Conscious thought and fuzzy reality

Ego is the immediate dictate of human consciousness.

The year is 2005 and we are in the Persian republic of Iran. Doctors stand before a 32 year old gentlemen they fear might be barking mad. More doctors gather, as questionably one of the most unusual mental heath cases in Iranian (and perhaps global) medical history unravels before them. The gentleman declares he is dead; and that he has been for some time now. Unfortunately what happened is that the man has died; and through a regenerative process been transformed into a canine. To make matters worse the same fate was bestowed on the poor man’s wife. This is a curious case of Cortard’s Delusion; a delusion in which the sufferer possesses the nihilistic belief that they  do not exist in one form or another. This may manifest as a total belief of non-existence, or in a lesser extent the non-existence of a part of oneself; for example a firm conviction you have no brain and life isn’t worth living without one. There is a fundamental flaw in the sentence I do not exist, which falls at the first word – for with no existence there is no I. However flawed the logic of this terrible mental illness, the uncomfortable truth which we all must grapple with is a possible undercurrent of truth lurking in shadows.

Today is a “big post” which ties together some of my recent posting activity; we tackle consciousness, how that impacts our window on the universe and the fuzzy reality before us. These are by no means discrete topics; as I hope you will appreciate as the thoughts develop. Disclaimer:  “fact” and opinion will be interwoven with no prior warning, for which I make no apology – this is an area where there is still much to be understood written on a personal website.

Conciseness – the dawn of perception?

Early ideas of what it may mean to be conscious fell firmly within the realms of Philosophy. In fact if you were to try to define the word today you would see that not a huge amount has actually changed according to the dictionary; but in the background much cogs are set in motion.  If you were to look up a definition of consciousness you would find something like this:

consciousness
ˈkɒnʃəsnɪs
noun
  1. the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.
    “she failed to regain consciousness and died two days later”
  2. a person’s awareness or perception of something.
    “her acute consciousness of Luke’s presence”.

Whilst this may be more than adequate for the majority of situations it isn’t all that precise. Let us consider point 1. An automatic door in a building is aware of its surroundings and responds to them, otherwise it would not be fit for purpose – so are we saying that the door is conscious? Even considering a responsive biologically living object, is a jellyfish with no brain is conscious? Intuitively we know the answer is no; but what a dreadful lack of precision. The notions in item 2 are a little crisper due to the introduction of the person; but that is to say only people can be conscious? Again; intuitively we know this is not correct studies into the animal kingdom have shown a surprising range of memory, emotional spectrum and complexity of thought. So if we are to take item 2 and extend person to be a list of living organisms; against what criteria are we sorting our candidates?

Early ideas of consciousness can be traced very far back in history; it is a very human question to ponder. It is one that has troubled the minds of great thinkers for a very long time. Descartes was convinced that the human body and human consciousness were two separable items; the first a material body the second an immaterial item (if an item can indeed ever be immaterial). Ideas have since moved on; but not in a linear fashion with a clear direction of progress. The nature of consciousness has been tackled by some of the greatest philosophers in the history of the human race.  Aristotle was a firm believer in the physical world around us; and interestingly provided us with our first example of consciousness being the relay of signals rather than some immaterial experience. The following is taken directly from Book 2. The wording is a little dense; but it is worth picking through:

“If what has colour is placed in immediate contact with the eye, it cannot be seen. Colour sets in movement not the sense organ but what is transparent, e.g. the air, and that, extending continuously from the object to the organ, sets the latter in movement. Democritus misrepresents the facts when he expresses the opinion that if the interspace were empty one could distinctly see an ant on the vault of the sky; that is an impossibility. Seeing is due to an affection or change of what has the perceptive faculty, and it cannot be affected by the seen colour itself; it remains that it must be affected by what comes between. Hence it is indispensable that there be something in between-if there were nothing, so far from seeing with greater distinctness, we should see nothing at all.”

