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Humans consist of complex physical materials. However, we determine and experience our lives through numerous spiritual moments. Should consciousness be described as an outcome of physical matter and senses, or is it a higher mental construction?

  • also another fascinating point comes from Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves, where he states that consciousness and free will have their basis in raw biology. How valid is such a point. – Fred Buford_32 Dec 13 '18 at 23:20
  • You need to decide if reality is all made of one kind of 'stuff' (atoms) or many kinds of stuff. If the latter.. then can you devise an experiment to determine what that stuff is? Are you a 'dualust' in short. Dennett isn't.. though he does acknowledge that some things exist even though they're made of literally nothing. Memes for example. Consciousness is something that arises from the gestalt operation of brains. Exactly how science doesn't know. But before long.. we'll recreate it in AI machines... Then.. with luck.. we'll get closer to understanding what it is. – Richard Dec 14 '18 at 0:50
  • @Richard Ah, gestalt. I heard that term during the AI debates of the 70's. Computers can't have gestalt. But isn't that swapping in one mystery for another, or one label for another? We don't know what consciousness is; and we don't know what gestalt really is. Some of us (myself included) believe that computations can have neither, and that people do. But it's a hard argument to make these days. Maybe there's no gestalt, maybe it's all just datamining. That's the argument of the latest AI enthusiasts. – user4894 Dec 14 '18 at 1:35
  • @user4894 We know consciousness interacts with matter.. otherwise you couldn't decide to pick up a cup of tea. For that interaction to happen.. whatever consciousness is must be made of the same stuff as your cup of tea. Electrical and chemical signals in the brain. AI machines are made of the same stuff.. and we are very close to simulating that chemical and electrical process. When we do.. we can probe the AI to see how it works.. without having to kill anyone. – Richard Dec 14 '18 at 1:45
  • @Richard Even if the mind must ultimately be physical; what is your proof that it must be a computation as the word is currently understood? What is your proof that the mind is a Turing machine? That would really be my point. I'm not a dualist. I believe our current understanding of physics is not sufficiently detailed to explain consciousness. And that it might never be. And that the mind might be physical, yet not computational. Now, what does that mean? Well that's a good question! – user4894 Dec 14 '18 at 1:52
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What is consciousness? Hm! Sounds like dangerous waters to attempt to navigate, but, anyway, here goes; Consciousness, at least within a psychological frame seems to always include an aspect of self-awareness. But even taken together these two conceptions have not seemed to logically lead anywhere useful. That is primarily because different interpretations of what it means to be aware of self just lead into differing types of argument which never seem to go anywhere other than in concentric circles. So here is a quite different path or at least a suggested path to unraveling this persistent 'Gordian knot'
Spinoza in his "Ethics" Part Three- Of the Affects [Emotions] in Propositions 6-7-8, introduces, what he considers to constitute the essence of human nature, he termed it 'conatus' or 'striving'. It has been defined as 'self-assertive impulse', 'desire'/'appetite' and 'agency-in-act'. Taken together these three designations indicate the nexus where the urge to continue in existence merges with the desire to accumulate the necessary security and products required and the capability and intelligence to problem solve and join with other like-minded people to form communities to accomplish these ends.

The bodily mechanism operating through this 'conatus' receives impressions from objects/people in the environment [today we would term these digital signals]. These impressions instantaneously convert into 'emotional triggers' which automatically and ceaselessly bombard the brain with inputs which it stores. These data are then 'taken under consideration' by the mind which sorts, analyzes and converts into 'ideas'. Some of these 'ideas' become 'adequate' or clearly understood. Others, which cannot be deciphered remain 'inadequate'. The function within the mind which performs this evaluation consists in a combination of 'reflective knowledge' [observing, measuring and comparing past experience with the data and 'intuitional understanding' [let's leave that for the moment].

This then, while not a modern explanation of consciousness is one that may, just may, be deserving of consideration.

For further reading on this see; Spinoza's "Ethics" and "on the Improvement of the Understanding". Spinoza's Strange Symbiosis- Where Emotion and Thought Conjoin. [available soon on Academia.com and Amazon] CS

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I am familiar with 2 different approaches. The definition from wikipedia:

Is the state or quality of sentience or awareness of internal or external existence.

Western / Neuroscientific

consciousness noun [ U ] uk ​ /ˈkɒn.ʃəs.nəs/ us ​ /ˈkɑːn.ʃəs.nəs/

The state of understanding and realizing something.

That is to say if you are asleep you are unconscious buy your subconscious part of your mind is active otherwise you would not notice the alarm clock when it rings. For this approach consciousness is created within the neuronal network and it's just a feature of the mind. ref here. Consciosness could be described as the part of the mind that notices the passing of time and makes you self-aware.

Eastern / Existential / Spiritual

"yogas chitta vritti nirodha" Patanjali's Yoga Sutra

Yoga is the cessation of the mental processes. The goal of yoga is to achieve a pure state of consciousness that is to say we want to stop the mind through asanas, pranayamas, meditation etc. just to focus on the silent watcher of the mind (consciousness). For this approach consciousness is something you can tap into but it's not the mind, not produced by the brain, not part of your idea of self (ego) it is not even material but metaphysical. It has no form and it is not an object. It has no end and no beginning, no past and no future, no birth and no death because it always happens here and now. It cannot be explained but experienced. It something that has always been there but your mind has been hiding it from you through ideas, feelings, ego, thoughts, etc.

According to Jnana Yoga and Buddhism to discover what consciousness is you must ask yourself "who am I". According to those philosophies you are not anything created by the mind eg. "your nationality, your culture, religion, system of believes, political affiliation etc. because those things are mental constructs learnt along the way which are subjected to impermanence e.g. you are not who you were 10 years ago but the illusion of it.

Scientific investigation of conscientiousness fairly recent and it will get deeper as neuroscientific research progresses.

  • The eastern vs western approaches are a good starting point. Expanded in my answer – Rusi-packing-up Aug 27 at 7:28
  • @PbxMan You can't create anything "inside a neural network". Neural network's don't have insides. – J D Aug 29 at 17:41
  • @JD semantics again. Can you create a program with your ram memory in your computer? – PbxMan Aug 29 at 17:44
  • Semantics? As in the meaning of words? Ohhhhh. You don't think the meaning of words is important. Well, try feeding tokens into a compiler based on emotional payoff instead of analytical reason and see how long you stayed employed. To answer your question, I can create instructions in memory with a translator called a compiler, sure. – J D Aug 29 at 17:48
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Answers like pbxman's that distinguish eastern and western (notion? approach?) consciousness are a good starting point.

It will be found however that some oriental teachers have refined and reified consciousness – if that's possible! – to include both and the spectrum in between.

The following is from Talks with Ramana maharshi

A young man, Mr. Knowles, came for darsan. He had read Paul Brunton’s1 two books. He asked: “The Buddhists say that ‘I’ is unreal, whereas Paul Brunton in the Secret Path tells us to get over the ‘I- thought’ and reach the state of ‘I’. Which is true?”

Ramana: There are supposed to be two ‘I’s; the one is lower and unreal, of which all are aware; and the other, the higher and the real, which is to be realised. You are not aware of yourself while asleep, you are aware in wakefulness; waking, you say that you were asleep; you did not know it in the deep sleep state. So then, the idea of diversity has arisen along with the body-consciousness; this body-consciousness arose at some particular moment; it has origin and end. What originates must be something. What is that something? It is the ‘I’-consciousness. Who am I? Whence am I?

On finding the source, you realise the state of Absolute Consciousness.

A page later

The visitor said: “The world sends impressions and I awake!”

Ramana: Can the world exist without someone to perceive it? Which is prior? The being-consciousness or the rising-consciousness? The being-consciousness is always there, eternal and pure. The rising- consciousness rises forth and disappears. It is transient.

So we see that there are many different attributions of consciousness :

  • Rising-consciousness (sometimes called waking or body-consciousness)
  • Being consciousness (or I-consciousness)
  • Absolute-consciousness

So at the risk of gross oversimplification :

  • Rising/waking/body consciousness is what is discussed in western mode
  • Absolute consciousness is what orientals talk of (in philosophy mode!)
  • Being or I consciousness is the key: Which way it faces determines which door opens

1Paul Brunton in effect means Ramana since the major part of Brunton's books consist of Ramana conversations, grappling with the idea etc

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People like to invent pretentious things about 'consciousness', and in the process create new definitions of it every time they speak. Is conscious the opposite of unconscious? Is it the opposite of inanimate? Is it the opposite of unknowing? Or of being incapable of knowing?

You can make it include whatever you want, as long as you never slow down and say exactly what you mean. In that case we are back to the point where some kinds of unconsciousness are conscious.

If it is the former, then neither the complex structure nor the spiritual experience have anything to do with it. It is merely the awareness of the changes taking place in your memory by the events of the given moment. If those events are calm awareness or mystical experience or psychotic delusions is not material to the question.

If it is the very last, then of course it includes anything that can enter into memory and affect future decisions. So of course it includes all the experiences, real or otherwise, that people have gone trough, from their boredom to their dreams and their epiphanies.

Does is apply to time that you know has passed but have not necessarily experienced, but evaporates into the editing of our internal narrative known as flow? (As Heidegger has pointed out is most of our lives) Or is it specifically about moments when you are pulled out of the state of flow by events? Or does it rely upon the liminal state between these, where you are neither gone from your own life, nor thrown into deliberation, where you can establish mindful connection without obsessional domination?

Since we don't know what the word even means, why don't we talk about something well-defined?

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Your question, essentially how do we bridge the gap between the physical and mental is the central theme of Cartesian duality also known as the mind-body program. It is related to several other important ideas, like the proposed hard problem of consciousness and the problem of other minds.

