By Doug Marman
The New York Times just ran an opinion piece that is a good example about how articles on neuroscience often get the big issues wrong.
The author, Alex Rosenberg, isn’t ignorant of the topic. He’s a co-director of the Center for the Social and Philosophical Implications of Neuroscience. In other words, he is fully informed of the science of the brain. So, he clearly has every right to state his opinions. Unfortunately, he misses the point badly.
Right from the opening paragraph, Rosenberg misdirects and misrepresents the issue. I don’t mean to say that he is doing this intentionally. I believe he is stating the problem honestly as he sees it. He’s just using the wrong lens.
Here is how he begins: Ever since Plato, philosophers have made it sound like a truism that we know the reality of our own thoughts:
“They have argued that we can secure certainty about at least some very important conclusions, not through empirical inquiry, but by introspection: the existence, immateriality (and maybe immortality) of the soul, the awareness of our own free will, meaning and moral value.”
Rosenberg then goes on to berate two recent authors for continuing with this tradition, as if something that seems so fundamentally true can “trump science.” Not so, he tells us. We might think that we know what’s going on in our own minds, but numerous studies show that this simply isn’t true. We don’t know.
Here’s the first problem with this article: Plato wasn’t talking about knowing our mind. He was talking about knowing our self. He never said that we can ever truly know our own mind our even the true nature of our thoughts. The fundamental truth that Plato and many other philosophers have pointed to is the experience of being conscious.
Using “introspection” to study our thoughts isn’t even in the same ballpark as the experience of consciousness. Experiences are far more fundamental than thoughts.
A lot of neuroscientists mix these up. They do so for a good reason: They are using third-person lenses. In other words, they are taking the traditional scientific approach of viewing the matter as if they are outside observers—as if they are completely outside of the mind or the experience of consciousness and looking in. This is the objective approach, and it has long been used in science for a good reason, because it is excellent at understanding cause-and-effect relationships like we see in mechanisms and chemical reactions.
However, this is the wrong lens to use for understanding the experience of consciousness. If we insist on using a third-person approach, then we have assured our failure to see it at all. The only way to understand the nature of experience is through experience, not by mental analysis.
We might as well use a telescope to look for microbes in a drop of water. We will see nothing. Even worse, we can fool ourselves into thinking that microbes don’t even exist, because we can’t see them.
We need to use the right lens, the right tool. In this case, the only perspective that works is a “first-person” lens. This is how we experience everything, whether it be a new car, eating lunch with a friend, or our own consciousness. Every experience is a first-person perception.
What does an experience mean? That’s a different story. That’s a question we ask with our minds, as if we could interpret an experience or reduce it down to a thought. As soon as we start thinking about our experiences we’ve left the first-person world behind.
Therefore, the point that Rosenberg is making does not prove that science trumps experience. Quite the opposite. It shows us that science doesn’t understand consciousness. This is exactly why philosopher David Chalmers calls consciousness the hard problem. He writes:
“Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.”
Third-person lenses don’t work because they move us outside the world of experience. Outsiders can’t see consciousness. This is why we need to use a first-person lens. Chalmers says the same thing:
“If one takes the third-person perspective on oneself—viewing oneself from the outside, so to speak—these reactions and abilities are no doubt the main focus of what one sees. But the hard problem is about explaining the view from the first-person perspective.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem with Rosenberg’s article. In his zeal to show how much scientific evidence there is that we don’t know our mind, he makes some rather serious blunders. He writes:
“In fact, controlled experiments in cognitive science, neuroimaging and social psychology have repeatedly shown how wrong we can be about our real motivations, the justification of firmly held beliefs and the accuracy of our sensory equipment. This trend began even before the work of psychologists such as Benjamin Libet, who showed that the conscious feeling of willing an act actually occurs after the brain process that brings about the act—a result replicated and refined hundreds of times since his original discovery in the 1980s.”
The first sentence in the above paragraph is right. Subconscious influences affect our choices and decisions all the time. We often try to “explain” our behavior as if it is rational, when, in fact, our subconscious colors everything we do. So, the point Rosenberg is making—that we don’t fully know our own minds—is right.
It’s the second sentence that is the problem. Benjamin Libet did not show “that the conscious feeling of willing an act actually occurs after the brain process that brings about the act…” And no other experiment has proven this either. It is easy to show why Rosenberg is just plain wrong about this. Here is how I explained it in my book,
“None of the experiments show the brain making a decision before the person did. Scientists can’t prove such a claim, since they have no way of determining when a choice is made. Decision-making is a subjective process. They can’t observe it scientifically. No instrument can measure the act of choosing. They can only detect outer activity in the brain, not the inner content of consciousness.”
