How do we (atheists) define it?
How do philosophers define it?
How do scientists define it?
How do theologians define it?
How do others, and history and myth define it?
How do YOU, personally define it?
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“Consciousness Group” policy here: https://atheistzone.com/groups/consciousness/forum/topic/consciousness-group-policy/
July 19, 2018 at 7:33 pm #10174
This is not yet a hard science like physics, or astronomy. We can speculate, state opinions, share our emotions and feelings, or share “scientific” discoveries to whatever extent we wish.
I personally believe that consciousness cannot be described as an all or nothing thing, but only as a spectrum of possible experiences, which sometimes can be associated and illustrated empirically with a spectrum of measurements.
For my first post, I choose to wonder about when or how does consciousness begin, particularly with humans. I’m personally sure it fades in somehow, long after the brain starts developing in the fetus. And it ends at brain death that happens to be codified in various state laws, for the purpose of deciding when it’s ok to withdraw life support. (As an aside, could a state use similar end-of-life laws be used to help define when it is or not okay to terminate beginning-of-life during a pregnancy?)
Specifically, I start with an example of something we all experience: laughter. One reason I choose laughter is because–and notice this in the video–laughter is a social thing. It involves both baby and parent(s). Laughter doesn’t even make sense evolutionarilary unless it’s understood within a social context.July 19, 2018 at 7:50 pm #10175
(And I intentionally allowed another variability here, regarding “sleep”. How conscious are we when sleeping or fading in and out of sleep; is dreaming merely an evolutionarily beneficial function that’s useful in unconscious and/or conscious processes?)July 22, 2018 at 12:49 am #10205
Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think
Awareness can be part of it, but it’s much more than that
An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: “When does your baby become conscious?” The premise, of course, was that babies aren’t born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. (According to the article, it is about five months of age). Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn.
Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera—albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don’t become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go.
Scientific American, Full ArticleJuly 22, 2018 at 1:06 am #10206
Great article. I particularly like his explanation of mistaking meta-consciousness with consciousness.
When infants become conscious/meta-conscious (assuming they weren’t when born) is part of one of the annoying pesky questions about consciousness. If children aren’t born conscious then there must be a moment that they become conscious and discovering exactly what changed in the infant to suddenly make them consciouss tells us a lot about consciousness. Only, as it seems with the far majority of biological life, there are rarely absolute cut offs except for instant death (and even then there is possible future reanimation). Even conception and birth lack absolute cut off points.
My instinctive reaction is that, just as with the evolution of the eye as well as the formation of an eye in a fetus, it is impossible to declare when an eye has developed and when the eye-balls that most of us creatures are known for finally emerged through evolution. This is likely the case with consciousness both as it emerged through evolution and in a growing infant. It’s difficult to imagine that one primate was born and was suddenly conscious while every other related primate wasn’t. I think it’s not a stretch to say the same thing about an infant becoming self aware and an agent.
If that is the case it tells us a lot about consciousness. It emerges instead of turning on. It lacks an absolute definition (as most things do anyways). It makes research into theories of consciousness extremely difficult (perhaps futile). And if that is the case then what does it say about degrees of consciousness in infants, what about with mammals like Chimpanzees, dogs and cats. Do infants slowly develop degrees of consciousness or do they cross some fuzzy boundary? Do some mammals even have a sliver of consciousness or was consciousness fully emerged through the evolution of primates? That is, do the fuzzy boundaries of consciousness overlap the evolution of other mammals?
Some argue that we should pick a cutoff point and ignore the relativistic statements that cut off further inquiry. That makes sense for some empirical research, but to fully understand consciousness and its development we absolutely must determine when abouts it emerged through evolution and far more importantly explain when a human agent has developed any consciousness at all, the freedom of self-judgement and decision making for those who aren’t fully consciousness etc.
July 22, 2018 at 3:07 am #10208
- This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by Davis.
Of course the possibility that a baby in the womb has some level of consciousness, no matter how underdeveloped…well; you know where I am going. The awareness component may not be there yet…that is the distinction the author seems to make.July 22, 2018 at 4:16 am #10209
Indeed Robert but the questions I’m talking about start with his question but then go beyond the authors argument and not limiting consciousness to the “experience, rerepresentation, cognitive realisations and evocation.
I admire the guy and his interesting proposal. In any case, we shouldn’t take this article too too seriously. All writings on consciousness are in the realm of the theoretical, even if some part of it is based on strong premises and reasoning and some pioneering empirical research. It’s ironic that the author may not be consciousness of his overstating what is ultimately highly theoretical and his strong bias against others.
What passes for the NCC is liable to be merely the neural correlates of meta-consciousness. The author does a simple hand-wave of a competing methodology and theory when in reality they are both rather crude theories.
Yet, this conflation is disturbingly widespread. I’m not sure how a comparison of two theoretical takes on theoretical explanations of something we little understand could be disturbing.
There is circumstantial but compelling evidence that this is precisely the case. Mixing a disclaimer of low reliability of information with the adjective of precision
Potentially conscious mental activity—in the sense of activity correlated with experiential qualities—may evade recognition as such. Veers into the realm of the undefined with weasel words (as such, in the sense of) and rather vague terms.
