Submitted by BernardJOrtcutt t3_11dcj2i in philosophy

Welcome to this week's Open Discussion Thread. This thread is a place for posts/comments which are related to philosophy but wouldn't necessarily meet our posting rules (especially posting rule 2). For example, these threads are great places for:

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1doubleganger t1_jac3lnb wrote

Genuine question because im conflicted: All of us (relatively) missed on a lot of experiences, situations, feelings, opportunities, etc due to somethings we apply (like principles for example or fear of X). But since you acknowledge thats the reason of it, if you dismiss it for once, you will be able (lets assume this) experience those things, so why dont you? is it because you feel that its passed now?, a case of i already lived this far without it so why now?,..etc. Im geniunly intrigued to know, cuz i cant even come up with an answer myself.


James_James_85 t1_ja7w1gi wrote

A thought experiment on consciousness:

Imagine you had an infinite piece of paper, an infinite pencil. You scan a human's brain on the cellular level and draw a 2D map of its entire neural network with all its gory details on the piece of paper, and represent electrical signals e.g. by small circles inside the axons.

Then, using your expert knowledge about chemistry and the dynamics of cell movement, you repeat an endless cycle of going through the entire drawing, erasing current electrical messages and redrawing them slightly ahead in the axons, and erasing the free dendrites and redrawing them in a slightly altered position (and any other aspect of brain function I may have missed). perhaps also feed it some visual/auditory signals through the optic/auditory nerves, and other made-up sensory inputs. In a way, you'd be doing a full "manual simulation" of the brain on that piece of paper. Overlook the fact that this would be impossibly tedious, imagine you had infinite time on your hand and are precise enough not to make any mistakes.

Now here's the question: would that "brain on a paper" have its own consciousness, provided the simulation is accurate enough?

I'd suspect yes! It would be experiencing its own "fake reality" of sorts, and as soon as you stop drawing it's like it blacks out. Draw again and its experience resumes without it noticing anything has happened. It'd also think time would run at normal speed for it, provided the sensory input you're feeding it is slowed down to the appropriate speed.

What are your thoughts?


HamiltonBrae t1_ja8djmw wrote

Hope this ramble doesnt seem too incoherent.


Yes, this type of example is interesting. Gets to the intuition that what is important for consciousness is relational or functional aspects which can be reproduced in unintuitive ways. We think of our conscious needing to work in a rapid way where neurons excite each other in succession almost instantly and computations in different parts of the brain are happening simultaneously. I always get torn because as long as the functional relationships between your units are preserved, then why shouldn't the drawing examplle be conscious.. it would definitely act like it to some perspective where it would produce behaviours like any other conscious being... just on a very slow timescale. Moreover, surely its plausible to suggest that our consciousness is quite slow in the context of the physical mechanisms that must support it.. when you think about all of the chemical processes that have to happen, the travelling that ions and neurotransmitters have to do, transportation of vesicles and receptors, other processes involved in energy metabolism. All of these convoluted processes support our consciousness on a very fast timescale just like the paper and hand that is writing out the equations. Seems like as long as no limitations on fundamental physics have been violated, there is a degree that the temporal scale giving the speed which things happen is kind of relative.

Then again because we percieve our consciousness as a kind of integrated intrinsic whole, its hard to imagine the drawing example having phenomenal consciousness with all the implied time lags of writing things... even though this kind of happens to us on a smaller scale in some sense.


What if you did all the equations sequentially though so that you just did each calculation and drawing and rubbed it out instantly then did the next one... instead of having a 2d map out in front of you... it would behave in the same way computationally but none of the states would actually exist simultaneously... that's a hard one for me.


Another interesting point is that that computational drawing if it is like a human brain will end up, with the right inputs, professing its own consciousness. which brings up redundancy in dualistic views of consciousness... why do i need to posit separate phenomenal consciousness to the brain if a person's beliefs about being consciousness have nothing to do with some phenomenal conscious and are causally everything to do with brain computations, so much so that a drawing will profess consciousness by the exact same mechanisms... it would make phenomenal consciousness seem epiphenomenal which many people find undesirable. it makes it increasongly difficult to distinguish myself from the 2d paper as being somehow more conscious or that there needs to be a unique phenomenal ontology to explain my consciousness as opposed to brain mechanisms or whatever.


LeykisMinion007 t1_ja9nzck wrote

I think before we can talk about a piece of paper having a conscious, we need to prove that someone other than you has one.

I believe everyone has one, but I can’t see or feel your conscious mind. At the end of the day we all just assume we have one. Which is a safe bet, but where and what is it?

If we look at it from an observer perspective, then me knowing how I react and feel during my conscious state I can assume you do as well; and the paper for that matter.

But I think there is much more to consciousness than simply something mechanical. If you’ve read Power vs Force by Dr. David R Hawkin, he discusses the experiments he did over 30 years that allude to us all being tapped into one human consciousness.

