Consciousness, Lynchpin of Worldviews

Maybe what it really all comes down to is an understanding of consciousness. If you can convince yourself that consciousness is merely a biochemical illusion (as limejelly), then it is a short logical jump to nihilsim:

I don’t believe there is a universal good, except insofar as we define one. … I also reject the idea that life itself has meaning per se. My life has no absolute meaning. … There is no fundamental point in my existing. I just am. … In my hello world post I stated that I believe that the only point to anything is to enjoy yourself, and that everything spins out from that. [from this thread]

In particular, religious pursuits are a waste of time, as science holds all of the answers (at least to the HOW questions which have answers).

However, if you are convinced (as forester) that you are more than than the sum of your biochemical parts, that mind and self and will are apart from our gently electrified bags of meat (there we go again limejelly, let’s coin this mutha!), then that allows for (nay obliges) a metaphysical world with a creator God who defines universal good, absolute meaning, etc.

There is an article on this topic in the current Discover magazine, under the tagline “Can a random collection of data be conscious?” Jaron Lanier presents some interesting thought experiments concerning attempts to capture consciousness by reproducing neural processes. I’m not sure I understand his conclusions (“My point is that you can neither reason nor design experiments to study core beliefs about the self or consciousness” — so why did you bother writing the article?), but it is relevant to consider the consequences of the consciousness-vs-illusion debate:

Dan Dennett and I have argued about this idea over the years. He takes the view that consciousness is a cognitive illusion and a nuisance; jettison consciousness and it’s easier to design an airtight philosophy. What Dan sees as a road to clarity, though, seems to me to be taking the easy way out. He worries that ideas about consciousness and other matters of faith pave the way to weird and dangerous superstitions.

Whoever Dan Dennet may be, I think he has made the error of choosing what to believe based on preferred consequences. It’s a not-too-uncommon fallacy nowadays. In the old days, it was understood that if A–>B, and not B, therefore not A. Mix in a little consumeristic pluralism, and you get: if A–>B, and I prefer not to believe B, then not A.

Backing up a step, if you think (as sheet-music) — wait a minute, if you think, then You! (Is it a coincidence that, although there are languages which generally operate subject-verb-object (English), and there are languages which generally operate subject-object-verb (German), there are no languages (that I ever heard of) that generally operate with subject not first?)

One of the points of this post was originally to mull over the entanglement between consciousness and physicality; mind and body. But upon reviewing all of the other blogs that inspired me, I find that sheet music has already done a pretty good job, in a series of three posts (beginning with the one linked above): 1 2 3.

I would just like to add to that the thought that, just as there is obviously more to ourselves than just our bodies, there is more to ourselves than just our minds, or souls, or wills. The afterlife will be spent, not as disembodied souls playing harps on clouds, but in glorified, resurrected bodies, in a New Heaven and a New Earth. (Even the damned will be resurrected!) I wonder if God didn’t design us so that our bodies and minds are linked — neither can exist without the other. This would suggest that, after death, we would indeed spend a period of oblivion (the duration of which, we would of course not perceive) until the second coming (even apart from forester’s conviction of the persistence of his self (which doesn’t convince me; I think it is more useful to search out the origins, rather than the ends, of consciousness), this concept has some problems).

All this to say, maybe we should focus our efforts on the nature of consciousness, rather than the existence of God.

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25 Responses

  1. Yes, let’s do that.

    Oh good grief, here I go again:

    I would like to tweak your representation of my position a trifle. I assert that religious pursuits are a waste of time with respect to enhancement of the experience of mankind. My opinion is that religion is a construct forged of primitive wonder and enthusiasm, manipulated by the wiley and absorbed by the receptive. If you find this offensive, then you are responding emotionally, because I seem to be belittling something you consider to be at the core of your life. But I think you’d prefer me to be honest, and there is no shame in succumbing to such a powerful beast. And of course you may wish to believe that I am not being honest to myself (I think the only person to suggest this was Simpleton?). That is your prerogative. You know that it was and is and always will be God. I’m not going to be able to dissuade you from that, and you’re not going to persuade me to believe in God.

    Science does not yet hold all the answers, and may never satisfy our curiosity entirely, but I think it is the means by which we’ll find them. Note that with the growth of our capacity to reason and represent, our curiosity as a species will also expand as it already does on the scale of the individual through education, and possibly beyond the feasibility of measurement by forms we can fashion or find. I do not demand satisfaction. I do enjoy it though, and find it in the process of finding intermediate results and approximations.

