Dennett's Dangerous Idea LO5352

John Woods (
Sun, 4 Feb 1996 21:48:07 -0600 (CST)

Replying to LO5305 --

Doug Seeley asks:

>Why is it that the exploration of the nature of consciousness must be
>exclusively from an objective, materialist perspective, what could be
>termed science in the 3rd person? Is it because meditation, what I would
>call science in the 1st person when pursued without dogma, and other
>spiritual practices suggest the excesses, authority and dogma of organized
>religion? Are we not now mature enough as a culture to sanction the
>exploration consciousness from 1st and 2nd person science with openness
>and with equal billing with 3rd person science?

Here is my response to this question. I think we tend to objectify our
study of consciousness along with the exploration of nearly all of our
experience, because of how we think about things in the English language
(and many other languages as well). We have this tendency to speak as if
the world were made of objects. Our language is fundamentally Newtonian
in nature. There is no conspiracy at work. It seems to me that
intuitively and rationally, seeing the world objectively, on the surface,
seems appropriate and correct.

However, on deeper reflection, we may see that this incorrect. We may
come to see that what we explore are not things, but relationships,
especially the relationships we have devised for ourselves and all the
other stuff of the world. Our thought processes, in other words, are
self-deluding. But as we come to reflect on ourselves, using these very
processes, we discover their subjective nature. Such a discovery has real
survival consequences (and may help account for why self-awareness evolved
in the first place). As I have stated here before, many problems among
people can be traced to believing some group's view is objectively true.
We can come to understand this, though. And this opens us up to the
learning that comes with new experience as we seek to (1) refine our
understanding of our subjective views, and (2) acknowledge and affirm the
subjective views of others.

Finally, we need not sanction the 1st and 2nd person explorations of
consciousness. Rather we need to acknowledge that by definition, such
explorations are mostly 1st person in nature already. That's what is
going on. If we act as if we should sanction that view instead of the 3rd
person view, we somehow lend credibility to what is an illusion--that
there is an objective 3rd person view of consciousness, which, as far as I
am concerned, is not the case.

OK, enough.

John Woods
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