Here the idea is developed that if you were to put an object directly on your eye you cannot actually distinguish the colour. Colour is initiating some kind of motion the transparent space in-between and it is this which is the root of seeing and experiencing things; if you were to remove this “space” you would see and experience nothing. Actually quite profound when you consider this is 350 years before the birth of Christ and what is being discussed is a crude description of electromagnetic radiation being detected by the eye; a far more accurate view than many of his contemporaries. These ideas are developed to information being the relaying of signals; and the detection of these signals are what being conscious is all about. Sounding a little more familiar to the intuitive views of today.

It certainly begs the question that if all of these big thinkers have been working on this problem for so long, why don’t we have a good answer? Why is the definition so loose? The answer is that consciousness has a hard problem:

Consciousness is subjective. 

You know you are conscious but that is all you know; you do no know that I am concussions you are merely assuming. So we should not judge Philosophers too harshly for not being able to arrive at a fully satisfying description; because just like you and me they are armed with nothing but a subjective view on their own consciousness and a fistful of assumptions. The field of philosophical thought in this area is rich and fascinating and worth exploring further if you are interested, but as you may have imagined our journey is unable to resist the seductive lure of science.

What about the brain people?

The consensus is that consciousness comes from the brain; we know that this controls everything we do and everything we think so naturally, it is useful to have neuroscientists digging around in there to find out where the magic happens. So far, the greatest progress is perhaps working out where consciousness does not come from; which may still be an indirect route to the holy grail.

Sleep is a truly terrible thing. You think you have 80 years of life, give or take, but the terrible practice of sleeping results in a person having almost no recollection of being conscious for around a third of that time; except for when they have a vivid and memorable dream. Take a look at this map of brain activity and it is quite clear that the individuals brain is still active whilst asleep; and often more active.

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So do we still count as conscious when we are asleep? Neurologists do not believe that we are unconscious for most of the time we are asleep; but curiously the mechanisms behind anesthesia and sleep are quite similar and yet when sleeping we are far more aware of our surroundings, otherwise an alarm clock would be of no use. Even a vegetative state is more complex; as shown in the following experiment. Here we take a vegetative patient and ask the patient yes or no questions, comparing the results to a control patient. The results, I think are quite startling.

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An almost identical reaction between the two brains. It might be tempting to say anything with a living brain is conscious; but that would be too hasty. There are two important cases we must consider. Firstly, we know for a fact that not all of the brain generates the consciousness. How? Because some people don’t have a whole brain. There was a Chinese woman who was born without a cerebellum and was fully conscious able to describe all of her life experiences. So rule that chunk out for starters. Secondly, it would seem fair to say that some brains seem to be too simple to properly have a consciousness.

Here is a gorilla in a mirror.

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Now a gorilla is unable to recognize itself in a mirror and will respond aggressively. So the gorilla is certainly not aware of himself at least in a visual sense, where as a human (and certain other animals) can. So clearly the brain is less complex in that sense; the brain has no real sense of oneself which does not seem terrible conscious. At what point in the sliding scale of neurological complexity do we drop the marker and define as conscious?

A current leading contender for the motherboard of consciousness is the claustrum in the brain; this neuron center provides vital connections it seems between the two hemispheres of the brain. This area of the brain is not yet fully understood – but it is believed this could very well be our on/off switch as well as providing the harmony between the different areas of the brain which provide the illusion of consciousness.

claustrum

Yet despite the thousands of years of medical history, and the huge number of dead bodies to explore on the mystery remains. For all the poking around inside the brain, we have no way of making the ideas understandable. I cannot actually appreciate a light year naturally for example, it would be ludicrous to say otherwise – but the idea is able to be rationalised through mathematics into a format I can start to get a feel for. Similarly, I can appreciate the wonders time dilation has to offer without actually experiencing the effects with a pen, some paper and elegant mathematics. I cannot do this here. If I can only questionably work out my own mind, how do I probe into the minds of others to come up with an all encompassing theory of what it means to be conscious which everyone relate? (Spoiler: I never answer that question. Everything is coated in caveats and candy floss).

