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Consciousness


jonnobody
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 Most people have difficulty defining consciousness as have most of the big thinkers from 1000 BCE! For me it is fairly easy because I have a spiritual basis in my life. For those that haven't a spiritual basis, consciousness is almost impossible to understand or explain as Daniel Dennett discovered.

 Consciousness is the limited time we have to experience and communicate with the universal consciousness commonly known as God but more accurately described as the Hebrew Yhwh , the elohim (several or many gods) the Holy Spirit ,Nirvana , Param Brahma ,Vishnu etc

 As a side note it was the elohim (a Hebrew plural) that created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1.1 not 'God' as most bibles translate

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39 minutes ago, jonnobody said:

 Most people have difficulty defining consciousness as have most of the big thinkers from 1000 BCE! For me it is fairly easy because I have a spiritual basis in my life. For those that haven't a spiritual basis, consciousness is almost impossible to understand or explain as Daniel Dennett discovered.

 Consciousness is the limited time we have to experience and communicate with the universal consciousness commonly known as God but more accurately described as the Hebrew Yhwh , the elohim (several or many gods) the Holy Spirit ,Nirvana , Param Brahma ,Vishnu etc

 As a side note it was the elohim (a Hebrew plural) that created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1.1 not 'God' as most bibles translate

It seems to me that consciousness is not an entity at all but an activity: the activity of the brain.

I think a great deal of time and energy has been wasted by misclassifying an activity as a thing. It's a category error, in my opinion. 

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44 minutes ago, jonnobody said:

 Most people have difficulty defining consciousness as have most of the big thinkers from 1000 BCE! For me it is fairly easy because I have a spiritual basis in my life. For those that haven't a spiritual basis, consciousness is almost impossible to understand or explain as Daniel Dennett discovered.

 Consciousness is the limited time we have to experience and communicate with the universal consciousness commonly known as God but more accurately described as the Hebrew Yhwh , the elohim (several or many gods) the Holy Spirit ,Nirvana , Param Brahma ,Vishnu etc

 As a side note it was the elohim (a Hebrew plural) that created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1.1 not 'God' as most bibles translate

So, what's your answer to the perennial question,

If a tree falls in a forest...?

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13 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Not all of mankind: the godless, non-spiritual ones, like me, are presumably unconscious.

So, how are we able to communicate? For that matter,

It's far more nuanced than that...

24 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

what do we have to communicate?

Information...

Does it matter where it comes from?

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Thinkers who conjure a "hard problem" of consciousness, everyone from Thomas Nagel to Dave Chalmers,  tend to slide into some form of property dualism.   Usually of the form that something in neuronal processes is not ontologically reducible,  and somehow achieves "downward causation. "  The subjective "felt" aspects of experience, or "qualia," become a sort of special thing outside of scientific naturalism and physical causality - and there lies Gilbert Ryle's category error.   

Sean Carroll has a great blog on the pitfalls of downward causation and using the wrong sort of language to talk about physical processes.   

 

 https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2016/09/08/consciousness-and-downward-causation/

 

 

6 hours ago, jonnobody said:

 Most people have difficulty defining consciousness as have most of the big thinkers from 1000 BCE! For me it is fairly easy because I have a spiritual basis in my life. For those that haven't a spiritual basis, consciousness is almost impossible to understand or explain...

For those that don't speak English,  "watermelon" is almost impossible to understand or explain.   

 

Unless,  of course, you have a watermelon on hand. 

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3 hours ago, dimreepr said:

It's far more nuanced than that...

What nuance can be brought to bear? If "consciousness" is the experience of and communication with a god-entity and you have no such experience or communication, then you are not "conscious".  If the god-entity takes note and enters your mind in a moment of Zen or zone or zonk and makes itself known to you, that is presumably the "consciousness"-switch being turned on. It's the only way I can imagine the OP definition working.

[what do we have to communicate from a state of unconsciousness?]

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Information...

