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Thread: Consciousness.

  1. #1 Consciousness. 
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    I wasn't sure whether to post this question, about consciousness, in a science sub forum or the philosophy sub forum. Eventually I decided on the biology section.
    There seems to be a big problem, right across the sciences and philosophy, finding a complete understanding of consciousness.
    The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy states "perhaps no aspect of mind is more familiar or more puzzling than consciousness and our conscious experience of self and mind. The problem of consciousness is arguably the central issue in current theorising about the mind".
    A dictionary definition states consciousness is "an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation."
    I accept there is a problem with fully understanding "consciousness" and altho' I do not expect anyone on the Science Forum will be able to give an explanation, that would satisfy the leading thinkers in this field, I would be grateful if someone could explain the problem in relatively simple terms.
    The difficulty I have here is that looking at the above dictionary definition, where consciousness is defined as being aware of yourself and your situation or environment, I find it hard to understand how intelligent living creatures (human beings) would not have this ability.
    In other words just as the mind is the product of the brain surely consciousness must be inevitable given life and a certain level of intelligence.


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    I doubt I can help. I can only make further observations.

    You are speculating that consciousness must be associated with intelligence. The problem is that you are comparing two ill defined characteristics. If intelligence is about problem solving then why would consciousness be necessary? Many of my better solutions spring from my sub-conscious after a night of 'sleeping on the problem'.

    I have sometimes driven for miles in moderate traffic, negotiating roundabouts, road junctions and traffic lights with absolutely no conscious awareness of what I am doing, quite lost in thought about some issue or other. The absence of irate motorists' horns, massive pile ups, or flashing police car lights, suggests that I had driven competently. Consciousness, it seems, was not necessary to carry out a quite complex sequence of actions.


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    I wasn't sure whether to post this question, about consciousness, in a science sub forum or the philosophy sub forum. Eventually I decided on the biology section.
    .. and that's the problem .. the subject can be attacked from many different sciences because it's a question that reminds us that sciences are seperate as a matter of convention not because the world is integrated. I was just listening to a lecture about the "Holagraphic Principle" in physics .. it clearly seemed to have implications to consciousness. One person asked about it's relation to consciousness and the physics professor an expert in the field past on the question leaving it to the "Cognitive scientist".

    So you could ask this question in numerous fields of study .. from physics to various areas of biology to philosophy .. even art and religion. Myself they all have something to add to the question.

    The difficulty I have here is that looking at the above dictionary definition, where consciousness is defined as being aware of yourself and your situation or environment, I find it hard to understand how intelligent living creatures (human beings) would not have this ability.
    Who says we are not conscious ? I am not clear where you are getting that idea ? We are conscious the question is what is consciousness ? How does it work ? Having it does not imply you understand it ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MohaveBiologist
    Who says we are not conscious ? I am not clear where you are getting that idea ? .
    I believe you have misunderstood. Halliday is saying he is not at all surprised that creatures as intelligent as we are conscious. He would be amazed if we were not. He feels consciousness is a natural consequence of intelligence.

    My post was intended to raise doubts over the absolute connect between intelligence and consciousness that Halliday proposes.
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    Ophio ...

    Thanks for the clarification.

    OK .. I would say the two are independent to a large degree but not exclusively independent.

    As humans the more we undertsand the world the more our consciousness expands. Though I also think other animals have a consciousness and even plants.

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  7. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by MohaveBiologist
    Who says we are not conscious ? I am not clear where you are getting that idea ? .
    I believe you have misunderstood. Halliday is saying he is not at all surprised that creatures as intelligent as we are conscious. He would be amazed if we were not. He feels consciousness is a natural consequence of intelligence.

    My post was intended to raise doubts over the absolute connect between intelligence and consciousness that Halliday proposes.
    I do believe there is a close link between intelligence and consciousness. There is no doubt that humans possess consciousness, but much debate about whether, or to what extent, less intelligent species do. Most specialists, in the field, would certainly argue that primitive life forms do not possess consciousness.
    But, in my opening post, I was really more concerned with why scientists and philosophers appear to find it so difficult to define and explain consciousness. If anyone knows I would be very interested in the answer.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Halladay
    I wasn't sure whether to post this question, about consciousness, in a science sub forum or the philosophy sub forum. Eventually I decided on the biology section.
    Do a search in the Behavior and Psychology sub-forum, you will see that this is a subject we've discussed extensively. Currently, I and other forum participants are engaging a discussion there regarding mind, consciousness, and dreaming. I encourage your participation.
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    I was really more concerned with why scientists and philosophers appear to find it so difficult to define and explain consciousness. If anyone knows I would be very interested in the answer.
    It is a good question you ask.

