What is Consciousness?

ConsciousnessAs a species, we all agree that Consciousness exists.

What we have a problem with, is agreeing what Consciousness is and where it comes from.

So what is it and where does it come from?

In short; no-one really knows.

Consciousness brings meaning to the world by intervening between itself and the objects of which it is conscious. Consciousness externalizes reality. Without its interaction, there would be no awareness.

Consciousness is used to describe such a wide-ranging encompassment of meanings, so let’s just stick to its literal meaning – Awareness or rather; the awareness or perception of something by something. In order for Consciousness to be, we need the world around us. in other words; we are interdependent on the world around us.

There are different States of consciousness:

Sleeping (low state of consciousness)

Dreaming

Waking

Transcending (high state of consciousness)

 

Consciousness doesn’t depend on language, nor can it be completely described as self-awareness for ones’ awareness can be lost in an individual, yet they can still remain conscious – During a Trance, whilst meditating, listening to a beautiful piece of music, dancing, a moment of sensual pleasure – in all examples, self-awareness can vanish, yet one still remains conscious.

Science doesn’t know how consciousness comes into being.  We know the brain is somehow involved, but looking at the brain hasn’t provided the answers to consciousness.

 

BRAIN
The brain is the physical part of us, the plastic lump of meat located in our skull. It is full of nerve cells.

 

MIND
What we call ‘the mind’ is the growth of connections between the brain cells; it’s the personalization of the brain, the unique narrative of the person. No-one, not even identical twins or a human clone would have the same wiring as anyone else. The wiring is presumed to develop from experience and is therefore unique to each individual.

 

CONSCIOUSNESS
Consciousness is neither Brain nor Mind.  It can be distinguished from mind by evidence of sleep. When we enter deep sleep (i.e. a non-dreaming state) we lose consciousness but we don’t lose our minds. Similarly, one could lose ones’ mind yet retain consciousness.

When one looks at the mind using the latest MRI technology, through monitoring blood flow within the brain, we can literally see the brain light up when the subject is being studied and literally watch the person thinking about different things.

When a subject is asked to recite a poem, the parts of the brain that deal with language light up, when the subject is asked to imagine playing tennis, the areas of the brain that trigger motion light up, watching something – visual cortex lights up etc etc.

These scans are able to show which areas of the brain are in charge of different aspects of thought. They can even distinguish (just through looking at brain scans) whether a person is thinking about a face or a place. However, what is being observed are all computational aspects of the brain, what cannot be seen is consciousness itself, there is nothing in those brain scans that can show or point to our subjective experience and/or where it comes from, the scans just show us the computational processes within the brain.

 

One cooks in the kitchen and one bathes in the bathroom, but one lives in the house.

 

If a brain is damaged beyond repair, it may become permanently unconscious, so the brain has to be involved somehow.

 

Let’s look at what science has come up with thus far to explain Consciousness in the brain;

Neuroscientists, through measuring the frequencies and oscillations of brain waves have found a way of tracking consciousness. Large, slow, regular waves signal a coma, anaesthesis or dreamless sleep. Shorter, faster, spikier waves signals being awake and alert. These brainwaves are thought to bind the activity and coherence of the conscious experience. They bind the far flung regions of the brain (colour, shape, motion etc.) which makes up a coherent subjective experience of consciousness to the individual and certain configurations of physical entities (Hormone levels etc) underpin certain mental states.

It is also true that simply observing/ interacting with the world can also produce or alter ones’ mental state.

Most neuroscientists believe consciousness is something the brain manufactures. The sense of ‘I’ is an illusion created by the brain giving the perception to the host human that his/her mind is somehow in control of what they do, when really all that the ‘I’ is, is a scanner of events that occur across the brain. These events compete for attention and as one process within the brain outshouts another, the brain rationalizes what is going on and concocts the impression that there was a self all along; consciousness concocts the notion of being in control after decisions have already been made. The self or the ‘I’ is somehow an after-thought. This may well be how the mind works, but it doesn’t explain how consciousness works.

If Consciousness is an illusion, or a human condition created by the brain for the brain (through the process of evolution) in order to assist us in our modus operandi as an organism, one must accept that you, i.e. the experience you have of being you, doesn’t exist, at least, you don’t exist as the entity you believe yourself to be, instead you’re merely a series of functions or processes.  You are essentially a self-created illusion.

If one believes this, one also has to accept the premise that a physical thing (the brain) is able to behold non-physical properties such as consciousness (illusory or not). However, this doesn’t make logical sense and once we drill down deeper into the properties of nature, it actually creates a paradox for the neurologists, as not only is there a problem simply in accounting for the emergence of something so distinctive as consciousness from mere matter, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate a form of emergentism without considering a supreme power.

