What do you think consciousness is?

  • Thread starter Mentat
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  • #1
Mentat
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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 a lot 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.
 

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  • #2
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Mentat
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 a lot 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.
Consciousness is what "validates" our existence. Please see my thread on Consciousness And What Constitutes Proof?
 
  • #3
Mentat
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Originally posted by Iacchus32
Consciousness is what "validates" our existence. Please see my thread on Consciousness And What Constitutes Proof?

You have only said one of the things that consciousness does for us, you haven't defined it. Please try and define it.
 
  • #4
Royce
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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.
 
  • #5
Mentat
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Originally posted by Royce
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.

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.
 
  • #6
Royce
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reaction implies awareness even at a basic level and awareness implies consciousness in my opinion.
 
  • #7
Mentat
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Originally posted by Royce
reaction implies awareness even at a basic level and awareness implies consciousness in my opinion.

Let's discuss that a little. Do I need to be "aware" of having been stung before I scream?
 
  • #8
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Mentat
You have only said one of the things that consciousness does for us, you haven't defined it. Please try and define it.
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:

Originally posted by Mentat
Let's discuss that a little. Do I need to be "aware" of having been stung before I scream?
Yes, in most instances I would think?
 
  • #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.
 
  • #10
Mentat
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Originally posted by Sunfist
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.

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.

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.

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.
 
  • #11
Mentat
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Originally posted by Iacchus32
Yes, in most instances I would think?

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.
 
  • #12
Originally posted by Mentat
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.

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 conscious for the first time. Certainly this man is conscious though.

However, note that he had other types of memory. He knew the English language. He could read, conduct music, etc.
 
  • #13
Zantra
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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.
 
  • #14
Mentat
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Originally posted by Sunfist
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 conscious for the first time. Certainly this man is conscious though.

However, note that he had other types of memory. He knew the English language. He could read, conduct music, etc.

So he had some long-term, and very-short-term, but not the usual short-term that helps us recall the previous day?
 
  • #15
Mentat
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Originally posted by Zantra
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.

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.
 
  • #16
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Mentat
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.
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.


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.
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:
 
  • #17
Royce
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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?
 
  • #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-
 
  • #19
Zantra
781
3
Originally posted by Mentat
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.

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
 
  • #20
Iacchus32
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Consciousness is our ability to wake up and smell the roses. :wink:
 
  • #21
Kerrie
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human consciousness to me is a growth process of one's self that incorporates the most objective perspective possible and is able to continue this perspective in all she or he does in life...this opinion of it though is still something i am trying to define for myself...
 
  • #22
Royce
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Are we discussing consciousness, sentience, human consciousness, self awareness or what? Do we automatically assume that only humans are conscious? If so, why?
 
  • #23
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Royce
Are we discussing consciousness, sentience, human consciousness, self awareness or what? Do we automatically assume that only humans are conscious? If so, why?
Perhaps we can say consciousness is "the medium" of "knowing" in general?
 
  • #24
Royce
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Perhaps. Perhaps we can say consciousness is the medium for being aware, of knowing and responding to changes in immediate environment.
No! I am not going to give up or in! :wink:
 
  • #25
hypnagogue
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Originally posted by Mentat
So he had some long-term, and very-short-term, but not the usual short-term that helps us recall the previous day?

If I may step in here for an instant, I saw something on Discovery about an analogous case, don't know if it was the same guy though. In any case, he retained his long term memory and his capacity to generate short term memory; what was lost was his ability to ultimately convert those short term memories into long term ones.

As for consciousness. I define consciousness simply as the capacity for and exercise of experiential awareness. It is useful here to refer to Thomas Nagel's description of consciousness: something is conscious if it is experientially 'like' something to be that creature. Thus, we can meaningfully ask 'what is it like to be a bat?', understanding that the bat probably has an experiential awareness that is very different from our own. But the question 'what is it like to be a rock?' is probably meaningless, since being a rock probably entails an absolute lack of any kind of experiential awareness.

Note that this definition is ultimately a subjective one. Objective cues may give us clues as to the existence and nature of consciousness in other beings, but the only way to really grasp that consciousness is to be that being itself.

