Truths we do not know

I'm linking to this video from the Online Consciousness Conference because of the perfectly skeptical point that there are "truths that we do not know," a cousin to the notion that there are truths that cannot be proven. While mathematician Kurt Godel famously made that point using symbolic language, the not-the-sum-of-its-parts proof also finds a counterpart in our biology, the subject today.

The first-person experience is still a one giant vaporous mystery. How do our brains produce the experience of choice - imagine alternatives - or hold the crush of pure sensation, wiggling and mewling, at a proper distance while we examine it? A purely physical explanation of the phenomenon would seem to commit one to the in-principle deducibility of consciousness from the physical facts. But if one accepts that, an explanatory gap will quickly appear.

We can't get from here to there.

Nor does one does need to accept an extranatural explanation for the phenomenon, although I am drawn to one. A firm commitment to physicalism - the idea that ultimately there is only physical stuff - can comfortably abide with the concession that physical law - at least as it's currently understood - does not and cannot explain everything. The popularizer of a renewed dualism, David Chalmers takes this position.

So why this gap? My take is that the uncertain truth we gather from experience, and taken from the pages of literature or the arms of love - to take two very human pursuits - from which we draw life lessons and into which we recycle these lessons, only limns better possibilities. These lessons can be exploited to navigate an open future. This ghostly faculty can leave us susceptible to a misreading of the past, of course. But it also makes a different future not only possible, but because we can image it, doable. We can get what comes, right at last.

Make believe and belief-made are two halves of a whole.

A warning: If you choose to listen to the online consciousness videos, be prepared for some industrial strength arguments and Blair Witch Project videography. If the "hard problem of consciousness" interests you, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on consciousness and belief, which might clear up some of the terminology used in the online conference.

And if you have more than a passing interest in the subject, University of Kentucky philosopher Clare Batty provides a unique take on the problem of consciousness in her online paper, Scents and Sensibilia (wonderful title) that I've started and haven't finished.