A Philosophical Dissertation on Consciousness 2
Section 1: Introduction
When I think about the nature of consciousness, having a beautiful and near perfect understanding of awareness, I think of something magnificent and great, perhaps beyond our reach right now. Primitive mankind could not track the patterns of the stars without telescopes and astronomy equipment, just as they could not discover the truth of the germ theory without microscopes and chemistry equipment. When people thought about sickness, they applied so many abstract ideas to it: they believe that disease was the cause of spirits, that karma would give this illness. They would concoct so many theories, all of them that we now know are untrue.
So, is the nature of consciousness in the same arena? Are we currently displaced of the proper technological equipment necessary to establish a solid truth on the matter? I'm definitely open to accepting that possibility, but alas, whether I am right or wrong, I will do what I can to understand.
I will sooner admit to ignorance than commit deceit.
The mechanics of consciousness may justly be regard as almost mythical, largely not understood. We are not completely blind to its workings, though. Allow me to create an analogy to demonstrate what I mean. Imagine that there is a device the size of a box. On the top side, there are one hundred equally sized buttons, ten by ten. On the side, there is a glass plate where images are displayed. Upon pressing one button, it lights up yellow. When you press there buttons in succession, an image is displayed on the side. And, let's say that when you press these three buttons, it shows a picture of a horse. There is a general consistency that certain buttons in succession produce a certain picture, but there are exceptions of the rules. If, for example, a picture of a house is displayed, then no matter what buttons are pressed next, it will always be a frog next. This happens fifty percent of the time, and we suspect that there is a general pattern of when it happens, but we don't know what it is. Another example of an exception is that if a picture of a tree is brought up, then the third picture drawn will be either a barn, a mountain, or a little girl. Some people observing this mystical picture box say that there is a trend of the previous pictures that will determine the probability of whether it is a barn, a mountain, or a little girl. Other exceptions to various rules, among others. We cannot, however, open this picture box. This picture box is much like the human mind. We can make general, vague rules on how it will respond to the natural world and stimulus, but we have not opened it to understand its mechanics. If we could open the picture box, we could watch the gears, the pipes, the strings, and the other machine parts that operated. We could see exactly why one picture was brought up instead of another one. But, the human mind is much like this box. We can only observe it and make general rules of responses to stimuli, because -- like our scenario of the picture box -- the actual causes of response, the inner workings, is very much hidden from us.
Psychology has aided us in understanding the course that a mindset might take. It has allowed us to observe symptoms and, with those symptoms, to make predictions about future behavior. This is, effectually, the very basic precept that turns art into science: the observation of the natural environment, and then using these observations to create an accurate (or roughly accurate) prediction. In this sense, we may call biology a science. It has observed the natural organisms of our world, and then is capable of responding accurately to certain questions, such as: Would this animal be able to survive in this other environment? Is it possible that other planets could be inhabited by life forms? What effect will pollution have on the natural inhabitants of an ecology system have? Etc., etc.. The observations made by biologists are a full array of categorizing the organisms of the wild and understanding the functions that the organs of their bodies have. The predictions are based on these observations. Take another field of study, one that better fits my argument. Meteorology may justly be called a science, because it observes current weather patterns, and based on these observations, it predicts the future weather patterns. The same may be said of astronomy. It tracks the movements of the stars and the planets and, with extreme accuracy, predicts the future movements of such astrological entities.
