Idealist philosophy; collective conscious experience; cognition; consciousness
and brain processes; biological evolution; human conscious experience, existence,
behaviour, communication, language, and free will; emotional experience
Conscious Experience, Existence and Behaviour:
Significance of Consciousness in Human Life
By Axel Randrup
International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP
Bygaden 24 B, Svog. DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark
May 2005. Electronic publication only.
If consciousness has no influence on my behaviour, what shall I do with
it ? In this paper it is contended, that even if neuroscience is right,
if some conscious experiences such as emotional experiences have no influence
on our behavior, they still constitute a significant part of our world,
our existence. For understanding the significance of conscious experiences
we should go beyond behaviour, biology and biological evolution.
This paper and its understanding of consciousness and natural science is
based on an idealist philosophy maintaining, that only conscious experience
is real. Conscious experience is supposed to be known directly or intuitively,
it cannot be explained.
Key words: Consciousness as existence; behaviour; communication;
language; free will; idealist philosophy; collective conscious experience;
Introduction. Brain and Behaviour Expressed in Idealist Philosophy
This paper is based on an idealist philosophy maintaining, that only
conscious experience is real. Conscious experience is supposed to be known
directly, or intuitively, it cannot be explained.
In this idealist philosophy "material objects", including human
brains, are regarded as heuristic concepts constructed from selected perceptual
experiences and useful for expressing these experiences with some of their
mutual relations. Hence, at the bottom the brain-mind relation is seen as
a relation between the perceptual experiences, from which the concept "brain"
is constructed, and other experiences, e.g. emotions (Randrup 1997,1999,
2002, 2003, 2003a, 2004).
It may be objected that this idealist philosophy entails solipsism, but
here I have argued that an experience, a scientific perceptual experience
or concept for example, can be shared between individuals and may be regarded
as one collective conscious experience. The collective experience will be
associated with a group of persons as the subject, the We, and related to
all the brains of this group. The brains as well as the bodies of the group
are also seen as conscious experiences, partly collective and partly individual.
A certain volume of new literature on collective conscious experience has
appeared in the very latest years, references not given in the earlier papers
by the author include: Cohen 2004, pp. 56-89; Keitel 1998; Kenny and Levi
2003-2004; Moss 1981, pp. 39, 167, 214; Motluk 2001.
It has also been objected that this idealist view is arrogant, seeming to
indicate that human consciousness has created or invented the universe (comment
by Dr. Faustus added to my Internet paper, Randrup 2004). Here I argue that
we can influence our concepts and theories at will, but generally not the
regularities and specificities characteristic of perceptions selected as
scientific (Randrup 2004 with reference to Diettrich 1995) *Note 1*. Besides,
to avoid the "arrogance" Dr. Faustus leans on materialist philosophy
imagining a material world independant of humans. But in contemporary science
the material world view comprises the contention that all our cognitions
and imaginations, including the belief in a material world, depend on the
human cognitive apparatus in its present stage of biological evolution (Randrup
2004). The material world in contemporary science is therefore not independant
of us humans, and in this respect is like the universe in the idealist philosophy
followed in this paper.
Based on the findings in neuroscience this discipline and all biology generally
maintain, that processes in the brain fully determine our behaviour (Pockett
2004 with many references). In the idealist philosophy followed here this
would mean that the portion of the human conscious experiences, which constitute
and underlie the concept "brain", determine the experiences, which
constitute and underlie the concept "behaviour", so that no influence
is left to other conscious experiences such as emotional, conative, and
Conscious Experiences, Behaviour and Existence
At the meeting "Toward a Science of Consciousness" in Prague
2003 an attending philosopher asked me: "If consciousness has no influence
on my behaviour, what shall I do with it ?" I answered, that even if
neuroscience is right, if some conscious experiences such as emotional experiences
have no influence on our behaviour, they still have a significant role in
human life. Imagine an emotion, love for instance. If we had only perceptual
and conceptual experiences, following the same regularities as they do now.
but no emotional experiences, we would be able to perceive and conceive
of loving behaviour and underlying brain processes, and according to neuroscience
all this would be the same, as we know it now. But without emotional experiences,
felt emotion would not exist, and our life would be that much poorer. So
even if emotional experiences are supposed to have no effect on our behaviour,
they still constitute an important part of our existence, and philosophers
need not worry, what to do with them. For understanding the significance
of emotional conscious experiences we ought to go beyond biology and biological
If some kinds of conscious experience such as emotional experiences play
no causal role for our behaviour, they can not be seen as a feature selected
by biological evolution; at most they can be seen as innocent by-products
of other features, as epiphenomena (Harnad 1991, p. 53, note 1; Pockett
2004, pp. 34-35). The portion of our experiences (concepts and perceptions)
that constitute brain and behaviour have significance both in biological
theory and as parts of our experiential existence. This distinction between
different kinds of conscious experiences is in agreement with a statement
about physics :"Physics is concerned with a certain portion of human
experience." (Lindsay and Margenau 1949, p. 1).
Communication Between Humans. Working Method of Languages
It may be asked, that if emotional and some other experiences have no
influence on our behaviour, how are we able to communicate about them? Our
means of communication like talking and writing, are also behaviour, and
from the assumption that the "material" world is causally closed,
it follows that a dialogue about emotions will be a dialogue between brain
processes corresponding to emotions, and it seems impossible for me to verbally
communicate anything about the emotional experiences themselves, not even
communicate whether I have such experiences or not (Harnad 1994).
But feeling an emotion seems to be accompanied, in a specific way, even
if not causally, by brain processes which determine the communicative behaviour.
