What is Going On?
It's a dance.
It's kind of an unanswerable question because as soon as you find out what WAS going on something else is going on.
It's not as bad as it might sound. In general, and for most of a lifetime, people do pretty well at coping with whatever is going on.
We share that with all living things.
But people seem to have taken that question to a whole new level.
Think about fame for instance. What's going on there?
Our way of speaking treats fame as a possession of a person; ie "Person A has fame" and therefore people offer A lots of money to endorse their products (or whatever).
But that's not really what's going on.
What's going on is a common behavior in a bunch or people - they pay attention to Person A.
That is: they don't pay attention to Person A because A is famous.
Rather, them paying attention is what makes A famous.
Daniel Dennett provides an example.
Imagine Jim with an outstanding first novel that is going to be launched on Wednesday. The publishers are excited and the books are printed and shipped. The media is excited and Jim is booked for interviews and book tours. Jim is about to become famous: a person that lots of others pay attention to. On the day a disaster strikes that is of such magnitude that Jim can't get a spot in the news.
Nobody hears of him and he doesn't become famous.
The idea here is that any one moment there may be many people who COULD become famous if things work out right but most of those don't come to be actual.
Dennett proposes that our ancient way of thinking of consciousness has the same logical error as the "Person A has fame" idea.
Consciousness is not a thing that anything possesses.
People are conscious - it shows in their behavior, in the way they avoid stumbling on rocks and in the way they woo lovers.
The question is how can people be conscious? What is going on? And for me this question must be answered within the scope of a causally closed reality where we take things like conservation of mass and energy seriously.
Stepping back a bit here.
Let's recall what we've learned about the brain and the human body in general. The brain has been described as a mass of stuff with the texture of custard. People started examining that stuff in detail. Lots of people over hundreds of years who learned from each other. Amazing things were learned. There are actually structures in that stuff that do things like recognize faces. The hope was that if there are structures like that, then maybe there is a structure that could be called consciousness. When it's working we are conscious and when it isn't we are not conscious. That reductionist dream turned out to be not the case.
The case turned out to be quite strange.
There are all those structures doing particular things and the whole brain is informed all the time about the state of those structures.
But not all that information is used. Most is not in fact, it's there but is not effective. This is like the case of Jim the novelist - who was all set up to be famous but never became famous.
The idea here is that all that information is fed into our neocortex. What the neocortex does is generate stories.
It generates many stories at once: What happens is that sometimes the stories reinforce each other to create more effective stories.
A most effective story emerges that controls our behaviour.
That is being conscious.
We can think of consciousness as the story we tell ourselves about what is going on.
What do you think?