In fact, not only is Rosenberg wrong about what Libet’s experiment shows us, there are quite a few experiments that contradict his conclusion and one shows clearly that he is wrong. In that case, the “readiness potential” brain signals that Libet detected show up whether a person decides to do something or not, so they can’t be an indicator of a decision being made:
“Judy Trevena and Jeff Miller, psychologists from New Zealand, asked a group of subjects to press a key every time they heard a tone. A second group was told to do the same thing—press a key on a computer after a tone sounds—but only half of the time. It was their choice when to push the button and when not to.
“It didn’t matter whether the subjects in the second group pressed the key or not, the same readiness potential signals were detected. This is proof that this brain activity is not the same as a conscious decision. In fact, it suggests that the term ‘readiness potential’ was right all along. The brain is simply getting ready to act.”
Rosenberg makes the matter worse. He goes on to say: “there is compelling evidence” that our own self-awareness is simply our brain trying to guess at what we ourselves might be thinking. This is a misrepresentation. I’m giving Rosenberg the benefit of the doubt when I say this.
If you interpret “self-awareness” the way I do, as the experience of our own consciousness, then Rosenberg is flat out wrong. But I think what Rosenberg is getting at here is that we often guess about our own behavior and our intentions, the same way we guess at the intentions of others. He is absolutely right about that, but this is not the basis of our self-awareness.
If Rosenberg limited his conclusion to the ideas that we form about ourselves and the picture we might have of who we are, then I would agree with him. But that isn’t self-awareness. That’s our ego he is talking about—the image we have about who we are and how we fit in the world.
Self-awareness is something we gain through the direct experience of our consciousness. No thought involved. No guesswork. It is purely an experience—not an interpretation. That’s what makes this an issue that “trumps science.” Science can’t crack that nut, but we can prove to ourselves the reality of it through our own awareness.
Then Rosenberg really does it. He makes an absolutely ridiculous statement that has no scientific foundation at all, while acting as if it is shored up by empirical evidence. He writes:
“The upshot of all these discoveries is deeply significant, not just for philosophy, but for us as human beings: There is no first-person point of view.”
Here is the logic that Rosenberg just used to arrive at this conclusion: If you first decide to use a third-person lens, and only a third-person lens, to study the problem, then you will discover that first-person perception doesn’t exit.
Well of course it doesn’t exist if you use a lens that requires you to be an outsider looking in. How could you ever experience consciousness that way? How could you ever experience anything?
What’s the real upshot of all this? Science can’t see, detect, measure, or photograph the experience of consciousness. So, what do some scientists do? Well, they make up a story as if they understood the mind well enough to know that it is just making up the experience of consciousness. In other words, they are doing exactly what Rosenberg was telling us the mind does: guessing at the things it doesn’t understand.
If Rosenberg is right that we can’t know our mind through introspection, and I agree with him on this, then how could anyone ever come to the conclusion that the mind is fabricating the experience of consciousness? That makes no sense.
If a person is smart enough to make such a statement, why wouldn’t they be smart enough to realize that the only way it could be true is if they really did understand their mind?
It baffles me. I don’t have the answer to this question, but if you do, please explain it to me. I really would like to know.
 Alex Rosenberg, “Why You Don’t Know Your Own Mind,” The New York Times, July, 18, 2016.
 David J. Chalmers, “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995), p. 200. Also posted on http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf.
 David J. Chalmers, “Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 4, no. 1 (1997), p. 3–46, Section 2.2. Also posted on http://consc.net/papers/ moving.html.
 Doug Marman, Lenses of Perception: A Surprising New Look at the Origin of Life, the Laws of Nature, and Our Universe (Washington: Lenses of Perception Press, 2016), p. 277.
 Ibid., p. 278-281.
Doug, I enjoyed your book. I believe it will be a classic – first publication of conscious particles (except some internet posts) – but won’t be recognized as such for about 20 years. There are two main concepts, Lens of Perception (let me call it LP) and “The Theory of Conscious Particles” (CP). Your main focus is LP. Since you don’t give CP a name perhaps you’ll use mine? (Another name is “Quantum Consciousness”, more or less equivalent.) Now, you may think CP is a consequence of LP, since that’s how you came to it, but actually the relation is as follows. CP is the theory that the QM wave function somehow represents the particle’s consciousness. Therefore CP investigation largely consists of figuring out how exactly the two are linked. Every aspect of QM should correspond to something in consciousness, and vice versa. So CP requires a model of consciousness to work with. That’s where LP enters the picture. From the CP point-of-view LP is subsidiary: any reasonable model of consciousness can be used.
