Conscious Will

Nikkibar at Nikkibar at
Wed May 1 10:58:04 EDT 2002

In a message dated 4/29/02 8:26:38 PM Central Daylight Time, 
piat1 at writes:

> Dear Ken Armstrong, 
> Thanks for the comments. You wrote:
> >>  Quite a feat, Jim, to declare consciousness the strongest drive of all 
> (I'm not sure, though, where the drives are kept) and then declaring 
> yourself ignorant of what consciousness is.
> OK I withdraw the comment about consciousness being a drive.  But seriously 
> I still not sure what it is.  How would you define it?  What do you think 
> is its function?  Do you think it can occur in the absense of the ability 
> to symbolize?
> >> And THEN of all the *$(@#$*%$ things, devolving to consciousness being 
> no  different from stimulus/response!
> Well I didn't mean to imply that was a done deal  --only that I could not 
> explain to my own satisfaction how consciousness differed from "mere" 
> responding other than qualitatively.  
> >> Well, heck, man, no wonder you don't understand how consciousness would 
> be necessary for free choice to occur!
> But Ken, I'm all ears.  Seriously, this is a subject of great interest to 
> me and I would enjoy any explantions or suggestions you might have.   I'm 
> not being flip.  It does seem to me that consciousness plays some sort of 
> role in choice.  But when I get down to trying to specify how or why 
> conciousness would be necessary  --or even what exactly I mean by free 
> choice I never seem to get very far.  
> >> All I can say, with some expectation of being understood, is that Percy 
> would indeed have been willing to deflate (much better than I, obviously) 
> the idea that will is illusion. I notice no one took me up on my question 
> of how that book came into being. Stimulus/response d'yer suppoze?
> >>Well, I suppose that the author might argue something along those lines.  
> But supposing the author said the book came about as a result of many 
> discussions.  Does this mean that free will was necessarily involved,  that 
> the process was fully conscious or that consciousness was necessary for the 
> book to have been produced.  Granted I think it is unlikely that the author 
> would argue that consciousness did not even accompany the process by which 
> the book developed but as you know correlation does not necessarily imply 
> cause.  (Moreover there is some experimental evidence that consciousness 
> occurs after one makes a choice  --not concurrently or before.) 
> Cheers,
> Jim Piat
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at <

The problem of consciousness existing in the absence of the power to 
symbolize was one that intrigued WP and the book group generally. My side 
favored the notion that animal consciousness definitely existed and was a 
reality for those organisms who did not symbolize. It has always been my 
hunch that animals communicate without symbols and are not quite the 
windowless monads that McDonalds would have us believe. Walker felt 
otherwise. The argument tended to crystalize around the Chomsky notion that 
animals, particularly the higher primates do in fact have the power to 
symbolize. Walker detested this notion along with a good deal of the kindred 
collateral conception collection of Carl Sagan. There is much in both of 
those sacks that we simply don't know and I was always willing to say so but 
retain an open mind and a willingness to observe animal behaviour (including 
our own) but Walker tended toward a narrower view influenced by the 
Magesterium conception of the soul as a uniquely human cosa nostra.

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