    So yes, RubeRad, let’s think about consciousness. I have no idea where to start.

  2. That doesn’t seem like much of a tweak, and it’s patently false. There are millions of people who attest that their experience is enhanced by religion.

    But I am not emotionally offended; I expect no less of you than to respectfully state what you believe. If you find anything I say offensive, I suggest you reconsider your stance on meaningfulness.

    Science does not yet hold all the answers

    You persist in denying that there are questions that science cannot answer! For instance, is there a God? Asking science to reach beyond its intrinsic limits to address that question is like asking a microphone “Is there light?”

    In terms of where to start in terms of thinking about consciousness, I’ll violate the trial lawyer’s rule of never asking questions to which you don’t know the answer, and reask a question you asked before: Are cats conscious? We can even take it up a notch: are chimpanzees conscious?

  3. Yup, individuals’ experiences are enhanced when they take religion on board. No question there. But, I think it’s a local maximum, and the search has to go further. I like your microphone/light analogy. But, we’re still building science. There are indeed questions which science cannot currently answer. To reiterate – your explanation is complete, but may be wrong. It would be downright stupid not to pursue all the angles that make sense. Evolution doesn’t make sense to some religious types because they think it denies God. Well, it denies a certain concept of God. Science is incomplete, and may be right or wrong. If there is a single God, then the concept of his being infinite is downright unsatisfying to me. So that makes it incomplete from my perspective. Anyway, back to consciousness.

    OK, I reckon chimpanzees are probably conscious, but I’m entirely open to persuasion in either direction. Cats train humans, but that doesn’t mean they’re conscious. But I don’t think it matters if we are the only conscious creatures on the planet. Maybe I’m the only conscious creature on the planet.

    Can you demonstrate to me that you’re conscious?

  4. Hasn't my blog passed a Turing test for you yet? I suppose there is the possiblity that I'm being held hostage by conscious chimps, who are extracting by torture just enough facts of our personal history to make it seem like you are conversing with the body that you used to tramp down to the sandwich shop with.

    Don't I speak (type) ideas that you couldn't have thought of yourself? Questions that make you examine your worldview from new angles? Who came up with the specific phrase "gently electrified bags of meat" (cmon, let's keep repeating it, until it gets Googlable! (hey, it's there already!))? Even though it was me, I was largely inspired by something you said somewhere, that I can't find at the moment, that included "bags of meat". So I guess that's not a good example, because it is a short hop from something you yourself said.

    But you know what I mean (or is it only what you mean?)

  5. This reminds me of a boxing match where one boxer’s whole strategy is to counter-punch. He knows that if he tries to initiate a flurry he will get hurt. So his only tactic is to counter. What I am saying (and obviously the analogy is not equivocal) is the limejelly has never presented a fully orbed doctrine of man. We are being forced to inductively determine it by piecing together disparate elements from scattered comments. It also seems to grow (counter punch) as necessary each time the Christian worldview raises new challenges.

    I think that what is most needed from limejelly is to include in his doctrine of man some kind of rationale for believing that all men are the same, that his doctrine of man applies to all men.

    I am not trying to be cute. I really think it would help.

    As for RubeRad’s suggestion of zeroing in on consciousness rather than the existence of God, I think that is a good idea – primarily because God, outside of revelation via Jesus Christ, is unknowable (which is not to say He is unbelievable). I also back RubeRad’s move here on the grounds that limejelly (the one we have on the operating table) has constructed a god of his own imagination and says this god doesn’t exist. Moving the field to consciousness would get around that.

    As for RubeRad’s reference to the “millions of people who attest that their experience is enhanced by religion” I would politely object. That may be true for man-made religion – i.e. works based religions where man derives satisfaction from believing that they are appeasing some god of their imagination by working for it – but in the case of Christianity, it is not so. (Although there is a rampant virus in 21st century Christendom that believes that Christianity is somehow therapeutic). The fact of Christianity is that you lose your life. You suffer with Christ. You wrestle with difficulty. You rail at God for his abandonment at the worst times. Eat, drink and be merry Christianity is a false religion. The idea that people chose to be Christians goes hand in hand with the idea that Christianity is therapeutic. Christians don’t chose this.