    The problems start with questions .. like where is reality ? Is what we think in the mind more real then the outer world ? To you a chair is a place to sit and take a rest but to a termite dinner. Where is the chair ? How can it be two things at once ? What does that say about the nature of reality ?

    If you think questions like that are a slam dunk .. hats off to you :-D

    You might like to read a book "The Universe In A Single Atom " by the Dalai Lama .. it deals with science and it's comparisions to Buddhism in regards to consciousness.

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    I was really more concerned with why scientists and philosophers appear to find it so difficult to define and explain consciousness. If anyone knows I would be very interested in the answer.
    It is a good question you ask.

    The problems start with questions .. like where is reality ? Is what we think in the mind more real then the outer world ? To you a chair is a place to sit and take a rest but to a termite dinner. Where is the chair ? How can it be two things at once ? What does that say about the nature of reality ?

    If you think questions like that are a slam dunk .. hats off to you :-D

    You might like to read a book "The Universe In A Single Atom " by the Dalai Lama .. it deals with science and it's comparisions to Buddhism in regards to consciousness.

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    The mirror test seems to me to be a kind of experiment linking consciousness and intelligence.

    That is : an animal looking at itself in the mirror - does it recognise that the image is itself, or will it react as if the image is another individual?

    If the recognition is of self, then that represents intelligence. I would see it as being consciousness also, since consciousness relies upon an appreciation of 'self'.

    So far, species that have passed the mirror test include all the great apes, several species of cetacean, a crow, a parrot, and the elephant. All these are relatively high in intelligence. Recognition of 'self' in the mirror also suggests they are conscious of themselves also.

    On the other hand, put a mirror in the tank of a siamese fighting fish, and it will damage itself severely by attacking the image.
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    On the other hand, put a mirror in the tank of a siamese fighting fish, and it will damage itself severely by attacking the image.
    Interesting idea this "mirror test".

    So what do you think the result of the siamese fighting fish tells us about it's consciousness ?

    Interestingly the buddhist would sasy their is no self and so seeing past the self is a way to achieve a higher consciousness. The self they say is an "illusion". There really is no one in the mirror.

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    The siamese fighting fish would appear to have limited consciousness. It does not recognise the image as being itself. This is, of course, primarily a result of lower intelligence. It cannot work out something that, to a human, is obvious. However, for this awareness, that the image is a copy of 'self', would seem to require a self-awareness, which is a characteristic of consciousness.
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    This is, of course, primarily a result of lower intelligence.
    .. or a difference in perception.


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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The mirror test seems to me to be a kind of experiment linking consciousness and intelligence.

    That is : an animal looking at itself in the mirror - does it recognise that the image is itself, or will it react as if the image is another individual?

    If the recognition is of self, then that represents intelligence. I would see it as being consciousness also, since consciousness relies upon an appreciation of 'self'.

    So far, species that have passed the mirror test include all the great apes, several species of cetacean, a crow, a parrot, and the elephant. All these are relatively high in intelligence. Recognition of 'self' in the mirror also suggests they are conscious of themselves also.

    On the other hand, put a mirror in the tank of a siamese fighting fish, and it will damage itself severely by attacking the image.
    I think the mirror test directly tests consciousness, regardless of intelligence. An extreme mirror test shows the tendrils of grape vines tend to wrap around foreign objects rather than the plant's own branches - this is literal, physical consciousness, insofar as self-awareness is synonymous with consciousness. But our minds are interested in consciousness that's "all in the mind".

    "It's done with mirrors." Consciousness is an illusion. The person in the physical mirror is also an illusion. However it's a useful illusion. What I'm getting at is that our reflection on the test mirror itself is consciousness, and the inner consciousness we know with eyes shut is literally a mirroring. If you're susceptible to one you're susceptible to the other. I call this an illusion, not a "real thing" because it's a subjective effect of temporal lag as (real) neurons essentially relay their own echoes, in the case of casual consciousness; or it's mapping-over one's own structures, in the case of self-awareness.

    Traditionally mind was thought to be apart from brain, and therefore aloof from physical reality. So the mirror was only a metaphor for consciousness. However if mind is brain then I suggest the mirror or "reflecting" metaphor in fact a literal phenomenon, observable in the meat: the physical backwash of impulses literally running into the fringes of grey matter and folding back upon themselves. We know that this does happen, thanks especially to our crinkly frontal lobes - so what must this echo feel like subjectively?

