November 06, 2016

Izanagi Izanami: The Zombies vs Pokemon Go and Pete Burns

The "Hard Problem of Consciousness" refers to the quandry as to why we are conscious at all. From a non-animistic, common-sense point of view it seems unrealistic to presume that zombies, robots and amoeba have this great big elyptical visual field thing "inside" them, as moderns tend to presume that they have. Leaving zombies aside, people with brain damage can have "blindsight" that is to say the ability to react to the visual world without consciously see it.

"Young was blind in half of his visual field when he appeared on NOVA (PBS). But if you threw him a ball from the blind side, he would catch it, doing so without his own knowledge." (Lee, 2010, front matter)

But even without appeal to zombies or the neurologically damaged, we all often perform visual tasks on autopilot without noticing that we have carried them out at all. Sometimes they are too fast, such as hitting a fastball or returning a serve. Sometimes we are doing other things at the same time, such as walking through a crowded station while arguing on the telephone. When I was at primary school I walked all there through two miles of busy London traffic daydreaming about "The Lord of the Flies" that we were currently reading as a class, and was alarmed to find that I could not remember crossing all those roads when I arrived.

A neuroscientist (Clark, 2001, 509: See Briscoe, 2009) writes that this domain of auto-piloted non-conscious visual actions “is sufficiently immense and pervasive, in fact, as to render initially puzzling the functional role of conscious vision itself”. Why do we need to be conscious of what we see? Why aren't we p-Zombies? This problem is puzzling philosophers but the "p" of p-Zombies does not stand for "puzzle" as we shall see. But first a detour into Japanese mythology.

Japanese mythology starts with two deities dipping a jeweled lance into the brine of the world beneath them, which was until then a blooming buzzing chaos like oil on water, mix it up, take out the lance and let some brine drop and congeal to form Onogorojima or "self-hardening island". This island was made by the primal couple, but is called, self-hardening. Even the Record of Ancient Matters makes hints.

The thought experimental zombies that are puzzling philosophers are called "p-zombies" meaning both "philosophical-zombies" and "phenomenological-zombies", since they have no subjective experience of phenomenon. I think that the philosophers are overemphasizing the phenomenological aspect of consciousness. Consciousness is a place where thoughts and phenomenon are mixed up and that may be its most important aspect. Human consciousness contains both phenomena and self-stimuli or "thoughts" in the same place, in an almost indistinguishable blancmange. When I think phonemes to myself it is almost like someone is speaking to me. My thoughts float around the room and on the sea outside my window like sounds. I can call to mind the faces of myself and significant others. My consciousness allows, or forces me to augment reality like Pokemon GO software (above right). My face when I imagine it floats translucent across the phenomena in my visual field.

By this means I am able to self-stimulate (yes) reacting to my gestures in much the same way as I would to gestures of others.

Mead (the father of social psychology) claims that it is only phonemes that allow us to affect ourselves in the same way that we affect others. Mead writes “It is only the actor who uses bodily expressions as a means of looking as he wants others to feel. He gets a response which reveals to him how he looks by continually using a mirror. He registers anger, he registers love, he registers this, that, or the (66) other attitude, and he examines himself in a glass to see how he does so. When he later makes use of the gesture it is present as a mental image. He realizes that that particular expression does call out fright. If we exclude vocal gestures, it is only by the use of the mirror that one could reach the position where he responds to his own gestures as other people respond.” (Mead, 1934/1967 pp. 65..66).

Phono linguistic thoughts are more often than not sub-vocal and it is not as a result of the properties of sound that allows us to be aware of them. It is rather simply because our thoughts are in mind and we have the power to bring them there to mix them up in our our phenomenal space and be conscious of them. All thoughts, so far as they are in mind, in phonic, or visual, or and other mode of sense perception such as we may be able to bring to mind are necessarily the subject of our awareness in so far as they are in mind. The space in which we can give rise to thoughts is the same or indistinguishable from that in which perceive the world. As Virginia Woolf wrote in to the lighthouse, our thoughts float past the trees in our vision, competing with sounds that we hear. Like Pokemon GO software, we have the power to augment reality with self-created stimuli, which, sharing the space of the perceptual, and along with perceptions themselves, appear as to ourselves as they would to another. We don’t need sound for this reflexivity nor a mirror. In this sense, mind is its own mirror.

It is a mirror which facilitates self stimulation. Our mirror mind turns us right round, like a record.

Written in memory of Pete Burns of Dead or Alive. His pose in this video where he holds a discotheque ball (like Urasawa's friend) and the fact that he gradually transformed himself into Cher, makes me think he should be added to a list of horrific horsemen.

Briscoe, R. (2009). Egocentric Spatial Representation in Action and Perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 79(2), 423–460.

The image is adapted from Kobayashi Eitaku drawing of Izanagi and Izanami and a screen shot from Pokemon GO.


Posted by timtak at November 6, 2016 03:49 PM
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