I ask this question with connections to consciousness. It seems neuroscience has hit a plateau in explaining it materially since the smallest element of consciousness in the material brain seems to be the electrical signals and there may problems with linking electrons to the actual experience of subjective reality.

But in the end we seem to be trying to experience experience? Or a materialist scientist may look at it as trying to experience the matter of experience?

And is that really possible? I dont believe fundamental consciousness has a material element but assuming that is true isn't there an inherent flaw in the eye trying to see itself, point of finger trying to point to itself, hammer trying to hammer itself? Note those were all material examples.

So isnt there a flaw in experience trying to experience itself?

  • 1
    What about an anthropomorphic robot turning a screw on its own leg ? Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 9:44
  • It is an emergent property. It cannot be reduced to the crude sum of its material parts, but there is no other material component than its parts. The way these components are arranged is crucial, but is not a component of itself. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 9:58
  • @Mauro Thats part of tool using part of itself. Like the point of finger can point to another part of finger. I am referring to the whole using experience as the whole of subjective reality. Ofcourse then we come to issue is our reality many consciousnesses or one....whole other bag of monkeysl.
    – Anoop Alex
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 10:50
  • 1
    I always think about this sort of thing whilst I vacuum the dust off of my vacuum.
    – dgo
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 3:16
  • 2
    An eye can easily see itself in a mirror, and experience is doing its own experiencing. The flaw, if any, is in attempting to describe experience and action by symbolic representation, which can neither act nor experience. So it requires some sort of interpreter to get converted into experience and action, but then it is insufficient by itself to provide a full description. But this does not mean that mind is not material in nature, only that symbolic representations are insufficient to capture it all.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:45

4 Answers 4


'The smallest element' of consciousness implies that it is indivisible.

Can that consciousness produce another consciousness? Then, would that be the smallest element?

Suppose the smallest element of consciousness in the material brain of a 'person A' is discovered. Can't the 'person A' produce another 'person B' having consciousness? What would Neuroscience say about consciousness of a virus...? All these imply that something is missing. So this kind of discoveries are irrational.

To clarify your idea you used:

experience the matter of experience....eye trying to see itself.....point of finger trying to point to itself....hammer trying to hammer itself

Must consciousness be there -- 'behind' all these kind of ideas, i.e., experience, vision, direction and force (i.e., the ideas you used in these examples)? You can ask yourself this question also--"Does consciousness have any particular direction/s?" So, consciousness is not like other 'knowledges'. We don't even know that we are (helplessly) forgetting the fact that consciousness is behind these studies about consciousness.

"Can a tool use itself?"

Though I don't like to use the word 'tool', for answering your question I would say, "Yes, it was/is possible to those who followed/follow the path of Advaita." (Or who pursued the Ultimate Truth without knowing about this Philosophy) Otherwise there wouldn't be the usage 'Advaita' in this world. In other words, you can't deny this by saying "No".

So isn't there a flaw in experience trying to experience itself?

Since you can't deny the main question, by this question, you are implying the influence of 'Maya'--the term commonly used in Advaita.

You will get some more explanations here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaitanya_(consciousness)

  • "The 'smallest element' of consciousness implies that it is indivisible." Divisible?
    – J D
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 14:12
  • 1
    In Advaitha, the usage of divisible and even indivisible (as most of us likely to imagine) becomes meaningless because even when we use the term ‘indivisible’, duality needs to exist – ‘the knower’ and ‘the indivisible’. Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 15:52

a) What happens when you look in the mirror? you see a reflection of your self in the mirror. is the subject not the object too in this case?

b) Some materialists or functionalists like to think about this as a sort of loop. For example an electric circuit with a feedback loop, etc...

c) However, I personally think that consciousness transcends logic and our capacity to reason about it. Its property of being self-reflexive is an example of that transcendence.

d) In the Mahamudra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism this is called the non-duality of subject and object in consciousness. It is discussed extensively in The Roal Seal of Mahamudra

  • Not a comment on your post but on a sub-point of it, but I'd say that non-duality isn't specific to Mahamudra, but I see it in it's predecessors, both the Yogācāra and Mādhyamaka schools seem to have had variants of it. E.g. both Dzogchen and Zen. Different paths that invoke it in similar ways. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 1:32

It is true that human experience must always be subjective. If not for the collection of data, then their interpretation methods must be subjective, since we came up with them. Here subjective can also mean 'by a human brain' or 'by consciousness'. So you are rightfully claiming that our quest for the nature of consciousness is consciousness looking for (in your words, experiencing) itself.

Let me take you on a tangent to the world of computing here, since it is somehow related. In there, a mind experiencing a mind may be equal to a program running a copy of itself. Here's the flaw. The main program uses up a certain amount of CPU, which is limited and cannot be created within the program, and the artificial program inside will never get access to even the same amount of processing power, since some part of that processing power is used to power the main program. Thus, a program can only run 'imperfect' copies of itself within itself due to memory allocation.

Now, what does this mean for us? Perhaps we will never be able to experience the nature of experience itself, but a similar, yet imperfect copy. Perhaps not. Anyway, this is a hard topic, and this post serves only as a thinking prompt...


You are considering conciousness to be something material. The reason a hammer cannot use itself is because it would be constrained by the laws of physics. Conciousness, however, is a word we use to describe a set of thoughts (those which provide feedback on the status of other parts of our brain). This is more like a set of related activities, say a cricket match. It would be perfectly possible for someone engaged in a cricket match to explain exactly what was going on in the cricket match, they would have no trouble explaining all the finest nuances of rule and tactics all whilst actually engaged in carrying out those rules and tactics. Someone experiencing the game can also describe the game. Their ability to do so is only limited by their data sources, which is more the limit neuroscience has hit than any fundamental metaphysical problem.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .