On consciousness

 Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death

The quest to understand consciousness

These questions appear here. I have decided to combine the two because they deal with the same subject matter, that is, consciousness. We all must be aware that this happens to be one of the questions that our species has been attempting to answer for centuries if not millenia and as such a blog post by yours truly would not be sufficient in dealing with this problem. Having said that, we will then attempt to give the question an attempt.

I am not a neuro-scientist and so in order to answer this question, I would first like us to look at the definition of consciousness, definitions that we will use for the purposes of this post. There are many definitions of consciousness and I will list a few here then continue to answer the above questions and I hope you will excuse the digression.

consciousness is a schematic model of one’s state of attention

the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself

sentience,awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind

Looking at the definitions above, one thing is evident, that is, that consciousness is intricately associated with awareness and the state of the brain. It is a brain state and does not exist separately as an entity independent of the brain.

The second question I will answer to the negative. To put it in perspective, I will quote a few passages from the lecture on death by Mangasarian. 

He writes of the ego

I care not if the loftiest, the freest, the fairest portions of my mind be eternally living and radiant in the supreme gladnesses, they are no longer mine; I do not know them. Death has cut the network of nerves or memories that connected them with the I know not what centre wherein lies the sensitive point which I feel to be all myself. They are now set loose floating in space and time, and their fate is unknown to me as that of the most distant constellations. Anything that occurs exists for me only upon the condition that I be able to recall within that mysterious being which is I know not where precisely nowhere, which I turn like a mirror about this world whose phenomena take shape only in so far as they are reflected on it.

And elsewhere he writes, which I agree with

it seems that a survival with our present consciousness is as impossible and as incomprehensible as total annihilation.

I don’t think I need to say more than I have already said above in answer to the questions even though my answers are brief.



Categories: Knowledge, Science

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33 replies

  1. As Sam Harris puts it, the brain, if injuried almost always loses function. Injuries here there and about in the brain cause various losses of function. This has been studied for maybe 150 years at this point. So, if someone dies and stops sending blood to the brain (or due to severe brain injury) their consciousness is to survive and function independently of the brain? Who dreams this shit up? Most of this stuff sounds like wishful thinking based on fear of death.

  2. One of my brother’s died in a car accident when he was 18. He was on life support for three days and all that time the electroencephalogram was a single flat line.

    When the lights go out…it is over.

    • Sorry for your loss my good friend.

      When the lights go out…. well it’s done. To think differently about this is to go into absurdity

      • Thank you, Mak it was a long time ago,and to date my brother has never offered any “advice” from the other side, that’s for sure!
        If he ever does, you can bet your bottom dollar I shall keep it to myself
        🙂

        • I have waited for messages from the other side from among others my mother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and none of them has seen it fit to do so.
          If in the course of time one does appear and am sure it’s not my mind playing games on me, I will change my view

  3. Re: the first question, I’ve had people ask: If one neuron isn’t conscious then how can a whole bunch together be? Their conclusion is there must be something else (supernatural?).

    A good question in response is: No one car part (muffler, wheel, etc.) is capable of sustained 100 kph speed, so how can a bunch of car parts together (i.e. an assembled car) be able to travel at high speed? Do cars run on supernatural power? (If so, mechanics are frauds.)

  4. I see consciousness as nothing but the brain sensing its own activity; a momentarily delayed feedback mechanism, an echo reaching back from the thing we can never experience: the present.

    • That would certainly explain the ringing in my ears…

      Seriously though, very well put. You have a way with words Zande.

      • Logan, I just want to know if my brief answer did justice to your question or if you have follow up questions that you would like we address?

        • I reblogged it here and presented a follow-up challenge:

          http://duckrabbits.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/on-consciousness/

          I realize that by defining my own terms, it may seem like I’m stacking the deck, but hopefully by choosing a qualified philosopher’s terms I may still be playing fair. Answer if you’d like and as you see fit, but I think I get the gist of your thoughts on the matter. Thanks for responding!

          • Having looked at the next question, I think you are still playing fair. While I was trying to answer your question yesterday, I spent some time to look at what has been written on the subject. There were thousands of online journals that I didn’t have time to go through but I managed to read the articles by Chalmers, looked at TED talks on the question and even shared on such talk.
            As he says of the hard question, yours truly, for the time being will agree with him. It will require that I spend a lot of time than I can afford now to do the question any justice.

    • The funny thing about life is we live in the now but it passes so fleetingly fast we are almost always behind it, as you delayed feedback

      • We can’t actually experience the present. In all reality we can’t even be sure there is a “present.” We’re a receiving and processing machine powered by a heat engine. Light has a fixed speed so even before protons have hit our eyes the ‘present’ has already moved on. It takes, however, an eternity for those protons to be processed through sorting rooms then sent to neural interpreters. By this point our ‘present’ is nearly 1/8 of a second into what we already consider the ‘past.’ The other senses are much slower. Kinda’ odd.

  5. Sleep studies have shined some light on this. When we sleep, our brains remain highly active yet we are unconscious. That seems incongruous. However, the answer appears to be the intercommunication between brains functions which partially shuts down during sleep. In other words, our brain is still working but it ceases to talk to itself.

  6. Reblogged this on Duck rabbits and commented:
    A brief but honest response. I’ll admit I included the last question in a (possibly fruitless) attempt to drudge up an admission from a self-proclaimed atheist as to even the slightest possibility of a vague definition of the misnomer ‘afterlife.’ And now that I’ve stated it as such, I doubt I’ll receive anything less than a blunt and unwavering ‘no,’ but I’ll hold on to hope.

    In response to the first question though, Mugatu (as I like to think of him) has only tackled the ‘easy problem’ of consciousness as described by David Chalmers (http://duckrabbits.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/where-is-my-mind). Namely, he has outlined why he believes that the outward appearance of consciousness is merely a brain state, which is all but unarguable. He, possibly for brevity’s sake, did not address what Chalmers calls the ‘hard problem,’ that is, the qualia of one’s subjective experience, which he states, and I agree for the most part, has no physical or chemical counterpoint in the brain, or in physical reality at all. Chalmers argues that these phenomena cannot and will not be found in physical reality, as their definition restricts them to metaphysics, but I’m sure my friends at EoA will have some arguments against this. So, as I have nothing else to add to Makagutu’s response, let’s see if anyone will tackle Chalmer’s ‘hard problem.’

  7. We have all been slimed by Christianity and other religions, and contaminated with the concept of the supernatural: “There are things that are, and then other things that aren’t…but somehow are anyway.” After your brain has been acid washed with this absurdity, how can it function properly? Even those of us who were raised atheist have nonetheless tromped through the cultural sewage, but some of us were appropriately dressed by our parents in raincoats and hip waders and come more easily to cleanliness of perception. Relatively little crazy-making, religious corruption held me back in my progress towards the obvious:

    Yes, consciousness exists in this reality as “reality” is all inclusive. (If there were something real that wasn’t part of “this” reality, then the incompleteness of our reality would be a fact of our reality and the external reality would necessarily be a fact of our reality and therefore included in our reality.)
    Consciousness is an individual brain function (or at most a body function) which exists within the body.
    Consciousness cannot continue to exist after death because death is the line beyond which consciousness cannot be rebooted in the body on which that consciousness completely and utterly depends.

  8. I can’t believe I missed this post when it came up. Here’s something interesting on the qualia on one’s experiences: by intercepting the signal in the visual cortex we can reconstruct what people are looking at.
    http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/09/22/brain-movies/
    And there’s progress on doing that in dreams as well.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22031074

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