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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Hmmm....

    This probably was answered some pages ago.

    What do you think of Catholic theology, in general?
    Is it, in your studies, a very flexible set of teachings?

    Yes, I am a high school senior Catholic, taught in a Jesuit high school, in the Philippines. Just so you know where I stand.
     
  2. DNK

    DNK Member

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    Alright, good to know I seem to be on target. That's how I've interpreted what I've read of his. He doesn't seem very academic at all, for the reasons you've mentioned. I always thought it was an academic's job to approach things from an unbiased and interested viewpoint, in an attempt to form a cohesive, in-depth, and objective appraisal of a given subject. He fails on all these points it seems. Maybe there are some really good pieces he's done, but I have yet to see them...
     
  3. Mark1031

    Mark1031 Chieftain

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    OK I'll bite. First off the "professionals" in this “rational” debate I assume were not neuroscientists yet the subject was the nature of free will and consciousness. I would generally consider these to be in the domain of Neuroscience. Second, although they were quite verbose and used a lot of fancy language I found that they basically said nothing that couldn’t be said in 2 sentences, typical of philosophical debates: 1. We have free will because it feels like we do and neuroscience hasn’t explain the function of the brain to a level that can unequivocally prove us wrong and 2. We are conscious because experiencing a sensation is different than understanding the neural basis of the sensation.

    I have read “The God Hypothesis” and while I don’t find it particularly more sophisticated than a typical CFC thread, that is fine with me. The arguments against theism are straightforward and don’t really need to be elaborated into full length books or overly verbose philosophical debates. The simple FSM and infinite regression of deities are more than sufficient to relegate this to the dustbin of intellectual history.
     
  4. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    How are these the domain of neuroscience? Pinning consciousness and free will down to brain processes hardly exhausts the questions about consciousness and free will!

    I really don't think there is any fundamental tension between neuroscience and philosophy of mind, they seem to coexist fine and I think each could benefit from the other!

    What, for example, is your neuroscientist's explanation for qualia? Even more importantly, how could neuroscience ever provide a satisfactory explanation of qualia?

    It's also a bit curious to call free will and consciousness the domain of neuroscience when all serious thought about free will and consciousness up until VERY recently (neuroscience is an extremely young field compared to philosophy) was philosophical and not neuroscientific, and neuroscience can hardly lay claim to the answers to questions of free will and consciousness.

    PS: Dismissing a thousands years old debate as being able to be boiled down to a sentence is a bit like me going "neuroscience is stoopid! all its doin is sayin 'that mush between ur head does that stuff'" and nothing more!!!"
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's a very general question... Catholic theology tends to be a bit less varied than Protestant theology, for obvious reasons. This is one reason why most of the interesting theology since the Reformation has been Protestant rather than Catholic. However, Catholicism has always stressed education, knowledge, and conformity with secular learning to a greater extent than Protestantism has, the Jesuits being the most obvious manifestation of this.

    It can still be pretty flexible, though, partly because there are doctrinal areas that aren't rigidly defined and partly because doctrines are always open to interpretation. For example, official Catholic teaching does not lay down any definitive understanding of how the atonement works, or of how grace and free will relate to each other. So a Catholic theologian like Karl Rahner could be highly creative in his thinking whilst adhering to the official teaching of the church. And don't forget that there are Catholic theologians who don't adhere to it; hence people like Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng (who are always mentioned in the same breath, but aren't really very similar!).

    Well of course he's good when he sticks to his subject area, which is biology; the problem is that religion is one of those subjects (the other being politics, I suppose) where it seems that a complete lack of knowledge doesn't dissuade people from sounding off. One problem is that Dawkins doesn't seem to understand even which subject he's wading into. I remember reading some article by Dawkins in which he attacked Swinburne (I think), concluding with something like "If this is theology, then blah blah blah..." - but it wasn't theology he was discussing, it was philosophy of religion. Dawkins seems unable to distinguish between them. Most of his writings on religion are philosophy, not theology, and extremely bad philosophy at that.