    Getting back to the topic, then: Start a discussion about consciousness with this: how is man different from, say, a bicycle?

  6. Rube: I don’t think either party has said anything the other definitively couldn’t have thought of. The weight of evidence supports a model in which we’re separate entities. It suggests that I’m having a lively discussion with a guy I’ve shared controversial dietary hints with, and whose child I have witnessed recognizing his own crankyness. I’m very happy to go with that model.

    Bruce: Yes, what I did above there was another example of the parry allowing the sparring partner to select a punch. I feel that a crucial flaw in your approach is to insist that you know what’s going on (God), and synthesizing details to fit (dry bones) in a manner that requires tortuous leaps of faith. You can reflect that back on me and say that, for example, I demand that evolution is the mechanism that led to us, and I postulate nebulous connections between forms. Perhaps the key difference is that I am happy for them to be postulates subject to revision, as opposed to demanding they be facts that we can derive some kind of confort or at least certainty from.

    Now, consciousness:

    Our brains have appropriate and sufficient complexity to process information. The question perhaps becomes who or what is interested in that information. We’re heading toward questions which I think I can’t answer, but it will be interesting to try.

    Perhaps there are two things we could consider. If we could make a computer conscious, what would the program have to be doing. If we can’t, what’s special about the neural network? Bear in mind that we can simulate neural networks on computers. So, we appear to be asking questions about something which we can reason about in an abstract manner, worrying about implementation details once we have any kind of guess as to how it might be happening.

    I guess I’m using your reponses to my quips to decide for me where to look next? There’s a huge space of concepts to explore, and I don’t know which is the right direction to start in. You seem to be happy to prod back emphatically.

    You’ve asked for a rationale for believing me. Don’t believe me – keep thinking it through just like you are doing. Let’s just keep talking. Each new traversal of our issues reveals new twists and turns. I’m finding our conversations stimulating.

  7. I’m surprised you don’t automatically attribute consciousness to chimps! I find it difficult to discount it in them, and I see this as a problem for my philosophy/theology, as man is supposed to be unique in having an eternal soul/spirit.

    I guess what we need before we can proceed is a working definition of ‘consciousness’ — and what a multi-faceted elephant that must be!

    Another factor that you possibly can’t take into account is what having children teaches you about self. There’s no better way to be convinced of the existence of other selfs than to be confronted with the nasty reality of your child’s will! With each child it is a shocking re-awakening that, even though, in a sense, T & I created their body, we certainly have did not create their persons! They are (to different extents, and in unique ways) little individuals, always striving to assert autonomy. How much we can learn about ourselves from children!

  8. I find it hard to discount, too, but since I don’t have a model for consciousness yet, and I can’t experience theirs immediately, I have to be open minded. We can sensibly have a go at this model. I spent some time thinking about it while shaving this morning, and noted concurrent shaving, feeling for stubble, talking to myself about consciousness, and visualizing neurons. Great fun!

    Perhaps a child’s consciousness is peculiarly raw; untempered by reasoning. You did create their persons, old bean – they arose from your DNA and your influence during their upbringing. OK, you didn’t design your DNA and cellular mechanisms, but a carpenter makes a bed despite not having made the fancy pants elecric screwdriver doohickey.

  9. Perhaps a child’s consciousness is peculiarly raw

    I would guess rather that a child’s consciousness (especially the very youngest) is obstructed (damped? hobbled?) by their underdeveloped bodies (senses, brains, guts?). It is interesting to note that, in a sense, the very youngest infant is all consciousness; In The Beginning, self is all-encompassing, but it is a specific developmental step wherein the child learns that self is separate from other selves. This is linked I believe to separation anxiety.

    they arose from your DNA and your influence

    I had no control over how my DNA recombinated, and it is too often painfully obvious that my influence is powerless to affect their intrinsic personalities. I do what I can to make their behavior conform to societal norms, but there’s no amount of nurture that will overcome their nature. #1 and #2 are like night and day (and it appears that #3 is a pretty dark twilight himself).

    So one definition of consciousness that would definitely be too limited for our purposes would be the medical one, i.e. the opposite of unconsciousness. Surely chimps and cats and probably even birds or fish can become unconscious if you hit them hard enough on the head (and may regain consciousness if you don’t hit them too hard!)

