Consciousness: What is it, and Where is it Found?

brain

This article Consciousness: What is it, and Where is it Found? published in the Sydney Traditionalist Forum offers reasons for thinking that though the brain and consciousness are frequently correlated, the brain does not actually generate consciousness. Oftentimes, the facts are not in dispute on this topic. It has more to do with their implications. When, for instance, there are cases of hydrocephalus where 95% of the brain is missing but the person has no cognitive deficits and is actually above average intelligence, the notion that brain mapping will get us very far seems slim; as does the fact of neuroplasticity where parts of the brain get repurposed after a stroke in a case of top down causation.

Placebos and nocebos seem to have mind over matter implications too and their existence was initially strongly resisted by materialist-minded scientists for that reason – meaning, they actually recognized the non-materialist possible ramifications.

Near Death Experiences also suggest that consciousness can exist without brains which is good news for anyone interested in the possibility of an afterlife. The cardiologist Pim van Lommel provides good scientific reasons for thinking that NDEs have nothing to do with residual brain activity during cardiac arrests or resuscitations. Apparently, for instance, manual manipulation of the heart during CPR is physically incapable of pumping enough blood around the body to restore consciousness, even partially.

The article ends with suggestions about the real relationship between minds and brains, and ideas about the nature and meaning of human existence.

Testosterone

Religious mystics like William Blake claim that everything in the world, no matter how mundane seeming, is in fact beautiful. This seems profound and attractive.

If the brain is a reducing valve – taking universal consciousness and narrowing it to a trickle so that it is possible to concentrate on one thing at a time and worry about personal survival – then judging by the following, testosterone would seem to play an important role in this.

The following I have transcribed, imperfectly, from “This American Life” episode, #220.

This is from a man whose body stopped producing testosterone.

When you have no testosterone, you have no desire and when you have no desire you don’t have any content in your mind. You don’t think about anything.

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Warren Farrell on Why Men Earn More

Warren Farrell’s book Why Men Earn More and What Women Can Do About It is a useful resource on the topic – a topic that surfaces most prominently on the eve of presidential elections only to disappear again afterwards. Shortly before the election, BBC America and MSNBC both ran stories on the wage gap on the same day, apropos nothing at all, seemingly as a conspiracy-theory-inducing coordinated action. The BBC made a special point of saying “for exactly the same jobs.” That is not remotely true. While individual instances of unfairness may be found, the 20% difference is due to factors like different occupational choices, choices of college majors, continuity of service, willingness to relocate, men who work full-time working more hours than women who work full-time, men commuting twice as far as women on average, and most particularly, women taking time off to raise children. Never married childless women earn more than never married men on average. Thomas Sowell points out that comparing “single” men and women is misleading because it includes divorced women who may have worked part-time or not at all while their children were young.

Last semester I had two students who insisted that the wage gap was the result of a pay differential within exactly the same jobs. When they hear such things on the supposedly reputable BBC and from politicians like Hillary Clinton it understandably sounds improbable that what they are hearing is a lie. One of the students sent some statistics to support her case which actually did no such thing.

The following is a summary of key arguments in Farrell’s book – Why Men Earn More published at The Brussels Journal, a topic Farrell started to explore when he wondered why employers would ever hire men if they could hire women to do the same job for 20% less.

Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy

The perennial philosophy postulates a spiritual Source from which all being emanates; all is one. It is the contention that there is a structure to reality and this structure matches man’s interiority; his soul. There is a hierarchy of being; body, mind, soul and spirit.

One might add that if love is connection and all is one, then love corresponds to the structure of ultimate reality. In the realm of the Absolute, there are no distinctions; no individuals, no time and no space – just love.

However, I argue in Globalism, Don Juan and the Perennial Philosophy published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum that in order for love to be made manifest in the realm of the Relative, it is necessary to love individuals; individual people, individual families and individual countries. Liberals make a philosophical and theological mistake in backing globalism which attempts to bypass the particular. This can be compared to Don Juan. A man who loves women must express his romantic love by loving a particular woman. Don Juan, however, attempts to simply bed as many women as possible, treating them as disposable nothings, which is far from love. The deracinated, rootless cosmopolitan likewise has no attachments to any particular country, community, culture or landscape and therefore loves none of them adequately, if at all.

Is Western Civilization Misogynistic?

My latest article Is Western Civilization Misogynistic? at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum answers this question in the negative. In it the case is made that feminism is misogynistic and that feminist self-hatred drives their resentment and hatred of men. Feminism embraces the mistaken notion that there is something wrong with femininity in women – a view few men adopt. When Hélène Cixous lists binary opposites, she imagines that there is something wrong with the item associated with the feminine. In this, she is deeply wrong. What the list reveals is the way in which each needs the other, in the way men and women do for the species to continue.

Feminists find themselves in rivalry with men and suffering from a sense of inferiority. The current strategy is thus to highlight every cultural, artistic, moral and scientific achievement they can find by women. If men point out the positive contribution of many men in all those areas, as breath-taking as they are numerous, it would just make feminists hate men even more. Thus any attempt to provide counter-examples to the notion that men are a worthless bunch will just increase their ire.

