Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The (Long) Hard Problem of Consciousness, or: On the Nature of Spirit (and Existence Itself!)

I intend to discuss today what is, to me, a foundational philosophical question (perhaps the foundational philosophical question) and yet one which I fear is, perhaps, so basic, that many people have never even considered it. This is the so-called “hard problem of consciousness,” of subjective awareness, of the experience of “qualia.”

I do not intend to address materialist arguments about the origins of qualia; to me it is obvious that they are a non-material phenomenon and constitute the primary essence (“intellect”) of the rational/spiritual soul (the other constituent power being free will, of course). I merely intend to get people to consider their existence and to try to demonstrate how they cannot be explained in any way by matter, how subjective consciousness is of an entirely different nature than the objective material world (although in humans the former may indeed be embedded into and entwined with the latter, which will be discussed at the end.)

The very question is something, I think, previous cultures took for granted as self-evident (and it is) but which ours has, with its web of sophistic words, managed to talk its way out of, to the point that many people are not even, due to widespread scientism, at first able to understand the question, let alone consider any answers. It is, as James S. Trefil said "the only major question in the sciences that we don't even know how to ask.” Though, I would highly disagree that the question is one answerable by material natural science as opposed to metaphysics.

Now, I am no professional philosopher, and so I am sure I will not to treat the question with the precision it deserves. It is a hard thing to even verbalize, by nature, and modern confusion of terms has not helped. To organize my thoughts, I am going to be drawing from (and linking to) the wikipedia articles on the issue and various related topics, which will hopefully serve the purposes of this introduction.

I know I have already tried to have this conversation with several friends who are atheistic materialists or at least apathetic agnostics in tendency, and have been extremely frustrated that they did not even seem able to understand the problem of the phenomenon I was trying to articulate, let alone any explanations (spiritual or otherwise) for it. Perhaps this means that they themselves do not have souls?!

I’m joking of course (I hope), but to me the understanding of qualitative consciousness is central to my conception of self and the universe. And also the unique dignity of human beings (or, rather, rational personhood in general, which includes the angels) and how exactly it constitutes the Image of God. It has also been to me a powerful proof of realities beyond the material in moments of religious doubt. It has been since I was a child, even before I ever formally encountered the question in writing (which has only been in the past few years). And so to find out that even most intelligent, reflective people have not even considered the question, nor are even able to understand what I’m talking about when I describe it, is very disturbing indeed.

It suggests to me that this collapse of awareness of this most-intuitive-thing-possible...may be at the heart of the self-alienation which is so characteristic of our modern society, and the endless angsting and conflict over constructing identity. So...this is going to be an extremely long post, even by my rambling standards, but please bear with me. I obviously think the point is very important.

To begin introducing just what is meant by the hard problem of consciousness or of qualia, I should first reflect on the questions I asked myself as a child. These youthful thought experiments, I later found out, have actually been also put forward by philosophers discussing the issue.

The first question I can remember asking myself, even in elementary school, about subjective consciousness in the universe, is “Why am I me?” Specifically I think I thought of it in terms of, “Why do I see out of my eyes instead of anyone else’s?” In other words, why are my experiences tied to this body? Well, my brain is in this body, of course. But then, there are many brains out there. Why am “I” in this one? I imagined that the question must be even more poignant for identical twins, “Why am I this twin instead of that twin? Wasn't I very close to being him instead?"

This reflection on my own consciousness led me, even before I knew of him, to formulate something like Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum” at the base of my framework for thinking. Except instead of “I think,” I would rather say, “I am conscious” or “aware” and therefore I am. And therefore Being itself is. However much of an illusion it might be, reality is self-evidently real, as was I, even if all the sensory phenomenon I was experiencing were false like in a dream.