I agree with all the basic ideas of your versions of both CP and the consciousness model (i.e., LP). At more advanced level – roughly the second half of the book – we diverge somewhat. But there’s almost no actual “disagreement”, just different emphasis. You’re more concerned with the human, and spiritual, slant. I came to CP via QM, so that’s more my focus. I did get into the spiritual side now and then – CP does that to you! I’ve talked with Buddhists, Mormons, and Eckists about it. But, as I say, it’s not my main focus. Thus about half the book gets into areas I haven’t thought about much. For example 2nd-person view, also CP’s relation to the four forces.
There is one key point I want to mention: your “all-for-one” bond. A proton is not just a collection of 3 quarks and some gluons. An animal is not just a collection of cells. In each case there’s another component from “quantumland” (R. Kastner’s phrase) which ties it all together. (We could reasonably call it a “soul”.) But in my version there’s no need for this extra component. Human consciousness is the same as a particle’s. Such differences are rather inevitable in this field, because our models of consciousness are ineluctably based on our life experiences, which are bound to differ somewhat. If I understand correctly, you’ve experienced what I call “group consciousness”: direct contact between two minds. For instance, two people encounter each other in their dreams. Afterwards they find their dreams agree. People can be “entangled”: spouses, twins, close friends. They might be on separate continents but one immediately knows if the other’s in trouble (or whatever). I think you’ve had such experiences (please correct me if wrong). I, OTOH, haven’t. Actually that’s not quite true – things like that have happened – but I’ve written them off as coincidences. So my approach is more mechanistic, there’s no all-for-one bond, just individual particles working together in non-mysterious ways. If interested, I’ll send you one of my write-ups from last century, you’ll see what I mean. They must still be on the net somewhere – for instance, JCS archives – but I can’t find any.
Near the end you say something like “We’ve done our work [created the LP / CP theory]. Now it’s up to the physicists and mathematicians!” I had to chuckle. No doubt you’ve found out by now, that’s not going to happen in any big hurry. I estimate about 20 years. R Kastner is an exception, and there have been others: Bohm, Dyson, Stapp. But they are unwilling to get to the meat of the thing. It will happen, but don’t hold your breath!
Finally, do you want a list of small editing mistakes? For instance, you write “pouring” but it should be “poring”. “Hawking’s M-theory” should be “Ed Witten’s M-theory”. A few more … overall it’s very well-written and proof-read. Thanks for writing it!
Thanks for your feedback and comments. It usually takes at least a generation, often more, for major changes in our ways of seeing to become widespread. So, I agree with you that it will take time.
But the point I made at the end of the addendum of my book was not that it is up to physicists and mathematicians, but that all we can do is put this idea and these insights out there. It will then have a life of its own. If it resonates with people and they use it, then it will grow. After all, this isn’t about my idea or your idea, it is about the nature of reality.
I am interested in reading your write-ups. If you email them to me, I will read them. Then we can discuss the differences in our approaches.
Thanks for the proof-reading issues.
DM:>>… “this isn’t about my idea or your idea, it is about the nature of reality” – In general that’s true, but my previous post was reviewing your book, comparing it to my perspective. So that post was, in fact, about our ideas, particularly the differences between them. Mainly, your “group consciousness” (as I call it) vs. my “mechanistic” approach. It’s very important to note, this is not a question of right or wrong. We may never be able to experimentally determine that one or the other is “right”; certainly, it won’t happen for a long time. That’s typical of this whole subject. So it’s a question of exploring, categorizing, delineating the possible approaches – not judging. If, indeed, one wants to analyze LP / CP at all.
DM:>>… “all we can do is put this idea and these insights out there” – I respect that view but it’s not mine. I keep analyzing – while waiting for others to catch on. There are many issues one can investigate.
Unifying two previously disparate concepts is a key way that science, and analytical thought in general, progresses. For instance electro-magnetism; Newton’s unification of the motion of falling bodies on Earth, and in the heavens; E=Mc^2; etc. Unification always opens up a huge new field for inquiry. In this case, LP / CP unifies matter (particle) and consciousness (1st person view). Or we could say, religion and science. Thus we can take any aspect of material reality and find, or at least discuss, its analog in the realm of consciousness. Also, vice-versa: any human quality must have its material/physical analogy.
For instance your book does this with two scientific topics: evolution and the 4 forces. They’re explained in consciousness terms as “intelligent design” (I call it “guided design”) and various lenses of 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons. And you mention other “bridges” in passing. That’s all fine. The point is: you can do this sort of thing with any topic at all! For instance, scientific: entropy, symmetric wave function, Big Bang. Human topics: society, history, psychology. Every scientific topic has a consciousness (or, human, or mind, or perception lens) analog. And every human topic has a scientific analog, usually about QM.
BTW – is such a connection or correspondence just an “analogy”, or is it the true nature of reality? We think, the latter. But even if it’s just an analogy – particles behave “as though” they’re conscious – it still leads to meaningful discussions and insights.
In decades to come this very fruitful topic will engender thousands of papers and books. Today we can, as you say, just “put these insights out there” and wait for others to catch on. In a way that’s best: you can’t tell anyone anything, must wait for them to figure it out themselves. But I, OTOH, go ahead and analyze whether anyone cares or not. In the last few decades I’ve developed a bunch of these areas. Haven’t gotten very far but at least it’s something. Also, you’ve inspired me to review some of my old papers; perhaps I’ll go ahead and put them on a blog. Maybe people are finally ready for it (although I doubt it).
In conclusion: thanks for your time, and your book. Congratulations: you’ve earned a place in history.
George, I agree with you that our discussion is really about exploring and comparing ideas. We often gain the most from seeing how others see things because it expands our own understanding. And future experiments will continue to add clarity to what is going on in the quantum world.
I also agree that just putting ideas out isn’t enough. That is why I continue publishing articles and blog posts on this web site and through other publications as well.
What I realize I need to do is to illustrate these ideas in a wide array of different articles, from different perspectives, about a wide range of different topics, because people come from so many different backgrounds. That’s what I need to do.
Your point, about the value of a new theory that can unify other theories, goes to the heart of what we are talking about. That is what makes it transformational.
And, as you say, even if someone isn’t convinced that these ideas are anything more than analogies, they are still useful ways of opening doors to new ways of viewing the many unsolved problems in science. This shows the value of finding new lenses of perception, because we often gain insights by studying problems from new perspectives.
Thanks for your comments.
DM>> … I continue publishing articles and blog posts on this web site and through other publications as well. … What I realize I need to do is to illustrate these ideas in a wide array of different articles, from different perspectives, about a wide range of different topics, because people come from so many different backgrounds.
Yes, that’s difficult but necessary. It requires understanding the psychology (lens blindness) of different types of readers and tailoring one’s presentation accordingly. If they’re interested enough to ask questions, it’s easy; but first you have to get them interested. I’ve never been very good at it.
With the principles of “quantum consciousness” one can model lens blindness as, loosely speaking, a “collapsed wavefunction”. The mind has been restricted to a limited “subspace” of the whole range of possibilities. At first fit the explanation to just that subspace, then carefully expand their awareness beyond it, thus removing lens blindness. That’s what you’re doing intuitively, but the task can be analyzed rigorously. I haven’t developed the theory enough to be useful yet, unfortunately.
Thanks for your valuable comments, and good luck.
Thanks Doug, indeed it’s enjoyable – and rare – to meet someone who understands these issues. BTW even to say “I am, now” is a bit inaccurate. “Now” means “an instant of time”, but the essential “I” knows no time, it just is. That’s why my preferred formulation is simply “I am”. But Rosenberg, Dennett et al say “I am not”. For them it’s a matter of faith, not evidence-based: their key mistake, from which all others follow. Here are a few things I’ve learned debating the point. I apologize for the unfortunately unavoidable ad hominem.
They rely on rhetoric. For instance, Rosenberg quotes Galen Strawson: “conscious experience is the only thing in the universe whose ultimate intrinsic nature we can claim to know.” He counters with: “Despite these assurances from philosophy, empirical science has continued to build up an impressive body of evidence showing that introspection and consciousness are not reliable bases for self-knowledge.” Notice the belittling word “assurances” instead of “arguments” or “points”. Notice the subtle change from Strawson’s “we know what conscious experience is” to “self-knowledge”, quite a different thing. Notice that he doesn’t contradict directly, instead vaguely saying “empirical science builds up evidence”. This is rhetoric, not debate: the old shell game.
When approaching the issue philosophically they (Dennett, at least) might bring up the Buddhist doctrine of no-self. However, Buddhism really doesn’t support them, only superficially seems to. Even if it did it’s not any absolute authority. When approaching the issue scientifically they rely on the fact there’s no objective (third-person, scientific) evidence for “I”. Of course not: the only evidence is our immediate, subjective, first-person experience. If pressed they can simply deny they have such experience. Their ultimate weapon is ridicule. When they resort to that, you know you’re winning.
