Conceiving the ‘inconceivable'? Fishing for consciousness with a net of miracles
[opening paragraph]: Sometimes, after years of painstaking work, someone presents a startling argument that seems to suddenly snatch the ground right out from under your feet. And it's back to square one. Such a conceptual trapdoor caught me by surprise a few years ago. For decades, I had been convinced it is simply inconceivable that subjectivity -- the interior experience of how consciousness feels -- could possibly emerge from a previously wholly objective world, that mind could evolve from ‘dead’ matter. It seemed to me that the arguments of materialist philosophers, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists invariably missed the point. They always began with an assumption of ontological objectivity or physicality, and proceeded to show that that must be the source of consciousness. Well, of course, it had to be -- given their starting assumption. But what they were talking about wasn't consciousness at all. It was usually either some neural correlation, some computer analogue, or some complex and abstract linguistic deconstruction. Whatever their approach, the first-person experience of consciousness -- it's subjective feel -- always slipped through their grasp. They were looking at the problem from the third-person perspective -- from objectivity. And you can't get to here (subjectivity) from there.
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Document Type: Review Article
Affiliations: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 475 Gate Five Road, Suite 300, Sausalito, CA 94965-2835, USA.
Publication date: 01 April 2000