Conscious now, conscious forever?

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I think I've seen this argument floating around online. The idea is that we can infer from the fact that we're having conscious experiences now that we always will have conscious experiences. The logic IIRC is similar to Bostrom's simulation argument. If materialism were true then there's an eternity in which any given person doesn't exist and only a vanishingly small period of time in which that person does and can have conscious experiences. So in the overwhelming majority of instances in time in the universe the person doesn't exist. It should then be extremely surprising to be having any conscious experiences, because it would be inconceivably more likely to be in a time in which one doesn't exist. Yet here I, you, we, etc. are, having conscious experiences. From this it's argued that much, much more of the history of the universe involves any given person having conscious experiences, which would not align with the materialist understanding of how life works. It would fit more easily with each person always having conscious experiences in one form or another.

What do you all think of this argument? Does it hold up?
(This post was last modified: 2023-07-15, 05:23 AM by RViewer88. Edited 3 times in total.)
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(2023-07-15, 05:20 AM)RViewer88 Wrote: What do you all think of this argument? Does it hold up?

I think it's fallacious because of sampling bias: by definition, you can only observe the period during which you're conscious while you're conscious. You can't infer anything from that about the periods - if any - during which you're not conscious, nor anything about their duration.
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(2023-07-15, 05:20 AM)RViewer88 Wrote: What do you all think of this argument? Does it hold up?

It bears a very strong resemblance to the work of Douglas Adams:
Douglas Adams Wrote:It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

That quote of course should be considered within the larger context of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
(This post was last modified: 2023-07-15, 06:31 AM by Typoz. Edited 1 time in total.)
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(2023-07-15, 06:10 AM)Laird Wrote: I think it's fallacious because of sampling bias: by definition, you can only observe the period during which you're conscious while you're conscious. You can't infer anything from that about the periods - if any - during which you're not conscious, nor anything about their duration.

I agree with you that the argument doesn't work, though it does seem to almost connect to the idea that because no one can offer an adequate account for why my personal consciousness exists it is a leap to think my consciousness can be destroyed.

Of course this argument would require one to be convinced that all "isms" have failed to account for my personal consciousness, a conclusion I've accepted to a large degree...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2023-07-15, 05:20 AM)RViewer88 Wrote: I think I've seen this argument floating around online. The idea is that we can infer from the fact that we're having conscious experiences now that we always will have conscious experiences.

I think the question, as it is put here, assumes something to start with that is debatable, rather than firm.

When we say "we're having conscious experiences", this assumes "we" (whoever that we is) is "having" "consciousness". Rather than, for example, consciousness is having "us" (whatever us is). We would first have to define what "we" is. Can we know the "we" apart from the conscious experience of it?

The contemporary Direct Path teachers in spirituality (in the lineage through Advaita Vedanta) will argue that if we start from our own experience (and our own experience is all we ever have to know anything), more specifically look through experience at what is "I", we see no limits, no shape, no form, nor is awreness ever aware of not being aware, and therefore we may perhaps not be able to conclude logically in a definite way that awareness never ends, but we can only logically conclude that we never have evidence that awareness does end.
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(2023-07-15, 06:10 AM)Laird Wrote: I think it's fallacious because of sampling bias: by definition, you can only observe the period during which you're conscious while you're conscious. You can't infer anything from that about the periods - if any - during which you're not conscious, nor anything about their duration.
Yeah I'm not sure the argument can really overcome this problem, which is what bothers me the most about it. But one possibility might look like this. In effect we're comparing two possible models of reality. One is the materialist one and one is the eternal consciousness one. Comparing the two, it is much more surprising on the materialist model that at any point I'm conscious, because for virtually all time in the universe on that model, I don't exist and therefore can't have conscious experience. On the eternal consciousness model, it's not surprising at all that I'm having conscious experience at any point because that model posits I'm always having such experiences. Therefore that I'm having conscious experience right now is less surprising on the eternal consciousness than materialist model. Therefore the former is more likely to be true than the latter.
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(2023-07-15, 05:55 PM)RViewer88 Wrote: Yeah I'm not sure the argument can really overcome this problem, which is what bothers me the most about it.

I wonder though - and I'm struggling against the limits of my own reasoning and skills at logic here, and my own assimilation of the non-duality philosophers' teachings - if what I have advanced in my post makes Laird's answer potentially problematic - does his answer also assume or presuppose something(s) in the discussion that hasn't been yet established?? Just a question. Perhaps others, including Laird, can make sense, if any, of what I'm potentially advancing.

There's also the whole question of time, of whether it's a human construct, and in that sense is debating "now" vs "forever" already in itself problematic?
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(2023-07-15, 06:28 PM)Ninshub Wrote: I wonder though - and I'm struggling against the limits of my own reasoning and skills at logic here, and my own assimilation of the non-duality philosophers' teachings - if what I have advanced in my post makes Laird's answer potentially problematic - does his answer also assume or presuppose something(s) in the discussion that hasn't been yet established?? Just a question. Perhaps others, including Laird, can make sense, if any, of what I'm potentially advancing.

There's also the whole question of time, of whether it's a human construct, and in that sense is debating "now" vs "forever" already in itself problematic?
I've got to admit I'm not really sure. At the risk of being completely wrong, I'll say my impression is that the model assumed by the eternal consciousness argument in the OP posits that each person is an individuated center of awareness. In a fundamental ontological way each person's mind/consciousness/awareness is treated as his own or in some sense what he is and is separable from everyone else's. The nondual understanding you present would seem to upend all of that by arguing that there is a foundational Mind in or underlying or constituting reality, with each person thinking he "has" mental experience only insofar as he is part of that Mind or an expression of it. What my question ends up being is if that's true, the Mind is definitely eternal (right?), but we can still ask if the distinctive expressions of it that seemingly individual human minds are, are equally eternal or die off even as the Mind endures forever. Perhaps then the argument from the OP can come back in, if each of us is correct in thinking that the expression of the Mind he identifies as himself is going on in some meaningful way, which he could argue is surprising and unexpected if reality is such that this conscious experience should be so brief as to hardly register against the eternity in which he shouldn't exist.
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Off-topic but personally whenever I listen to non-dual teachings I always think of awareness as a localized, individuated center of consciousness (but still with no boundaries, form, etc.), which at the same time, or ultimately, is connected to the original "mind". My being is always my being but is connected to (a part of) all being.
(2023-07-15, 05:55 PM)RViewer88 Wrote: Yeah I'm not sure the argument can really overcome this problem, which is what bothers me the most about it. But one possibility might look like this.

The possibility you go on to outline is essentially a restating of the original argument though, so the same critique applies. Take this in particular:

(2023-07-15, 05:55 PM)RViewer88 Wrote: it is much more surprising on the materialist model that at any point I'm conscious, because for virtually all time in the universe on that model, I don't exist and therefore can't have conscious experience.

Yep, but merely from the fact of your being conscious now you have no way of knowing whether or not you were conscious at other times (unless, as few if any of us seem to, you remember endless past lives), so there's no way of differentiating between the two scenarios merely from that fact, and thus it is no more surprising that you are currently (capable of observing that you are) conscious on either scenario.

This would be a potentially sound argument if the materialist model predicted that you would never be conscious - in which case your being conscious now would falsify materialism - but it doesn't.
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