So, resort to rhetoric yourself: fight fire with fire. Say, “Ok, you don’t exist! Well, you ought to know. Personally I do exist; we’re quite different in that regard. How interesting – you have no mind, no perception, just a blank! Very strange, but I have to believe you. So … what else is new?” Try it – sometimes it goads them into sincerity 🙂
Why do they insist on this incorrect “axiom”? I hate ad hominem, but motives, not reason, determine their stance. They are, by and large, committed to what we may call “statism” or even “fascism”. They deny the individual to further the consolidation of the state, the establishment, or whatever you want to call it. On our side is the (first-) Person: spirituality, freedom, will, responsibility. On their side is the Machine: laws, authority, algorithms, determinism. The individual is a mere cog. Putting it too simplistically: they take this stance because they’re happy with the status quo, which is indeed a “Machine”.
I sense this aggressive answer won’t please you. Ultimately “love conquers hate”, so to speak. But in wartime unfortunately that attitude may not work. And the sad fact is: we are in the middle of a “culture war” of enormous significance. FWIW I predict our side will win, somewhere around the middle of this century. But the victory is going to be difficult, painful, and messy.
I’ve made assertions with little or no proof, to avoid tl;dr. Of course I’ll be happy to justify/unpack any of these assertions. Finally, I’m afraid this comment won’t appear in the right place? Seems there’s no “reply” button there.
George, thanks for the ongoing dialogue.
I agree with you that so much of the materialistic stance taken by neuroscientists is rhetoric. They act as if they are basing their opinions on science, when they say the “I” doesn’t exist, but the weight of science is not on their side. They are just using rhetoric.
I also agree that to some extent they do say these things to reinforce the “established” way of thinking, but I’m not sure how conscious they are that this is what they are doing. For many, I think this is simply the only way they can imagine looking at it.
After all, if they are wrong and the “I” does exist, then that means there is a huge hole in their theory. A hole big enough to bring the whole structure down. So they need the rhetoric to keep the dark unknown at bay. Some people put blinders on horses for the same reason.
My approach is to say that this dark unknown isn’t that dark or scary once we can see what it means. In fact, it broadens and deepens our understanding of biological life.
For example, a more complete picture shows that the universe only appears to be driven by mechanisms and closed laws when we look at things on large scales and from a distance. The closer we get, the more we see that everything that happens is the result of open-ended relationships that are unpredictable.
First-person perception is the source of this uncertainty – an uncertainty that can’t be predicted by any laws because it comes from within, not from outer forces.
This is exactly the lesson that quantum mechanics is trying to teach us. It applies just as much to organisms as to quantum particles.
Thus, neuroscientists are wrong to think that quantum effects are not involved in the workings of the brain. And once they see how true this is, they will readily admit that the whole cause-and-effect approach to consciousness makes no sense. How could mechanical reactions ever produce awareness?
We’re on the same page …
DM>> … to some extent they do say these things to reinforce the “established” way of thinking, but I’m not sure how conscious they are that this is what they are doing. For many, I think this is simply the only way they can imagine looking at it.
You’re right. The third-person lens, relying on classical pre-QM science, leans naturally, unconsciously, to a mechanistic centrally controlled society. It doesn’t require some sort of evil grand conspiracy.
DM>> … a more complete picture shows that the universe only appears to be driven by mechanisms and closed laws when we look at things on large scales and from a distance. The closer we get, the more we see that everything that happens is the result of open-ended relationships that are unpredictable.
Ok, but note that on very large scales, like galaxies, we are very far from discovering the “mechanisms and closed laws”. Dark matter may not exist; if so there’s one major piece of the puzzle missing, perhaps a “fifth force”. And there are many other puzzles and anomalies, as you know. We are seeing only a single instant in the “lives” of galaxies. It will take many years of data to reveal their dynamics (both inter and intra): a thousand, a million, a billion. Conceivably they’ll turn out to exhibit conscious behavior. For instance, clusters might be due to gregariousness. Unlikely, but the point is: it’s far too soon to assume very large-scale objects obey mechanistic laws.
DM>> How could mechanical reactions ever produce awareness?
Only with a brand new law of nature. Current science can produce (or explain, analyze) only “matter in motion”, to put it epigrammatically. But we may discover that when matter (like, neurons) behaves in a certain way (like, 40hz resonance) consciousness emerges. That still won’t explain “how” it happens; but remember science can’t explain how gravity, EM, time or anything else happens. It only describes observable effects. Jack Sarfatti’s “back-reaction” is an example of this type of hypothesis. Nevertheless I doubt such a law exists. Like mass and charge, consciousness is an inherent property of reality.
