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Why isn’t their a scientific explanation for consciousness yet? What is consciousness in physical not descriptive terms?
Posted: 31 October 2008 01:25 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Our brains are bundle of a 100 billion neurons connected in a network with different groups working semi-independently of one another. Some brain activities we are aware of others we are not. I am not conscious of the parts of my brain regulating my various organs etc.

Whats the physical difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts?

Our brain activity can occur in groups of neurons that aren’t connected to each other but consciousness seems to be a unified entity how is that possible or is consciousness split up into pieces?

What makes the neurons uniquely able to create consciousness?

What the the heck is consciousness in physical terms and how is it created? (I’m not looking for some description like: self awareness, having thoughts, emotions etc.) (I’m looking for a physical explanation like: electromagnetism is a field that exerts force on particles, and is created by a changing magnetic field and electric fields caused by the movement of particles.)

If we had the answers to the questions could we know what it is like to literally be someone else? In a sense be able to use empirical data to determine what their subjective experience is like. Obviously we could look at the structure of their brain etc. but what about actually being able to detect consciousness as a physical entity in itself.

Answering these questions has a lot of philosophical ramifications i.e. no “philosophical zombies” no “life after death” for sure. Being able to determine others subjective experience i.e. what it is like to be another person or animal.

If someone wants to discuss philosophical or political ramifications start a separate thread. Let’s keep this thread in the context of science and scientific speculation.

TIME: The Mystery of Consciousness

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Posted: 31 October 2008 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I have an easy answer for you, but you may not like it: I deny the existence of consciousness. Let me explain: I think that the term is simply too messy to have any explanatory utility. In other words, it doesn’t help us understand the operation of the human mind. I believe that “consciousness” is merely the modern term for “soul”: some sort of mysterious force that animates the human brain.

If you simply drop the idea of consciousness, then understanding the brain becomes simpler. There are still lots of mysteries, but at least they involve concepts that you can define and work with.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Chris Crawford - 31 October 2008 01:47 PM

I have an easy answer for you, but you may not like it: I deny the existence of consciousness. Let me explain: I think that the term is simply too messy to have any explanatory utility. In other words, it doesn’t help us understand the operation of the human mind. I believe that “consciousness” is merely the modern term for “soul”: some sort of mysterious force that animates the human brain.

If you simply drop the idea of consciousness, then understanding the brain becomes simpler. There are still lots of mysteries, but at least they involve concepts that you can define and work with.

All scientific evidence shows that our mind is directly linked to physical states in the brain, the mind is not some ghost operating the machine. I think the machine our brain is creating experience. Experience is something it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say you aren’t seeing hearing tasting touching. Even if we could communicate exactly what our experience is, so someone else could know what that experience is like, it doesn’t mean we don’t have experience. We don’t have dennett’s definition of qualia, but who cares. I want to know what what experience is.

[ Edited: 31 October 2008 07:21 PM by Some Guy ]
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Posted: 31 October 2008 05:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Perhaps the problem lies in the formulation of the question. You want to know what that “experience” is like. What, exactly, does that question mean? Could you develop the question, flesh it out? I suspect that, if you really try to nail down the question, you’ll end up eliminating the idea of consciousness. But try it as an exercise.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 06:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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While you’re at doing as Chris suggests, you may also want to specify a bit more about consciousness.  You seem to accept that humans have it, but do other primates, cetaceans, dogs, mice, grasshoppers, paramecia, have it?  And if so, to what degree?  This may help clarify the boundaries of your initial question.

Occam

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Posted: 31 October 2008 07:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Occam - 31 October 2008 06:57 PM

While you’re at doing as Chris suggests, you may also want to specify a bit more about consciousness.  You seem to accept that humans have it, but do other primates, cetaceans, dogs, mice, grasshoppers, paramecia, have it?  And if so, to what degree?  This may help clarify the boundaries of your initial question.