This is an example of the self-sealing fallacy where what sounds like an empirical claim is made, namely that men and patriarchal culture are evil and worthless. If counter-examples are provided of positive male achievement, Plato, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, Gandhi, Einstein, Tesla, Louis Pasteur, Jesus, these accomplishments are imagined to represent opportunities denied to women, so these are evil too. Anytime a factual assertion becomes immune to counter-example, even in principle, it means that the factual assertion has been replaced by tautology. For feminists, men and patriarchy are evil by definition.

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Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World

Philosophy and the Crisis of the Modern World is my contribution to a symposium on the topic of identity published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum. René Guenon criticizes philosophy for generating this crisis. He argues that removing or ignoring the esoteric content of Platonic philosophy resulted in exoteric rationalism which has dominated Western philosophy, certainly since the scientific revolution. Since rationality is not itself generative, but merely analytic, philosophers find themselves with a vacuum where God should be and inevitably head in the direction of nihilism – the unavoidable consequence of postulating a Godless universe.

It is hard to see how a nihilistic culture could sustain itself in the long term. My argument is consistent with these comments by Scott Weidner concerning T. S. Eliot:

Eliot formulated the most basic tenet of his cultural theory, that religion and culture are essentially “related.” <4>  In fact, Eliot argued that “no culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion: according to the point of view of the observer, the culture [appears] to be the product of the religion, or the religion the product of the culture.” <5>   They might be thought of as different aspects of the same thing; culture was “the incarnation of the religion of a people.” <6>   Civilizations which appeared to be secular or humanistic, such as ancient Greece and Rome, were actually religious cultures in decline. <7>   Culture could not be preserved, extended, or developed in the absence of religion, nor could religion be preserved and maintained if culture was not. <8>

The Feminizing of Culture, and Male Self-Hatred

The Brussels Journal is defunct. This article still seems relevant but is now nearly impossible to find. It does not appear as a search result under articles I have contributed to TBJ, so I am making it available here.

Warren Farrell gives an account of how men and masculinity became demonized, how the emphasis on “compassion” became so prevalent and how the vogue for male self-hatred got started – The Feminizing of Culture, and Male Self-Hatred.

 

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

In preparation for teaching a literature course in the 1950s, René Girard reread some of the classic novels. In the process he realized that the novelists had had profound insights into aspects of the human condition and that to a large degree, they were the same insights…

In Deceit, Desire and the Novel, possibly René Girard’s best book, he argues that denying the existence of God does not remove the desire for transcendent meaning. Thwarted from seeking spiritual satisfaction from above, the desire gets directed towards other people who it is imagined have god-like qualities of self-sufficiency and autonomy and that we alone have been excluded from this divine status – creating resentment and compounding human misery.

Likewise, various utopian ideas are an attempt to create heaven on earth, frequently creating hell on earth. Trying to satisfy transcendent desires in the realm of the immanent is a disaster, both in politics and in relationships between people.

In this essay published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, I also draw connections between Girard and St. Augustine’s notions of the role of God in human life.

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

When God is Dead, Rationalists Accept Contradictions to Fill the Void

Goedel’s Theorem is an application to mathematics of Aristotle’s thesis that thinking relies on first principles and that first principles are unprovable assumptions. This means that faith and hope are ineradicable features of human existence even in the exact sciences. The briefest summary of the implications of Goedel’s Theorem and the necessity for first principles is the notion that not everything that is true can be proven to be true.

Goedel’s Theorem states that an axiomatic system can be consistent and incomplete, inconsistent and complete, but never consistent and complete. Eternal verities can only be proven in relation to other eternal verities. Axiomatic systems exist on the rational plane of thought. Their rationally approximate and unprovable nature is due to their ultimate reliance on transcendent truths described in Plato’s realm of Forms. For instance, people contrast earthly justice with perfect justice, though the latter has never been instantiated in the physical realm. This implies some intuition of perfect justice, though no one has ever experienced such a thing.

Positivists and post-modern relativists are likely to regard each other as opposites. More than likely both will be liberals and in most cases share a contempt for religion and any notion of transcendence. As rationalists, they will also most likely reject emotional attachment to and especial preference for family, tradition, community, culture and the local physical landscape. The modern liberal instead is committed to being a citizen of the world and welcoming to all comers, no matter their basic hostility to the ethos of the host culture.

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The Return of the Archons

An excellent parable for our time. In this episode of Star Trek, an inhuman machine using machine logic forces a people into compliance with its picture of a conflict-free world – achieved Grand Inquisitor style by suppressing free will. All are incorporated or “absorbed” into “the Body.” “Are you with the Body?” asks Bones after he is absorbed. Spock objects that without creativity, our humanity is lost. He could have added that without free will, love and goodness are lost. At one point in the episode, the robot-like people grab implements or handy pieces of wood that happen to be lying about after a kind of frenzied Dionysian revelry the night before that seems to be designed as a kind of release valve, and begin to stalk the “Archons” – the Enterprise core members, in the manner of a sinister, zombie lynch mob.

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