Human Consciousness Revisited

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October 23, 2014 by David

The definition of the human consciousness and how it operates has been the centre of both religious and scientific discussion for centuries. Although we instinctively feel that we understand what consciousness is, when we try to analyse or discuss ‘consciousness’ we soon find it can mean different things to different people. For those with a strong Christian belief, ‘consciousness’ is often called the ‘soul’ and is believed to be God-given and is immortal (Ecclesiastes 12:7).  Whilst followers of eastern religions see ‘consciousness’ as “the same as life” and it consists of three components; a personal component, a collective component and a universal component. (Chopra 2009). Philosophers over the centuries have wrestled with the question; is ‘consciousness’ just self-awareness; Descartes, “I am, I exist”? (Joseph, 2009).  The scientific community is also not too clear on what is ‘consciousness’. For part philosopher, part neuro-scientist, Alva Noe, “consciousness is the fact that we think and feel and that a world, the world shows up for us” (Chopra 2009). He regards ‘consciousness’ as the interactions of brain, body and the world. For Noe the brain is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for ‘consciousness’ (Chopra 2009).  Whilst for other scientists such as molecular biologist, Francis Click, “’You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Click 1994).  With such a diverse ‘understanding’ of what is ‘consciousness’, it is no wonder the debate of whether there is a ghost in the machine has gone on for many centuries. So if we are to try to understand this debate we first need to know what definitions of ‘consciousness’ the debaters are using.

Instinctively we feel we can tell when we’re awake, when we’re thinking; however the question that has puzzled scientists has been “can anyone really explain the nature of this perception? Or even what separates conscious thought from subconscious thought?” (TheBrainBank, 2013). For those who hold religious beliefs, “This self is not a thing that can be located in space time. That the self is actually transcendent in space time and that even though that I’m having the experience of the world out there it is actually being orchestrated in that dimension which is beyond space time and causality” (Chopra 2009). With such an ‘understanding’ of consciousness it is hard to critique, you either believe or you do not. Richard Dawkins, not one for missing an opportunity to attack religious beliefs, is reported by Rebecca Savastio to have commented in an interview; “Dawkins brought up a point about our ancestors ‘going somewhere’ after they died. He posited-since we evolved from animals, at what point would we have started ‘going somewhere’ after we die?” (Savastio 2013). At first this seems just clever ‘point scoring’, however, it does raise the question; during human evolution did ‘consciousness’ appear when the human brain became sufficiently complex? Was there a point in evolution when our instinctive response to our environment was enhanced by a ‘consciousness’ that could think beyond the instinctive? Will current developments in creating a self-aware computer find this tipping point?

Alex Grey is an artist exploring the concept of human consciousness through the use of artistic performances, painting and other forms of creation. He explores the idea of the human consciousness in a more spiritual, cosmic way developing artworks focused on portraying the idea that human consciousness and the human soul are one. He believes that the human consciousness are the most direct way we have with experiencing and connecting with the ‘divine’. He believes that his artwork helps to explore, interact and learn about their own along with their audiences’ consciousness. Although his artworks are highly conceptual and possibly weird, his works show the connection and religious/spiritual way of looking at the human consciousness and human soul. (Cosmic Creativity, 2013)

Therefore, although we may not be close to understanding ourselves, the way we work and how we think, we may be able to replicate these sort of actions through mathematical computations and analysis and ‘install’ these actions into computer systems. Then when we have achieved sufficient complexity in these non-human brains, artificial intelligence may have all the capacities of the human brain. For some, such an achievement would not mean science has solved the ‘consciousness’ problem, they would still look for a ghost in the machine.

Read The Full Article on Human Consciousness Here.

References

(Cosmic Creativity, 2013) Cosmic Creativity 2013, TED Talk, TEDxMaui, Maui

(Andavolu, 2013) Andavolu, K. 2013, ‘Sorry Religions, Human Consciousness is Just A Consequence of Evolution’, VICE, viewed 11 September 2014, <http://www.vice.com/read/sorry-religions-human-consciousness-is-just-a-consequence-of-evolution&gt;

(Carsley, 2013) Cairsley 2013, ‘Consciousness and Life’, Richard Dawkins Foundation, weblog, viewed 17 September 2014, <http://richarddawkins.net/2013/05/consciousness-and-life/&gt;

(Chopra, 2009) Chopra, D. 2009, ‘You are Not Your Brain: Interview with Alva Noe, PhD’, viewed 17 September 2014, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/interview-with-alva-noe-p_b_663075.html&gt;

(Churchland 2005) Churchland, P. 2005, ‘A neurophilosophical slant on consciousness research’, Chapter 12, Progress in Brain Research, Vol. 149, p286

(Churchland 1995) Churchland, P. 1995, ‘Can Neurobiology Teach us Anything about Consciousness?’  <http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/harnad/Papers/Py104/church.neuro.html&gt;

(Dvorsky 2013) Dvorsky, G. ‘Does consciousness arise from quantum processes in the brain? | io9, Richard Dawkins Foundation, weblog, viewed 17 September 2014, <https://richarddawkins.net/2013/09/does-consciousness-arise-from-quantum-processes-in-the-brain-io9/&gt;

(Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Book of Ecclesiastes 12:7, The Holy Bible.

(Graziano, 2013) Graziano, M. 2013, ‘How the Light Gets Out’, AEON, weblog, viewed 11 September 2014, < http://aeon.co/magazine/philosophy/how-consciousness-works/&gt;

(Hogan 2014) Hogan, J. ‘Scientific Heretic Rupert Sheldrake on Morphic Fields, Psychic Dogs and Other Mysteries,’ Cross-Check, weblog, Scientific American, viewed 17 September 2014, < http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2014/07/14/scientific-heretic-rupert-sheldrake-on-morphic-fields-psychic-dogs-and-other-mysteries/&gt;

(Joseph, 2009) ‘”I Think Therefore I am” Confused: What does this Phrase Mean?’(un) Enlightened Academy, viewed 17 September 2014 <http://unenlightenedenglish.com/2009/07/i-think-therefore-i-am-confused-what-does-this-phrase-mean&gt;

(Lewis, 2014) Lewis, T. 2014, ‘Scientists Closing On Theory of Consciousness’, Live Science, viewed 11 September 2014, <http://news.yahoo.com/scientists-closing-theory-consciousness-171512875.html&gt;

(Lewis, 2013) Lewis, T. 2013, ‘Will We Ever Understand Consciousness? Scientists & Philosophers Debate’, Live Science, viewed 11 September 2014, <http://www.livescience.com/37056-scientists-and-philosophers-debate-consciousness.html&gt;

(Savastio 2013) Savastio, R. 2013, ‘Richard Dawkins ‘Wonders’ What Happens After We Die’, weblog, Liberty Voice, viewed 17 September 2014, <http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/richard-dawkins-wonders-what-happens-after-we-die/&gt;

(TheBrainBank, 2013) The Brain Bank, 2013, ‘What is Consciousness? A scientist’s Perspective’, The Brain Bank Manc, weblog, viewed 11 September 2014, <http://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2013/03/04/what-is-consciousness-a-scientists-perspective/&gt;

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