  10. I think we have to entertain the possibility that a newborn is not conscious in the same sense that we are. I can’t define that sense closely. They may actually not have consciousness, this to be kindled by imitation of parental blithering leading to formation of the necessary connections.

    A baby cries in a heart-rending manner. Did it mean to? Of course not. There are a bunch of basic connections set up in its brain, and over time it connects the squidgy feeling with a full nappy, or the provision of food with the assuaging of … call it “hunger”.

  11. Infant #1 is on wet-nurse’s nipple. Infant #1 eats till full. Infant #1 is removed from nipple. Infant #1 is content. Infant #1 sees next infant mount said nipple. Infant #1 screams in envious rage at infant #2 that infant #2 is getting his nipple.

    Of course, Augustine may have been lying when he wrote that he witnessed the above scene.

  12. Observing the earliest time at which this occurs would give some clue as to the age at which we recognise things, and hence display consciousness. I can’t come up with a consciousness-free explanation for it off hand. Perhaps we’d hypothesize envy, anger, sadness, loss, abandonment, but these may be too sophisticated. Any other suggestions?

  13. I think we have to entertain the possibility that a newborn is not conscious in the same sense that we are.

    As I sit here reading these comments with #3 on lap, I am patting his belly in a rhythmic way and he lets out a little chortle. Why would he laugh at that?

    I think that babies are conscious in the very same way that we are, but don’t have enough bodily control and don’t have the same knowledge or language yet (although, they learn/know/respond to a lot of words before they can ever form their mouths and tongues around even simple words like no and mama). All my children have expressed their wants as newborns. “Hunger” is not some esoteric idea to them; it is a real need that they will try to communicate to others to get met. They do this in a lot of ways and if you learn how to pay attention to your baby, you can see that they perform some behaviors before their last resort of crying. As a first-time mother, I did not notice these cues. By the third time, I was well aware of the hunger cues and could feed him before he got so agitated.

    There is not only “hunger” and discomfort from a dirty diaper (although not one of my boyz have been bothered by this), they also show anger, surprise, joy, pain, love and affection, humor, and frustration- real emotions just like adults have- but they haven’t yet learned self-control for their emotions or for bodily functions. Yes, babies are limited due to their inexperience, ignorance, and lack of control, but they are full-fledged humans. You can see quite well if you go to a nursery. Once kids are mobile enough, they spend most of their time trying to take toys away from other kids-and they aren’t nice about it! They bang each other with the toy they are fighting over, they poke each other in the eyes, when they have teeth they bite; all for their own satisfaction and pleasure of getting what they want (sin stains us all from birth). They also show some of the more pleasant characteristics of humans; they smile when you walk in the room, laugh when you pat their bellies or make stupid faces at them and it gives you a warm and tender feeling in your heart the first time they can give you that sloppy, wet kiss or the first time they do something intentionally to try and make you laugh.

    Babies need direction, teaching and discipline, and maturation of their bodies and minds to a certain level in order to do some things that we all take for granted like walking, self-control when angered, reading, or thinking abstractly. This does not make them less conscious, just less in control of their being.

  14. I imagine by now he’s as conscious of such a tickling as I would be – he’s had some time to make connections. You’re not talking about a newborn there.

    Although strictly, a chortle is endearing and hence beneficial to survival through bond formation. It might have been worth hard coding that in. But I don’t believe that’s the case. It seems like too rich a behaviour.

    “Once kids are mobile enough” is way way past the time I’m talking about.

    I’ve only been around three newborns so far with any regularity. For a period, an infant moves at random, but clamps onto a nipple or finger, and makes loud noises when someone has to do something for it. It’s up to said slave to work out what that is by trial, error, or a good sniff. Eventually you begin to see suggestions of interaction. A child looks at you and foveates. We have seven layers in the visual cortex which automatically extract features, and when an image isn’t moving, especially when it fires off a memory, it’s mroe realaxing. Does having memory suggest consciousness? My PC has memory, but not an automatic background search against everything that happens. But I could write one in. It would take time, and it might seem like the PC is paying attention to an outside observer. Start the search with broad brush hash keys, then look harder when you get a hit. That would result in a brief glance. You then need more code to do soemthing with it.

    Perhaps awareness and consciousness are disjoint. If the baby is conscious in the womb – and it might be; I’m looking at the range of possibilities for things that we don’t know, then awareness will be very limited.

    The reason we’re discussing this is to try to imagine what the difference between conscious and not conscious is. It might be related to something about being unconscious, but I have a feeling that’s more to do with awareness being switched off at a wild stab.

  15. Yes, it’s true, much of what I talked about was not about newborns. So let’s talk about them. I still say that they are conscious and aware-even in the womb. When does consciousness exactly begin? I don’t have a definitive answer to sway the entire world but I think it begins at conception just as your gender is assigned then (underdeveloped as it is).

    Here are some things that I think are evident about consciousness in utero. Eyes are underdeveloped in newborns. Let’s talk about hearing. Babies in utero can hear (and feel vibrations). They hear all kinds of things going on around outside the womb. I remember going to the movies when pregnant with #1. Action movies with lots of loud explosions got him moving around a lot. I assume he was bothered by the noise. After #1, movies weren’t really a factor. #2 and #3 had the privilege of going to choir practice with me. They were both pretty active at those times too. I won’t assume they were bothered, but rather enjoying it. All of them stopped moving when the noise quieted down and began moving again when the noise began again. They were aware of those particular external stimuli. Not particularly swaying, but evidence nonetheless. Newborns also cue in on specific voices that they heard in utero. See forester’s blog about this http://seedlings.wordpress.com/2006/05/25/at-first-sight/
    and Reuben has noticed it too.

    You could say, oh, that’s just some way to bond with the parents, but I’ll go one step further away from the bonding parents. Our #1 is one talkative kid. There are times when he is silent (rarely), but otherwise he’s on volume 11. He blathered on and on during my 9 months of pregnancy. #2 was much quieter, partly because he wasn’t so verbal, partly because when he does speak, it’s speaking not yelling. When #3 was born, he would track #1’s voice as it invariably bounded around the room. #2 was talking a lot more at that point, but he wasn’t nearly as interested in following his noise.

    Many of the things that babies do may seem random or unintentional, but often they are reflexes. Most of these reflexes go away after a couple of months. Some of them are rooting, stepping, the startle reflex, and since I didn’t find a technical term I’ll call it “baby grip of death”.

    Rooting is being able to turn to towards the thing that is brushing against your cheek. This is very helpful for finding your only source of food. Stepping to parents is cute, but doctors can tell if there might be something wrong with the babies brain stem or spinal cord if this doesn’t work as it should. The startle reflex works for loud noises and changes in temperature (like when changing a diaper). You can suspect your baby might have a hearing problem if they don’t startle at loud noises. Your baby can warn you that you’d better hurry up and get me back to a tolerable temperature with that same reflex. The “baby death grip” is cute when they grasp your finger and won’t let go, but they can hold their entire body weight in that one grasp. If they fall, they could grip onto something that could save them from serious injury. All of these reflexes help the baby survive and in a sense, if the parents pay attention and understand, communicate to the parents. I think these reflexes are in place so that parents, especially new and inexperienced parents, don’t starve, hurt or kill their babies more frequently than whatever the current statistics are. I’ve got to stop this comment now because #3 is loudly communicating to me to help him get a need met. Will try to finish up later today.

  16. Cool – I’ll wait ’til you’ve done that.

  17. Okay, back again.

    So these reflexes are there initially, but go away after a few months. By then, the parents have a better idea what to do with a baby and probably have asked questions of others about manners and methods of baby-wrangling. Adults communicate with words. Newborns, lost in their squiggly, mostly uncontrolable body, communicate the best ways they can, mostly through crying, but there are many other ways. They are dependent on a caring person to meet their needs.

    I doubt that you would refute that #1 is conscious. He’s quite self-sufficient in many ways, but if left by himself in the house for a few weeks, he wouldn’t do very well. He would make out alright for a while because we have a lot of Costco sized packages of food at his level- applesauce, fruit cups, peanut butter. I’m sure he’d figure out ways to get up to the taller cabinets with food, but he would be stuck with either opening the packages (jars or difficult plastic wrapping) or not be able to eat the unprepared food items -there’s lots of pasta, but he couldn’t get water to boil and prepare the pasta-even though he can read the box’s instructions. He wouldn’t be able to go to the store and purchase more food if stuff ran out or spoiled.