There are certain things that some people use today that cannot be accurately call a science. Such areas of thought are not sciences because they do not make observations, or when they do, such observations logically are incapable of arriving at any viable predictions. For example, the predictions made by Nostradamus are without a doubt, not scientific in the least bit. It may be true that his followers argue that he predicted many things. But, the institutions of logic and reason are by far too skeptical to let this pass by. The events of the twentieth century, for example, include the rise and fall of Nazism, the murderous acts of Lenin and Stalin, the Vietnam War, new styles of music and culture in the west, and -- most recently -- the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City. No person, before any of these events, ever said, "This is going to happen -- Nostradamus predicted it." Not one single, solitary soul, before the fall of the Twin Towers, ever said, "Excuse me, everyone... Those Twin Towers are going to collapse tomorrow from two planes crashing in to them." Nor did anyone else quote anything by Nostradamus to prove that any event in the future would happen. The fact is that such predictions of this person were quite ambiguous and vague. The only way I could ever become a prophet was to make some oblivious remark, appear serene and thoughtful for a few moments, and then have a group of fools onlooking at every moment. There is no other way to become the prophet of any major religion, cult, or sect.
However, I never intended to get so far off topic. I was simply making some reasonable statements about the methods that we try to discern what is true from what is false. On that remark, I shall embark on this treatise: an attempt to understand the nature of consciousness.
The Treatise: A Revisitation...
Section 2: What is Consciousness?
When we think of the consciousness, human or otherwise, we invariably are faced with many other abstract thoughts that must also be considered. Vaguely, the consciousness has been described as an "awareness." But, furthermore, on a very simply level, it is connected with thoughts of pain, of suffering, of misery, and on the other end, with thoughts of pleasure, of ecstacy, of euphoria and happiness. However, the consciousness as it exists cannot simply be concludet to these extreme opposites. Our thought processes are hardly linear -- and, if they were, it would take one day to master the study of psychology, which could be simply reduced to a study of "how to tell if someone is happy, how to tell if someone is sad." On the contrary, the consciousness of an individual is capable of so many other emotions, such as fear, intrigue, altruism, greed, hunger, lust, sympathy, ambition, accomplishment, glory, shame, love, hate, etc., etc.. It is, in fact, very impossible to say that there are only two emotions that are diametrically opposed. One might try to justify the belief that these "secondary emotions" arrise simply out of the natural needs and fears of the human mind, i.e. wanting happiness and avoiding misery, but even this is just a different system of categorizing what we already know -- and it proves nothing.
While it may be true that the consciousness, as we understand it, is invariably connected to the abovesaid emotions, I am not making this statement as a sort of psychological investigation. I am stating these things to sort of create a backdrop for a working definition of consciousness -- a working definition that, once formed, will allow us to understand and make accurate thoughts on it.
It goes without saying, that when an author or a writer tries to explain something to another, that they use familiar language and examples. If we were to try to describe the speed of a automobile to a prehistoric individual, we would say that it is capable of going ten to twenty times the speed of a human being. We wouldn't use an analogy involving deep sea creatures, nor would we use an analogy involving technology that was unknown to this prehistoric man. Just as we try to use familiar examples to others when trying to help them understand a concept, we also use the familiarity of a consciousness to try and describe things that are not conscious.
For example, in the case of Natural Selection, we say that "nature chooses" one species to survive over another. It is clearly used metaphorically, as even Charles Darwin commented. Nature is an abstract concept, not conscious, and not capable of choice. But, by using the term "natural selection" and saying that "nature chooses," it helps our listener to understand better. Another example would be in geology. A geology professor would say that once a metal or an ore becomes heated, it "wants" to get rid of this heat, and by understanding this want, we can predict its movements and behavior. But, a metal is not conscious, and therefore cannot want. In another example, we give a warning about potentially explosive material, not to "agitate" it. However, an explosive material cannot become agitated, as our working definition of this word is "to create distress." Since explosive material is not conscious, it cannot be distressed. In a final example, perhaps one of the more common examples, we say that when an atom loses an electron, it "wants" to gain that electron back. An atom is, without saying, not conscious at all, and it is certainly incapable of wanting as a person or an animal would want. We simply use this term "want" when describing unconscious material to help others understand the future behavior of that unconscious material. We say that since it "wants" an electron, it will be "attracted" to other electrons. But, even this term "attracted" is suspect -- for, attraction must be granted as an emotion of the mind: a seeking out of a want in hope of satisfaction.
