The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: What is consciousness?  (Read 9667 times)

Offline Gerry

  • First timers
  • *
  • Posts: 3
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« on: 20/07/2010 09:52:05 »
This stems from another forum where “atheism” was a hot topic, and all but the “scientific method” was disqualified.  I’m mostly all for that.  But this got me thinking:  Human consciousness.  Is it measurable?  Can it be isolated and identified?  What is consciousness – and can it be discussed on a scientific forum, or is it a topic more suitable to the philosophical ones? 

Is this the space where “religion” and science meet?  I get that something as profound as “consciousness” could be attributed to mere biology, but there’s way too many questions for that to be a satisfactory answer.  Decision making.  Morality.  Value systems.  Intellect.  Love. The perception of art, music, beauty – all subjective.  Or are they?  Can a love for one type of music over another be attributed to specific physiological things?  Are value systems genetic?  Is consciousness only limited to humans?  Mammals?  Fish?  Bacteria? 

Yup, this is definitely one for the philosophers!



Mod edit - I've formatted your subject as a question - this helps to keep the forum tidy and easy to navigate - thanks!
« Last Edit: 13/08/2010 03:21:54 by JP »


 

Offline Hels

  • First timers
  • *
  • Posts: 7
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #1 on: 29/07/2010 13:24:15 »
Hi there. This is my first post, so I hope it's helpful.  I usually define consciousness as the extent to which we are aware of the specificity of time.  That's my short answer.  The more long winded answer takes considerably more explaining, but ultimately the short answer is what it all boils down to. I don't think it's a philosophical question at all. But then, neither is God (he he ... I'll have to leave you dangling on that one until I've substantiated the underlying hypothesis).
« Last Edit: 30/07/2010 17:37:16 by Hels »
 

Offline grizelda

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 740
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #2 on: 30/07/2010 13:01:08 »
Well, there are a small number of types of entities and interactions the universe is made of, and a large number of each type. It is natural to see the recurring experience of the few types as a pattern (another word for type). So leveraging this situation, one could expect that the brain is a pattern-seeking instrument. With a bit of fine tuning, it could detect patterns of patterns, etc. Take music, for instance. There are patterns of rhythm and rhyme, repeating cadences of pitch and volume, staccato, syncopation, a cacophony of patterns. So given a place to stand, and a long enough lever, we can call the sum of the patterns we observe, consciousness, or structure.
 

Offline Hels

  • First timers
  • *
  • Posts: 7
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #3 on: 30/07/2010 17:36:54 »
Is consciousness just a pattern?  I think that's what you're suggesting (although - a cacophony of patterns?  My paradox loving brain may nick that concept, if you don't mind  ;D).  I'm not suggesting consciousness is a pattern.  Like time itself, it is a process and for that process to take place a body must have the necessary communications network and that network must be functioning in the right way (the "right way" being quite a generalised term in this regard).  Whilst some people would argue that trees have consciousness and we cannot prove otherwise, and whilst I must adhere to the fact that we cannot prove otherwise, I have to bend to the model of consciousness as a process requiring systems trees don't have. That is not to say consciousness is the sole domain of neural activity, but being a process means that I am not attributing patterns.

Actually, I tend to work completely the other way round.  Rather than looking for patterns in the things which exist, I tend to think how I would make a system which worked with xyz features, but even if the model I create is a perfect replica of that which exists, then all I can ever say is that my model is self consistent and consistent with the facts.  And my model of consciousness is consistent with the (known) facts, but that still doesn't mean it's right.  But until someone proves otherwise, I'm just happy to go with whatever advance in thinking can be gained from this one.

Does that make sense or am I writing at a complete tangent to what you were meaning?
 

Offline om

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 53
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #4 on: 01/08/2010 05:29:42 »
Human consciousness.  Is it measurable?  Can it be isolated and identified?  What is consciousness – and can it be discussed on a scientific forum, or is it a topic more suitable to the philosophical ones? 

Mod edit - I've formatted your subject as a question - this helps to keep the forum tidy and easy to navigate - thanks!

