Consciousness – The Hard Problem (Part 1)

consciousness

Consciousness – ‘The Hard Problem’ Part 1

Any speculation about how the ‘Sound Dowsing’ labels might work, would be incomplete without a parallel consideration of human consciousness. How can the labels possibly engage with, and alter, the perception of sound for most listeners?  What is consciousness anyway, and how do we come to have it in the first place?  What about the relationship between the ‘mind’ – assuming we actually have minds – and the human ‘brain’?  These complex puzzles can often make our ‘brains hurt’ – as Monty Python’s John Cleese used to say.

Philosophers, .biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists and even some theologians refer to this matrix of questions as the Hard Problem. Nobody has solved the conundrum completely so far and, while all manner of alternative solutions have been proposed, almost all of them are either woefully incomplete or patently incorrect – or both.

This is actually a very strange state of affairs indeed, since human beings mostly believe that they are conscious, while rocks and house bricks probably aren’t.  Most of us are also fairly happy with the idea that we have been kitted out with personal ‘minds’, and we mostly agree that these ‘minds’ seem to be located somewhere inside us, usually in our heads – at least that’s the concept in Western cultures. Surprisingly though, we are also equally untroubled by the fact that these same interior minds can also show us whole worlds – or even complete universes – which are definitely outside of our bodies and brains.

So, explaining (and then understanding) how these things happen – and then describing who or what this ‘I’ might be that experiences the separated inner and outer worlds, is what makes the Hard Problem so difficult to resolve. Yes, we can get superbly detailed pictures of how the bits of the human brain fit together, and how they mesh with the rest of the human body.  We can record, with great accuracy, the electrical impulses in the brain (even when we are asleep).  We can stimulate particular bits of a living brain electrically, so that the brain’s owner can feel anxious or relaxed on demand.  However, there’s also a great deal more that no one yet understands.

Despite some really exciting breakthroughs into understanding brain activity and the brain’s functional mechanisms, we still have little or no idea about how the postage-stamp-sized images that fall on the retinas of healthy human eyes get ‘translated’ into detailed three-dimensional pictures of the ‘outside world’ – and subsequently allow us to do the remarkable things that we all take for granted.  We can equally easily pick up a pin from our patterned living room carpet, or watch Test Match cricketers catch a cricket ball coming at them at up to 100 mph.  Even more remarkably, we can recognise an object – or a place we have never seen before – from a verbal description of it.

The hardest question of all though asks how humans can translate all kinds of complicated ‘mental’ imagery into precise, useful information that allows us to survive and thrive in some seriously dangerous external worlds?  Perhaps the strangest idea of all however is that we can also think about thinking.

After discovering that labels placed on audio equipment could instantaneously improve listeners’ perceptions of recorded and broadcast sound, BK felt compelled to look for some plausible explanation as to how this could happen.

A theoretical connection between the messages on the labels and Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘Morphic Resonance’ had  been suggested by Mrs. Belt and seemed to offer a partial cause-and-effect relationship.  However, a theory of consciousness that could link all such ideas together seemed vital to a more coherent understanding.  Something extra was certainly needed to show how listeners (who knew nothing about the existence of ‘Morphic Message’ labels – let alone the content of their messages) could develop the greatly enhanced auditory sensitivity that they so regularly seemed to experience.

Finding some over-arching theory of consciousness that made the missing connection – especially if applying the theory itself to the labelling system could be shown to improve perceptions still further – would be a very useful step forward.  After reviewing most of the popular theories concerning the Hard Problem, BK found himself revisiting the ancient idea of ‘pan-psychism’ – although mostly against his better judgement at the time – because of its self-evident appeal to dowsers.

Pan-psychism is: ‘… the view that mind or soul (Greek (’ψυχή’) is a universal feature of all things, and the primordial feature from which all others are derived. The panpsychist sees him or herself as a mind in a world of minds.’ (Wikipedia)

Hypothetically, this would imply that essentially everything in the universe has some form of consciousness (and that may well include rocks, although house bricks may seem rather less likely!)  However, a corollary concept is that potentially all minds might actually be connected in some way.

It turns out that a surprisingly large number of historically important philosophers, from ancient Greek pre-Socratics, through to Bertrand Russell have flirted with versions of pan-psychism.  Furthermore, there are a significant number of well-respected scientists who have taken the idea seriously too.  The Nobel Prizewinning Physicist, David Bohm, whose book ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ explains the reasons for doing so.

In the UK, the philosopher Professor Galen Strawson, is one of the theory’s most prominent modern exponents: he contends (as did Bohm) that, ‘experience is present all the way down’ from humans to sub-atomic particles.

It is inherent in the theory of pan-psychism that everything in the world has both physical and mental properties – and there is nothing that has no element of either.

In Part 2, we explore this idea in more detail, and ask if it could actually be true.

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Click Here For Part 2

Nigel Twinn and Bill Kenny 2015

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