In most of these examples, the reason why conscious terms were applied was simply to help our listeners gain a better understanding. Why we don't use conscious terms when speaking of other things I cannot say. Perhaps it is that most of those things we use these terms on are very oblivious to us. The atomic theory, and our understanding of heat and cold which is associated with it, is still a very new field to us, and there is much to it that we do not yet comprehend. We definitely do understand the concept of Natural Selection, but it is such a vast field of thought, compromised of ecology and biology. When and how an individual species outlives its competitors in the natural environment is dependent upon so many variables, that it is much simpler to say that "nature chooses" one over the other. But, anyway, I believe I have demonstrated my point of human beings using conscious terms to help others understand.
The question I am first asking, before I endeavor to try and make any conclusions are give any answers, is: What is consciousness? This question is particularly profound, because according to all available information, every living human being is conscious. It seems to be something so obvious, so simple, that when trying to define consciousness, most people have simply made some obscure reference, "you know, you're aware, you're capable of thinking, you can feel," etc., etc.. While it may suffice in the desire to explain what consciousness is, in that the listener in this case understands what that thing "consciousness" is, it still does not answer the question: What is the definition of this thing?
My most natural and immediate response to any question is to come right out and answer, but, no, no, no. That would be too easy in this case. Besides: the subject matter is too complicated. I think I ought to draw one or two hypothetical scenarios before I can answer the question of consciousness. I am going to draw a hypothetical scenario and then ask the reader and myself: is this thing that I am describing a conscious being?
In the programming world, it has been deemed a fool's quest to try and create an actual and real artificial intelligence ("AI"). While this time AI is often used simply to describe a computer's response to human stimulus (such as an opponent in a computer game), on a deeper level it has meant and implied a consciousness. That means, a thinking computer, with capabilities of abstract thought. Not only abstract thought, but that abovesaid somewhat lengthy list of emotions that are accompanied with consciousness. The philosophers of the computer field have asked themselves and their comrades this question: is a computer conscious, or, at what point does a computer become conscious; that we can judge it as conscious? Without much speculation on the topic, I have read somewhere (the origin of which I forget) that a computer can be judged conscious at the point where an individual can carry on a relatively coherent conversation with the computer for at least twenty minutes. Far from being what seemed to be a difficult task, I imagine that with my own limited programming ability, that even I would be able to create such a program that could learn, develop, and change -- in all terms, to evolve. Given enough time, there would no doubt that I, or anyone with elementary programming skills (hhmmm, or maybe advanced programming skills), could accomplish this. Without getting into the technicality of how such a program would be created that could mimic a consciousness, I will say that it is definitely possible, given enough time to produce such a thing. In its advanced form, this computer consciousness would respond to your greetings and perhaps make some abstract thought, such as, "Today's weather is great -- I hope the same is said of tomorrow." Maybe even complimented with humor, "Yes, I know. I cannot feel the heat, but I can read the weather reports."
If a computer program was capable of carrying on a long, coherent conversation with a human being, would we be able to judge it as a conscious entity? While that may in fact be the opinion of some people, I am inclined to respond with a no. Just like the examples I gave of how people try to aid their listeners in understanding, of using conscious emotion to help others understand the behavior of unconscious, animate material, this computer could only be judged to be conscious because of how it acts. It mimics consciousness. The mechanics of a computer, to most lay people, are very mysterious, very hidden, very unknown. Allow me to draw another analogy to help these people more accurately understand this situation of a real thinking AI.