Gerry, a discussion of quantum theory on Physics World has stumbled onto the same question.   See:http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/43275


With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
 

Offline grizelda

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 740
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #5 on: 02/08/2010 21:47:15 »
 Music usually starts out in some pattern of patterns, then moves away in some pattern to other patterns, and eventually returns to the original pattern. Lather, rinse, repeat. Our brain constantly refers the current pattern to the original pattern, so it always knows where it is in the continuum of things.
 So in general, we have an initial pattern we carry around, and refer the patterns of our experience to it. This is our identity. If not knowing who you are isn't the definition of not-conscious then it should be. 
 

Offline sandstone

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 38
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #6 on: 12/08/2010 07:32:35 »
Greetings Gerry, you ask an important question.

Just one quote you might find interesting:

Consciousness occurs in systems that do not even have an identifiable brain.  Margaret Wheatley (1992) 'Leadership and the New Science'. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Regards, Sandstone.
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #7 on: 12/08/2010 12:39:56 »
Sandstone - could you provide an example of consciousness in a non-human system?  Thanks Matthew
 

Offline sandstone

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 38
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #8 on: 12/08/2010 14:58:20 »
Greetings Matthew,

On p.106 of 'Leadership and the New Science', Wheatley refers to an observation by Nobel laureate chemist, Prigogine, that in 'non-living' chemical solutions, communication occurs, generating order.  In the chemical clocks he studied, the random mix of molecules became coordinated at a certain point.  A murky grey solution would pulse first black and then white.  Prigogine is quoted as saying: The amazing thing is that each molecule knows in some way what the other molecules will do at the same time, over relatively macroscopic distances.  These experiments provide examples of the ways in which molecules communicate...  That is a property that everybody always accepted in living systems, but in non-living systems it was quite unexpected.

Regards, Sandstone.
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #9 on: 12/08/2010 15:34:16 »
Communication and reaction to external environmental conditions are not consciousness.  I admit, it is much easier to say what consciousness isn't than provide a definition of what it is; but, a mechanism of internal arrangement is not consciousness.
 

Offline peppercorn

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1466
    • View Profile
    • solar
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #10 on: 12/08/2010 15:54:49 »
On p.106 of 'Leadership and the New Science', Wheatley refers to an observation by Nobel laureate chemist, Prigogine, that in 'non-living' chemical solutions, communication occurs, generating order.  In the chemical clocks he studied, the random mix of molecules became coordinated at a certain point.  A murky grey solution would pulse first black and then white.  Prigogine is quoted as saying: The amazing thing is that each molecule knows in some way what the other molecules will do at the same time, over relatively macroscopic distances.  These experiments provide examples of the ways in which molecules communicate...  That is a property that everybody always accepted in living systems, but in non-living systems it was quite unexpected.
An interesting quote, Sandstone. But don't confuse comparison with living systems as meaning the author truly believes the chemical system has 'life', let alone conciousness.  I have seen these patterns in chemical 'soups' that exhibit an unexpected geometric order and they are incredible, but life they are not.

Incidentally, I would suggest that a stretch of an answer to:
Could you provide an example of consciousness in a non-[primate] system?
might be a termite mound.
Clearly, the hive-mind is not really concious in any human sense but it does meet the standard of:
Consciousness occurs in systems that do not even have an identifiable brain.  Margaret Wheatley (1992) 'Leadership and the New Science'. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #11 on: 12/08/2010 16:30:56 »
"might be a termite mound" - Peppercorn, have you read "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstatder (may have spelt his name wrong here)? A very amusing, though also profound, book by this protaganist of Strong AI that has a character he refers to as Aunt Hillary and who is really exactly that!
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #12 on: 12/08/2010 16:43:53 »
Everyone should read G.E.B. Douglas Hofstadter has got to be one of the most engaging and profound writers out there.  I read it on the tube every morning and night and had total strangers commenting on how much they enjoyed it and they had never read anything else that had the same bizarre structure and beauty. 