The second little thought experiment I did is actually one I found later had been first proposed by John Locke as the “Inverted Spectrum” proposal. How do I know, I asked myself at a young age, that the color I see as “blue” (color is in some ways the quintessential quale [a concrete singular instance of qualia] discussed in the literature) is not seen by other people as what I call “green” (or "red" or "yellow" etc). They’d grow up their whole life seeing it that way, and since the whole spectrum would just be shifted, their description of the world would presumably be the same. The same words would be attached to the same wavelengths of light, the same wavelengths of light would still cause the same reactions in their brain, but those could lead to a different experience of color. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why a given arrangement of neural activity should correspond to the subjective experience of any color, as long as the correspondence for each person is internally self-consistent.

And yet this would be totally incommunicable and non-transferable and private. No one could ever know, because we couldn’t compare that sort of utterly personal, subjective experience without me becoming them and and thus ceasing to be me (a different question even than my brain simply being in their body, or even my consciousness in their brain). In fact, these are some of the properties of qualia that have been enumerated by philosophers:
ineffable; that is, they cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any other means than direct experience.

intrinsic; that is, they are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experience's relation to other things.

private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.

directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness; that is, to experience a quale is to know one experiences a quale, and to know all there is to know about that quale.
This totally irreducible nature of conscious experience is what gives rise to the so called hard problem of consciousness in philosophy:
The term hard problem of consciousness refers to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. In considerations by David Chalmers, this is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he assumes that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained."
This, I think, is part of the problem that I have experienced when trying to discuss qualia with the materialist-minded. The modern sciences of psychology, neurology, and even computer science, have led us to view “mind” as simply the cognitive processes of the brain. And indeed, things like imagination, the sensory memory, sensory processing, emotion, and even higher order cognition...are almost certainly explainable as simply computer-like processes in the brain.

On the other hand, popular culture has come to think of “consciousness” or “soul” or “spirit” in terms of these very same phenomenon. When asked what your soul does, many people will probably say that it “thinks” for you or even that it is the source of “emotion.”
This is a very grave fallacy that somehow got into the pop culture: that “emotion” is "what makes us human" or is the nature of the human soul. Such a naive conception of the nature of the soul makes an easy straw-man indeed for the forces of materialistic, atheistic science-ideologues to knock down.

Really, all philosophers and theologians throughout history have known that emotions, were in fact, part of our lower appetites, our animal nature, and that animals certainly shared emotions. If anything is uniquely human about the cognitive faculties of our brain it is language, the fact that we encode information verbally, as abstract symbols. But even this is now also shared by computers in some very real sense. Hence, perhaps, the arrogant assertion by some computer scientists that Artificial Intelligence will someday be able to be fully human (when really, at best, it will be able to merely imitate human behavior perfectly, but as a “philosophical zombie”) and also the false (or, at least, unprovable) claims by animal rights activists that animals feel their pain subjectively (as opposed to it just being an objective reflex reaction made by nerves firing and effecting the muscles in a certain way).

This is the explanatory gap that qualia present for someone trying to explain the universe in a purely material way. Materialists explanations of the universe assert that all information is accounted for by the purely physical properties of the system. But philosophers came up with another thought experiment called “Mary’s Room.” Mary, they say, is a color scientist trapped in a room that is all black and white. She has never seen the color red, even though she knows everything about it physically; the wavelength that causes it, the reaction it produces in the brain, the way it has been spoken of and described through history. And yet, surely, even though she has all the physical facts about the color red, she experiences something new, something irreducible, when she actually sees red for the first time. This is the “quale” red, the experience of the qualia of color.

Some philosophers countered that if Mary could manipulate her brain to cause the same neurons to fire as she knows fire when someone sees red (perhaps just by rubbing her eyes very hard), she would thus experience red without needing a real red object. Almost certainly true. But then, her experience of red upon manipulating her neurons to hallucinate that way...would still be a new thing. The subjective experience is itself a form of information that cannot just be known, it requires personal experience. The neural manipulation argument also reveals another problem in attempting to explain qualia in a purely materialist way: namely, that there is no particular correspondence between a given neural network and the way it is experienced.

