is no question that much of the human being can be accounted for
in a mechanistic fashion. Much of the body-mind complex is indeed
a machine, and our knowledge for how to bring the body-mind into
a state of balance draws heavily upon the regularities and laws
noticed in the patterns of the machine: Suffering from iron-poor
blood? Add back some iron. Suffering from being abused by your
mother as a child? Stop projecting that old pattern of “feeling
abused” onto all women, and start actively relating to women (including
your mother) as who they are, in the present. And so on. All that
kind of knowledge is wonderful, but it doesn’t account for “the
machine” being conscious.
used to be a professor of computer science (from 1984-1994). My
speciality was in the area of AI (Artificial Intelligence), that
is, the creating of programs that perform activities we would
describe as “intelligent” if a human being performed those activities.
This includes activities such as: problem-solving, learning, design,
diagnosis, game-playing, natural language understanding, analysis,
etc. One of the interesting things AI researchers learned early
on was that people attribute to AI programs all kinds of characteristics
that just are not true. A famous early example was the ELIZA
program, which attempted to simulate a Rogerian therapist.
Here is a sample conversation between a woman typing on a keyboard
to ELIZA, and ELIZA’s responses (adapted from p. 186 of Artificial
Men are all alike.
In what way?
They’re always bugging us about something or
Can you think of a specific example?
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
Your boyfriend made you come here.
He says I’m depressed most of the time.
I am sorry to hear you are depressed.
It’s true. I am unhappy.
Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?
I need some help, that much seems certain.
What would it mean to you if you got some help?
Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.
Tell me more about your family.
thing that most startled Joe Weizenbaum (the author of the program),
was the large number of users of the program who were completely
convinced that they were “speaking” to a program that was conscious
and intelligent, even feeling
Weizenbaum himself knew how simple (even simplistic) the program
actually was, being comprised of rules for generating canned
responses, such as:
IF the person makes a first
reference to some family member ("mother", "father",
THEN respond: “Tell me more about your family”.
materialist who enthusiastically proposes that everything
about human beings can be explained materially because so
much of the machinery of human beings has been accounted
for materially is a little like the people typing away to ELIZA,
attributing consciousness to ELIZA because the behavior mimics
that of conscious human beings. The ELIZA program is obviously
not conscious in the manner
attributed to it; it simply is programmed to behave in a way
that resembles a conscious
human being. Just so, being able to account materialistically
for many of the "parts" associated with a human being
does not account for the consciousness
of that being, although it can account for much of how that
(conscious) being behaves.
There is a mysterious “gap” that is not being accounted for,
between objective behavior,
and subjective experience
(whether attributed, in the case of ELIZA, or experienced, in
the case of ourselves).
couldn't we resolve the issue by talking about a "mind",
a "spirit", or a "soul", and locating consciousness
there? It may not be a "material thing", but perhaps
it is still a "thing" —
just not a material thing
that has "parts", properties, laws to which is subject,
etc. Says Alfred Weber, in discussing the attack on materialism
made by Joseph Priestley (a theologian, philosopher, and naturalist
who lived from 1733-1804, and who is best known as the discoverer
of oxygen), in his Disquisitions
Relating to Matter and Spirit:
the soul, says spiritualism [in countering the materialistic
view], is composed of parts, atoms (or, as we should say nowadays,
of living cells of gray cortical substance), how can it be felt
as a unity? How does it become conscious of the me? This
feeling, this perception of the unity which is called the ego,
is conceivable only in a real individual, in a unity, monad,
or atom, and not in a sum of monads, atoms, or individuals,
not in the whole nervous system. For a sum or whole is merely
an idea, a mental being; its parts alone have real existence
(nominalism). Hence these (the monads, atoms, or individuals
making up the nervous system) can feel themselves, each for
itself and separately, as unities or I’s; but the nervous system,
the whole, cannot, for the whole is not an individual, an objective
and existing reality. This, as Priestley himself confesses,
is the strongest, and, in fact, the only serious argument that
spiritualism can oppose [to materialism]. How can the one
arise from the many? He declares that he cannot explain the
difficulty, but that, if it really is a difficulty, it exists
for spiritualism as well. Psychological consciousness is nothing
but plurality reduced to unity, or unity derived from plurality,
or, in a word, the synthesis of the one and the many, i.e.,
an inexplicable mystery. Spiritualism is as unable to tell how
a multitude of ideas, feelings, and volitions can constitute
the unity of self, as materialism is powerless to explain how
a multitude of atoms can form a unity. Hence, spiritualism has
no advantage over its adversary in this respect.
is exactly right: “spiritualism”, as he calls it, does not account
for consciousness either. A “soul”, or “psyche”, or “spirit”,
if it has individual form and content (e.g., as the carrier
of psychic patterns that carry over into an after-life, or repeat
from lifetime to lifetime via reincarnation, or what-have-you)
looks simply like an additional (non-material) component of
the “body-mind” machine. When the “body” part of the machine
drops off at physical death, the “mind” part lives out its destiny
in the non-material dimensions of reality. But what, then, grants
consciousness to that
psychic pattern or psychic machine? As we can see, simply
adding a non-material (but still objective) layer to the machine
just puts off the question.
are a couple of other catch-phrases coined by materialists that
are worth a moment’s examination: consciousness as an “emergent
phenomenon”, and consciousness as “the ghost in the machine”.
