Minding

I’ll briefly mention my research on consciousness here.  This is one of those subjects that until recently elicited frowns and sighs from the erudite (and those pretending to be) every time you bring up the subject.  Furthermore, there has been a great stigma surrounding panpsychism, that arch-bogeyman among all materialist philosophers of mind and most scientists.  Nevertheless, as a result of recent interesting philosophical work and new brain theories, neither subject can be dismissed so easily any more.  To prime the philosophical pump, ask yourself, “What is consciousness?  Are ants conscious?  Do they have sensations?  Is there a ‘they’ that knows they are having them?  Does it matter if there is or not?”

My own position on consciousness is motivated in part by interest in modeling how the brain codes expectations to give meanings to our sensations.  Those meanings derive from all the inferences we make from our sensations to create an interpretation.  The interpretation is what is experienced and encoded in memory yielding new expectations, recalled when needed, and used to arbitrate behavioral choices.  Mind or consciousness can be viewed as a process of interpreting and remembering.  It is, therefore, better thought of as ‘minding.’  An all important question is where is it happening in nature.  Leading scientists have finally issued a declaration that all animals have it.  Do sea urchins, insects, Venus fly traps, nations, embryos, atoms, solar systems, etc. have it?  It depends a lot on how you define it.  Most philosophers have settled for a pretty weak definition (“There is something it is like to see red.”)   Scientists and surgeons require an operational definition.  My characterization leads naturally to a systems oriented panpsychism once unexamined presuppositions are dropped from science.

DEFINITION:  Consciousness is a process of interpreting sensations for their meaning by association and holding that meaning in memory for a minimal time to guide ongoing behavior and/or store more permanently to guide future behavior and future interpretations. 

You can find two papers at the end of my publications section that led up to my current position.   My chapter in Mind that Abides gives a justification of panpsychism, and what I mean by that term.  If you want a quick and entertaining summary, just go look at the poster entitled “UNCC: The Cure for Chronic Zombie Blues.”  My book on this subject is having a very long gestation period due to life’s interruptions and being a perfectionist.