Saturday, March 20, 2021

How Do You Feel?

Image result for mind
- What if I told you there's a brain scientist* who claims that consciousness is a feeling, and that feelings are about conditions getting worse or better, and that consciousness has been "localized' not in the brain's areas of rationality but in an area of feelings and homeostasis, of returning to optimal from too much or too little.
- If you told me that I'd say, interesting.
- Only interesting? The brain scientist claims that the fact that same homeostatic mechanism is operating in the brain as in consciousness shows that mind and body, brain activity and consciousness, are two ways of looking at the same thing.
- That same thing being the homeostatic activity.
- Yes.
- I'd say further that brain science seems to be catching up to 19th century Russian novels.
- Because I see you have in your hand Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and the brain scientist would explain that you're bringing into balance the unsettled state raised in your mind while reading the book.
- If you like. Listen:
“Why is it all over with me? H'm! ... The fact of it is ... if you take it as a whole, I am sorry to lose God—that's why it is.” ... “What do you mean by ‘sorry to lose God’?” ... “Imagine: inside, in the nerves, in the head—that is, these nerves are there in the brain ... (damn them!) there are sort of little tails, the little tails of those nerves, and as soon as they begin quivering ... that is, you see, I look at something with my eyes and then they begin quivering, those little tails ... and when they quiver, then an image appears ... it doesn't appear at once, but an instant, a second, passes ... and then something like a moment appears; that is, not a moment—devil take the moment!—but an image; that is, an object, or an action, damn it! That's why I see and then think, because of those tails, not at all because I've got a soul, and that I am some sort of image and likeness. All that is nonsense! ... It's magnificent, Alyosha, this science! A new man's arising—that I understand.... And yet I am sorry to lose God!”... It's chemistry, brother, chemistry! There's no help for it, your reverence, you must make way for chemistry... But what will become of men then?’ ... ‘Without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?’
The conscious mind, the conscience of Dmitri Karamazov: 'The sense of their own degradation is as essential to those reckless, unbridled natures as the sense of their lofty generosity.' If consciousness is a feeling of making good a lack, and that is what is happening in the brain too, the implication is that the priorities of morality have no basis in reality. But Dmitri can't help thinking that though the mind might like the brain be conducting a homeostatic balancing act, a thought is not a thing, it is not in space, not "extended" as philosophers put it. And that the quality of thought of being not in space is associated with morality, that is, with a way of deciding which feelings are to be brought into balance and which not. Related words stimulated my brain stem this morning, I'll call them up on my computer. From The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Hershel:
To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
Sorry, I might have told you sooner, but I know of your brain scientist and have written to him.
- Always playing games. What did you write?
- First in some detail, then more simply, this:
In a long philosophic tradition the homeostasis that is associated with the mind differs from that which is associated with the body by having the additional element of the infinite. Of course the tradition does not have to be right, but I think it does the job of describing consciousness better than a bare mechanical act.
- Did he answer? 
- He politely informed me his philosophic education was not sufficient to give me an answer.
- You yourself of course have worked out your own way of getting the infinite into the homeostatic activity of consciousness,** to give back Dmitri Karamazov his god, the authoritative Chomsky's judgment on which was what you had produced had no place in the history of scientific investigation of the subject. Didn't it seem like some kind of vindication of your ideas, your story of mechanism and feeling, that consciousness had been identified with an area of the brain that provides for feelings and the course of their regulation, albeit without including the feeling of the infinite?
- It did, but only for a moment. It makes a little less arbitrary that something as specific as a story of return be at the foundations of our mental life.

Further Reading;