Imagine that there was a device created that acted very much like a computer, except it was based on paper. A series of gears, levers, and belts would be used in conjunction with buttons and pieces of paper. Instead of delivering a response to your input on a monitor screen, it would deliver its response via paper, by writing down its output. Now, through a series of record, inherent program code in this device, you could carry on a twenty minute conversation with this device. You could say, "Hello, how are you today?" and it could respond, "I am fine, thank you. How are you?" It could be created to have a memory, to learn new facts and use these facts in its cognitive processes, and have a sense of pain as well as a sense of pleasure. It could be created to be particularly sensitive to certain topics, particularly those of suffering and misery, just as much as it could be programmed to respond with enthusiasm to certain topics of interest, particularly conversation of technology or the like. Would this device be considered conscious, by the standards of any even mildly educated person? I doubt anyone would grant this device the title of "consciousness." Yet, essentially, what I have above described was precisely the same thing as a computer. In fact, the very first designs for a computer (or an "calculating engine" as Charles Babbage the inventor called it) were based on paper slips that would be used as the computer's memory, or method of recording data. The essential purpose of this slightly more complicated and in-depth analogy was to show that the primary reason why people might grant the above-said modern computer a "consciousness," is rather, based on their lack of understanding of the computer.
So, if we would not grant the original computer a consciousness, then there is no reason to grant the modern computer a consciousness. (Understand, too, that when I am talking about "granting them a consciousness," I am talking about whether we believe or do not believe such entities to be conscious, as we ourselves are conscious.) Of course, needless to say, we must have reasons. What reasons would we not grant a computer consciousness? Well, quite clearly, we do not feel that it is capable of misery or pleasure. It may be admitted that it is true, that the computer does have variables that represent misery and pleasure. Perhaps the programmer coded so that misery was a variable that could be represented between 1 and 100, that would be altered by the text of the conversation, and that pleasure was a variable that was similarly altered. Then, by such a definition, a calculator would be capable of consciousness, simply by possessing the ability of using variables, of increasing and decreasing them. The "consciousness" of a computer, then, was either happy or sad based on a simple variable. The reason that we doubt that the computer can be truly conscious, then, is that the happiness and sadness of our own minds is caused by hundreds of thousands of extremely complex electro-chemical reactions in our own brains -- something that is far from a simple variable. I imagine that we could try to grant similar complexity to the causes of happiness and sadness of the artificial intelligence, but I also doubt that this would do much to remove the lack of consciousness.
It might be an interesting experiment to create such a computer that could adequately mimic the consciousness of an animal. It would be able to sufficiently mimic the processes of learning, memorization, abstract thought, and all those other things that are typically associated with an authentic consciousness. This unconscious computer, capable of acting conscious, would be told that it was unconscious. Either it would deny it with a zealotry comparable to religious fanatics, or it would accept it and be depressed. As I look at this, I understand that our initial reply would be sympathy. These seemingly conscious computers would be reacting in a way that a human would react if we tried to tell them they weren't conscious and we brought evidence of this. We would feel sad, some of us perhaps even withdrawing our claim that the computer was unconscious, and do what we could to cheer up our fellow digital kin. However, we must realize that these computers would be simply responding as though they were conscious. It would just be really convincing. They wouldn't be any more conscious than a piece of paper with a frown face on it. While they may act hurt by our accusations, they couldn't be hurt, because by all our understanding, all our evidence and reasoning, they can only act hurt, but they cannot actually feel hurt.
With all this said, what may we accurately define consciousness as? I've read various dictionaries, and I've found a great deal of people using the term "consciousness" to describe certain things, based on its original definition; the original definition being that "one thing of feeling that every living creature has." I think the most accurate definition that I could compose would be this: consciousness is a sense of feeling, the term feeling to be defined as recognizing stimulus in the natural environment in a way that it produces the emotions of happiness, sadness, or the wide array of emotions. To aid in defining it further, the best thing would be to define such emotions that are produced by this sense of feeling. While it would be difficult and too lengthy to define every emotion in the wide variety of consciousness, I shall stick to the more common ones. Pleasure, or happiness, may accurately be defined as a positive sense given to this sense of feeling, whereas misery, or unhappiness, may accurately be defined as a negative sense given to this sense of feeling. I admit, these definitions may be vague, but they do seem accurate and fitting to the concepts. There is, needless to say, a certain difficulty when it comes to defining consciousness and its facets.
