Suppose my self-awareness, consciousness, point of view (POV) or qualia is not a "thing in itself" but rather an intrinsic emergent property of my brain's current brain state.

Then, as my brain state constantly changes every nanosecond (or rather Planck unit of time to be precise), does that mean that my POV can only exist for 1 Planck unit, only to be replaced by a new POV the next Planck unit, which in turn is also replaced by a new POV the next Planck unit, and so on and so forth?

Suppose the answer is YES. In that case, let’s say that during my lifetime 1 trillion POVs were aware of my brain/body (assuming a countable, discrete time series). Now, let’s say my “self-awareness”, that is the “awareness that I exist in this universe” or “Cogito ergo sum” or “POV” or "qualia" was one of those 1 trillion POVs that occurred during the lifetime of this body/brain.

This would mean that if I was aware of my existence, I could only have been aware of it for 1 Planck unit, after which I should have stopped existing. Then, how do you explain the fact that I’m constantly experiencing the illusion of being aware of my existence? Shouldn’t I have stopped existing by now?

Shouldn’t I be experiencing complete blankness, or more accurately, shouldn’t I be in a eternal state of non-existence, since my 1 Planck unit chance of being aware of my existence is already gone? So why am I in this constant illusion of being aware of my existence?

Isn't this a contradiction?

UPDATE: Another way to put it: If consciousness (or POV) is a complex property calculated as a function of brain state, then arguably each brain state maps to a unique POV. This is because the probability of a brain having exactly the same brain states in 2 different instants is practically zero, and their corresponding emergent POVs are consequently very likely different as well. In other words, POV1 which is aware of experience at instant t1 is totally different from POV2 which is aware of experience at instant t2, t2 > t1. So, if I identify myself as any POV at any given instant t, then by the moment the next instant arrives, "my" POV (the one that allowed me to be aware of my existence at instant t) is destroyed and a new POV arises which has nothing to do with "my" POV (already dead by now). So according to this line of reasoning, any consciousness/qualia can only be aware of its corresponding brain/body for 1 Planck unit before it vanishes into nothingness.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user2953
    Apr 13, 2018 at 17:08

5 Answers 5


The brain creates the content of consciousness, not the the consciousness itself, which happens to exist as a semi-permanent point of view within the brain. So while the ephemeral flood of electromagnetic activity in the brain is transient the self that observes its content is stable and solid.

Yes..it is interactive dualism. I wrote about it here: https://philpapers.org/rec/SLETLO-2


The Ruler Of The Universe already asked the question

Douglas Adams hit upon this dilemma in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Fit the Twelfth (shift-click to listen), later written in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, and even goes a bit further.

SPOILER ALERT: The "Ruler Of The Universe" turns out to be an old man living in a shack with a cat, and he is a perfect solipsist.

Ruler Of The Universe: Ah, this is a question about the past, is it?

Zarniwoop: Yes

Ruler Of The Universe: How can I tell that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?

So the Ruler Of The Universe takes your question even further and asks: How can we be sure that there even is a passage of time? Maybe the past is just an illusion? How can we know that it is not?

The answer is: we cannot know this. There is no way to escape the possibility that Hard Solipsism presents, namely that everything we feel and remember — including the passage of time — could be nothing but a huge illusion.

If we relax the solipsism a bit and assume that 1) the physical world is real and 2) the passage of time is real, then the answer becomes: the persistence of the material world.

The fact that matter and energy can exist without spontaneously poofing out into nothingness — instead they are persistent and does not change form spontaneously — is what enables it. If you are material, and your brain-state emerges from some of that material, then the persistence of the material world means that your consciousness will also persist.

  • Ok, but even if the past is an illusion and the universe was just created 1 nanosecond ago and all our memories were hardcoded to make us believe that we've been around for a while ... my question would still hold for that moment onwards, because from that moment onwards you would still face a constant flow of brain states, with their corresponding POVs. Right?
    – xwb
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:01
  • How can you know? How can you be sure that the memories you have of having had previous brain-states is not an illusion?
    – MichaelK
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:17
  • If you ask me about certainty, in that case we cannot be sure about anything. How can you know if the feeling of having a sound, logic reasoning is not a mere illusion being imposed on your mind by an evil genius? How can you trust your thoughts? How can you trust your inner dialogue or your natural language? You cannot rely on logic or anything because, who knows, maybe someone is making you have the feeling of trust on those things when maybe you shouldn't. But back to the question, the question is based on suppositions: IF this and this THEN why? I'm not asserting that the IFs are true.
    – xwb
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:26
  • Well, the simple answer to that is: the persistence of the material world. The fact matter and energy can exist without spontaneously poofing out into nothingness — instead they are peristent and does not change form spontaneously — is what enables it. If you are material, and your brainstate depends on the material, then the persistence of the material world enables your consciousness to be temporally contiguous.
    – MichaelK
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:31
  • 1
    But how do you define the border between the reality and illusions if everything is an illusion?
    – rus9384
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:48

Existence is a metaphysical thing therefore it cannot only be limited to our consciousness nor our brain.

