Re: Causation/emergence LO3766

John Woods (
Mon, 20 Nov 1995 06:06:07 -0600 (CST)

Replying to LO3760 --

On the relationship between brain processes and consciousness:

I have come to believe that the brain is a manifestation of nature. Part
of its functioning involves seeing/looking for cause and effect
relationships. It is further designed to develop rationalizations for
whatever position it believes to be true. Is consciousness caused by
brain processes? Does consciousness precede brain processes? Whichever
we believe, we can make a case for (and we do that). What this suggests
is that the most significant thing going on here is not our conclusions
but the processes by which we come to those conclusions. But we also see
that our logic is flawed. When we take the implications of any position
to its logical conclusion, we will discover contradictions. There are
always some assumptions involved that you cannot prove are true.

So what? Well, this suggests that the most important part of philosophy
is philosophizing. If we focus on the act of thinking rather than our
conclusions (even this conclusion), we keep ourselves open to learning.
It opens us up to exploring with each other the assumptions on which we
have based our conclusions, which I believe is the essence of dialogue.

The notion of cause and effect is a useful tool that allows us in the
short run to negotiate within the world, getting things approximately
right for the time being so we can proceed through life with some
semblance of order. It is a subjective sense of order. By acknowledging
that about ourselves as individuals, we can acknowledge it about others as
well. The consequences of this are that we don't have to be put off when
others don't agree with us, and we can affirm others, even when they don't
agree with us. After all, they came to their subjective conclusions by
the same processes we can to ours. This helps to create an open
environment that affirms life and its processes rather than undermines

I could go on with this, but I hope you see the connection between what
I'm talking about here and the systems thinking Senge is trying to raise
our consciousness about (to coin a phrase). Cause and effect are an
illusion, a useful illusion, but an illusion nevertheless. We only get in
big trouble if we take the illusion to be true. Of course, the wonderful
irony of that is the trouble helps us understand that the illusion is not

Another way of saying this is that we never get things quite right. If
that's correct, is this brain that nature created flawed? Should we be
able to get things right? Well that depends? Maybe getting things right
is really just the act of trying to get them right. Maybe process is all,
at least in human terms. If we got things right, that would be the end,
wouldn't it?

Have I been too obscure here? Any observations? When I start writing
such posts as this, I'm never sure exactly what I'm going to write. It
just kind of emerges. I have to admit to loving these kinds of
discussions/dialogues. Is that part of our nature, too? I think it is.

>I used to believe something like what I believe Searle is trying to say
>in the NYRB excerpt. I don't anymore.
>I take the central proposition, in the excerpt, as "Lower-level processes
>in the brain cause my present state of consciousness, but that state is
>not a separate entity from my brain; rather it is just a feature of my
>brain at the present time." This is preceded by an effort to show that we
>may sometimes legitimately use cause-and-effect terminology in physical
>situations in which the two are present concurrently rather than
>sequentially, and even in situations where the cause can be only
>_conceptually_ (not physically) separated from its effect. All that is
>persuasive; in a sense, it removes objections; but it does nothing to
>support the claim itself.
>On the other hand, I'm still pretty close to this view. In a battle,
>Searle and I would be fighting, I think, on the same side, but for
>different reasons. I don't really see what's gained, if the world is as
>Searle is trying to describe it, by using "cause-and-effect" language at
>all. If the relationship is _that_ close (and I believe that it is), how
>do we choose between saying
> a) "brain processes cause my present state of consciousness"
> b) "my present state of consciousness causes brain processes"
> Jim Michmerhuizen

John Woods