    Fifty answered this sufficiently already, really, but I'd like to reiterate that I don't see why the subject of free will, in particular, should be considered solely the domain of neuroscience. If nothing else, it takes a philosopher to define what "free will" is. And, yes, philosophers do take a lot of time to say things that you can sum up in a couple of sentences, but that is because philosophers are careful and don't wish to be misunderstood. It takes time to remove ambiguity, and you have to do that if you're going to get anywhere.

    No, the arguments against theism are not particularly straightforward, and they do need to be debated at length if they are to be done justice. I don't know what you mean by "FSM" or indeed "infinite regression of deities". And while I do think the arguments against theism are far better than the arguments for it, it does require a fair bit of work to show this,. Anyone who thinks that an opposing view can be dismissed so simply usually either caricatures the opposing view or hasn't thought through the counter-arguments sufficiently carefully. I haven't read The God hypothesis but it doesn't look to me like it's exactly up there with the major philosophical literature on this subject. The most important books on this subject are probably those by Swinburne and Plantinga (on the side of God) and The miracle of theism by J. Mackie (on the side against God), and all of these are certainly more sophisticated than any CFC thread. In my opinion, Mackie's book, in particular, is the best attack on theism that I know, and infinitely superior to anything Dawkins has ever written on the subject. This might have something to do with the fact that Mackie was a good philosopher who knew what he was talking about...
     
  6. CCA

    CCA Chieftain

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    In your career as a Theologian have you written any books yet?

    I find your replies on this thread fascinating and concise and would like to see more of where that came from.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Yes, I've written six, although the sixth hasn't been published yet. PM me if you want details!
     
  8. Mark1031

    Mark1031 Chieftain

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    Sorry but the age of a debate does not provide any insight into value of the arguments, if anything I would think that they would be anti-correlated. Questions that cannot be answered in 1000 yrs of debate are not answerable and the argument itself is a meaningless waste of time. Similar to CFC debates on Bush--fun to some of us but essentially a waste of time.

    I think what Dennet and Churchland do is of some use as they try to frame questions with a firm foundation in biology. It is foolishness like this that I take exception to:

    Translation: I don’t believe you because if my brilliant ideas “conceptual entities” are not more mystical than brain chemistry I would be too demoralized to even have a conversation.

    Qualia is again an attempt to make a mystery where there is none IMO. Basically it comes down to the inability to explain what smell is. It is a dissatisfaction with the explanation that a smell is the activity of particular sets of neurons because this may be experienced differently by different people and we can’t explain what that mystical “experienced” means. Well Penfield showed that perceptions, smells, memories are just neural activity, you can produce experience with electrical stimulation. It may not be satisfying to some people but that is the way it is.

    There are tons of interesting questions about the brain and mind and I have not seen any that are not in the domain of neuroscience. There is no need to invent mystical ones.
     
  9. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    That's a vary bizarre view, and one that would make a giant quantity of questions that almost anyone would agree are important "meaningless wastes of time" by your standard. I could list tons of questions that any sensible person would agree are not meaningless and yet have been debated without answer for thousands of years, but why not just consider one: by your standard, you'd be out of a job, because people would have stopped wondering about the source of the intellect (and memories and whatnot) hundreds of years before you were born! Lets suppose that attempts at systematic thought about the mind began with Parmenides (although almost surely it began earlier). He lived around 500 BC. That means that according to the Mark1031 criterion for question-meaningfulness, we should have gave up trying to figure out that intellect thing around 1500AD. I could cite more examples of age old important questions until I'm blue in the face, but I hope that suffices to show how silly you're being.

    Almost all current philosophy of mind is in the naturalistic tradition which is keenly aware of biology and neuroscience and psychology.

