• fishnchips
    As I sit here and type this, I'm intrigued by the thought that this is essentially my brain trying to understand its own nature.

    Or is it? Is consciousness a result of, or a part of, the brain – or does it just reside in the brain for the time being? I don't know what I believe on that one.

    The debate surrounding consciousness is something that's been doing backflips in my mind for several nights now, so I'm glad this thread is here.

    So here we are, humans, and we have consciousness. But it's argued that not everything living has consciousness: plants, bacteria...I think it's safe to say most people would say these kinds of things don't. In any case, there must come a point as life gets simpler and simpler, at which a line is drawn between consciousness and no consciousness. But where does that line lie?

    I suppose you could say that once you have a brain, you become conscious. But how much of a brain do you have to have? At what point in its development does an embryonic brain cross over from non-conscious to conscious? How much of a person's brain could you take away before they were no longer conscious?

    So many questions and so few answers.

    I wonder to what degree consciousness depends on the senses. For example, as I sit here now, if I were to lose all my senses so that I could no longer see, hear, smell, feel or taste anything, I would still be conscious. I would be able to think 'What the hell has happened, where did the world go?!'. What though if I was born this way? Born without the ability to detect that there was a world around me. I'd have no concept of language, space or perhaps even time. I wouldn't be able to learn anything. Would such a hypothetical infant have, or develop, consciousness? If you could grow a brain in a lab, would it be conscious? Imagine what a horrifying consciousness that would be.

    It may of course be that simpler forms of life have a different type of consciousness. And if that's the case, what type of consciousness might a more complex form of life than ourselves have?
  • Daniel
    Hello, I just wanted to add one more question to the list.

    The question is: what is the nature of that which we are aware of?

    My answer (not comprehensive, off course): we are aware of things that we are not. In other words, we are aware of things that are completely external to us (as in to be an object of awareness, a thing must be extrinsic to the thing that is aware). I know this answer sounds completely obvious and shallow (maybe erroneous if you ask yourself how you are aware of yourself), and thus you (the reader) may think it is not worth your time contemplating. However, I'd like to ask whoever reads this to ask yourself that question and give me your answer, and to think about my answer and give me your opinion.
  • neonspectraltoast
    Self-awarenesd is just what happens when information about the self changes. Even atoms have a modicum of self-awareness. They are forced to distinguish themselves from outside interaction.

    Just because you don't have a highly developed id or ego doesn't mean you're completely unaware of yourself. Even dogs have a self, and they are perfectly aware of it.
  • fishnchips
    That's an interesting question which perhaps touches a little on the senses. If we had no sense that there was anything but ourselves, would we still have consciousness? And if consciousness is dependant on external stimuli then that in itself raises some very intriguing debates.
  • noAxioms
    Firstly, I don't know if communication per se is an indication of consciousness meant here as the existence of an inner life - what is it like to be something.TheMadFool
    I don't think there's anything 'being' me, so does that mean I shouldn't consider myself conscious?
  • 3rdClassCitizen
    we are aware of things that we are not. In other words, we are aware of things that are completely external to us
    That better defines consciousness, depending on your definition of aware. Simple no-brain creatures of one cell or very few cells react to their surroundings, have some "sense" of their IMMEDIATE surrounding environment. There is obviously a limit to the ability to sense an environment, and react in a manner supporting survival, without a complex brain. As creatures evolved, and competed, the need for a brain ensued.

    The consciousness is an advantage in nature where complex information, ability to predict and plan ahead, and awareness of physical self can overcome simple actions and reactions of non-conscious creatures. Evolution would greatly favor creatures who attained levels of consciousness.

    Even without senses, the mind could still imagine and find some level of understanding. Philosophy is learning by logic and imagination from within, without external input. Mysticism is essentially about sensory deprivation, removal of all static so that one can hear the wisdom of the universe. While dreaming, you are sensing nothing, but in your mind experience what seems real.
  • TheMadFool
    I don't think there's anything 'being' me, so does that mean I shouldn't consider myself conscious?noAxioms

    Of course there is something to be like noAxioms - you have a subjective experience of being you - I believe everyone has this first-person point of view which philosophers claim is ineffable.
  • Chester
    I completely agree with you , that consciousness is the foundation of reality. The foundation of that consciousness is what we call God, I've likened it to God being windows 10 and each individual human being , say, chrome browser. Ockham's razor even backs this idea...it is less complex to think of a "thought" only universe than one that contains thoughts and non-thoughts.

    Separately from that I think that language grew our consciousness, the word.
  • Rucan
    Sorry for my bad English, I'm not a native speaker.

