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daniel hehir

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What is the nature of consciousness? Is consciousness merely a by-product of the physical brain?

Consciousness is perhaps the greatest mystery ever to be presented to mankind. My question is: What is the nature of consciousness? How can the materialistic world view of mankind explain the phenomenon of consciousness. By its nature, which is of a totally immaterial and invisible, with its inner activity of thinking, also a totally invisible activity, which the whole of the scientific world view rests upon..."Thinking". What is thinking if not a non-physical super-sensible invisible, immaterial reality. For the scientific world view to understand itself, it must examine the nature of thinking. And in doing so, the "religious" world view will be able to find something to hang onto.Science and religion can meet on this question. Because it is here where they both fall short. Science cannot explain consciousness out of the materialistic world view. Religion cannot explain evolutionary principles in nature without adapting the scientific world view. The two are locked in an unending battle. Can it be that thinking is,in fact, the "spiritual activity of man"

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    Feb 27 2011: Daniel.

    Well, I would perhaps start by saying that this theme is dead from the beginning. Who would want to come and exchange ideas in a forum whose tittle betrays a rhetorical intention? You cannot start a serious discussion about consciousness being, or not, a result of the physical biochemistry of the brain if the title is fallacious. Let me try and be clear:

    What is the need for the adverb "merely" and for building something of a false dichotomy by going all the way to "by-product"? Why couldn't you have offered more alternatives, and leave the perception of beauty or lack thereof to the person. From where I sit, consciousness is an *amazing* product (not "by-product") of the physical and biochemical interactions going on among the many cells making up the brain. It is the astounding result of billions of years of evolutionary change, it is matter pondering abut itself. It is the universe pondering about the universe. Few things if any could be more poetic and inspiring than this. We might be here for such an incredibly ridiculous amount of time compared to the vastness of the universe and its age. Yet, we are privileged. Matter and energy, star dust, figuring out its own origins.

    So, as you can see, "merely" is unjustified, and "by-product" is misleading, since that is not the proper noun for the consequence of lots of events, from the formation of atoms heavier than hydrogen and helium in the stars, to the origin of life, to biological evolution. But your false dichotomy makes it appear as if consciousness is either some godish/soulish thing, or a despicable by-product. Nothing in the middle, no other alternatives.

    You might still attract people later. But the title is still a false dichotomy and a charged argument. The way it is written forces people inclined to the natural/material side to automatically accept something they might not hold: "merely" and "by-product."

    Best,
    --Gabo
    • Feb 27 2011: Hi Gabo,
      Well ... I believe that which you call a "false dichotomy" is quite obviously a dichotomy that many people feel themselves in... sort of between a rock and a hard place. If you listen to for example Richard Dawkins, it will become evident for you that I'm not trying to create a false d. at all. It is both "false" as well as a "dichotomy" And this is nothing new. This polarization of science and religion has existed for decades and more.The argument is very charged... to this I fully agree. Dawkins has at least "charged" it for me. I guess RD has inspired me to speak in defense of what I see and understand from my perspective of what the human being is. Neither the creationist or the evolutionist have fully recognized consciousness as any decisive factor in the evolutionary process of mankind. It is, in my mind, consciousness that will give us the middle road to understanding the physical and the spiritual evolution of mankind. This is what I want put on the agenda. I refuse to stand in either park, or on either side of the fence. But I do see that to not give the element of consciousness its full right in the understanding of the human being is to not see the forest for the trees. If you suppose that mankind is (I'll use the word again) "merely" star dust, matter and energy or
      biochemical interaction and if you mean to contribute the faculty of consciousness to these purely material
      factors than here is where we disagree. That which you call the godish/soulish thing is exactly what I'm getting at.... and the word I prefer to use is this..."spirit" ..... spirit is the same as consciousness. Immaterial ...without any fetishes or ties to the physical world when we die. And if people think that this is a dead theme from the beginning... than thats OK with me. I've got lots of other things to do actually. But if someone else sees this dichotomy and is equally disturbed by it, then they are welcome to come with their comments.
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        Mar 1 2011: Hi Daniel,

