(Part 2) Keith Augustine’s How Not to Do Survival Research: Reflections on the Bigelow Institute Essay Competition

Augustine raises the issue of the fallacy of how survivalist’s conclude from the difficulties in describing how consciousness arises from the body that therefore it doesn’t:

  • Ruickbie’s use converts Noë’s actual meaning into an argument from ignorance: we don’t know how brain activity gives rise to consciousness, therefore it must not give rise to consciousness. If the argument were that we don’t know how migrating birds navigate, therefore they must not navigate, it would not impress. Nor should it here...It does not follow from the inability to explain how consciousness arises from matter that it does not so arise, and in fact its ubiquitousness throughout the biosphere positively suggests that it does (though see McGinn, 1999, pp. 89-95 and Nahm, 2021*, p. 64 for ways to get around this). And the distinctively individual consciousnesses necessary for personal survival almost certainly so arise.

One fruitful approach would be to say the mind is instantiated in the brain, and so wouldn’t exist apart from it:

  • Moreover, computationalists and other functionalists would never say that you are your brain; at most, they would say that you are instantiated in a human brain, but you could’ve been instantiated in something else—like a silicon network, an extraterrestrial brain, or even an astral body or nonphysical substance (it’s just that, as a contingent matter of fact, a brain is what happens to instantiate your mind).

There is an interesting short discussion about morality and God, and certainly we should conclude it far more noble to act morally with no external rewards as opposed to one who does so because they think God will reward them.

There is an interesting discussion trying to pin down the nature of consciousness, and brings up the issue of philosophy and idealism. Augustine concludes:

  • Since idealism is pure metaphysics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its picture of reality will be empirically indistinguishable from that of its antithesis, realism. Our daily lives would be like living in a Matrix in which there are never any glitches to reveal the true underlying reality. Idealism is a rather abstract thought experiment, akin to the notion that you might really just be a brain in a vat and mistakenly think that you have a body, or be a victim of René Descartes’ evil demon. But it’s also a picture that we have no positive reason to affirm. Sure, it could theoretically be true, but if the world appeared and functioned in exactly the same way as it would if it were false, what would it matter?

Plato, in the Sophist, called the idea that the objecthood of the object was encountered like brownness and hardness “the most laughable, katagelastotata (252b8),” because it denied that something was to be understood by appealing to something beyond the thing itself, while such proponents (Antisthenes for Plato) tacitly adopted a whole slew of ontological structures even in mere naming that go beyond the mere entity at hand, such as einai, Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  Thus, to be a being for Plato means something is what it is in its specificity (eg a bachelor), and not what it isn’t (a tree), and not nothing at all. The table is encountered as “not me,” for instance. This is the birth of metaphysics: ta meta ta physica, beings understood in their Being.  So, for Plato man must always have Being in view by the mind’s eye.

For Kant this evolved into transcendental idealism, the really real is what allows us to have the experience of the world that we do. We could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case; a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.

It is also specifically understood by the scolastics from the point of view of a being’s “what being (the table as hard),” and its “how-being (the table as badly positioned),” this second sense of Being referring both to how the observer encounters the being (it looks badly positioned) and the context of the being. In this second sense, a table is (i) at-hand if we need to resolve a dispute about its colour, and (ii) badly positioned in the corner of the lecture hall during a lecture vs well positioned in the corner of the stadium when the game is going on.

What this shows us is that while the objectivity of objects is ideal, Kant says beings are nonetheless empirically real because we could not even dream unless the senses had been furnished something that the imaginative sleeping unconscious could then combine, multiply, stretch, etc. to produce dreams.


Bonus Reading:

Etienne LeBel Keith Augustine Adam Rock’s “Beyond the BICS Essays: Envisioning a More Rigorous Preregistered Survival Study” see https://journalofscientificexploration.org/index.php/jse/issue/view/85