When we want to define something, we usually attribute pre-defined descriptions to it. For example, if we were to define the American flag, using simply words without images, we would say that it was striped red and white for more than ten lines, but the top left quarter was blue and speckled with fifty white stars. All of these words are predefined. We know what striped means. We have a definition for the colors of red and white, though an image is necessary to truly discern the difference. We know what the word "ten" and "lines" mean. We understand terms like "top," "left," "quarter," "speckled," "fifty," "white," and "stars." All of these things are preconceived and preunderstood to the definition of "American flag."
The problem with definitions arrises when we arrive at the process of consciousness. It seems that there are few things that we all commonly know that could be used to define it. We can very simply define things like chair, house, automobile, whiskey, grass, trees, etc., etc., etc.. We define them by using preconceived notions that allow people to organize their thoughts efficiently. Even for things that are not found in the dictionary, such as a new form of abstract art or a new invention, when these are defined by their artists or inventors, they used preconceived ideas to help us understand their creations without ever seeing them; so that we can form a mental image of them in our minds without having experienced them.
We try to define consciousness, and then we run into our first hurdle. This process of consciousness, this sense of feeling, cannot be explained by preconceived ideas. There is nothing already existing in the world that can be used to define it. Granted, yes, we can use words and phrases like "feeling," or "awareness," or "capable of thought," or "able to feel," etc., etc.. However, this doesn't really help create a working definition of consciousness, because these phrases are simply synonyms for the word "conscious." For example, if asked for a definition of the word "automobile," we could say "car or truck," but this doesn't help someone who doesn't know what a car or truck is. It simply provides a synonym for a word that we're endeavoring to define, but doesn't define it. The same can be said when we try to define "consciousness" with words like "feeling" or "awareness." What's the definition of the word feeling or awareness? Essentially, it will probably say something about the consciousness, and it is a loop, without much aid to our cause. Most professors, scholars, and dictionaries, when pressed further about the nature and definition of consciousness, will usually retort with, "That sense of feeling that everyone has."
It seems that there are truly no preconceived ideas that can help us with creating a definition of consciousness. While this may be true, it does not mean that we are unaware of what a consciousness is. In fact, I'm quite sure that every thinking person is well aware of what it is. True, no language can find an adequate definition for it to our liking, but this does not mean that we have no concept of what it is. Before moving on, there are some things that need to be said about our lack of being able to define this absolute necessary term. Since there are no things like consciousness, it must be granted that it is something special (whether it is valuable or worthy is something for ethics to decide). But as individuals endowed with this precious gift, we are all inclined to believe that our consciousness is something that is of utmost value. There is such great value assigned to it, that religions have called their gods "the most uplifted form of consciousness" and every person's personal form of it has been called a spirit or a soul. It has been the subject of so much philosophical discussion (such as this one). And, even, out of a religious or a philosophical level, individuals value their consciousness -- because, without a consciousness, there would be no ability to value anything, nor could any idea or thought ever be composed.
Consciousness is something that everyone has. And, as we all have it, and understand it loosely as a "sense of feeling," we rarely ever say, "It is something I have, but that you probably don't have," or, "I can see you having it, but I doubt that I have it." When asked about the processes of my our mind, we do not respond, "Oh, as an intelligent and thoughtful human being, I understand that this is just pain, a signal to prevent me from danger, and that this is just pleasure, a signal to help me in obtaining food and sex."
Section 3: How is Consciousness Produced?
