What is ' consciousness ' ?

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Thomas123
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What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #1

Post by Thomas123 »

This word appears to be at the centre of many discussions on this forum. It also appears to mean different things to different people and, therein lies the root of our miscommunication. What range and definement do you attribute to, ' consciousness ' ?

Is there an external consciousness in the world?. Can I tune into a shared consciousness. I am listening to Prime Minister's Question Time, ....is Boris tuned into a universal human consciousness as he delivers his address. Is his brain working ,simultaneously and in tandem with my own consciousness and with that of others?

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #31

Post by dakoski »

[Replying to DrNoGods in post #29]
How can observations that consciousness appears to require a brain be equally used to support the idea that consciousness is an illusion? The former is a direct implication from many observations which correlate a working brain with consciousness, while the hypothesis that consciousness is an illusion has no observational support at all. It is just a statement apparently out of the blue.
I’ll try to clarify. I think there are two major issues with your argument:
1) Correlations between brain activity and consciousness are not the same as showing that consciousness and brain activity are identical.

2) Even if you make the unsubstantiated assumption that consciousness and brain activity are identical this still fails to show that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

The issue remains that neuroscience data currently do not explain how our brain activity gives rise the subjective experience of consciousness. There are two popular materialist explanations for this gap in knowledge – a kind of ‘materialism of the gaps’:
a) Emergence – i.e. consciousness is the result of complex interactions within our brains that we don’t yet know about.
b) Illusion – our conscious experience is an illusion since our knowledge of neuroscience cannot explain it. Common position held by people like Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore

How would you argue against neuroscientists like Blackmore that argue consciousness is an illusion?
I'm not presupposing that consciousness is an emergent property of a brain, only suggesting that it appears to require a brain to exist. And if that is the case, what other explanation makes sense if the correlation is so strong? The common problem with unsolved scientific issues is that this fact leaves the subject open to all kinds of possible explanations and "it could be this" or "it could be that" hypotheses. What evidence is there to support a hypothesis that consciousness is not an emergent property of the brain? It is not sufficient to say that, well, science can't explain it in detail yet so therefore (fill in the blank) is just as plausible or likely. There has to be some evidence or rationale for an alternative explanation.
I’m unaware of any theory of consciousness that does not think that the brain and consciousness are correlated. All explanations I’m aware take that as a starting point. Why would you assume based on these correlations that brain function and consciousness are identical until proved otherwise? Furthermore why would you take the speculative assumption that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain as a default explanation without data to support it?

It seems to me your final two sentence are making a “materialism of the gaps” argument: “The problem is when you say: “It is not sufficient to say that, well, science can't explain it in detail yet so therefore (fill in the blank) is just as plausible or likely. There has to be some evidence or rationale for an alternative explanation.”

The problem is there’s more than one “materialism of the gaps” argument so why would the version you prefer be default?
No ... my point was that the dead person has appeared to lose consciousness as there is no way to communicate or interact in any way with the deceased person, and no evidence to support that this dead person's consciousness has somehow survived the expiration of the physical body. This is an observation which suggests that the death of the brain also resulted in the termination of consciousness for that person. I am not making any assumptions on whether consciousness is an emergent property of the brain with that example ... I'm simply pointing out that all evidence in situations like this imply that the dead person's consciousness has indeed terminated with the death of the physical brain. It is an observation. Has there ever been a verified instance of someone communicating with a dead person, or some other activity with them after their death, or that their consciousness has somehow survived in some way?
I think you’re getting mixed up between the methodological limitations inherent in studying a complicated subject and quantifiable inferences from empirical data.

Inferences on whether we have observed particular data depend on:
1) How we define what we are trying to observe (i.e. consciousness)
2) Our ability to measure that data

If you define consciousness as brain activity (which you have) then by definition if there is no brain there is no consciousness. That isn’t an inference from empirical data - it’s simply a circular argument that can’t be influenced by empirical data.

Rather than rely on circular arguments, neuroscientists, cardiologists and others have sought to test hypotheses that consciousness and brain activity are identical under the conditions of brain death. We can study patients who were clinically dead for a period of time before being resuscitated and then ask them to report if they had conscious experience during that time.

