limitations of the subject right now: . . . we do
not know how brain processes cause consciousness.
Mystery of Consciousness 
The "machine" part of "us"
is no question
that much of the human being can be accounted for in a mechanistic
fashion. Much of the body-mind complex is indeed a machine, and
our knowledge for how to bring the body-mind into a state of balance
draws heavily upon the regularities and laws noticed in the patterns
of the machine: Suffering from iron-poor blood? Add back some
iron. Suffering from being abused by your mother as a child? Stop
projecting that old pattern of “feeling abused” onto all women,
and start actively relating to women (including your mother) as
who they are, in the present. And so on. All that kind of knowledge
is wonderful, but it doesn’t account for “the machine” being conscious.
used to be a professor of computer science (from 1984-1994). My
speciality was in the area of AI (Artificial Intelligence), that
is, the creating of programs that perform activities we would
describe as “intelligent” if a human being performed those activities.
This includes activities such as: problem-solving, learning, design,
diagnosis, game-playing, natural language understanding, analysis,
etc. One of the interesting things AI researchers learned early
on was that people attribute to AI programs all kinds of characteristics
that just are not true. A famous early example was the ELIZA program
, which attempted to simulate a Rogerian therapist.
Here is a sample conversation between a woman typing on a keyboard
to ELIZA, and ELIZA’s responses (adapted from p. 186 of Artificial
Men are all alike.
In what way?
always bugging us about something or other.
Can you think of a specific example?
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
Your boyfriend made you come here.
He says I’m depressed most of the time.
I am sorry to hear you are depressed.
It’s true. I am unhappy.
Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?
I need some help, that much seems certain.
What would it mean to you if you got some help?
I could learn to get along with my mother.
Tell me more about your family.
The thing that most startled Joe Weizenbaum (the author of the
program), was the large number of users of the program who were
completely convinced that they were “speaking” to a program that
was conscious and intelligent,
even feeling and empathetic!
Weizenbaum himself knew how simple (even simplistic) the program
actually was, being comprised of rules for generating canned responses,
the person makes a first reference to some family member
("mother", "father", etc.),
THEN respond: “Tell me
more about your family”.
The materialist who enthusiastically proposes that everything
about human beings can be explained materially because so
much of the machinery of human beings has been accounted
for materially is a little like the people typing away to ELIZA,
attributing consciousness to ELIZA because the behavior mimics
that of conscious human beings. The ELIZA program is obviously
not conscious in the manner
attributed to it; it simply is programmed to behave in a way that
resembles a conscious human
being. Just so, being able to account materialistically for many
of the "parts" associated with a human being does not
account for the consciousness
of that being, although it can account for much of how that (conscious)
being behaves. There is a
mysterious “gap” that is not being accounted for, between
objective behavior, and subjective
experience (whether attributed, in the case of ELIZA, or experienced,
in the case of ourselves).
couldn't we resolve the issue by talking about a "mind",
a "spirit", or a "soul", and locating consciousness
there? It may not be a "material thing", but perhaps
it is still a "thing" — just not a material
thing — that has "parts", properties, laws to which
is subject, etc. Says Alfred Weber, in discussing the attack on
materialism made by Joseph Priestley (a theologian, philosopher,
and naturalist who lived from 1733-1804, and who is best known
as the discoverer of oxygen), in his Disquisitions Relating
to Matter and Spirit :
the soul, says spiritualism [in countering the materialistic
view], is composed of parts, atoms (or, as we should say
nowadays, of living cells of gray cortical substance), how
can it be felt as a unity? How does it become conscious
of the me? This feeling,
this perception of the unity which is called the
ego, is conceivable only in a real individual,
in a unity, monad, or atom, and not in a sum
of monads, atoms, or individuals, not in the whole nervous
system. For a sum or whole is merely an idea, a mental being;
its parts alone have real existence (nominalism). Hence
these (the monads, atoms, or individuals making up the nervous
system) can feel themselves, each for itself and separately,
as unities or I’s; but the nervous system, the whole, cannot,
for the whole is not an individual, an objective and existing
reality. This, as Priestley himself confesses, is the strongest,
and, in fact, the only serious argument that spiritualism
can oppose [to materialism]. How can the one
arise from the many? He declares that he cannot explain
the difficulty, but that, if it really is a difficulty,
it exists for spiritualism as well. Psychological consciousness
is nothing but plurality reduced to unity, or unity derived
from plurality, or, in a word, the synthesis of the one
and the many, i.e., an inexplicable mystery. Spiritualism
is as unable to tell how a multitude of ideas, feelings,
and volitions can constitute the unity of self, as materialism
is powerless to explain how a multitude of atoms can form
a unity. Hence, spiritualism has no advantage over its adversary
in this respect.