Objective cues are not only inadequate in capturing what we mean by consciousness, but they can also be downright misleading. For instance, people with the condition called blindsight can give you meaningful information about a visual scene without being aware of it. These people are experientially blind in certain portions of their visual field, but if you hold an ace of spades in their blinded field of vision, they can tell you that it is an ace of spades, much to their own befuddlement. (The explanation for this condition is that low level visual processing in the 'blind' areas remain intact; what is damaged is further, higher levels of visual processing, which presumably go on to transform the low level information into a conscious percept in the visual field.) Thus, people with blind sight can exhibit intelligent reactionary behavior to their environment without the attendent experiential awareness of that environment. The lesson is simply that just because it acts conscious don't mean it actually is conscious!
 
  • #26
The Grimmus
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i think it is just made up, well not really made up but really just our complex thoughts coming to gether nothing specaila about it
 
  • #27
Originally posted by Zantra
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.

He had no memories at all and no ability to create them. He could start singing a song and not remember the beginning by the time he got to the end. He kept a journal and every day he woke up and wrote the same thing, "Today I woke up for the first time in my life. Someone has faked a journal trying to make it look like I woke up yesterday, and the day before that, but it's not true." and he would scratch out the old entries.
 
  • #28
Fliption
1,081
1
Originally posted by Sunfist
He had no memories at all and no ability to create them. He could start singing a song and not remember the beginning by the time he got to the end. He kept a journal and every day he woke up and wrote the same thing, "Today I woke up for the first time in my life. Someone has faked a journal trying to make it look like I woke up yesterday, and the day before that, but it's not true." and he would scratch out the old entries.

How does he remember why he is writing in a journal to begin with? Why would he choose that as his very first act of life?
 
  • #29
Mentat
3,918
3
Originally posted by Iacchus32
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.

What makes you say that? Also (more importantly, inspite of my having asked it so many times...) what, then, is a brain for?

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:

And your attempt is worth as much merit as anyone elses. But you won't see me just aquiescing to someone's attempt (no matter how meritable) if I disagree with the idea .
 
  • #30
Mentat
3,918
3
Originally posted by Kerrie
human consciousness to me is a growth process of one's self that incorporates the most objective perspective possible and is able to continue this perspective in all she or he does in life...this opinion of it though is still something i am trying to define for myself...

I like this idea, but approve specifically of this one point: You separate the self from the consciousness. You make consciousness something that happens to the self, as opposed to being all that "self" entails. I think that's a distinction that isn't always made, but should be.
 
  • #31
Mentat
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3
Originally posted by Royce
Are we discussing consciousness, sentience, human consciousness, self awareness or what? Do we automatically assume that only humans are conscious? If so, why?

I don't automatically assume anything, but it appears that some who have posted have assumed exactly that. I didn't specify in my first post, because I wanted to see how many people's posts would have that implication. It doesn't surprise me much that you were the one who noticed and mentioned it :smile:.
 
  • #32
Mentat
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Originally posted by hypnagogue
As for consciousness. I define consciousness simply as the capacity for and exercise of experiential awareness. It is useful here to refer to Thomas Nagel's description of consciousness: something is conscious if it is experientially 'like' something to be that creature. Thus, we can meaningfully ask 'what is it like to be a bat?', understanding that the bat probably has an experiential awareness that is very different from our own. But the question 'what is it like to be a rock?' is probably meaningless, since being a rock probably entails an absolute lack of any kind of experiential awareness.

A worthy attempt. However, can you ever really know that it's like anything to something else? This is just the philosophical notion of "zombies" again, which I find rather ridiculous myself, but it does deserve some consideration (hopefully RageSk8 and Psychodilerium haven't completely abandoned the threads yet).

Note that this definition is ultimately a subjective one. Objective cues may give us clues as to the existence and nature of consciousness in other beings, but the only way to really grasp that consciousness is to be that being itself.

Objective cues are not only inadequate in capturing what we mean by consciousness, but they can also be downright misleading. For instance, people with the condition called blindsight can give you meaningful information about a visual scene without being aware of it. These people are experientially blind in certain portions of their visual field, but if you hold an ace of spades in their blinded field of vision, they can tell you that it is an ace of spades, much to their own befuddlement. (The explanation for this condition is that low level visual processing in the 'blind' areas remain intact; what is damaged is further, higher levels of visual processing, which presumably go on to transform the low level information into a conscious percept in the visual field.) Thus, people with blind sight can exhibit intelligent reactionary behavior to their environment without the attendent experiential awareness of that environment. The lesson is simply that just because it acts conscious don't mean it actually is conscious!

Ah, very good. You came to exactly the point that I was talking about (above). Yes, you are completely correct that we can never really know that anyone is conscious (except ourselves, of course, which is what Descartes said was "the only thing [he] could ever be sure of").
 
