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I heard on some article that conciousness cannot persist through time and that every second ( or an even shorter duration ) it changes to a new one, is there any evidence to suggest this? Is our conciosuness the same throughout our life or is it just an illusion?

This has been eating away at me since the past few days and I'm not able to function properly or study in school because of this.

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    Much of Kant's transcendental idealism is devoted to explaining the unity of any person's consciousness, particularly over time. For that, he speaks of an inner sense, not inner in the sense of interior to perceivers so much as interior to perceivable objects overall (including perceivers, then), or then of identity over time (ours, and other things'). But the Heraclitean perspective would be that we do not wade through the same river twice, be that river comprised of water or consciousness. But so see The Unity of Consciousness. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 12:41
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    Related SEP: Identity Over Time.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 12:54
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    Husserl’s analyses of time-consciousness strongly indicate that the unity of consciousness across time is an accomplishment (that is, without intentional acts like protentions and retentions, every moment would be experienced as the absolute reality and quickly replaced by another such experience). An illusion? No. But a synthesis, yes.
    – Hokon
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 13:21
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    I’d also add Fichte’s astute remark that “fine we are finite, but how is it that we are conscious of our finitude?” Same applies to the unity of consciousness, except that our awareness that it has a unity probably produces said unity.
    – Hokon
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 13:31
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    Everything in this world changes "every second", "no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man", as Heraclitus famously quipped. It shouldn't be eating away at you and stop you from functioning since it is plainly obvious and has always been this way. Whether the changed thing is "new" is just semantics, it is new in some ways and old in others. "The more things change the more they stay the same."
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 20:34

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You need to examine what you are saying carefully. What does it mean to say that one's consciousness regularly 'replaces itself'? How would you even know? The article you cited is unsubstantiated babble. If it has planted within you a concern that after death your consciousness will endure eternally and experience all kinds of extremes, then please be assured that there is no scientific basis for that whatsoever. Nor is there any scientific evidence for your consciousness 'replace itself' in the way that you mean (ie having a new personality regularly taking over the controls on a frequent basis). As far as we know, consciousness arises from, or is enabled by, processes in a living brain that end after death, so once you die it is all over. Hopefully that observation will help you to realise that you should be making the most of life while you have it, and not worry about nonsense written in blogs.

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  • "replaces itself" is a strange phrase. it can mean "take the place of", which i suppose means in (?) the living body, so shouldn't worry anyone too much, or "fill the role of... with a substitute", which suggests that all moments are in some sense equivalent, perhaps by being the same me?
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 18:34
  • Thanks so much! This has really been fuckinhg with me ( for lack of better words ) and this really helped, however I don't mean a completely new personality, I mean that it's almost the same or even identical, but that conciosuness not being me but a replacement identical to me, I've heard that conciousness has a probable chance of being discrete, which seems to imply a different but similar conciosuness will replace the old one and this was what was really worrying me since it's a established scientific theory. Any thoughts on that? Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 11:33
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    @Rayyankhan: Look, the fact that you say "worrying me" shows that you experience consciousness as a continuity of your self, so just live your life in the most meaningful way you can, and stop worrying about consciousness.
    – user21820
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 12:50
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Greatest evidence is you. Would you have asked a question like this in your childhood ? Answer is no. With time your object of interest changed. You developed new likes and dislikes. Forget about your history you are not same with every person you meet. You will behave differently with your girlfriend and your behaviour will be different in front of your parents or police. Consciousness is changing not only in time but also with people you meet and places you visit.

I am not sure what do you mean by “consciousness is replaced” but your consciousness is not static . It is a variable. It changes. To put succinctly, consciousness is impermanent. It arises , changes and vanishes conditionally.

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  • What I mean is the continuity of conciousness, if the conciosness in my body a minute from now is not the same one that is typing this comment, than it means that for the same reason I hold my wellbeing higher over others, i should seek only immediate pleasures since anything I do for the long term, ie studying to get into a good college, going to the gym, pursuing goals, etc will never benefit me but only a similar conciousness that acts like me but isn't me. It's an absolutely depressing viewpoint if that makes sense. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:37
  • @Rayyankhan it is true that consciousness changes but the fact is that it changes to such an extent that no self can be found in it. Consciousness is not you, yours or yourself. This realisation will take away the burden of consciousness. You won’t worry when consciousness is gone because it was never yours. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:47
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Consciousness changes according to what one is conscious of, or if one is unconscious or asleep. What is constant is the self that generates the consciousness, but the self is usually not self-conscious. All the more so the more interesting the experience is: one forgets oneself. The constant quality of consciousness comes from the constancy of the self. For more detail see, for example, page 9 here:

We cannot be conscious of an object (a seen tree, a touched piece of leather, a tasted cookie, or a smelt rose) unless we are aware of the experience through which this object is given to us (through sight, touch, taste, or smell). The object becomes real through the experience; if there is no awareness of the experience, the object does not appear at all. ...

