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.”