• unenlightened
    2.6k
    Why is consciousness so hard to get your head around? Stanford gives an overview of the various strands of philosophical thought that is worth a look for orientation, but I'd like to try an analogy - an old tired analogy that might have a bit of life in it still.

    We pretty much understand mirrors; there is very little mystery about them. Yet when one asks 'where is the reflection?', a confusion can arise. We ordinarily say that the reflection is 'in the mirror', and yet we know that the essence of a mirror is that it is all surface with no 'inside'.

    So with a little more care, we talk about the reflection as a virtual image that appears to be located behind the mirror, and with a little experimentation one can actually mark out the position of a virtual object behind the mirror. And already the language is getting paradoxical. A virtual image has an actual location, but there is nothing in that location, because everything happens ('everything' being phenomena of light) in front of the mirror, nothing behind it. The reflection has no source behind the mirror, but a source in front of the mirror, and it is the particular structure of the mirror surface that gives rise to a reflection that is always 'seen as' behind the mirror always 'seen from' in front of the mirror.

    Every child knows and is fascinated by the curious effect of reflecting a mirror in a mirror - multiple images disappearing into the far distance. One mirror reflects the world in a fairly straightforward way, but two mirrors gives rise to a fantastic infinite seeming set of nested images that no longer looks very much like the real world. What was simple becomes bizarrely fractal and complex.

    So a brain is somewhat like the polished surface of a mirror, and consciousness is like a reflection that appears to have its source inside one's head, but is not physically there, but physically out in the world. And whenever consciousness looks at consciousness, it creates a bizarre fractal complexity that it cannot get to the bottom of.

    Mirrors really reflect, but reflections are both real and unreal. Light really bounces back and forth between the two mirrors however many times, but the multiple world image that results is not much at all like the world.

    So these thoughts appear to have come from my brain, but are actually more or less distorted reflections of the world, acting in the informational inter web highway, and thereby provoking further thoughts apparently 'in you' but actually 'out here' that are further reflections of the world, and I look forward with child-like glee to the complex fractal pattern of reflections on reflections that will ensue,
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    but are actually more or less distorted reflections of the worldunenlightened
    Can't you have thoughts about your own thoughts?
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    I just did. The whole post is self-reflective. Yet these supposedly internal reflections have reached you.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    I just did. The whole post is self-reflective. Yet these supposedly internal reflections have reached you.unenlightened
    Your words reached me, not necessarily your internal reflections. What happens to someone who stumbles upon these words but doesn't speak or understand English? Would your internal reflections have reached him?
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    So a brain is somewhat like the polished surface of a mirror, and consciousness is like a reflection that appears to have its source inside one's head, but is not physically there, but physically out in the world. And whenever consciousness looks at consciousness, it creates a bizarre fractal complexity that it cannot get to the bottom of.unenlightened
    Where are other minds in relation to your mirror? Do we each have our own mirror?

    I've used a similar analogy of a video camera looking back at the monitor it is connected to that creates a video feedback loop. Think of the video camera as one's attention, or focus. Whatever it looks at is what appears clear and focused on the monitor. When it looks back at the monitor - the contents of consciousness - you get a infinite regress of monitor images. In Douglass Hofstadter''s book, "I am a Strange Loop", he uses the same analogy.
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    Where are other minds in relation to your mirror? Do we each have our own mirror?Harry Hindu

    Here is a ray diagram. Perhaps someone will paste it into the thread. There are no rays, and thus no images behind, or 'in' the mirror. One can locate the image, but it is not where one locates it. I am saying that one can locate consciousness in one's head, but it is not there. There is no 'behind the mirror' or 'mirror world', but everything is happening in the 'real', 'outside' world.

    And as long as one is the only person in the world, there remains only the world. It is precisely when one mirrors another mirror - when one is mindful of other minds - that weird shit happens, and you start to see an internal world with an internal self looking at it and a homunculus in the inner world looking at it, with a homunculus's homunculus looking at the homunculus's internal world, and so on.

    So when one asks 'where are other minds?', one can say that they are in other heads, or that they are in other posts, or that they are illusions, or that they are in one's own head, and none of these really answers the case. Just as the image of the tree is and is not in the lake, in the eye, in the mind's eye, in your computer, in wikipedia, and so on.

    So the neurologist looks for consciousness in the brain the way a diver looks in the lake for the reflection of the tree, and comes up empty, because the reflection is and is not in the lake.

    File:Plane_mirror.png
  • T Clark
    3k
    Here is a ray diagram. Perhaps someone will paste it into the thread.unenlightened

    uosbrozt87cig09q.jpg
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    Thanks! :smile:

    So the dotted lines are not there, and A' is not there where they are shown on the diagram. So I am saying that neurologists are looking for consciousness behind the mirror of the brain, and it is not there.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    And as long as one is the only person in the world, there remains only the world. It is precisely when one mirrors another mirror - when one is mindful of other minds - that weird shit happens, and you start to see an internal world with an internal self looking at it and a homunculus in the inner world looking at it, with a homunculus's homunculus looking at the homunculus's internal world, and so on.unenlightened
    How's this different from Marx?

