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Is Consciousness Biological?
 
Bill Vallicella posted an interesting piece on John Searle recently.

Searle's insistence that "consciousness is biological" seems to be one of those assertions designed to corral subsequent thought about the topic. At best it's trivially true along the following lines (insofar as the premise is true)--consciousness is solely a feature of certain living things, living things are biological, therefore consciousness is biological. I often hear linguists describe language in the same way.  In the same spirit you could say science is biological.  But this sort of thinking is designed to shut off more avenues than it opens--kind of like a cattle-loading chute.

Here are a few related thoughts. Searle says rightly that "consciousness only exists insofar as we experience it" but the flip side also seems to be true: "experience only exists insofar as our consciousness creates it." Even beyond the mind-body problem, it's hard to say how this works: Does consciousness itself somehow create experience, or does it assist the "self" in creating experience?  Are consciousness and the "self" the same thing? If not, does consciousness play a subordinate or superordinate role vis a vis the "self"?  I don't know. But the point is that consciousness isn't simply something that "is," it is also something that "makes." And this thing consciousness makes, this "thing that experiences," is a subjective thing, best known only to itself and (to a lesser degree) others of its kind.  Whatever the objective features of a larger reality might be that tend towards commonality and universality, each consciousness is nevertheless unique by virtue of its subjectivity.  Each consciousness is a microcosm, which puts consciousness squarely in the God camp, as a creator of worlds.  Insisting that it's "only" biological isn't necessarily a refutation of this.  Our current science understands biological life only a little better than it understands consciousness, notwithstanding the detail with which we can map the genome, or chart the various biological processes that result in a creature's inception and growth. Just as in consciousness there is something that "makes" subjective worlds of experience, so in biological life there is something that "makes" dead matter come alive, organize itself, and launch itself into competition with the rest of the biological world.  We have no idea (beyond the rough passel of notions we call evolution) what that something is or even how it animates the biological processes we do understand. If we did, we could take a handful of otherwise inert chemicals and cause it to organize itself into men, dragons, cherry trees or whatever we could imagine and design.


 
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