A quantum mind?

All of this talk of things we cannot perceive or get satisfactory information out of despite them being before us may remind you of the quantum realm. In fact the true functioning of the brain is likely to be deeply tangled in quantum processes. If you ask the question of why, consider – why wouldn’t it be? The smallest constituents of the brain are obviously quantum in scale. Rodger Penrose is one of the finest scientists alive in the world today; and he himself has grappled with this subject. Rodger Penrose took this further, suggesting that perhaps what is responsible for our consciousness is processes which take place within neurons themselves rather than the interactions between neurons which is the conventional view.

The very basis of Penrose’s arguments are that some quantum processes are non-computable. For example the collapse of the wave function (see some discussion here) is essentially a random process. He is bold enough to state that humans are actually through their own arithmetic able to essentially “prove” Gödel’s disprovable theorems (see here) and this could, by its very nature be a direct line of evidence that the human brain function is the result of non-programmable quantum mechanics. The full theory is actually called Orch-OR and is developed with Hameroff. Central to the theory is processing happening with the brain on structures known as microtubules. The theorem suggests that the collapse of the wave function maps non-computable decision making with the experiences we see around us, which we go on to log as experiences. This theory has received heavy criticism; but I do believe it takes us in an interesting direction.

The holonomic brain theory points to different quantum processes essentially arguing that the brain is a holographic storage network. Memory in this theory is the result of wave interference patterns which are naturally logged by our brain. Whist both of these theories are very much in the ideas phase; personally I think that the correct approach is to connect up neuroscience and quantum physics. Clearly the processes in the brain cannot be fully described on the cellular level – we are too talented at probing that level to still be in the dark. The answer must be in the layers beneath the cellular layer – in the subatomic. If you were able to fully describe and predict these complex systems (see Mekhi’s post here) then it seems implausible you would not understand the nature of consciousness. It seems comforting then, that the way forward may well be to do battle on the field of quantum mechanics, returning latter to solve the problem with the spoils of war.

Construction and deconstruction

If a brain produces consciousness and a brain is a physical thing – will we ever be able to produce a consciousness? There are many arguments that say no – due to the complexity and random nature of the processes involved. Personally, I feel that is must be possible to construct a consciousness; just not necessarily a specific one. When I look at the huge questions we don’t know the answer to, I like to keep Clarke’s quote in the forefront of my mind:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

This is true – and the technology we would require in order to perform the crazy task I have just discussed seems like total magic compared to what we are capable of today but that’s not to say it cannot be done. Imagine giving an iPad to a Tudor and asking them to build another one. Regardless of how much deconstruction, examination or interrogation is performed no successful outcome would be achieved – it would seem like total wizardry. Yet today there are many humans who can make them; simply due to the accumulation of human thought. This has taken us further than our ancestors would have ever believed possible. Of course my sunny optimism may be the nativity of youth, which if it is long may it continue. There is nothing worse than allowing the years to erode your thoughts into smaller and smaller nuggets.

To me the greatest evidence for consciousness being the quantum mechanical process in the brain powered by the biological processes in the body is death. For example, we know that the brain will continue to run for a little while after death like a wind up toy coming to a gradual stop. We know that eventually the activity will cease and the person will think no more; so what actually happens to it? If we are to take the approach that these things are stored via quantum mechanical processes then we must look to the idea that the information within the brain dissipates and is involved in irreversible reactions where it is lost from and the stored information is unwound into an unusable format. For this very reason I intend to have my body preserved and be woken by the good people of the future who have invented magic!

Was I manufactured?

Most of us are quite disturbed enough to muse over the way we were biologically conceived, but the final point in this big question is are we real at all? If humans can ever build a conscious being they will be creator of a species. They will be God. If this is indeed a possibility, then what is there to say that we were not indeed the simulation or creation of a higher form of computerized being? The answer really is that we could be and we would never know; but here we are at the end of the post and our poor friends with Cortard’s Delusion seem a little more sane.