On the other hand, although the various modes of givenness differ in their experiential properties, they also share certain features. One common feature is the quality of mineness (Meinheit), the fact that each experience immediately reveals itself as mine—it is I who am having the experience. ... this form of self-reference must be distinguished from any explicit I-consciousness. The mineness is not something perceived; it simply forms a subtle and pre-reflective background. Thus, the self is not something that stands opposed to the stream of consciousness, but rather is immersed in conscious life. It is a constitutive and intrinsic part of its structure. In fact, on the pre-reflective level of consciousness there is no explicit awareness of the experience being mine.

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A positivistic view is that what makes you you is what produces consciousness. So even if every 1 minute (or every night) your consciousness was rebooted like turning your smartphone off and on again, the resulting consciousness is a version of you, not a different person.

So you still like the same flavours of ice cream, you still love and hate the same persons, you still have the same skill in Volleyball, and so on.

As such, even if the consciousness were replaced now and then, all of those consciousnesses are you. As long as new consciousnesses are created all the time, you are still you and you still exist.

In terms of science and philosophy, humanity does not (yet) fully understand the brain or the mind, so the answer cannot be answered correctly and completely, but what we know seems to be sufficient to say that a single permanent consciousness is not a useful model of mind. Split-Brain experiments are the best example demonstrating our mind is not simple, and that as an example our left and our right side of brain both have something like an own consciousness that we as the whole person are not aware of.

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  • That just seems like personal identity to me, wouldn't the replaced conciousness be very similar to me but not actually me? My conciosuenss would thus not be continuous. I apologize, I'm not well versed in neuroscience at all so I may not understand the answer clearly but that is what the conclusion is unfortunately seeming to me. Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 14:19
  • Your consciousness was never continuous anyway, every time you sleep and wake up, the consciousness was interrupted. It is unclear why continuity is so important to you. But understanding more about neuroscience might help.
    – tkruse
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 6:22
  • it's important to me because if there's gonna be a different conciosuenss in my body a hour or minute from now, why would I do anything but seeking short term pleasures, studying, exercising or any long term goal become meaningless, since my conciousness is gonna die in a minute anyway so it's not gonna be me who's going to benefit from doing soemething like that. It's nothing but extremely depressing. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 10:08
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Besides the interpretation of @Conifold referring to the philosophical fragments of Heraclitus, I would like to mention two other interpretations:

  • The Buddhist interpretation of “an-atta = no-self" or "sunyata”: There is no constant, unchanging consciuosness. Instead consciousness is momentarily, it is created new every moment. Consciousness is a flux, like the rivers from Heraclitus' statement.

  • The current interpretation from neuroscience: Consciousness is the recurrent flow of electrical activity in the thalamo-cortical system, a part of the brain. In particular, consciousness is not a substance nor a state, but a process. See also Christof Koch: Consciousness

    A process is a continuous flow, it is not discrete. That we humans experience sameness during our whole lifetime can be explained as follows: The process of consciousness permanently updates our memory.

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  • Does our contemporary understanding of the conciousness, ie that it is a process support continuous or discrete conciosuness more? Would it disagree with the claim that a person's conciosuness remains the same throughout their life, or is it silent on the matter? Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 13:43
  • @Rayyan khan I expanded my answer.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 14:14
  • I see, so it does hint towards a continuity of our already existing conciousness. Thanks for the clarification. Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 14:26
  • Re your "A process is a continuous flow, it is not discrete" above, IIRC you just gave an answer the day before asserting jump of nature is underdetermined in philosophy and QM indicates nature is likely discontinuous at bottom. Surprised here you claims process is continuous. Unless for you process is not part of nature or only a macro event which is always continuous implicit in your premises?... Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 23:02
  • @Double Knot IMO QM and explaininng brain processes are two different levels. I follow Koch-Hepp (NATURE, Vol440, 30 March2006): "The empirical demonstration of slowly decoherent and controllable quantumbits in neurons connected by electrical or chemical synapses, or the discovery of an efficient quantum algorithm for computations performed by the brain, would do much to bring these speculations from the ‘far-out’ to the mere ‘very unlikely’. Until such progress has been made, there is little reason to appeal to quantum mechanics to explain higher brain functions, including consciousness."
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 4:37
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The evidence for discontinuity of conscious would come from introspection. One notable empiricist, David Hume, considered consciousness and selfhood to be the thoughts in our heads. And those thoughts DO change -- radically -- moment to moment. Hence Hume argued that we have no real "self", but are a dynamic and ever changing bundle of disconnected thoughts.

