Home > consciousness, Perception, philosophy, physics, Uncategorized > If “the self” is the product of internal cognitive processes communicating with each other, then where do “attention” and “willpower” com…

If “the self” is the product of internal cognitive processes communicating with each other, then where do “attention” and “willpower” com…

If “the self” is the product of internal cognitive processes communicating with each other, then where do “attention” and “willpower” come from?

Who or what is deciding to focus on something, and who or what is asserting one internal view over another (“exerting willpower”)?

As a more general question, how are such purely internal, subjective, yet fully pervasive experiences such as attention as a resource that can be focused, and willpower as a resource that can be used and depleted, explained in terms of an emergent view of consciousness where the self is an illusion?

Answer by Craig Weinberg:

In my view, the emergent view of consciousness lacks the depth of understanding of subjectivity to be viable. At this time, emergence and the illusory self is seen as a scientific alternative to discredited spiritualist views. This would make sense if we have painted ourselves into a corner, rejecting immaterialism on one hand and embracing the lack of evidence of any ‘feelings of self’ produced in the brain.

There is another option which is not religious, and not based on a disembodied entity haunting the cells of your brain, and I think that is to understand experience itself as a concrete physical conjugate to all forms and functions. Physics becomes the ordering not just of forces and fields in spacetime, but of feelings and beings through experience or lifetime.

In this question for example, willpower could only be a mechanical condition of the brain. How much willpower you have would be a consequence of your genetic capacities and how your brain has developed. In our real world experience however, willpower has at least as much to do with the semantic content of our experience. The conventional wisdom has been, and not without merit, that we are responsible for participating in our own exercise of willpower. It would be argued that whatever we might do to build our focus and discipline would also improve whatever neurological functions are involved, but it seems more like it has to be a push-pull.

In the end, no emergent view of consciousness can plausibly justify the sensory experience of consciousness itself. The idea of the illusory self, while seemingly supported by a consensus of inanimate instruments, can only be accepted or rejected by the self itself. The existence of an epiphenomenal self-model which is experienced aesthetically rather than loops of anesthetic self-referential data processing is really a deal breaker. Regardless of whether our private expectation of the effectiveness of our will match the public effect of it, the fact that there is any such thing as an expectation of self in the first place cannot be explained mechanically. The only way we can even entertain this fallacy is to smuggle our own undeniably real self awareness into the argument without noticing and then using our own minds to consider the idea of their own absence by the very evidence that it is actively weighing. You can’t have it both ways. If you are real enough to do science, then you can’t be irrelevant enough to be illusory.

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  1. May 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great insight!

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