Consciousness as an "emergent phenomenon"
I was an active researcher in Artificial Intelligence, I used
to hear on a regular basis the notion that as yet unexplained
aspects of human beings such as consciousness were "emergent
phenomena"; that is, they spontaneously arose as by-products
of a very complex context, illustrating the point that the whole
is (sometimes) greater than the sum of the parts. For instance,
my colleagues would talk of the massively parallel architecture
of the brain —
with vast numbers of neuron “mini-computers” working simultaneously
as the complex context in which something like consciousness
could emerge. This, in contradistinction to the (by and large)
“serial computer” (one computer) context in which most Artificial
Intelligence and cognitive modelling programs had been constructed,
to date. So the insinuation was that, with time, and with zillions
of computers working in parallel (like the neurons of the brain),
we would be able to create conscious
“emergent phenomenon” is just a catchy phrase, by itself nothing
more than a sound byte. It in no way explains how
this emergence takes place. (See, e.g., [Searle,
The Mystery of Consciousness; Chalmers,
The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory;
Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem; and Avatar
Adi Da Samraj, Drifted in the Deeper Land] for a discussion
of some of the difficulties.) What it does do is appeal to the
“mad scientist” archetype that continues to recur in science
fiction movies to this day. Here’s how you do it, if you’re
a movie director: you create a scientific laboratory that looks
incredibly complex —
zillions of flashing lights, zillions of test tubes, zillions
of chemicals being combined, etc. Basically your aim is to completely
overwhelm the viewer with the sense of complexity, to the point
of what movie critics call “suspension of disbelief”, allowing
you to introduce almost anything
next. . .
At this point, the dead corpse of the Frankenstein monster could
spring to life —
and you’d buy it!
other words, such phrases tend to be nothing more than conjuring
tricks. Use of the phrase, “emergent phenomenon” and appeal
to the “massively parallel architecture of the brain” is the
same kind of conjuring trick, aimed not at providing an adequate
explanation, but at creating suspension of disbelief. If you’ve
got enough neurons flashing all over the brain, anything could
Consciousness as “the ghost in the machine”
phrase, “ghost in the machine”, is used to refer to all those
aspects of human beings that —
to date —
have not been accounted for mechanistically (otherwise they’d
be a part of the machine). So this would include a “spirit”
or “soul”, and of course, “consciousness”. But, while the phrase,
“ghost in the machine”, is not necessarily used in a pejurative
sense (in which the “ghost” reference is simply sarcasm, aimed
at implying “there is no such thing”), and often instead is
getting at what seems to be a mystery, nonetheless, the phrase,
“ghost in the machine”, is inherently biased. It is a verbal
bias something like the classic courtroom example, “When did
you stop beating your wife?” If you never beat your wife in
the first place, you have no acceptable answer to the question!
If the ghostly or mysterious aspects of human beings are not
rightly describable as being “in” the machine, then the phrase,
“ghost in the machine”,
is misleading. Fundamental questions about reality are often
phrased in a way that renders them unanswerable, or puzzling.
The conceptual puzzle vanishes when the right question is asked.
(Of course, the inherent, mind-dissolving Mystery that is Reality
Itself does not vanish,
only the conceptual puzzle.)
we describe elsewhere,
there is a view —
an esoteric Spiritual (and Transcendental) view —
that does account for the “one / many” dichotomy and the “ghost
in the machine”: it is the view that our apparently separate
along with our body-minds, and the material and Spiritual dimensions
are all arising in the One Divine Consciousness. The sense of
being “one being” (despite being associated with a “body-mind”
machine having countless parts and personalities: a veritable
is a direct consequence of the One
Being being the inherent True Self of all "beings"
and "things". We will never discover an objective
link between consciousness and body-mind, because the actual
connection is subjective
(the body-mind is arising in the Divine Consciousness, as a
other words: The ghost is not in the machine. The
machine is in the Ghost!
Three different views
of consciousness fall into one of the following three views:
— Consciousness and material reality are two separate "realities",
neither reducible to the other. This was the view of many
earlier thinkers, including Descartes and Galileo. (Descartes'
version is known as "Cartesian dualism".)
— Material reality is the fundamental "substrate"
of all reality. Everything can be explained either as material
reality or an emergent property of material reality. This is
the starting point adopted by most contemporary scientists attempting
to account for consciousness.
nondualism of Consciousness
— Consciousness is the fundamental "substrate" of
all reality. Everything can be explained either as Consciousness
or as a modification of Consciousness, an "apparent object
or entity" arising in
viewpoint — which is not even considered in the references we
have provided above — is the viewpoint of Adidam, as well as a
number of the Eastern wisdom traditions (e.g., Advaita Vedanta).
that we are not associating these three alternatives with the
so-called "mind-body problem". The starting point of
the mind-body problem is something called "mind", which
is viewed as housing everything that is not obviously "material"
(including "consciousness", "soul", "thoughts",
"feelings", etc.). But this lumps together (in the package
called "mind") something that is fundamentally different
in kind (consciousness, which is subjective)
with apparatus that may be non-material but still objective.
more useful and more primal duality to explore, then, is not "mind/body"
or "material/non-material" but rather "objective/subjective".
These two distinctions tend to be confused by materialists (since
they do not consider the possibility of non-material levels of
objective reality). If
one wants to identify two "sides" of a human being,
they are better described as "consciousness" (that which
is aware) and "body-mind" (the total sensory apparatus
that provides "consciousness" with the perceptual and
conceptual objects of which it is aware, including physical, mental,
and even "spiritual" objects).