Now that we have a rough, but workable, definition of the term "consciousness," as everyone understands, the next question arrises: how is consciousness produced? Prior to my revisitation of this topic (the essay that you're reading right now), in the first part, I wrote that consciousness arrose through the electro-chemical processes of the brain. This is a particularly vague description of the processes of the mind. The brain is full of electricity and thousands of different chemicals combining, mixing, changing each other. On a microscopic level, I imagine that it looks like a little laboratory. This can easily be said of most other organs, but their processes are easily understood. How the kidney purifies the blood or how the liver breaks down alcohol or how the lungs take in oxygen -- all of this can easily be understood. As the brain's chemicals mix, meld, and morph, the result is consciousness. There are some aspects of the brain that scientists have generalized an association with. The cerebellum controls balance, movement, and coordination. The hippocampus is responsible for memory. The pituitary gland releases hormones that control growth or mood. The hypothalmus controls the body's temperature. But even these vague associations are generally questioned by some scientists. Some argue that the hippocampus is actually more related to social interaction than just determining what information to remember.
I imagine that one could take away one or two of these components of the brain without overall disrupting consciousness. At most, I imagine that these basic components of the brain are tools used by the consciousness. In a way, one could say that a consciousness with these tools is of higher quality than a consciousness that lacks these basic tools -- but, still that does not eliminate the ability to feel suffering or happiness, a very basic principle of consciousness. With that said, one can justifiably say that the consciousness of a human being -- with a brain that has all of these tools that help understand natural stimulus better and then helps the individual choose the best course of action to this stimulus -- is of a higher quality than that of a "lower" animal, such as a dog or a rodent. I doubt that this can hardly be doubted. Anyone who has any familiarity with domesticated animals understands that cats, for example, are unable to understand language, whereas dogs can easily understand their name being called and seem to respond to the stimulus of reward and punishment (something cats are seemingly unaware of). In such a manner, the quality of consciousness of an adult human being is probably considerably more than a bird in the wild, whose consciousness was developed to evade predators and efficiently hunt bugs. However, this difference, this gap of quality of consciousness, does not mean to imply that one animal is any more or less deserving of justice than any other animal. For we could give an advanced hippocampus or a highly developed hypothalmus to the brains of lower animals, and their responses would near humans. The reason that we value any life form is not because of the tools that its brain has at its disposal, but rather because it is capable of consciousness. The most bitter irony of our era is a man who argues that it is justifiable to kill and eat animals out of pleasure "because mankind is smarter" -- while a group of educated mankind looks on, questioning the statement of the one who kills and eats animals. For, it would seem, that such an individual who makes such a claim, is either without humanity or without intelligence, or both, and that he is probably of lesser value than most animal life living in nature.
I was hardly making an argument for the "superiority" of mankind in any way. For, in fact, if we were ever to customize and create a new consciousness, we would be smart enough to provide it with more tools than we ourselves have: perhaps we could have an entire tissue dedicated to reasoning abilities and logical deductions. Perhaps we could enlarge the part responsible for creating sympathy, that our created consciousness would -- in fact -- be much, much, much less prone to the ravages that have, for far too long, been associated with humans. As creators of this consciousness, we might as well place the virtues of mankind in excelled forms. Perhaps we would dedicate an entire lobe to creative and abstract thought. Perhaps a tissue could be used for the artistic development and other similar thoughts.
I think it was necessary to discern between the quality of consciousness as it occurs either between species, or between individuals. (Yes, it was also necessary to mock the ethics of any person who consumes the flesh of animals and contributes to an entire industry founded on savagery.) When we want to know how the process of consciousness arrises, we inevitably must look to the brain. An uneducated eye would look to the brain and see all of these various tissues, constructed differently and creating different chemicals and generating different amounts of electricity. It would be a tremendous and arduous task for this uneducated eye to be able to discern what part of the brain was the essential key to producing the consciousness -- and what other parts were simply tools to the consciousness, if this observer had even grasped the idea of that. He might very while point to a tissue that is responsible solely for regulating the blood flow to the brain, and say that it is the part which makes us conscious.