    Well there is one thought experiment that I think about when I think about the origin of consciousness:

    The universe could exist and still evolve the same way without consciousness. That universe would have humans in it but they would not experience any concious state. So they would, as we know for now, be robots. They'd act the same by calculating the same answers the the questions they encounter, like we do. So everyone in our universe would have a duplicate in that universe but it would have no conciousness.

    The universe in the thought experiment would be the one I could explain better as why it is like it is, than the universe we live in. In which I constantly experience the happening around and in me.
    So just to say evolution developed conciousness is by my means rather less profounded. Because what the "argument" states is, that it was an advantage to be concious. But the foundation of which this "argument" (more of a false conclusion in my eyes) is build upon the reflection of ones goals, feelings, social bondings, etc. This might not be what conciousness is all about.
    Here we have to consider what conciousness is. Is it the calculating, reflecting and controlling part of the human or is it the experiencing of what it is like to be a human, other animal, plant, electron, etc. It still can also be the guiding power of what it beholds but still it seems to be separate of the materialistic object it settles in.
    Secondly if you are speaking to somebody you usually don't think of what exact words you are going to say, you more or less guide your body to describe the subject you are talking about. This implies (to me at least) that the calculations needed for acting are done by the subconciousness but guided by conciousness. So conciousness is the one which experiences but also which decides to do what you want to happen.
    In conclusion evolution helped us to develop senses and intelligence. But what is the exact advantage for having a concious mind? We can function without it, probably even better without it, because everything in the universe is made up of energy, so why would not be conciousness also be made energy? And this has to be supplied by the body.
    So here I go from biology to physics, if everything in the universe adds up to a zero energy level, why is there a concious state, it would take up more energy than needed to have the same universe?
    I have my own answers to that question but i'll leave this would have to have a longer explenation.
  • Daniel
    Even without senses, the mind could still imagine and find some level of understanding.3rdClassCitizen

    Imagination is made of ideas, the substance of which comes from experience. In the complete absence of experience, there would be mindless brains. We are consequence of the static around our bodies.
  • TheArchitectOfTheGods

    I really like this original post. It is very lucid and concise. I also subscribe to the idea that consciousness has evolved gradually, and gave organisms ever increasing evolutionary advantages. To me an interesting thought is also that if humans will technologically be able to connect their brains into an integrated network of brains (not in a primitive way as on this forum, but completely connected), whether a 'network' consciousness would evolve and what it could mean.
  • neonspectraltoast

    Don't be so sure of yourself.
  • 3rdClassCitizen
    I have pondered something similar. Cells in our brain can do no thinking, but cells acting together make our mentality. If creatures like ants or bees developed a way to incorporate all of their brains, they might achieve a very high collective intelligence.
    For humans, it seems like integration with computers would be the first step, then perhaps there could be a "Borg" type collective.
    If you flashed a series of colored dots on a screen in front of me, sensors could detect what parts of the brain electrifies to what degree. From this data a map could direct a computer to stimulate those areas of the brain to create a mental image.
    Recording brain electricity during thoughts or dreams could give data to be played back, a video of your imagination or a video of your dreams!
  • Pantagruel
    To respond to the original question I'd suggest looking at the work of George Herbert Mead (which I just started reading).

    Mind, Self, and Society explore's Mead's views on the social genesis of thought. As the editor puts it, "how certain biological organisms acquire the capacity of self-consciousness, of thinking, of abstract reasoning, of purposive behaviour, of moral devotion; the problem, in short, of how man the rational animal arose."

    I like Mead's approach because it, ab initio, avoids the false dichotomy of the mind-matter dualism by assuming what is, essentially, a systemic view of consciousness.
  • ttjordy
    We don't know. It is definitely evolved. Possible it gives the animal advantages to have a high awareness and conscous level.
  • bert1
    It is definitely evolved.ttjordy

    Why definitely?
  • ttjordy

    Because it is apparently extremely useful in nature. Humans are very successful species. They rule basically the world. Granted, there are other traits involved too. Curiosity, trial and error. Humans have seven times bigger brain than what is expected for an animal of our size. That means you have more neurons at disposal that aren't already regulating body and muscles.

    Evolution means that those that have characteristics that are more suitable for some situation are going to have an advantage and thus greater chance at surviving.