The advances in gaming show the startling progression from arcade games of the 90s to the virtual reality that we experience today; which is improving every year. If progress continues then it will trend to a point where it is the same as reality itself given enough time – or perhaps it is more accurate to use the term indistinguishable. This must be the truth; progress will continue at some rate and when you start to multiply the thirty odd years we spoke of across evolutionary timescales, there is a huge amount of room for slowing or wrong turns. The big issue  which could stop this would be an extinction event; but musing on that right now is fruitless. When you consider this; it seems less and less likely that we are currently sitting in a reality which can be considered a “base”. Our window on the universe we have today, on the planet Earth on the 26th of October 2016 makes the reality before us look very fuzzy indeed.  This leads you to ask, where the hell am I?

I hope you sleep well tonight.

 

 

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62 responses to “Conscious thought and fuzzy reality

  1. Ever since I was a kid I have thought about who and what I am and this is a crucial puzzle upon which everything else depends. And consciousness seems to be the focal point of that puzzle. What does consciousness mean and of what are we conscious?

    At first thought, consciousness seems to be awareness of an object of its surroundings with the ability to react to changes in those surroundings. But then, isn’t that true of any object? If an automatic door reacts to the approach of something by incorporating a mechanism for sensing and reaction does that fit the concept of consciousness? To keep it even simpler, does a baseball struck by a bat sense the force and direction of the blow and react appropriately? It does, of course and thereafter reacts precisely to that blow and adds proper reactions to both gravity and the resistance of air to its motion, a rather wonderful little calculating machine. Does this fit the concept of “knowing” what to do? Consciousness obviously needs something else involved to be considered.

    Two of the things that seems to me vital in understanding consciousness is understanding illusions and how it can be that someone deeply hypnotized can be persuaded that a nonexistent object is plainly in sight or that an object plainly in sight to observers simply does not exist. Aside from these peculiarities of a hypnotized person the subject seems to perform perfectly normally.

    If you draw two equal squares overlapping and connect the appropriate corners with straight lines you have a skeletonized representation of a cube but cannot decode which of the squares is the nearer face. The illusion can flip back and forth in your sense of reality. The same goes with that white vase on a black background that can be seen as black silhouettes of heads facing each other on a white background. It’s impossible to say what is really there. My point is, like Gertrude Stein’s view of Los Angeles, there is no “there” there. We each live in our own reality where signals are sent to our evaluation system and that system uses these signals to configure what is probably going on in the outside world and this point of view that we label our consciousness gets very comfortable with this construction of probabilities and very uncomfortable when some of these probabilities are demonstrated to be incorrect. Our very existence depends deeply on these probabilities being correct. That is why many scientists trained in Newtonian physics could not accept Einstein’s radical new and eventually proven viewpoints and why it is almost totally useless for atheists to attempt logic in discussing religion since the entire reality of religious people is based in different areas and to reject those assumptions is to destroy a greater part of their universe.

    Nobody lives in the “real” world since even the most profound scientists regularly readjust whatever reality they accept since new discoveries of major reconfigurations of basic physical relationships are cascading into understanding very regularly these days. We all do our best to maintain the probable worlds wherein our consciousness navigates but mental acrobatics becomes a survival capability.

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    • It is an interesting thought indeed that none of us live in the real world; and what reality may actually mean at all. How human have we made it. The examples of illusions are interesting because they do of course show you situations where you can make what is “really there” almost impossible to distinguish. In such situations you are naturally led to question if a human can construct something in which we are ourselves unable to distinguish what is really there then how do we trust anything at all. It’s the kind of thing you can’t think over too much or you might find you never leave the house!

      Glad you enjoyed the post

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      • Perhaps the closest puzzle in physics from my uneducated view is that light must be viewed under some circumstances as a stream of photonic particles and under others as a wave. But since light travels at the speed of light the particles must have zero mass yet there is evidence they exert pressure. Beyond that there is the intellectual conundrum of the double slit experiment which gets into quantum demons. Humans think in metaphors so the business juggles metaphors in a very disconcerting manner.