Weber, Chapter 60: “The Progress of Materialism”
History of Philosophy 
Weber is exactly right: “spiritualism”, as he calls it, does not
account for consciousness either. A “soul”, or “psyche”, or “spirit”,
if it has individual form and content (e.g., as the carrier of
psychic patterns that carry over into an after-life, or repeat
from lifetime to lifetime via reincarnation, or what-have-you)
looks simply like an additional (non-material) component of the
“body-mind” machine. When the “body” part of the machine drops
off at physical death, the “mind” part lives out its destiny in
the non-material dimensions of reality. But what, then, grants
consciousness to that
psychic pattern or psychic machine? As we can see, simply
adding a non-material (but still objective) layer to the machine
just puts off the question.
are a couple of other catch-phrases coined by materialists that
are worth a moment’s examination: consciousness as an “emergent
phenomenon”, and consciousness as “the ghost in the machine”.
Consciousness as an "emergent
I was an active researcher in Artificial Intelligence, I used
to hear on a regular basis the notion that as yet unexplained
aspects of human beings such as consciousness were "emergent
phenomena"; that is, they spontaneously arose as by-products
of a very complex context, illustrating the point that the whole
is (sometimes) greater than the sum of the parts. For instance,
my colleagues would talk of the massively parallel architecture
of the brain — with vast numbers of neuron “mini-computers” working
simultaneously — as the complex context in which something like
consciousness could emerge. This, in contradistinction to the
(by and large) “serial computer” (one computer) context in which
most Artificial Intelligence and cognitive modelling programs
had been constructed, to date. So the insinuation was that, with
time, and with zillions of computers working in parallel (like
the neurons of the brain), we would be able to create conscious
“emergent phenomenon” is just a catchy phrase, by itself nothing
more than a sound byte. It in no way explains how
this emergence takes place. (See, e.g., [1,6,7,8]
for a discussion of some of the difficulties.) What it does do
is appeal to the “mad scientist” archetype that continues to recur
in science fiction movies to this day. Here’s how you do it, if
you’re a movie director: you create a scientific laboratory that
looks incredibly complex — zillions of flashing lights, zillions
of test tubes, zillions of chemicals being combined, etc. Basically
your aim is to completely overwhelm the viewer with the sense
of complexity, to the point of what movie critics call “suspension
of disbelief”, allowing you to introduce almost
anything next. . . At this point, the dead corpse of
the Frankenstein monster could spring to life — and you’d buy
other words, such phrases tend to be nothing more than conjuring
tricks. Use of the phrase, “emergent phenomenon” and appeal to
the “massively parallel architecture of the brain” is the same
kind of conjuring trick, aimed not at providing an adequate explanation,
but at creating suspension of disbelief. If you’ve got enough
neurons flashing all over the brain, anything could happen — even
Consciousness as “the ghost in
phrase, “ghost in the machine”, is used to refer to all those
aspects of human beings that — to date — have not been accounted
for mechanistically (otherwise they’d be a part of the machine).
So this would include a “spirit” or “soul”, and of course, “consciousness”.
But, while the phrase, “ghost in the machine”, is not necessarily
used in a pejurative sense (in which the “ghost” reference is
simply sarcasm, aimed at implying “there is no such thing”), and
often instead is getting at what seems to be a mystery, nonetheless,
the phrase, “ghost in the machine”, is inherently biased. It is
a verbal bias something like the classic courtroom example, “When
did you stop beating your wife?” If you never beat your wife in
the first place, you have no acceptable answer to the question!
If the ghostly or mysterious aspects of human beings are not rightly
describable as being “in” the machine, then the phrase, “ghost
in the machine”, is misleading.
Fundamental questions about reality are often phrased in a way
that renders them unanswerable, or puzzling. The conceptual puzzle
vanishes when the right question is asked. (Of course, the inherent,
mind-dissolving Mystery that is Reality Itself does not
vanish, only the conceptual puzzle.)
we describe elsewhere,
there is a view — an esoteric
Spiritual (and Transcendental) view — that does account for the
“one / many” dichotomy and the “ghost in the machine”: it is the
view that our apparently separate “consciousness” — along with
our body-minds, and the material and Spiritual dimensions altogether
— are all arising in the One Divine Consciousness. The sense of
being “one being” (despite being associated with a “body-mind”
machine having countless parts and personalities: a veritable
“society” ) is a direct consequence of the
One Being being the inherent
True Self of all "beings" and "things". We
will never discover an objective
link between consciousness and body-mind, because the actual connection
is subjective (the body-mind
is arising in the Divine Consciousness, as a subjective modification
other words: The ghost is not in the machine. The
machine is in the Ghost!
excerpt is taken from Book
8 of The
Practical Spirituality Series.
For more information about this series, click
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