As I was saying in the “Inverted Spectrum” example...why should a given neural arrangement correspond to the experience of blue? There is no blue in the brain. Some philosophers will say that this doesn’t matter. After all why should shaping the mouth in certain ways correspond to certain sounds, and a CD-ROM contains information as a series of tiny ridges on its surface or whatever, and yet these can contain all sorts of information about images, sounds, etc. Others have countered, in turn, that the mouth shapes correspond to certain sounds because of how they physically shape the air to vibrate it. And a CD’s code is translated into images and sounds on a computer screen by a process that turns them into electric signals that, through circuitry, cause pixels to light up as a certain color and a speaker to vibrate at a certain frequency. All a chain of physical causation with no explanatory gap.

But in the case of human experience, who or what exactly is “translating” the neural code in your brain into experience, and perhaps more importantly, where is the “screen” and who is “watching” it?? So another question I was always fascinated by is “why do I see what I see?” Meaning, why do does having a certain wavelength enter my eyes and be processed by my brain produce vision of a color? This color doesn’t correspond to anything in the brain itself. I see green represented by my brain’s model of the world (as encoded in the neurons) even though there is nothing green in the brain. I can even simply close my eyes and imagine the color green (by activating the same network of neurons in memory) without there being anything green present to me. Why should this neural network translate to “green,” who or what is doing the translating, where is it displayed, and who is watching it? These are difficult questions that get to the heart of the impossibility of a material explanation for subjective experience as it seems to require infinite regress.

When people are trying to describe what I am calling subjective consciousness of qualia in this post, sometimes the word “self-awareness” will be used, and I think it is accurate. However, I don’t like that term because I have found that it too has been confusingly reduced to the description of purely cognitive faculties by modern usage. Scientists will say that they have proven that a dolphin or a cat is self-aware because it can recognize itself in a mirror. Big deal. That is not the sort of metaphysical self-awareness we are talking about, because it again is speaking of “self” as an objective thing. It would be easy to program a computer with a camera on it to recognize itself in a mirror, it would just have to determine that what it was seeing matched its own physical properties and moved in the same way when it did. And, on the other hand, even a human might be fooled by this sort of visual self-recognition if they had an identical twin who was a really good actor.

No, the type of self-awareness that is being discussed when it comes to the question of subjective consciousness is awareness of one’s awareness simply. Again, a warning: I did not say awareness of the fact of one’s awareness, or awareness of the abstract idea of one’s awareness. It is not meta-cognition I’m talking about, it is direct intuitive awareness of your awareness simply. This is one reason why it must be immaterial.

This infinite regress of self-awareness cannot be explained by purely material causes. Because otherwise there would always be a “blind-spot.” Even a 360-degree camera will only film everything except itself. And yet our consciousness does not have such a blind spot. In fact, it first and foremost perceives and contains itself. Could you be meaningfully said to be aware of something if you weren’t aware of it?

Another argument for the immateriality of subjective experience is the unity of conscious experience. Obviously, different senses are processed in different parts of the brain, different thoughts in different parts, etc. And yet my Self experiences them all at once as a unified whole.

The ridiculousness of a material explanation of consciousness is in this way shown by the model of a “homunculus” in a “Cartesian theater” in our brain. This is the question I mentioned about “who” is watching all the sensory information in your brain. Who am I? Who is the observer watching all this?

Even if we were to find physical explanations whereby all the sensory data from the brain were “translated” in some way into a unified “movie” at one place in the brain integrating all the data, and displayed on some screen for a little man who was the “real you” at the core of it all...the problem then arises of what is allowing him to experience it all? Does he have a little brain with a little theater and even littler homunculus inside him? And does that homunculus have one, ad infinitum? This would require an infinite regress and with matter that is impossible: matter is discreet, it cannot be infinitely divided smaller and smaller, eventually you get down to the level of quarks and can't divide it anymore.

