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What do you think consciousness is?

  1. Sep 9, 2003 #1
    I didn't make this into a poll, because I don't want to limit your options. I want everyone to post what they believe consciousness is. There will probably be alot of debate on the different ideas, but that's what's supposed to happen (may the best theory win ).

    This will help in a number of threads, and all responses are appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2003 #2
    Consciousness is what "validates" our existence. Please see my thread on Consciousness And What Constitutes Proof?
  4. Sep 9, 2003 #3
    You have only said one of the things that consciousness does for us, you haven't defined it. Please try and define it.
  5. Sep 9, 2003 #4
    Consciousness is being aware of ones environment and responding to it.
    This includes plants and one celled life. We normally think of consciousness as a human trait of being intelligently aware and self aware. This is an extremely limited anthromorphic view. Human consciousnes may be the highest most complex level of consciousness we know of. It may also be simply our arrogance.
    I think consciousness at any level even the simpilest and most primative is a characteristic and possibly a prerequisite of life.
  6. Sep 9, 2003 #5
    Well put, though I think that consciousness at any level below animal life ("the simpilest and most primitive", as you put it) is pretty much just automatic reaction to external stimulus. And, of course, even some animals (like the sponge and the jellyfish) just "react" with no ability toward proaction or self-consciousness.
  7. Sep 9, 2003 #6
    reaction implies awareness even at a basic level and awareness implies consciousness in my opinion.
  8. Sep 9, 2003 #7
    Let's discuss that a little. Do I need to be "aware" of having been stung before I scream?
  9. Sep 9, 2003 #8
    It's merely the awareness of the fact that we exist, and a means by which to know the truth -- of everything! That's the only way I know how to define it, because my consciousness "is me."

    Will also concede to what Royce was saying above as well. :wink:

    Yes, in most instances I would think?
  10. Sep 9, 2003 #9
    No, Mentat, you don't. (In humans, the part of you that jerks your hand away isn't even controlled by your brain. Did you know that?) In fact, reaction does not dictate awareness. I'm sorry. Plants are not conscious. If you pour acid on a rock and watch the acid react to the rock, the acid isn't conscious.

    Consciousness represents an awareness of one's surroundings often shown by reacting to stimuli that is no longer present. In other words, when a dog buries a bone and then later goes to dig it up, he is conscious of the fact that he lives in a world where there is a bone under the ground that he put there.

    No, memory isn't the only requirement or even a requirement at all, but I was trying to illustrate a point. Consciousness implies the ability to think instead of simply reacting.
  11. Sep 9, 2003 #10
    This is the point I was trying to make (well put, btw). Most things that react are considered alive, but they are certainly not conscious. Consciousness is an evolved (highly complex) version of these same reactions, however, and that's why I mostly agree with what Royce was saying.

    I like your example, and I agree with everything you've said except for where you imply that memory might not be required at all. According to pretty much every theory of consciousness (and deducable from your own example), memory does indeed play a role(and a key role, at that) in conscious activity.
  12. Sep 9, 2003 #11
    I disagree. It has been known for quite some time that sudden reactions, such as responding to being stung, don't even take place in the brain, but in the spinal cord (they are only later processed in the brain). The brain is the center of consciousness, so I don't think that someone needs to be aware of having been stung in order to react.

    I also think that this very point is what Sunfist was trying to explain: Reaction and awareness are two different things (the latter may be a highly evolved form of the first, but that's another matter), and confusing the two can lead to misunderstandings of consciousness.
  13. Sep 9, 2003 #12
    Well, I was just sort of covering my own back. I do think that memory is imporant, just not EVERY type of memory. In one of my psychology classes we studied a man who was incapable of making memories at all and had forgotten everything from his past. When he woke up every morning, he thought he had become concious for the first time. Certainly this man is concious though.

    However, note that he had other types of memory. He knew the English language. He could read, conduct music, etc.
  14. Sep 9, 2003 #13
    conciousness is simply a state of being. Even reactionary is conciousness. THe difference between a plant's reactionary state and our state, is call sentience.
  15. Sep 9, 2003 #14
    So he had some long-term, and very-short-term, but not the usual short-term that helps us recall the previous day?
  16. Sep 9, 2003 #15
    I partially agree. The distinction between our higher consciousness, and lower forms of consciousness is sentience. However, purely reactionary actions cannot be (IMO) considered conscious, since the plant (for example) was never aware of the fact that anything happened, it just reacted.
  17. Sep 9, 2003 #16
    And yet I think consciousness stems from the fact that we have the ability to react at all. Consciousness is everything about who we are, even down to the cellular level.

    No, but you did ask what consciousness was. And, by claiming that it exists on a cellular level, i.e., that it exists in accord with our reactions as well, is an attempt to define it. :wink:
  18. Sep 9, 2003 #17
    Could it be that reaction is the first level of consciousness and awareness a higher level and finally self awareness? as you have said, animals are aware and conscious. At what level does consciousness disappear and reaction takes over.
    Are you aware that a flat worm can be taught or trained and that if cut longitudenally it will regenerate and both will remember what it was originally taught? Is this consciousness by your definitions; i.e. awareness reaction and memory? So a flat worm is conscious.
    Are you aware that a tree can be trained to grow a certain way and retains that pattern of growth for years? Is that consciousness? How do you know that plants aren't conscious or is that just an assumption on your part?
    Ever grow tomatoes? When they reach a certain level of growth and someone walks amoung them and brushes against their vines they give off an unpleasent odor. When one plant does this they all do it.
    Once they become used to someone coming in and weeding and pruning them the no longer give off that odor and even when we pick the fruit they still don't give off that oder. It has even happened that I have talked to the plants, as crazy as that sounds and they quit giving off that odor. I have no idea why and thought it funny strange or just a coincidence; but it happen a number of times.
    Anyone who really loves plants and grows plants out of passion can tell you that they respond to us talking and music as well as other things. Studies have been made that show that they have different prefferences for different typs of music. Is this consciousness?
  19. Sep 9, 2003 #18
    "What is consciousness?"

    How do we answer such a question? The same way we answer any question in the form "what is X". And there are only two ways to answer those types of questions:

    a) With a tautology. Example: "what is velocity?" - "velocity is change in position with time". Except as exercises in logic, tautological answers are meaningless, in the sense that they do not tell you anything you don't already know.

    b) With a reference to a larger, less specific category. Example: "what is a cat?" - "a cat is a feline", "a cat is a mammal", "a cat is an animal", ..., "a cat is a thing". The less specific the category referenced in the answer, the less meaningful it becomes. "Cats are felines" is certainly more meaningful than "cats are things", but still there are far more things that are true about cats than things that are true about felines, so the answer may not be satisfying.

    I can't think of any other way to answer a "what is..." question. And if there is no other way, that means those questions don't have meaningful answers that are true! If you start with a "type b" kind of answer, the more you refine it so as to make it more true while remaining meaningful, the more it will look like a tautology. If you start with a "type a" answer, the more you try and generalize to make it more meaningful, the less true it becomes. Just look at the answers on this thread so far!

    Obviously the point of answering a "what is X" question can't possibly have anything to do with knowing meaningful truths about X, since a meaningful, true, and non-tautological definition of X simply does not exist. So why do we ask?

    And therein lies the answer. In order to know the best answer, you have to understand why you are asking a question that has no answer. If you're interested in controlling the object of your question, then you must seek for a "type b" answer. That is what scientists do; they come up with false answers which nevertheless give them some power over the objects they study. On the other hand, if you're interested in the truth, you must necessarily find a "type a" answer. Tautologies are useless, but they do give us a sense of intellectual accomplishment.

    Here's what I think about consciousness:

    type a: consciousness is our ability to obtain knowledge about anything including ourselves
    type b: consciousness is a self-referent language

    Have fun-
  20. Sep 9, 2003 #19
    Right, that's what I was saying- I just didn't put it very clearly. Our state is sentience- the state of a plant is not sentience, but is reactionary
  21. Sep 9, 2003 #20
    Consciousness is our ability to wake up and smell the roses. :wink:
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