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How possible when atoms come together in certain way to produce conscious being

  1. Aug 19, 2010 #1
    I'm not a science student. Therefore, please keep your reply simple and straightforward so that your help and guidance can be appreciated to the fullest. Thank you.

    I don't know if it's the right forum to ask this question. My question is not exactly about the origin of life rather it's focused on the interaction of atoms. How is this possible that when atoms, non-living units by every definition, come together in a certain, particular way give rise to a conscious being? I can't explain it more but I hope you could understand what I'm trying to ask. Please let me know your thoughts, opinions on this. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 19, 2010 #2


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    Nobody knows how consciousness arises, but there's a lot of speculation about it. Science is just now starting to understand the brain in terms of how behavior and cognitive aspects arise from neural coding and how memory and learning occur, but the question of how the subjective experience, "consciousness" occurs is a difficult problem.
  4. Aug 19, 2010 #3
    you mention you are not specifically asking about the origin of life, but certainly your question relates to evolution. One trend we note in evolution is the tendency for the most complex organism in existence at any one time to be more complex the more time has passed. By this I mean the first organisms were very simple archea and bacteria. Then came single celled eukaryotes, then simple multicellular plants and animals. (Keep in mind that the simpler organisms have always dominated life on the planet, its just that the end members get more complicated.)

    This tendency to increase in complexity continued with the development of nerve tissue. Early animals had simple nervous systems, which led on to primitive brains, which increased in complexity through amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Somewhere along this trend consciouness emerged, but as Pythagorean has said we still don't understand how that part of the sequence came about. We've got a pretty good grasp of all the earlier stages, though.
  5. Aug 19, 2010 #4

    How do all the parts of a car give rise to a car? Certainly when its "atoms", its parts, come together in the right way, the car emerges. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Same way with the atoms of a solar system and what emerges are planets, environments, weather, and geology. I mean just putting together a few pieces of wood causes a desk to emerge and the concept of desk is greater than the sum of pieces of wood.

    We happen to be the designer in the case of a car and desk and Nature is the designer of life. The Universe was created with a particular set of properties and those properties allow atoms to come together naturally in forms that are greater than the sum of their parts.
  6. Sep 2, 2010 #5
    complexity is the natural way of our universe and this complexity causes an emergent process ie- consciousness.
    jackmell was right when he says"The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts"
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2010
  7. Sep 2, 2010 #6
  8. Sep 2, 2010 #7


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    First of all, it might be more fruitful to investigate how a collection of neurons might give rise to consciousness. If we continue the previously mentioned "how do atoms make a car" analogy, then it's easier to start with the question "how can scraps of metal form a car" as that's closer to the heart of the issue.

    In addition, the definition of "consciousness" itself is tricky. How do you distinguish between a conscious and unconscious entity? One simple, but maybe over simplified, way of answering that is to say that a conscious entity is one that can analyze itself to the same extent that it can analyze its environment. With this definition, in order for a collection of neurons to be conscious, they'd have to be able to build exact mental models of themselves, in addition to external things like tables and chair.

    Notice that this can't be achieved with an ordinary PC by saving a picture of it's schematics on it's harddrive, because in order for the schematics to be complete they'd have to contain the schematics themselves, and it's easy to see that this would continue ad infinitum. This seems like a trivial issue but some researchers [Hofstadter] think that this is actually the heart of the problem. In his opinion [read "I'm a Strange Loop" for details] an entity can be self aware when it can describe itself in such a way that the description is just as powerful as the original entity. He calls this phenomenon a "strange loop". One way of visualizing it is thinking of Escher's infinite staircase:

    So if I understand Hofstadter correctly, his claim is that neurons could give rise to consciousness if they could be used to simulate a brain no less powerful than the original.

    Of course, I haven't heard of any evidence showing that this is actually what's happening, but it at least gives an idea of how it could be possible in theory.
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