Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Sensitive Man

In Poul Anderson's "The Sensitive Man" (The Psychotechnic League, New York, 1981), Dr Michael Tighe's "'...work was mostly in mass-action psych...'" (p. 196), but he also had:

"'...associates trying to understand the individual human being as a functioning mechanism. A lot's been learned since Freud, both from the psychiatric and the neurological angle. Ultimately, those two are interchangeable.'" (ibid.)

Are they? I think that the speaker here, who is the Sensitive Man himself, means "psychological" rather than "psychiatric." Freud was a psychologist, studying consciousness, whereas psychiatrists are doctors, treating mental illness. And human beings are organisms, not mechanisms.

A subjective account of an internally experienced mental process and an objective account of an externally observed cerebral process are simply different, although there is an empirical correlation between them. My brain is part of me as perceived by others whereas my consciousness is my perceptions of everything other than myself. Thus, my brain and my consciousness are not identical. Therefore, psychology and neurology are not interchangeable.

My brain can be described in terms of its sensory inputs and neural interactions whereas my consciousness can be described only by referring to its objects which may be absent, distant, past, future, abstract, imagined, fictitious, nonexistent, impossible, evaluative - black holes, the square root of minus one, moral and aesthetic judgments etc. We can think about the Philosophers' Stone but not sit on it and can look for the Holy Grail but not drink from it.

Consciousness is not, I think, an immaterial entity interacting with brains but is a qualitatively different level of organism-environment interaction that has emerged from, although it is not reducible to, molecular and cellular processes.

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