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Is awareness more basic than the material world?
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11-04-2015, 03:40 AM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(10-04-2015 12:52 PM)Th3box Wrote:  
(10-04-2015 12:40 PM)houseofcantor Wrote:  A feasible mechanism of dualism has never been explained.

The argument doesn't imply dualism exists- rather it implies a monism, with 'awareness' being the basic building block of existence.

Egor, is that you? Blink

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11-04-2015, 03:57 AM (This post was last modified: 11-04-2015 07:16 AM by Chas.)
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(10-04-2015 07:12 PM)Th3box Wrote:  The argument is not quite like that though-the point is that you cannot jump from 'things that exist are aware' to 'things that exist can or can not be aware'

The point of the argument is that it goes-

'I am (aware)'

'I am existing'

so

'Existing things are aware' (and by this also 'can be aware'- but essentially are)

And then you may go on with whatever line of reasoning you take. That may lead to 'not all things that exist are aware' depending on how you come to understand your awareness, but the most immediate conclusion before that observation and reasoning is that awareness is non specific, and therefore universal and basic.

No, you can't go there. You have made a basic logical error (as has already been pointed out) replacing an existential quantifier with a universal quantifier.

It is invalid to state 'there exists an x' and conclude 'for all x'.

Quote:I am not specifically trying to make any claims about reality, and am not denying that material existence is in a sense basic, but I am pointing out that awareness is, in another sense, also basic, and that that is the more immediate reality we are presented with as conscious agents coming to know the world.

You must be using 'basic' in a unique sense. Or is it 'awareness'?

Quote:There are other reasons to consider it as metaphysically basic rather than purely epistemically basic, as it avoids dualism and the emergence of a different type of existence (the aware consciousness) at some level of complexity, which has defied adequate scientific definition up to now (not many have tried, but I know that the last guy I heard of who tried, about a year ago, to provide a mathematical scientific model for when consciousness would emerge, something to do with a certain amount of neurons being connected to a central point which allowed unity of self experience, found that the theory couldn't adequately explain consciousness in non human animals and some impaired but seemingly conscious humans).
This wasn't the line of the original argument though, although it is something I have touched on in these comments. Yes it is relatively fruitless argument in terms of getting to know reality, but it is fruitful in getting to know our knowledge of reality, which I personally find interesting and, dare I say, important.

You claim to have read Dennett and Dawkins, but you don't appear to have understood them.

Also, you need to brush up on philosophy of logic. I suggest S. C. Kleene's Mathematical Logic.

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11-04-2015, 06:43 AM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 03:57 AM)Chas Wrote:  You must be using 'basic' in a unique sense. Or is it 'awareness'?

I'm still waiting for a definition of awareness and a definition of interaction. I hold out no hope for his definition of basic.

From what I've gathered so far it is permissible to argue things like:
I exist and I breathe which means that existence breathes so breathing is the fundamental building block of reality.

Th3box, awareness is, from everything we have figured out, the action of a functioning brain just like breathing is the action of functioning lungs. Something can't be more basic than the thing that produces it.

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11-04-2015, 12:00 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
Sorry, you are right I have made a mistake in putting the argument in that way; really the argument should be

I am aware (I have a subjective existence)

I exist (To my subjective experience, there is an objective existence, which I am part of)

I know that existing things can be aware (There is a subjective awareness in my own objective existence)

I do not know that existing things can not be aware (As awareness is subjective, and I have no knowledge of the subjective existence of other objective existences apart from my own)

Therefore I should treat the statement 'existence has awareness' as certain, and 'existence does not have awareness' as uncertain. (I think mixing up certainty and ubiquity is where I got confused with the whole 'all of existence is aware' thing last night- sorry)

Although I can't provide a straightforward definition of awareness, at the least it has to be experienced subjectively; whether or not 'awareness= subjective being' I don't know for sure, but it seems to fit relatively well. As I wrote in an earlier comment, I am sceptical about finding a hard and fast definition for a concept so fundamental (fundamental at least to subjective experience we should admit).

