Interactivist Summer Institute

July 22 - 26, 2003


An ontogenetic-based ontology for consciousness

Riccardo Manzotti*, Britta Glatzeder**,

* LIRA-Lab, DIST – University of Genoa, Viale Causa 13, 1645, Genova
Tel: +39 010 3532946, Fax: +39 010 3532948
**Institute of Medical Psychology, University of Munich
Tel: +49 (89) 5996608

Major theme of the paper: Consciousness, Motivation, Process metaphysics

To be conscious is to experience something. This something can be considered to be the content of conscious experience. If content is internal to the mind, there is no escape from solipsism (radical subjectivism, transcendental idealism and similia). On the other hand if content is external, or refer to something external, then there is the problem of representation: how is it possible that the conscious self mirrors the external world? This problem has been defined the most difficult of all philosophy (Searle 1983). If something (a neural process for instance) represents something else (a flower for instance) there must be some kind of relation between the two. This kind of relation has been addressed in different ways: symbol grounding, intentionality, aboutness, meaning, isomorphism, and semantics (Putnam 1975; Searle 1980; Fodor 1987; Harnad 1990). In all these cases there is some kind of semantic relation that ought to link the representation with the represented.

This approach is faulty for two reasons (Manzotti and Sandini 2002): (1) insofar there has not been any acceptable empirical candidate for the role of representation (at most functional candidates like neural networks or function approximators (Rorty 1979; Tye 1991; O'Regan 1992; Thompson 1995; O'Brien and Opie 1999; Bickhard 2001)); (2) there is no consensus about the nature of the semantic relation (Kripke 1980; Millikan 1984; Dretske 1995).

We propose here a different approach. Traditionally there has to be two entities: the represented and the representing. We suggest that this is not necessary. That, in the case of the mind, there is no need to have a world and a mind mirroring the world: there is only one entity. As a paradigmatic example we suggest the rainbow. The rainbow is a physical entity (a set of drops of water that reflects the light in the appropriate way to be perceived by an observer as a series of arches of different colors). However a particular rainbow does not exist until it is not observed by a lens of some kind. That rainbow, as such, exists only when it becomes part of a process of observation. On the other hand, the process of the observation of the rainbow could not exist if the drops of water were not there, in particular those drops of water that would be the rainbow. The rainbow, as a represented object, does not exist independently of the representing act of observation. If we look at what has happened from the point of view of processes, there is just one processes and not two objects. Ontologically speaking the process is prior both to the existence of the object and of its representation (Whitehead 1927/1978; Bickhard 1998; Stapp 1998; Bickhard 1999; Manzotti and Tagliasco 2001a). Represented and representing entities are two different ways of looking at the process of becoming of what is later called the rainbow.

By applying the same kind of rationale, the same kind of indivisible process is responsible for all conscious representation by means of the ontogenetic development of the brain (Manzotti and Tagliasco 2001b). We suggest that every external event, we are conscious of, has taken part in the developmental history of our brain in the same way in which a cloud of drops of water takes part in the becoming of a rainbow. Be conscious of something means to be a particular process. The ontogeny of the subject is the sum of these processes. Representation and existence, mind and world, subject and object are different perspectives on the becoming of reality. There is no more need of a twofold dualistic vision of reality. Reality is one. The conscious mind, like the rainbow, is not a separate entity mirroring the world. The conscious mind is a part of the world engaged in a particular kind of process in which, like in the case of the rainbow, the cause and the effect are mutually entangled together.

As an alternative solution, we propose to consider a process based ontology according to which representation and represented are nothing but two different ways of looking at the same process. The relevant processes are those that take part into the ontogenetic constitution of subjects. A conscious being is a system that experiences (feels) something. A conscious being is a system whose structure is totally built by these onphenes. Its development is driven by these intentional relations triggered by physical reality. Then an artificial conscious being is based on an architecture capable of letting external events to provoke the repetition of events of the same kind. In a developing conscious being, this attitude to repeat events can be named a motivation. An conscious being is a system capable of developing new motivations on the basis of its experience.


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