    Man first sees and recognizes himself in other men. Peter only establishes his own identity as a man by first comparing himself with Paul as being of like kind. And thereby Paul, just as he stands in his Pauline personality, becomes to Peter the type of the genus homo. — Das Kapital
    This seems no different than the Hegelian/Marxist idea that one's ego only crystalises and arrives at its self-identity by seeing itself reflected by another. So how is alienation then related to this self-consciousness that man has?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    It's difficult though to claim that the internal reflections are "out there" and consciousness is like a mirror. Your own thoughts are not "out there". Thoughts are not words - they may be capable of (partial) conveying through words. But it's not the words that contain the meaning, it's the person who interprets the words who contains the meaning. He has the key to deciphering what the words mean so to speak. To someone who does not speak English and lacks the key, the words are meaningless. So this meaning that the words carry is something that supervenes on material reality, and perhaps, to a certain extent, socio-synthetic - since the meaning only emerges when a community agrees on a certain way of using words (language). And when we use words to communicate, it seems that by default we must be 'blind' to this socio-synthetic nature of language - we act as if these words have these meanings in themselves - even though they don't actually have those meanings, it is only our common agreement that grants them those meanings. We could change our agreement, and then words would change meanings. But to be capable of using a language, to become proficient in it, it is absolutely necessary that we are, PRACTICALLY, not theoretically, blind to this. The blindness is what makes communication possible.
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    It's difficult though to claim that the internal reflections are "out there" and consciousness is like a mirror.Agustino

    Yes, it is difficult. It is as difficult as denying that one can see one's face in the mirror - as if one were a vampire. :naughty: The image is clearly me, clearly there, clearly real - and yet it is clearly not there, not me, and virtual.
  • apokrisis
    4.2k
    A nice post. My argument would be that consciousness boils down to there being "a point of view". We model the world in terms some "I" that stands at the centre of this view of things.

    And that is what your mirror story helps to bring out. The scientific puzzle is how the whole world could fit inside our heads. Somehow the brain is representing reality as a sensory image or display - a faithful replication duplicating the world as a model or internal simulation. And that sets up the need for a homunculus to witness the model - to take a further point of view on the mental goings-on.

    But really, there just is this thing of a brain taking a point of view of the world. And so that is like how we can look into a mirror and see a mysteriously real world beyond the glass. We can bob our head about and even start to peer around the corners to see more of this world.

    And what is striking is that the view shows us to be at the centre of this world looking back out. Our point of view is a view with us in it. What we feel psychologically - the feeling of being a self embodied in the world, always taking just one point of view when the world offers any number of possible points of view - becomes a visible fact. We see ourselves now looking back out of a world which contains us in it.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Yes, it is difficult. It is as difficult as denying that one can see one's face in the mirror - as if one were a vampire. :naughty: The image is clearly me, clearly there, clearly real - and yet it is clearly not there, not me, and virtual.unenlightened
    lol - fine for the sake of argument I'll grant your point. What's the import of all this? Just a discussion for the sake of discussion or what's the aim?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    I don't think the mirror matters. The only thing that matters is what ever is apparent. If you want to explain why it is apparent, fine...but it does not add anything to what is apparent.
  • JJJJS
    207
    rene-magritte-gif-the-false-mirror.gif

    Without specular reflection from water, could consciousness as we know it occurred at all?

    This thread reminds me of Lacan
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    The only thing "out there" is light reflecting off of, or being absorbed by, various surfaces. The image in the mirror appears only in the mind. It is the mind's interpretation of the wavelengths of light that reaches its connecting eye that creates the image in the mind.

    Why is it that when I move closer to the mirror, eventually the only thing I can see are my eyes looking back at me?
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    What's the import of all this?Agustino

    I'm not sure. It might just save folks some time wasted looking for something where it isn't, or it might have much bigger implications. One implication is that there is no virtue in the virtual world, but only in what is expressed. It puts value firmly in action rather than thought. You are what you do, not what you think.


    ... he no longer considered the mirror stage as a moment in the life of the infant, but as representing a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of "Imaginary order".

    It sounds very close, though I don't want the analogy to be taken too literally. In some ways, Apo's 'modelling relation' might be more appropriate.