  • #33
pelastration
162
0
Pre-view 'virtual results' and evaluate them.

Consciousness is to me a higher level of self-organization in a conscious actor who collects 'resonant information' from senses and from previously stored information (memory, experience, priorities, etc.) and evaluated them in past, present and future reference frames in such a way that the conscious actor can "choose" from different alternatives or possibilities the next step(s) to be taken to reach the individual goal(s) in his present and future development and project them interactive to the development of other actors, to a collectivity or to his 'real' or abstract surrounding(s).

Some extra remarks:
1. The individual layering system is related to the available individual observation system(s), thus the senses. The participant evaluates his surrounding and is thus "aware" of his position in the surrounding.
The observations systems are non-intellectual ( parasympathetic nerve system or vegetative ns) such as: I NEED FOOD! (thus reactive). This can be the type of awareness animals have (if we presume they have no self-awareness).
Awareness is thus a more stimulus - response feed-back system in which 'priority- thresholds' are embedded by a Darwin-type of survival elimination.

2. Self-awareness (Consciousness) is - IMO - related to the possibility to make choices and evaluations which go above the instincts (= evolutionary programmed awareness), and the freedom to say 'NO', and to say 'MAYBE', 'IF', ... etc. That is a ability to pre-view 'virtual results' and evaluate them. But the perception may be culturally and neuron-linguistic influenced.

It has to do with the possibility to predict /preview/ calculate steps in the time frame that is not related to the immediate 'Now-Situation'. Looking to the future and adapt behavior in view of a future outcome. Thus: I can influence MY future in relation to my surrounding(s). I.e. in a short time frame: a chess game, short/mid term: writing a complex software program, mid/long: buy real-estate to build and exploit a shopping-mall, etc.

It also has to do with the ability to connote non-physical values to physical events (For example in Art : a painting of Chagall, letters to poems, music ) and in auto-created or accepted reality (humor, games, absurdity, ... and a transcendental reality).

3. The Relativity of the Observer and signification. Depending from his position in the matter/spiritual level the observer's/participant"s surrounding (his world of reality) contains other parameters which seems to be more, less or not at all important (resonate). This gives individual overview (or experience of existence) based on past and actual information. If you have no overview the surrounding becomes paradoxical.

Example: A sheep, milk, skin, hair, and ...
The sheep is the isolated unity in our 3D world of animals. (knowledge level)
But "MY" sheep is called Bonny = specific unity in my garden. (personal daily level)
The sheep has a skin, if we transform it, it becomes LEATHER. We can make shoes of it.
The sheep has hair, if we transform it, it becomes WOOL.

For the observing farmer the sheep has another signification then for the observing manufacture of shoes. Without the existence of sheep the shoe manufacturer could not make sheep-shoes, but probably he is not interested at all how sheep sleep.

So the manufacture and the farmer are each conscious about a number of possibility a sheep and it's related sub-elements have in their world. But the sheep has a lower level of consciousness. When it sees the (fancy sheep-leather made) shoes of the farmer it will have no degree of association that those shoes might made out of sheep leather. The sheep just wants food, water, sex, housing to protect itself against the rain, sun and ... the big bad wolf. If we say that the sheep has no consciousness at all we may ask what makes the 'social behavior inside a sheep group. What makes the hierarchy ? What makes some to 'rule' and others to obey or be submissive? Just force, a fight? Is there 'acceptance' involve and 'learning'?. And does the sheep dog learns the signals of his boss? If the master dies does the dog mourns?
 
  • #34
phoenixthoth
1,605
2
to me, consciousness is our vehicle for perceiving, processing, and, finally, understanding reality which is principally comprised of three things: the self, the physical universe and time (including other beings), and God.

may your journey be graceful,
phoenix
 
  • #35
Dark Wing
85
0
Well, being an identity theorist, (and a huge Searle fan at that) I have to say I like Searle’s definition of consciousness

"Consciousness consists of inner, qualitative, subjective states and processes of sentience or awareness. Consciousness, so defined, begins when we wake in the morning from a dreamless sleep - and continues until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma or otherwise become unconscious... Dreams on this definition are a form of consciousness... States about other mental states; so according to this definition, a pain would not be a conscious state, but worrying about a pain would be a conscious state" (Searle, 'Consciousness' 1999)

It seems we are only conscious in virtue of the fact that we seem to interact with something. Once you concede that it is a biological phenomenon like any other then it can be investigated neurobiological. Subjective ontology need not stop us from having an epistemic ally objective science of consciousness (Searle again) :eek:)
 

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