What is Consciousness

Why are we conscious in the first place? What is consciousness?

The human body has sensory apparatus that allow us to see and hear and smell and taste and touch. They are not perfect by any means. We can see only within a certain range of wave length; same as our hearing. Taste smell and touch are limited as well. These limitations isolate us. They skew our perspective on the world.

We also have needs. Those needs are manifest as feelings: Hunger, too cold, too hot, etc. Needs require a resolution and force us to do things like seek shelter or food. This reinforces the idea of individualism and: Us against the world. Even the most basic life form has needs as well as pre-programmed genetic likes and dislikes. Even they have to self aware and have a rudimentary memory if they are going to avoid banging their heads against the same rock all the time.

The main component here is the brain and specifically the capacity for memory storage and information processing. Without memory there is no self as such. Memory gives coherence to it all; and as it happens, the memories we have are memories of what has happened to our system; to us.

So consciousness emerges from retaining memory of the events that the system has been subjected to due to need and desire. (both genetic and learned) It also requires a brain to house memory in and a set of sensors to view the world with. It also requires a way to process information.

It also comes from being isolated as a system.

But how did our particular consciousness develop to the point where we are now? Language. The capacity for language increases the ability to process information, dissect it, compare it, and pass it on. It is not only that language is good for telling others what is going on. It is good for telling ourselves what is going on.

We all run an inner dialogue. We use it to solve problems, deliberate about issues, remember to take out the trash, organize our lives. Inner dialogue is almost always verbal. That’s why people sometimes talk to themselves out loud.

Without language we wouldn’t have the same inner dialogue we do now. It might be a form of symbols and emotion. We certainly wouldn’t be able to make an appointment for a meeting to discuss plans for a new sky scraper.

Are we really individuals? The answer is both yes and no. We are a system of cells and electro-chemical energy. Each cell in our body dies eventually and a new one is born to replace it. In some parts of the body cells are replaced faster and more often than in others. We are not the same person or system from one day to the next, from one year to the next. You are not the same person you were when you were born. All those cells are long dead and replaced. You are not the same person you were an hour ago.

The only thing that gives the impression of coherence is our memory and conditioning, both environmental and genetic. But the main element here is memory. Without a memory there can be no “I”.

We are certainly an individual material object. So we are real and we exist. But the subjective I is an illusion in many ways. The ever changing system is you. But what is the I? What part of us is that subjective I?  Again, that “I” is a set of conditions. The subjective arises from the objective. Consciousness is an emergent property of energy under specific circumstances. For our consciousness to exist it requires a material brain with memory capacity.

It is my opinion that if you give something sensory apparatuses to perceive the world, a memory, and needs with consequences that force it to fulfill those needs: you will have a rudimentary self aware individual.

Programming is not good enough, which is why AI will never succeed in creating sentient beings until it can give them real needs. Without them there is no motivation to do anything, or to learn anything. Needs are our driving force.

Without stimulus we would sit and do nothing at all. If you don’t itch, you don’t scratch. No need to. But if you do itch, the feeling demands you scratch, and when you do you are rewarded. Scratching feels good, while an itch feels uncomfortable.

Needs are a form of conflict and conflict always demands a resolution. Chaos breeds order. Conflict breeds new order. This is basic chaos theory. Chaos theory is not about chaos as much as it is about order.

So the human “I” is a set of conditions and something of an illusion on the one hand, but humans are objective material things so we do exist as real individuals. That sounds like yes individuality is an illusion and no it is not.

The human brain is an amazing thing. It is my contention that the brain was originally developed to serve the cells. Like a government is supposed to serve the people. Our brains create a world for us from the limited information they can gather,

In sleep we dream. The brain again creates worlds for us even though it is cut off from the outside world. That is one of it its functions. It has gotten good at imagination.

The other prime function of the brain is protection of the system at all costs. Our brains have turned the tables. Our brains now believe they are what must be protected. They, not the system is the most important thing. From that we have created souls, and gods, just so the brain or “I” can cheat death.

In the words of a good friend of mine: “No one gets out of here alive.” 

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14 comments

Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 5 years ago from SE MA

"It is my opinion that if you give something sensory apparatuses to perceive the world, a memory, and needs with consequences that force it to fulfill those needs: you will have a rudimentary self aware individual."

Exactly. There is no "mystery of consciousness". It's just feedback and echoes.


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

What I am most interested in right now is finding to way to show that automatic response is the root of intentional response. That intentional response is just a more complex version of automatic response.

It would be nice to get that framework sorted out. ;)


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

You can see when you turn on the light. Just as you need light to see you need consciousness to be aware in this physical world. We are the aliens they seek in the stars. We wear very elaborate astronaut suits that exactly fit the earth's environment. The suits are so elaborate the people wearing them sometimes believe they are the suits they wear. We shed our suits when we die and return from whence we came. maybe we are just elaborate probes and the consciousness you speak of is actually the probe used by whatever sent us here. So in effect we are the light that allows the observer behind us to see. Meditate on this and imagine the possibility of the computer ever knowing its user! This is a great hub and I can see how sincere you are from the way you write.You have gained another follower for this. Voted up and away!