I can't remember Aunt Hillary - time to reread it.  And I am still not convinced that a termite mound exhibits hive-consciousness - but I think that is probably just my anthropo-centric definition
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #13 on: 12/08/2010 16:54:38 »
"I am still not convinced that a termite mound exhibits hive-consciousness". No, but Hofstatder uses it as an example how many individually operating primitives can combine to produce something that has purpose and order; something complex from a few simple behavioural rules.

One of the many interesting bits was where he proposes a problem for the reader to solve and then gives the answer on the next page. He then does a similiar thing; I spent ages trying to solve it until giving up only to find that on the next page he says something like - "of course there is no solution to this" grrr!

Great book.
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #14 on: 12/08/2010 17:38:31 »
I seem to remember reading (on rec.puzzles i think) that there are rumours of hidden messages in the text; not in a da vinci code way, but in a douglas hofstatder likes games and puzzles way.  the same person who recommended GEB to me also said I should read the emporer's new mind by penrose; now that was a real stuggle and it left me totally cold.
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #15 on: 12/08/2010 17:45:02 »
It could have been me that recommended it (though it probably wasn't) as I like all of Roger Penrose's stuff. Another writer I admire is Steven Pinker. "The Language Instinct" is an example.
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #16 on: 12/08/2010 17:50:21 »
Agree entirely - 'the Blank Slate' is also superb and quite a brave book
 

Offline peppercorn

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1466
    • View Profile
    • solar
Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #17 on: 12/08/2010 17:50:35 »
"might be a termite mound" - Peppercorn, have you read "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstatder (may have spelt his name wrong here)? A very amusing, though also profound, book by this protaganist of Strong AI that has a character he refers to as Aunt Hillary and who is really exactly that!
Sounds well worth a look  [:0]
Trouble is the world is chock-full of amazing books - where to start...
 

Offline sandstone

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 38
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #18 on: 13/08/2010 06:45:24 »
Matthew,

There was no suggestion that the solution was a living entity.  According to Prigogine, it simply appeared to behave in a conscious manner. 

Sandstone.

 
 

Offline imatfaal

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2787
  • rouge moderator
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #19 on: 13/08/2010 16:42:47 »
Sandy - you have so far provided an example of a self-organising system that, although very interesting, follows well understood checmincal/mathematical pathways.  consciousness is so much more than that; it is difficult to define but in my eyes must contain elements of premeditation, strategic planning, emotional enjoyment, empathic feelings, and cognitive reasoning to name just a few things. 
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #20 on: 30/09/2010 02:35:07 »
Sandy what you are describing falls under chaos theory I think, and fractals. that's not 'intelligence' as we see it, it's more of a principle that most (all) systems in nature uses. We use it f.ex when we get a baby. A oak use it when it leaves the acorn.

Consciousness is something else.
And self-consciousness is the next step
 

Offline granpa

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 118
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #21 on: 30/09/2010 06:28:09 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2010 06:30:18 by granpa »
 

Offline Geezer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8328
  • "Vive la résistance!"
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #22 on: 30/09/2010 06:57:52 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.

I suspect that's an arbitrary distinction. Where do you draw the line between how and what?

For example, our dogs clearly know how to do a lot of things, and I'm pretty sure they have a very good idea of what they are doing too.

It's not too hard to give a machine an objective (a "what") and let it figure out the "how" for itself.
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #23 on: 30/09/2010 17:15:54 »
There are some interesting experiments made involving 'recognizing yourself' for that one, mostly with mirrors :)
 

Offline granpa

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 118
    • View Profile
What is consciousness?
« Reply #24 on: 30/09/2010 22:42:18 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.

I suspect that's an arbitrary distinction. Where do you draw the line between how and what?

For example, our dogs clearly know how to do a lot of things, and I'm pretty sure they have a very good idea of what they are doing too.

It's not too hard to give a machine an objective (a "what") and let it figure out the "how" for itself.

No. Its not arbitrary at all.
Knowing 'what' you are doing requires a completely different type of programming.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic_programming
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prolog
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

What is consciousness?
« Reply #24 on: 30/09/2010 22:42:18 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums