I want you to watch John Searle

John Searle’s lecture on Youtube presents a relentlessly materialist view of consciousness. I would like you to watch it. He asserts that consciousness is akin to digestion, cell division, oxygenation of the blood or any other biological process.  I want you to watch it because it never once actually says anything other than consciousness -whatever it is or does – is a material phenomenon. He never says why this is so. It never explores his assertion,he assumes it. He entertains many thoughts, most entertainingly. He elucidates the epistemic from the ontological. But nothing he says adds up to anything more than the original assumption that consciousness is a material phenomenon.

It matters not whether we have or have not made conscious robots. It matters not whether God exists or not. It matters not that the ontological subjectivity of science is no bar to its epistemically objective nature. To explain, you can have an epistemically objective science of something ontologically subjective like economics, for instance. Your knowledge of economics can be certain (epistemically objective) even though economics is a man-made (ontologically subjective) phenomenon. My consciousness is real and no amount of shouting by physicists or computer scientists can make it not real: on this Searle and I agree.

His dissection of the irrelevance of the computational model of the brain by showing how a falling pen “computes” gravity is brilliant.

His view that consciousness precedes any particular sensory input is no more than common sense: if consciousness is real then sensory input modifies our conscious state but does not create it.

“If we think of consciousness as a natural biological phenomenon, it is part of our biological life history, then it is a difficult, but not a metaphysically impossible problem to solve, and indeed the steps by which you solve it are familiar from the history of the sciences.” [45:00]

In the end, it is no more than hand-waving. Find the physical correlates of consciousness, turn them on or off and see what happens. But “there is no philosophical problem of consciousness”. It is like electro-magnetism, he said. Once we had the Clerk-Maxwell equations, electro-magnetism was no longer spooky, it was all clear.

Once we assume away the problem, we have no problem. This was just the speech of a cheerleader, not that of a philosopher scientist. The error of “begging the question” -assuming precisely what needs to be proved, runs throughout.

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