Why think there is a neural correlate of consciousness?

This is the kind of question that might appear in the
extended mind literature.  Here is a
quick and dirty kind of empirical argument. 
(Maybe this kind of argument has already been considered
somewhere.  If so, I’d be glad to hear.)  Suppose that the properties and relations of lower-level entities
determine the states of higher-level entities. 
Different higher-level states result from different combinations of properties
and relations of lower-level entities.  Doesn’t
it stand to reason that an exotic state like consciousness would depend on an exotic
combination of properties and relations of lower-level entities, such as the
properties and relations of neurons? 

This seems to me different than just a correlation
argument.  Suppose, counterfactually,
that conscious states always occurred only with intact human bodies.  Still, one might wonder what (not necessarily
proper) parts of the bodies determine consciousness.  The dependency kind of consideration could
step up here.

How plausible is this?

0 Comments

  1. kenneth aizawa

    Adam,

    I’m trying to provide a reason to think that consciousness, say, depends on the brain, rather than on brain + body, or brain + body + environment.  One approach has been to say that hallucinations and dreams are conscious events that do not depent on body or environment, hence we should think consciousness depends on the brain.  (Gualtiero, among others reading this blog, saw Alva Noe’s discussion of this line at the last Central APA.)  I’m broaching another line.

    Ok.  Emergence would be one kind of inter-level relation that would ground this kind of argument.  Realization, if you think that different, would be another.  So, the thought is that any of a range of metaphysical determination relations would do to make this argument.  So, my proposal is not different than a theory of emergence in any interesting sense.  Using an ontological theory of emergence would just be one way of specifying the argument.

    Ken

  2. Flora Carpenter

    One problem is that by assuming “properties and relations of lower-level entities determine the states of higher-level entities,” we overlook the complexity of mind/brain systems. Such systems are better characterized by a dynamic model, in which causality is reciprocal between higher and lower level states. Higher level states may have emergent features by virtue of their functional organization that are not determined among lower level parts, and this higher level organization (eg consciousness) uniquely influences the system. So I would want to leave open the possibility that (for example) mind/brain states operate under a dynamic (still deterministic!) relation, rather than the one you suggested. This would have the consequence that states of consciousness are not wholly comprehensible in terms of the properties and relations of their lower-level parts.

  3. kenneth aizawa

    To further the discussion, could you give a very simple physical example, e.g. pendula, in which higher level states have emergent features by virtue of their functional organization that are not determined among lower level parts?

  4. Flora Carpenter

    How about a hurricane. The hurricane is constituted by its lower level parts (water droplets, etc) but the larger phenomenon is an arising pattern that causally impacts the arrangment of its parts (through wind pressure, etc). The claim is that parts cannot be considered isolated from the influence of the larger structures they comprise, because those larger structures have features coded for but not found among any of the parts or part-relations, and these features influence the system. Likewise with considering larger structures divorced from their constituents. We need to be talking about systems in which there is not a linear relation between input and output (ergo dynamic), so I am not sure if pendula would fit the bill. Brain states, on the other hand…

  5. kenneth aizawa

    Thanks for this example. 

    As you say, the hurricane is constituted by its lower level
    parts (water droplets, etc.).  Now, of
    course, no water droplet is a hurricane. 
    It is the properties and relations among water drops, etc, that make the
    water droplets, etc. into a hurricane.  Arranged
    in one way, these lower level things make a hurricane, arranged in another they
    make, say, a large pool of impure water. 
    So, the properties and relations of the water droplets, etc. determine
    those things to be a hurricane or a large pool of water.

    You say that “parts cannot be considered isolated from the
    influence of the larger structures they comprise, because those larger
    structures have features coded for but not found among any of the parts or
    part-relations, and these features influence the system.”  I don’t see why you think you cannot consider
    the water droplets in isolation from the hurricane.  You say that it’s because the larger
    structure has features not found in the parts. 
    Ok.  The hurricane is spread over
    150 miles, say, but no water droplet is spread over 150 miles.  Why does that mean I cannot consider the
    water droplets in isolation?  Isn’t that what you did when you said that the water droplets, etc. constituted the hurricane?

    When I say that the properties and relations of lower level
    parts determine higher level states, I don’t suppose that the determination
    relation is some simple linear additive relation.  I don’t suppose that the situation must be
    like the masses of lower level atoms adding together to form the mass of a
    bigger thing.  That is one way
    determination of the higher by the lower can work, but not the only way.

    Take a bunch of electrons, protons, and neutrons and put
    them together in one way and you get a diamond. 
    Of course, no electron, proton, or neutron is a diamond.  It is that the properties and relations among
    the electrons, protons, and neutrons together constitute a diamond.  But clearly we can consider electrons,
    protons, and neutrons apart from, say, a diamond.

    So, I’m proposing the same idea with some lower level things
    and consciousness.  Take a collection of electrons,
    protons, and neutrons with certain properties and relations and you get a
    conscious state.  Of course, no electron,
    proton, or neutron is conscious.