Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Consciousness and its partnership with Naturalism

It should go without saying that the reality of the experience of consciousness constitutes a seemingly extraordinary conundrum (no matter one’s metaphysical convictions). This mystery should confront one’s momentary reflection of such a phenomenon with a sense of awe. No less extraordinary than the reality of consciousness, and, arguably, what grounds the mysteriousness of consciousness, is the nature and essence of the experience itself. Philosopher David Bentley Hart articulates such experience:

[O]ur ability to know the world, to possess a continuous subjective awareness of reality, to mirror the unity of being in the unity of private cognizance, to contemplate the world and ourselves, to assume each moment of experience into a fuller comprehension of the whole, and to relate ourselves to the world through acts of judgment and will.

Hart articulates perfectly the complex and mysterious intricacies of consciousness that make it such a seeming perplexity—again regardless of one’s ontological convictions.

Yet consciousness seems to constitute an even more profound mystery if predicated upon naturalistic assumptions. For the nature of consciousness seems to be everything physical matter is not. The physical is devoid of intent, meaning, purpose, direction, and teleology, and yet all of these make up the very essence of consciousness. The nature of matter also diverges with consciousness on probably the most important aspect of mental activity: rationality.

Moreover, the physical is known and observable to us through objective third-person research; but consciousness is, of its very nature, a unique first-person phenomenon. One cannot know the private and subjective qualitative essence (known as qualia) of my consciousness unless I so choose to reveal it. No one can experience what it is like to think my thoughts unless they are me, and no objective third-person observation will bridge this gap.

So how, on a naturalistic metaphysic, is it that matter reaches its complete opposition in the generation of consciousness? How can the essence of consciousness be in absolute contrast to the nature of the physical, and yet still have its genesis in the latter? Notice that this chasm that exists between the behavior of consciousness and matter is a qualitative one (analogous to the qualitative gap between non-being and being), and I maintain that such gap cannot be traversed by simple quantitative cumulative steps.

With all that being said, I do not wish to promulgate the above comments as some sort of philosophical treatise. I simply wish to demonstrate the seeming incompatibility between our experience of consciousness and what naturalists maintain about the nature of reality. If this partnership is even metaphysically possible (and I don’t see that it is), then it is a partnership that eludes our comprehension and seems to be the epitome of paradox. 

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