 

Where does an unconscious biomass get information, why would it feel the urge to pass on information, and to whom?

Slates don't. Clouds don't. Moons don't.  Trees do, but it's a kind of communication to which we are not privy. Is it possible that dumb trees are in contact with the god-entity whose experience is denied to intelligent atheists? 

Quote

Does it matter where it comes from?

I think so. I always sniff carefully before biting.

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Christoph Koch is one of the cognitive scientists who supports Integrated Information Theory.   I was going to post this at sciencechatforum.com, but it went belly up,  so I'll post it here.... 

https://medium.com/@mitpress/christof-koch-on-the-feeling-of-life-itself-and-how-technology-allows-us-to-observe-consciousness-e52b39091ad3

I note that his (and Tononi's)  "intrinsic causal powers of the brain" sounds a bit like sneaking dualism in the back door.   Like Searle,  he attaches great importance to substrate.   

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13 hours ago, jonnobody said:

 Most people have difficulty defining consciousness as have most of the big thinkers from 1000 BCE! For me it is fairly easy because I have a spiritual basis in my life. For those that haven't a spiritual basis, consciousness is almost impossible to understand or explain as Daniel Dennett discovered. 

Spiritual basis, or bias? Wiki gives some views on it as follows......

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscience#Secular

"Conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual's moral philosophy or value system".

Further, and more aligned with your own bias....."Religious views of conscience usually see it as linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity. The diverse ritualistic, mythical, doctrinal, legal, institutional and material features of religion may not necessarily cohere with experiential, emotive, spiritual or contemplative considerations about the origin and operation of conscience".

And further, a more honest scientific  appraisal, if less certain..."Common secular or scientific views regard the capacity for conscience as probably genetically determined, with its subject probably learned or imprinted as part of a culture"

 

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Can you be conscious, yet lack a conscience?

That's the most common definition of a psychopath.

Another description of conscience may be the capacity to evaluate harmful and beneficial actions toward other entities. It's up to each society to designate the correct recipients of harm and benefit. 

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I don't think the problem of consciousness is going to be solved any time soon. And yet I value immensely all these discourses on the matter by people like Searle, and Dennett, and Koch. If nothing else, they clarify the discussion and I hope they converge towards a much less naive setting.

My poor man's version of the problem of (perception of) colours:

R,Y,B Primary colours. Any combination of these reproduces any perception of colour I may experience.

Let's introduce a permutation of primary colours, for example, a cyclic shift:

\[\pi\left(R\right)=Y\]

\[\pi\left(Y\right)=B\]

\[\pi\left(B\right)=R\]

How do I program a machine to perceive the colour blue exactly as I perceive the colour red, and so on?

My poor man's version of the problem of (perception of) time:

A second ago, I can see in its wake. My nephew's just smiled, my sister's cat's just yawned. But I have no idea what she will do next. Even less of an idea of what he will do*. My nephew's quite unpredictable. How come? I don't think beta decay has much to do with my nephew's behaviour, TBH.

-------------------

The deepest questions, the nature of time, entropy, chirality, and internal charges, physical horizons, and perhaps other physical variables as yet undiscovered must have something to do with these puzzling questions.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that consciousness, in all likelihood, must be very deeply ingrained in very deep physics. Some level of description in which the boundary between being and knowing gets blurry.

I suppose my battle cry for this questions (as I can't help significantly) would be: Go deeper!

Entropic horizons, Maldacena dualities, ambiguity between interior and exterior physical variables à la HUP, stuff like that. But hey, who knows.

*Probably poke my neck with his tiny finger. ;) 

13 hours ago, TheVat said:

Christoph Koch is one of the cognitive scientists who supports Integrated Information Theory.   I was going to post this at sciencechatforum.com, but it went belly up,  so I'll post it here.... 

I somehow picture this 'downward causation' as a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for consciousness.

Can consciousness be graded? is another interesting question that our grumpy member Holmes introduced previously in a thread I forget, only noticed by @studiot.