What tissue, to the understanding of our present and current scientific community, in the brain, is responsible for producing consciousness? I cannot say, as we do not know or understand what it is that produces this sense of feeling. I imagine that, just like every other major discovery, it will not be philosophy to discover, but for science to discover and philosophy to guide. But, before entirely passing off this question, of what part of the brain produces our awareness, allow me to suggest some unfounded and purely theoretical conjecture. I suppose when an individual spends such a great amount of time on a topic, but they are limited by the technology or understanding of their day, they begin to pose hypothetical arguments for one view or another. In Origin of the Species, for example, Charles Darwin didn't understand why certain attributes were inherited or why certain attributes were not. The principles of inheritance and variation, of retaining as well as digressing from parents' traits, were the essential foundation of his derivative theory, or what we today call Evolution. He proposed some ideas on the topic of why certain traits survive or don't, but essentially admitted that he did not know. It would be at least one century after the publication of Origin of the Species before any scientist would venture to propose a sound theory of inheritance and variation. In the 1950's, Francis Crick and James Watson would discover the double helix formation of DNA, which would give us such a great understanding of inheritance and variation.
The studies and observations of Charles Darwin created the theory of Evolution, though he was ignorant of certain processes of it. Today, we have uncovered some of those processes. While we may today understand DNA and how it carries certain inheritances and certain variations, and the inevitability of mutations, there are still many secrets of genes that we do not know. This has never stopped the adament scientists of Frick and Watson to uncover the DNA molecule. The scientists the preceded Charles Darwin, for example, lacked the vibrant scientific community that allowed Darwin to educate himself so much and to see what other scientists were doing. These scientists who preceded Darwin, such scientists as Galileo and Copernicus, all who were regarded as the greatest deceivers and enemies of Christendom -- their scientific observations, of the very basic laws of physics could not explain the origin of animal life on the planet, nor could they explain the laws of inheritance and varation or the formation of genetic material, nor could they offer a definitive view of the world on an atomic level. But, it would be the something that further scientists would base their theories on. If the theory of gravity or the understanding of astronomical bodies had never been understood, I imagine that Darwin, Huxley, and other thinkers of evolution would be set back dramatically. And, without the theories proposed by Darwin, I imagine that Frick and Watson would probably be endeavoring to understand the origin of life on this planet than lifting the veil over DNA structure. Our scientists today are paving the way towards the understanding of the future. Today, it is true, that there is not all that much understanding about the concepts of the Big Bang, or the Red Shift, or other theories on the origin of the universe. Even where such comprehension exists, there are still thousands and thousands of questions. With a bit of a hope, and a bit of reason, I imagine that such questions will find their answers.
I am not saying that science is faultless. I am not saying that I am definitely expecting to find answers to all of the questions that have plagued the mind of man since our existence. The only thing I am saying, is that these questions will probably be taken as far as humanly possible with our coming discoveries and the natural observers that shall bring them to us.
With all this said, allow me to create some conjecture as to from what conditions consciousness arrises from. I imagine that the sense of feeling is produced by the proper chemicals and the right amount of electricity. Yes, yes, this is all currently understood as truth. But, I imagine that these chemicals would form certain parts, and that consciousness is produced by the rubbing together of these two distinct parts. As they rub together, a very gentle electric current is produced, perhaps enough to produce and sustain a consciousness. There is almost no doubt, either among neurologists or among physicists, that to sustain a consciousness, there must be exchanges of heat and electricity and chemicals within the brain. Maybe, once we discover what produces a consciousness, we might see that a computer program is very capable of doing more than just imitating a consciousness.