    #1 can have an engaging conversation with you, read to you, tell you corny jokes, get angry at you, ask for forgiveness for wrongdoings, but he still is just a 5 and 1/2 year old boy. Although he likes to think he’s completely self-sufficient, he isn’t. He still needs his parents (as much as that irks him sometimes). Newborns are completely and utterly dependent on care. Five year olds less so, and teenagers even less, but still in need of guidance, discipline, and care from an elder type person. All are equally conscious; none could (legally in the US) hang out and have a beer with you.

    I’ve been meaning to try and fit my impressions of a documentary called Murderball
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436613/
    into this discussion. When I saw the quadripeligic guys trying to do things like put shoes on or put a shirt on, they reminded me of babies in the sense that their control over their limbs was wobbly and imprecise. It reminded me of a baby trying to get his fist into his mouth. He tries but misses and knocks his lips or nose, tries again and finally gets the fist into his mouth. These guys are conscious, but their ability is hindered by the severity of their injuries. To me, consciousness and ability (do you want to call that awareness?) are different.

    That’s how a newborn is different from a bicycle.

  18. Again, there’s no doubt about the consciousness of your toddlers. #1 was gloriously interactive and responsive in an intelligible manner even when I last saw him! We’re looking at the very early stages, which possibly correspond to the period you speak of where the baby can only communicate through crying. You’ve ascribed consciousness at this stage, and I’m suggesting that they may not be, and in fact I believe they probably are not.

    The comparison with a disabled adult fits with your description of a newborn as conscious and aware but unable to interact coherently. I don’t think there’s any kind of phenomenological link there. The adult has already been through the process of forming consciousness, and exhibits it in a manner which we can observe through interaction over a period.

    Consciousness and ability are indeed different.

    A venus fly trap moves coherently, swiftly and eagerly in response to tasty food, closing vigorously, yet somehow tenderly in the final stages, over its new found sustenance, to wallow in the pleasure of digesting the rich source of nutrients. Yum!

    I would say that a newborn has structures inherent in the brain which, when suitably stimulated, generate connectivity which leads to the thing we call consciousness. A bicycle, quite trivially, does not.

    And this is way before limbs are involved. It may start with sight. I mentioned brief foveation being attributable to pattern matching. We’re looking at possibilities. The God-sourced soul and consciousness doesn’t need discussion. If it’s true, then there it is, and bingo, we don’t have to do any more thinking. I completely understand this. However, there are other explanations, and these don’t denegrate the child.

    So, you think there’s someone already there with desires and intentions in a couple of days old infant, and in fact from day 1 in the womb. I think there’s a person beginning to be pieced together from an aeons evolved, unimaginably complex entity, just like me.

    I don’t think we’ve broached the nature of consciousness.

  19. Wow, my stay-at-home mom neurons are firing! I guess it seems like I am drifting from the newborn topic (sorry,it’s often hard to stay focused on topic because that is not a picture of my daily life) when discussing the older boyz, but really I’m trying to illustrate the point that consciousness and ability are different. You agree with that.

    So, if you agree with that and think that newborns are less conscious than you are, at what point did you (does a person) become conscious? Was it at a specific age? an arbitrary Eureka! moment in your life? at a particular point in brain development? Are people who can’t think abstractly but only concretely not fully conscious? Are people who can’t talk not fully conscious? Are adults with brain damage or injuries not fully conscious? Does consciouness only exist abstractly and not connected to your physical being and if so, then how does it develop from not so much in a newborn to you today? Is your consciousness static or is it still developing? If static, when did it stop developing? Answering some of these questions might help me understand your point of view.

    I was trying to think of an analogy of your view versus my view and came up with:
    I think of consciousness as a sculptor’s idea of a statue and the completed work. The statue “exists” in the mind of the sculptor, but to others it looks like a rock. The sculptor chips away at the rock until the rock becomes the statue.
    To me it seems that your idea of consciousness is process of the rock being chipped away until it looks like a statue.

  20. I do agree with consciousness and ability being different.

    I would like to be able to come up with a description of the(a) point at which a human becomes conscious. I think that’s what this thread may be for. The point at which consciousness is evoked may vary widely from individual to individual.

    Let me leap forward to your analogy, and replace it with a fragmented statue which has all the parts there, but in an arbitrary, loose configuration. Its environment shakes it up – Mom coos and cradles – and a coherent shape begins to form. Now back to your questions.

    I wonder if there is a human who can’t think abstractly. A truly fsacinating thought. Do you have an example in mind? It may be that abstraction is a fundamental of consciousness.