Evidence is growing in this area – e.g. a prospective study in the Netherlands published in the Lancet (one of the world’s leading medical journals) found that approximately 20% of patients reported conscious experience despite being clinically dead and no brain function (i.e. flat EEG). Similar data have been found in other prospective studies across the world.

We can also study people in vegetative states with minimal brain function. If consciousness and brain activity were identical we would not expect these patients to experience consciousness or at best minimal levels of conscious experience – yet many experience full consciousness despite profound brain impairment. These data challenge assertions that consciousness and brain activity are identical.
I don't see how this helps the argument that consciousness is or is not an emergent property of the brain. The premise is that Mary would learn more about vision if she gained the ability to see herself, if conscious experience is distinct from brain activity, but would not otherwise. This suggests that she somehow utilized conscious experience once she could see to learn more about vision, but sight is also a function of brain activity in the processing of signals from the visual cortex to create the perception of images. So she may simply be using other functions of her brain that were not active before (ie. the visual cortex), rather than some magical function of consciousness that was lurking about distinct from other brain functions.
But given Mary is an expert on vision presumably she is fully aware of the role of the visual cortex in visual perception – so are you then arguing she wouldn’t be learning anything new from the actual experience of seeing?

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #32

Post by DrNoGods »

[Replying to dakoski in post #31]
1) Correlations between brain activity and consciousness are not the same as showing that consciousness and brain activity are identical.
And I've made no such claim. My argument is that consciousness appears to be an emergent property of the brain because of the many correlations and observations that have already been mentioned. Consciousness being an emergent property of the brain (ie. the result of complex interactions within the brain) is not at all the same as saying the consciousness and brain activity are identical. There can be activity within the brain that is not "the same" as consciousness (eg. the functions that process signals from the optic nerve and visual cortex). Observations of animals, including humans, indicate that without a brain there is no consciousness.

If the brain is impaired or the person appears unconscious to an outside observer, this doen't mean that the brain is actually dead and not functioning in any way so that there cannot be consciousness. Show me an instance of where all electrical brain activity has ceased for a sufficient period of time to declare the person clinically dead, and then some evidence that during that time they were actually conscious. If all electrical activity within the brain ceases, there is no consciousness. Can you show any examples of where this is not the case? A flat EEG does not imply that all brain activity has ceased, for example:

https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2 ... eeg-13855/

This is a comment from the above article: "The data gathered from the experiment leads to several conclusions. First, the research team determined that even when diagnosed with a flat line EEG, the brain is still capable of cerebral activities. A flat line EEG indicates a lack of cortex activity rather than the lack of brain activity."
2) Even if you make the unsubstantiated assumption that consciousness and brain activity are identical this still fails to show that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.
I'm not making a claim that consciousness and brain activity are identical ... that is your phrasing but nothing I have said or implied. Again, my argument is that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, not that consciousness and brain activity are identical. These are different.
The issue remains that neuroscience data currently do not explain how our brain activity gives rise the subjective experience of consciousness. There are two popular materialist explanations for this gap in knowledge – a kind of ‘materialism of the gaps’:
a) Emergence – i.e. consciousness is the result of complex interactions within our brains that we don’t yet know about.
b) Illusion – our conscious experience is an illusion since our knowledge of neuroscience cannot explain it. Common position held by people like Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore

How would you argue against neuroscientists like Blackmore that argue consciousness is an illusion?
I've commented on this before. Just because science cannot fully explain something does not mean that anyone is free to randomly create an explanation that suits their ideas. Consciousness can be an emergent property of the brain, and we just don't fully understand the mechanisms. That does not mean the default explanation must be something else. Just because science can't fully explain it in no way opens a door to claim it is therefore an illusion. But this is exactly what you are implying with the phrase (underline mine) "our conscious experience is an illusion since our knowledge of neuroscience cannot explain it." That does not follow from the fact that science cannot yet fully explain it.
Why would you assume based on these correlations that brain function and consciousness are identical until proved otherwise? Furthermore why would you take the speculative assumption that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain as a default explanation without data to support it?
Again, I've never made the claim that consciousness and brain activity are identical. That is your phrasing. My point is that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, which is not the same thing. I think consciousness is an emergent property of the brain specifically because there IS evidence to support it. We can observe that without electrical activity in the brain there is no consciousness (or do you have a valid example to refute this?). This is more than just a casual correlation ... one (electrical activity within the brain) is a prerequisite for the other as far as I am aware. But I'll ask again, do you have an example where conscioiusness has been verified when there is no electrical activity within the brain? Plus, what other explanation could there be for consciousness besides a manisfestation of normal brain activity without invoking the supernatural, which has never been demonstrated to exist in any form. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.
If you define consciousness as brain activity (which you have) then by definition if there is no brain there is no consciousness. That isn’t an inference from empirical data - it’s simply a circular argument that can’t be influenced by empirical data.
It is not a circular argument. I'm not sure how you are even getting that idea. Saying that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain is the same as saying something like flight in birds is a function of wing movement, or a working automobile is the result of all of its components working together as a system. The brain's various components working together as a system can produce consciousness, and that seems to me to be the simplest explanation for it that is consistent with observations and empirical data. This is not a circular argument.
We can also study people in vegetative states with minimal brain function. If consciousness and brain activity were identical we would not expect these patients to experience consciousness or at best minimal levels of conscious experience – yet many experience full consciousness despite profound brain impairment. These data challenge assertions that consciousness and brain activity are identical.
And again ... I'm not making the claim that consciousness and brain activity are identical. My argument is that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.
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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #33

Post by AgnosticBoy »

dakoski wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 2:55 pm I’ll try to clarify. I think there are two major issues with your argument:
1) Correlations between brain activity and consciousness are not the same as showing that consciousness and brain activity are identical.
Agreed. Even if the brain caused consciousness that doesn't mean that the two are identical since cause and effect can have differences.
dakoski wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 2:55 pmThe issue remains that neuroscience data currently do not explain how our brain activity gives rise the subjective experience of consciousness. There are two popular materialist explanations for this gap in knowledge – a kind of ‘materialism of the gaps’:
a) Emergence – i.e. consciousness is the result of complex interactions within our brains that we don’t yet know about.
b) Illusion – our conscious experience is an illusion since our knowledge of neuroscience cannot explain it. Common position held by people like Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore
I reject explanation B but not A. As for emergence, the key feature about it is not just simply complex interactions but also that the product of those interactions giving rise to novel features. A simple example is water which has the ability to extinguish a fire while its parts, hydrogen and oxygen, has no such ability (in fact, it's just the opposite since those two elements fuel fires). This is the type of causal relation that some say exist between brain and consciousness.

All sides can agree that there is definitely a correlation between the brain and consciousness.

I'm also tired of hearing about all of the studies of consciousness being effected when certain regions of the brain are stimulated. A lot of materialists use these observations to say that brain causes consciousness. But it would be nice if these same materialists can update themselves on neuroplasticity where there are documented cases of meditation and thinking (conscious activity) being able to cause and change brain function. Some researchers refer to this as 'self-directed neuroplasticity'. So why are scientists not saying that consciousness causes brain given these recent observations?
Self-directed neuroplasticity is a concept derived from the researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz in his book, “The Mind & The Brain“ (Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force). In the book, he makes a compelling argument that you aren’t at the mercy of genetically-predetermined brain activity. His research suggests that you play an active role in influencing brain function by deciding where to focus your attention.

Since we know that the brain remains neuroplastic for life, self-directed neuroplasticity is a concept that allows us to consciously control how we want our brains to work. In other words, if you want your brain to become better in social situations, you’d “force” yourself to become more comfortable in these situations and your brain eventually adapt. Similarly, anytime you learn a new skill (e.g. how to juggle), your brain functioning changes and adapts to whatever you put in front of it.
https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/2 ... -function/

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #34

Post by DrNoGods »

[Replying to AgnosticBoy in post #33]
But it would be nice if these same materialists can update themselves on neuroplasticity where there are documented cases of meditation and thinking (conscious activity) being able to cause and change brain function. Some researchers refer to this as 'self-directed neuroplasticity'. So why are scientists not saying that consciousness causes brain given these recent observations?
I would not think it surprising that the brain could respond physically similar to how, for example, muscles respond. Working out obviously can significantly change the body in various ways, and we know that memory storage can equate to physical changes in neurons and their interconnections (synaptic plasticity).

https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/memo ... ies-formed

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6053684/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3843897/

