[Advaita-l] Self Luminosity of Consciousness - Part II (for posting in the thread)

Vaibhav Narula vaibhav_narula21 at yahoo.co.in
Sun Jan 29 01:48:08 CST 2012

Tim Crane in his book The
Mechanical Mind summarizes the current attitude of philosophers towards
consciousness, in the following manner: “A creature is phenomenally conscious
when there is something it is like to be that creature; a state of mind is
phenomenally conscious when there is something it is like to be in that state.
The special way a state of mind is what constitutes what it is like to be in
that state, is likewise called the phenomenal character of the state. Sometimes
phenomenal consciousness is described in terms of qualia. Qualia are supposed
to be non-representational, non-intentional, yet phenomenally conscious
properties of states of mind. Believers in qualia say that the particular
character of the aroma of smelling coffee cannot be captured in terms of the
way the smell represents coffee; this would fail to capture the way it feels to
smell coffee. Even when you have described all the ways your experience of the
smell of coffee represents coffee, you will have left something out: that is
the qualia of the experience of smelling coffee, the intrinsic properties of
the experience, which are independent of the representation of coffee. Someone
who believes in qualia denies Brentano’s thesis that all mental phenomena are
intentional: certain conscious properties of states of mind are not intentional
at all. And these are supposed to be the properties which are so hard to make
sense of from a naturalistic point of view. Hence the problem of consciousness
is often called the problem of qualia. But though it is not controversial that
there is such a thing as phenomenal consciousness, it is controversial that
there are qualia. Some philosophers deny that there are any qualia, and by this
they do not mean that there is no phenomenal consciousness. What they mean is
that there is nothing to phenomenal consciousness over and above the
representational properties of states of mind. In the case of visual
perception, for example, these philosophers known as intentionalists or
representationalists – say that when I perceive something blue I am not aware
of some intrinsic property of my state of mind, in addition to the blueness
which I perceive.” To say that consciousness is intentional means that
consciousness is always about something or is always directed to something
other than itself. It cannot turn on itself and know itself though it reveals
the object towards which it is directed at. Consciousness thus is always about
something. Functionalists and representationalists reduce consciousness to the
functional organization of the brain. Consciousness is nothing over and above
the functions it may perform or the role it has in the system. Directing
behavior, forming judgments and ability to verbally report an experience
indicate the presence or the function of consciousness that it occupies in a
cognitive system. Many philosophers who take a non-reductive view of
consciousness also accept the functionalist picture of the mind. According to
David Chalmers, the leading proponent of non-reductive functionalism, there is
an organizational invariance between consciousness and a functionally organized
system. But what is that which counts as a functional system of a sort that is
invariable with consciousness? According to Chalmers: “A Functional
organization is best understood as the abstract pattern of causal interaction
between various parts of a system and perhaps between these parts and external
inputs and outputs. A functional organization is determined by specifying: a) a
number of abstract components b) for each component a number of different
possible states c) a system of dependency relations, specifying how the states
of each component depends on a previous state of all components and on inputs
to the system, and how outputs from the system depend on previous component states……
A given functional organization can be realized by diverse physical systems.
For example the organization realized by the brain at the neural level might in
principle be realized by a physical system. A description of the brain’s
functional organization abstracts away from the physical nature of the parts
involved and from the way that causal connections are implemented. All that
counts is the existence of parts and the dependency relations between their
states.” On this view even a computer may be said to have experiences in some
sense of the term. This may seem counter intuitive but there is no valid reason
to believe that consciousness is not present where there may be a physical
system that realizes the functional organization of the sort mentioned above.
Afterall it seems counterintuitive that even something like a brain could manifest
consciousness but actually it does. For a reductive functionalist consciousness
can be reduced to the functional organization or the physical system that
realizes it but for a non-reductive functionalist consciousness is different
from the said organized system though it may invariably be found in such
systems. The relation between the two may be governed by certain psychophysical
laws. We may also find a certain structure in consciousness which mirrors the
structure of our awareness. For example our visual field has a certain
geometry. We perceive red patches, yellow patches, objects with certain shapes
and sizes etc. which are cognitively represented in the mind. Anyone with the
knowledge of the structure of this representative awareness would also know
that the same structure will be found in our phenomenal consciousness. This is
known as the principle of structural coherence. Accordingly every experience
has two sides to it, psychological and phenomenal. The former is what we know
about an experience from a third person point of view, how a physical process
of perception takes place and how we have a direct access to this cognition and
how it influences our behavior. This would be the area of study for cognitive
scientists. The other is phenomenal, the way an experience seems to be to us.
This is represents the first person point of view. According to the principle
of structural coherence whatever structure our awareness (in the cognitive or
psychological system) the same structure would be mirrored in consciousness and
vica versa. 
