Douglas Hofstadter is professor of cognitive science at Indiana University and his recent book, I Am a Strange Loop is yet another attempt to explain consciousness from within a "decidedly materialistic" paradigm. "He seeks an explanation of the phenomenon of consciousness using physical law only." According to this approach, "our feeling of a conscious "I" is but an illusion created by our neuronal circuitry".
So, what is it to be a person? Who am "I"? "If we posit that our consciousness is an illusion created by our thoughts "watching ourselves think" [as the philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett had previously suggested], we might ask "Who watches the watcher?"" Does me asking the question demonstrate that I am a person and that my consciousness is not an illusion? The offered response is 'no!' "The impression of having a mind is just another pattern of [neuronal] firings". This approach considers it entirely reasonable to expect that humans will, one day, construct machines with their own personalities.
Any alternative perspectives are traced back to Descartes and his dualist view of the world. This is unfortunate, because I doubt that most non-materialists see themselves as exponents of Cartesian philosophy. Some, for example, would want to identify information as a fundamental aspect of reality (an avenue of research that is excluded within the materialistic paradigm). Adoni (the reviewer) notes that a "surprising (to me) number of philosophers of the mind" are not materialists, but the review does not attempt to interact with any of their ideas. It is effectively declaring that non-materialists have nothing useful to say about consciousness.
Reading reviews like this is quite depressing. The materialist mind-set is a universal acid that eats away at everything, including itself. Consequently, the mind has to be a product of hierarchical levels of neuronal firings, and personality has to be an illusion. We are ultimately conscious machines. Why anyone with these views should think that our neuronal activity can have anything to do with truth and reality is a mystery to me!
But even more important, the materialist approach to consciousness is commonly dignified by the name "science". Other approaches, which are likely to be linked to Theism, are labelled "religion" and are excluded, on demarcation grounds, from science. This is an unacceptable situation, for as metaphysics, materialism has a philosophical standing that is entirely equivalent to Theism. It is simply that people choose to build their thoughts on different foundations. The paradox is that materialistic science wants to be realist and to have truth as a goal, but its approach to human consciousness can only support a post-modern philosophy which emphasises the socially constructed nature of reality and substitutes relativism for truth. And, for materialists, individuals have to seek for meaning and self-worth in existential experiences (an escape from reason) because the universal acid of rationalism has completely corroded realism and truth in human psychology.
Who Watches the Watcher?
Christoph C. Adami
Science 316, 25 May 2007: 1125-1126.
A review of I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter
Basic Books, New York, 2007. | ISBN 9780465030781
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