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      • Humans do indeed think in metaphors – it is kind of like why we describe things in Mathematics – to codify them in a way we can relate to. I instantly know how far from my house to my friends if you measure in miles. Similarly I may well understand a concept better when illustrated with a metaphor – but alas a metaphor can never be perfect unless it is the thing itself by which point it is no longer metaphorical.

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    • Thank you very much! I am glad you enjoyed – and I could not agree more. What I love about it is you can appreciate it from so many different disciplines

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  2. Well done a great attempt at a very difficult subject that even ‘ spooks great mind’s.
    I think there is a big difference between consciousness and self-awareness. Dangerous dogs are often savaging children but they are never called murderers ; dogs freely have sex in crowded streets but they are not arrested. The human condition cannot be compared to the animal one, we are conscious that we are conscious, and this is sometimes called meta consciousness. Somehow we became beings of conscience moral beings at war with ourselves.
    Steven Pinker the evolutionary psychologist wrote the ‘ Blank Slate ‘ to prove the falsehood of the modern denial of human nature.
    We are not blank slates the mind carries an evolutionary baggage , the noble savage is nonsense and there is no ghost in the machine. Our background and biology determine our choices there is no free will.
    When William Gooding wrote Lord of the Flies people were appalled at the descent of children into savagery, he anticipated the blank slate in literature.
    We don’t really know what separates us from primates but Juilian Jaynes put forward his hypothesis of the bicameral mind.
    He suggests that the modern mind of man is only a few thousand years old before this time we were unaware zombies.
    There is little doubt in my mind that the human brain can be programmed and ISIS is extreme proof of that assumption.
    They are programmed to obey Sharia law which is a slip back to bicameralism.
    The famous atheist Sam Harris declares that the self and free will are illusions but when he realised this made a nonsense of responsibility he sought to reformulate the law. Children are not held responsible for their actions they are not self -aware so we are not born that way somehow it develops.
    I do not know if a computer that was powerful enough could develop meta consciousness remember it has taken four billion years for us to get to our present condition.

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    • I think the example with IS is different in the sense that persuasion and programming are different things; but I do take your point over the susceptibility of the human mind to external attack. I do fundamentally agree it has taken us billions of years to get to where we are now; however if you look at the curve of progress, we didn’t even know quantum mechanics really existed a few hundred years ago – and whilst we have so much to learn, we have come so far and can now utilize some of the benefits.

      Comparing humans to animals is an interesting one because whilst I agree roughly speaking I think it is important to pin down exactly what traits of humanity we are looking for. Because there are animals that can display varying subsets of human emotions; so it seems improper to just say you cannot be conscious if you don’t adhere to the same moral standards as a human. Dangerous humans savage children and they cannot get away with it in court on the action of being not conscious; in fact the human gets to live while the dog is killed!

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      • Children themselves are different beings until they reach the age of self – awareness. I feel you are not laying enough emphases on the big step between human and any animal or a child. IS starts as persuasion but it soon slips into a mind set when the humanity of the person disappears and the Mind program takes control. This does not mean the intelligence has gone but it is subservient to the mind-set.
        We might have a highly intelligent machine with such a destructive mind-set.
        Raymond Kurzwiel the restless computer genius predicts a singularity in 2029 due to the exponential speed of progress. He also suggests there maybe computerised enhanced human minds which is already underway. To quote him ‘ we are not going to stay with our biological limitations.

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      • Ah I see the big step in terms of behavioral aspects and indeed diminished responsibility for minors but I don’t see a great distinction in consciousness; perhaps in the richness of the perception but the perception itself remains. I do hope Raymond is correct about not staying within our biological limitations and very wrong about the singularity!