Most people find this "bundle theory" of consciousness to be disturbing, as you do.

Hume's approach to selfhood is not particularly well thought of. We all then to think of ourselves as an I, whether we are thinking about a show we are watching, doing a math problem, or engaged in some kind of sports -- even though the thoughts in our heads in each instance are wildly different.

A better definition of selfhood, that matches what we humans treat it as, is a set of character traits and dispositions, along with a shared memory collection. Each of the examples I cited could share a character, and a memory collection, and therefore be the same self, despite the different momentary thoughts.

Even with the more stable selfhood concepts of character and memory, however, we DO change our character and memories slowly. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago, as my character and memories have changed. Philosophers have struggled with this, and with other identity relations for literally thousands of years. The best solution I have found is to say that selfhood is not an logical absolute, but it seems instead to be, like much of our world, a pragmatic approximation. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago, but I share a lot with that person, to the point that I take ownership for what I did then. And while I will not be logically identical 20 years from now -- I will be close enough to treat that person as me.

Your linked article basically assumes selfhood is eternal, unitary, and will continue after physical death. We have good reasons to think selfhood is not unitary -- by looking at the effects of brain damage. We have good reason to think it is not eternal, due to the evolution of the self described above, plus brain damage, and also mind altering drugs. Whether selfhood survives death is less decisively refuted, I happen to think selfhood does survive death. BUT -- any self that reincarnates as your article proposes -- seems not to share character traits nor memories life-life, so one would need to come up with some other way to define "self" for such reincarnation to make sense.

That article is just a speculative flight of imagination. And there are LOADS of such possible worldviews. It is useful, for a few ideas, to go thru the process of trying to figure out if they are valid. But there are just too many of them to do ones thinking that way on every subject. As one is learning how to think then figuring out why poor ideas are poor, is a useful exercise, but eventually you will need to figure out how to generate then test ideas yourself, to build up your own valid worldview.

I test ideas thru falsification testing. This is a methodology championed by Karl Popper, and it is a good summary of the approach that we use for most of science and empiricism. Look for counterexamples. Think thru the circumstances that would be most likely to be a problem case for an idea, then see how it does with those problems. Then, if it passes, and you really care about it, look for challenge cases that other people, particularly those who don't like the idea, propose for testing it. This nightmare worldview that you found in a discussion forum -- does not seem to be very likely.

I would like to suggest another thought to you as well. I am glad you were thinking about the moral implications of the bundle theory. BUT -- you assumed the sole purpose of life should be self-gratification. Few people who pursue that as a life goal, lead happy lives. In general, pursuit of virtues leads to a more satisfactory life. AND -- if the effect of making oneself a better person, means that the you of 20 years from now is pretty different from the you of today -- well in 20 years the you then can think back on you today, and thank the you of today for making them a better person in 20 years.

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Interesting question. The reference to Heraclitus's river metaphor (by @jowehler) gave me pose.

Consciousness is a flux, like the rivers from Heraclitus' statement.

As for all the pre-socratics, only a few fragments survive of Heraclitus' writings. One of these fragments compares the world to the stream of a river, and says that you cannot step in the same river twice. Hence everything is in motion and nothing is at rest.

Men are like rivers, in more tĥan one way. Both our mind and our body are in constant flux. Our body is made of 75% water, and this water flows through us: we replace it all the time (we drink, we sweat, we urinate). The same applies to a lot of other components of our body, e.g. proteins which get constantly damaged, repaired and/or replaced.

Our mind too is a stream, a "stream of consciousness".

And yet, there's something stable in our body shape, and in our mind's dispositions. Our friends can recognize us, in spite of all these flux, and they expect us to remain mentally stable, too. So something is askew with Heraclitus' river metaphor. It's not the whole story.

I venture that a river has some stability too. The way the water flows, faster here and slowlier there, the pools were it gathers, the whirls it creates are somewhat stable. And this relative stability of the flow comes from the landscape through which it goes.

Because a river is not just water. When there's no water flowing anymore, as is the case with seasonal rivers in dry areas, we don't say that the river has disappeared. We say: the river is dry. And when the river overflows and floods the surrounding areas, we don't say that the river has turned into a lake. We say: the river has broken its banks, or gone out of its bed.

A river is also composed of its banks and of its bed, which are far more stable than the water that runs through them. Therefore, a river is best thought of as the interaction between a semi-stable landscape and the water flowing through it. The interaction results in a semi-stable drainage system.

So maybe one can step in the same river twice after all...

What does that mean for your question? Maybe that our "stream of consciouness" is not the whole of us: we too have "banks" i.e. limits and habits, that also define us and make us semi-stable systems.

Hope this helps.