16 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Where does an unconscious biomass get information, why would it feel the urge to pass on information, and to whom?

Slates don't. Clouds don't. Moons don't.  Trees do, but it's a kind of communication to which we are not privy. Is it possible that dumb trees are in contact with the god-entity whose experience is denied to intelligent atheists? 

You're getting dangerously close to the interesting question: Can consciousness be graded? 👍

Edited by joigus
minor humourous addition
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9 minutes ago, joigus said:

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that consciousness, in all likelihood, must be very deeply ingrained in very deep physics. Some level of description in which the boundary between being and knowing gets blurry.

Are you implying some kind of panpsychism in which consciousness is some fundamental feature of existence and is in all things, just to greater or lesser extents?

 

11 hours ago, beecee said:

Spiritual basis, or bias?

I always find it weird that we are so bamboozled by consciousness when it is the one thing in existence we have direct of. Taking Kant's idea of phenomena and noumena,  things as we perceive them and things as they truly are, consciousness is one thing we know as noumena. Similar to Descartes' thought that the one thing we cannot doubt is that we experience. That experience may or may not be appropriate to the external world - but the conscious experience itself cannot be doubted. 

Consciousness just seems weird because it's the one thing in the universe we see from the inside out, everything else we see from the outside. That's why i think meditation practices are very useful, and becoming increasingly popular in secular circles from some pretty deep religious roots. There's something empirical about it, you get to observe a mind in detail, but we only ever get a sample size of one.

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8 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

Are you implying some kind of panpsychism in which consciousness is some fundamental feature of existence and is in all things, just to greater or lesser extents?

 

Well, I'm not implying it. It just cropped up somewhere on similar matters and I'm incorporating it to the discussion.

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1 hour ago, joigus said:

only noticed by @studiot

This is not a thread I feel I can usefully contribute to, so I feel honoured to be involved by reference.

I suppose this is because of my propensity to respond to questions where members demand binary, black or white, answers by suggesting that when I look at nature I find many more than 50 shades of grey.

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This is way too deep for me.
I'm still on the fence about free will.
I'll just wait for Eise to tell me what to think about consciousness.

19 minutes ago, studiot said:

I find many more than 50 shades of grey.

Quit introducing your kinky sex life into the discussion 😄 .

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Just now, MigL said:

This is way too deep for me.
I'm still on the fence about free will.
I'll just wait for Eise to tell me what to think about consciousness.

Quit introducing your kinky sex life into the discussion 😄 .

I thought joigus commanded us to think deep thoughts.

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12 minutes ago, studiot said:

I thought joigus commanded us to think deep thoughts.

🤣

I can only quote Christof Koch at this point:

Quote

Consciousness is fundamentally about being, not about doing.

Being sexy?

It's more of a Rod Stewart problem. ;) 

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46 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

It's pay-walled, and I can't see an abstract.

I've caught an abstract from a paper* developing the same idea, apparently:

Quote

Abstract

One challenging aspect of the clinical assessment of brain-injured, unresponsive patients is the lack of an objective measure of consciousness that is independent of the subject’s ability to interact with the external environment. Theoretical considerations suggest that consciousness depends on the brain’s ability to support complex activity patterns that are, at once, distributed among interacting cortical areas (integrated) and differentiated in space and time (information-rich). We introduce and test a theory-driven index of the level of consciousness called the perturbational complexity index (PCI). PCI is calculated by (i) perturbing the cortex with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to engage distributed interactions in the brain (integration) and (ii) compressing the spatiotemporal pattern of these electrocortical responses to measure their algorithmic complexity (information). We test PCI on a large data set of TMS-evoked potentials recorded in healthy subjects during wakefulness, dreaming, nonrapid eye movement sleep, and different levels of sedation induced by anesthetic agents (midazolam, xenon, and propofol), as well as in patients who had emerged from coma (vegetative state, minimally conscious state, and locked-in syndrome). PCI reliably discriminated the level of consciousness in single individuals during wakefulness, sleep, and anesthesia, as well as in patients who had emerged from coma and recovered a minimal level of consciousness. PCI can potentially be used for objective determination of the level of consciousness at the bedside.

