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A Philosophical Dissertation on Consciousness, Part 1

The question of what our consciousness is, or how or where it is produced, has been the subject of much philosophical inquiry over the past centuries. Some have relied upon spiritual conclusions, claiming that consciousness is one's soul (though today, the term "soul" often means one's emotional individuality). There are different claims across ancient civilization, offering the idea that the soul exists in a physical part of the body, be it the head, the heart, or the genitals. However, with the rise of science, there is a new approach to the question of consciousness. The importance given to consciousness varies sometimes from individual to individual, from school of thought to school of thought. Some philosophers simply marvel at the complexity of the thing, sometimes almost reflectively. Just as some philosophers regard it as a spectular thing that requires explanation, some philosophers regard the question of consciousness as an important underyling factor in their entire philosophy.

For example, as a Vegetarian, I do not actively engage in any activity which causes suffering or unwanted death to a conscious being. Naturally, since I have this philosophical concept of rights, I want to understand this scientific concept of consciousness. Sometimes I am asked whether I would regard the rights of a plant, bacteria, or an insect. To these three organisms, I have no difficulty answering. A plant and bacteria do not contain a consciousness, whereas evidence suggest that insects have a sort of consciousness. But whether or not I am right or wrong in such a response, I will always say, "I regard the rights of conscious beings. None others." If they inquire into which organsms are conscious and if I do not know, I respond that the question of consciousness is one of science, not one of philosophy. As far as how consciousness works, I do not know. I only hope to provide questions that I have thought of endlessly, with no conclusion. To quote Scientific American about a story of Neuroscientists...

Koch, 44, directs the computation and neural systems program at Caltech. He arrived here in 1986, a time when consciousness research was still considered career suicide even for established brain researchers. But high-profile attention to the subject by Nobelists Gerald M. Edelman and Francis Crick, coupled with advances in functional brain imaging, has elevated the field--and its investigators--to respectability.

Neurobiologists have since given up the notion that Koch may be dangerously offbeat, despite his having tattooed his arm last summer with the Apple Computer logo to demonstrate his love of the Macintosh (a zeal not even matched by Steve Jobs). The neuroscientist leads about 20 researchers and calls their mission to explain consciousness "one of the major unsolved problems of modern science." [Scientific American, July, 2001.]

Consciousness According to Science...

Brain...

All thoughts, emotions, sensations, movements, and desires have their origins in brain processes. Without a functioning brain, the human being is reduced to a vegetative state, unable to perform any actions or pessos any feelings, and left without he ability even to alter bodily function in rseponse to change. While this article will consider the human brain, which is more complex and highly developed than that of any other animal, the brains of all mammels, and indeed most vertebrates, are remarkably similar.

The central nervous system is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. The nerves that supply the rest of the body are attached to the brain and sinal cord and include the motor nerves, which activate muscels, and the sensory nerves, which bring information into the central nervous system. In addition, the nerves that supply the internal organs are found outside the brain and spinal cord. [Collier's Encyclopedia, under "Brain."]

Morality...

Many animals, however, certainly sympathise with each other's distress or danger. This is the case even with birds. Captain Stansbury found on a salt lake in Utah an old and completely blind pelican, which was very fat, and must have been well fed for a long time by his companions. Mr. Blyth, as he informs me, saw Indian crows feeding two or three of their companions which were blind; and I have heard of an analogous case with the domestic cock. We may, if we choose, call these actions instinctive; but such cases are much too rare for the development of any special instinct. I have myself seen a dog, who never passed a cat who lay sick in a basket, and was a great friend of his, without giving her a few licks with his tongue, the surest sign of kind feeling in a dog. [The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin, chapter 4, part I.]

Pain and Suffering...

