Michał Karzyński

Reductio ad absurdum

Reading Wilber, I begun to contemplate an old problem, which he mentions a few times in his book. The problem is that of “What is consciousness?”
I remember talking about this years ago with friends, when I was arguing the body-mind duality, while one of my friends took the rational, reductionistic stance by which he claimed that our consciousness is but a byproduct of biochemical reactions in our brains. Many scientists seem to believe that this is the correct approach to studying the mind, and claim that one day we will be able to view, explain and control a person’s experiences by manipulating their neurons.

In his integral postmodernism Wilber tries to do away with such reductionisms and talks about the brain and the mind as two aspects of one holon (indivisible entity). The brain is the outside aspect of this holon (existing in what he calls the “it domain”), while the mind is its inside aspect (in the “I domain”).
He claims there is no way to experience another mind, because it will always be on the other side of another “I”. Because holons are indivisible, we cannot dissect another person’s brain in order to get into their mind. In fact any dissection will destroy both the brain and mind, leaving us with a collection of neurons (also holons in their own right).

I’d like to affirm this view, because it seems quite obvious and dissolves the original problem, making both brain and mind equally real in their own domains. The mind may be correlated with the inner workings of a brain, but it is not those workings. Just take a very simple nervous system, of an earthworm for instance. If I remember my biology, this creature possesses only a small number of neurons, correlated into a simple network, which allows it to respond to such stimuli as heat, mechanical stress, physical and chemical composition of its environment. We may very well explain and control it’s reactions (ergo experiences) by manipulating these parameters, but we will never be able to be say what it feels like to be an earthworm. We shall never fully understand what it’s experiences are, we can only observe the reactions. We can only access it’s surface, never it’s depth.

People often rejected claims that simpler organisms have any consciousness. I do acknowledge, that they may not posses self-consciousness, intelligence and other aspects of our mind, but they do have their minds of their own. To deny this is an all too human chauvinism, which I hope will die along with modernity.