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  3. Pingback: On Reality | Thoughts on Life·

  4. As an animal with good friends among dogs, cats, several species if birds, rats and mice, hedgehogs and a very beloved muskrat, and a rabbit that I rescued in a New York hallway who was kicked out because she was unmarried but pregnant and who lived with me a couple of years here in Helsinki, testified many times to their wonderful consciousnesses. The ignorant and evil prejudice that all these fellow animals are not conscious feeling and good hearted creatures is of the nature of the race prejudice now cursing many human societies. It has recently been discovered that even bumblebees can teach their fellows new tricks and show a fell range of delight when they discover a delightful food supply. I read the Julian Jaynes book when I picked it up from one of the second hand book stalls on lower Fourth Ave. many years ago in NYC and rate it quite a bit below Dianetics by Hubbard for scientific cogency. The hubris that oozes out of humanity for its superiority in inventing such advanced objects as the hydrogen nuclear bomb as compared to a mere snarling and probably mistreated dog is not, to me, as an animal, anything to engender superiority.

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    • This last comment of mine was an emotional explosion and, perhaps, not carefully considered but an item at the Slashdot site yesterday upset me to a high degree. The item read:

      “Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970, BBC reports citing The Living Planet assessment by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF. The report adds that if the trend continues, the decline would reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020. The figures suggest that animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses. Human activity, including habitat loss, wildlife trade, pollution and climate change contributed to the declines. From the report:
      Dr Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: “It’s pretty clear under ‘business as usual’ we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t really any excuse to let this carry on. This analysis looked at 3,700 different species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – about 6% of the total number of vertebrate species in the world. The team collected data from peer-reviewed studies, government statistics and surveys collated by conservation groups and NGOs. Any species with population data going back to 1970, with two or more time points (to show trends) was included in the study.”

      It’s bad enough our own species is industriously working to commit species suicide but the destruction of almost all our fellow species out of overwhelming callous stupidity is such monstrous vandalism that I can only view mankind as a worldwide plague on all life. Human research is just beginning to reveal to itself the incredibly marvelous capabilities of all other life on the planet and the almost totally unknown way they communicate with each other and perceive the world in their own unique way. The ancient tragedy of the destruction of the library at Alexandria was awful enough but to mindlessly toss away the incredible treasures of our fellow animals to no purpose but idiocy condemns our species irretrievable in my perception.

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    • A very interesting perspective you have on the animal kingdom! I do agree with you that animals show very clear signs of having a fully active consciousness

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  5. Stimulating post, thanks! Consciousness seems to vary so much between cultures and even more so between species, that I sometimes think there is no single, common characteristic. Perhaps it all comes down to social arrangements. Creativity and imagination are the broadening elements.

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    • Thank you very much! It is an interesting thought actually that perhaps there isn’t one universal rule we can apply, but rather a more flexible rule that is needed depending on the species. I do hope there is one however it’s much neater!

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      • A sense of self is one thing but I’m rather averse to the idea that this reaches its apogee in the doctrine of individualism which denies the urge towards a sense of us rather than me. If that makes any sense at all …

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      • I think I follow! It is interesting how on some levels due to the number of permutations possible there must be individualism; but then on other levels there really isn’t much at all

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  6. This was mindblowing Joseph!

    Your posts tend to lean in the direction of quantum physics most of the time, and as a non-science and quantum person I understood exactly what your concerns were. Every human brain is distinct from another and sometimes we even need to remind ourselves in whatever reality we live in… maybe we are living in the Matrix! Who knows?

    I was once was in a state of rem sleep and it was a terrifying experience, I wasn’t able to move my body or limbs, yet I was consciously aware of my surroundings (my eyes were in fact wide open). But the thing was that I was terrified, because my body couldn’t protect itself and created a ‘scary situation’ and even in my thoughts I believed that there was someone behind me. So I needed to remind myself that nothing was gonna happen.. in the end it lasted for about 20 min or so (but seemed like an eternity). This only happened to me once!

    Looking forward to reading your next post!

    Miri💋

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    • Welcome to the blog! Thank you very much I am glad you enjoy it.

      I also once had sleep paralysis! I am told it is reasonably common particularly in the early 20s but that does not make it any less terrifying when it happens. It very much goes to show that who we are is a brain stored in a body – which of course drives the huge amount of interest in preserving the brain in more durable non-biological formats.

