1. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    Define Consciousness

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Endeavour, Oct 11, 2007.

    With an immenent cold season ahead (let's forget for a second that global warming exists and that it will taint my prediction :D), I think we may be in need of another heated debate. Let us thaw out any frozen brains in the forum. :p

    How would you define consciousness? Can it be merely justified with scientific and medical terms? Or can we soundly explain such phenomenon with religious ideologies? Who are we to think that we're intelligent human beings, with powerful tools such as Mathematics and Physics, which will eventually lead us to understand the mistery of the universe? Is it a paradox to state such a thing because the universe itself has a conscious of its own?
     
  2. Frost
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    Frost Contributing Member

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    Consciousness, as we know it, is the human mind at it's least powerful in my opinion. In our conciousness minds, we have the most inhibitions, we have the most shields and barricades. Our subconcious minds have none of that, but we can't control them. I think the day when man harnesses a balance between subconcious mind frames and concious mindframes, alot of questions will be answered. I also believe Buddha is the only man thus far to ever do so. If he indeed existed.
     
  3. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    Consciousness on simpler terms might be being aware and responsive to one's environment. But it is much more, I think it's things like subjectivity, decision making ability, intellectual ability, feelings, and other cognitive abilities.
    Right now my brain is buzzing with a million questions and I'm not sure I know the answer. Would you say only humans are conscious beings? What about animals?
    Religious ideologies have their base in philosophy so while they may provide some idea of consciousness, it still remains one particular viewpoint. I'm very curious what the other members think, as I'm one confused mess in this area.

    I don't know if we ever will solve the mystery of the universe. At present we are far from it.The concept of karma, retribution and most of the religions suggest that the universe is conscious. But we don't have any solid proof of anything.

    Endeavour, your thread just brought up some old questions I have. I better go and check what I can find about all this. Nice Topic!
     
  4. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    Some people actually believe that trees and plants also possess consciousness. Isn't that interesting? :)

    Thanks Scarypen. I'm also looking forward to reading what other members think. It is indeed a very complicated part of life to grasp.
     
  5. Frost
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    Frost Contributing Member

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    It's not the universe that religious types think is concious, more the controller of the universe [god]. Because the universe is just a place, a really big expanse of space. It can't have a concious.
     
  6. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    Try and tell that to those who firmly believe the universe actually has a conscious of its own. The argument of course becomes very subjective because even with reason (whatever that may be), how can you prove you're an intelligent enough person to think any better about the universe?
     
  7. ScaryPen
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    ScaryPen Active Member

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    This is like a philosophical Mobius Strip.
    *head reeling*
     
  8. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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    (This post is freely adapted from a post I made on another messageboard recently about the same subject.)

    Each of the major religions has its own answer to the question of consciousness. I can only come at the subject from my own, profoundly atheist, point of view--if you're religious, ask a priest.

    The best treatment I've ever read of this extraordinarily complex matter was Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett, who's a senior professor of Cognitive Science at Tufts. (Health warning--if you're a religious person, there are passages in that book could seriously offend your sensibilities! Dennett rejects the religious view of consciousness and its interaction with the soul, and he does so in a very peremptory and rather sarcastic way.)

    Consciousness Explained is partly a rebuttal of a book called The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose (the guy who collaborated with Stephen Hawking). You really need to read both to get the full benefit of the book.

    Alternatively, if you prefer something a bit simpler and more accessible, try The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky.

    It's very hard to capture the complexities in a messageboard post, but I'll try.


    Definitions

    I find it makes things clearer to use words in certain ways.

    I ask you to accept that the brain is the lump of meat between your ears. It's essentially a bundle of nerves and glands. It's fundamentally electrochemical in nature--the nerves fire via electrical signals, but they are influenced over when and how to fire by various chemical secretions. It's partly--but not perfectly--analagous to the physical hardware of a computer, i.e. the chips and the boards and the drives and whatnot.


    The mind is like the software that runs on this hardware. (Not exactly like it--there are serious problems with taking this analogy too far. The relationship is the important thing to bear in mind.)


    Ramifications

    Minds are substrate neutral--in other words, they aren't perfectly aligned to the brain that contains them.

