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How to define consciousness?
Posted: 15 November 2010 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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questionsaboutfaith - 23 October 2010 07:10 AM

To take a step back, the kind of consciousness a chimp has differs from human consciousness.  Human consciousness includes the ability to reflect and reason, where chimps have a more limited form.  Given a billion more years, humans would evolve to something that is analagous to the difference between a fruit fly and a present day human.  Christopher Hitchens has said something similar.  Does anyone remember his quote?

Something like this?

Nietzsche - 09 February 1653 06:13 PM

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment…

From “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.




The light is on, but there is nobody at home.

Posted: 15 November 2010 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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Yes, I understand your point more fully now.  Technological evolution is not the same as the slow process we evolved from.

Posted: 04 August 2011 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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kkwan - 26 July 2010 09:38 PM

Consciousness means many things to different people. The most important point, to ordinary folk, is that it is a personal experience, unique to each person. However, there are scientists and philosophers who argue that it is an illusion, an emergent creation of the brain or some other operational thing. Is that true or is it premature to conclude anything?

From this paper by Max Velmans on How to define consciousness and how not to define consciousness

Why it is difficult, but odd:

The term means many different things to many different people, and no universally agreed “core meaning” exists. This is odd, as we each have “psychological data” about what it is like to be conscious or to have consciousness to serve as the basis for an agreed definition.

Property dualist and reductionist arguments complicate the issue:

For example, “property dualists” such as Sperry (1969) took consciousness to be a special kind of property that is itself non-physical, but which emerges from physical systems such as the brain once they attain a certain level of complexity. Taking materialism to its logical conclusion, “reductionists” such as Crick (1994) and Dennett (1991) argued consciousness to be nothing more than a state or function of the brain. Within cognitive psychology, there were many similar reductive proposals which identified consciousness with some aspect of human information processing, for example with working memory, focal attention, a central executive, or a “global workspace”

OTOH, everyday understanding of consciousness is a good place to start:

This everyday understanding of consciousness based on the presence or absence of experienced phenomena provides a simple place to start. A person, or other entity, is conscious if they experience something; conversely, if a person or entity experiences nothing they are not conscious. Elaborating slightly, we can say that when consciousness is present, phenomenal content (consciousness of something) is present. Conversely, when phenomenal content is absent, consciousness is absent.

How not to define consciousness:

In short, no ontological view is automatically privileged by the likely advance of science, and, given the far-reaching consequences of reductionism and its alternatives it is important not to define phenomenal consciousness in a way that presupposes the outcome of this debate, or finesses it in favour of one outcome or another. Unfortunately, this practice is widespread both in common culture and in the scientific and philosophical literature.

Caveats in the conclusion:

Hopefully, the above makes it clear that consciousness understood as phenomenal consciousness provides a secure departure point for scientific and philosophical investigations of its nature. Conversely, theories of consciousness that do not in some way deal with its phenomenology are not theories of consciousness.

Maybe consciousness will ultimately be shown to be nothing more than a state or function of the brain—and maybe it won’t. That is, after all, what much of the current debate is about. But it is a mistake to define consciousness in a way that begs this question.

The danger of premature closure:

The mistake in these instances is one of premature closure. If one makes up one’s mind about the ontology of phenomenal consciousness before fully investigating how its phenomenology relates to processing in the brain and surrounding world, one precludes a deeper understanding of that ontology.

Do read the paper in full with an open mind to get the whole picture.

The same “me” persists over time.  The “me” that I vividly remember being at my first middle school dance is the same “me” that is typing these words right now.  I’m older and wiser than I was, but it’s one and the same person.  I can “re-live” those memories because the self is a real entity that persists over time.

Posted: 07 August 2011 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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john76 - 04 August 2011 07:27 PM

The same “me” persists over time.  The “me” that I vividly remember being at my first middle school dance is the same “me” that is typing these words right now.  I’m older and wiser than I was, but it’s one and the same person.  I can “re-live” those memories because the self is a real entity that persists over time.

Quite so. Intuitively and phenomenologically, that is your sense of self or personal identity and that it “persists over time”.

However, the philosophical problem of personal identity is complex.

From the wiki on personal identity

In philosophy, personal identity refers to the unique identity of persons through time. That is to say, the conditions under which a person is said to be identical to himself or herself through time.

Firstly, the mind-body problem:

The mind-body problem concerns the explanation of the relationship, if any, that exists between minds, or mental processes, and bodily states or processes.

Next, consciousness and personal identity:

According to Locke, personal identity (the self) “depends on consciousness, not on substance” nor on the soul. We are the same person to the extent that we are conscious of our past and future thoughts and actions in the same way as we are conscious of our present thoughts and actions.

The bundle theory of the self:

Hume, similar to the Buddha, compares the soul to a commonwealth, which retains its identity not by virtue of some enduring core substance, but by being composed of many different, related, and yet constantly changing elements.

The no-self theory:

Another view of personal identity is known as the no-self theory. According to this view the self cannot be reduced to a bundle because the concept of a self is incompatible with the idea of a bundle. This is because the idea of a bundle implies the notion of bodily or psychological relations that do not in fact exist.

Hume and the Buddha wrt the no-self theory:

On Giles’ reading, Hume is actually a no-self theorist and it is a mistake to attribute to him a reductionist view like the bundle theory. This reading is supported by Hume’s famous assertion that personal identity is a fiction. On this account the Buddhist view of personal identity is also a no-self theory rather than a reductionist theory. This is because the Buddha clearly rejects all attempts to reconstruct the self in terms of consciousness, feelings, or the body.

Personal continuity:

Personal continuity is an important part of identity; this is the process of ensuring that the quality of the mind are consistent from moment to the next, generally regarded to comprise qualities such as self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one’s environment.

Buddha’s paradoxical middle way:

The Buddha attacked all attempts to conceive of a fixed self, while stating that holding the view “I have no self” is also mistaken. This is an example of the middle way charted by the Buddha.

Free will model of consciousness:

In the Freewill model of consciousness the brain models its own unconscious processes just as it models other people. This modeling makes the assumption that the model will continue to apply through time, and so assumes they are the same person they were yesterday. This leads to the intuitive sense of self.

The problem is, what is consciousness remains, because it cannot be assumed that the brain, by modeling its own unconscious processes, “somehow creates” consciousness, the sense of self and persistence through time in the Freewill model of consciousness, which is a physicalist reductionist theory.


I am, therefore I think.

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