Let's do the following thought experiment: A machine that makes perfect copies of people is invented. You enter the machine and at the exit there is yourself and 5 copies of yourself. ¿Which one would be you? They all have the same memories, personality, tastes and physical appearance but you can only move one of those bodies and think in one of those brains, in fact you couldn’t tell if you are a copy or the original one. If those 6 six copies of you left the machine they all would start having their own agenda and change their personality and physical appearance in time. In fact your body renews at its atoms and cells in time so you are not yourself but the illusion of yourself.

What is existence? I take the Buddhist/Vedanta approach as plausible. It's just one conciseness in different copies or avatars in time and space playing with itself. If so there is not past nor future. There is no birth nor death and everything happens here and now.

  • If it's only one consciousness, then how do you explain that I am not aware of your brain/body now?
    – xwb
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:07
  • That's a different question. Consciousness and time and space don't go hand in hand. You sleep 8hours a day. Does that mean that you stop existing?
    – user22051
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:09
  • I don't know. It depends on what you mean by "you". If you mean the physical body, in that case it doesn't stop existing. If you mean consciousness .. well, it depends on what consciousness really is. For example, if consciousness is an emergent property of brain state, then you have the question I'm already asking here.
    – xwb
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:14
  • Can you quote the part of my last comment that made you think "everything that is not conscious doesn't exist"?
    – xwb
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:31
  • 1
    So you are saying that you only exist when you question about your existence? You think questioning your existence is too different from watching a football game for instance? Do you question your existence 24x7 otherwise you would cease to exist? Perhaps your question should be oriented to neuroscience.
    – user22051
    Apr 11, 2018 at 9:11

If each frame of consciousness has the prior frame for reference - which is reasonable - then I would posit that it behaves in a similar manner to a movie reel. Each frame is independent, but together they form a sum greater than their parts - a seemingly flowing product of independent states.


Suppose my self-awareness, consciousness or point of view (POV) is not a "thing in itself" but rather an intrinsic emergent property of my brain's current brain state.

If I have to agree to that supposition, and these implied conditions:

  1. That "brain state" must be taken to mean the state of one's brain at an arbitrarily small level of description--so, the exact state of every subatomic particle in every cell and bit of fluid within the brain counts.
  2. That's one's point of view or consciousness is a thing that has only a precise 1-to-1 mapping to any given brain state at any arbitrarily small slice of time (rather than a process, a series of steps that require significantly more time to carry out) and which has perfectly sharp boundaries for what is and isn't your consciousness.
  3. That it is sensible to speak in terms of consciousness--or, for that matter, functional brain circuitry activity changes--in any way occurring over an interval of time of 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 second (the Planck time).
  4. That's one point of view or consciousness is perfectly equivalent to "yourself".

Then, yes, admitting that a brain like any physical object above absolute zero Kelvin (or, more likely, all objects always) is in constant physical change at some level, under this supposition, with these defined conditions, a new "you" winks into--and out of--existence every Planck period.

Let's stay with this model for a bit. You then ask:

Shouldn’t I be experiencing complete blankness, or more accurately shouldn’t I be in a eternal state of non-existence, since my 1 Planck's period chance of being aware of my existence is already gone?

If by "I" you mean any "I" at any previous Planck periods, then yes: all of those "former yous" are in "an eternal state of non-existence". (But you are right to correct yourself, since non-existent "yous" can't experience complete blankness--because they can't experience anything.) Under this model, the "you" of December 4th, 2017 at 2:03:02.00000000000000000200000000000070000000000001 is indeed gone, maybe forever (he could return in the rather unlikely event of your brain finding itself in the same state...you never know.)

So why am I in this constant illusion of being aware of my existence? Isn't this a contradiction?

No, because at any given time, according to this model, there is a "current you" that is conscious. That you may only last one Planck time, but he is replaced immediately in the next Planck time with a new officeholder. During waking life, there is a never a point in which there is "nobody home".

  • Although it is true that there would always be "somebody home", a contradiction still holds in the fact that it would not be possible for a SINGLE awareness/POV to remain at home for many Planck periods in a row (or, to be more precise, it's infinitesimally unlikely), and YET that's what we normally experience. There is not much available space in the comments, so let me refer you to this link, it explains this idea much more clearly
    – xwb
    Apr 12, 2018 at 2:16
  • I wouldn't call it a contradiction as much as just all your "POVs" simply being incorrect. All this reminds me of much of the story of Clive Wearing. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Wearing . Read the first paragraph, then read starting from "In a diary".
    – Chelonian
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:48
  • And btw, I hope it is clear from how I wrote my comment that your model is wrong/unrealistic/absurd (sorry) in many ways, so although it is intellectually interesting to pursue its implications, it doesn't correspond well to reality. I say that in part because I've noticed people out there on the internet who actually get emotionally disturbed by these thoughts.
    – Chelonian
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:50
  • Don't restraint yourself out of fear of hurting my feelings. You didn't. Anyways. The Clive Wearing analogy is not totally accurate, because in that case the guy's brain is in fact forgetting the past, whereas in my thought experiment your brain is normal and healthy with full access to past memories, it's just that the POVs being aware of them are being replaced constantly. And the contradiction comes from the fact that you realize your current POV is the real one, because Cogito ergo sum, and you should expect to disappear the next moment, which never happens.
    – xwb
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:33
  • Additionally, can you elaborate more on why this model is absurd? Are you saying the emergence model is wrong? Are you a dualist? Do you believe that awareness/consciousness/POV is a "thing in itself"?
    – xwb
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:58

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