What Is Consciousness?

EnolaGaia

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The Strawson essay is a decent overview of some of the more widely known trends in scientific and philosophical treatments of consciousness, though it obscures almost as much as it illuminates.

However, it founders (and thus highlights the basic conceptual problem) by:

(a) following all the approaches it criticizes in treating 'consciousness' as a specific thing or feature addressable as an object of analysis; and

(b) failing to define this object of analysis in any manner more informative than hand-waving and assuring the reader we all know what it is.

These are the two main pitfalls that led to calling the issue of consciousness 'the hard problem'.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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A somewhat scathing look at the current state of Consciousness Study:

Has Consciousness Lost Its Mind?
What would Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, a very friendly robot, plus a bevy of scientists, mystics, and wannabe scholars do at a fancy resort in Arizona? Perhaps real harm to the field of consciousness studies, for one thing.

Start with Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and a robot that loves you no matter what. Add a knighted British physicist, a renowned French neuroscientist, and a prominent Australian philosopher/occasional blues singer. Toss in a bunch of psychologists, mathematicians, anesthesiologists, artists, meditators, a computer programmer or two, and several busloads of amateur theorists waving self-published manuscripts and touting grand unified solutions. Send them all to a swanky resort in the desert for a week, supply them with lots of free coffee and beer, and ask them to unpack a riddle so confounding that it’s unclear how to make progress or where you’d even begin.
Then just, like, see what happens.

The cover of the program for the Science of Consciousness conference, held recently in Tucson, shows a human brain getting sucked into (or perhaps rising from?) a black hole. That seems about right: After a week of listening to eye-crossingly detailed descriptions of teeny-tiny cell structures known as microtubules, along with a lecture about building a soundproof booth in order to chat with the whispery spirit world, you too would feel as if your neurons had been siphoned from your skull and launched deep into space.

Oh, by the way, attendees could also take a gong bath, during which you’re bathed in the musical vibrations of a gong being struck. Or lie down in a curiously unsupervised and unstable-looking sensory-deprivation chamber. Or take a black-light yoga class, which involves — as the name suggests — doing yoga in a room illuminated by black light accompanied by a DJ pumping out frenetic techno beats. Meanwhile, a company offered demos of a brain-stimulation device that had to be inserted way too far up one nostril. And an enthusiastic fellow demonstrated his Spontaneous Postural Alignment technique, in which a misaligned subject’s elbow is tapped with a gold medallion while the healer intones, "boy-yoi-yoing."

The whole story is quite amusing, if also a bit sad in what it says about today's research culture.

https://www.chronicle.com/article/Is-This-the-World-s-Most/243599
 

Yithian

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Intensely interesting:

GEw0ePZUMHA

A-Lattice Microtubules could be where it's at!


Originally posted YouTube video link is dead.
Here is a more recent video on the same approach (microtubules):

Dr. Stuart Hameroff, M.D. — Microtubules & quantum consciousness

 
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Comfortably Numb

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Can consciousness be explained by quantum physics? My research takes us a step closer to finding out

Cristiane de Morais Smith, Utrecht University
theconversation.com
19 July, 2021


Some scientists believe consciousness is generated by quantum processes, but the theory is yet to be empirically tested.

One of the most important open questions in science is how our consciousness is established. In the 1990s, long before winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of black holes, physicist Roger Penrose teamed up with anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to propose an ambitious answer.

They claimed that the brain’s neuronal system forms an intricate network and that the consciousness this produces should obey the rules of quantum mechanics – the theory that determines how tiny particles like electrons move around. This, they argue, could explain the mysterious complexity of human consciousness.

Penrose and Hameroff were met with incredulity. Quantum mechanical laws are usually only found to apply at very low temperatures. Quantum computers, for example, currently operate at around -272°C. At higher temperatures, classical mechanics takes over. Since our body works at room temperature, you would expect it to be governed by the classical laws of physics. For this reason, the quantum consciousness theory has been dismissed outright by many scientists – though others are persuaded supporters.

Instead of entering into this debate, I decided to join forces with colleagues from China, led by Professor Xian-Min Jin at Shanghai Jiaotong University, to test some of the principles underpinning the quantum theory of consciousness.

In our new paper, we’ve investigated how quantum particles could move in a complex structure like the brain – but in a lab setting. If our findings can one day be compared with activity measured in the brain, we may come one step closer to validating or dismissing Penrose and Hameroff’s controversial theory.

(...)
https://theconversation.com/can-con...-takes-us-a-step-closer-to-finding-out-164582
 

Alchymist

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Late computer pioneer Marvin Minsky is on record as claiming that he had "solved the so-called problem of consciousness, and I don't know why nobody is listening. Consciousness is merely a low-grade way of keeping records."