I like to use the image of a camera pointing at a TV that is displaying what the camera is filming. As you probably know, this forms an infinite regress, as the TV itself appears on the screen, which then must display a littler TV in that littler screen, which then has an even smaller TV on that even smaller screen, etc, ad infinitum. Of course, eventually the real TV loses resolution and cannot display any smaller. In some ways our conscious perception would seem analogized in this, except it never loses resolution. It is like a sphere lined on the inside with flawless mirror that is also able to let in all the light coming from outside (obviously impossible, physically, without creating a "blind-spot" for the hole to let in outside light).

Some would say that “the system as a whole,” that is to say the brain taken as a whole, is what makes qualia, and that there is no need for one central locus or simple irreducible singularity to unify consciousness. This is unsatisfying however, without a soul to designate the brain as a single unity, as why should my brain form a unified system with consciousness as a whole, but then not individual sections of my brain (with thus separate consciousnesses) or even my brain and someone else’s brain sitting next to me (with one consciousness between us). The experiences of those with their corpus callosum severed provide an interesting thought experiment in this regard. No, we experience consciousness as a discreet unity with very absolute boundaries. Namely, it contains everything my brain brings to the conscious level, but also [outside miraculously infused knowledge from God] only those things contained in my brain. It exists on that level.

The fact is that consciousness by nature cannot exist along a continuum (as some people who believe that animals are subjectively conscious would seem to think). You are either conscious or you are not. An infant may be conscious of fewer or more simple thoughts, a sleeping person of vaguer or stranger thoughts (we call them dreams) or of no thoughts at all, but the simplicity or coherence of the phenomenon you are experiencing doesn’t determine anything like a higher or lower “level” of consciousness of those experiences. Either you are conscious of a phenomenon (however simple or complex) or you are not. Even consciousness of nothing is different than lack of consciousness; a mirror in a totally dark room may not reflect anything, but the potential is there if there were something to reflect, which is very different than the mirror simply not existing in the first place.

So consciousness is an utterly personal, utterly irreducible, and totally immaterial phenomenon. It cannot be explained merely by the material functions in brains. To me, this is proof of the existence of spirit in reality as opposed to just matter, as a separate metaphysical category entirely, and something which cannot simply arise from matter. It must be created and infused directly into each new human being. I do take it on faith that other human beings are conscious, by the way. Though obviously (like dream characters, or really convincing robots) they could be philosophical zombies too, theoretically, I suppose. But I trust they're not. And the fact that individual spirits must be created new and utterly unique implies that the Being creating them is likewise spirit, is likewise a conscious personal entity. Something greater could not be made by something lesser. I dont think immaterial consciousness could be created by someone that didn’t, in fact, possess it himself.

Now, I’ve probably totally lost you, but I’ve covered pretty much so far the faculty of the soul called Intellect (ie, subjective consciousness), and I’d now like to discuss related topics that deal with the other faculty: Will.

One important problem debated by philosophers who accept qualia as immaterial is what effect, if any, subjective experience has back on the material world. This is an important question, as if we are claiming that all the objective qualities of a system (including other people’s behavior) can be explained materially, then how trustworthy is a person’s assertion that they experience qualia too?

Obviously, even discussing qualia in itself as a topic cannot be taken as proof that they do experience them subjectively, as a robot could be programmed to discuss qualia based on a recording of my voice and some complicated algorithm. This is why even so-called “Artificial Intelligence” that artificially recreated a human brain in circuitry would not necessarily be human, and no test could ever prove that it was or wasn't. My mere cognition about the concept of qualia, is just symbols being manipulated in the brain by a very complicated computer, essentially.

And yet what purpose have qualia if they don’t effect the material world but merely sit as a sort of passive observer just seeing what the brain does deterministically? One school of thought actually does treat qualia that way. These philosophers believe that qualia are merely “epiphenomenon.” For them, qualia are recognized as immaterial, but are thought to mysteriously arise from material processes in such a way that material processes cause this parallel phenomenon to exist, but it is totally dependent on them, and cannot influence them in turn. For some time, I tended toward this belief. That the brain essentially acted like a deterministic system and that the consciousness, the spiritual soul, clearly existed, and yet simply watched. After all, why wasn't the soul able to act as a "bridge" between the two sides of the brain for those who had their corpus callosum severed?