      Indeed the possibility we could be living inside a simulation is actually quite exciting – and I think less frightening than a conventional view on reality!

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      • What fascinates me is the question – a simulation of what? What is the pattern on which the simulation is based? And if everything else is a simulation and we are part of everything else, are we simulations of something not a simulation? The repeated mention that the universe is a hologram is the teaser on what that hologram may represent?

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      • In all fairness – I think there are a lot of questions because it is a very theoretical line of thought. It is possible, but there really aren’t many further details because there are not many. That said – the absolute best explanation of why the world could indeed be a hologram comes from the man – Leonard Susskind. It’s worth an hour of life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DIl3Hfh9tY

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  7. The proposition that we live in a simulation prompts a couple of questions. If we exist in this simulation are we then also simulations? And what is the reality that we are simulating? And do we exist inside some computer running an experiment to discover a possibility?

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  8. Interesting post. While it’s fascinating to see how science tries to solve the problem of consciousness, I’m not sure this is a sensible starting point.
    What if we start from the perspective that everything has an inner and an outer (subject/object), so everything has a property of consciousness. So consciousness is the fundamental feature of the universe, not ‘matter’.
    This doesn’t belittle any of our science, just suggests that it is operating in a rather limited sphere, delineated by people such as Descartes and Bacon.

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    • I see where you are coming from. You are unlikely to get me to believe that there is a problem that lies exclusively outside the realms of science (read: physics) however I am a firm believer that the answers to questions like this must lie in the union of science and philosophy

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  9. A comprehensive article. You have touched upon many aspects of consciousness and woven it with psychology and philosophy. When you speak of inanimate objects like a door, it is still made up of particles and the atoms are moulded in a certain way to give them shape. So, are they really inanimate? Isn’t it that the protons, neutrons, and electrons in motion. What’s the force that is keeping them in motion? External force or some eternal energy that is generated in a loop for the invisible motion.
    You have mentioned the case of a Gorilla reacting to its image in the mirror. It could be that a mirror is an alien concept for it, as the brain is not conditioned to or introduced to such an object. Probably it would not react to its image if it was in the water, which it sees since birth. Conditioning of the brain plays a major role in this behavioural aspect.
    About reality, it will be a case for many debates and conclusions, as there will be continuous doubts and hypotheses that will be presented. To really measure energy or unseen forces and the matrix of reality we are in will keep our consciousness engaged forever.
    Thank you for sharing your article. Loved reading it. I just shared my thoughts as I was quite intrigued after reading this well-written article.

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    • Thank you very much – I am so glad you enjoyed the article. You make a very interesting point I had not considered on the gorilla; it would be very interesting to see the results of that as an alternative experiment. I suppose an object is only ever really inanimate in the very human biological sense; but I do take your point that there are a lot of processes going on in an object which is labelled as “not alive”. Whilst I love to be alive right at this moment in time – it does make me jealous that the future human race will see the evolving understanding of reality in the centuries to come. Thank-you very much for your thoughts!

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  10. Hi Joseph,

    Wow. Popular post. For good reason, too. Plenty of food for thought here.

    I see in your response to barryh you give some props to philosophy (a refreshing change from Hawking’s “philosophy is dead” attitude) and I’m going to push in this direction too because I can’t help thinking science (and many scientists, although from your comments, maybe not you personally) has unrealistic goals regarding consciousness. The motto seems to be “if we just go deeper, then we’ll finally understand consciousness in full” but consciousness doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of thing you can understand with a reductionist approach.

    If you define consciousness as events in the brain, okay, this approach is fine. But surely, as you say, the thing about consciousness is that it is subjective. Don’t get me wrong; drilling deeper is invaluable and will teach us a lot… but about the physical conditions for consciousness, not about consciousness per se. It’s like learning everything about clouds in the hope that we will then understand rain.

