Friday, August 23, 2013

The Self, part 2

Part 1 here.
Let us, as materialists, dispense with the notion that there is a supreme store of consciousness from which drops of individual consciousnesses have become separated and embodied as living beings.
Materialism, as a philosophical position, states that "the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter." (ref Wikipedia)
A materialist, as opposed to a spiritualist, considers matter to be primary and consciousness to be a consequence of certain arrangements of matter.  A spiritualist on the other hand considers consciousness to be a phenomenon independent of matter.  However, the evidence for a materialist interpretation of consciousness is far stronger than that of the spiritualist interpretation, for which there is no evidence.
There is a very clear progression in consciousness from simple organisms to mammals and then to human beings which shows that higher and higher forms of consciousness depend on more and more complex physical/neuronal structures.  

Consciousness is neurally dependent.  The brain interacts with the world via the senses and the body.  Psychic powers are illusions.  There are no psychic phenomena which have been subject to scientific scrutiny and found genuine.  The James Randi Educational Foundation continues to hold its One Million Dollar challenge for any paranormal phenomenon:
At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the "applicant" becomes a "claimant."
To date, no one has passed the preliminary tests.
Consciousness is a materially determined phenomenon, and an evolved one.  Therefore, all states of consciousness are also complexes derived from our material brain state.  In addition, a state of consciousness must have an evolutionary explanation, and a survival advantage for its holder, for it to have evolved and survived for millions of years. For example, the state of anger, or of jealousy, or of territorial insecurity, or the affection between a parent and a child, and so on.

What about the "ego", or the feeling of being "me"?  Is this state a continuous one, or one which occurs sporadically?  Is there a time when one is not aware of being "oneself" but is absorbed in some activity or thought?  What are the effects, both psychological and behavioral, of feeling as a self? What purpose does it serve? Is it more useful than harmful?

(to be continued)

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