Ask Mark - Week 4 responses

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Thank you to everyone who posted questions last week. I have recorded a response to four of the many interesting questions you had posed in Step 4.8 of Week 4. My video responses are on YouTube. (Please bear with us for occasional technical glitches in the Ask Mark response videos - I’m currently in Chicago and at times had poor video and audio connectivity with the team in Cape Town).

Question 1: If the periaqueductal grey is the seat of feeling and consciousness, that is to say the PAG produces consciousness in a way that oranges produce juice, then is there something remarkably different in the physical structure of the PAG? Compared to other parts of the brain. And if so what?

Response to question 1 - length: 11:47


Question 2: In philosophy ‘intentionality’ means the ‘about-ness’ or directed-ness of consciousness. Thus a belief is intentional, as is a perception or a memory. But you move quickly from this core meaning to talking of intentionality as ‘motivated seeking’. Could you please clarify why you are linking intentionality to motivation and seeking?

Response to question 2 - length: 5:43


Question 3: The thing that I cannot understand in many humans is the constant seeking for a purpose in things. They seek a purpose for the existence of the universe, a purpose for their own existence, a purpose for natural events such as earthquakes. I suspect this is related to a need for or susceptibility to religion, an elaborate system of myths, supernatural beings and other modes of existence (such as an afterlife). Is there some evolutionary advantage in this? I tend to think most humans are irrational but since I seem to be outnumbered am I abnormal?

Response to question 3 - length: 6:13


Question 4: Could you please explain unconscious intentionality? I am having difficulty understanding how intention can be unconscious, when I think of being intentional or doing things with intention, I am conscious of it.

Response to question 4 - length: 5:49


Here is something extra for you. These are questions from previous runs of this course that you might find interesting:

Question 1: I find it doubtful that consciousness only existed upon the development of the RAS. Why would it suddenly spring into existence? What evolutionary purpose would subjective awareness serve, that it would only be realized upon the evolution of vertebrates? It’s hard for me to believe that, all of a sudden, a particular arrangement of brain matter caused subjective experience to emerge somehow. It seems more intuitive that some degree of consciousness or awareness is inherent to all biology or even all matter.

Response to question 1 - length: 6:52


Question 2: You say that the presence of the reticular activating system is evidence of consciousness. Would you agree that the absence of an RAS is not necessarily evidence of a lack of consciousness. For example, some people have commented here on the intelligence of the octopus; could consciousness emerge in such creatures, despite the very different arrangement of their nervous systems, through the process of convergent evolution?

Response to question 2 - length: 5:45


Question 3: I’m interested that Mark Solms says a number of times that intentionality is towards something in the outside world. That the outside world is where needs can be met. But might we not also have an intention to modify our own actions or our own thoughts if we feel that they’re causing us pain? i.e. can our intentionality sometimes be towards our own and perhaps inner world?

Response to question 3 - length: 7:34


Question 4: I’m still trying to get clear on terminology. It seems to me that this week is the “core” week inasmuch as the Hard Problem seems to surface here. But, is the term ‘consciousness’ being used that way here in the course? Is it referring to the same thing as David Chalmers describes in his TED talk: “… the amazing, 3D, multitrack, surround sound, etc. movie playing in your head; the constant, voiceover narrative that is the stream of consciousness; subjective experience; that all this feels like something, from the inside; …” Also described as sentience, or sense of presence. Are we all referring to the same kind of thing, or is the course using the term ‘consciousness’ in a different, perhaps narrower way?

Response to question 4 - length: 9:04


Question 5: How do we explain the apparently counter-productive behaviour of seeking high risk experiences such as climbing Mount Everest or walking across Niagara Falls on a narrow tight rope extended high above the cascading falls - these acts obviously do not enhance human survival or reproduction?

Response to question 5 - length: 3:37


Question 6: What happens in the brain when there is no seeking intention and no relationship to survival and reproduction simply unanticipated pleasure? I am thinking of listening to music and starting at a flower. These pleasurable experiences give meaning to life in a spontaneous way without any intention being attached to them in a cognitive sense.

Response to question 6 - length: 4:00


I look forward to your questions for this week - you can post them in Step 5.12 of Week 5.

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This article is from the free online course:

What Is a Mind?

University of Cape Town