Let’s back up a bit. You asked, “How can Rosenberg make this mistake?” To answer that, we got into third-person lens blindness and touched on materialism’s negative societal impact. Fine; but, we’ve put the cart before the horse. The key question is not “What’s wrong with their view?”, but “What’s right with ours?” What exactly is first-person view, and why is so important? Two general approaches: philosophical (including religious) and scientific. The first has been chewed over for thousands of years and nothing new can be said. Sure, spirituality is vital. Many don’t appreciate that first-person is their direct link to the ground of being, and that’s a problem. But it’s the scientific connection that we need to analyze. Apparently we share the approach which has been called “Quantum Consciousness”: the idea that mind is related somehow to quantum phenomena. Here are some questions to consider.
What is consciousness? I have a very simple answer which I believe is the only correct one …
What, precisely, is the physical link between quantum mechanics and consciousness? A key concept, I believe, is “hierarchy” …
How can the mind be represented/analyzed by QM concepts, and even QM math? No one knows, of course. But do you have a guess/hypothesis?
BTW I’ll order your book, no doubt it addresses these topics.
George, you said: “on very large scales, like galaxies, we are very far from discovering the “mechanisms and closed laws”.
I agree. We can never see the origins of how anything truly begins and how it really works from large-scale perspectives. We need to understand quantum principles to see the origins of life, the universe, and the laws of nature.
You wrote: “How can the mind be represented/analyzed by QM concepts, and even QM math? No one knows, of course. But do you have a guess/hypothesis?”
Yes, I have written about all of this in my book. It is a long story that isn’t easy to condense. But it shows that we can resolve the “mind/body problem,” as it is called, by seeing that quantum principles are involved.
To put this simply: There is no cause-and-effect relationship between ourselves, as human beings, and the cells of our bodies. What we have is a quantum relationship. The same type of relationship that allows quarks to bind together to form the bodies of protons and neutrons, and for protons and neutrons to bond together to form atoms.
I admit that it sounds crazy, but as Niels Bohr said, any good quantum theory needs to sound crazy because the quantum world itself is crazy. But what I am saying is consistent with the mathematical formalism of QM. It is well supported by that latest experiments.
As you know, physicists have struggled with explaining how consciousness is involved with QM. I believe the Copenhagen Interpretation is wrong: It is not the observer of the experiment that is altering the results.
It is a long story. All for now.
Doug, I finally “googled” you, and found that you’re an Eckist. I know a bit about it since a friend (unfortunately I haven’t seen him in a few years) has been a serious practitioner since the late ’60s. About 25 years ago I told him my “Theory of Conscious Particles”. He wasn’t too interested. Scientific exploration of consciousness seemed entirely beside the point, basically useless. BTW this is the same reaction I got from Buddhists, including some monks I met. What’s important, of course, is subjective inner contemplation/meditation/exploration/action. That’s true, for the main goal. But a secondary goal, as a teacher, is to communicate the ideas. As you know the pedagogical benefits of the quantum-consciousness connection are enormous. Every Eck concept can be explained (if only by analogy) in quantum-related terms.
I expect to receive your book any day now so may as well put off further discussion until then. No doubt I’ll learn a few things but frankly will be surprised if there’s anything major. AFAIK my understanding is more advanced than anyone’s since I’ve had almost 4 decades to think about it. If that’s so I hope to be able to show you some more advanced concepts. But quite possibly your own lens of perception won’t allow it. Often (in fact always) I must wait until people think of it themselves. They simply can’t be told anything! Well, we’ll see.
I wonder how Eckists have received your quantum ideas? Probably as my friend did? Do they say it’s “all very well and good”, but basically irrelevant? I notice on spiritualdialogues.com your new book is not mentioned. Are there other sites with more discussion?
BTW my main interest is quantum consciousness, or CP, but I’m also interested in Eckankar-related concepts. One which I’ve only very recently started to take seriously is what you call “Soul Travel”. Spiritualdialogues unfortunately hasn’t had much traffic in a while, but is it still the best place for discussion?
DM>> I believe the Copenhagen Interpretation is wrong: It is not the observer of the experiment that is altering the results.
I think it’s a cooperative effort between the observer and the quantum system being observed. Indeed it’s a little hard to say which is which! But, as mentioned, I’ll wait to see your book before getting into that discussion. If you’re still interested.
George, I will be interested to hear your thoughts after you have read my book. If you have been thinking about this for 25 years, then I’m sure I have something to learn from you.
I have received a lot of good comments and notes of appreciation from the Eckists who have read my book. Many of them have said that they can see how it has changed the way they see things and it has even helped them understand many spiritual principles in new ways. This lines up with you comments.
Yes, if you are interested in having discussions on spiritual issues, including Soul Travel, then the spiritualdialogues.com web site is the best place.
By the way, I agree with you that there is a cooperative relationship between the observer and the quantum system being observed. As a result, the observer of an experiment does have some influence, but it is small, because they are only one of the many influences. Dean Radin has run tests and shown statistical results from observers influencing two-slit experiments, but it is, as I’m saying, still a small effect. So there clearly is an influence, but the main influences come from the other particles involved.
That’s how I see it, anyway.
I look forward to your comments. Feel free to contact me directly via this web site (see the About page) if you would like to correspond via email.
Rosenberg>> The upshot of all these discoveries is deeply significant, not just for philosophy, but for us as human beings: There is no first-person point of view.
Doug Marman>> … If Rosenberg is right that we can’t know our mind through introspection, and I agree with him on this, then how could anyone ever come to the conclusion that the mind is fabricating the experience of consciousness? That makes no sense. If a person is smart enough to make such a statement, why wouldn’t they be smart enough to realize that the only way it could be true is if they really did understand their mind? It baffles me. I don’t have the answer to this question, but if you do, please explain it to me. I really would like to know.
Hello Doug, I can answer this question. Before getting into it, I want to make sure you’re still interested. And, perhaps you could clarify it a bit first – put the question as directly as possible. Thanks,
George, yes I’m interested in hearing your take on this. I’m not sure how to clarify the question any better. If you have questions about what I mean, let me know and I can add some clarity.
Just to put what I said in another way, the whole issue here is that neuroscientists and psychologists have indeed shown that we don’t know our own mind because much of what we do, think, and decide starts with our unconscious. But if Rosenberg (along with many others) believes this is true, then why do they say with such confidence, as if it is a scientific conclusion, that there is no first-person point of view, when we all clearly experience having a point of view? Why don’t these scientists realize that this suggests that they do understand their own minds?
To say this another way, when we admit that there is something we don’t know, it usually evokes a sense of humility. That seems to me to be the natural and honest response. Instead, Rosenberg acts as if he is stating that he KNOWS the mind well enough to declare that there is no first-person point of view. Why can’t he see that he is making a statement that could only be true if he did understand the mind?
Does that help?
You’ve critiqued Rosenberg very well. As you say he makes a logical error – but you also make one mistake.
First, he correctly shows that we don’t understand our own minds too well. It’s true: unperceived subconscious motives can control many of our actions. To some extent the brain presents an illusory version of the world. To whom does it present this view? To our “first person point of view”, a.k.a. consciousness, or “I”. Now, I am absolutely certain of the qualia presented to me. When I perceive “red” there’s no question about it. But does that mean there’s a real world out there, with a red object in my field of vision? No. I assume that’s so, and usually that assumption works well, but there’s no way to prove it. Similarly if I have a thought like “I want to quit playing poker because I’m hungry” that thought is definitely in my mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe my subconscious just wants to keep my winnings, and fools me (i.e. my consciousness, my “first person”) by inventing the more socially acceptable hunger excuse. Such examples show that we can’t be sure of our past memories or our true motives; can’t predict our future actions reliably. So far, Rosenberg is right.
The above observations make no sense without the first-person point of view. The very concept of “illusion” depends on the existence of someone (“I”) to be deceived. But strangely enough Rosenberg goes on to deny that this first person exists! His stance simply makes no sense. So the question is, how can he be so illogical?
It has nothing to do with intelligence. Anyone can make this type of mistake. You have clearly identified its cause elsewhere. Rosenberg is seeing exclusively through the third-person lens, a.k.a. objective point of view. This lens is, as we know, valid and very powerful: the key to science. But Rosenberg incorrectly believes it’s 100% correct and reliable. (This fallacy has been labelled “scientism”.) The lens “complementary” to third-person is the first-person. Now, when you 100% favor one lens (or paradigm, or way of looking at things, or point of view), you’re forced to completely deny the other (“complementary”) view. You have to give it 0% validity. We can call this the “dogmatic lens” mistake. A good thinker (such as, I hope, you and I) always considers both sides of the question – or at least, tries to. Why doesn’t Rosenberg? Obviously, because he’s not a good thinker. No evidence can ever affect his rock-solid dogmatic beliefs. This blind spot makes it impossible for him to comprehend, or even hear, any argument against third-person, or for first-person.
In summary the only mistake you make is being surprised at Rosenberg’s mistake. Just apply your own insight about how rigidly and blindly Rosenberg, or indeed any of us, can become attached to his favorite lens.
Much more can be said on this topic. There are at least three more quite important points about Rosenberg’s illogicality I could go into. But this “lens dogmatism” is the most important factor. IMHO.
George, I agree with your conclusion. What you call “lens dogmatism,” I call “lens blindness.” It comes from trying to see everything through one lens.
