Energy and the Control of Energy
Carl H. Flygt
To analyze consciousness logically, Searle believes, it is correct first to describe facts about consciousness. Accordingly he produces a list of the features of consciousness, naively identified and enumerated, which will need to be explained by any logical analysis of consciousness. The list is:
I think we may need a couple of more. They are:
15. Control of energy
Now, is energy a feature of consciousness? If so, what kind of energy is it? Against the idea is the fact that a great deal of energy resides in the unconscious body. The most salient form of energy in the body, the circulation of the blood, does not leave off when consciousness leaves off and we go to sleep. Energy does not seem, on the face of it, to be a feature of consciousness per se, but rather a feature of life.
However, if we fail to consider energy as a fundamental feature of consciousness, it seems we will be unable to give an exact account of mental causation, when the time to do that comes. In general, if there is no energy there is no causation. So it looks as though we will need to put energy on the list. Besides, being conscious (in Searle’s sense of “conscious”) certainly feels as though there is some energy at play in it.
Let’s say, as a reasonable hypothetical, that the energy of consciousness is a specific sort of electromagnetic field (quantum gravitational?) generated by nervous tissue. When consciousness shuts down, as in sleep, this field shuts down. When consciousness turns on or is otherwise altered, this field turns on or is otherwise altered. Moreover, when mental events cause other events, this field exhibits certain causal powers.
Now this energy in consciousness, whatever it is, cannot be undirected. The energy of consciousness is generally intentionalistic. It cannot be heat energy, for example, although heat energy is certainly associated with the living body. It is something that can be coherently focused, albeit only within relatively narrow ranges. It is moreover something that is focused by emotions, most fundamentally by the emotions of sympathy and antipathy.
Against the idea of something in us that focuses, regulates or otherwise controls the energy of consciousness is again the fact that a great deal of regulatory control is exerted on the energy of the body during states of sleep and at other unconscious levels. Autonomic control is really the essence of the living system. But unless we accede to a form of autonomic control at conscious levels as well, we will be unable to account for moral impulses and for social activity in general. Without autonomy in rational consciousness, these will appear to be mere accidents or illusions, and this proposal is unacceptable to common sense.
So here is a scientific problem. What sorts of lenses or other control mechanisms can possibly be brought to bear by living tissue on a form of energy in conscious states that appears to be, on our best theory, electromagnetic? What form of quantum electromagnetism could have a coherent causal power, and even a rational moral power, within the living tissue? What kind of experimental protocol could possibly give us some insight into a physical field regulated fundamentally (i.e. biologically) by human emotions?
The best candidate for what controls the energy of consciousness, I think, are the feedback mechanisms involved in maintaining the skeletal frame, and particularly the spinal column, in an upright position. To be sure, one may remain conscious when lying down, but this is because these feedback loops are substantially overdetermined. The energy of consciousness, which is supervenient on a large number of overlapping and redundant feedback mechanisms, is controlled by the sum of these mechanisms. These proprioceptive mechanisms are in play regardless of the posture the body assumes. Presumably they are inhibited when consciousness is lost.
Now, to a large degree these proprioceptive mechanisms are responsible for the sense of self. What else could be? The transcendental unity of proprioception, the energy field associated with these mechanisms, is the field of self-conscious experience. This field contains a great deal of hidden emotional and spiritual potential, as any meditator, occultist or connoisseur of psychedelics will attest. I have worked out a way to experiment with this field by using no interventions other than language, posture and a willingness to work self-consciously out a new kind of social-political framework. To see how such experiments can be constructed, one will need to review my theory of conversation, and perhaps Medieval accounts of the quest for the Holy Grail.