    What I mean is, you could run the same computer program on two very different computers. Or two different programs on computers that had the same hardware. In other words, the physical configuration of your brain doesn't necessarily affect the way your mind works. In order to produce a change, you need to do something major to your brain's structure or neurochemical balance--so a major brain injury can affect your mind, or quite a concentrated dose of some drug or other, but minor lesions or tiny quantities of a drug are quickly subsumed.

    Consciousness is an emergent property of the mind. You aren't born with it--you acquire it in the first couple of years of your life, by processes that scientists are struggling to understand now.

    The easiest way to explain what I mean by emergent property is by analogy.

    A living thing is made up of atoms. The atoms themselves are dead, and will never be alive. But if you arrange them in a certain way, then they can become a creature of some kind; so life is an emergent property of atoms.

    An atom is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons aren't carbon; the neutrons aren't carbon; and the electrons aren't carbon. But if you put them in a certain configuration, you can get carbon. So carbon is an emergent property of protons, neutrons and electrons.

    Consciousness is another kind of emergent property. A whole lot of things that aren't conscious--processes that run in your mind--interact with each other, and consciousness is a result (or even a by-product) of that.


    What does "Consciousness" mean?

    The problem with the word "consciousness" is that when you get down to brass tacks, it's extremely hard to define.

    Karl Popper (among others) showed that a scientific definition of consciousness has to depend on independently-verifiable, repeatable, falsifiable criteria. (If a test can't be repeated by someone else, it isn't science.)

    Consciousness is inherently introspective--I can tell through introspection that I possess it, but I can't tell through observation that you possess it. I merely assume that you do based on your words and actions.

    Therefore the only tests of consciousness are things like the Turing Test (which was originally designed to establish intelligence, not consciousness, but it works for consciousness too). Such a test measures your words and actions to see if they're similar to those of other people who are believed to be conscious. If they are, we have to assume that you yourself are conscious.

    A non-scientific definition of consciousness is easier (although it's still not exactly easy). Personally I'm not very interested in a non-scientific approach to the subject, so I'll leave that as an exercise for someone else.
     
  9. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    I very much fall under the same category. :)
     
  10. Frost
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    Frost Contributing Member

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    And in the same manner, how is it possbile to prove past the point of any reasonable doubt that the universe - this expanse that contains everything known and unknown - that the universe has the the power of the mind at it's feet?
    For most religious people (that Ive come across) the very essence of our concious, subconcious, our emotion - all of these beautiful, somewhat unexplained things all spring from our spirit. If this is so (as I believe it is; I dont think there is anything powerfulenough on this earth generate what the average human goes through every day) then it is not perhaps unreasonable to suggest that the universe, or at least the earth has a spirit.

    Of course, this would also suggest that everything natural has a spirit. Why I dont quite believe this to be true (for example, plants can't get up and walk away, or get angry at the next tree along for having greener leaves), I think animals have a more primeval spirit, more suited to the being.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    how can the universe have a conscious [sic]?... that is, assuming you meant 'consciousness'...
     
  12. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    How can it not? :)

    I didn't suggest it does, as I personally don't believe it, but let's forget for a second about what you think. Who are we to believe that the universe is x, y, z? You could counter this view by arguing that we're intelligent beings. But are we really? To who or what exacly do we base our notion of intelligence to? To our achievements? (landing on the moon, etc) Doesn't that render it a biased view of intelligence?
     
  13. Funny Bunny
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    ^Plants. Hah! Orchids, the most primitive and adaptable of plants actually "walk" they are not attached by any "Ground." They live in the air, just as humans do, and they have lived quite a lot longer than humans. They move by stretching out their roots and "walking." Grass walks. I believe bromiliads walk. Plants are highly competitive. They will crush the life out of any plant that gets in their way. They are constantly at war.

    The soul is a romantic notion. i actually do not believe in it. I totaly believe there are more things in the world that go through "what an average person goes through in a day." Jeepers! What?

    Emotions are explained. They are spurts of chemicals in the brain. People with PET scanners can watch emotion being made and dying. It is all chemistry. Egocentrism, Homocentrism, romanticism, and religion are all responsible for the wreck made of todays world. In 50 years when there is no fresh water, or when there is no breathable air I wonder if people will be saying that humans are "special" or different than clams. I doubt it since Clams can survive with less oxygen than us-- they will probably out do us on every IQ test.
     

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