Sunday, January 4, 2015

Variables and Consciousness

'Variables' means something to most people. They are a concept, of course. I am going to use the terms 'variable, 'parameter' and 'concept' loosely and somewhat interchangeably here, because I cannot think of better words to explain myself. Variables are things we attach a, variable, value to. The value could be numerical, or it could be a description of how strongly an abstract variable like 'determination' is displayed by a person. We would say that a person displays 'limited' determination or 'strong' determination in achieving goals, for example. There are variables in maths, physics, chemistry. There are variables in economics. There are also less tangible, more subjective variables, belonging to spheres such as sociology, art, psychology, or morality. Examples? Virtue, evil, success, beauty.

Hitler's idea of evil was different from most non-Nazis. A Greenpeace member's idea of a virtuous or successful life might differ from that of an investment banker. 'Evil' and 'success' are subjective concepts and variables, in men's minds at least. But that is an aside. My point is that there are variables which have meaning for the human mind and are abstract rather than concise and concrete, like those of say physics.

Life is rich with variables,or parameters. Those variables associated with the physical, material framework of our existence, belong to the 'hard' sciences and mathematics. We are inclined to see these as having a reality even if there was no human or similar life. Things like spatial position, relative time, angular momentum, charge, quantum spin state, electrical resistance. All these would have existence, most would say, even if we were not present to observe and evaluate them.

However, as I said, there are also those variables associated with consciousness. Things like plausibility, accountability, attractiveness, approval. These are all variables by which humans measure other people or situations. It can be argued very strongly that these concepts are products of consciousness and have no meaning apart from the presence of conscious entities like man. They are relational variables (in the psychological sense of the phrase). We 'measure' them, or put a value on them, in order to evaluate people and circumstances. But they require consciousness, and a relational and emotional life, in order to have any meaning whatsoever. Yet we use these concepts, and attach values to them, quite routinely. 'Mary has a very plausible reason for not being able to attend next week' etc. The abstract concept here is of course 'plausibility'.

Some variables associated with consciousness relate to how positive life around us seems. Beauty, interest, pleasure are all things we seek. They have no concrete means of measurement, no consensus agreement on their values. Yet they are very important to us. 'I find Alan interesting'. 'Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever been to' etc etc.

Where do these variables come from? Did they evolve within us as simple chemical responses of the mind? This would be the position of most evolutionists and scientific reductionists.

If so, those variables have no meaning if you take conscious entities like us out of the picture. If there were no people or higher animals to experience these concepts, these concepts would vanish. They were not there until we were there.

If that is the case, you cannot invoke them to explain how we got here! Here I am looking at the line of evolutionary processes which supposedly produced conscious beings. I know evolution can take place in 'molecular machines', organisms with no consciousness (as far as we know). Think about this. It makes no sense for us to need 'fear of death' or 'will to survive' to explain how we gained 'life and consciousness'.

The need for survival springs from 'the will to live'. The will itself, and the sense of self or individuality, are abstract concepts or variables associated with conscious life. We have just called on an aspect of consciousness to describe how consciousness evolved.

This is clearly nonsense, yet evolution by natural selection hinges on it, when attempting to explain advanced life, using these types of argument  all the time. We retrospectively attribute conscious attributes to inanimate matter or extremely primitive organisations of matter to describe how it attained consciousness. The question, of course, is 'Which came first?':

Attribute of Consciousness OR Consciousness.

If you think the attributes of consciousness were already there in the background, before us, then Who possessed them and defined them 'in the beginning'??!!


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