Occam

Any organism with a CNS may/probably is to some extant conscious I would expect animals with a larger brain especially with the structures currently associated with consciousness as being more conscious. I don’t think consciousness is special or reserved for humans.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 07:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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OK, that eliminates paramecia, sponges and coelenterates, however, a flatworm (planarian) has a central nervous system.  It’s quite uncomplicated, and with not too many neurons, but it can search for food and turn away from light.  It’s probably completely outdone by the standard desktop computer.  Can we begin to assign computers a rudimentary consciousness?

Occam

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Posted: 31 October 2008 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Occam - 31 October 2008 07:26 PM

OK, that eliminates paramecia, sponges and coelenterates, however, a flatworm (planarian) has a central nervous system.  It’s quite uncomplicated, and with not too many neurons, but it can search for food and turn away from light.  It’s probably completely outdone by the standard desktop computer.  Can we begin to assign computers a rudimentary consciousness?

Occam

I was actually thinking about planaria when I said it, how complex and what functions does a brain need to be conscious? Whatever they are I don’t think a desktop computer has them someday though.

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Posted: 31 October 2008 09:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Just read an essay on consciousness and it basically argues that qualia are just the same as a state of our brain. They are not seperate or parallel to it but merely part of it’s properties. I don’t really get it still may be one of those things I have to think about and let set in. It would be helpful if someone spelled it out in crayon though.

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Posted: 01 November 2008 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The problem with consciousness is that it involves more than simply having a CNS. After all, we still have a brain when we’re asleep, drugged or hit by Muhammad Ali. That’s to say, you can have a functioning CNS and be unconscious. So ... what’s the distinction?

I think one distinction is the way experiences are retained in memory. (This IIRC is one thing that Hume and others associated with personal identity. We are who we remember being). If so, then animals with rudimentary abilities for memory would not be conscious, or would be less conscious. I also expect that there is something of a continuum here between being unconscious, semi-conscious and fully conscious, although how to spell that out and relate it to things like memory is very difficult.

Qualia is a related but somewhat separate topic, having to do with the ‘feel’ of experiences. Dan, I don’t know what the person you were reading was saying about them, but I would not say that the full story about qualia is exhausted by saying that they are identical to states of the brain. Really, qualia are a philosophical placeholder for a sort of essentially subjective experience. And while that experience may be constituted by neural firings, what makes it what it is is its qualitative character.

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Posted: 01 November 2008 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 01 November 2008 06:56 AM

The problem with consciousness is that it involves more than simply having a CNS. After all, we still have a brain when we’re asleep, drugged or hit by Muhammad Ali. That’s to say, you can have a functioning CNS and be unconscious. So ... what’s the distinction?

I think one distinction is the way experiences are retained in memory. (This IIRC is one thing that Hume and others associated with personal identity. We are who we remember being). If so, then animals with rudimentary abilities for memory would not be conscious, or would be less conscious. I also expect that there is something of a continuum here between being unconscious, semi-conscious and fully conscious, although how to spell that out and relate it to things like memory is very difficult.

Qualia is a related but somewhat separate topic, having to do with the ‘feel’ of experiences. Dan, I don’t know what the person you were reading was saying about them, but I would not say that the full story about qualia is exhausted by saying that they are identical to states of the brain. Really, qualia are a philosophical placeholder for a sort of essentially subjective experience. And while that experience may be constituted by neural firings, what makes it what it is is its qualitative character.

The essay is on functionalism and it states that consciousness is identical to functionally defined brain states. Unfortunately it doesn’t really solve the problem of subjective consciousness for me.

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Posted: 02 November 2008 01:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain project, weighs in on the issue.

“There is nothing inherently mysterious about the mind or anything it makes,” Markram says. “Consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cells. If you can precisely model that information, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to generate a conscious mind.” At moments like this, Markram takes on the deflating air of a magician exposing his own magic tricks. He seems to relish the idea of “debunking consciousness,” showing that it’s no more metaphysical than any other property of the mind. Consciousness is a binary code; the self is a loop of electricity. A ghost will emerge from the machine once the machine is built right.
Source: “Out of the Blue.” Seed Magazine.