    First of all that's just a very small snippet of a very large debate, and one which you simply and understandably are not well versed in. I won't attempt to write a volume explaining all the stuff worth explaining here (maybe Plot should have a go!) but you really seem to just be replying to a caricature of philosophy rather than how it actually is. A good recent book that you might really enjoy is David Chalmers' "The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory".

    But how does that neural activity explain the qualitative experience of smell? Take for instance the red color of an apple. Clearly everyone would agree that there is something it is like to look at an apple. There is "redness" there, a phenomenal experience associated and caused by all that neural activity. Why?

    Well then I'd suggest mailing off the answers to Phil. Studies or something, and you'll be very very very famous. Personally, though, I think it's far more likely that you have a rather ignorant view of what philosophy of mind is all about. One thing that's for sure is that it is NOT about contradicting neuroscientific discoveries! Rather, it's more about what those discoveries mean for those age old questions about the mind.
     
  10. Mark1031

    Mark1031 Chieftain

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    @ fifty. First of all I said the argument was a waste of time. The question would remain of interest but be differed until a time when some progress could be made. On reflection I suppose there is some value in discussing the unanswerable if only to keep the question alive. I personally would not spend my time on it given the large number of current questions that can be addressed.

    As to the philosophers of mind like I said I am certainly no expert. I have only read Dennet and I did think he had something to contribute. My reply in the thread was prompted by the trashing of Dawkins and reading what was purported to be a professional debate on the existence of God. Much to my surprise it was essentially a debate on dualism, which definitely does not take into account modern neuroscience. That combined with what I consider overly pompous verbosity just sort of irked me.

    :lol: Well if I had the answers I would mail them off to Science or Nature and be much more famous.

    @ Plot could you make a better argument against Dawkins other than that he is vague and has bile. The bile is not really relevant and I don’t see where he is vague.
     
  11. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Have you seen the TED talk video or any other?
    I think he's full of it. Coming on as pompous and all knowing. Then again it's possible atheists and science need something like that in order to defeat creationists. Especially in America. But it's really nothing but militant atheism.

    Rest of the message moved to "Ask Neuroscience professor"-Thread.
     
  12. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    I have a question. It's on-topic, but doesn't follow the thread of the last few pages of discussion. I apologize if it has already been asked somewhere in the middle of the thread (28 pages is too long for me to read through at the moment).

    The question is addressed to theologians or people who have been in contact with a large number of theologians:

    What is a rough estimate of the proportion of theologians that
    a) Are religious themselves.
    b) Have a religious background
    c) Have grown up in a religious family

    The reason I ask is that a lot of my acquaintances who have experienced a),b) and c) tend to be preoccupied slightly more with religions (and by extension a kind of very laymanlike theology) than the ones who haven't.

    I myself come from a completely atheistic background and have a hard time understanding peoples preoccupation with religious issues. I'm not criticizing it in any way, but I just don't understand, neither on an intellectual or emotional level.

    My definition of theologian would be someone who tries to apply some kind of rational analysis to the issue of god/belief etc., rather than just believing in God because "That's what I've always done and I hardly ever think about why".

    I'm geniunely interested to hear some opinions on this and, again, I apologize if this was already discussed earlier on.
     
  13. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Indeed, any philosopher who is honest will tell you that they aren't going to go out and solve these huge philosophical problems. The point is that in exploring them, and in in reflecting on the state of the sciences associated with them, you perform a truly vital function! Often, a science can become very full of themself with regard to what exactly they have and have not answered, and philosophers are very good at getting down to the bottom of it! I assure you, no philosophers of mind make it their mission to contradict neuroscience. On the contrary, even philosophers who take a non-physicalist stance have the utmost respect for neuroscientific discoveries! The point is that it isn't at all clear that neuroscience can solve every question about the brain, and that's what philosophers try and figure out! I really think if you read some of the better work by philosophers who take a stance apart from that of Dennett and such, you'd find it nuanced and articulate.

