does not account for consciousness
The machine is in the Ghost
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 ot
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,
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, accounting 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). Says Alfred Weber, in discussing the attack on
materialism made by Joseph Priestley (a theologian, philosopher,
and naturalist who lived from 1733-1804, and 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.
Chapter 60: “The Progress of Materialism”
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., carrying psychic
patterns that repeat from lifetime to lifetime via reincarnation)
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 gives consciousness
psychic pattern or psychic machine? As we can see, simply
adding a non-material layer to the machine just puts off the
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 computers.
“emergent phenomenon” is just a catchy phrase. 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 critics call “suspension of disbelief”, allowing you
to introduce almost anything next —
the dead corpse of the Frankenstein monster could spring to
and you’d buy it!
other words, all it really is is a conjuring trick. 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 happen —
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
does not vanish, only the
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”: the view that our apparently separate “consciousness”
(along with our body-minds, and the material and Spiritual dimensions
altogether) is arising in the One Divine Consciousness, and
the sense of being “one being” (despite being associated with
a “body-mind” machine having countless parts and personalities:
a veritable “society”)
is a direct consequence of the One
Being being the inherent True Self of all. We will never discover
an objective link between
consciousness and body-mind, because the 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!
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