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An idea regarding consciousness/thought.

  1. Sep 2, 2006 #1
    I've been doing a lot of thinking lately in the regards to the nature of consciousness, sentience, thought, all that great stuff that is beining investigated by neuroscience. Now my current understanding of physics may be lacking, so forgive me if some of these ideas are not accurate in accordance with our modern understanding (though thats why I choose to put this in metaphysics :biggrin: ).

    As I read through articles on neurons, synapses, and theories regarding cognition/consciousness/thought (all from wikipedia), I settled into the understanding that all mental processes (thought, consciousness, memory) are 100% reliant on the configuration of matter in the brain, and small chemical/electrical/magnetic "waves" simulate these configurations to give us the sense of 'consciousness". But just as that thought crossed my mind I had an idea: all organs are matter, all matter is energy for neither could survive/exist without the other. The 'waves' are energy as well. So the configuration itself is reliant on even smaller units. So does this mean that these smaller untis give rise to consciousness?

    Laws of conservation of energy and matter state that neither are destroyed, only changed (thats probably a bad way to put that so forgive me please). So I asked myself the question: "If the brain is matter/energy, and cognitive processes are all derived from this, then would this imply that consciousness is -in a sense- an immortal quality of nature?"

    However I then came to the understanding that energy is constantly leaving/entering the brain (it never disapears because this would go against the laws of energy). But is some form of energy present from birth to death? Matter doesn't enter or leave the brain (or does it?).

    Basically what I'm implying here is that, since energy/matter are reliant on one another, and the configurations of matter in the brain give rise to consciousness, than wouldn't it seem logical that consciousness doesn't exactly "end", only lie dormant/sleep (poor wording on my part), until it finds itself in another brain/neural structure?

    I'd just like to apologize out-right if posting a topic before actually making a regular post is "taboo" on these forums. I'd also like to apologize for speaking about topics such as physics, consciousness, and the brain, when I have a such a small understanding of these topics. I've only been researching said topics for, at best, two months. But in this time I feel I've come to grasp some of the basics of them, and would like to discuss them. Hence my will to impose on your time and ask questions. :redface:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2006 #2
    Hi Paladin,

    Welcome to PF. If you need to apologize for entering this forum the way you did, then I'm sure I need to apologize for being the one to welcome you to the forum. I am not typical here and my views are not representative of most of the rest of the contributors.

    With that in mind, I'll give you my views on some of your questions. You expressed the commonly held opinion that all mental processes are solely dependent on the physical configuration and states of the brain. I respectfully disagree with that assumption, which I think is all-to-often made without acknowledging it.

    I frequently make the analogy that thought is to brain as music is to radio. If you didn't know better, and only heard a radio playing, it would seem obvious that the music coming out of it was produced solely by the physical configuration and states of the components of the radio. As we know, there is something else involved, viz. the EM radiation carrying the information that is converted into music by the radio.

    I think it is presumptious to rule out this possibility for the brain. It might just be a receiver/transmitter in a link to some other source or seat of consciousness and thought. In fact, in my humble opinion, if you posit such an hypothesis, you are led to what I think is a much more comprehensive and satisfactory set of answers to some of the most fundamental mysteries there are.

    In the meantime, I think that the approach of neuroscientists, with all due respect to what they have accomplished, is equivalent to trying to discover how a radio works by putting probes inside the circuits of the radio and using them to discover patterns in current flow through the various components. That might be interesting, but it won't shed much light on where the music actually comes from.

    I just offer this as something for you to think about in your musings.

    Warm regards,

  4. Sep 2, 2006 #3
    Hey Paul,

    Don't you think it's a bit premature to conclude that we will never be able to explain consciousness and thought with objective math/equipment?
    To me it looks like this is all a matter of perspective.

    Humans are built in a way that allows us to gather information with our senses, process it, and experience it.
    What this tells me is that we need to find out why it is able to do this.

    I think that the human experience and thought process is an emergent property of a lot of things, namely our bodies, memories and our senses.
    The problem with trying to understand this with math and physics and neuroscience, is that they are only looking at half the picture.
    They haven't developed a system for explaining how all these things work together, but rather how they work separately.

    As you said, trying to find music in the radio by measuring voltages is not the right way to do it, you also need another system, namely a memory and memory processing unit, to hear the music.
    The sound is right there, and that's all there is, there exists nothing but the sound physically, nor does it exist anything but a memory processing unit.
    The memory processing unit works by cross referencing what it hears with things it has heard before, and other memories that are relevant.
    It does this by using a neuralnet.

    As you can see, the music neither exists in the memory unit, nor in the radio, it's the combined physical events of each that makes the music emerge, take away one and the music goes away.
    After I realized this it seemed obvious to me why consciousness is so elusive..
    One needs to comprehend all the parts that make up that consciousness, not just the brain.

    The problem most people have with this is this innate feeling that there is a conscious constituent besides the brain, senses and world.
    To best make you think otherwise about that, I will offer the following example.

    What if our memory unit was born, with no world and no senses, what would their brain physically look like?
    It would probably be pretty dead.
    I mean there would be no information going in.
    Meaning the brain might be physically alive, but since the unit never receives any information, it won't create any information either.
    It's like a hard drive in a computer, or a computer without an operating system.
    While there is current going through the circuits, there is no image on the monitor, it's simply blank, because it has nothing to work with.

    This assumes that the brain has a clean slate, aka no memories or no data in the brain.

    Think of it another way, the reason this pepsi bottle is a bottle, is because I am consciosuly combining the molecules that make up this bottle, into a shape.
    This shape also has other shapes, namely paper, with letters that are in some other shapes, and all these shapes are referenced by the brain, to make a coherent object.
    Trying to explain what a pepsi bottle is with math seems a daunting task to me, but what really interests me is that we might need some math or system for explaining emergent properties.
    We can explain with math all the shapes that make up the bottle, including the pepsi logo and so forth, but the meaning behind this is lost, simply because we did not include memories or vision and so forth.

    But here's the kicker of it, how are we supposed to calculate something that we are not a part of?

    If you imagine consciousness as an extremely complex torrent of physical events, taking into account memories, neuralnets, shapes, vision, hearing, touching, etc, then you are suddenly going into a God mode.
    You are trying to see an emergent pattern, but that emergent pattern only exists as One coherent pattern, where the pattern in itself is consciousness.
    Trying to explain how it is to be that pattern seems impossible because you would need to be that emergent patterns of physical events, yet, it is nothing but physical in nature.

    Quite puzzling.
  5. Sep 2, 2006 #4
    Yes, it is premature. I have never drawn that conclusion or made that claim.
    I would have to agree. I think all of reality is nothing but perspective.
    But wait, there's more! In addition to the ability to gather information from our senses, we are able to access information strictly from within our mind. We can imagine concepts like irrational numbers, black holes, and dark matter independently of our senses. Yes, we build complex concepts on a foundation that begins with sense impressions, but there is something in addition which allows us to conceive and imagine novel concepts.
    I think it is a bit premature to exclude from this list the possibility of mind itself adding grist to this mill.
    I'm suggesting that there is possibly something they are overlooking that is not only outside the brain, but that is outside the physical universe altogether.
    You may have missed the point of the analogy. The point is that to get a complete picture, you not only have to consider the radio and its components, the sound that comes out, and the experience of the listener, but you have to know about and consider the existence of the radio transmitting station and the EM waves carrying the signal to the radio. That analog is what is missing from neuroscience.
    Are you sure about that? I happen to believe that there is a good possibility that memories are not wholly resident in the brain, or even in physical reality.
    As I see it, music involves a complex communication channel with many different kinds of nodes and transmission means. It starts in the imagination of a composer. From there it is transmitted via the composer's nervous/muscular/skeletal system to ink marks on paper. From there to the eyes, brain, and mind of a performer. From there to the muscles and body of the performer, then to the instrument which mechanically vibrates air. Compression waves then take it to the microphone, and from there (skipping additional nodes/transmissions of tape recordings etc.,) the music makes its way through the transmitter amplifiers and circuits to the antenna. From there, as EM waves, it is transmitted to the radio, then through the radio's circuits to the speaker driver where it is converted to air compression waves again. These finally make it to the ear of the listener whose brain processes and interprets the vibrations so that the mind experiences music. The mysterious component in all this is the mind. We can build computers and other devices which can do all the jobs of ears, nerves, vocal cords, etc. We can imagine computers composing "music" and sharing it with other computers. But without a mind in the chain, I maintain that all you have is vibrations and patterns. You don't have music.
    I agree. I only caution that the mind is one of the most important parts and it may be a big mistake to assume that the mind resides in the brain.
    I'd say it's not a problem. Rather, I think there is good reason why people have this innate feeling. That is because there is a conscious constituent outside the brain.

