Short and sweet. Just a tongue-in-cheek, but yet serious title:
"When does 2 + 2 = 5?"The first answer that probably comes to mind is: Never. The one thing we ought to be able to count on, in this world anyway, is simple arithmetic, like:
1 + 1 = 2
2 + 2 = 4
3 + 3 = 6
How much easier can it get than that? ... And please don't give me any of that George Orwell* stuff.
The problem is, I wrapped up Bat Day #35 by saying this: "Subjective facts require first person consciousness to even be aware of them." We were discussing how to describe what chocolate cake tastes like in someone else's mouth. We (or I) decided that we (or you) could not actually know what that was actually like except when the chocolate cake is in our own mouth.
And worse luck: to actually know what that special 'chocolaty' taste is like in our own mouth (what Nagel calls a subjective fact inside our own head) requires first person consciousness to even be aware of that.
Here's the point: Where does that conscious awareness come from?
Well ... we are not going to solve, in this short blog piece, all the questions related to that question, like: Is consciousness a physical state or mental state? Is our mind a separate but somehow connected 'thing' which is forever, or only temporarily, associated with our physical body? (As written, that one is kind of a trick question). What exactly IS conscious awareness?
I would like to answer those questions, but not in this post, especially given that scientific, religious, psychological and philosophical experts are fiercely battling over the possible answers to those very questions. But the ONE thing each of us can seem to know, just by turning our own thoughts inward, is that we are AWARE of how chocolate cake tastes to us.
We also know that if someone showed us an MRI or other printout of our brain while we smacked down on the last bite of chocolate cake, that MRI or other printout would not show to anyone, including ourselves, how the last morsel of velvety 'chocolaty' cake tasted to us. But we not only know how it tastes, we are aware we know how it tastes.
As Yogi Berra might say: If I wasn't aware of what I knew I couldn't know that I knew it.* That type of awareness, I suggest, is something added onto, or into, or emerging from the physical processes of your brain as your brain experiences YOU eating chocolate cake. Without getting either scientific or religious about it (yet), it is like adding 2 + 2 and getting 5 instead of 4. It is like getting something extra in the bargain, something we didn't pay for, something that makes the whole bigger than the parts.
After giving these thoughts some thought, you might disagree with me. You might conclude this thing, this conscious awareness thing, is not really an example of 2 + 2 = 5. If so, that's perfectly okay. I am using that expression not in a strict arithmetic sense, but instead, at least partially, in a figurative sense.
Still, it seems a pretty safe bet that rocks and rivers and lightning storms do not possess anything like a conscious awareness of what, or who, they are. But we do. It is in that sense that we have something extra, contained in our minds or brains, which rocks and rivers and lightning storms do not have. For them, 2 + 2 = 4, while for us, 2 + 2 = 5. Or so it appears.
We will look at some of the other questions in later posts in this "live book".
Credits and Notes
- no author located for the black & white image used of 2 + 2 = 5
- "Colorado and Nevada assortment of three rocks on wood background", photograph by c emerson (June 2013); all rights reserved
- * George Orwell, in his book 1984 (pub.1949), used 2 + 2 = 5 (or 3) as an example of a state-directed effort to control an unthinking population: "How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four." -- "Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane." -- quoted passage taken from GoodReads at http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/153313-nineteen-eighty-four -- Here, in this post, I am using the phrase, hopefully, for the opposite effect, to show that our minds, or brains, possess something extra, the ability or capacity to direct self-reflection.
- * my reference to Yogi Berra in no way implies or is intended to suggest that Mr. Berra has read or would agree with any part of this blog post; Mr. Berra, who was three times MVP of the American Baseball League and who appeared 21 times in the World Series as either a player, manager or coach, is recognized for having the great ability to make seemingly complex paradoxes appear easy to understand; the words used in this post are not quotes, but were created entirely by c emerson; see http://en.m.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Yogi_Berra
- this post is dedicated to a very fine lady, to whom I am related, and who has conversed with me in depth on these thought-provoking topics in the past, more to my benefit than hers; much love