The point of the argument isn't to show that awareness is most basic to all reality (although I admit that I have construed it that way at times), it was to show that awareness is most basic to our knowledge or acceptance of reality, which I guess goes without saying, but which does lead to interesting conclusions that if we were to disbelieve our beliefs one by one, working down to the most fundamental level we find what Descartes famously found; that all we can really be sure of is thought.

I know my purposeful ignorance of basic biological facts is painful in a discussion of awareness with scientifically literate people, but it's a philosophical board not a scientific one, so I don't feel unjustified in putting forward an epistemological argument which doesn't include scientific evidence. I suppose the thread title should be 'To our knowledge is awareness more basic than the material world' or something similar.

On an unrelated note, in reply to chas, I read Dennett a few years ago, Dawkins a few months ago; I didn't accept their conclusions, although they both write pretty well and have some good things to say. Unless I am very much mistaken then neither of them have provided generally accepted explanations of awareness. Unless they are generally accepted in the same way that Dawkins' concept of a 'gene' is accepted i.e. by the general population but not by anybody who has studied epigenetics or the philosophy of biology (His theories have been ripped apart so much that he has left the field now, although in fairness I think he was given extra attention due to his rise to celebrity, for what turn out to be entirely inadequate theories which were incompatible with empirical knowledge. If you detect a slightly malicious and derogatory tone it's one I inherited last year from my lecturers). In relation to awareness/consciousness, they both seem to end up dissolving the issue as insignificant or even non-existent, which might be valid; although it certainly doesn't seem to be in epistemology, as the argument we are discussing shows.

To make one of the conclusions of the argument very simple and relevant: I am more surprised if someone is sceptical of awareness or consciousness than if they are sceptical of material existence.

I'll apologise again for the reasoning in that last post; It was 2.30 in the morning and I'd had a long day. Sorry. Cheers for the scathing replies Laughat
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11-04-2015, 12:26 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 12:00 PM)Th3box Wrote:  Sorry, you are right I have made a mistake in putting the argument in that way; really the argument should be

To whom is that addressed?

Quote:I am aware (I have a subjective existence)

I exist (To my subjective experience, there is an objective existence, which I am part of)

I know that existing things can be aware (There is a subjective awareness in my own objective existence)

I do not know that existing things can not be aware (As awareness is subjective, and I have no knowledge of the subjective existence of other objective existences apart from my own)

Therefore I should treat the statement 'existence has awareness' as certain, and 'existence does not have awareness' as uncertain. (I think mixing up certainty and ubiquity is where I got confused with the whole 'all of existence is aware' thing last night- sorry)

Although I can't provide a straightforward definition of awareness, at the least it has to be experienced subjectively; whether or not 'awareness= subjective being' I don't know for sure, but it seems to fit relatively well. As I wrote in an earlier comment, I am sceptical about finding a hard and fast definition for a concept so fundamental (fundamental at least to subjective experience we should admit).

Without a definition of 'awareness', your argument is pointless.

Quote:The point of the argument isn't to show that awareness is most basic to all reality (although I admit that I have construed it that way at times), it was to show that awareness is most basic to our knowledge or acceptance of reality, which I guess goes without saying, but which does lead to interesting conclusions that if we were to disbelieve our beliefs one by one, working down to the most fundamental level we find what Descartes famously found; that all we can really be sure of is thought.

Some undefined thing is basic to all reality? Uh, OK. Consider

Quote:I know my purposeful ignorance of basic biological facts is painful in a discussion of awareness with scientifically literate people, but it's a philosophical board not a scientific one, so I don't feel unjustified in putting forward an epistemological argument which doesn't include scientific evidence. I suppose the thread title should be 'To our knowledge is awareness more basic than the material world' or something similar.

Without a grounding in evidence, philosophy is prone to word games such as yours.

Quote:On an unrelated note, in reply to chas, I read Dennett a few years ago, Dawkins a few months ago; I didn't accept their conclusions, although they both write pretty well and have some good things to say. Unless I am very much mistaken then neither of them have provided generally accepted explanations of awareness. Unless they are generally accepted in the same way that Dawkins' concept of a 'gene' is accepted i.e. by the general population but not by anybody who has studied epigenetics or the philosophy of biology (His theories have been ripped apart so much that he has left the field now, although in fairness I think he was given extra attention due to his rise to celebrity, for what turn out to be entirely inadequate theories which were incompatible with empirical knowledge. If you detect a slightly malicious and derogatory tone it's one I inherited last year from my lecturers). In relation to awareness/consciousness, they both seem to end up dissolving the issue as insignificant or even non-existent, which might be valid; although it certainly doesn't seem to be in epistemology, as the argument we are discussing shows.

Your lecturers are incorrect. And probably malicious. It is an unattractive attribute in a teacher.

What theories have been ripped apart and by whom?
And since you profess ignorance of biology, how could you tell that the critics were right? Consider

Quote:To make one of the conclusions of the argument very simple and relevant: I am more surprised if someone is sceptical of awareness or consciousness than if they are sceptical of material existence.

I'll apologise again for the reasoning in that last post; It was 2.30 in the morning and I'd had a long day. Sorry. Cheers for the scathing replies Laughat

I am skeptical of neither.

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11-04-2015, 04:17 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 12:00 PM)Th3box Wrote:  Therefore I should treat the statement 'existence has awareness' as certain

No, that is overreach. You are certain that some things that exist can have awareness. That does not equate to "existence has awareness".

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11-04-2015, 05:16 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
Chas,

Not all of your responses are relevant to the main argument, but I'll consider them anyway, and address them as best I can (within reason; brevity is, if not necessary, definitely preferable).

Quote: To whom is that addressed?

I meant 'you' to be plural- I was referring to the logical fallacy which was picked up by more than one person.

Quote:Without a definition of 'awareness', your argument is pointless.
Some undefined thing is basic to all reality? Uh, OK. Consider
As for the definition; yes it is difficult to define awareness, and yes it is difficult to define the basic constituent of reality. This is a natural result of definitions being ways to explain things within reality, relying on some kind of distinct existence for that thing.
The definition of matter is simple and indistinct in this way; consider "Physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy" which is the oxford english definition of matter. If we then ask what a physical object is we reach a definition like "Relating to physics or the operation of natural forces generally". We ask what physics is and we find it is "The branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. " There is a clear circularity here. These definitions have served some purpose in showing us some of the aspects of how we deal with matter, but they don't explain much more than the obvious; it is basic, and we rely on our experience to ascertain it.
I think it is fair to consider that awareness will occupy a similar sort of position within the subjective perspective as matter does to the objective perspective. Awareness is the basic constituent of subjectivity in the same way that matter is the basic constituent of objectivity. Awareness is therefore likely to be susceptible to a similar problem. I don't want you to think that it is undefined, but a sufficient definition is no doubt impossible for a sceptic, in the same way that we may be sceptical of the definition of matter. I explained that I can't provide a straightforward definition of awareness, by that I meant to imply that a definition in a proper and satisfactory sense would be inevitably elusive; the best I can manage is 'awareness=subjective being (verb)'. It is no doubt possible to extend this in the way that we extend the definition of matter, by referring to what experience is, or what subjectivity is, but eventually these will become circular; the only definition which is important for the argument is that it is subjective. I hope this helps you to properly consider the argument.

Quote:Your lecturers are incorrect. And probably malicious. It is an unattractive attribute in a teacher.

Actually, I haven't said anything about what my lecturers have or haven't claimed. I said that I might have inherited any malicious tone about Dawkins, which I meant semi-humorously, but also to indicate that they are generally derisive of him. Therefore you are saying my lecturers are incorrect in maliciousness? Obviously their feelings and subjective opinions are just that, subjective (back to that word...) but to say they are incorrect seems, well, incorrect.
Anyway I'd agree that it is an unattractive attribute in a teacher; but I was probably exaggerating when I say they were malicious. The one lecturer in particular I am thinking of is an expert and published author in the field of the 'unit of selection' debate in the theory of evolution, which is the area which Dawkins makes some atrocious philosophical biological inferences and claims in, yet also the area which he claims to be addressing in 'the selfish gene'. My professor was half smiling when describing Dawkins' view and its flaws, but there was an undercurrent of 'how come this guy who was wrong is famous and making loads of money while I'm not'. He was nice enough about it though; I'm interpreting his manner rather than relaying his actual words or actions.

