Saturday, April 28, 2012

immediacy gaps

The quest continues to defend materialistic naturalism from malicious distortions. This entry is a natural extension to its predecessor, which was a natural extension of its predecessor. Where I last left off, I suggested that it's no loss of information to relinquish the philosophical idea of "real" minds. The tangled contents and events of consciousness correlate precisely (albeit cryptically) to the tangled contents and events of the brain. Ultimately, the set of physical operations that the brain performs to compute the "inner world" will certainly turn out to be at least as bewildering as the apparent experience of consciousness. My guess is that the set of brain operations will be far more bewildering; one vexing question among many is how exactly the summarized and sanitized "window" of mentality is synthesized out of the glaring discord of myriad neuron firings.

Unfortunately, the advance of knowledge about the brain's functioning has an intrinsic credibility problem, which is an immediacy gap. Within pure experience, not all parts are equally immediate. The coldness of ice water has great immediacy. Planning when to go buy more envelopes has less immediacy - the need might be urgent but the planning itself is not engrossing. A phone in my hand has great immediacy. A phone that I remember using several years ago has less immediacy.

Differences in immediacy motivate differing instinctual reactions. Parts of pure experience that have immediacy provoke rapid evaluation and firm belief in the parts' existence. Immediacy implies difficulty to ignore. It depends on few conceptual intermediates, unlike the lengthy chains of reasoning which link abstruse logical statements. Sparse intermediates are consistent with nonverbal character. Symbolic communication only comes "later", after suitable descriptions and metaphors are chosen. The nonverbal character is in turn consistent with frequent idiosyncrasy. For instance, individuals experience varying degrees of favor for particular smells or tastes.

Hence, humans cope constantly with substantial gaps of immediacy. It's a factor in good psychological health. Intellectual labor and social cooperation help to disentangle raw immediacy from "true" importance and/or reality. Maturity includes the recognition that experiences with immediacy often have in-depth impersonal causes, which by comparison have little if any immediacy. An empty blue sky is certainly of greater immediacy than envisioning the divergent molecular scattering of electromagnetic wavelengths. A typically effective strategy is to split pure experience into subjective and objective domains and reconcile the two in ways that can be...uh...complicated.

Yet this two-part organizational scheme collides with all propositions about the real origin of the subjective domain. By definition, everything that's categorized into the subjective domain has great immediacy, but propositions belong in the objective domain with less immediacy. Whenever the topic has greater immediacy than the proposition itself, it crosses the immediacy gap. The challenge is convincing someone that propositions about objects can be satisfactory explanations for experiences which have greater immediacy than propositions or objects.

For example, what quantities of what things add up to the "sensation" of an emotion like contentment? None of the possible answers to that question (serotonin?) evoke intuitive satisfaction because of a gap of immediacy between the answer and the question. Humans simply don't experience emotions as sums of quantities of things, so they struggle to equate emotions with even the most thorough analysis. This communication obstacle is quite irrevocable. Crudely put, even if a meticulous teacher in plain view took out the working brain of a determined dissenter and then presented exhaustive and lucid observations of the diligent exertions taking place in direct present correspondence with ongoing thoughts, the exasperated retort might just be, " 'Brain' and 'brain'! What is 'brain'? How can that pulsing ugly thing have any relevance to the vivid beautiful images in my mind's eye?"

Of course, the dissenter's insistence on an "objective" immediacy gap has a cost of assorted systemic brainteasers (so to speak). If origins aren't expressible in propositions about objects, then how does the subjective domain originate? How do real stimuli landing on the real senses enter into the subjective domain? How do intentions in the subjective domain exit to voluntary muscle movements in the objective domain, and how do severed nerves intercept those intentions? How can head trauma affect the content of the subjective domain so drastically? Upon consideration of all these practical facts illustrating the pervasive domination of the objective domain over the subjective domain, on what basis could someone persist in the notion that the two are either independent or that the mere immediacy of the subjective domain implies its superiority?

Immediacy is a consequence of a brain-based point of view. In other words, greater immediacy is no more than greater prominence in the egocentric "universe", constructed by an object called the "brain", using data that arrived via mediated contact with surroundings. It's the preeminent bias. "I think, therefore I am" belongs with a counterpart, "I am what my brain thinks."

Consciousness is a brainy action. The immediacy of some parts of pure experience doesn't falsify this principle. I could construe it as subtle supporting evidence: if the immediacy is meant to be a clue that I have a mind independent of my body, then why is it so rare to have immediate experience of stuff outside my body? Why isn't overt clairvoyance/ESP a common practice? (Vague sensations, probable educated guesses, and unverified fictional explorations like dreams, don't qualify.)

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