And I think that our languages are so shaped, that hearing or reading about
an emotion will elicit brain processes that are accompanied by the feeling
(or memory) of this emotion (Moody 1994, p. 200 has expressed a similar
idea). So even if we do not assume causal relations (either way) between
felt emotions and brain processes, we can understand the process of communication.
The nexus between felt emotion and brain processes may be regarded as analogous
to that between length and breadth of an object. Length does not cause breadth
and breadth does not cause length, but they occur invariably together. In
daily life we usually forget about our brain and tend to assume a direct
causal connection between conscious experience and behaviour, bypassing
the brain. Likewise neuroscientists often ignore conscious experiences.
I think, however, that the available evidence indicates: in daily life I
can not have conscious expperiences without some brain processes, and I
can not have certain brain processes without having some conscious experiences
Can we speak of free will, if the brain (or the biological organism,
*Note 2*) controls behaviour according to the laws of nature, and conscious
experiences such as emotional and conative experiences add nothing to this
causation? I think we can.
If we think traditionally of free will, it does not mean random behaviour,
but it is supposed, that I act as the person I am, and for example usually
do not perform acts, that are revolting to the moral I accept. The
same may be said of my brain; it will act as the brain it is. When making
a choice it will choose on the basis of its whole constitution, and I believe,
that making choices in this way is precisely, what is meant by free will.
Similar views on choices made by the brain are expressed by Gray, who writes:
"Our choices are constrained by the way the cybernetic system that
is our brain is constructed, and by the environment in which we develop
and function. But they are choices nonetheless" (Gray 2002, p. 51).
Parallel with these processes in the brain I have the conscious experience
of exerting free will as the person I am.
It has been argued, that if we know the brain well enough, we may be able
to predict the behaviour of the person, utilizing natural laws, and that
would not be commensurate with the idea of free will. Such prediction would,
however, require a knowledge of the brain far more extended than that available
today, and I find it highly improbable, that knowledge like this will ever
become available. To aquire such knowledge it would probably be necessary
to make measurements interfering with the function of the brain and therefore
precluding prediction of behaviour.
The limited precision of any measurement also seems to preclude precise
predictions of complex systems. Experiences with the weather forecast gives
a practical exemple; although science believes that the development of the
weather is fully determined by permanent natural laws, predictions still
suffer from imprecision (Wiin Nielsen 1987).
Note 1. Diettrich (1995) states that our perceptions contain regularities
and specificities, we cannot influence, and these unchangeable features
of our perceptions he denotes by the German word Wirklichkeit. In
daily language this German word means nearly the same as reality, but in
Diettrich's exposition reality ("materialist" reality) is seen
not as something existing independantly of humans, but as a special
human-made theory of Wirklichkeit.
Note 2. Considering the whole biological organism was suggested to me by
S. Patlavskiy. Patlavskiy (2005) has published comprehensive treatises about
interdisciplinary investigations, from which I have taken inspiration, although
I do not agree with all of Patlavskiy's views.
Cohen, A. (ed.) 2004, Feature: Collective Consciousness.
What is Enlightenment ? Issue 25, May-July 2004 Lenox, MA, USA: Moksha
Diettrich O. 1995, A Constructivist Approach to the Problem of Induction.
Evolution and Cognition 1 (2): 95-113.
Gallese, V. and Goldman, A. 1998, Mirror Neurons and the Simulation Theory
Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2: 493.
Gray, J. 2002, It's Time to Move from Philosophy to Science.
Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (11), pp. 49-52.
Harnad, S. 1991, Other Bodies, Other Minds: A Machine Incarnation of an
Old Philosophical Problem.
Minds and Machines 1: 43-54.
Harnad, S. 1994, Guest Editorial: Why and How We are not Zombies.
Journal of Consciousness Studies 1 (2): 164-167.
Keitel, M. 1998, Collective Consciousness.
Kenny, R. and Levi, R. 2003-2004, Research: Group Mind.
Lindsay, R. and Margenau, H. 1949, Foundations of Physics.
New York: Wiley.
Moody, T. C. 1994, Conversations with Zombies.
Journal of Consciousness Studies 1 (2): 196-200.
Moss, R. 1981, The I that is We.
Berkeley, Caaalifornia: Celestial Arts Publishing.
Motluk, A. 2001, Read My Mind.
Based on the discovery of "mirror neurons" with reference to Gallese
and Goldman, see above.
New Scientist Magazine 169 (issue 2275): 22.
Patlavskiy, S. 2005, The General Theory Club.
Pockett, S. 2004, Does Consciousness Cause Behaviour ?
Journal of Consciousness Studies 11 (2): 23-40.
Randrup, A. 1997, An Alternative to Materialism.
Cybernetics and Human Knowing 4 (4): 15-24.
Randrup, A. 1999, Collective and Egoless Consciousness. Significance for
Philosophy of Science and for the Mind-Body Problem.
The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 18 (2): 133-137.
Randrup, A. 2002, Collective Conscious Experience across Time.
Anthropology of Consciousness 13 (1): 27-41.
Randrup, A. 2003, Idealist Philosophy: What is Real ?
Randrup, A. 2003 a, Relations between Three-dimensional, Volumetric Experiences,
and Neural Processes: Limitations of Materialism.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (4): 422.
Randrup, 2004, Cognition and Biological Evolution: An Idealist Approach
Resolves a Fundamental Paradox.
Wiin Nielsen, A. 1987, Forudsigelighed. Om Grænserne for Videnskab,
in Danish (Predictability.. On the Limits of Science).
Copenhagen: Munksgaard, Nysyn.