    Also, the more aggressive and dominant a species is, the better chance at vigorous organism. Our ego makes us dominant and even aggressive at times.
  • bert1

    Thanks. Could you give an example of the usefulness of consciousness?
  • neonspectraltoast
    Why is it useful to any creature to be a person when it will die? Seems like there's a conundrum there to me.
  • neonspectraltoast
    Wouldn't it be preferable not to know anything and be a p zombie than to have to face your own mortality?
  • Daniel

    It might be a trait under sexual selection (although I think it is under all kinds of selection since it is very complex). So, consciousness (the self, your personality) might not be very advantageous in terms of our physical interaction with the surrounding environment (as an opposable thumb might be, for example), but it helps us get laid, and thus pass our genes. I think of it as a version of the peacock's tail.
  • ttjordy
    What has been said above, awareness of being an individual is necessary. A rabbit needs to know the fox at the hill is not himself, otherwise it wouldn't run away. And having a conscious ego is more difficult to explain. Self-awareness tends to make organisms more greedy and protective of their 'belongings'. And maybe it makes us extremely egoistic. Since consciousness is possessed by the individual. Since it is only yours I believe it creates a belief of superiority. And an urge to better ourselves. Also the sexual selection is an excellent point. Having a consciousness means you are aware of how to attract more females/males and you want them more for yourself than animals are possessive. We also believe the world is ours. Since we think so we are more prepared to protect it from threats.

    Still it is a very tricky instrument, the ego. Scientists still do not fully understand what purpose it serves.
  • ttjordy

    The ego is afraid of becoming non-existent. But that's the only thing that will vanish when we die. The energy we consist of will always be there.

    Realising we can die, makes us make precautions.

    In fact, it does not matter a bit if we live or die. We will always exist.

    Knowing my ego will die at some point certainly makes life worth so much more worth living and enjoyable of moments. Any could be my lasg.
  • neonspectraltoast

    Had we evolved very differently, and not so self-aware, would it make any difference? We could all be protozoa, or a virus, and reproduce exponentially. If making copies is the only goal, why consciousness?

    We know conscious beings are sometimes even driven to suicide, so it's not exactly necessarily advantageous.

    Yet, I can imagine the first conscious being was driven to survive. But I wouldn't think more likely to survive than the billions of alleged unconscious beings that came before it.
  • Daniel

    If making copies is the only goal, why consciousness?neonspectraltoast

    Consciousness would be an alternative outcome of the process whose "goal" is to make copies. There are different ways that goal can be accomplished, as evidenced in the diversity of life. An organism can be defined as a set of traits. The composition of such set depends on the environment and random mutations (selection); and as the environment changes and new random mutations appear, the composition of such set changes. The randomness of the process and the dynamics of the environment provide the means for the diversity of sets. Each set of traits is unique and this set defines the behaviour of the organism. A virus is a virus, a monkey a monkey, a dog a dog. Even within a species, sets of traits are unique. We are defined by a set of traits. Not all behaviours are compatible with the environment that surrounds them. Not al viruses, monkeys and dogs reproduce/survive. We are constrained by the environment. If being conscious is to be aware, and being aware to experience, then consciousness is defined by the same set of traits that defines individual experience, and it is thus a random, alternative outcome of the process whose goal is to make copies.
  • neonspectraltoast

    So reproduction just naturally led to consciousness? I guess that's what we have to explain. How?

    There is no build-up to awareness. You're either aware or you're not. So it seems mighty fortunate that the unconscious progression of things got lucky, I guess...the right molecule fell into place and suddenly life became aware. It's kind of mysterious how a totally blind process led to all of this.
  • Pantagruel
    There is no build-up to awareness. You're either aware or you're notneonspectraltoast

    So awareness does not hold in degrees? That isn't my own personal experience. When I was a child, my plans and expectations did not stretch to anywhere near the extent they do now, my recollection of the past was similarly circumscribed. I understood very little of what was going on in the world compared to what I do now.

    I think that the most universal experience is one of constantly expanding awareness.
  • neonspectraltoast

    Understanding the world isn't the same as being cognizant that it exists. So no, awareness itself doesn't really come in degrees. And even if it did, we'd just have to push the goal post farther back and question what blind processes led to the lowest degree of awareness.

    So yes, my thought is, wasn't it fortunate that a blind process led up to any degree of awareness at all. And the question is, how did that happen?
  • Michael
    Many people belief trees have consioussnes due to their communication.InfiniteMonkey

    Citation needed.

    But I think we can agree that consiousness has something to do with the nervous system? I mean when you damage your brain you damage your consiousness.InfiniteMonkey

    If you damage a railway track then the train will crash but the train and the railway track are two different things.

    It´s a sideeffect of neurons firing information.InfiniteMonkey

    But is it a necessary side effect and if not then why did it happen in our case?
  • InfiniteMonkey
    1. I know that out of many private conversations. There where a couple of popular science books and movies about trees, who have drawn a false picture.

    2. When I stay in this metaphor, I would think about consioussnes not about the railroad but about the velocity of the train. We still have railroads without a train but we don´t have velocity.

    3. That´s a very good question and unfortounaly human brains aren´t able to answer it.
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