This is probably one of the most exciting projects going on right now and the article itself is a great read.

[ Edited: 02 November 2008 01:09 AM by Chocotacoi8 ]
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Posted: 02 November 2008 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’m still not getting it, let me make an analogy to explain. If we were to look at a few molecules of water we could see that they can each make four hydrogen bonds with four other water molecules and we could measure the strength of the hydrogen bonds to determine how strongly they are attracted to each other. Using what we know about just a few of those water molecules we could explain the behavior of a large grouping of water molecules say a bucket of water or even an ocean.

When we look at a single brain cell we can see it has certain properties like storing and transmitting information. At a larger scale we could look at how the networks of brain cells interconnect to create a neural network. We can look at how these various groups of neurons connect to different things like eyes, ears, the nose, and the spinal cord. Each grouping seems to have a discreet function like processing sight, smell, and touch. All of that can be stored in long and short term memory as well as providing inputs to the processor of the brain to make outputs.

We currently have electronic devices that seem to be able to do all the functions above. I’m sure their is a computer out their designed to learn and make decisions. We could probably connect that device to other machines to provide sensory information. The device still wouldn’t have a subjective conscious experience. I don’t think brain cells are special I’m sure their is some trick to consciousness and that a computer in the future could be conscious. The problem that I am seeing is what property am I missing that gives us consciousness? How can we tell something is conscious? Consciousness must be a result of the individual properties of our brain cells combining to create something more complex. Is it just that it would be hard to picture the ocean from looking at some water molecules or is it something else that makes it so hard to understand?

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Posted: 02 November 2008 02:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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danlhinz - 02 November 2008 01:04 AM

I’m still not getting it, let me make an analogy to explain. If we were to look at a few molecules of water we could see that they can each make four hydrogen bonds with four other water molecules and we could measure the strength of the hydrogen bonds to determine how strongly they are attracted to each other. Using what we know about just a few of those water molecules we could explain the behavior of a large grouping of water molecules say a bucket of water or even an ocean.

When we look at a single brain cell we can see it has certain properties like storing and transmitting information. At a larger scale we could look at how the networks of brain cells interconnect to create a neural network. We can look at how these various groups of neurons connect to different things like eyes, ears, the nose, and the spinal cord. Each grouping seems to have a discreet function like processing sight, smell, and touch. All of that can be stored in long and short term memory as well as providing inputs to the processor of the brain to make outputs.

We currently have electronic devices that seem to be able to do all the functions above. I’m sure their is a computer out their designed to learn and make decisions. We could probably connect that device to other machines to provide sensory information. The device still wouldn’t have a subjective conscious experience. I don’t think brain cells are special I’m sure their is some trick to consciousness and that a computer in the future could be conscious. The problem that I am seeing is what property am I missing that gives us consciousness? How can we tell something is conscious? Consciousness must be a result of the individual properties of our brain cells combining to create something more complex. Is it just that it would be hard to picture the ocean from looking at some water molecules or is it something else that makes it so hard to understand?

Well of course I’m still not getting it either grin but does the concept of emergence add something to the picture?

Stephen

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Posted: 02 November 2008 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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danlhinz - 01 November 2008 11:36 AM

The essay is on functionalism and it states that consciousness is identical to functionally defined brain states. Unfortunately it doesn’t really solve the problem of subjective consciousness for me.

This was what I was (apparently in correctly) assuming was the main sientific theory, which led me to believe the theory goes, I’m conscious of my brain functioning, rather than objective reality.

Stephen

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Posted: 02 November 2008 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Chocotacoi8 - 02 November 2008 01:07 AM

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain project, weighs in on the issue.

... “Consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cells. ... Consciousness is a binary code; the self is a loop of electricity. A ghost will emerge from the machine once the machine is built right.
Source: “Out of the Blue.” Seed Magazine.

This is probably the most understandable and reasonable explanation I’ve come across.  Quantum theories of consciousness always lose me, and they don’t seem to stand to reason since the functions of the brain happen at the neuron (classical) level, not at the particle level.

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