Monday, February 15, 2010
Dialogue In The Third Degree: Quelque Chose Qui Cloche
Castor: Are there different degrees of consciousness do you suppose?
Pollux: I am not sure what you mean.
Castor: What is unclear? You do not dispute what consciousness is, do you?
Pollux: Taking it as some sort of awareness, I suppose not.
Castor: Then where the problem?
Pollux: I am not sure what you mean by degrees, or whether it applies to consciousness.
Castor: You surprise me. You don’t know what a degree is?
Pollux: Do you?
Castor: Well, for example, a thermometer measures temperature in degrees.
Pollux: A very ill analogy, if I may say so, at least without considerable explanation.
Castor: How so? Now it is my turn not to follow what is meant.
Pollux: In saying that consciousness has degrees as a thermometer has degrees, are you saying that consciousness is, like heat, one thing and one thing only and that it is measurable, like temperature, and that the proper measurement is “degrees”?
Castor: Apparently I must be saying that, yes.
Pollux: In saying that, however, you also say that consciousness, as one thing, is subject to quantification in degrees. Do you mean that in the sense of there being instances of greater and lesser consciousness or as a matter of intensification?
Castor: Actually I was perhaps thinking in terms of levels, as a staircase.
Pollux: Ah, the etymology!
Castor: The etymology? Again I am now the one who does not follow.
Pollux: You are a gifted etymologist whether you know it or not then. In origin “degree” is French, from the Latin “degradus”, which means a “step”, as in a staircase or as a stage in the musical scale, ascending or descending, or the measure of blood relationship in terms of distance removed through generations. Interestingly, “degree” originates from exactly the same word as does “degrade.”
Castor: But staircase makes an apt metaphor, don't you think?
Pollux: For consciousness, you mean?
Castor: Of course. Isn't that what we are discussing?
Pollux: I am not at all sure about its aptness. How is consciousness or awareness like a staircase?
Castor: There are different steps or levels of consciousness.
Pollux: Easy to say but perhaps not so easy to understand. The staircase itself is not an object apart from its steps, but the steps exist all at the same time in the same staircase. That sort of step or level is quite different from a step taken by a man when walking. In that case step seems to be, as most use it, a point in a sequence. Are you saying consciousness has its own levels or that one goes up or down steps on a staircase called consciousness? If the latter, it seems to me, you are positing consciousness or awareness as something different from the one who may be conscious, to wit, a distinct and separate reality that can be climbed. Or again, are you saying consciousness has steps in the way a creature with legs moves in steps?
Castor: I admit the difficulties of the metaphor. But recall, I began by speaking in terms of the degrees of a thermometer.
Pollux: Do you presume that consciousness is all of a piece or that it varies in measurable ways?
Castor: What sort of choice is that?
Pollux: A difficult one. Let us resolve it for you—is consciousness of a piece and does it vary?
Castor: Taken closely, I suppose that I have to say both to be consistent in the metaphor.
Pollux: Of a piece and varying, as you wish. Do you then use some scale to measure degrees of consciousness as with heat?
Castor: Well, if there are different levels or degrees, I suppose there would be higher and lower levels of consciousness, greater or less, as with temperature.
Pollux: In other words, by positing different levels you do not compass consciousness purely as a threshold phenomenon, wherein one is either conscious or not conscious, like being pregnant or drunk?
Castor: I see what you are getting at. You consider consciousness and awareness as either present or absent, then, with no levels in between?
Pollux: You jump to conclusions.
Castor: How so? What is the alternative?
Pollux: Let's leave that aside for the moment. There may be more alternatives than you seem to have considered. The idea of consciousness as a staircase, for example, and therefore as an externality in its steps is at least interesting enough to be considered. I suppose that would be a consciousness that exists apart from the individual, whatever the individual is.
Castor: Again I do not follow. If it is a staircase, how can it be external to itself?
Pollux: Is being on one step of the staircase the same as or different from being on no step at all, or being on several steps or all steps at the same time?
Castor: The staircase image is your making. I have already said I prefer to refer to the degrees of a thermometer.
Pollux: On the contrary, you brought up staircase as metaphor for levels as I recall. Consciousness like heat is all one phenomenon, then? But graded and measurable?
Castor: I think we have established that is my gist. Do you deny it?
Pollux: I am not in a position to deny it or confirm until I understand what you mean.
Castor: That would suggest that you do not see consciousness as analogous to temperature.
Pollux: Let's pursue that aspect for a moment.
Castor: Certainly, that is the point of the discussion as far as I am concerned.
Pollux: .Even were consciousness admitted to be analogous to heat or temperature there seem to be difficulties. We call the physical phenomenon heat, and the measure of the degree of heat its temperature. So degree is a measure. But what is measure? Measure is a mark, is it not, whether the mark is a number on a scale or a physical sensation in consciousness as greater or lesser. Yet in order to posit greater and lesser heat, does not one need at least two events, contemporaneous or in sequence. I measure the temperature today, for example, as 70 degrees. But if the temperature never changed would I be measuring it at all?
Castor: True enough, unchanging temperature would be a ground of being, not able to be marked as greater or lesser. On the other hand, it surely might be sensed as a ground, don't you think? We see through air, for example, and in the act of seeing through consider air invisible, if not absolutely, in relative terms. Still, even the ancients realized there was an invisible physical substance which they could not see and called it air.
Pollux: But there were also sound and the wind. What is seen through the air is in some ways akin to what is heard through the air, but there are differences. And wind, which is air in movement, was discernible to touch. Still, that is all by the way and has nothing to do with what I am getting at.
Castor: Please hurry along—I am anxious to know just what it is you are getting at, if anything.
Pollux: Actually, I am surprised you did not bring up the matter of two hands in two different containers of water of different temperature. Is consciousness like that, do you suppose—so that the same person can measure two different levels of consciousness at the same time?
Castor: I had not thought of that.
Pollux: But again we digress.
Castor: Well, get on with it, old chap—I cannot wait to hear what you are getting at.
Pollux: This consciousness which you say has degrees. May I ask where the degrees are marked?
Castor: What a strange question.
Pollux: Not strange at all. Does what we call heat have different marks on it that say 70 degrees or 120 degrees or hotter or colder, or is the degree of heat measured separately and externally to the heat itself?
Castor: Ah, I see. That is a difficult question. There must be something about heat that allows it to be measured in distinct degrees. But I am not sure I would call whatever that may be its measurement or mark.
Pollux: Here again you stumble into a conundrum. Are you saying the changeability of heat unfolds in distinct steps and the steps are measured or that heat is a continuum, with no inherent stages or levels, but which may be measured by marks that are different from what is measured?
Castor: I see now--as with a clock.
Pollux: Most clocks have hands or digital numerals that tick off in steps. But what is measured by the clock is not just the ticks.
Castor: Time you mean? You mean to say, then, time is a continuum measured by distinct marks, and that the marks are not what is measured.
Pollux: Actually with clocks I don't consider we have to go that far.
Castor: Again you lose me. You are not referring to time as a continuum?
Pollux: You brought up clocks and time, not I.
Castor: It seems a rather good analogy to heat insofar as the question of continuum is concerned, don't you think?
Pollux: Perhaps. But one need not bring time into it at all. The hands of the clock are in movement, it is true. And the distinct intervals of movement are mechanical or electronic. But the movement behind the movement is not necessarily in distinct steps.
Castor: The movement behind the movement?
Pollux: Well, in the case of mechanical clocks the spring, or with a cuckoo clock the weight or what we call the force of gravity.
Castor: I see. Yes, that is a pertinent aspect.
Pollux: Indeed I am not sure that the concept of continuum must be physical at all. There seem to be continua that are physical but that is incidental. The mathematicians, for example, posit a continuum of quantity between numbers.
Castor: Indeed they do. That is the origin of the continuum problem.
Pollux: Not the origin at all--in modern times, simply one of its later and clearest formulations. Parmenides and Zeno both phrased very precise problems based on an idea of the continuum and how continuum is supposed to be mensurable.
Castor: But where does that leave us, then, either in regard to heat or consciousness.
Pollux: I think we have made some progress. To say there are mensurable degrees of consciousness at the very least brings up the matter of whether consciousness is all one thing and a continuum.
Castor: Are you now saying then that there may be different kinds of consciousness?
Pollux: I leave that to you, dear fellow, who came up with the degrees in the first place. I am not even sure I want to use to the word, “consciousnesses”, however direly it may be needed in this discussion.
Castor: Well, I must be going. I will not mention modes of consciousness again lest you take the rest of the day distinguishing modes from kinds or steps or degrees or staircases or whatnot.
Pollux: More progress then.
Castor: More progress? Now I truly have no idea what you mean.
Pollux: Perhaps neither of us does separately and without discussion. But you must be off, as you say.