    I suggest that everyday, off-hand consciousness is review in passing. A more critical self-consciousness would be reflecting and re-reflecting over and over, attacking different parts from many angles. Literally. I predict this can be imaged in brain scans.

    I think there's still resistance to literalizing mind. For example love is oxytocin. It should not be so banal, we protest. Yet a billion or more human beings are sucking on nipples while gazing into eyes, making love without any metaphorical obscurity about it.

    I see intelligence as one activity in a disorganized volume, in which funny things may happen, including consciousness. Now we get down to brass tacks of brain function. The most intelligent species simply own largely disorganized volumes of neurons. This domain is subject to reflection, e.g. consciousness when we're in the right frame of mind. However, much of the brain is pre-organised, or grows more or less set in its ways; curiously: unconscious thought grows on it, encroaching. One can see that in how, for example, the drive home from work becomes unconscious. That was certainly most conscious before! I blame myelination. I remember as a child marvelling at how adults think both quickly and narrow-mindedly. These are non-metaphorical effects of myelin.

    Ehh. I've rambled. The point I wish to bring to this thread is that mind-consciousness is a mechanical feat in a volume of disorganised neurons, that disorganized volume also being capacity for intelligence. And I suggest mind may be understood as brain manifesting qualities traditionally imagined only metaphorical.
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    It's interesting that children only become able to recognise themselves in a mirror at about the age of 2 or 3. At roughly the same age, their language ability is already fairly advanced, and i think i'm right in saying that language ability is controlled by various 'modules' of the brain, as is cognition, number sense, spacial awareness and whatever else.
    As far as i understand it, all of these abilities are a product of interactions between several 'modules' which seems to suggest that in order for language ability to be present, at least some of these modules must be well developed.

    So if i'm right in any of this, it's observable that comparative (in terms of all species) high intelligence does not inevitably co-exist with self-awareness (which perhaps could be stretched to include 'consciousness'), even if it strongly correlates with it.
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    In my opinion consciousness is something like a loop function. It gathers information by senses,processes and saves them. The informations are stored in a network of electric impulses. Maybe comparable to the RAM of computers. If that loop is interrupted, the whole informations (=memories) are lost. This interruption is brain-death. That kind of brain program ist called thousend of times at a second. Maybe such a loop-frequency can be measured... maybe it has something to do with the brain-frequency...weird shit I think about...
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    Another aspect of consciousness is that a reductionist .. deterministic approach has not yet unraveled it's nature.

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    Re the mirror test: dogs do not pass this (SkinWalker's anecdotal observations of his own dog, noted in another thread, not having been peer reviewed). However, dogs have poor eyesight and live in an olfactory world. I'll guarantee a dog will recognise the smell of it's own feces. So perhaps they are also self aware.
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    It's interesting that children only become able to recognise themselves in a mirror at about the age of 2 or 3.
    Note that a new born human baby doesnt know much, he is blind not because his eyes arent working but because he hadsnt learned the interpretation of what he perceives. Also, babies dont even know that the strange thing moving around is their own hand, or that the feeling of pain that makes them cry is their own hand grasping their ear/face/hair. The experiences, observation and interaction with the environment are essential for development


    If a human start to be aware of his image at age 2-3, I hope they didnt test a 1 year old dog that had never seen a mirror before. I bet a dog exposed to interaction with a mirror in various suitable situations since the age of a few months, would eventually learn by the time he was 2 or 3 that the other dog in the mirror is himself(I dont know if this experiment was performed). Other animals would probably never get it but I think dogs have a chance to.
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    Note that a new born human baby doesnt know much, he is blind not because his eyes arent working but because he hadsnt learned the interpretation of what he perceives. Also, babies dont even know that the strange thing moving around is their own hand, or that the feeling of pain that makes them cry is their own hand grasping their ear/face/hair. The experiences, observation and interaction with the environment are essential for development
    This oversimplification leads to some invalid conclusions. Many studies have demonstrated clearly that humans are very much are born with certain logic circuits "in situ." I'm thinking primarily of an experiment where several infants became startled at the site of a chair (or box or ottoman) moving around a room, but not when humans moved around the room in the exact same path/pattern. Tests like that show decisively that we are born with certain logic structures and understandings, and that it is not learned. In further support, we see that children are afraid of cliffs and snakes, for example, despite having never been exposed to them or taught to be afraid of these things.

    If I'm not mistaken, there was a lot of work done in Ireland by Jesse Bering on the concept that dualism is innate in humans. As I touched on above, basically even 5 month olds will startle when a box is moving around the room in a specific pattern, but have no issue with the exact same movements being performed by a human... we are innately common sense dualists, and we somehow are born knowing the difference between agents with intentions/goals and physical objects... which is contrary to your suggestion above about the requirement for observation and interaction.
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    inow, I do agree there are indeed instincts and preprogramed tendancies, there are many examples of these and they are required for survival(there is no sexual education for rabbits, fruitflies and cavemen but they all perform specific actions)

    , basically even 5 month olds will startle when a box is moving around the room in a specific pattern, but have no issue with the exact same movements being performed by a human
    Im sure the 5 month old had seen humans walk around by themselves before the experiment and never seen a chair move by itself, if the experiment would have continued over another 5 months I wonder if the infants would have gotten used to see chairs moving by themselves and thus would no longer be startled. Also an alternate group should have been created where infants from 1 week old are seeing chairs move by themselves and see if when they reached 5 months they would be startled by a chair moving by itself(most likely they would not). Ive read about many experiments for which the conclusion was in the eye of the beholder, their conclusion being clouded by corelations or pre-disposed interpretations.

    The fear of snakes might be dating back to the time we were monkey-like, but Ive not seen a study where infants are used to see snakes from birth over many months to verify that this instinct is still observed in such conditions, it may be but that is an assumption.

    But in any case many instincts can usually be modulated, composed with or overcome by learning; all men dont rape the first woman they see on the street, we might have been afraid of fire at some point but now we have leared when fire is not a threat, when its a potenital threat and when its clearly a danger(yet even then firefighters walk in burning houses), fear of snake ive seen kids pet a snake I held a python on my shoulder as have many kids that went to particular zoo, instict for survival can be set asside in dire causes(kamikaze pilots, chernobyl emergency workers, etc), you may fear hights but understanding you have a bungee rope and the will to overcome that fear allows you to jump nonetheless.
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  23. #22  
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    the feeling of pain that makes them cry is their own hand grasping their ear/face/hair.
    Long hair, the bane of newborns. The greater the pain, the tighter the grip. Mine did that too. It's a positive feedback loop, and a very "low level" mirror test.

    I like that mirror test because it's easily reduced to circuit schematic. For a baby to get over the subjective mirror (loop) and "pass the test" she must create an overarching circuit objectifying the former one: "That's me." We may label these as layers: subconscious and conscious.

    But huh?! Does this mean all cognitive development is conscious? How then do we become adults with a depth of subconscious operations like walking, catching balls, driving home from work? I hypothesize that consciousness initially expands like an onion. Basically, conscious thought is wherever the newest layer happens to be. Meanwhile established parts grow more or less set in their ways. One could say that the Pong who consciously learned to control his bladder is in fact the same Pong controlling it now. He hasn't changed - the advancing front of consciousness simply moved on.

    Soon, the leading edge of consciousness begins to hit walls - it literally runs into dead ends of the grey matter. The ultimate of ends are in the frontal lobes, farthest from the real world nerve endings. Consciousness has no option but to fold back over itself - fancy knots! - and proceed to scavenge through what's left behind. Thus begins the regime of "higher" consciousness associated with free will, philosophy, reason, self-discovery, etc. These impulses roam aloof to the original centres our real-world nerve feedbacks loop through (motor & sensory). They may touch on established structures and try to grasp them. It's kinda funny to see a 35-year-old reasoning why she's always liked french fries. In terms of distance, conscious structures can extend farther than a brain span i.e. meters of axons and countless leaps removed from any nerve ending. Finally I guess they're tethered more to gross dynamic forces like mood, and they ebb-and-flow seemingly at random. Anyway we're a long way yet from clinically tracing the route to adult preference for french fries.

    The necessity of looping back where brain ends intrigues me. This is a mirror test! Though it isn't feedback, strictly speaking, it must seem so subjectively to any consciousness encountering it. Consciousness would then be in the position of itself over-arched by... something. Call it The Void, or God, or perhaps more selfishly call it "highest consciousness" like the elusive "I" or soul. Yet it's an illusion. Just a reflecting wall of knotwork. I suppose one could generalize the wall, as in a plane with one identity; or compartmentalize the various nooks (remember I'm still speaking empirically) with different identities. And one could dwell upon this/these barriers more or less, building them more or less agency.

    Personally, I guess my own wiring is such that I have difficulty distinguishing one nook from another. Perhaps my brain isn't very crinkly. Or the lay of my neurons is deficient in radial structure. To me the Void "feels like" one featureless no-thing that yet defines thought-things. The Buddhist grasp-not-grasp has always seemed self-evident. I suppose one could say this arrangement of mind lacks a seat of consciousness.

    Much of the above is experimentally falsifiable I hope.
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