Consciousness And Others.
It seems to me that most philosophers of the mind as well as cognitive scientists today are stuck in their heads. In the field of cognitive science, the most dominant paradigm has been materialism – the notion that the evidence of consciousness, thought, desires, and intentionality can all be found by inspecting the brain objectively and quantifiable from within the cranium. This notion of materialism has led many neuroscientists to embrace the computational model of the mind – the metaphor that the human mind is best conceived as a form of computation, and that a thought is merely a basic unit of an informational processing system that manipulates symbols and structures from the world through computed inputs in order to create representational outputs in the form of physical states.

There are a lot of different arguments that counteract the computational model of the mind. But the most concrete critique for this disciplinary matrix is that algorithmic and mechanical brain activities cannot in themselves create our most basic experience – the purposeful and soulful interaction with the external world and other minds that exist within it. The reductionist view of consciousness tends to claim that the first-person experience of our environment is largely an illusion. We don’t perceive the world directly; rather, we experience fragmentations and snippets of it, in a choppy, blurry, clumsy, and poorly textured act of construction within the brain.

But why can’t the brain perform its algorithmic functions without us being aware of such an illusion? If the computationalist theory of reduction holds to be true, then a world full of zombies and robots would be no different from the world we now live in. In other words, the computational theory of cognition fails to anticipate and account for the world we actually live in – a place where moral relationships are formed under meaningful and purposeful schemas. Consciousness, therefore is not the result of a brain activities that are locked and lodged in our craniums. It is coupled structurally with other minds, and arises only through interactions and reciprocation in an openly looped whole.

Direct human experience cannot be a total withdrawal from all engagement with the world into some kind of absolute inner subjectivity. The brain could not be conscious in isolation, taken out of the context of the world. Rather than examining consciousness within the confines of the skull by supposing that the brain represents the world through computation and has access to it only through indirect perceptions and filtering, intentionality and perceptions are tied to other subjects and their actions; and that our minds are essentially embodied within the world.

The subjective experience of “I” cannot be developed through pure introspection. It could only exist within the contrast of “you”, and of other personal pronounce. To accept the existence of a self is to presuppose that other subjects also have their own notion of selfhood, and it is this structural coupling that allows consciousness to unfold via language, emotions, and other forms of sensory-motor schema. This notion of knowing yourself through the interconnectivity with other minds could be scientifically confirmed by the discovery of the mirror-neuron system, which suggests an organic and intersubjective connection between individuals, from which the sophisticated and abstract dichotomy between “self” and “others” may arise. Descartes thought that in order to know your position in the world and the world itself, you should start out with introspection, and then bridging inner-subjectivity to the world in order to close the gap between the subject and the object. But we start instead with primitive social interactions, through which the sense of self and others are constructed. I am not, as a subject, outside of time and space, but a being that is incarnated and embodied in certain historical and ideological situations. Only access to, and contact with the actual world can consciousness be said to exist.

We do not need an intellectual domain and model to experience consciousness. Being conscious is not merely the release of special chemicals in the brain, but something that we do, through the structural coupling with others, on a moment-to-moment basis. Our embodied experience is primordial and fundamental. We are always already being with one another, and that intersubjectivity is more primary than subjectivity. We are born already, into an intersubjective and cultured matrix, already embedded in the world, as part of a cosmological unfolding that has been going on for 14 billion years. An open entanglement is something that we achieve together with others and with the help of the world itself in an unconscious and pre-flexive fashion. Only through the structural coupling with other conscious beings can we come to the realization that my experiences are experiences of the world, and the world is what gives meaning to the experiences I have.

The entanglement of minds can be extended to the entanglement to the world. We are all interconnected with one another, with other species, and even with the earth itself on a common horizon. The substances of our bodies come from the earth, and deep down inside, the “particles” of our bodies are the same substances that make up everything else in the universe. After we die, our bodies decompose and the substances in our bodies’ give off into the atmosphere to form endless participation of cycles and entanglements.

But be mindful of the word “particles” because it can trap us in fragmented modes of thinking, as it might lead us right back to the reductionist thought of viewing the world and conscious beings within it. Our thoughts have been trained by reductionists to think of the world as constituted by “small, basic building blocks”. With the advancement of quantum mechanics, this fixated and fragmented view of reality can no longer hold. Reality is a whole that is not made up of separated and distinct “particles” (building blocks) that are static and solidified. 20th century physics has given rise to a very different sort of world view; one that goes beyond the deep structures of the so called elementary particles of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Objects in the world are now considered to be more like a pattern of vibrating energy and movement, rather then like a solid separate matter that exists autonomously.

In the quantum context, the universe should be regarded as a field of energy waves and probabilities or patterns of movements that are unbroken and undivided. Even an observed object is no longer separated and independent from the subject in which it observes. The process of observation within an experiment and its results are to be considered an undivided wholeness. In this way of thinking, even that which “measures” and “observes” are said to be part of the wholeness of that same energy field that constitutes everything within the observable universe. The notion that we can “analyze” the universe and break it down into “basic building blocks” that are somehow separated from the “observers” is now utterly improper and irrelevant. The atoms that we once thought to be the fundamental makeup of the universe can only be dissolved into an even deeper structure that is still largely unknown. This deep structure ultimately collapses particles of atoms and electrons together until they dissolve and merge within the field of the whole universe. Indeed, even the “observers” and the instruments that they use for analysis are themselves composed of atoms and particles that ultimately merge within the same universal field of energy that is undivided from the subjects of the observed.

Going deeper into the structure, we ourselves, our brains and nervous systems, and the chemical and electrical makeup of our thoughts are also composed of similar constitutions of atoms and finer particles. So viewing the act of observing in its finest form and structures, we in our act of observation are like that which we observe. The observers and the observed co-exist in a relative pattern of movements and energy that is no different from each other as both parties merge ultimately with each other and all other patterns of energies that can be abstracted from this undivided and unbroken movement. In this view of the universe, the primary notion of reality is that of a whole movement in which each aspect and category flows into and merges with all other aspects. Atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, tables, papers, computers, brains, organs, human beings, stars, planets and galaxies are then to be regarded and analyzed as abstractions, forms, structures and orders from the movement as a whole. The notion of “building blocks” of matter and of separate substance or entity should be dropped because it limits our ways of thinking, and should be retained only as part of an earlier world view.

We are often conditioned by ongoing discourses to view consciousness and the world from reduced and fragmented perspectives. Consciousness should not be examined in isolation as apart from the world. And world itself should not be cut into sections and then be recomposed artificially and mechanistically into closed and manageable sets. Only by bringing together the segmentation between brains and brains, and between brains and the world can we ultimately form organic, spiritual, and synthesized discourses that homogenize time, space, and consciousness from the point of view of a single humanity.