We know that free will only applies to choices with moral value. In other words, your free will was probably not actively involved in what kind of cereal you ate this morning, that was mostly just the playing out of various preferences and mental circumstances. Only choices with a moral quality are the subject of free will. But for a time I thought this might be something that utterly could not affect the material world (mainly because I didnt see how it could). You made your choice whether or not to kill someone, for example, in the depths of your soul...but whether or not your body’s actions corresponded to this choice was up to material laws. At that point, I suppose I saw free will as really amounting to more of just a consent or non-consent by a passive, almost external, observer to what the body was doing.

This position was, of course, unsatisfying and ultimately unsustainable. I then considered the possibility, like that held by the Parallelists (though, again, before I had ever heard of them), that the body does usually seem to follow the decisions of the spiritual soul but only because God’s providence arranges for them “coincidentally” to usually be the same or in harmony (I say “usually” because, of course, the person could theoretically have a seizure and lose control of their body at some point or something like that).

However, that seemed rather dualistic, inorganic, and needlessly contrived and complicated. So, like CS Lewis himself, apparently, I think the answer I’m happy with now is that the indeterminacy of the universe claimed by quantum mechanics allows room, within the scientific framework (now shown not to be a deterministic closed system) for the “random choices” of particles to be interpreted as the action on the physical system by a non-physical entity, namely free-will within the human brain (since the human spirit is also the soul or Form of the body, in Aristotelian terms). Split-brain patients could not transfer information from one side of the brain to the other through the soul for the same reason I can't choose to fly; because the soul would be limited, in that sense, by the physical possibilities presented to it by the brain. It also, coincidentally, provides a specific mechanism by which Providence can be said to remain absolutely sovereign over each and every event in the physical universe at large.

This is the so-called quantum mechanical interpretation of “consciousness causes collapse.” Now, this is certainly not agreed on in all interpretations of quantum mechanics, though it is in the Copenhagen Interpretation. Here, in the mystical realms of highly abstract theoretical physics, scientists are faced with the conundrum that the universe, it seems, is at the most fundamental levels probabilistic rather than deterministic. As the famous Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment explores, quantum realities function as a series of superimposed wave-functions that ultimately have several potential outcomes, and there is no deterministic way to say which outcome will in fact occur, only the probabilities of the various outcomes. Particles (such as in the celebrated double-slit experiment) seem to have to make a “choice” that is entirely arbitrary, and we can’t know the outcome until we actually see it.

Though this is not how things appear to generally work in the macroscopic world, the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment shows how they are linked, as ultimately every macroscopic thing is likewise made up of particles, particles which function probabilistically. The “consciousness causes collapse” explanation of how, or rather when, the probabilistic wave function collapses into a single concrete real outcome, says that it is only when a conscious observation of the phenomenon takes place. What constitutes a “conscious observer” is debated, but it may even be said in some sense that, for a given observer, the wave function isn’t collapsed for them until they observe it or some effect indicating what it was, though it is not as if the observer in that interpretation is thought to determine which outcome, he is generally thought to merely confirm it (lest their be magic or no objectively consistent reality). My best guess would be, however, that in the brain itself, the conscious observer (the spiritual soul) both confirms the wave-function's collapse and, through the free-will given by God, is also able to decide the outcome, according as such superimposed wave-functions are presented to it by the brain (and limited to that too).

This line of argument by quantum physicists actually gets rather philosophical, as it implies that it is subjective consciousness which ultimately determines reality from non-reality, especially for the individual. The radioactive decay in the cat experiment may or may not have gone off, the cat would die if it did, but what makes that real and not just a possibility? I could send in a robot to check on the cat and turn on a red light if it is dead, but what makes that real until I see it, until the buck stops at my subjective consciousness? It is ultimately the same question asked long ago, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?”