We have no concept of what the intrinsic nature of matter might be. In fact, the only intrinsic nature with which we are familiar is consciousness itself. The qualities of conscious experience (to take simply sensory experience: the smell of a rose, the taste of a strawberry, etc.) seem to possess (or be) intrinsic and irreducible characteristics in themselves. If this is the only idea of intrinsic nature we possess, and we must assign some intrinsic nature to matter, it seems that matter must be granted a mental nature too…

Let’s go deeper and ask the question; how is it that atoms can somehow arrange themselves in such a way that they are able to ponder their own origins?

If one believes that the most fundamental of physical entities (quarks, leptons, bosons, strings or whatever physics will ultimately settle upon) are devoid of any mental attributes, and that we humans are a system of these entities; then one has to conclude the emergence of mind.

So, how does a mental world emerge from the physical one?

 

This is what Australian Philosopher David Chalmers coins the hard problem.

 

If the building blocks of life have no consciousness and no consciousness field exists, then the human brain must have a unique property within nature in that through its processes, it produces a mind that somehow creates consciousness.

An inner subjective experience isn’t necessary for life, so why do we even have it? What is it for?  There is no reason why we should even be consciousness, why don’t we simply function through process alone, just like a machine?

 

A Quantum possibility
As a conscious being you are wired into the fabric of reality, without you – a conscious observer there would only be an expansion of possibilities with nothing definite ever actually happening.  There are some scientists that believe consciousness is woven into the fabric of our universe and believe the process of conscious observation is in part what brings about reality.

The classical scientific view of humans as biological machines made up of a series of physical processes and functions is a commonly held one.  Whilst it must be acknowledged that there is a part of us that functions like a biological machine (the human part), there is also a part of us that doesn’t and this part of us experiences itself in a subjective manner (the being part).

 

“It is entirely possible that behind the perception of our senses, worlds are hidden of which we are unaware”.
~ Albert Einstein.

 

To Conclude:

Ultimately, Consciousness works one of two ways;

1) The building blocks of life either have consciousness or interact with a field of consciousness and thus universal consciousness exists.

i.e. we are it, it is us and the whole thing interacts with itself.

Our minds create the conditions whereby consciousness is conducted through us. If parts of the physical equipment (physical body/brain) get damaged, then the ability to conduct consciousness gets destroyed. Beyond repair = death (or rather an inability to conduct consciousness as a physical being). The more conscious-conductive a living thing is, the more consciousness is able to interact with it.

To use an analogy – our physical bodies act like a Television – in that we have a receiver (the brain) that picks up the signal being broadcast (Consciousness). If our receiver were to get damaged, our ability to pick up the signal would be lost, but the signal carries on being broadcast regardless.

This would fit into the Spiritual way of thinking. Spirituality suggests consciousness is soul and can thus survive the body, either to live on in an afterlife, be re-consumed into a global mind or be reincarnated into a greater or lesser entity in which to re-experience consciousness all over again.

 

Or

 

2) The Newtonian view is correct. Although there is a viable distinction between things with minds and things lacking minds, Consciousness has nothing to do with a unifying field or any laws of nature to which we are unaware; it is merely a series of chemical reactions and electrical impulses that creates ‘an illusion of Consciousness’.

The brain is therefore like a generator that produces consciousness and we are just not scientifically advanced enough to determine how this is done.

If Science can somehow prove that consciousness is generated by a physical process, then it won’t be long before we are able to produce machines that can do the same thing. If consciousness is a process that is purely physical in nature, then there will come a time when we will be able to replicate it and download it onto machines, ultimately giving us the ability to de-localize ourselves from our bodies.

Thanks for reading,

Keep an open mind & stay happy.

5 comments for “What is Consciousness?

  1. Parag Jasani
    November 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    While interacting in our day-to-day life, we need to act or react to bodily processes and the happenings in the world, sometimes instantly, to provide us beneficial outcomes.

    Consciousness is designed by the evolutionary process to allow data from such interactions that requires judgmental power to become available for making decisions, thereby benefiting from the capability of making free will decisions (If there were no free will, there was no requirement of consciousness). To understand how interactions are continuously scrutinized for the requirement of judgmental power and how free will decisions are made, visit http://www.whatismind.com

  2. February 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    (new) Hard problem of consciousness solved by bridging the explanatory gap http://www.consciousnessexplained.org

  3. Ky Wiss
    March 29, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Hi Parag,
    With respect, I disagree.

    The hard problem is far from solved as it is based purely on ones internal, subjective experience.

    If I were to hook your brain up to a scanner/monitor and asked you to think of the colour red – I would see a certain area of your brain light up. But I am not able to ‘see what you see’ or ‘feel what you feel’. It is this internal, subjective experience that creates the hard problem and it remains unsolved.

  4. Ky Wiss
    March 29, 2014 at 10:22 am

    A great link explaining the hard problem in more detail by David Chalmers, University of California;

    http://www.imprint.co.uk/chalmers.html

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