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What is consciousness?

  1. Sep 18, 2004 #1
    Consciousness:
    we know it occurs when there is electrical activity in our
    brains, but what is this thing "consciousness" that is associated with electrical activity?
    When we are asleep and unconscious we are not aware of space or time.
    So consciousness involves awareness of space and time, or perhaps
    just the existence of space and time, relative to me.What do I mean by "me" ?
    By "me" I mean some entity,quantity,quality that is different from everything else in the world.A soul perhaps.Perhaps we all have souls made from
    a unique combination of masses and charges.An indestructable system of particles that goes on forever and survives Big Bangs and Big crunches.
    Each system would have to obey an exclusion principle which says that
    "no two souls can be the same in any one universe." Otherwise one person
    could be looking out of two bodies!
    And what if there is more than one soul per body!
    Intuitively we would think this is not the case.
    But if the soul is material then there can't be other versions of us living in the past or future,or in parallel universes , or else we would be consciously experiencing those universes now - like watching two television screens at once.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2004 #2
    “The Soul” you are talking about does not exist, consciousness / awareness “is” the chemical reaction going on / in your biological brain hardware. Actually it’s very simple to test, just give yourself some SSRIs; citalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine and or sertraline and see how your soul reacts. LOL! But I do believe the energy (biological energy, energy found in cells) is not just simple energy this energy actually has memory. As for multiple existences, to me they are more like “memories carryovers” …
    only occur in very rear instances, else we will all be copies of mommy and daddy, remembering all what they did and saw up till conception and then a branch off from that.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2004
  4. Sep 19, 2004 #3
    Amir, how would we would remember what our parents did up to conception. That has no back up what so ever. Unless you are saying that our cells formed from meiosis have every single memory in them, which just isnt right. And to say that we only remember things very rearly is also very wrong.
    The point being that we do not know exactly how the mind actually works, the conscious mind that is. What we know so far is it influenced by chemical reactions, and networked by electrical impulses. Think of it like computer. If you think that its just lots of wires that are connected together, and some go through different substances and circuits with different voltage. Then you would have to think tha it couldnt do anything except flow with electricty. It just like a computer, its a complex system of If gates, Its just about a million times more complex than a computer. For all we know it may come down to single photons.
     
  5. Sep 19, 2004 #4
    Do you not think that there is electrical activity in your brain when you are asleep? I think we know very little about consciousness.

    This is a huge assumption with no supporting documentation anywhere. All we know is that consciousness and chemical activity are somehow correlated with one another. This says absolutely nothing about which one causes which nor does it say anything about the concept of "soul". I think this quote above is debating against an outdated preconception about souls and consciousness rather than the modern philosophical issues.
     
  6. Sep 19, 2004 #5

    ^
    |
    I didn't say that at all.... Learned memories are almost never! copied over "as is" to next gen/s, not in way we can just lookup things that our moms and or dads did or saw, else we’ll all be copied continuum of our parents.....it would be nice though. But things do get carried over biological as changes in our DNA. These changes are subtle and often relational in nature.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2004
  7. Sep 20, 2004 #6
    Conciousness is the interface of the mind.
     
  8. Sep 20, 2004 #7
    Fliption:Do you not think that there is electrical activity in your brain when you are asleep? I think we know very little about consciousness.

    Rothie M:
    Dreams can be seen as a form of consciousness because we are aware of space and time in them.I would say that the correct definition of consciousness is an awaremess of space and time.Electric pulses in the brain are not continuous phenomena but magnetic fields in the brain are.So one can imagine a magnetic field
    being the brain's creation of continuous conscious experiences such as
    a straight line - electric fields could only produce a dotted line.
    In other words the space and time we experience is created by our brains.
    It reflects what the atomic world around us really looks like but can never
    give us a true experience of that world.We are probably conscious because
    our brains are producing particles of very small mass which differ from the
    particles found in normal physics.For example they could be moving faster than light.
    We have five senses so we need five groups of particles.For a sense like colour where humans can experience 16000 different colours,there will have to be lots of different particles with lots of different properties in one group.So in my view particle physicists have got rather a lot of work to do!They speak of quarks and leptons:in future they will need to speak of a lot more categories.
    If the brain produces particles that create consciousness then what we are seeing may exist in our brains and not outside them.For example,the human eye can see a galaxy at a distance of 10^23 metres and it takes about 10 seconds to focus on it properly. .So if we are to see the galaxy where it is, the particles that create consciousness have to travel from our brains to the galaxy in ten seconds.This means they need to have a speed of 10^22 metres per second - at least.This is way faster than light.I do not think consciousness is so mysterious if you accept that a soul
    with mass exists in each of us and that the brain creates new kinds of particles that
    exist in space and time relative to a soul particle.When we are dead or unconscious we are "soul inactive" when we are dreaming or awake we are "soul active."
     
  9. Sep 20, 2004 #8
    Being conscious is not 'consciousness'. Consciousness includes being both conscious and unconscious.

    To me, my consciousness is that part of my persona I use to observe a given reality. I assume that we exist on many, many levels (dimensions) of the greater reality. I use my consciousness to focus my attention on any of the given levels. It seems quite possible, even probable, that for one nano-second it is focused on what I am seeing, the next on what I communicate to myself, the next on what I communicate to others and the next funneling the information to my mind, etc ....

    Consciousness is the ability focus my mind and or spirit on my experiences.

    love&peace,
    olde drunk

    ps: awareness is being able to understand the experience, information.
     
  10. Sep 20, 2004 #9
    Olde Drunk:
    awareness is being able to understand the experience, information

    Rothie M:
    Awareness in the sense you mean is just the absorption of information
    and its subsequent processing and categorising in the brain.
    I am talking about nerve stimulation that causes experiences of colours,
    sounds,smells etc which all have spatio-temporal existence.A computer can understand information to some extent but it does not experience colours,sounds and smells.If it did we would expect it to be physically like our brains -
    organic and capable of growth.Though I do worry about plants -
    there is little difference between a plant cell and an animal cell
    and electric signals do exist in plant cells.Perhaps we shouldn't boil vegetables.
     
  11. Sep 20, 2004 #10
    We have two rocks floating aimlessly in space. At last one bumps into the other. From this collision there will be a transferrance of energy between the two rocks. By this can we say that at the moment of collision each rock became "aware" of the other?
     
  12. Sep 20, 2004 #11

    hypnagogue

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    There's no experimental evidence, nor theoretical justification from physical theory, for anything of the sort. Besides which, positing the existence of 'consciousness particles' doesn't really help our case in understanding consciousness. Even if such particles did exist, we would be just as mystified as to why they are responsible for conscious experience as we are today mystified as to why certain kinds of electrical activity in the brain are responsible for conscious experience. In essence, we would still be operating under a kind of physicalism and still have no conceptual bridge between the physical phenomena and the experiential phenomena.
     
  13. Sep 20, 2004 #12

    hypnagogue

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    Only in an abstract sense of the word 'aware,' where we mean it to signify a transfer of information. To equate this with the kind of awareness we mean by 'conscious experience' is to completely muddy the issue with fuzzy terms. The connection you propose here, without further substantial philosophical and empirical justification, is nothing more than the consequence of carelessly using an ambiguous word.
     
  14. Sep 20, 2004 #13

    My point is to highlight the difficulty in reaching a logically viable definition of "consciousness."
     
  15. Sep 20, 2004 #14
    Additionally, the human level of consciousness is determined in precisely the same manner... stimuli impinge upon our various sensory receptors. It is from these myriad of "collisions" from solid molecules triggering olfaction and taste, photons striking our retina for sight, touching or being touched, hearing sound waves, speech from air molecules passing over our vocal chords. The problem is found in the question, what IS consciousness? Helen Keller provided the best historic example of this problem by way of her psychological/physiological evolution from a human being who could not see, hear or speak due to sensory deficiencies in her physiological compliment to one who LEARNED to interact with the outside world. Her "awareness" or "consciousness of the world around her was further expanded by other ways of circumventing her non existent senses. She was "aware" or "conscious" by way of touch, taste and smell. With these as her sensory baseline she expanded her awareness of the world about her. This is a clue worthy of consideration toward a working definition. Human consciousness has the demonstrated capacity to bring about expansion of its inherent sensory apparatus.

    What IS consciousness must first be answered. I have yet to arrive at a conclusion that I find entirely satisfactory.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2004
  16. Sep 20, 2004 #15
    HYPNAGOGOUE:
    Even if such particles did exist, we would be just as mystified as to why they are responsible for conscious experience as we are today mystified as to why certain kinds of electrical activity in the brain are responsible for conscious experience.

    Rothie M:

    We would not still be mystified because whatever consciousness is, it is different from the everyday physical world physics currently measures and models.
    So particles with new properties and/or fields which do not share all the interactions of "normal"
    matter (there could be an electric interaction or gravitational one) and interact exclusively in some way with each other (an asymmetry if you like) can be a candidate for the root cause of consciousness.Conscious experience involves the existence of space and time ( a smell is located in the nose at a certain time, a sound at a certain distance at a certain time etc) and particles exist in space and time.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2004
  17. Sep 20, 2004 #16

    hypnagogue

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    If such particles interacted exclusively with each other in some certain way, we would never be able to detect them in the process of this elusive interaction, by definition. Thus such a theory could never get off the ground empirically.

    Besides which, such a theory would still not give us bridge principles connecting the objective description of the phenomena to the subjective aspects of consciousness. It would still leave us with the explanitory gap. See for example The Perennial Problem of the Reductive Explainability of Phenomenal Consciousness -- C. D. Broad on the Explanatory Gap by Ansgar Beckermann.
     
  18. Sep 20, 2004 #17
    Hypnagogue:
    If such particles interacted exclusively with each other in some certain way, we would never be able to detect them in the process of this elusive interaction, by definition. Thus such a theory could never get off the ground empirically.

    Rothie M:
    We could detect them because they still interact with other particles too through the usual forces.The forces between consciousness causing particles
    would make the force between them and everyday particles different:if we have a particle, that gives rise to consciousness , attracting another such particle away from
    a proton, then we would get a lower force of attraction between the proton and consciousness particle than expected by calculations done using electric and gravitational forces etc.

    Subjective aspects of consciousness such as the experience of a quality called pain
    can be explained:pain is different from sound.I don't mean just in the way
    our brain categorizes these qualities,I mean that where pain particles exist in space with physical property X, they contrast with a sound particle with property Y in another part of space.
    Both kinds of particle must exist in or on some kind of uniform medium, against which they contrast like two different colours on an artist's canvas.
     
  19. Sep 21, 2004 #18

    hypnagogue

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    No, this does not address the explanatory gap. Please read the paper I linked to.
     
  20. Sep 21, 2004 #19

    hypnagogue

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    There is unquestionably a link between physical and subjective phenomena, but it's not quite that simple. Sound waves may strike my ears, but if I am in a state of deep sleep I won't hear them; photons may strike my retina, but if a certain portion of my visual cortex is damaged I won't see them. The precise nature of the relationship between physical phenomena and human consciousness has not yet been deduced with certainty, but all the viable candidates for physical correlates of human consciousness seem to have a certain level of structure and complexity above and beyond the relatively simple types of interactions you suggest.

    It's worth noting that a comprehensive theory of consciousness very well may attribute some kind of primitive conscious event to even such simple physical events as the collision of two rocks. However, such a theory would ascribe this 'awareness' on the basis of well-formed principles rather than on a linguistic ambiguity.

    'Awareness' in general is not a good word to equate with consciousness. The word 'consciousness' itself is a relatively ambiguous word with many meanings, but the most interesting and most intractable sense of the word picks out a distinct concept. Philosophers call this phenomenal consciousness, a phrase which refers to the purely experiential aspects of consciousness. This is sometimes synonymously referred to as subjective experience, raw feels, or qualia-- all these terms refer to the visceral feel of the world around you, as it is felt by you. It's not so much about what you know, but how you experience.

    Thus the example of Hellen Keller is instructive here only insofar as it helps us assert why awareness is not a good term to conflate with phenomenal consciousness. Keller certainly increased her awareness of the world, insofar as she gradually constructed a larger and more detailed mental model of the world around her. However, Keller certainly never experienced redness or visual motion or A sharp minor. She may well have studied pianos to the extent that she knew the precise layout of the keys and the precise frequencies that each key produced-- thus increasing her knowledge of the world-- but nonetheless, she never had the phenomenal, subjective experience of what it sounds like to hear A sharp minor played on a piano-- the nature of her phenomenal consciousness never changed throughout her life.
     
  21. Sep 22, 2004 #20
    I read the paper about the explanatory gap previously.
    I think it would help if you can define for me what is meant
    by the "qualitative aspect of consciousness."
    If this means an "experience" then we experience something
    over a period of time, so time must then be a factor.
     
  22. Sep 22, 2004 #21

    hypnagogue

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    It should be relatively clear, then, that no theory with the flavor of conventional physics will provide the explanatory traction needed to explain phenomenal consciousness. Any theory that starts with talk of particles, waves, or whatever and their interactions and winds up at phenomenal consciousness will have the feel of a sleight of hand. By way of analogy, no way of describing the mechanics of rubbing a lamp would seem to entail the emergence of a genie-- there appears to be no conceptual link, or bridge principle, between the former and the latter.

    We can couch this dichotomy in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic properties. Extrinsic properties are properties that are defined functionally and structurally, and thus ultimately in terms of systems of relationships. All of physics deals with extrinsic properties. For instance, a complete description of an electron in physics tells us about its mass, charge, and the like-- that is, how it tends to attract and repel other particles-- and its location in space and time, both of which themselves are relational concepts. Thus an electron in physical theory is characterized entirely as a conglomeration of relational, extrinsic properties.

    Intrinsic properties are properties that are defined not with respect to other properties, but (in a sense) with respect to themselves. Thus, while extrinsic properties presuppose the existence of other extrinsic properties, intrinsic properties seem to enjoy a kind of 'bottom line' existence. It appears that the elements of phenomenal consciousness are just such kinds of properties. For instance, take the color red: this. Phenomenologically, what defines redness? Nothing but itself. A visual field composed entirely of a uniform red surface appears to be just as red as an apple in a diversely colored visual field, even in the absence of other colors with which to compare it. (Compare this to an electron's charge in a perfect vacuum, which would be undetectable in the absence of other charges with which it could functionally relate.)

    The explanitory tension between objective physics and subjective experience, then, seems to hinge on the kinds of relationships that could obtain between extrinsic and intrinsic properties. It's not at all clear that any combination of extrinsic properties could account for intrinsic properties. How can we derive the existence of an entirely self-contained entity (phenomenal consciousness) in a system that speaks only of relationships between entities (physics)? It appears to be a logical impossibility.

    If anything, it appears that extrinsic properties presuppose the existence of intrinsic properties-- it's not clear that a system of relationships that lacks fundamental 'things' to be related is even conceptually coherent. If so, it makes more sense to derive relationships from fundamentally self-contained units than the other way around-- thus, perhaps we should not try to derive phenomenal consciousness from physical processes, but rather place some form of phenomenal consciousness into our fundamental conceptual framework and then use this intrinsic basis to firmly support the heretofore free-hanging system of relationships described by physics.

    This is the fundamental idea put forth by Gregg Rosenberg in his newly released book, A Place for Consciousness. I strongly suggest you read this work if you are interested in the philosophy of consciousness as it pertains to physical reality.

    The qualitative aspect of consciousness is what makes the world look, sound, feel, and generally seem a certain way to you. We know that red and green light have different physical structures in an objective sense (green has a higher frequency), but there is also a sense in which we distinguish them based on their qualitative aspects. The qualitative aspect of red is this, as opposed to this. From the standpoint of your phenomenal consciousness, you know that the first instance of the word "this" in the previous sentence is distinct from the second not because you know the exact wavelengths of the light that has struck your retina, and not because you have performed a brain scan on yourself-- you know they are distinct because they have distinct qualitative appearances to you.

    Make no mistake: your ability to discriminate these colors is underlied by physical brain processes. I am not refuting that. I am just illustrating an example of phenomenal consciousness in action. Suppose a clever alien scientist who has no visual sense faculty decides to scan your brain as it processes two visual inputs, A and A. The alien should in principle be able to deduce that you have distinguished these two inputs just by analyzing how they differentially stimulate your brain. However, what our blind alien scientist will not be able to deduce is precisely the qualitative aspect of your experience of the inputs. He knows that you have decided that they are different on the basis of their different frequencies, but he does not know what it is like to qualitatively experience this or this.
     
  23. Sep 22, 2004 #22
    Hypnagogue:
    However, what our blind alien scientist will not be able to deduce is precisely the qualitative aspect of your experience of the inputs. He knows that you have decided that they are different on the basis of their different frequencies, but he does not know what it is like to qualitatively experience this or this.

    Rothie M:
    But if THIS and this have two different properties, or the same property but of a different magnitude, the alien could detect two different sets of particles that cause consciousness, because they would have different effects on normal matter.
    I do not agree with the idea of intrinsic properties because if I destroyed all my neurons so I could expect to see only THIS,for example,and experience no sounds smells feelings and so on,I actually would experience nothing.Sense-experiences do not live in isolation.Show me an example where they do.
     
  24. Sep 22, 2004 #23

    hypnagogue

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    The alien could detect that you process the inputs differently, but he could not actually access your qualitative experience of them. Introducing new sets of particles into the mix does nothing to change this.

    It's difficult to address this without going into too much detail about Rosenberg's thesis. But in broad terms, there is nothing that suggests that qualitative experiences cannot exist in isolation. There is no reason to suspect that deaf people experience colors any differently than normally functioning people, nor any reason to believe that a red/green colorblind person experiences blue any differently than I do.

    In Rosenberg's framework, the universe is suffused with what he calls protophenomenal properties. These are analogous to the kind of phenomenal properties that humans experience only insofar as they are intrinsic and experiential in nature. But in terms of their actual qualitative aspects, they are probably vastly alien to our own in every conceivable way. The idea isn't that this is just floating around. Redness is a property of human phenomenal consciousness, and in Rosenberg's framework properties of human phenomenal consciousness arise from certain special ways in which smaller networks of intrinsic properties and their extrinsic relationships combine in the brain (roughly similar to the actual neural correlates of consciousness that are being proposed in the literature-- so there is a sense of theory agreeing with experiment here, even if empirical studies of consciousness are notoriously slippery beasts). Thus the framework has a natural way in which human consciousness can be seen to be dependent on physical processes, while simultaneously avoiding the trap of conceiving phenomenal (intrinsic) properties in purely physical (extrinsic) terms.

    I cannot provide an example of any protophenomenal properties anymore than I can peer into your own qualitative consciousness. The very intrinsic nature of such phenomena is what makes it impossible to demonstrate them via extrinsic means, as we are accustomed to demonstrating phenomena in physics. The only way to observe the intrinsic aspects of a system is to be that system. Note that although this is the historically documented problem of other minds, the same kind of epistemological asymmetry arises when we consider intrinsic/extrinsic properties from a purely logical point of view, abstracted away from concepts such as physical reality and subjective mind.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2004
  25. Oct 1, 2004 #24
    Rothie M:
    Sense-experiences do not live in isolation.Show me an example where they do

    Rothie M:

    What I meant by this is that we never have a conscious experience in which,for example,a coloured spot exists independently of any other area of colour,any sound,
    any smell,any sense of touch,feeling etc.
    And it is also interesting to note that when we fall asleep and lose consciousness,
    all our senses die simultaneously - from our own point of view - whatever an ECG of the brain may say the neurones are doing (the fact that we can remember this simultaneity is possibly relevant too).One aspect of consciousness that I find particularly intriguing is that if I shut my eyes I see darkness in front of me but nothing exists behind me.And nothing exists behind me when my eyes are open.
    This nothing is clearly independent of the colour we see in front of us - it has an absolute and not a relative existence.
     
  26. Oct 1, 2004 #25

    hypnagogue

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    The apparent unity of consciousness is compelling, but cases of damaged or lesioned patients tell us that it isn't always as fluid and unitary as it seems to us. The separation of cross-modal perceptions is no problem: perhaps a normally functioning human never sees colors without having at least the faintest sense of an auditory percept at the same time, but surely deaf people do. Dealing within a single sensory modality is trickier, but for instance patients with blindsight report not being able to see a certain portion of their visual field. We can also distinguish our visual perception of color and shape to some extent-- if you cut a red ping pong ball in half and place the halves over your eyes, you will visually experience a uniform red field of color but you will not perceive shapes, so there is a sense in which a color percept can exist without a shape percept (but perhaps not the other way around).
     
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