It seems to be applicable only to humans --what about octopi, or jellyfish?--, and I don't seem to find the idea of grading levels of consciousness in it.

You know: Does an ant have some kind of limited, more 'pixelated' version of consciousness? That kind of question.

Certainly an ant reacts to past events and is affected in some way by its past, even though it hasn't got a hippocampus...

*Same paper.

 

Edited by joigus
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6 minutes ago, joigus said:

It's pay-walled, and I can't see an abstract.

Try here. They measured EEG responses to trans-cranial magnetic stimulation of the cortex from which they derive a 'consciousness' score. Once you have a score you could grade it. Only in humans here, but no theoretical reason they couldn't try it on an animal with a similar cerebral anatomy to us (a few practical ones though). Presumably cats would have a lower PCI, or algorithmic complexity, unless it turns out that its something analogous to chromosomes and more algorithmic complexity does not necessarily equate to 'more' conscious.  Maybe not jellyfish or ants though, but i guess it's a start.

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The spiritual basis or bias thing was Beecee responding - directly, I think - to the OP, and conflating consciousness with conscience. I thought that was a very interesting idea. 

As for grading consciousness, I'm all for it. That is to say, I'm sure it comes in degrees as well as flavours, so that a classification could be done.  Unfortunately, it would be done by humans who [naturally] assume they're at the tippy-top and all the other kinds of consciousness must be rated on a scale of pond-slime = 0 ______  H.sapiens = 100. I don't think that would work. 

BTW _ I'm picturing an awfully wide range of possible abuses in such a study - every one of which would be perpetrated "in the service of science" (curiosity, plus if we can show a possible military or crowd-control application, the funds will flow...) .

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IIT (see the Koch interview posted earlier) does sort of "grade" consciousness.....

 

Quote

CK: Well, we now have a proper theory of consciousness in hand that relates specific neural circuits to specific aspects of any one experience. The book describes the Integrated Information Theory (IIT), a quantitative, rigorous, consistent and empirically testable theory that starts with experience and proceeds to the underlying neuronal mechanisms. “Integrated information” is a mathematical measure quantifying how much any system, no matter how simple or how complex, is determined by its past state and how much it can influence its future, its intrinsic causal power. Any system that has this potential is conscious. The larger the system’s integrated information, referred to by the Greek letter phi (pronounced fi), the more conscious the system is. If something has no causal power upon itself, such as the neural networks that underlying machine learning, its phi is zero. It doesn’t feel like anything to be this thing.

Quote

....The theory lets you build a consciousness-meter, a practical device that can tell whether patients unable to signal by speech, hands or eye movements, either because they are anesthetized or because their brain is severely injured (such as persistent vegetative, minimal conscious or locked-in state patients) are conscious or not. This method, dubbed zap-and-zip, is now being evaluated at a number of clinical centers in the US and in Europe.

 

AFAICT, phi has no upper boundary so IIT wouldn't be putting puny humans at any pinnacle.   

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I like that man's approach. Here is another article

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The philosopher John Searle, in his review of Consciousness, asked, "Why isn't America conscious?" After all, there are 300 million Americans, interacting in very complicated ways. Why doesn't consciousness extend to all of America?

I wonder. Maybe it does, as it does to a forest. But that would be a very loosely-connected network, while; thus, a low-grade consciousness operating in the background of all the individual tightly-wired (high-grade) consciounesses of its individual members.  Hon Kong's or Iran's national consciousness might be of a higher grade, with more and tighter inter-connections among its "cells". 

It's much easier to think about consciousness as a process than as a thing; it's something neural networks do, rather than something they have. Like vision or language, we tend to use the short-hand description of a complex activity as a single noun, because don't have collective verbs. 

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