David Bentley Hart calls subjective self-awareness the “primordial datum.” It is a fact that cannot not be known. It follows that everyone knows it to be a fact. Denying that it is a fact immediately descends into absurdity. Consider “I deny that I am subjectively self-aware.” Here is a chart of the chemicals that make up the human body:
A group of oxygen atoms do not have the capacity to deny a truth claim. I am sure you would agree that the sentence “the oxygen atoms denied truth claim X” is absurd, no matter what X is. What is true for oxygen is also true for the atoms of the other elements of the body, i.e., carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, etc.
Suppose one gathers together all of the various elements that compose a human body (i.e., oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc.) and mixes those chemicals up in exactly the same quantities and proportions that are found in a human body and puts it all in a bag. Does that bag of chemicals have any more capacity to deny a truth claim that a rock? Of course not.
A materialist must say that the human body is nothing but a bag of chemicals. At the basic levels of ontological analysis, the bag of chemicals that we call “human body” is, for the materialist, not in principle different from any other bag of chemicals in terms of its capacity to deny truth claims. Therefore, a materialist must agree with everyone else that the sentence “this bag of chemicals denies that it is really subjectively self-aware,” is absurd.
But all the time materialists say the sense we have that we are subjectively self-aware is an illusion. This, of course, is equivalent to saying “I deny that I am really subjectively self-aware.” And, for the materialist, this sentence is equivalent to the sentence “this bag of chemicals denies that it is really subjectively self-aware,” which, as we have just seen, is absurd.
Summary: Subjective self-awareness is a fact. Indeed, in a sense, it is “the ultimate fact,” from which all other facts can be perceived. It is a fact everyone knows. It is literally undeniable. Any attempt to deny it is incoherent, absurd and false.
In light of this, let us examine another one of eigenstate claims in my “driving a stake” thread:
Something similar is at work with “folk psychology”. There is no “disembodied I”, in the dualist/supernatural/superstitious sense. But such a conclusion based on scientific analysis does not “remove the ‘I’”. Our understanding is just upgraded to something that is consonant with the data and knowledge available about how brains operate. Just like there’s no “impetus”, but motion, acceleration, and gravity remain (and are more clearly and fully understood), there’s no “dualist ‘I’” that is needed or adds any value to our understanding of consciousness, perception, meta-representation, etc.
All of which is to say, Barry, that your “sky-is-falling” dramatics are much too broad in their concerns. The science available is deeply problematic for many of your particular intuitions, but what’s at stake is just a refinement and re-organizing of the models we may use to understand brains and their activities. Beliefs as “disembodied top-down convictions of a ghost-like homunculus” are judged to be misconceptions, or “illusions” for you, if you suppose this is a kind of fundamental perception you have. But beliefs as physical phenomena, discrete characteristics of the brain that map to very complex, but nevertheless concrete states and patterns of brain activity, remain, and not only remain, but are illuminated by the science.
Eigenstate claims that truth claims such as “I am subjectively self-aware” are true and false depending on the sense in which one uses the phrase. To avoid confusion, let us very carefully describe the two senses.
Sense A: The phrase “subjectively self-aware” in the everyday meaning of the phrase speaks of an “agent that perceives his own awareness.” The everyday understanding of the phrase is infused with philosophical “intentionality,” which means the phrase is a mental state that is “about” or “directed at” something. Intentionality is inherently agent-object oriented. In this case, the agent “I” perceives an object “self-awareness.”
Sense B: Eigenstate claims the eliminative materialist believes the phenomenon “subjectively self-aware” is a complex, but nevertheless concrete state and pattern of brain activity, the kind of phenomenon you could observe and measure with an fMRI, or some more advanced instrument yet to be developed.
Eigenstate claims that the sentence “I am subjectively self-aware” is false if the phrase “subjectively self-aware” is used in Sense A and true if the phrase “subjectively self-aware” is used in Sense B.
And how does eigenstate know this? Why, he says that science has demonstrated it.
Lunacy. Sheer lunacy. Science has demonstrated no such thing. I hereby call eigenstate’s bluff. Kindly point to the scientific experience that solved the hard problem of consciousness.
Let me save us some time. No such experiment exists. Materialist do not rule out Sense A subjective self-awareness based upon the findings of science (though they say or imply that incessantly). They rule out Sense A subjective self-awareness because ruling it out is absolutely required by their metaphysics.
But we have just demonstrated that Sense A subjective self-awareness is a fact. It is more than a fact. It is “the fact.” We have even demonstrated that any attempt to deny Sense A subjective self-awareness is absurd.
Yet materialist deny it anyway. Why? Richard Lewontin tells us why:
[W]e have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
For purposes of our discussion today, set aside that last phrase about the Divine Foot. Dualism does not necessarily entail a divinity, and in this post I want to focus on whether materialism is coherent, not on whether theism is a coherent replacement (I believe it is; but that is a topic for another day).
The key to the passage is, of course, the unwavering a priori commitment to materialism. For materialists it is always “materialism first; facts second.” This means that they must absolutely affirm incoherent and absurd statements like “Sense A subjective self-awareness is false.”
In other words, for a materialist, if the facts don’t fit with materialism, so much the worse for the facts.
If I were wearing metaphysical blinders that required me to deny undeniable facts and affirm incoherent and absurd statements, I hope I would reexamine my metaphysics. Otherwise, I am afraid I would be like this guy: