Re: Why Is Thought Conscious?

From: S.Harnad (
Date: Thu Feb 18 1999 - 17:52:50 GMT

> From: Alison King <>
> Hi, I enjoyed your guest lecture especially the problem of thinking as
> a distinguishing feature of classification.
> I do think of the body as a machine. I am studying physiology with
> psychology so this is probably due to my biological orientation.

Hi Ali,

Do you find it as easy to think of the mind as a machine as you do to
think of the body as a machine? When you choose to do something, is it
because you are mechanically compelled to do it? If not, what is the
cause of your choice, and how is it related to the machinery?

> My opinion of thinking is that it is the phenomenon of our conscious
> awareness of the translation of our brain activity into an action or
> response.

In other words, whatever goes on inside your brain, goes on, and,
besides everything else, it turns into something you can feel. Fair
enough, but how? and why? That's where the trouble starts. And
especially the question of what independent role consciousness and
choice might be playing. (It's less of a problem, though still a
problem, if it's just THERE: That there are feelings, but they have no
independent causel power, apart from the physical causes on which
they piggy-back.)

> I think all behaviours can be explained by primitive,
> necessary motivation even though the relationship in ourselves seems
> distant.

In other words, besides the fact that (for some unknown reason, and in
some unknown way), some (why just some? which? why not all? or none?)
brain activity FEELS like something when it happens, it also has a
"purpose" (but why? and whose purpose?).

> I find it difficult to look at things from a wider perspective
> and at the moment this thought has come to a standstill, I would
> appreciate an input to give it direction.

Philosophers have puzzled about these questions for centuries; read a
bit on it and you'll find plenty of food for new thoughts.

Here's something. If you don't PRESUPPOSE that we're all conscious, and
that our behaviour has a purpose, can you explain why it whould be that
way? Why wouldn't everything work just as well if we were just Zombies,
able to DO (and hence also to say) everything just as we do, but without
consciousness? What extra mileage, if any, do we get from the fact that
we have minds?

Can I post this to the class as a whole, to get discussion started?

Cheers, Stevan

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