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To directly answer your question, it neither stays the same, nor is it replaced. It only evolves. And words are very important here as always. And as it evolves, it changes.

Like the example where you replace a boat's parts everyday, at the end of the day even if you have a boat made up of entirely new parts, that boat is based on the model and the type of the first boat, the first boat is what enabled it to exist.

Here you need to cognise the importance of the concept of time. Time and Space are two properties of every molecule that i believe are inherent to the proper understanding of them. Obviously time here would jsut be the reference of that molecule to others and space would refer in my definition to its behaviors in a certain spatial region.

I do believe you may be a victim of isolationism, where what happens is that an individual is so used to thinking about things isolatedly, that they forget that these things did not just magically appear. There is a flow that built them. This is a river of energy. That is what the universe is. It is just energy flowing through the molecules that makes things go here and there and which and where. Your use of the word 'replace' is what made me think of that.

You cannot just replace a flow. The flow, started god knows when, and every little thing that happens today, is systemic dynamics. That is all it is. Things cannot magically appear or disappear, they need the molecular reality and the PASSAGE OF TIME to back them up.

That is why, your conciousness, or your ability to be aware, it evolves.

Think back to when you were a kid, see, then you may have been aware of food, and friends and playthings and what not. But now you are aware of studying, and meaning and what not whatever interests you. That consciousness that you have now, is all based on that past. It is new. But it is based on that past just like the ship.

For example, if you never got to play in your childhood, you would be depraved of it, and in your adult life that is what you would mostly look for unless you got it. We all want what we do not have but is basic to get to the next level, like, you need to have the toys and you need to have had SPENT THAT MUCH TIME PLAYING WITH THEM to make your molecules realise and orient them in the way that thinks now about how it is so vain to do so.

This is also where it gets very messy with our current definitons and where i have problems with the self and its definiton. There are no fixed things in the universe at the molecular level. These fixation only exist in our lifetimes and at the human level. And we base ALL of our knowledge on what is around us. Which can be a lethal thing, this is why i believe Newtonian physics does not work at the Quantum level. Because at the end of the day we are the produce of that level. Our behaviours cannot be assigned to individual atoms, because we are the systemic interactions of those atoms. And individual and systemic properties tend to be different as the systemic properties are a result of those individual properties.

Consciousness does not exist, it is simply a complicated input output system, where the input is the various auditory and visual inputs and the output is the procession of them in terms of words mentally, I can go in detail about how the neurology of it works, but that woudl require me to unload too much here and time is limited.

I do not think philosophy should be pursued in isolation. It is not a topic that can work in isolation like computer science or surgery. In philosophy you are trying to be comprehensive. And that just does not work well in isolation.

And finally a personal note to you, your reality will go where you take it, if you choose to be daunted by these things, things may not be so well in the end. It matters how much time you spend doing something. The point where you are at in your life right now, is the average of what you have spent your life doing. And to shift your average, do the things that will make for a better future more, as there is only so much time. Study, read, and Think. Rome was not built in a day, and so cannot mental stability or the tools to handle such situations in the future that destabilise your life. The sooner you start the better.

Best of Luck.

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    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:04
  • Thank you so much!, but one thing, what is your opinion on conciousnes being discrete or continuous? I know you said that I should stop getting bothered by these things but I'm still a little curious. Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 15:50
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More fundamentally, we might ask whether awareness itself can persist.

John G. Taylor has distinguished two levels of awareness: "attended condition" and "passive awareness". Passive awareness operates without attention, so its persistence might be a candidate for minimal awareness persistence.

Taylor's 1997 continuum neural field theory outlined global connectivity for passive awareness, with application between thalamus and cortex. Experimental support was given.

Taylor extracted "criterial features" of "phenomenal experience" from the literature, incorporating them into his theory. Notably, the temporal features included:

  • "temporal continuation of activity"

and

  • "no gap between different phenomenal experience activations"

I think it's fair to say his neural-net modeling of such temporal features assumed and encoded persistence of passive awareness.

That paper dates from 1997, but such "global workspace" models of consciousness continue to yield testable hypotheses and interesting results today.

Taylor, J.G., 1997. Neural networks for consciousness. Neural Networks, 10(7), pp.1207-1225.

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  • So the global workspace model supports a more continual conciosousness? Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 15:51
  • Taylor's modeled state of passive awareness persists even when attention does not persist, so in that important sense, yes.
    – wstewart
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 16:47
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Leaving aside dualism, we are mind/body. The body regenerates constantly. There is a difference between consciousness and identity. Consciousness is discontinuous. This does not mean that it is illusory. Finally, consciousness is fundamental. In the panpsychist view, the fundamental stuff of the universe is matter-consciousness. Updating is not equivalent to negation. I have seen no convincing evidence that identity does not persist.

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