There is another quantum interpretation, of course, which is the “many worlds” theory. This says that particles do not, in fact, make a “choice” when observed that collapses the wave function to only one of its possible outcomes. Rather, these physicists say, every possible outcome is equally real and just occurs in “different realities” that split off like an infinitely branching tree every time one of these junctures occurs. To me, this seems like largely a semantical game, definitely crossing over the border from science into philosophy But it shows that, at its extremes, that even the natural sciences are not “self-contained” in their explanatory power, and that physics eventually has to have a continuity with metaphysics.

Even if there are “many universes” that split off at every wave-function collapse, it doesn’t explain why I am in this one. They might suggest that consciousness splits too (an interesting question raised by the end of the movie “The Prestige,” if anyone has seen it), but that, if anything, simply removes the problem by one step and demonstrates unsolved the very question it is claiming to solve: even if consciousness splits into the two universes of the two possible realities, why am I now this continuation of consciousness instead of that one? And furthermore, is speaking of another “reality” even meaningful if I cannot ever experience it, by nature?

This leads me to conclude with another line of thought I pursued as a young child. I think I, rather adorably, phrased it to myself as “Why isn’t there a unicorn in this room right now?” Well, because unicorns don’t exist. But maybe there is a non-world where they non-exist, I thought. Given that I can imagine a unicorn in the room right now, and there is nothing logically contradictory in the image, why isn’t that possibility actualized in fact? Well, because that idea’s existence parameter, as it were, is toggled to “off”...whereas the lamp’s over there is “on.” But this then seems to be a relative property. Relative to what is existence being defined as on or off?

A purely objective outlook (as materialism tries to create) can make no distinction between existence and non-existence except relative to each other. Non-existence is what doesn’t exist, existence is what doesn’t non-exist. Like Left and Right or Up or Down, there is nothing that objectively gives something existence except that it is in the same world, the same existential state as the other things that we say exist. It’s like the relativity of motion; if everything were moving alongside each other at the same speed with no fixed reference point...this would be equivalent to nothing moving at all. But what is our fixed reference point for existence except that which does (or can) affect subjective consciousness?

The idea of the unicorn exists because the idea can enter into my consciousness. The neurons encoding the idea exists because they affect my consciousness through the idea. My perception of the lamp exists because it is in my consciousness. The neurons encoding the perception of the lamp exist because they affect my consciousness in the form of the perception. The light that brings the image of the lamp to my eyes exists, because it affected the neurons, and thus my consciousness. And the lamp itself exists, because it affected the light, which affected my optic nerve and visual cortex, which effected my conscious perception.

But the unicorn in my room itself does not exist, because that idea is in my head simply as a composite of other images drawn from reality or memory (a horse, a horn, my room). The possibility of a unicorn in the room remains unactualized, remains in the realm of non-existing potential, because it is not in the same state as subjective observers, who exist by definition (you wouldn't be conscious if you didn't exist). My consciousness cannot cause the existence of the unicorn to collapse, because God in His own consciousness did not will to do so (assuming God's Will has the same power over the external universe that I posited He gave us over our own brains). I think we see here also hints of the celebrated Western Trinitarian analogy of the Son or Logos as God in His Intellect and the Holy Spirit as God in His Will.

Of course, to me, this is all one of the most convincing arguments for God, and a personal God, and even a Trinitarian God. That God thus functions as the “objective subjectivity” in the universe, the Universal Observer who knows and loves the universe into being. As I plan to write a post about later, God’s incomprehensible essence is said by Eastern Christian theology, especially, to both exist and non-exist, or rather to be beyond both, to be beyond that division, that categorical duality of potentialities. But God in His hypostases, however, in His comprehensible “existences” (as the East sometimes calls the Persons) provides a universal standard for that which exists compared to what doesn’t. And that standard is consciousness, is personhood, is intellect (and will). God’s existence forms the rock or standard or absolute compared to which other potentialities can be said to either be actualized in reality or not, and our own subjectivity is an Image of this (though ours derives its existence from conformity to God’s likewise, of course).