    Here is a very sensible video of a lecture by Searle (uber-famous philosopher of mind) for an IBM Conference on Cognitive Computing. You might like it!


    Random question for Plotinus: Do you manage to put in 8 hour work days of reading and researching and taking notes/writing? If so, how!? What's an average work day like in the world of Plotinus!?
     
  14. DNK

    DNK Member

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    This probably isn't the thread for this, but I don't feel like making another one for its sake, so...
    Spoiler :
    I'm horribly unconvinced that dualism is a fallacious idea. I am wondering if it is because I may think it possible that the contemplation of consciousness is actually illusory, which is to say that it could be contemplated equally well by an unconscious machine. It seems completely paradoxical to me to say that one could contemplate something one had never experienced, like analyzing a thought one never had, but the world seems to be paradoxical so it doesn't bother me too much :crazyeye:

    I guess that I'm caught up on the seemingly indisputable fact that conscious experience is intrinsically different than objective appraisals of the world. It underlies the entire linked lecture, since the best logic he seems to be able to put forward to proving it is: similar causes have similar effects. But he has no really logically sound way to prove an entity conscious, and offers no way to find one, other than to keep feeling around the plumbing.

    Perhaps "consciousness" is so hard-wired into human mental processing that it can actually not exist in its idealized form (that ephemeral experience) while still being utilized by cognitive facilities for processing thought. It seems necessary, yet can it be "faked"? Can one simulate consciousness with no different effect than the real deal, assuming we even knew precisely what the difference would be!

    My head... ow... maybe the very nature of consciousness determines that it will never be understood.
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think you've completely misunderstood this passage. The point it's trying to make is that we normally think in terms of two different sorts of explanations for things. For physical events, we look for explanations in terms of efficient causation, that is, this thing caused that thing, and so on. For example, we explain a rock falling down a cliff in terms of something knocking into it, the influence of gravity, and so on. But for the actions of persons, especially mental ones, we look for explanations in terms of teleological causation, that is, reasons. He did this because he wanted that. So we explain that someone has a certain belief in terms of his other beliefs, for example. The point of this passage is that the kind of physical naturalism it's objecting to reduces the latter sort of explanation to the former: if it is true then teleological explanations are really just circumlocutions for efficient causation explanations. Which means that the only reasons we do or believe anything are physical events involving brain chemistry. And that means that you can never say that you believe something because it's true, or because the evidence supports it, or anything like that: you can only say that you believe something because certain chemicals did certain things in your brain. And that would seem to undermine most intellectual activity, because how could we have any confidence that the activity of brain chemicals tend to produce true beliefs?

    Now personally I'm not convinced by this argument. But it's far more than simply a plea to retain the mystical. You should consider carefully what's being said before you dismiss it so readily.

    No! Qualia aren't an attempt to say that we don't understand how senses work: they are what it is like to sense something. You can explain the physical and neurological operation of a sense until you're blue in the face but you won't, by doing so, be able to explain why blue looks the way it does and why yellow looks the way it does. This is the basis of the famous argument for dualism from knowledge, usually attributed to Jackson, though you can also find it in Broad (and, I think, it is hinted at in Leibniz too). Someone who knows absolutely all the physical facts about how a sense works will not, for all that, know what it is like to have that sense. An archangel may understand the chemical composition of ammonia perfectly, and may know how the sense of smell works perfectly, but he still won't know what ammonia smells like unless he's experienced it. And if that's true, then there are facts about mental experience which are not physical.

    To put it another way, neither Penfield nor anyone else has shown that perceptions, smells, and memories are neural activity, any more than you can show that a Beethoven symphony is a lot of musicians plucking strings. All you can show is that certain mental events are correlated to certain physical ones. Even if the latter are complete causes of the former, that doesn't show that they are identical; it would be extremely foolish simply to assume that they are.

    Well, I've just given you one: assuming that you can perfectly map physical events to mental ones, can you conclude from that that they are identical? Neuroscience can't answer that.