    I don’t think a mute need be less conscious. It’s a very minor interface issue.

    Brain damage could produce a vegetative state, which I imagine is intended to imply lack of consciousness. Variation in level of consciousness between individuals may correlate with level of intelligence – I don’t know.

    I think my consciousness is still developing, but is related to the very first spark of consciousness in that it involves abstraction/representation, and over time I become capable of mentally evoking more complex entities.

    So I’m not chipping away, I’m assembling – making connections. Vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste. What comes immediately after these?

  21. I didn’t specify that I think consciousness is certainly directly connected to our physical being, perhaps in a manner comparable to some extent with the exectution of a program being directly connected to the physical fact of a computer. But, maybe the same consciousness could be implemented in a different medium.

  22. I guess all humans think abstractly to some degree since we have the capacity for language.

    I too think that consciousness is directly connected to our physical being, and as I stated before that my conscious being which is inextricably linked to my body existed at conception. I have been me since I was conceived. Physically, I am very different now than when I was conceived (hoo-boy understatement!), when born, when a toddler, when a child, when a teenager, not so much 10 years ago, hopefully not so much 10 years from now. When I’m elderly, I’ll be different physically, but I’ll still be me.

    Changes to my physical appearance(something fairly minor like getting a haircut or a tattoo or something more drastic like losing a limb or becoming disfigured) can cause people to treat me differently. I may look different, but I would still be me. I may even have grief over the changes to my body and not be able to deal with those changes in an emotionally healthy (appropriate?) way, but I’m still me. I may experience some horrible trauma that causes me to have psychological “issues”, but I would still be me.

    I share DNA with my parents, my brother, and my children, but I am not them and they are not me. Would a clone be me? I don’t know about that one, but I think that even a clone wouldn’t be me, because twins are separate conscious beings with the “same” body.

    Is my consciousness a sum of these human characteristics (intelligence, memories, emotions, language, humor, sociability, ingenuity, desire to worship, self-image, dreams, artistic ability, ability to control desires) which is not an exhaustive list? Are these my consciousness or parts of my brain chemistry? All humans have these characteristics and abilities to some degree, but we are not all the same.

    That’s a good question: could our consciousness be implemented in a different medium? Maybe we need a human body with its human brain. If our consciousness were connected with a dog’s body, would we even think of this question of consciousness or would we be content to just do doggy things? Woof.

  23. Ya, you couldn’t run Quake 4 on a Nintendo 64.

    Are you attributing your consciousness from conception to something like a soul? I would point out that the small number of cells at that point is not running anything with abstractions. Complexity has not yet emerged. It would have to be some kind of magic.

  24. I think in all of this rumination about consciousness, I am realizing that maybe I have aimed us at the wrong target. Sometimes we're talking about 'consciousness', and sometimes maybe 'awareness', and I think (by now) it is pretty evident that these properties exist undiminished even in the womb — although it is also evident that they are not physically possible for a single cell.  I'm not sure where the threshold is, and I doubt we could measure (feasibly or ethically). But I'm not sure it would be philosophically productive even if we could.

    I think that what I was really trying to conceptualize for myself, what it is about being made in God's image that separates us from animals, is will. I could go on about the details of this idea which you guys have helped me refine in my head, but I think it would be better to raise the visibility and re-address this issue with a fresh post…

  25. It is not at all clear that consciousness is “undiminished” in the womb. I don’t know where you got that from. Where did you get that from?

    If you believe that God did it, then trivially you could place consciousness wherever you like. God didn’t do it (I think I get to say that, since you’re unequivocal about being made in God’s image :-), and we’re capable of maintaining things either side of the belief divide without bad feelings), so it is interesting to try to work out where consicousness comes in.

    This may be an inquiry you choose not to get involved in, but I think you’re capable of hypothesizing a situation in which it isn’t magic, and attempting to identify the point at which it emerges. You could then say “right, we found a feasible theory, but I don’t believe it.” Finding such a working hypothesis might or might not challenge the suggestion that God gave us consciousness. Is that scary? (insert reference to post about being wrong here.) I think it’s interesting. If you want now to dismiss the suggestion that consciousness is not there from the moment of conception, then you’ve done it without thinking it though, in my opinion.

    Why would God not have crafted His creation to develop during pregnancy? Maybe you have suggestions to this effect in the Bible.

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