Jewels profile image

Jewels 5 years ago from Australia

I have an expanded take on consciousness because of meditation practices. The brain being the receptor for thought and not where thoughts are created. Consciousness is a fascinating subject, one which my teacher is dissecting nicely with the help of his students!


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

In my hub http://hubpages.com/literature/Consciousness-Is#co... I make no attempt to define or label consciousness and that is why I use the words consciousness is... and no more. I see you were not interested in my comment 3 months ago! Hmmm...


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

I am, actually. For some reason I did not see the last few comments on this hub till now. Or perhaps at the time I meant to reply and thought I had. I apologize and shall remedy the situation.

I know you didn't define consciousness and that's what I wanted to get your opinion on. But you say you can not define it as it just is. To me everything has a cause so finding it tells us a lot about it.

At any rate, on to answering these replies.


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

"You can see when you turn on the light. Just as you need light to see you need consciousness to be aware in this physical world."

I disagree. You need awareness, which is different than consciousness though related. All biological beings are aware but not necessarily conscious in the way we are. So we can see light and be aware of it without any deliberation at all.

Some states of meditation can bring us there. It is a nonjudgmental state. However we need judgment to function in our daily lives. The trick is to make them good ones.

I think you have completely misunderstood me in a sense, which is making it hard for you to see my point. I do not put consciousness in the foreground. It is a tool. It is not the height of what we are but a tool to use to discover what we are as well as what reality is.

We live mostly in the subconscious on auto pilot. That's here we often have to make judgments on the fly. And it is this auto pilot that has to be educated by the conscious process.

"We are the aliens they seek in the stars. We wear very elaborate astronaut suits that exactly fit the earth's environment. The suits are so elaborate the people wearing them sometimes believe they are the suits they wear. We shed our suits when we die and return from whence we came. maybe we are just elaborate probes and the consciousness you speak of is actually the probe used by whatever sent us here."

I have a more down to earth view as you might expect. Actually your analogy is exactly what Scientology believes.

To me there is no separation between the body and the mind. Death is death and there is no mechanism I have seen by which we will wake up dead. Of course I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Again you know my view on this. We are nature so we never leave it and never go back to it. You can't go back t o something you never left. The energy that is us merges with other systems after death and so lives eternally. But not as an "I" or self.

What if anything of our experience is written or encoded on that energy is up for debate. How it would affect the world or indeed the totality if that were the case is a subject for further study if it is found that such a thing happens.

For now it is interesting speculation.

"This is a great hub and I can see how sincere you are from the way you write.You have gained another follower for this. Voted up and away!

Thank you for that and as you know I am a follower of yours as well and love your hubs. ;)


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Jewels

"I have an expanded take on consciousness because of meditation practices. The brain being the receptor for thought and not where thoughts are created. Consciousness is a fascinating subject, one which my teacher is dissecting nicely with the help of his students!"

Thank you for this comment and I am sorry I am so late in answering it.

Yes, consciousness is an amazing subject. But I would like you clarify what you mean by: "The brain being the receptor for thought and not where thoughts are created."

Where are they created if not the brain? I'm curious.


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

Slarty says:

You can't go back to something you never left. The energy that is us merges with other systems after death and so lives eternally. But not as an "I" or self.

These words of yours are brilliant I totally agree though it seems you don't see that I agree. I do however feel that we come back. Again and again because we are addicted to the illusion ...


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

LoL.. We seem to agree on a lot and have a lot of misunderstandings as well. We do indeed come from very different approaches.

To me reincarnation as such is an ongoing process long before death. It starts probably before birth or soon after. Energy leaves us all the time to merge with other systems later on.

If there were a kind of reincarnation as it is usually thought of it would probably be of a conglomerate of different former people's energy perhaps? ;)

I'm not sure what your opinion of soul is though.


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Oh yes, and of course reincarnation is happening all the time IN us as well in that case, as we constantly take in new energy to replace what has left. Thereby possibly taking in energy that has belonged to others of the past.

Perhaps we can read the encoding at times. Perhaps feelings like having been somewhere before are due to that process?

Of course we would not be the only ones to have ever encoded the energy that is part of us.

These ideas are fun to speculate about.


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

I am interested to know more about you Slarty. Perhaps you too might wish to know a little bit about the person behind the words we exchange. here is a little glimpse into my world: http://hubpages.com/@goyakla


Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Yes! How delightful! Thanks. It seems i have a lot of reading to do. ;)


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

You are me and I am you and it is scary but also beautiful!If you know what I mean.

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