What is Consciousness?

This infographic helps to articulate various notions of consciousness. Not much more to add.

I think I am partial to emergent theories, but I favour property dualism over emergent. The dualism employed in property dualism doesn’t feel accurate. It’s not dual so much as it just hasn’t been described yet.

I don’t think that physics can express or descriptively characterize everything that exists.

The Silence of Physics | Galen Strawson | Talks at Google

I want to accept the Buddhist notion, but I can’t seem to not differentiate.

I don’t feel I have enough information on the remainder of these. I could lean on the name and short description, but I feel this would necessarily establish me firmly in Dunning-Kruger territory. There may be even more hypotheses than are captured here.

Mindfulness*

Mindfulness, as with yoga and other Eastern concepts, gets diluted for consumption by the West becoming McMindfulness. I learnt Buddhism circa 1980 in Japan, introduced by a friend from New Zealand. He translated for me because all services and teachings were given in Japanese. I won’t get into how the mind-body-spirit connection of yoga has devolved into an exercise regimen in the West.

Yoga

a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation

Most Westerners have attention spans of gnats, so many Eastern concepts need to be homogenised for the Western consumer and then dosed homoeopathically. Only then can the typical Westerner performatively claim to understand these Eastern notions. To be fair, some of the loss occurs because of the lack of depth of cultural understanding—the same loss happens from West to East as well—and some is language—the concept doesn’t have a direct translation, so we end up with close enough.

A simple but hopefully instructive anecdote might help. Westerners, especially English-speakers, are typically well-aware of the native Japanese speaker’s inability to articulate the L sound, and so ‘fried rice‘ is rendered something like ‘flied lice‘. Only, this not what’s being said. What we are hearing only approximates an L to our ears, but the L sound is not what’s being uttered. The Japanese language doesn’t have L or R phonemes, respectively /l/ and /r/. So the absence of the R-sound in Japanese and the lack of this alveolar sound in English brings us close to the L sound we presume to perceive. What they are saying is /ɹ/, which is in between these two sounds. They don’t have /l/ or /r/, and we don’t have /ɹ/, so the misinterpretation goes both ways. Only a person trained in this aspect of linguistics can map the relationship, but this mapping is imperfect but satisfactorily explanatory.

Mindfulness

the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis

Mindfulness is a member of the eightfold path of Buddhist doctrine. Mindfulness is about being conscious of ‘the world’ of one’s environment and yet not be focused or ‘attached’ to any particular aspect of it. it’s simply being aware. In Buddhism, the scope of mindfulness is particular to the dharma, of which the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are constituents, so technically speaking, one would need to have these aspects available in inventory.

* This post is a reaction to Landzek’s post, Mindfulness Mythology.

Pragmatism and Samsara

I was engaged in a conversation in a Facebook Philosophy group for Pragmatists. I feel that these groups take me as adversarial because I question their system of belief. To the extent that I accept any categorical distinction, I consider myself to be a Postmodernist first and foremost and a Pragmatist second. In a similar fashion, I am at once an atheist first, but I operate as a Buddhist. I am a nihilist first, but I operate as an Existentialist. In any case, in explaining this, I hit upon an analogy that I hadn’t considered before.

everything just ‘is’

Pragmatism is Samsara. In Buddhism, there is the concept of Samsara, which contains the realms we reside in before we reach Enlightenment, the state of realising that everything just ‘is’, is , and is undifferentiated, at which case we either exit the system or remain as aware (woke anyone?) Bodhisattvas.

everything is a constructed illusion

The ‘just is’ is the postmodern condition. Nothing is as it seems and everything is a constructed illusion. There is no good, no bad, no right or wrong—not even black or white. This is all perception of difference, but there is no difference.

I am a Buddhist in the same way I am a Pragmatist. I know that this is all a cognitive construct—or constructs—, but I am still stuck in the middle of it, ‘thrown in’ (Geworfenheit) to echo Heidegger, and I attempt to make the best of it. None of it is real, but, as with people of the Matrix, I can’t perceive my way out of it.

The risk for Pragmatists is that they are empiricists. They trust that the past will ostensibly operate the same as the future. It’s been generally that way thus far, and we’ve misinterpreted how things operate in the past, but we’ve corrected this interpretation, and we’ll correct and refine these interpretations in future. That’s the employed logic. I’ve not got a better plan, so as shoddy or rickety as it might be, it’s my life raft replete with holes, but I’ll patch them as swiftly as I can and hope my history of having not encountered any sharks or tidal disruptions or undertows persists.

none of this exists

All the while, my core beliefs are that none of this exists—not in a solipsistic way, just not as we imagine it does. It’s the wall constructed of atoms and molecules that is more space than not, and yet we can’t pass through it. If only we could all be Neo and overcome this misperception.

Happiness and how to defeat it (part 1)

Some Utilitarians claim that humans are happiness maximisers or at least a large component of utility is happiness. Besides happiness (nor pleasure) is not everyone’s goal. Utility maximisation has a near-term bias, and preference theory leaves a lot to be desired.

Utilitarians are not hedonists, per se, but perhaps this is only moderated by the downsides attributed to excess.

Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Some people defer happiness in their engagements of so-called labours of love. Stereotypical entrepreneurs, forego near-term happiness in the hope of some future benefit. Given the low probability of even a remotely positive outcome, this is taking a lottery mentality. In the US, much entrepreneurship is reserved for the children of the affluent. This is a hobby, and they typically have several safety nets for the almost inevitable ensuing failure.

In any case, if happiness is a goal, rational choice and homo economicus have surely gone missing.

Four Nobel Truths

Buddhism has its Four Noble Truths:

  • Life is suffering
  • Suffering is due to attachment
  • There is a way to overcome attachment
  • Follow the Eightfold Path

Happiness-seeking is precisely what will ensure unhappiness. One might even argue that this is the general malaise evident in Western society. As Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, and others have pointed out, people rather satisfice, a strategy of getting to good enough. Perhaps this is not letting perfection be enemy of the good, or perhaps this is somehow realising the asymptotic path of diminishing returns ahead.

Happiness should not be a goal; it’s a side-effect, a result of pursuing one’s interests. And happiness is ephemeral. We’re likely all aware of the person who was asking for just one thing to achieve happiness is quickly seeking the next thing because happiness comes with an expiration date.