Back in January I wrote up a post on what I believe to be a major problem in the study of consciousness. Now, with the introduction of Consciousness Online (started by the estimable R. Brown), I feel my dilemma should get some renewed attention.
Here’s the argument:
- Assume someone knows what consciousness/mind is.
- If someone knows something, then it is part of his or her consciousness.
- If someone knows what consciousness is, then his or her consciousness has a part that contains consciousness.
- Therefore someone has a consciousness that contains consciousness.
Up until this point I am willing to grant that all this is possible. Our consciousness may be able to contain itself within itself. But could we write it down?
- We can only write or say finite things.
- If someone’s consciousness contains consciousness, then their contained consciousness contains consciousness itself and so on ad infinitum; this person’s consciousness has a self referential infinite regression.
- Writing down what consciousness is would require us to write something infinite.
- Therefore we cannot write down/ say what the consciousness is.
One might think that we would still be able to figure out pieces and put them together to get the full picture, and use terms like ad infinitum to represent some infinite, but comprehensible, process. However this would require us to know that the picture that we were putting together was an accurate one. The only way to know that we were putting together an accurate picture would be to already have an overall theory of consciousness that we knew to be correct. Hence the piecemeal approach begs the question.
With no bottom up method possible, nor any top down method available, even if someone were to discover what consciousness is, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone. Therefore we will never have a full understanding of our consciousness.
So the dilemma is to come up with a story about philosophy of mind (and associated disciplines) while necessarily lacking a story about consciousness. Anyone have anything to say?