So perhaps the conscious state we feel in the pure ego state is the separated “us” we know on the surface and the subconscious may have areas connected to everyone else.

Furthermore, as mentioned in Beyond the Quantum by Michael Talbot (and I’m paraphrasing), what sparks the initial thought in the brain? For example, you can follow the electrical impulses in the brain and say something like, this area of the brain sparked which made the person open their hand which sparked this area of the brain that made them reach out for an apple, or whatever, but follow all the sparks back to the very first one. What made that spark?

Are we unable to measure such things yet? Or is something deeper taking place? Who knows?

I believe there’s much more to true consciousness than a bunch of 1’s and 0’s, or things like this paper example. Fun to entertain, but we still know so little about consciousness anyway.


James_James_85 t1_ja9uwb0 wrote

>he discusses the experiments he did over 30 years that allude to us all being tapped into one human consciousness.

One interesting paradox solved by a global consciousness is the issue of split brain patients. Patients who undergo a total corpus callosotomy have their two hemispheres completely separated. After the surgery, they emerge as two separately thinking entities, essentially two people in one body. If one imagines undergoing such a surgery, slowly closing their eyes as they drift away under the anesthetic, then waking up after. Which half would they find themselves as? I'd imagine wiring two separate brains together in the right way would cause them to start thinking they are one person instead of two as well. The traditional view that each individual has their own consciousness fails to explain such paradoxes or questions as "why am I aware of this body and not that body" or "why am I conscious of a body born in the 21st century instead of one in the year 3000", why am I conscious of a human body instead of a bird's, etc..

I had such a thought too, I imagine a single consciousness throughout the entire universe, which experiences the universe in varying degrees of awareness through completely separate entities (brains/brain simulations/...). However, it's important to note that even if this were true, no experiment would ever be able to establish any connection between separate organisms beside what can already be explained by the laws of physics. Whatever true consciousness is, it would appear that, paradoxically, it has absolutely no effect on our thoughts and decisions, or our subconscious, as all those processes can be traced back to neural interactions and chemical processes in the brain. Lesioning certain parts of the brain could for example mess with our decision making, personalities or memories.


>what sparks the initial thought in the brain?

Sensory input for example could serve as an initial spark. Certain types of neurons sometimes fire spontaneously too, due to certain chemical properties. I don't think true consciousness, whatever it is, can alter the path of a molecule or squeeze a neuron and cause it to fire, that just doesn't happen.


>I believe there’s much more to true consciousness than a bunch of 1’s and 0’s

I do to. It's easy enough to imagine why a complex enough brain would "think" it is conscious, but I could never see how it would be "truly" conscious. It's indeed a perplexing issue.


LeykisMinion007 t1_jaao5oo wrote

That’s funny you mentioned split brain. I was going to dive into that with Ian McGilchrist’s work, but was trying to keep it somewhat short haha.

Yeah it’s odd to think of our normally conscious mind as a balance between two. I like your though on this. However, though outside stimulus can appear to be the cause of brain activity, wouldn’t there technically be some other function that initials the spark in reaction to the stimulus? And what about a thought not stimulated by external factors?


James_James_85 t1_jaaw0vj wrote

>wouldn’t there technically be some other function that initials the spark in reaction to the stimulus?

Our sensory organs (retina, skin, ...) are what converts the different stimuli into electrical messages. These travel up the sensory nerves into the brain where they induce an endless train of activity, including the reactivation of memories, the complex neural process of decision making and so on. Even something as simple as a feeling of anxiety/hunger/feeling your heartbeats/... is considered sensory input, so it would be extremely hard to completely isolate the brain from it. These serve as cues to spark a certain though or memory, which in turn sparks other memories and so on in a continuous chain.


>And what about a thought not stimulated by external factors?

There are many types of neurons, some of which will periodically fire spontaneously due to certain chemical processes (e.g., pacemaker neurons). Even you were to perfectly isolate the brain, it would still have a baseline activity, and would still think. Though in this case I'd imagine you'd be drawing blanks most of the time, the activity would translate to random flashes of thoughts/memories here and there until one of them induces a new chain of coherent thoughts.

You could look at it as if the very initial spark was the first neuron that fired in your developing brain when you were a fetus, and your brain has been following an endless causal chain of neural activity, altered by incoming messages from the sensory nerves and noise from the spontaneously firing neurons.

Consciousness, whatever it is, seems to be "just along for the ride". Whatever activity is taking place in the brain, that is what you are conscious of, yet it has no influence on that activity. Hopefully science reaches the real answer soon, brain simulations is what I'm really excited about.


stataryus t1_jadygr1 wrote

Has anyone else found themselves relating the Chinese Room metaphor (designed to apply to AI) to life in general?

Do we as people go through periodic shifts away from intuitive/visceral understanding, to something more like the Chinese Room, and then back again?

I’m wondering if this contributes to Imposter Syndrome.