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Consciousness?

  1. Feb 21, 2004 #1
    Consciousness????

    is our consciousness an attribute of self or is it a better definition of our being??

    this week, for whatever reason(s), i got the suspicion that 'consciousness' is our ability to focus our attention within a given experience. it is a part of me, not me.

    please opine,


    peace,
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2004 #2
    I think that a lot of traditional philosophical distinctions are utterly useless and that many make a lot of presumptions.

    So, I don't care about labelling something as "self" or "being". What is the difference?

    My 2 cents:

    consciousness=sentience=ability to feel=ability to experience

    Consciousness is a process--the interaction of many different parts
     
  4. Feb 21, 2004 #3
    i find myself freakin' out sometimes when i go too deep on this subject...

    but other dude is right, it is sort of like a stream of information being processed thru your senses... given your short term memory you are able to do things with these senses, and either knowingly or not commit to long term memory some/all of these sensations (based on whatever it is you are experiencing).

    as for your subconcious, it is the recorder of all your senses... it is said that 99.9 of everything you experience is right there for you to remember... it is the lack of ability to recall of this memory that is 'forgetting'...

    the purpose of the unconcious mind isnt very clear to me...

    the concious is dependant on these other sub-processes that we are unaware of...
     
  5. Feb 22, 2004 #4
    This is the state of play.

    We all experience consciousness in the first-person. However in the third-person all bets are off.

    Science has no definition of consciousness. It has no idea of what it is, where it comes from, or in fact anything at all about it. There is clearly a link between brain and mind but the nature of this link, and whether it accounts for consciousness, is currently unknown.

    Academic philosophers generally define it as 'what it is like to be' or something equivalent. They don't know anything about it either.

    This is what led Jerry Fodor (who knows what he's talking about) to write this:

    "Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.
    So much for the philosophy of consciousness"
    - Fodor, J.A. Times Literary Supplement, July 3 1992

    Fodor ignores introspective philosophers, who assert that they know quite a lot about it. From his perspective this is probably fair enough, since they assert that none of it can be proved in the third-person but only known directly.

    Because of all this you are the only person who can answer your question properly.
     
  6. Feb 22, 2004 #5
    well what do you have to say about my definition of conciousness? it really has nothing to do with why/how we posses it, just how it works.

    which i think was more of what olde was curious about.
     
  7. Feb 23, 2004 #6
    I believe the conscious mind is the ability to reason. When you touch a hot surface and suddenly withdraw your hand, you didn't decide to move your hand, your body just does it as a reflex. That is your subconscious mind. It is your body, your instinct, your reflexes, everything you are unaware of. The conscious is your aware self that exists only to reason. It is essentially piggy-backing on your subconscious. If you are faced with two paths to take, it is your conscious mind that decides which to take. If you're trying to decide what to eat today, it's your conscious mind that makes that decision.
     
  8. Feb 24, 2004 #7
    The problem is that the definition of consciousness is closely tied up with why/how we possess it. What we know is that if we feel or experience then we are conscious. People who are not concerned with a scientific defintion therefore generally define it as feeling or experiencing. More than that it's hard to say. It really is a scientific mystery.

    If we knew that consciousness dependended on a certain level of brain complexity, or a certain sophistication of sensory apparatus or somesuch, then we would have a starting point. Unfortunately we don't know even this, although there are plenty of hypotheses.

    There are those who believe it must arise from brain, and those who believe that it cannot for logical reasons. Neuroscience hopes to find it by poking about among neurons, but at the same time neurophysiologist Karl Pribram comments that there is as much chance of finding consciousness by doing this as there is of finding gravity by digging to the centre of the Earth.

    The fundamental dispute is between materialists, who believe that consciousness arises from matter, and those who believe that matter arises from consciousness. We can't even decide this question yet. This is probably the one field of research in which there are no scientific experts and in which we all have access to the data.

    As for the definition, I'd go for the common 'what it is like to be'. Any more than this is conjecture.
     
  9. Feb 24, 2004 #8
    I don't want to get into another scientific debate about whether consciousness actually exists, if it does, what exactly is it and where it originates.
    Those discussions always seem to end up being fruitless.

    I would, however, like to say that I essentially agree with olde drunk (I like the handle, by the way).

    Not exactly that consciousness is our ability to focus, rather consciousness is a state of being that describes the direction and depth of our focus.

    Without going too deeply into it, I believe there are seven distinct states of consciousness and effectively endless degrees within and between those states.
    Basically your distinct state of consciousness is determined by what you are focused on.
     
  10. Feb 24, 2004 #9
    is matter arising from conciousness sort of like the matrix theorie?
     
  11. Feb 24, 2004 #10
  12. Feb 24, 2004 #11
    I don't really understand that. Why not just say it's a state of being?

    That seems true. But it does not follow from this that consciousness is attention. Consciousness must be what all states have in common, regardless of the focus of attention. In other words it must be what is not contingent on any particular state because when the state changes you are still conscious.
     
  13. Feb 24, 2004 #12
    And which happens to be the only aspect that the Scientific Method has any interest in (or ability for) explaining.
     
  14. Feb 24, 2004 #13
    Interesting way of putting it, Pergatory. Joseph LeDoux made similar comparisons in Synaptic Self, but then he went on to postulate that it is these quick, reflexive, actions - combined into more and more complex patterns - that gives rise to the higher conscious experience.
     
  15. Feb 24, 2004 #14
    I mostly agree (especially with that last statement). However, what if scientists wanted to undertake the explanation of consciousness, in a purely scientific manner? Then they wouldn't have to prove that matter really exists, since science already makes that assumption. They also wouldn't have to explain "why" such-and-such mechanisms produce consciousness. They'd just have to show "which" occurances are conscious and "how" to reproduce such occurances...right?
     
  16. Feb 24, 2004 #15
    This raises a lot of issues. Firstly I'm not sure if science really does assume that matter exists. If matter is assumed to be reducible to 'something' (some quanta of matter or energy) then it exists. But this view is beginning to look a bit shaky. Science seems very close to concluding that everything is made out of 'void'. At the moment it prefers to think of this in terms of 'something' emerging from the void, but how can this be? To be honest I'm not at all sure what science does assume about the fundamental nature of matter these days. Is there an 'orthodox' view?

    I agree that the 'why' question is not really scientific (although, being a non-believer, I can't quite understand why that that matters to anyone). However I do not understand how science is going to find the mechanism that produces something that it cannot detect. The idea seems paradoxical. In certain respects it can be done, since some induced brain changes produce roughly predictable and reproducible changes in conscious states. But can this approach explain consciousness? I don't think it can.

    We've always known that sticking a pin in someone causes them to feel pain. Sticking an electrode in a brain to cause a feeling of heat, or redness, does not seem to move us on much.

    Science accounts for most things in terms of other things. Gravity makes thing fall down and we can predict very precisely how they will fall. However this doesn't help explain gravity.

    Also proving certain correlations between brain states and conscious states (possible only if we take the existence of those states on faith alone, by a trust in the subject's reports), does not help us cross the infamous 'explanatory gap'.

    There is also some question as to whether the idea of 'neural correlates of consciousness, (or any other sort of correlates) really makes sense. A number of recent papers argue that the idea of NCC's is incoherent. (Or equivalently they argue that a coherent theory of NCC's cannot be scientific).

    As you say earlier discussions about how to explain consciousness, or approach an explanation, in strictly scientific terms always seem to end inconclusively. I think we should start drawing conclusions from this.

    Do you think we will sort it out scientifically in the end?
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2004
  17. Feb 25, 2004 #16
    Point well taken.
     
  18. Feb 25, 2004 #17
    Actually, I don't think science is for sorting things out. I don't think science is for ariving at conclusions, either. I think it's for postulating theories that may (and probably will) be disproven, but which work for the classification and coherent comprehension of the phenomenon that they address.

    You are indeed corret that we should start drawing conclusions from the inconclusiveness of scientific debate on the matter of consciousness. The conclusion to be drawn, however, is one that is stated and imbedded into the Method itself: the highest point that an hypothesis can graduate to is "well-founded theory"; there are no certainties, or, if there are, they are not the concern of scientists.

    That sometimes leaves a bad impression of science, but it may just turn out that the only certainty is that there are no certainties, in which case Science is on the right track.

    Please forgive my rambling and try to extract some meaning if you can .
     
  19. Feb 26, 2004 #18
    Mentat

    I think I see where you're coming from. But I don't think anyone is asking for a scientific theory of consciousness that is more certain than other scientific theories. What they (I) would ask for is very simply one that is testable and possibly true. That is all.
     
  20. Feb 26, 2004 #19
    It's starting to occur to me that we may need a new definition of consciousness...there will be a thread :smile:.
     
  21. Feb 26, 2004 #20
    I love it! The constant 'programming' of your reflexes to higher and higher levels of complixity allows your mind to focus on other things, like what you're going to do tonight or what you'd rather be doing right now. Sort of ties into what one_raven was saying:

    This knowledge can be applied to all things. Sports, math, reading, etc. Let's take driving for example. As you first start driving, you're focused on programming your basic reflexes. Corner coming up, need to apply brakes. Corner arrived, need to rotate steering wheel. Then as those become more hard-coded (so to speak) you are free to focus on more complicated ideas, such as exactly what point you turn in, how fast you will go. Eventually even that is subconscious, and all you think about while driving is "there's the lane, I want to go down the center of that lane."
     
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