Personhood, mentality and consciousness

By R Chandrasoma

“Unexhaustiveness is an essential character of our knowledge of nature. Nature is nothing else than the deliverance of sense-awareness. The terminus of this sense-awareness is something for mind, but nothing for thought.  Why talk about the Laws of Nature when what we mean is the characteristic behavior of phenomena within certain limits at a given stage of development at a given epoch – so far as that can be ascertained.” – A N Whitehead

Abstract – Diverse aspects of the mental –including conscious states and emotions – are tied to the peculiarities and circumstances attending the evolution of life on our isolated planetary habitat. They are not phenomenal absolutes that necessarily arise due to the basic constitution of the world. It is argued that a ‘contest’ between dynamic complexities called ‘perceivers’ and the ‘womb of reality’ results in strange emergences of which life and consciousness are conspicuous but strictly parochial examples.

Certain introspective aspects of our mental life – commonly identified as consciousness or conscious states – are now widely recognized to be a challenge to the prevalent philosophy of physicalism that holds that all events and things in the world are ultimately physical in nature and are, in principle explainable in terms of the matter and energy transformations that are studied in the science of physics. The older concept of materialism is subsumed in this new vision of the nature of the ‘ontological ultimates’ that structure reality. The physical can be mysterious and overwhelmingly complex but it lacks a ‘property’ that eludes easy definition but is recognized without difficulty when encountered. This property is called mentality in popular discourse. For most philosophers, this distinction – between the physical and the mental – is too diffuse and simplistic to be the basis of a fundamental cleavage in the underlying order of nature. On this issue they can be wrong. Read more…

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