For the advaitin
consciousness is not intentional though it appears to be so due to the mind
which acts as a limiting adjunct for it. Qualia for the advaitin would be reflected
consciousness. The principle of structural coherence would be actually the case
of superimposition, where psychological qualities or qualities of the mind are
superimposed on consciousness. The question whether consciousness is
intentional or not is a matter of dispute even in Indian philosophy. Those
systems which are not eleminivatist about consciousness also believe that
consciousness is purely intentional in nature and hence is not self-aware.
Nyaya for example as we have seen above believes that the only way we know
about the existence of consciousness is through cognizing it through another
cognition. Consciousness cannot reveal the object and itself at the same time
for which it would have to turn back on itself simultaneously with revealing
another object. However the advaitin contends that this would be true if
consciousness would have been just like any other material object but as a
matter of fact it is by its very nature immediate and this immediacy itself
informs us of its very existence. We do not require consciousness to turn back
on itself, for then we would have had no immediate intuition of it. For Sri
Ramanuja consciousness is self-luminous, it reveals itself as well as its
object. But even this view takes consciousness to be primarily intentional for
it is not possible on this view that consciousness could reveal only itself but
not an object, as it does according to the Advaitin in deep sleep state.
Consciousness always reveals its object to the subject along with itself. But
consciousness cannot be aware of its own presence, it is only the subject that
can be aware of consciousness. For the Vishistadvaitin there is no
contradiction in consciousness performing two functions at the same time, one
of revealing itself and the other of revealing its object as in the case of a
lamp. Such a notion of self-luminosity was criticized by Sri Citsukha while
rejecting definition 5. The objection was that if awareness is regarded as the
cause of awareness then that would be in perfect consonance with the Nyaya
theory of anuvyavasaya. If however what is meant is that awareness in itself is
cause of its own awareness, then the whole proposition would be meaningless,
like saying jar is the cause of jar. Awareness cannot be the cause of its own
awareness for then it will have to precede it, but if it does then the theory
of self-luminosity (in the Vishishtadvaitin’s view) would be given up. For Sri
Ramanuja empirical cognitions are self-luminous while for the advaitin only
pure consciousness is self-luminous, if however empirical cognitions were
regarded as self-luminous then they would stand in no need to be revealed by
pure consciousness. For the advaitin pure consciousness which is immediately
intuited cannot be an object of thought but the cognitive representation would
be a superimposition on consciousness and hence would not capture pure
consciousness as it is. Rather when we make pure consciousness an object we do
it through a mental mode which then becomes an empirical cognition and not pure
consciousness. It is in a very weak sense that we call pure consciousness an
object as has been explained above. We think of pure consciousness not as pure
consciousness but as an empirical cognition, which however is an error. This is
thus a counterexample to the principle of structural coherence for there is no
coherence between thought and consciousness. The principle error of this theory
lies in trying to link awareness (which term for Chalmers means any cognition
to which our mind can have a direct access and which is capable to play some
kind of a role in our behavior) with consciousness. It also disregards the
presence of consciousness in deep sleep, which absence is inferred on the basis
of absence of awareness. But if awareness (used in the technical sense given
above) is absent in deep sleep then how does the person who wakes from deep
sleep is able to report the absence of any knowledge whatsoever during this
period? The absence of awareness consequently stands in need of being
illuminated by consciousness. And according to the definition of
self-luminosity of consciousness, it is capable of being communicated. Since
awareness is absent in such a state, the verbal report of its absence can be
communicated due to the capacity of consciousness to be an object of empirical
usage. It may be contended that the non-existence of awareness is inferred on
the basis of non-recollection in the period of deep sleep. Here the minor term
will be the period of deep sleep, the probandum would be non-existence of knowledge
and the probans would be non-recollection. Recall that the valid knowledge of
paksha, sadhya and hetu are necessary for an inference. The advaitin thus could
argue that the minor term viz. period of deep sleep remains unknown for no
knowledge exists in such a state. The minor term being unknown, one cannot know
the presence of middle term in it and no concomitance of middle and the major
in the minor will be known. Moreover the middle term is wavering for
non-recollection is no proof for non-existence of something. Thus no such
inference is possible. For the advaitin then both qualia and the instance of
deep sleep can act as counter-examples to the reductive functionalist for
consciousness is proven to exist in itself and not as a function. Revelation for
consciousness is not a function but its very nature, if this was not so then
one would have never been immediately aware of consciousness in deep sleep
where there is a general absence of awarenesses and this itself is a fact that
is revealed. If consciousness would need to have been revealed by another of
its kind then consciousness would never have been immediately intuited in deep
sleep for no mediate cause of awareness exists in such a state. Consciousness
exists even when it is not performing any function. For a property dualist like
David Chalmers, for whom consciousness is a property distinct from material
properties but invariably attached to material properties exhibiting a
functionalist system, the advaitin can urge that there is an absence of such
invariability and the cases of their association are one of a metaphysical
error and are not natural. On his behalf it may be argued that we experience
many things without our being specifically aware of them. This is a case of
unconscious perception. This may well be from the standpoint of waking state
but in deep sleep all experiences are evidently absent unlike even in dream
state where unconscious images come to mind and are perceived. From the point
of view of deep sleep there is no cognition at all either in a strong sense or
a weak sense. How would the sub-conscious or unconscious levels of mind be
accounted for by the advaitin? For him what Chalmers calls awareness would be
vritti jnana or consciousness reflected through a cognitive process. This is a
specific state of mind. When however there is no such cognitive process taking
place that ‘space’ we may regard as sub-conscious or unconscious levels of
mind. These layers pertain to the mind and not to consciousness which is ever
self-revealed and which is present in all three states of waking, dream and
deep sleep. However the unconscious is not a separate compartment of mind but
only one of its aspects. Chalmers believes that consciousness is a case against
physicalism or materialism but not against naturalism. One can consistently be
a naturalist by renouncing materialism. He can be a property dualist (one who
holds that phenomenal properties are distinct from material properties).