[Um . . . . perhaps nobody is listening because it's a daft idea, Professor?]

More recently, behaviorists and neuroscientists claim that consciousness is an illusion caused by electrons moving around in the brain. One might, at this point, ask who, or what, is experiencing the "illusion"? - or how can we experience an illusion without already possessing consciousness?

I guess the Penrose and Hameroff solution at least takes the question seriously, but still, it's now quantum processes rather than electrons "producing" consciousness. I've always felt that, if you dig down deeply enough, below the level of molecules, below atoms, below elementary particles like protons and electrons (which, supposedly, consist of not much more than probabilities of finding anything in mostly empty space), below even quarks and gluons, you'd probably find that the fundamental stuff of the universe is something much more akin to consciousness than to anything resembling matter. I posted this idea on another forum some years ago, and someone replied expressing "shock and horror" that I would think any such thing, accusing me of having had my brain rotted out from taking Capra's "The Tao of Physics" too literally, and by the American education system. I replied that all of my education happened in Britain (HNC) and Canada (B.Sc. and M.Sc.), and I'd never read Capra's book, but I never heard from him again.

I can't imagine why he reacted so strongly, but, seeing as how I have difficulty figuring out my own motivations at times, figuring out someone else's is a total mystery.
 

flannel

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Alchymist, another theory that might interest you is the Cemi field theory that proposes conciousness is the result of electromagnetic fields in the brain (or something along those lines). I'm sure there's many other theories out there.
 

eburacum

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I'm fairly certain that Penrose and Hameroff's hypothesis (hardly even a theory) is redundant. Certainly there are quantum processes in the brain, but I wonder if they add much, if anything, to the overall process of consciousness. I'd guess that a completely classical system would be just as capable of self-awareness as one including quantum phenomena.

Quantum uncertainties might even make consciousness more problematic, and contribute to our general befuddlement (which is probably what Minsky is trying to say). We can sometimes use this 'general befuddlement' as a source of inspiration, and it might allow us to perform logical processing that we couldn't do if our brains were completely classical- but I bet this is a bug more often than a feature.
 
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EnolaGaia

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Can consciousness be explained by quantum physics? ...
Short answer - No.

There are two obvious and fundamental issues (perhaps among innumerable others) that make this negative response inevitable:

(1) Until and unless one can specify what 'consciousness' may mean, there's no hope of demonstrating any coherent explanation for what causes it or how it works. The label is used to connote a variety of different things (phenomena; capabilities) with no discernible theme or criteria spanning all of these interpretations.

(2) Trying to explain 'consciousness' through analysis of ever-smaller physical structures and / or processes is at least as ludicrous as trying to explain 'driving' through a comprehensive analysis of the components, interactions among those components, and overall dynamics of a vehicle.
 

SimonBurchell

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I can't remember where I read it, unfortunately, but I remember someone mentioning a theory that consciousness could be projected from elsewhere, with the brain being the lens or receiver. Dissecting the brain to find consciousness would be about as much use as dissecting a TV set to find an episode of Star Trek (or anything else for that matter). I kind of like the idea. If a component on a TV set is broken, nothing gets displayed on the screen. If a part of the brain is damaged, consciousness can no longer manifest properly (or at all).
 

Mythopoeika

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I can't remember where I read it, unfortunately, but I remember someone mentioning a theory that consciousness could be projected from elsewhere, with the brain being the lens or receiver. Dissecting the brain to find consciousness would be about as much use as dissecting a TV set to find an episode of Star Trek (or anything else for that matter). I kind of like the idea. If a component on a TV set is broken, nothing gets displayed on the screen. If a part of the brain is damaged, consciousness can no longer manifest properly (or at all).
I had this idea myself a while back.
Maybe we're really just brains in a vat or disembodied consciousnesses remotely controlling meat-based avatars?
 

Cloudbusting

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I can't remember where I read it, unfortunately, but I remember someone mentioning a theory that consciousness could be projected from elsewhere, with the brain being the lens or receiver. Dissecting the brain to find consciousness would be about as much use as dissecting a TV set to find an episode of Star Trek (or anything else for that matter). I kind of like the idea. If a component on a TV set is broken, nothing gets displayed on the screen. If a part of the brain is damaged, consciousness can no longer manifest properly (or at all).

This makes me think of the 'holographic universe' theory... which makes me think of the matrix!

EDIT: Ah I see Mytho has mentioned the good old brain in the vat too.
 
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