Monday, June 1, 2009

Degrees of consciousness

There is one sense in which our consciousness, say of our surroundings, can vary continuously: the content of the consciousness can vary pretty much continuously in terms of the level of detail and discrimination. After waking up, I come to be aware more determinately of what is around me, after all. This is an uninteresting (from the point of view of my present interest) form of continuous variation of consciousness. The interesting form of continuous variation would be where the content is fixed, but somehow the degree of consciousness varies. It is hard to imagine what fixed-content variation in the level of consciousness would be like. I would be aware of exactly the same detail, but differently. More vibrantly? More focusedly or more concentratedly? Focus and concentration are a promising start. But it seems to me that less or concentrated focused consciousness does at least tend to have a lower level of detail of content. When I concentrate on a part of the visual field, I see more detail there.


radical_logic said...

Hi Dr. Pruss,

I apologize if this question is off-topic. I was curious to know if you accept or reject the following methodological principle:

Whenever we encounter a scientifically unexplained phenomenon, which we have not adequately studied scientifically, and which appears to contradict our current scientific theories, it would be unjustified or premature to conclude that the phenomenon probably has a supernatural cause.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I would agree that typically initially it would be premature to conclude to a supernatural cause.

1. It is not premature immediately to take the case to be some evidence of a supernatural cause. Indeed, on plausible assumptions, Bayesianism requires us to take it as such evidence.

2. After further investigation, it may cease to be premature to thus conclude.

3. Some events depart so far from what we think is natural that an immediate conclusion to a supernatural cause would be reasonable. Thus, if the doctor saw that x had an empty eye-socket, then the doctor went away for an hour or two, and when the doctor came back, there was a working eye in that eye socket, and x had a story about Padre Pio appearing to him and restoring the eye, then I think it would be reasonable for the doctor, if he is sure that the socket was empty, to conclude to a supernatural explanation. (If memory serves, this is basically a real case, if the doctor didn't confuse the eye sockets. The doctor, who was previously an atheist, became a theist, or so I've read in a bio of Padre Pio. I haven't verified the sources, so let's leave it as just a theoretical case.)

Tim Lacy said...

On the issue of continuous variation in which you're interested, it would seem to be affected by things like prior experience or awareness. The "degree of consciousness" of an object might vary, for instance, based on whether you had just read an essay, or observed a color sheet, on the variations of blue in the world. Then, for instance, your next encounter with your familiar blue couch, a prior object of your fixed world's content, would take on a new level of attention as you parsed which variation of blue the couch is.n This falls into your category of vibrance, but seems to be fed by both the eyes and newfound attention to the world of blueness.