    Basically, to say that philosophy of mind should be nothing but neuroscience is like saying that the study of literature should be nothing but the study of typography, or that the study of music should be nothing but the study of how instruments are made. Philosophy of mind is, in part, about taking the results of neuroscience and asking what they really tell us and what they really don't tell us.

    If the only philosopher of mind you've read is Dennett then you can't conclude from that that philosophy of mind ignores neuroscience. Still, I agree that it's odd that they devote the first debate to this subject, which doesn't seem very relevant to me. Although there are some people who think that if you can prove some kind of dualism, this can be the basis for an argument for God's existence, but I have to say that of all the potential arguments for God's existence, this is one of the less convincing - which is saying something.

    Well, cite or quote some argument of Dawkins' and we'll see where it leads us.

    I don't know the answer to that, but I've always thought that about half the people studying theology that I've known were probably religious. I suspect that of those teaching the subject, probably more than half are religious, although not much more. I should think that a lot have a religious background or a religious family, although bear in mind that that is true of most people of the older generation anyway.

    Simply because it's interesting, I suppose.

    I would say that a theologian (in the sense of a dogmatician who tries to express doctrines, rather than in the sense of someone who merely studies theology) is someone who tries to explain what they believe carefully, not necessarily give the reasons why. Giving the reasons why is more the domain of philosophical theology or philosophy of religion, although the boundaries between these disciplines is very blurred.


    Problem is, is "contemplation of consciousness" the same thing as consciousness? If not, what is it? I've never really understood those who think that awareness, or sentience, or consciousness, or whatever you want to call it, is about reflexivity - that is, thinking about yourself or being aware of yourself (this goes back to Leibniz too). As I type this I'm not thinking about myself (or I wasn't until now), but that doesn't mean I'm typing it unconsciously - I'm just thinking about something else, namely what I'm typing about.

    The point has been made before that dualism is one of those odd things in philosophy, in that most of the good arguments in philosophy of mind are actually for dualism, yet most philosophers reject it. The idea seems to be that monism or physicalism is just obviously right, so if you can undermine the arguments for dualism, you've demonstrated physicalism. Which is why most philosophers who defend physicalism actually spend most of their time trying to demolish the arguments for dualism. Which is rather odd, but there you go.
     
  16. DNK

    DNK Member

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    Spoiler :
    I don't think I'm arguing that "contemplation of consciousness" = "consciousness" in the sense that reflexivity makes one conscious (although it is a possibility, but lets not go there), but instead am arguing that in order to contemplate something someone should have an experience of it first, which would prove an individual's consciousness. Well, arguing against/questioning that actually. If I'm reading you right, I think we're agreeing then that contemplating consciousness is not a sufficient condition for actually being conscious?

    I wasn't making an argument on definition of consciousness, but on the possibility of the contemplation thereof without actually being conscious. Sort of like the Chinese room concept: you could be "programmed" (naturally, of course) to semantically understand the meaning of words, etc, to analyze consciousness at one level, but at another one would only have these as syntactic properties, with no actual consciousness for the semantic level.

    My question becomes is there any way to actually prove consciousness ever, is a human capable of thinking about his consciousness without actually having consciousness, and would a no/yes answer mean dualism was true.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Contemplating consciousness per se might not be sufficient for being conscious, on the assumption that (a) contemplation itself does not require consciousness, and (b) you can contemplate something without having experienced it yourself. Obviously contemplating your own consciousness would be sufficient for consciousness. Really it depends on how you define "contemplate".

    The famous Chinese Room is a bad example: it assumes that syntactic manipulation and semantic manipulation are completely distinct, but that is the very thing that Searle seeks to prove. I haven't seen the clip linked to above, but I've read Searle and I'm not impressed by his arguments.
     
  18. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    How are you defining consciousness?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure how to really. The best I can do is that a conscious being is a centre of subjectivity, that is, it is like something to be that being. Which isn't much of a definition.