    We model the world in terms some "I" that stands at the centre of this view of things.apokrisis

    The action of brain is to model/reflect the world into the world as if there were a subject at the centre, just as a mirror reflects as if there was a mirror world in/behind the mirror. So then, by hypothesis, it is interpersonal relations, brain modelling brain, self modelling other, rather than a literal mirror, that give rise to the appearance of infinite depth. One sees the other as seeing oneself seeing the other... and since personal relations are what is important for a social creature, this depth of inner world, the mind, becomes reified - eventually to the point where 'individualism' is taken as the fundamental reality.
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    The only thing "out there" is light reflecting off of, or being absorbed by, various surfaces. The image in the mirror appears only in the mind.Harry Hindu

    Well that is a common way of understanding things, that I am questioning. I am saying that there is no inner world, no mind in which images appear. 'Seeing an image' - tree reflected in water is more or less identical to 'seeing a tree' and these seeings occur not in the mind but out there in the world where the tree and the water are; they are what brains do. The mind is a virtual 'behind the mirror' world where nothing happens because it does not exist, just as nothing happens in the mirror world, it merely reflects the happening of the real world.

    Thus the attempt to create a conscious computer becomes a matter of finding the right way to fuck it up. :rofl:
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    One implication is that there is no virtue in the virtual world, but only in what is expressed. It puts value firmly in action rather than thought. You are what you do, not what you think.unenlightened
    So what about someone who always contemplates destroying his enemies, committing adultery with his friends' wives, etc. but never does any of these out of, say, fear of punishment? Is that person virtuous?

    I don't believe action and thought are as separate as you make them seem - thinking is also an action. Someone can be deceptive through their actions as well as through their thoughts. And there seems to me to be a close relationship between thinking and acting - St. Augustine speaks about this in the Confessions - how evil penetrates first the heart (and the mind) and only then translates into outward actions.

    It is true that in some cases - such as OCD sufferers - people can have thoughts that they do not want to have - in that sense, thinking is passive, and not an action. But there is clearly a sense in which thinking is a doing, an activity, an action.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    :rofl:unenlightened
    :naughty:unenlightened
    I see that you have started to plagiarise yours truly with these emojis. Nice.

    :wink:
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    We ordinarily say that the reflection is 'in the mirror', and yet we know that the essence of a mirror is that it is all surface with no 'inside'.unenlightened

    Actually the reflective surface is on the back of the glass, so the reflection is really known to be "in the mirror", to begin with. This becomes evident if the glass gets cracked. Don't break the mirror to see this though because it will bring you bad luck.

    So with a little more care, we talk about the reflection as a virtual image that appears to be located behind the mirror, and with a little experimentation one can actually mark out the position of a virtual object behind the mirror.unenlightened

    I don't think there is anything which should make you talk about "behind the mirror". The image appears in the mirror, not behind it. We see the mirror as a surface, we know we are not seeing behind it, we are seeing into it. And in the mirror is a reflection of oneself. But the reflection is extremely odd, because the features of the left side of my body are on the right side of my body in the image. Maybe there's a spot in the centre of my nose which is not distorted like this.

    It is very simplistic, and not really descriptive of what is occurring, to say that light hits a surface, and reflects back. In reality light interacts with the object, so it must to some extent, penetrate the surface. The interaction between light and the surface is not completely understood, as is evident from the difference between wave descriptions and particle descriptions.

    So there is a very real issue to be discussed, concerning what is going on "in the mirror". Likewise, in your analogy, there is a very real issue of what is going on "in your head", which is creating the image of consciousness.
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    I don't believe action and thought are as separate as you make them seem - thinking is also an action.Agustino

    But that is what I am saying, that thought is a real action - the act of modelling, or reflecting, that happens in the real world. But we have passed the limit of the mirror analogy, now, because the brain, unlike the mirror, is not passive. So I need to find another way to talk about it.

    I must allow that brain is active in modelling the world, rather than passive in reflecting it, so I must allow 'inner workings' somewhat like a computer. But we allow computers inner workings without allowing them inner worlds, so I think all is not yet lost.

    So with a lot of hand-waving and vagueness, I can talk about a modelling process that integrates memory and sensation. I see the lightening, and memory tells me to expect the thunder, and the model is that Shango is forging iron, or some far-fetched tale about electrostatic discharge in the atmosphere.

    So what about someone who always contemplates destroying his enemies, committing adultery with his friends' wives, etc. but never does any of these out of, say, fear of punishment?Agustino

    Here is is a highly complex model that includes (a model of) the modeller as a part of the model and is 'run' just like a program, and it is just such complex reflexive models that are (mis)taken to be an inner world. I wanted to work my way a bit more slowly and carefully towards this, but the modelling error that I think gives the bite of reality to the inner world is the identification of the modeller with the model of the modeller.

    I don't think there is anything which should make you talk about "behind the mirror".Metaphysician Undercover

    There is. As the ray diagram indicates, and I remember doing it in physics 101, one can readily find the location of the virtual image using parallax, and it is behind the mirror.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Here is is a highly complex model that includes (a model of) the modeller as a part of the model and is 'run' just like a program, and it is just such complex reflexive models that are (mis)taken to be an inner world.unenlightened
    This seems very similar to Thomas Metzinger's Ego Tunnel and Phenomenal Self Model. A common position in modern philosophy of mind - being common already makes something suspect though. The most interesting philosophy tends to be that which is at odds with the spirit of the times - because one must really think hard to oppose the status quo - to affirm positions that no one else affirms and stands by - positions that seem implausible to one's contemporaries. And when I talk of one's contemporaries, I am talking about the philosophers, not the common people. For the philosophers live in their own world, which is often different than the world of the common people - indeed, it takes the world of the common man quite some time to reach where the philosopher had been. For example, Cartesian assumptions are already downloaded in our popular culture - but it took hundreds of years.

    Analogies between the mind-brain and the computer software-hardware aren't very strong. Computer software is mechanical in a way that the mind is not - computer software works by pre-defined rules, and while the mind certainly does have components that have pre-defined rules, it also has freedom that the computer lacks. And this isn't merely the kind of freedom that can be gained by having a self-reflexive program that would modify its own programming to reflect changes in the environment (say). Because then such a software needs instructions that tell it how to modify itself - it needs if/then statements, loops, etc. The mind is more fluid than this, because the mind functions without instructions in many cases. It doesn't need instructions - it can create them - it is not trapped by a fixed structure like computers are.

    I think this is where much of modern philosophy of mind goes wrong.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    There is. As the ray diagram indicates, and I remember doing it in physics 101, one can readily find the location of the virtual image using parallax, and it is behind the mirror.unenlightened

    Thinking that you're locating the image "behind the mirror" is delusion, the image is really "in the mirror".
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    the image is really "in the mirror".Metaphysician Undercover

    No, it isn't really anywhere. It's a virtual image, not a real image. But to be honest, I don't want to discuss optics, but consciousness. If you do not understand that a virtual image can be located, you won't understand the analogy, but I am already wanting to move on; the analogy was intended to open up a conceptual space to consider the nature of consciousness, that's all.
  • Janus
    5.7k
    So, the brain is analogous to the mirror. In your understanding of this metaphor is consciousness analogous to the reflections or to the reflectance?
  • JJJJS
    207


    the identification of the modeller with the model of the modeller.

    I'm not sure what this means..
  • Janus
    5.7k
    For example, Cartesian assumptions are already downloaded in our popular culture - but it took hundreds of years.Agustino

    I'm interested to find out what specific notions you have in mind here.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    No, it isn't really anywhere. It's a virtual image, not a real image. But to be honest, I don't want to discuss optics, but consciousness. If you do not understand that a virtual image can be located, you won't understand the analogy, but I am already wanting to move on; the analogy was intended to open up a conceptual space to consider the nature of consciousness, that's all.unenlightened

    My point is that consciousness is really inside the human body, just like the image is really in the mirror. You've made a faulty representation of the image in the mirror, as if it were somewhere outside the mirror, and compared this to consciousness, as if consciousness was somewhere outside of the human body. But that the image is somewhere outside the mirror is just an illusion. And probably the notion that consciousness is outside the head is just an illusion.

    So a brain is somewhat like the polished surface of a mirror, and consciousness is like a reflection that appears to have its source inside one's head, but is not physically there, but physically out in the world. And whenever consciousness looks at consciousness, it creates a bizarre fractal complexity that it cannot get to the bottom of.unenlightened

    If you want to support this bizarre notion, that consciousness is not inside one's head, "but physically out in the world", you need something better than the mirror analogy, because it really doesn't do what it's supposed to do.
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    I must allow that brain is active in modelling the world, rather than passive in reflecting it, so I must allow 'inner workings' somewhat like a computer. But we allow computers inner workings without allowing them inner worlds, so I think all is not yet lost.

    So with a lot of hand-waving and vagueness, I can talk about a modelling process that integrates memory and sensation. I see the lightening, and memory tells me to expect the thunder, and the model is that Shango is forging iron, or some far-fetched tale about electrostatic discharge in the atmosphere.
    unenlightened

    That is the sense in which the world is a 'construction'. The task of the mind/brain is to generate that construction. The German idealists, particularly Kant and Schopenhauer, were all about that; the first paragraph of WWR states it very concisely. And major cognitive dissonance arises when this is ignored, and 'the world' is assumed to be something that exists completely independently of the constructive 'world-making' activity of the mind.
  • Janus
    5.7k
    But that the image is somewhere outside the mirror is just an illusion.Metaphysician Undercover

    I would say the image is not "in" the mirror, but on the surface of the mirror. If it were "in" the mirror, then it would be as @unenlightened says, it would be a virtual image located behind the surface of the mirror.
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