Jesse Prinz -On the (Dis)unity of Consciousness
Jesse Prinz gives a well developed perspective on neuronal synchronization as the correlate to attention and explores the question of binding. As always, neuroscience offers important details and clues for us to guide our understanding, however, knowledge alone may not be the pure and unbiased resource that we presume it to be. The assumptions that we make about a world in which we have already defined consciousness to be the behavior of neurons are not neutral. They direct and some cases self-validate the approach as much as any cognitive bias could. For those who watch the video, here are my comments:
To begin with, aren’t unity and disunity qualitative discernments within consciousness? To me, the binding problem is most likely generated from the assumption that consciousness arises a posteriori of distinctions like part-whole, when in fact, awareness may be identical to the capacity for any distinction at all, and is therefore outside of any notion of ‘it-ness’, ‘unity’, or multiplicity. To me, it is clear that consciousness is unified, not-unified, both unified and not unified, and neither unified nor not unified. If we call consciousness ‘attention’, what should we call our awareness of the periphery of our awareness – of memories and intuitions?
The assumption that needs to be questioned is that sub-conscious awareness is different from consciousness in some material way. Our awareness of our awareness is of course limited, but that doesn’t mean that low level ‘processing’ is not also private experience in its own right.
Pointing to synchronization of neuronal activity as causing attention just pushes the hard problem down to a microphenomenal level. In order to synchronize with each other, neurons themselves would ostensibly have to be aware and pay attention to each other in some way.
Synchrony may not be the cause, but the symptom. Experience is stepped down from the top and up from the bottom in the same way that I am using codes of letters to make words which together communicate my top-down ideas. Neurons are the brain’s ‘alphabet’, they are not the author of consciousness, they are not sufficient for consciousness, but they are necessary for a human quality of consciousness. (In my opinion).
Later on, when he covers the idea of Primitive Unity, he dismisses holistic awareness on the basis of separate areas of the brain contribute separate information, but that is based on an expectation that the brain is the cause of awareness rather than the event horizon of privacy as it becomes public (and vice versa) on many levels and scales. The whole idea of ‘building whole experiences’ from atomistic parts assumes holism as a possibility, even as it seeks to deny that possibility. How can a whole experience be built without an expectation of wholes?
Attention is not what consciousness is, it is what consciousness does. In order for attention to exist, there must first be the capacity to receive sensation and to appreciate that sensation qualitatively. Only then, when we have something to pay attention to, can be find our capacity to participate actively in what we perceive.
As far as the refrigerator light idea goes, I think that is a good line of thought to explore with consciousness as I think it should lead to a questioning not only of the constancy of the light, but of the darkness as well. We cannot assume that either the naive state of light on or the sophisticated state of light on with door open/off when closed is more real than the other. Instead, each view only reflects the perspective which is getting the attention. When we look at consciousness from the point of view of a brain, we can only find explanations which break consciousness apart into subconscious and impersonal operations. It is a confirmation bias of a different sort which is never considered.