When animals suffer from an agony of pain, they generally writhe about with frightful contortions; and those which habitually use their voices utter piercing cries or groans. Almost every muscle of the body is brought into strong action. With man the mouth may be closely compressed, or more commonly the lips are retracted, with the teeth clenched or ground together. There is said to be "gnashing of teeth" in hell; and I have plainly heard the grinding of the molar teeth of a cow which was suffering acutely from inflammation of the bowels. The female hippopotamus in the Zoological Gardens, when she produced her young, suffered greatly; she incessantly walked about, or rolled on her sides, opening and closing her jaws, and clattering her teeth together. With man the eyes stare wildly as in horrified astonishment, or the brows are heavily contracted. Perspiration bathes the body, and drops trickle down the face. The circulation and respiration are much affected. Hence the nostrils are generally dilated and often quiver; or the breath may be held until the blood stagnates in the purple face. If the agony be severe and prolonged, these signs all change; utter prostration follows, with fainting or convulsions. [The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, by Charles Darwin, chapter 3.]

Consciousness: What I Do Not Know...

As far as various philosophical thoughts go, I have often been hesitant to publish thoughts without first finding a conclusion (one, of course, based on evidence and Reason). However, as much as I thought on the topic of consciousness, the more I think the more I become convinced that only science, demonstration, and observation, could discover the answers to my questions. The following is an inquiry concerning consciousness...

Our brains, like all other physical things, is composed of matter. In this sense, it is composed of different atoms, such as Carbon and Nitrogen, interlocking to form structures. The structures of the brain give it the capability of consciousness. The question I am presenting is not how consciousness can arrise from basic elements, but how reliant upon the molecules consciousness is. The Atomic Theory can be defined as follows: the theory that all matter is composed of atoms, and that all atoms are composed of simple structures, including protons. All protons are incredibly similar in structure, and an atom's individual is defined by the number of protons it has. A Hydrogen atom, for example, has 1 proton. A Helium atom differs from a Hydrogen atom in that it has 2 protons. Carbon has 4 protons. Iron has 77 protons. Gold has 79 protons. Silver has 47 protons. Uranium has 92 protons. The difference between these elements differs in protons, and a proton changes other factors. For each proton, there is a neutron. For each proton, there is an attraction to another electron. One gold atom, though, will react the same as any other gold atom, as long as conditions are the same.

Describing the Atomic Theroy is only a preliminary to the question of consciousness. Since one Carbon atom reacts the same as any other Carbon atom, what would happen if a Carbon atom in someone's brain was quickly replaced with a different Carbon atom? Since all Carbon atoms react the same, the consciousness of the person would not be altered. This would mean that their thoughts, their ideas, their emotions, their memories, and their personality would not change. Talking to them would not be like talking to an entirely different person. No change would be noticeable. But, what did change? It was only one solitary atom. Still, the organ which produces conscious has one part different.

It is important to understand the different consciousnesses when examining this. I do not mean the many different consciousnesses within a single person, but with many people. For example, if one person's brain was entirely reconstructed to be identical, both people would be different entities. The first person thinks for themself, just like the second person. But, importantly, they are different beings. The first is the first and the second is the second. If one were to have a thought, it would not give that thought to the other. By claiming that each brain is its own entity, I mean that each is composed of its own matter and produces its own consciousness. When we alter one Carbon atom, by switching it with another, we are changing the matter of the brain, though the design remains changeless. The one atom changed. Would that mean a different consciousness is produced? When I speak of a difference, I speak of entity. Would the consciousness change from the state it had before the new Carbon atom to the state after it had the new Carbon atom, this change being the same difference between the entity of consciousness existing between two different persons? WHat would happen if we replaced every atom in the brain with a new identical one? It would be a new existing consciousness, just acting the same, believeng the same, doing the same. The consciousness acts the same, but it differes as an entity. You can have two identical shoes, for example, but they are difefrent in that they are not made out of the same exact matter. The same question exists with the brain and consciousness. The brain, an organ made of matter, produces the consciousness, but if the brain is altered by one identical atom, is consciousness different in entity?

Conclusions

I have tried my best to offer a simple, understandable simplification of my ideas on this subject. Perhaps, though, my thinking of the question of consciousness is diluted by the idea that it is special, or perhaps it is impossible to make such thoughts accurately given what little we know of it, given the poor knowledge obtained by science. Whatever the case may be, consciousness is consciousness, and I have offered my questions and thoughts on it.

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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.



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