    I should point out, though, that although all of this is more in line with what I've actually been doing for the past couple of years, it's got nothing to do with theology!

    I suppose I'm fortunate, in a way, to have OCD, which means that I am pathologically driven to work hard. That got me through my BA when I really did work ludicrously hard non-stop for three years, but I was so exhausted that I did a lot less for my MA and didn't do quite as well. These days I find it very hard to force myself to work, but I do it anyway because I always feel that I have no choice, so I may as well get it over and done with. I've learned a lot of discipline over the years, because after finishing my MA I spent many years working in the "real" world, during most of which time I was writing as well. So I've had to force myself to research and write in my spare time. My last job, which I did for three years, was ideal for this. We worked twelve-hour shifts, but fewer days: three days of shifts, then three days off, then three days on, and so on. This made it almost impossible to have a social life (the shift pattern meant you had a weekend completely off only every so often) but meant there were more days off, most of which I spent in the library. Unfortunately every third set of shifts was night shifts, which meant I was permanently jet lagged, but I often worked through them anyway (there was usually less work during the night). I learned to grab what time I had and force myself to get it done. I feel a bit strange now, because for the first time in a very long time, I have only researching and writing to do. I'm starting the third year of my PhD now and I've been writing the thesis for about six or seven months. I would have started earlier, but I had to write a book at the tail end of last year, which took a couple of months (and also at the same time I had to help edit a documentary, which took even more time, but I found I could write at the editing suite, which helped). I also had to take a couple more months off earlier this year in order to finish another book (one I'd been working on, on and off, for about six years). So now I have only the thesis to write and it feels a little strange, especially since I seem to be rocketing through it at an indecent speed, which is a big worry because I'm afraid I might not be doing a good enough job. Although my supervisor likes what she's seen of it so far, so perhaps I'm worrying about nothing, as usual. So I needn't feel too guilty at having spent the whole weekend reading Harry Potter instead.

    I do work very quickly, fortunately. I have spent so much time over the years writing that I can normally write what I need to in the first draft, more or less, although I always spend ages polishing everything I write even though there's often not much need. I find that I tend to formulate my thoughts as I write - that is, writing actually forces me to think things through, often in ways that I wouldn't have anticipated. I'm also lucky in two other ways. First, I'm good at spotting connections between different authors or ideas that might not seem to have much to do with each other. I remember when I was an undergraduate and talking to my tutor about the dissertation I planned to write on Leibniz, and I said I wanted to relate him to Gregory of Nyssa. My tutor was terribly intrigued by this, although to me the links seemed pretty obvious. And second, I'm good at coming up with an argument to defend pretty much any view if I have to. I suppose this is what writing three 6,000-word essays a fortnight for three years does to you. But I'm not very creative; I find it hard to come up with new ideas and new theories, although I've found that I can do it if I really have to. I had a big scare last year when I found that someone had already written a book basically doing precisely what I had intended to do in my thesis. I spent a fortnight frantically trying to work out what to do instead, and came up with an idea that was related to my original plan but sufficiently different, and while writing the thesis I've been able to structure it much better and create a good argument for my position. I'm always amazed when I manage to do things like that.

    So as for the working day, no, I hardly ever manage eight or nine hours of work. It's just too exhausting. I used to think I must be lazy, but I found that I could do "normal" work perfectly well for a whole day, and that most people who work "normal" hours aren't literally working the whole time. I work in very intensive bursts punctuated by periods spent doing other things, such as writing long posts on CFC. By the middle of the afternoon I'm usually too tired to carry on, even when I know what I need to do next. In fact that's often a good time to stop, because if I know what I'm doing next, it's easier to start next time.
     
  20. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    So any living thing has consciousness then? And how about a virus?

    Of course consciousness is connected to theology: The orderliness of the universe is all about our awareness of things.

    BTW, I did enjoy reading the long part I deleted.
     
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