This basis for this line of philosophical inquiry has been going on in some form since the Presocratics, but Rene Descartes certainly tackled it with such force, that it largely takes its modern dimensions from him, and hence the eponym.

Needless to say, finding an answer to that question is unlikely to be satisfied by a post on Stack Exchange. Many quality philosophers, such as Gilbert Ryle, Daniel Dennett, or Jaegwon Kim have spent their careers attempting to wrap their mind around the problem.

Suffice it to say, the three philosophers I have listed have approached the problem by examining the categorical nature of the question itself. For instance, Gilbert Ryle pronounced Cartesian Duality nothing more than a category mistake. That is to say, the the category of concrete and the category of abstract are categories of the mind, and that the two categories of mind and body don't intersect explains why there appears to be a gap in our idea of causality, also a category of the mind.

I've yet to find any two philosophers who share an answer in its entirety, so the only way you're likely to find a satisfying answer to this question is to attempt to answer it yourself.

  • You assume the mind as something non-physical. Devices are starting to tap into the mind. Consciousness watches the mind(Default Mode Network) not the other way around. Some philosophers (eastern) have been telling for millennia that "ego" is an obstacle for that too. Perhaps people will be able to get an answer to that question here, or feeding swans in the park or under a bodhi tree. – PbxMan Aug 29 at 7:23
  • @PbxMan The mind is generally defined as abstract, not physical. The physical portion is known as the brain. Read the definition carefully. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind – J D Aug 29 at 16:43
  • From your article "...Older viewpoints included dualism and idealism, which considered the mind somehow non-physical.[4] Modern views often center around physicalism and functionalism, which hold that the mind is roughly identical with the brain ..." – PbxMan Aug 29 at 17:05
  • "Roughly identical" is oxymoronic. Identical:= similar in every detail; exactly alike. How can one be approximately exactly alike? There are no mind surgeons, only brain surgeons. But since you seem to struggle with vocab, replace "roughly identical" with highly correlated for a more accurate statement. Look, you can claim software and hardware are the same, and yet, if they were exactly the same, wed buy pits and translate those pits to electron and magnetic particles instead of buy a dvd and install a program. It's sophistry and a false equivalence to claim a brain IS a mind and vice versa. – J D Aug 29 at 17:29
  • Of course, I'd love to hear your explanation of how the sentence "I see red" (in the mind) causes electrons to flow (in the brain). ; ) – J D Aug 29 at 17:32
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Since there is cosmic consciousness, it is not worth dealing human consciousness separately. You know, even the answers to many questions regarding death is still completely unknown. The same will be the case of consciousness also. This is because of that great cosmic consciousness. We can never deny the fact that even in unicellular organisms like bacteria and viruses have consciousness. Then you can make sure that consciousness has no relation to the number of cells or its complexity. Consciousness is everywhere; in animate objects, inanimate objects, tangible, intangible and everywhere.

The following link is just for giving you some hints.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaitanya_(consciousness)

Should consciousness be described as an outcome of physical matter and senses, or is it a higher mental construction?

Never.

He who can look into himself realizes this Truth. When he realizes it, he knows his consciousness is everywhere and everything ( https://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/sarvam-khaluidam-brahma )...and he attains liberation from all bondage. Now you may think about: "What happens to consciousness even if his body becomes no more?"

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    I'm with you on this but feel you make claims here that need more support. It seems useful to point out that the Perennial philosophy is unfalsifiable. This means nobody will ever be able to prove that matter gives rise to consciousness. The unfalsifiability of Solipsism proves the same thing. Quite why so many people ignore these facts is something of a mystery to me even after many years of trying to understand. The MInd-Matter problem is ancient and requires a metaphysical solution. Without this we cannot explain Mind or Matter. – PeterJ Dec 14 '18 at 11:02
  • @PeterJ: This is not any kind of understanding. I don't think that a mere understanding can satisfy anybody in this regard. That is the real problem for it is the 'root of all'. Since I don't know about solipsism, I didn't pursue it. I believe solipsism and non-duality are not synonymous because solipsism is rather egocentric while non-duality is something that transcends mind and ego. You won't be disturbed by mind-matter problem in non-dual state because you know that it is nonsense in reality. – SonOfThought Dec 15 '18 at 3:10
  • I most definitely did not suggest solipsism and non-duality are the same. I said the unfalsifiabilty of solipsism entails that it would be impossible to prove that matter gives rise to consciousness. Nor did I suggest that I am disturbed by the mind-matter problem. I was saying it is people and how they reason that I don't understand, not metaphysical problems. – PeterJ Dec 15 '18 at 10:49
  • @PeterJ: I really appreciate you for letting me know that you are not disturbed by mind-matter problem. Now I understand your words more clearly...you didn't say they (solipsism and non-dualism) are the same. Thanks for your clarification. – SonOfThought Dec 18 '18 at 3:11
  • No problem. It's amazing how difficult it is in philosophy to say something that isn't misunderstood. I hope to do it one day.:) – PeterJ Dec 18 '18 at 10:34

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