    Imagine the final outcome; a complete, perfect description of every quantum event in the brain beneath every thought. Do we know anything more about what it is to be conscious? No. We know everything about the neurological activity of a being that is conscious, but we’ve completely missed consciousness itself because it’s not down there amongst the wave functions and entangled particles. (Unless it is, but then we’re into panpsychist territory a la barryh)
    Going deeper won’t tell us anything more about the nature of consciousness than investigating the atomic bonds between hydrogen and oxygen tells us anything about the wetness of water.

    Of course, as you say, only a union between science and philosophy can provide the complete picture, but I think many scientists (read: physicists) need to be reminded of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! That’s very kind of you. I do take your point entirely. I think the philosophical point is that we will one day be able to build a consciousness but we won’t be able to ever build a specific one; that of course is just a hypothesis. I do believe there is much more to be reaped in terms of understanding of neurological activity by getting behind all of the processes within the brain but like you rightly highlight understanding all of the processes in the brain is not necessarily going to give us the answer we are looking for. I do however think that we need to have that information first in order to fully appreciate what it can give us and move from there. I do try to keep an open mind to the philosophical side of things at all times!

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  11. This is slightly off topic but I have visited a couple of sites which might interest people who find this site particularly interesting. They are at:
    https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.01421

    https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/

    I found the second site fascinating as it discusses the analysis of composite systems which include multitudes of aspects of both social and mechanical, electrical, theoretical and medical systems which have wide implications in many directions.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The pics of the experiment on the yes/no questions and vegetative state are fascinating. You also have me wondering about what goes on as the brain is winding down at death. Kinda makes me choke to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much I am glad you enjoyed! Yes I think the conscious mind just after death is probably one of the more frightening things – but it also leaves a window for cryogenic freezing so not all doom and gloom!

      Like

  13. This is brilliant, you should write a book or something 🙂 I am very happy to find a community of people that think about this stuff. It’s rare to find someone to talk to in day to day life about deep topics like consciousness or existence.
    I read something about human and animal consciousness, basically theorizing that before modern humans, we shared a sort of mass consciousness. It suggested that animals (essentially all having varying levels of consciousness not as advanced as humans) share a kind of mass consciousness, differing with species. Somewhere along the way humans evolved to have individuality in consciousness. This is an interesting theory to consider. Of course, I would want to consider how it applies to other theories of consciousness and self-awareness before wholeheartedly accepting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much I am so glad you enjoyed the post. My dream has always been to write a book one day – but I am very far from that right now. I do agree with you yes – it is comforting to know that throughout the world at any one time people of all different levels are not afraid to ask the big questions.

      I would need to see more in relation to the particular theory; but I imagine I would struggle with it. To be consciousness is subjective and is unlikely to have any collective element to it. The only interesting collectiveness would be quantum entanglement – but again that is still within one brain. None the less it is an interesting thought it actually reminds me of Avatar!

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      • Yeah a little bit! Basically it could help explain how the same species in different places share behaviors, birds know when and where to migrate, whale can navigate perfectly to breeding grounds, etc. I thought maybe some of this could just be attributed to the adults passing down knowledge. Some studies and articles suggest that humans still share a collective consciousness in a way.

        This is a little off topic, but Ive observed in people that maturity and intelligence are based pretty strongly on self-awareness. At least I think.
        Just trying to wrap my head around the human brain.

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      • But would the ultimate explanation be that species in different places share the same behavior because they evolved from a common ancestor? So the overlap is in the genetic coding. You are right in a sense though if you consider that there are certain things a species are conscious of and others are not – like you say the self awareness example. Humans are self aware but the gorilla is not. So that is a shared set of things we are conscious about; but not strictly the same as a shared consciousness if that makes sense. I am very grateful for your interest and glad you have taken the time to ponder over this question!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Is consciousness material or immaterial? | Novus Lectio·

  15. I just stumbled onto your blog while researching topics like consciousness and spirituality as I work on my next book, tentatively titled: Transformational Awakening. Thank you fo an interesting read!

    Like

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