unbundling the binding problem

There are a number of unwarranted assumptions underlying the discussion of the so-called "Binding Problem", and an overall flavour of circularity in the discussion. Not to mention the strong possibility that the innate treachery of language may be contributing to the creation of a non-issue re this issue.

Consider, for example, the Revonsuo and Newman (1999)* definition: The Binding Problem is "…the problem of how the unity of conscious perception is brought about by the distributed activities of the central nervous system."The Binding Problem is called a problem because we don't know how the unity of conscious perception happens. So it's a problem for us because we don't understand it. In fact, not only do we not know how "it" happens, we don’t even know what "it" is, why “it” is, or even whether “it” happens at all.

There is still no good theory of consciousness: what it is, where it lives, whether it is in fact unified, etc. And there is still no good theory of "personal selfhood": what it is, where it lives, whether it is one or many, where the boundary of the self is, etc.

There is no "central meaner" to mangle Daniel Dennett. There is no homunculus in the control room inside your skull behind your eyes. There is no control room, there is no ONE in control. Consciousness emerges when a certain level of complexity is reached--it is susceptible to reductionist analysis only up to a point, and no further. And beyond that point, there is still a fair way to go, we suspect.

This whole area is very slippery. There is much potential here for confusing or confuting the whole with its parts. Which in turn raises more questions about the gestalt, and how fine- or coarse-grained it can be.

So the opportunity is to focus less sharply on the "how" and more sharply on the "what", the "why" and the "whether". Less on the parts, and more on the whole. And in so doing, maybe we will discover and come to understand a great deal more than we bargained for, or even suspected was out there to be understood.

For instance, maybe we will discover a quantum theory of consciousness. (And no, I don't think it has anything to do with microtubules or morphic resonance). Maybe we will discover that observers can and do create realities in a much more substantial, divine, really real way than could ever be encompassed in the trivial speculations of new age spirituality. Maybe we will find a truth much bigger than the wildest dreams of the Deepak Chopras and James Redfields and their like.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. What do you think?

* Revonsuo, A and Newman, J. (1999). Binding and Consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 8, 123-127.

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