I wonder if we would have to direct his attention to his optimistic confidence and bias as otherwise it may escape his attention and remain an un-re-realised experience that is still felt 🙂July 22, 2018 at 5:55 am #10210
I, too, think the author doesn’t have a complete understanding of his proposal(s), but as you point out Davis, the meta-conciousness construct is useful to consider when describing consciousness. I think we still need more depth in understanding various types of self-awareness, e.g. more than just being able to recognize ourselves in the mirror, e.g. exercising our ability to analyze ourselves, relax our selves mindfully during stress, and more. Even empathy requires self-reflection of personal experience; recalling, comparing and contrasting our personal experiences with others.
In a child psych class I’m finishing up, I’ve seen research on “attachment dysfunction”, which can happen (say) as a result of extreme post-partum depression when it grossly inhibits the mother from connecting physically and emotionally with her baby. Another celebrated example of attachment dysfunction en masse is in the case of Romanian orphanages. (In fact there is a wide range of mental dysfunctions uncovered in studies, which are covered in that article.)
I mention infant and childhood emotional dysfunction not to discuss in detail, but to add to the spectrum of possible variations of consciousness that can exist. Speaking (earlier) of “when does consciousness begin”, I think it clearly is a spectrum of capabilities that can manifest differently depending on age, health, brain dysfunctions or lack thereof, and I even have to count blind vs deaf vs all kinds of configurations of how human beings operate in daily life. A personal experience that led me recently to think more about the variability of consciousness is the slow degradation of mental functioning in my mother with dementia.
I think there are a lot of measurable aspects of consciousness that we have yet to consider, if I’m allowed to include variating abilities in language, art, problem solving, the broad range of emotional states plus how we think about and deal with them cognitively, and so on. How about schizophrenics, pathological narcisists… blah blah, I’ll stop here for now, but they have conscious experiences, too, of different depths and kinds from most people.July 22, 2018 at 2:32 pm #10213
I tend to gravitate to evolution as the prime driver for biological answers. With humans, I am not so sure these days. Have we even been subjected to natural selection for the past hundreds of thousands of years? Before laser surgery I was blind to anything beyond three feet away. Not a lot of near-sighted fish swimming around. The more socially successful we are, the more physically powerless we become on average. I would not be totally surprised if the development of consciousness served little purpose in our survival. Our pet companions are in the same boat (artificial selection) and may actually benefit the most by simply mimicking our behavior. The subtleness I have observed in the behavior of our domesticated rabbit over the past three years has me thinking he is a lot closer to us then I originally gave him credit for. He has worked out system of communicating with us when his expectations are not met. Being a prey animal, his trust was hard to earn, unlike a dog or a cat. So much to learn, so little time.July 22, 2018 at 2:46 pm #10217July 22, 2018 at 4:49 pm #10222
(And I intentionally allowed another variability here, regarding “sleep”. How conscious are we when sleeping or fading in and out of sleep; is dreaming merely an evolutionarily beneficial function that’s useful in unconscious and/or conscious processes?)
Is/isn’t dreaming a kind of “consciousness”? It’s certainly a kind of awareness.July 22, 2018 at 4:51 pm #10223
The fact that a loud, unusual, or unexpected event (not just sound, but light) can wake a sleeping person up seems to indicate that we are conscious to some degree even when we are sleeping.July 22, 2018 at 9:35 pm #10228
I think there are a lot of good points here.
Have we even been subjected to natural selection for the past hundreds of thousands of years? Before laser surgery I was blind to anything beyond three feet away.
I think we’re going mostly backwards, with medicine usurping “natural” (i.e. pre sapiens evo/cultural explosion) selective forces. Perhaps an unnaturally large and diverse genetic pool at our disposal for sexual selection/pairing is positive, while a negative is an increased level of the bad genes that get through generations that live into reproductive ages before they naturally would have.
Regarding pets, absolutely, there’s little question any more that we’ve bred them for personality, including how well we can consciously connect/empathize with each other.July 22, 2018 at 10:34 pm #10229
Reg the Fronkey FarmerModerator
I think we’re going mostly backwards..
Just a minor point with the word “backwards”. I know what you mean in using it but strictly speaking it conveys something which Evolution is not. That is, it has no direction. It does not seek to improve any trait any species has. We may eradicate (say) polio or genetically modify a disease causing gene out of our genome forever. We would consider this a forward step but DNA just does its thing and adapts the new mutations if it helps us survive. Anyway the fronkeys are gone very silent all of a sudden so I better go check on them.
July 22, 2018 at 10:36 pm #10230July 23, 2018 at 4:13 am #10246
- This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by PopeBeanie. Reason: blockquote fix
I strongly suspect that the rushed breeding of those foxes have detrimental effects, e.g. like disease effects we see in highly bred dogs (and cats, I’m betting). It is appropo to point out how breeding can affect (to varying extents) personality, and probably other aspects of consciousness. I remember reading a few years ago that some genes that increase jaw strength also increase aggression!)
To your earlier point about “which direction” evolution unintentionally takes species, you’re absolutely right.
When humans bypass the natural selection process, in some ways we can say we “improve” on nature, while in other ways–I’m saying, e.g. when we’re in-breeding diseases–we’re losing some of the benefits of time-tested natural selection.
- This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by PopeBeanie.
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