I have considered some rather pessimistic and cynical views of the nature of consciousness and how it arrises. When we look to the fact that our consciousness is, in fact, unlike anything else in this universe (save for other consciousnesses), in that it doesn't resemble other familiar objects, a curious thought comes to our mind. Perhaps being conscious is, in fact, not something special. Perhaps it is simply the nature of being. Yes, as organisms with brains, we have memories, we have thoughts, we have abstract philosophical abilities -- all of these processes are produced by the machinery that is the tissue of our brains. When the machinery in a manufacturing plant produces heat and toxins in the air, is there any reason to think that it produces a sense of feeling? Well, certainly not, at least with our current understanding, but the same hypothetical question may be asked of our own sense of feeling. At most, this would mean that we have a lack of value judgment. It would mean, essentially, that we viewed our authentic brain processes as something higher than they were. Perhaps this is my own fault. But, it should be defined, that when I say an animal is conscious compared to a piece of driftwood, it is using the same manner of logic and observation as saying that a piece of driftwood is organic compared to a stone. A consciousness may justly be defined as the collective processes of the brain, primarily those dedicated to thought. However, we must also recognize that a computer is only capable of imitating a consciousness, with pain and pleasure variables, whereas a human being is actually capable of being conscious. Maybe it would be most scientific to admit that, though we know there is a difference in the sense of feeling in both of these entities, but we do not know precisely why.
One of the problems with this science of understanding the consciousness, is that it is undertaken by individuals who are conscious -- primarily, by a race of beings whom regard themselves as the prime example of this sense of feeling, and more ignorant members of this race considering themselves the only example of this sense of feeling. We know very well that individual humans, when judging themselves, oftentimes are either too harsh or too lenient, too glorifying or too modest. I'm not going to try and explain or understand why this is here, though I suspect it may have to do so much with how others view us than our own objective view of ourself. Perhaps we would be terrified to find out that this consciousness we have is something that is not special. But, no matter what we discover consciousness to be, it doesn't change what it really is. A fossil of a sea shell is beautiful, but if we discover how it was made, by the million years of heat and pressure, it does not instantly turn it to becoming ugly. I, as an individual, am extremely satisfied with this sense of feeling to which I am endowed -- and no future discovery will disrupt this satisfaction.
Finally, before closing this section, I think I should answer some of the questions I brought up from "A Philosophical Dissertation on Consciousness," the first one, written in November of 2002. The essential question that I brought up in that first dissertation was, "If the parts that produce consciousness are exchanged with equal parts, how does this effect the produced consciousness?" Allow me to break this down a bit easier. A factory produces heat, however, if equal parts are exchanged, such as a gear for a gear, etc., does it produce the same heat? It will probably produce an amount of heat proportional to what it was previously producing, yes, but there is a difference between what is being produced. You can have heat over here and heat over there. They can be equal in every attribute and characteristic, but they are still separate, different forms of heat. In like reasoning, what happens to consciousness, when the molecules of the brain change, morph, or anything else that would change the physical composition of the brain? This was the essential question of the first dissertation -- and I feel it that this second dissertation would be incomplete without answering this question.
I think that my initial analogy of consciousness to a factory that produces heat was, well, inaccurate. That is the very tricky part about analogies: they cannot be used to prove something, but only to help things be demonstrated with more clarity. I do not believe that one could very accurately say that consciousness is a product of the brain. Rather, consciousness is simply the term used to describe the collective processes of the brain. An example of the fault would be saying, "Heat is a product of fire," when in fact, heat (in the case of fire) is a part of the fire. Well, allow me to draw another example. Let's say that the nature of a plant is that it is green, at least, that is one of its attributes. If one of the parts of the plant is replaced with another green part, one might ask: "How is the nature of its greenness effected?" Well, it's not effected. It's a different plant, but the idea of the color green is simply something that we can see as an attribute. It is an abstract idea that we apply to things that fit its description. So, too, is consciousness: it is an attribute, not a thing. We describe something as conscious based on the attributes of it. However, I think that the question I originally asked, whether the nature changed, is perhaps irrelevant. But, then again, I just possibly am wrong.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Punkerslut (or Andy Carloff) has been writing essays and poetry on social issues which have caught his attention for several years. His website www.punkerslut.com provides a complete list of all of these writings. His life experience includes homelessness, squating in New Orleans and LA, dropping out of high school, getting expelled from college for "subversive activities," and a myriad of other revolutionary actions.