However consciousness infact refutes a naturalistic world view too for it
transcends any limitations of physical laws that could predict any occurrence
in phenomenal domain by taking it as invariably related to the psychological
domain. This follows as a direct consequence of the failure of structural
coherence of awareness and consciousness. What then could be the relation
between consciousness and mind? The relation if there is a need for it to be
specified is one of superimposition. Consciousness and material entities (mind
included) are like light and darkness, opposite in nature to each other. There
can thus be no law-like regularities between the two of them and hence no
possibility of psychophysical laws grounding them. However there is a sense in
which the principle of structural coherence holds. It may hold between the
mechanical or psychological aspect of mind and reflected consciousness but not
pure consciousness. The problem is that the principle of structural coherence
tells us nothing about the nature of consciousness. But when the nature of
consciousness is determined to be self-luminous and free from subject-object
duality, we can correct the otherwise fallacious picture that the principle of
structural coherence presents to us about consciousness and also be aware of
the limitations of the theory. Chalmers was right when he took the phenomenal
quality of any experience and considered it as distinct from material
properties. But he limited the whole notion of consciousness to this phenomenal
datum and failed to investigate other aspects of consciousness. He indeed
confesses that in his current position little can be said about the nature of
consciousness though he believes whatever theory we may have, it should not be
opposed to naturalism, and for otherwise consciousness would not be a worthy
object of scientific investigation. However in Advaita consciousness forms the
very basis of our activities, cognitive and conative, without the light of
consciousness shining the whole world would be blind. Consequently its place in
the scheme of things is before anything else and consequently a naturalistic
world view would not work in its case since it does not give consciousness its
rightful premier position. 
According to Gilbert Ryle
the Advaitin has misused language. He takes a picture of consciousness as a
lamp that illumines objects, however if we investigate the cases where the term
‘knowledge’ or ‘consciousness’ is used we find nothing apart from belief in some
object or disposition to be believe that makes us adopt some behavior towards
that object. Following Wittgenstein he says that it is not the function of
philosophy to explain facts, which privilege belongs to science, but philosophy
needs just to observe facts, how they are used in a language speaking community
and enumerate them in order to remove any wrong views pertaining to them. The
purpose of philosophy is thus to cure us of the malady of misuse of language.
The theory that Ryle advocates is called the behavioristic theory of mind. The
problem with this theory is that we may be able to observe behavior in someone
and ascribe him a corresponding belief state, but we can never observe our own
behavior. Infact there is a joke regarding this theory. One day two
behaviorists met in a café, the first one said to the other, you are feeling
jovial, how am I feeling? The Advaitin, however, tries to explain facts and not
just enumerate them. As we saw above self-luminosity is the very condition
needed for there to be any possible behavior or have a belief about an object.
In our everyday communication we may indeed use the words knowledge etc. to
indicate a belief or a disposition to behave in a particular manner towards
that object, but that does not invalidate the fact that such usage may itself
have been founded on the self-luminosity of consciousness. The term
consciousness may be used to inform us about a certain principle that grounds
the ordinary practices of human beings, the test of such a principle should be
in its ability to explain facts and only if some facts are left unexplained do
we have a right to disavow the theory. It true that sometimes philosophers suit
facts to suit theories rather than suit theories to suit facts, but this should
not count as a case against positive theory building rather it should be
regarded as a sign of caution. It is also important to note that the
self-luminosity of consciousness is not a theoretical construct but a principle
discovered and understood and explicated by the Advaitin. How the term
‘consciousness’, may be used is not relevant to the case at hand, but what
aspect of our world does it denote is the important thing to understand. That
is the function of philosophy unless we do not make it a handmaid of science. The
philosopher who denies this is akin to the plumber who says to his client that
there is no such thing as plumbing, just like a philosopher who would tell you
there is no such thing as philosophy! 
1. Tattva Pradipika of Sri
2. The Mechanical Mind by
Tim Crane
3. The Conscious Mind – In
search of a fundamental theory by David Chalmers
4. Panchadasi by Sri
Vidyaranya Muni
5. The Concept Of Mind by
Gilbert Ryle

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