But it still surprises me that such intelligent people can be so blind. And they are willing to go so far as to reject their own experiences.
I think part of the problem is that they think lens blindness is the same as the bias caused by belief systems. And since they have learned how to set aside beliefs, they think they have escaped the problem.
Unfortunately, we can’t set aside unconscious lenses like we can beliefs because they go much deeper than cognitive thought.
Also, I’ve noticed that when we know little about a topic, we are often more willing to adopt black & white conclusions. That might be a factor.
Thanks for your comments.
On second thought, you’re right: it is surprising that the scientific establishment (as we might call it) can be so wrong. When I first encountered the phenomenon, in 1978, I was amazed.
The essential false assertion is, as Rosenberg puts it, “there is no first-person point of view”. Daniel Dennett was more direct: “I don’t exist”. Only when I had the opportunity to debate with him, and many others, in 1990’s did I begin to make sense of it. At that time there were new mailing lists/discussion boards for such issues: the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and others, including a few of my own. (Unfortunately none of them seem to be around now).
First, as we know, they have “lens blindness”. They see only through third-person lens so are blind to first-person. And you’re right, the problem is exacerbated by the incorrect supposition that only “belief systems” like religion cause lens blindness. Therefore they suppose they’re immune – which just makes them more vulnerable. But still the question remains: why are they so blind about this particular lens?
Here’s how Dennett answered (BTW it was very hard to get this from him). Although he avoids saying it explicitly, he really means: “I don’t exist through time“. We normally assume we’re the same first-person as a minute ago, or a day ago, or in the future. That is, I retain my identity through time. Dennett and the rest specifically deny that. We exist only at one instant. The past is just an illusion of memory (which exists only in the present). The future is just a guess. Sure, we all feel we’re the same person from day to day; otherwise we probably couldn’t act coherently, and survive. But actually, considering subconscious influences, physical changes, etc, we differ from moment to moment. Memory is fallible. We can’t predict our actions reliably, or even know why we performed some action. The subconscious often has a baser motive, hidden from us.
Thus “I don’t exist through time” is sensible. But not “I don’t exist”, or “first-person view doesn’t exist”. The first-person does, in fact, exist in one instant. Dennett et al will admit that, or some statement like it, when pressed.
Anyway, we have to agree that our “naked” memories are fallible. That’s exactly why science, the rigorous third-person view, was invented. By carefully recording observations, which people independently check again and again, we can (almost) attain certainty about the past. And instead of guessing at the trend, as a “naked” mind does, we can apply rigorous mathematical techniques and generate extremely accurate predictions. Science (third-person) is more powerful than first-person – an individual mind – because it retains identity (or integrity, accuracy, precision, knowledge, data) through time.
That’s why Rosenberg feels entitled to make assertions about human minds, even though he admits that as an individual he can’t possibly figure it out. He’s speaking as a scientist, not a person.
So, would you say now that Rosenberg makes sense? If not, what’s wrong with this explanation?
George, I’m enjoying this discussion.
Yes, most scientists would say that our first-person views are fallible, while third-person perception can correct those errors. Therefore, science is more powerful than first-person. I agree with the first sentence, but I think the second sentence is wrong.
Third-person perception is basically abstract thought. It is just as limited and fallible as first-person perception. That is why we need to run tests to prove out our theories. To extract information from experiments, we need first-person observation.
Therefore, by using both first-person and third-person perception, we can overcome the limitations of both. This is the true foundation of science. In other words, one lens is never enough because both lenses are limited.
If anything, I would say that first-person perception is more important, because everything we know about the world comes through personal experiences. Without them, science has nothing. But if we want to overcome the limitations of our personal biases and perceptions, we do need third-person perception to see the universal picture of what is happening.
To say that “I” don’t exist “through time” is mixing lenses. First-person perception only sees this moment now. The past and future don’t exist to first-person perception. In fact, the moment “now” is a first-person perception, nothing else. Third-person perception sees time stretched out like a line reaching all the way into the past and all the way into the future. There is no moment “now” in physics, because third-person lenses can’t see why one moment in time as any more special than any other.
So, of course, “I” only exist in the now. That is, after all, the only time that I need to exist, since that is the nature of first-person perception.
The real lesson to learn from this is that time doesn’t belong to the world, it belongs to our lenses of perception.
Rosenberg may think that he is speaking as a scientist, but saying that the “I” doesn’t exist is not science. It is purely an abstract concept that is completely divorced from our personal experiences. We each prove it wrong every day. Is he so lost in his theory than he can’t see his own personal evidence against it?
By the way, thanks for the quote from Dennet and sharing the discussion you had with him. I enjoyed that.