So it seems that physical changes in structure within the brain are the natural result of its activity and can be altered by thought, behavior, etc. As for why scientists are not saying that consciousness causes brain, my guess would be that this is because we know how brains form and it is not a mystery that would require a new hypothesis. In humans, the sequence is well understood from initial formation of the neural tube to the the fully formed brain:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234146/

A good book on this, and other human development issues, is contained in an excellent book by Jamie A. Davies (Life Unfolding: how the human body creates itself, Oxford University Press, 2014).
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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

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Thomas123 wrote: Tue Jun 16, 2020 8:59 am What range and definement do you attribute to, ' consciousness ' ?[/u]
Consciousness is a state of awareness and nothing more or less. The difference between consciousness and a video camera is that consciousness has many different ways of experiencing. It is also aware that it is aware. Camera is not aware of camera (or self).
Thomas123 wrote: Tue Jun 16, 2020 8:59 amIs there an external consciousness in the world?
There exists a Universal consciousness and an individual consciousness. The former is greater than the latter. Universal consciousness exists everywhere. It is a witness to everything in existence. Individual consciousness is localized and is limited by the bodily senses and mind.
Thomas123 wrote: Tue Jun 16, 2020 8:59 amCan I tune into a shared consciousness.
You can by practicing meditation. You must transcend self. The mind, body, and senses keeps you focused on self, but with meditation you can transcend these three, and merge with the selfless form of consciousness which exists everywhere and in everything.

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

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Post by Tcg »

Swami wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 2:02 pm The difference between consciousness and a video camera is that consciousness has many different ways of experiencing.

...the selfless form of consciousness which exists everywhere and in everything.
Except of course in the camera you mentioned earlier. Claims not based on verifiable evidence can be prone to inconsistencies like the one I've identified here.


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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #37

Post by Peter »

[Replying to Thomas123 in post #1]
It seems to me that consciousness In living things exists on a spectrum. 99.9% of living things are no more than biological robots responding to input based on varying programming complexity. Even the 0.1% is on a spectrum of consciousness. I spend a good amount of my waking time unconscious, or so my wife says.

As for consciousness itself? Could it be like pornography? You know it when you see it?
Religion is poison because it asks us to give up our most precious faculty, which is that of reason, and to believe things without evidence. It then asks us to respect this, which it calls faith. - Christopher Hitchens

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #38

Post by Thomas123 »

Descartes: Everything is self evident.
Swami:There exists a Universal consciousness and an individual consciousness
Peter: ....kinda like pornography
Thomas: I am ,therefore I think!

All our arguments are ,by necessity, circular in nature....we are thinking a out thinking, or more accurately, we are considering the sensation of being conscious.

The world has a universal consciousness, whether we a cept it or not. Swami is correct. If we accept that we have detected consciousness, we can now consider it's presence and its range a d its dynamic.

Our natural life state on this planet is creating this thing! Can it be channelled or harnessed...is it as fragile as smoke or is it in some way ' collectable'.

What do you think?

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

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Post by Thomas123 »

Descartes: Everything is self evident.
Swami:There exists a Universal consciousness and an individual consciousness
Peter: ....kinda like pornography
Thomas: I am ,therefore I think!

All our arguments are ,by necessity, circular in nature....we are thinking a out thinking, or more accurately, we are considering the sensation of being conscious.

The world has a universal consciousness, whether we a cept it or not. Swami is correct. If we accept that we have detected consciousness, we can now consider it's presence and its range a d its dynamic.

Our natural life state on this planet is creating this thing! Can it be channelled or harnessed...is it as fragile as smoke or is it in some way ' collectable'.

What do you think?

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Re: What is ' consciousness ' ?

Post #40

Post by Thomas123 »

A significant dynamic of our consciousness is our a ability, like other life forms, to perceive. We have a language and a cognitive system for making our sense of things. Our evolutionary journey has mirrored most other mammals ,in this respect.

Why is snow considered white, why forty shades of green, why the nuance of red in ripening fruit.why can we remember thousands of people who all use 4 significant facial features to announce themselves to us.
Two eyes are usually identical and the differences in noses and mouths breaks down to minutia. How can we infer and extract endless detail from a Janus La Cour landscape despite it being an illusion of blobs a d scratches,?

We decipher this congealed mudlike gooe of an existence through our evolved survival skills and we make our own sense and order of things . This is what many have done in their attempts to see the divine.Their perceptions and human urges have extracted a God, from things!

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