provide such information.

The great thing about the creative brain are all the experiences it creates.

It creates sound when no such thing exists in the external world.

It creates tastes when molecules have no taste.

It creates color even though objects have no color.
 

rousseau

Well-known member
Swammerdami I agree a being is conscious, has a brain and nervous system, etc.

However, consciousness is an aspect, attribute, of a being. It is not a separate thing, like are being parts brain and heart, from the being called consciousness. It's is the being's consciousness. Most of those here who use descriptors of parts like brain speak of it, the brain or consciousness, doing something that, in actuality, should be attributed to the being who is doing.

The brain does not create consciousness, consciousness doesn't do, etc. Consciousness is a construct it is not a thing. Is it a subjective thing if anything at all. Even as subjective the consciousness doesn't do create, or anything else beyond serving as a construct to frame notion. Don't bless it as being alive or even an actual part of the being. Hypothetical construct! No more.

That is what I call reductionist.

I agree with untermensche that humans and many mammals exhibit what we call conscious behavior. It's just that we can't package create in the construct. Color may be expressed by beings somewhat differently under similar conditions that is not proof that a construct, called conscious, creates anything. Creation, if there is such a thing among living beings is a being thing, being created.

This is along the lines of what I was getting at above, but worded a little better.

Mentally most of us imagine that we are a unitary thing that perceives - hence why spirituality predominates across our history and culture, and even now we focus on how we are 'conscious' (what does that really mean?). But when you really observe and understand the functions of the body we are more like a multi-threaded, parallel processor that is constantly feeling and responding. But people have the feeling that they are a cohesive, acting agent (probably this is an evolved feature of our mental world).

At the end of the day angst over determinism seems to predominate, but most of us forget that we are the thing that is deterministic. We are the thing that is determining. Does a bird get angsty over being a bird, or does it just keep on being a bird?
 
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