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Author Topic:   On Objectivity and the Mindless Middle
Otto Tellick
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 288
From: PA, USA
Joined: 02-17-2008

Message 16 of 17 (551716)
03-23-2010 10:11 PM
Reply to: Message 15 by onifre
03-13-2010 12:45 PM

Re: Unconscious Mind
onifre writes:

But there is no conscious mind -vs- unconscious mind, there is only the mind. And if we are being specific in our use of terms, the"mind" is consciousness.

In a way, I think this brings us to a fairly crucial point in our grasp of the terminology. What is "consciousness"? That is the billion-dollar question...

... and I sometimes wonder whether that amount would represent money well spent. (What I mean is, it would be easy to spend that amount of money investigating the question -- indeed perhaps that amount has already been spent -- without producing an answer that has commensurate value.) For more on that, you might be interested in an article that showed up at eSkeptic a couple years ago:

Consciousness is Nothing but a Word

I really appreciate the behavioral distinction that Rahvin is describing, but I think the terms "conscious" and "subconscious" are making it more complicated than it needs to be (at least for you, onifre, and probably for others). Perhaps it would be better to use other terms instead. Maybe "reactive" versus "constructive", in the following sense:

The kind of behavior Rahvin labels as "subconscious" is (according to his description) a matter of direct stimulus/response, or action/reaction; events or conditions in the environment impinge on the senses of an organism, and the organism behaves accordingly based solely on the resources and repertoires available to it at that moment -- what humans do in this regard differs from what other primates do only to the extent that humans have an intrinsically wider repertoire of behaviors at their disposal, and a much larger pool of internally available resources (in the form of recallable experience or knowledge). {AbE: And these days, "available resources" increasingly include devices that are only "external" in a strictly biological sense: cell phones and portable computers, and their associated "apps" like twitter, are increasingly pervasive components in our "reactive" repertoires, hence the frequent observation of "viral" internet activity.}

(This is a little different from nlerd's notion of "subconscious", which in itself is also a useful concept to keep track of: the ability to "program" the sensory-motor nervous system for a wide range of "packaged" behaviors -- typing or playing piano without looking at the keys, driving while conversing or thinking about dinner, and so on. When you consider how these behaviors actually allow adaptive interventions -- like speaking while you have something in your mouth -- the subtlety of the overall system is really astonishing.)

In contrast, the behavior being labeled as "conscious" is a matter of withholding or deferring immediate reactions, so that additional resources can be brought to bear on building up a more careful, "constructed" response to a given event or condition. There seems to be something here that relates directly to Freud's sense of "id" vs. "ego", or immediacy vs. repression of impulses, so maybe Rahvin's terms are in fact quite apt (even though they carry a lot of baggage that tends to confuse people).

I think I'll stop there. This is some deep s**t, and I wouldn't want to get in over my head.

Edited by Otto Tellick, : Added a sentence as noted, at risk of disrupting the flow of the discussion.

autotelic adj. (of an entity or event) having within itself the purpose of its existence or happening.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 15 by onifre, posted 03-13-2010 12:45 PM onifre has not yet responded

Otto Tellick
Member (Idle past 744 days)
Posts: 288
From: PA, USA
Joined: 02-17-2008

Message 17 of 17 (552593)
03-29-2010 11:36 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Rahvin
03-04-2010 7:11 PM

But... things aren't so clear-cut
While I agree with what you're saying, Rahvin, I have some trouble with what appears to be an attempt to draw an immutable dichotomy (a "wall of separation", so to speak) between between being objective (yay! good) and being in the wishy-washy/knee-jerk/conflict-averse /pseudo-fair Mindless-Middle (uh... bad).

I think your reference to politics highlights the problem. Okay, politics boils down to how a nation distributes its wealth (or at least, the part of its wealth that the government can take control of), and wouldn't it be great if that could be done objectively!! But that's really hard, since it requires estimates of actual and potential returns on investments, counted not only in monetary value, but also a wide range of other measures (and there'd be a fiendish problem with issues like "quality of life" and any number of other "intangibles" -- whether trying to assess them objectively, or trying to exclude them because they can't be objective).

Perhaps the point to be made is this: as you decry the Mindless Middle, you must be careful not to conflate it with informed compromise; and as you champion the virtues of dispassionate objectivity, you must recognize that our emotional and biased reactions, our limited and uncertain knowledge of ourselves and our surroundings, are often the only observables available for scrutiny when there's a need to choose among alternatives, which makes the notion of "objectivity" seem somewhat hollow, and makes mere "fairness" the more sensible goal.

I'm not suggesting that these caveats would apply to crap like "Teach the Controversy ™". To merit consideration in any "best attempt at objective consideration", a position has to be honest about its basis and intention.

I know you specifically said, "In the real world, binary debates are rare;" which seems to relate to what I'm saying, but you then said, "Only an emotionless analysis of the facts can grant an objective conclusion." That's true, in a definitional sense, but it's often not attainable in situations where conclusions need to be made within a finite amount of time on matters that tend to be laden with emotion.

autotelic adj. (of an entity or event) having within itself the purpose of its existence or happening.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Rahvin, posted 03-04-2010 7:11 PM Rahvin has not yet responded

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