For all of my students

If you insist on not paying attention in lecture, and staring at your laptops the whole time, only to email me later once you realize you need the information, then perhaps you will stumble upon this page while you are surfing the internet so diligently, thus allowing you to maintain your I-get-all-my-knowledge-about-the-world-from-a-computer paradigm and still learn what is being said in your very (and merely physical) presence.

The mind is not like a video camera. In lecture, when I look up and 10 minutes has gone by and I find Prof. talking about Alpha Centaurian aliens opening up brains in the same way that we study the atmosphere of Venus, and I have no idea how he got there, I may actually be experiencing first hand one of the salient features of consciousness that Prof. has been blathering about all the while. I realize (by inferring) that he is int he middle of a lengthy explanation; but if you were to ask me to reproduce what he has said, I would be at a total loss. How can this be? I have been sitting here the entire time. My eyes have been affected by the same light, my ears affected by the same air vibrations, as someone who could reproduce his words. Yet I have no consciousness of the past 10 minutes. Have I been unconscious this whole time? Of course not. I was rehearsing the same line of a Pearl Jam song over and over as I re-imagined my strange dream from last night about an amazing new iphone. Clearly I have been conscious this whole time, I have even been paying close attention to something- just not what is presently going on before me. But how have I been paying attention to something that is not present? Can a billiard ball be caused to move by a force or object that is not present? By something which in no way comes into contact with it? Clearly my ability to pay attention to things does not function according to the same laws as the billiard ball's motion. When describing how my conscious attention works we must adopt a new set of terms to describe this new set of properties.

This is the driving idea behind Searle's refutation of computer functionalism and his own "biological naturalism." (But doesn't this just make Searle a property dualist, you ask? He insists not. Property pluralist? Apparently he has admitted as much...)

1 comment:

  1. from my syllabus:

    Laptops and other distractions: Laptops are not allowed in class. Cell phone ringers should be off (vibrate is not off). Don’t text in class. Don’t leave the room to take a call. And so on…I’m very sensitive to in-class distractions, especially when their primary cause is rudeness, so please don’t test the limits of my tolerance for breaking these rules. Your grade will suffer.