The only other possibility, it seems to me, is absolute solipsism. That my consciousness is all that exists, or all that can be said to exist in any meaningful sense for me, at least. That there is no way to posit how it arises or what causes the qualia, the phenomena I experience, that I and the universe are simply a series of perceptions with no underlying explanation, cause, rationale, or objectivity (at least none that I can grasp from within my subjectivity), with the whole concept of an objective external reality (Kant’s “noumena”) probably being totally meaningless, and yet with me not even having the power to determine what phenomena I experience. This does not square with the materialist view of the universe either, mind you. Reality must be either God's own "solipsism" (ie, what is Real is that which is willed to be so in the Mind of God), or it's my solipsism. And it's a lot less lonely if it's His.

And now I’ve probably confused you all more than clearing things up. Oh well. Good night!


Michael Lechowicz said...

Wow, well done!

sortacatholic said...

This would make a good academic publication with secondary research (I don't know if you are interested in graduate school or not.) Excellent! Lots better than the undergrad work we PhD candidates see on a regular basis.

I had similar questions as a child, though mine were more epistemological rather than existential. My favorite was "am I seeing what someone else is seeing?" and "what is consciousness?" At the time I didn't have words such as "qualia" to express this latter question. I am an identical twin, so I can certainly say that twins do not often see similarly.

Liturgy is a qualitative statement. I suspect that dissent from postmodern Roman liturgy stems from differences in (sensory) perception, intellect, and "consciousness". As a traditional Catholic I apprehend Mass differently than a progressive Catholic. In my view and the view of some other traditional Catholics, the Mass resembles an organism that communicates its intent through the organic evolution of rites. I contend that many trad Catholics view Holy Mass and the sacraments as independent manifestations of the divine that communicate as living qualitative phenomena in themselves. Traditional Catholic sacramentality implies an epistemological view of religious practice.

By contrast, postmodern Roman Christianity (i.e. "progressive Catholicism") strikes me as an existential qualitative movement. Progressives contend that the liturgy is a vehicle for self-discovery, perhaps a Mary's Room of constant innovations and anthropocentric activities. The progressive focus is not an immersion into the consciousness of Heaven made flesh in the living Calvary of the Mass, but rather the placation of individual insecurities through the creation of a falsely "common" perception of worship (often enforced in a crushing Maoist fashion.) A "community of faith Eucharistic celebration" attempts to wedge the divine mysteries into the roughly matched qualitative perspectives of a few.

Tony said...

I really liked this post. It was long but worth it.

I think you've managed to express with a marked lucidity what I too have felt as a matter of intuition. I've asked similar questions, but only at the end of High School was I able to articulate them in an accessible way.

How is it that we are self-conscious? Moreover, why? The fact that I can think introspectively, and contemplate the notion of objective truth seems to me a fundamental and obvious foundation for belief in implicit reality beyond what our senses can tell us. This was what ultimately kept me, even in my agnostic days (though I guess I'm still an agnostic when it comes to pure knowledge) from lapsing into full blown Cartesian doubt of self, reality external of the mind, and ultimately, lack of belief in a God Who wills (something).

I remember arguing for a purpose driven existence, from our desire to know and know God (the origin and destiny of all things) from this very imminent realization: that we are creatures that grope for the light of meaning and truth (which are to me one hypostasis). And some people just don't *get* this argument, or insight, which is frustrating to me.

Carl Sagan has said something really wonderful, namely, that we are a way for the universe to know itself. I don't disagree, but it is obvious that this statement is a function of his pantheism. But we are part of the *created* universe, and we are a way for creation to be conscious of itself. But there is more than the material, which is mysterious enough by itself: There is something in us that points past the rubble of the material and is more refined and pure than what constitutes any given tangible *thing*. I've always felt this to be the soul.