Quote:What theories have been ripped apart and by whom?
And since you profess ignorance of biology, how could you tell that the critics were right? Consider

Firstly, I never professed ignorance in biology- I stated that I was being purposefully ignorant of biological facts, but that is in the context of the argument in question, which is epistemological rather than biological. Obviously whilst dealing with an argument in the philosophy of biology, I am not purposefully ignorant of biological facts.

The theory being 'ripped apart' is Dawkins' idea that we can see the entire process of natural selection by evolution to revolve around 'immortal genes' which are self-serving entities which will survive for as long as possible; their striving for survival resulted in every single biological organism. I'm not going to explain in detail why the theory is wrong here, but if you want to know about the debate, and where Dawkins commits logical and biological fallacies, you can check out this Stanford article, also written by an expert in the field;
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/selection-units/

The basic problem with Dawkins' theory is that 1) it postulates 'genes' as certain parts of the chromosomes, long enough to convey survival advantages but short enough to avoid breaking in meiosis. Apart from being a case of suiting the definition to the theory, there is no evidence (and almost no chance) that such entities exist. 2) It ignores some of the crucial aspects of the theory of evolution which cannot be explained in such a manner. For instance the evolution from single to multi celled organisms.
There are also many other logical inconsistencies in Dawkins' theory which you can find by researching, and looking at the encylopedia article I have linked. What makes these problems worse is that Dawkins has refused to respond to repeated published articles which have asked him to; in academia that's a big faux-pas, and the cowards way of admitting defeat. In relation to this, but on a different issue, Dawkins has refused to comment on other recent research which purported to show that learned and practiced traits can affect genetic inheritance of those traits; something he strongly claimed was impossible. That was in New Scientist magazine.

It is amusing (to me at least) that of all the scientists in the world, perhaps the most sceptical of Dawkins and his work are biologists and philosophers of biology.

Quote:Without a grounding in evidence, philosophy is prone to word games such as yours.

Now here we can definitely agree! I agree with you that philosophy is horribly prone to word games without evidence; in fact Kant became my favorite philosopher by observing this with his wonderful quote "metaphysics has rather to be regarded as a battle-ground quite peculiarly suited for those who desire to exercise themselves in mock combats, and in which no participant has ever yet succeeded in gaining even so much as an inch of territory, not at least in such manner as to secure him in its permanent possession. This shows, beyond all questioning, that the procedure of metaphysics has hitherto been a merely random groping, and, what is worst of all, a groping among mere concepts." We do certainly need evidence!

The argument that I put forward is one that does rely on evidence; evidence of ourselves, and evidence of other things. In fact that is exactly what the argument is concerning; the first and most fundamental forms of evidence, and what we can conclude from them. Perhaps I have engaged in word games at some point in this discussion, but the argument itself should not be considered as one of those games.

Quote:I am skeptical of neither.

That is good to know; neither am I, and neither are a huge majority of people. The point I was making was that it makes more sense to be sceptical of matter than it does to be sceptical of awareness.

I hope that this comment might provide some useful final answers for you regarding the argument and how to interpret it.
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11-04-2015, 05:37 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 05:16 PM)Th3box Wrote:  The point I was making was that it makes more sense to be sceptical of matter than it does to be sceptical of awareness.

Never been on the bus, huh? Tongue

It doesn't make more sense when one considers emergence. The emergence of consciousness from matter seems a case of mopping up the details, where the converse seems a man without shoes. And of course you're gonna get the automatic knee-jerk reaction that this smells like a "first cause/god argument."

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11-04-2015, 07:25 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 05:16 PM)Th3box Wrote:  Chas,

Not all of your responses are relevant to the main argument, but I'll consider them anyway, and address them as best I can (within reason; brevity is, if not necessary, definitely preferable).

Quote: To whom is that addressed?

I meant 'you' to be plural- I was referring to the logical fallacy which was picked up by more than one person.

Quote:Without a definition of 'awareness', your argument is pointless.
Some undefined thing is basic to all reality? Uh, OK. Consider
As for the definition; yes it is difficult to define awareness, and yes it is difficult to define the basic constituent of reality. This is a natural result of definitions being ways to explain things within reality, relying on some kind of distinct existence for that thing.
The definition of matter is simple and indistinct in this way; consider "Physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy" which is the oxford english definition of matter. If we then ask what a physical object is we reach a definition like "Relating to physics or the operation of natural forces generally". We ask what physics is and we find it is "The branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. " There is a clear circularity here. These definitions have served some purpose in showing us some of the aspects of how we deal with matter, but they don't explain much more than the obvious; it is basic, and we rely on our experience to ascertain it.
I think it is fair to consider that awareness will occupy a similar sort of position within the subjective perspective as matter does to the objective perspective. Awareness is the basic constituent of subjectivity in the same way that matter is the basic constituent of objectivity. Awareness is therefore likely to be susceptible to a similar problem. I don't want you to think that it is undefined, but a sufficient definition is no doubt impossible for a sceptic, in the same way that we may be sceptical of the definition of matter. I explained that I can't provide a straightforward definition of awareness, by that I meant to imply that a definition in a proper and satisfactory sense would be inevitably elusive; the best I can manage is 'awareness=subjective being (verb)'. It is no doubt possible to extend this in the way that we extend the definition of matter, by referring to what experience is, or what subjectivity is, but eventually these will become circular; the only definition which is important for the argument is that it is subjective. I hope this helps you to properly consider the argument.

Quote:Your lecturers are incorrect. And probably malicious. It is an unattractive attribute in a teacher.

Actually, I haven't said anything about what my lecturers have or haven't claimed. I said that I might have inherited any malicious tone about Dawkins, which I meant semi-humorously, but also to indicate that they are generally derisive of him. Therefore you are saying my lecturers are incorrect in maliciousness? Obviously their feelings and subjective opinions are just that, subjective (back to that word...) but to say they are incorrect seems, well, incorrect.
Anyway I'd agree that it is an unattractive attribute in a teacher; but I was probably exaggerating when I say they were malicious. The one lecturer in particular I am thinking of is an expert and published author in the field of the 'unit of selection' debate in the theory of evolution, which is the area which Dawkins makes some atrocious philosophical biological inferences and claims in, yet also the area which he claims to be addressing in 'the selfish gene'. My professor was half smiling when describing Dawkins' view and its flaws, but there was an undercurrent of 'how come this guy who was wrong is famous and making loads of money while I'm not'. He was nice enough about it though; I'm interpreting his manner rather than relaying his actual words or actions.

Quote:What theories have been ripped apart and by whom?
And since you profess ignorance of biology, how could you tell that the critics were right? Consider

Firstly, I never professed ignorance in biology- I stated that I was being purposefully ignorant of biological facts, but that is in the context of the argument in question, which is epistemological rather than biological. Obviously whilst dealing with an argument in the philosophy of biology, I am not purposefully ignorant of biological facts.

The theory being 'ripped apart' is Dawkins' idea that we can see the entire process of natural selection by evolution to revolve around 'immortal genes' which are self-serving entities which will survive for as long as possible; their striving for survival resulted in every single biological organism. I'm not going to explain in detail why the theory is wrong here, but if you want to know about the debate, and where Dawkins commits logical and biological fallacies, you can check out this Stanford article, also written by an expert in the field;
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/selection-units/

The basic problem with Dawkins' theory is that 1) it postulates 'genes' as certain parts of the chromosomes, long enough to convey survival advantages but short enough to avoid breaking in meiosis. Apart from being a case of suiting the definition to the theory, there is no evidence (and almost no chance) that such entities exist. 2) It ignores some of the crucial aspects of the theory of evolution which cannot be explained in such a manner. For instance the evolution from single to multi celled organisms.
There are also many other logical inconsistencies in Dawkins' theory which you can find by researching, and looking at the encylopedia article I have linked. What makes these problems worse is that Dawkins has refused to respond to repeated published articles which have asked him to; in academia that's a big faux-pas, and the cowards way of admitting defeat. In relation to this, but on a different issue, Dawkins has refused to comment on other recent research which purported to show that learned and practiced traits can affect genetic inheritance of those traits; something he strongly claimed was impossible. That was in New Scientist magazine.

It is amusing (to me at least) that of all the scientists in the world, perhaps the most sceptical of Dawkins and his work are biologists and philosophers of biology.

Quote:Without a grounding in evidence, philosophy is prone to word games such as yours.

Now here we can definitely agree! I agree with you that philosophy is horribly prone to word games without evidence; in fact Kant became my favorite philosopher by observing this with his wonderful quote "metaphysics has rather to be regarded as a battle-ground quite peculiarly suited for those who desire to exercise themselves in mock combats, and in which no participant has ever yet succeeded in gaining even so much as an inch of territory, not at least in such manner as to secure him in its permanent possession. This shows, beyond all questioning, that the procedure of metaphysics has hitherto been a merely random groping, and, what is worst of all, a groping among mere concepts." We do certainly need evidence!

The argument that I put forward is one that does rely on evidence; evidence of ourselves, and evidence of other things. In fact that is exactly what the argument is concerning; the first and most fundamental forms of evidence, and what we can conclude from them. Perhaps I have engaged in word games at some point in this discussion, but the argument itself should not be considered as one of those games.

Quote:I am skeptical of neither.

That is good to know; neither am I, and neither are a huge majority of people. The point I was making was that it makes more sense to be sceptical of matter than it does to be sceptical of awareness.

I hope that this comment might provide some useful final answers for you regarding the argument and how to interpret it.

Dawkins is an Evolutionary Biologist. You are a scientifically ignorant Philosophy student, and you actually think you are competent to say he is wrong, yet are not capable of saying why, yourself ? Rolleyes

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11-04-2015, 07:26 PM
RE: Is awareness more basic than the material world?
(11-04-2015 05:37 PM)houseofcantor Wrote:  
(11-04-2015 05:16 PM)Th3box Wrote:  The point I was making was that it makes more sense to be sceptical of matter than it does to be sceptical of awareness.

Never been on the bus, huh? Tongue

It doesn't make more sense when one considers emergence. The emergence of consciousness from matter seems a case of mopping up the details, where the converse seems a man without shoes. And of course you're gonna get the automatic knee-jerk reaction that this smells like a "first cause/god argument."

Haha, I've been on a few buses... some of them smell pretty bad... or at least, I think that they smell bad. I don't know for sure if there is actually something smelling bad on them, or if its just me...

The emergence thing is definitely a problem for both a materialistic or an idealistic perspective. It's a toughy; we either accept emergence happens, in which case we have to know where and how, which seems an almost impossible task; or we dissolve the problem by saying that there is no emergence, which means either claiming matter doesn't exist, claiming consciousness doesn't exist (as Dennett does), or claiming that they are aspects of the same thing or reality. I'm personally in favour of dissolving them down to one thing with different types of properties (perhaps depending on whether they are viewed subjectively or objectively). That way we don't have emergence, or dualism, or any of that generally mind-boggling and seriously questionable 'relationship-between-two-sorts-of-reality' stuff. Instead we are left with a mind-boggling reality which is both massive and awesome outside and fascinatingly vicarious inside. Although the argument being discussed is not about that problem as such, it does bear on it, by implying we should be very wary of dismissing consciousness before matter.

And of course any talk of consciousness being fundamental does lead to the idea of god... I was wondering whether anyone would have noticed that the argument as set forth is so basic to rational agents that it would provide a good explanation as to why belief in god is so ubiquitous among rational agents; we have to believe in thought as fundamental, by dint of our own thoughts, so we then lean towards considering thought as most basic when applying our knowledge to reality. Of course, our own process of knowing things may be different to the way reality is structured, so the natural inference of mind or consciousness being basic (i.e. god) is not necessarily the best way to approach our explanation of reality; but it is one thinking beings are naturally led to.
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