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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Causality & Consciousness


Oh dear, I seem to have developed a penchant for rabbiting on about really, really tough subjects.

Aristotle was big on causality – the answer to the question ‘Why?’ He defined four different types of cause. Back to Aristotle in a bit.

Why does water boil when it is heated? A reasonably sophisticated approach would start with what water is. When heat energy is applied to a volume of water, the molecules become ‘excited’ and bounce off one another until the water changes state – from a liquid to a gas. Why do water molecules behave in this way? I’m getting out of my depth; but I’m sure scientists have an answer to this and to questions I have not thought to ask.

Why do apples fall from trees? All material bodies are attracted to each other by the force of what we have called, since Newton’s day, Gravity. The earth and the apple attract each other. What else do we know about Gravity? We know that the force of attraction is proportional to the masses of the bodies and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Anything else? Well, the force of gravity is defined as: F = mg, where m is the mass of the body and g is a constant vector with an average magnitude of 9.81 m/s2. Why not a nice round 10.00 m/s2? Science has no answer to this question. Don’t blame Science. It is scientists themselves who tell us that Science has no way of knowing. It’s not a scientific question.  And yet Dawkins declares that the existence of God is a scientific question.  Is this Dawkins being silly? God is a scientific question – Gravity is not? Gravity is simply one of the givens Science has to work with (the speed of light is another). We revere scientists for their discoveries. When they go beyond Science they become less reverend (less deserving of reverence).

The Why of Gravity is one of the whys to which there is only one type of answer: What is Gravity for?

Thinking about Consciousness

It makes your head ache, doesn't it? Defining it is a nightmare. It’s one of those things that we think understand, like ‘time’; but when asked what it is, we are stumped.

It seems to me, and I’m about to reveal depths of naivety here, that consciousness is always about something. I am conscious of a sound or a smell. Sometimes I even become conscious of being conscious of something. I can become conscious of my own existence. (Cogito ergo sum). There is a deal of ‘intentionality’ about consciousness. Intentionality is ‘the quality of mental states (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) which consists in their being directed towards some object or state of affairs.’

I'm going to do more work on Aristotle. I promise.

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