    Warm regards,

  6. Sep 3, 2006 #5
    But of course consciousness has many different energy inputs (from various senses) whereas radio only has one (EM radiation)--thus consciousness is a much more complex "black box" than radio, and like the radio thus functions as a "thing" that exists and interacts with its environment. Are you saying that neuroscientists do not study the energy inputs to act of "thinking", that they only probe inside the black box :confused:
  7. Sep 3, 2006 #6
    No. That's not what I'm saying at all. In either case, the radio or the brain, the energy inputs are not nearly as interesting as the information signals. In the radio the energy input is the battery power or the power from the wall socket. In the brain it is the glucose from the food the person ate (forgive me if I got the chemistry wrong here. As I say, it is not really that interesting.) The energy input in both cases is straightforward and poses no mystery.

    But the information signals is where it really gets interesting. In the case of radio, the origin of those signals cannot be found in the radio because they don't originate there. They come from the EM field that is outside the radio and made of completely different stuff than the solid state components of the radio are made. If you don't understand the origin, propagation, and reception of those EM signals, then you don't understand much at all about how a radio works.

    I maintain that the same thing holds true for thoughts with respect to brain functions. The interesting question is what is the origin of things like insight, or inspiration, or imagination, or intention, or any original thought? If it so happens, as I suspect is the case, that those things originate outside the brain and are communicated to brain components similar to the way in which EM signals are communicated to radio components, then the neuroscientists will have no more chance of discovering the true mechanism than if they were looking for the origin of the radio music in the radio circuits and functions.

    The whole point of the analogy is that the brain/mind system may be larger than, and include quite different types of components than, the physical brain alone, just as the radio/music system is larger than, and includes quite different types of components (i.e. broadcasting station and EM radiation) than those that make up the radio itself. I just ask that cognitive scientists simply open their minds to that possibility.

    Warm regards,

    Last edited: Sep 3, 2006
  8. Sep 8, 2006 #7
    Yes. But beware of making category errors. It does not follow that consciousness "is" either matter or energy. Consciousness emerges as a property of particular physical configurations - but properties of (physical configurations of) matter and energy are not necessarily themselves a category of matter or energy. For example, the chair I am sitting on has (amongst others) the property of being 1 metre high - but the property of being 1 metre high is not energy or matter per se.

    No, for the reasons explained above. My chair has the property of being 1 metre high, but though the mass/energy from which my chair is composed obeys the laws of conservation of mass/energy, it does not follow that the properties of my chair are immortal - the height of my chair is a property of a particular configuartion of this mass/energy and is thus not an "immortal quality of nature". In the same way, consciousness emerges as a property of a particular configuration of mass/energy, and though mass/energy may be conserved it does not follow that the emergent property of consciousness is conserved.

    Sure it does. The brain grows from birth (the mass of your brain now is greater than the mass of your brain at birth) - how can it grow unless matter enters it?

    You have the answer in your question - "the configurations of matter in the brain give rise to consciousness" - though mass/energy may be conserved, it does not follow that the configurations of mass/energy are conserved, hence it does not follow that consciousness is conserved.

    Best Regards
  9. Sep 8, 2006 #8
    I read soemthing interesting today out of Sam Parnia's book on NDE's. He made a good point to me.

    Everything in this world, whether it be a tree or a human or whatever, is compromised (from the ground up) of sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc etc. He stated that since everything else is made up of these, then why not consciousness?

    Also, the Amoeba may lend an insight into this thought that consciousness is in some way apart of sub-atomic processes. Amoeba's are single-celled organisms that -being single celled- lack neurons/synapses. Yet Amoebas show signs of conscious activity such as finding food, percieving threats, and learning. How can a single celled organism possibly exhibit these traits yet not have a brain or neural structure. The answer is that the only possible location is more molecularly/atomically.

    Interesting. This brings me back to the point: everything in the universe is made up of energy/atoms (and sub-atomic particles). So whats so different about consciousness?

    But the chair is matter, no?

    But if consciousness arises from a configuration of matter, then how come when a human being is lacking certain pieces (i.e. HM, the guy who lacks a hippocamus from the operation in the 1950's that ended his seizures) he can still function. Also even though HM lost the ability to form new long-term memories, he had his old ones from before the loss of the hippocamus. So where are his old memories stored?

    Thank you for the input. I was not entirely sure on the subject. But Does matter leave the brain?
    Once again, if single-celled organisms exhibit even the smallest conscious experience, then we can not be so sure that consciousness, or the "roots" of consciousness, are destroyed at death.

    Its all quite interesting. I'm almost 100% positive that consciousness is, in some part, related to matter/energy. All things in the universe are. The questions are: how is it related? How well is it related? Do matter/energy perform any role in the conscious experience?
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2006
  10. Sep 8, 2006 #9
    Yes it is, but that's not the point. The "height of the chair" is a property (let's say H) of the chair which depends on the configuration of that matter. The matter of the chair may be re-arranged, in which case H changes. H is not conserved, even though mass/energy may be. It's the same with consciousness.

    Consciousness is not reliant on a single "critical component" in the brain in order to function (this was Descartes idea, long since discredited). Consciousness is a distributed function in the brain, and many parts of the brain can be lesioned without destroying consciousness (though some abilities may be impaired). It seems that the hippocampus is involved in the process of memory formation, but is not the "site" where memories are stored in the brain. For more detailed information on the role of the hippocampus in memory acquisition, and a discussion of the HM case, see http://homepages.nyu.edu/~eh597/seahorse.htm [Broken]

    The brain is partly a chemical factory. Brain cells need nutrients (including oxygen) to function and survive, and the processes of "consuming" these nutrients results in waste products (carbon dioxide being one prime example) which are removed from the brain via the bloodstream. So yes, matter (in the form of waste products) does leave the brain.

    (1) that's a big "if" - where is the evidence? (2) even "if" single-celled organisms are conscious (which I doubt), why would that imply consciousness survives death? (It's a bit like the quaint old 18th century belief in "elan vital" - the mystical secret component of "life" which transforms inanimate objects into living things).

    How : Configurationally. Consciousness is a property which emerges from a particular configuration of matter.
    How well : Only very particular and complex configurations give rise to this property.
    Role : Only in the sense that they provide the configurational substrate. I can't make a chair without matter, but the particular nature of the matter very often does not play much of a role - as long as the structure is strong and rigid the configuration is what matters, not the precise materials used (I can make a chair from wood, steel, plastic, concrete, in fact almost any sufficiently strong and rigid material).

    Best Regards
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  11. Sep 9, 2006 #10
    Well we actually do know that there is a 'mystical' (or rather invisible) component to some lifeforms, without which the lifeforms would not be the animate objects that they obviously are. Take humans for example, they have experiences. These experiences can not be seen when one slices the human open, or puts its cells under a microscope.

    Who is to say that single celled organisms do not have such invisible forces too? And what evidence is there that these invisible forces can only be generated by the brain?

    Since our brain is a product of evolution, the idea that consciousness might be present in its ancestors (the very first lifeforms) is not at all unlikely, unless one holds the brain to be a mystical organ in the universe.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2006
  12. Sep 9, 2006 #11
    Indeed, who is to say that my chair is not conscious, and what evidence is there that these invisible forces are not generated within my chair? The point is that we can assume anything and everything is conscious by following that argument.

    It is imho very unlikely, since I believe consciousness is an emergent property of sufficiently complex self-referential agents with an ability to form an internalised self-model. The human brain is indeed one of the (if not the) most complex object known to us, and in that respect is quite unique.

    Best Regards
  13. Sep 9, 2006 #12
    This is no different from assuming only the brain is conscious. If we pick only brains, why not ony Windows XP and Vista too? Pretty advanced software...

    But, unique in what way? What is it that makes neurons and their behaviour physically unique?
  14. Sep 9, 2006 #13
    Exactly. Should we claim that all of these things may be conscious? Or would it be better to assume entities are not conscious unless we have evidential justification for believing they are conscious? What is the alternative - assuming that anything and everything is conscious?

    Human brains are unique in their configurational complexity - a configuration with the necessary properties which leads to the emergence of consciousness. For the details of how consciousness might emerge in the brain, see for example

    http://psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/symposia/metzinger/precis.pdf#search="metzinger being no one"

    Best Regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  15. Sep 9, 2006 #14
    I dont think either of option is worse than the other. Its quite similar to the alien life debate. What should we think, is earth the only planet with life in the universe, or is there other life out there? Unless we know what it is and how it comes about, we cant tell.

    In that paper metzinger writes:

    The minimally sufficient correlate is the physical action that is needed to generate consciousness and he points out that it is unknown what the correlate is. Consciousness could be a property of processing in general even if it is not neural.

    Btw I couldnt help but show this picture:
    http://img246.imageshack.us/img246/750/neurongalaxyny9.jpg [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  16. Sep 9, 2006 #15


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    Once more into the gap, dear gods!
  17. Sep 9, 2006 #16
    Indeed it could, and I believe it is. In other words, machines can be conscious too.

    Best Regards
  18. Sep 9, 2006 #17
    Is it a gap of the gods, or a god of the gaps?
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