        But you are missing the point. The point is not the dichotomy between material and spiritual. That would seem like a "natural" dichotomy. The false dichotomy is referring to material consciousness with disdain, as if for it being material and material only deprived consciousness of significance or wonderment. If I wanted to start a topic on this I would leave those adjectives to the people discussing the issue. I find enormous beauty and poetry on actual explanations, and find the non-explanations, such as "spirit" and "soul" and "gods" as frustrating. In the end they mean "magic." That does not allow real understanding. Of course, this is not an argument against the spiritual side. This is just my description of how I perceive the issue to help you understand why I find the title both misleading and fallacious. This is not about "either spiritual or despicable." The adjectives put on either side depend on your perception. So, this becomes a charged argument when you label the side you don't like as "merely" and ""by-product" because I don't see this side as either. Thus, I had to first clarify this false perception before even getting into the real matter you might want to talk about. This is what does not work.

        Imagine I started a discussion about whether consciousness is either material, or a mere by-product of a ridiculous fairy-tale. If you just started arguing for the "fairy-tale" you would be accepting my description as factual. Unless you started by trying to get that part out.

        Anyway, enough of this. Hope you get the idea. I just end by adding that I find it quite disappointing that you would refer to star-dust as "merely." I can't hope to touch the sun ever in my life. yet, each of my atoms was there inside a star. Not only that, they were in a supernova! Talk about awesome! (Is this clear and can I now get to the topic?)

        Best,
        --Gabo
        • Mar 1 2011: Got your point Gabo. Made a few comments on the page here. I agree with "charged" maybe not so "misleading" though as you say. I can understand where your coming from. The "solely" (is that a better adj.?)material perspective of mankinds evolution is only half of the picture! The other half is his consciousness.... Take a look at what I put out today and get back with me. If I was to pull out the "merely" from the title, I would have to start a new conversation which actually I could. But I want to let it go for now. Maybe it will attract some other ideas that will either support or not support my perspective.
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        Mar 7 2011: Glad to hear RD has got you to stop and think and debate.
        • Mar 7 2011: I've been thinking about these things for about 35 years now... long before RD crawled out from under his rock.
          If all of RD's BS was fireworks he could do a whole 4th of July. But his handle on the meaning of life seems to be so short that he couldn't even fasten it on a matchstick.
          What do you think about consciousness Tim?
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      Mar 7 2011: Gabo,
      You are so wonderfully amusing!!! You begin your comment with: "I would perhaps start by saying, that this theme is dead from the beginning...who would want to come and exchange ideas in a forum whose title betrays a rhetorical intention?" Well, apparently you found it interesting enough to appear on this page several times with very insightful, beautiful, relevant ideas:>) A topic is only as "charged" as those who are participating in the discussion and it seems like you are "charged" in a beneficial way:>) Discussions get off topic when people get stuck on a certain word, phrase or idea. Is criticism of the word "merely" relevant?
      • Mar 7 2011: Hey Colleen
        Your pretty keen!
        Isn't this the coolest TED site
        That you've ever seen!

        They told me that this site was dead
        and that consciousness
        was only in my head!

        We've showed 'em that we've got some things to say!
        So keep on writing... and
        have a nice day !! ;-)
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    Mar 16 2011: This is a very interesting thread!

    This topic is something I've looked at for many years, both from the inside (experientially) and from the outside (as reading & research). From my point of view, one of the unrecognized aspects of the brain is to function as a master sensory organ. That is, it produces an awareness of the activity of the various sensory systems. This awareness _is_ consciousness. It is not a "mere by-product" of the brain but a primary function. This function has been alluded to in other threads here which called attention to the "witness" function of consciousness. To my way of thinking, the "witness" and consciousness are one and the same!

    The sensory system works whether we are conscious (awake) or not. We can hear loud sounds while asleep and there can be a measurable physiological response in the body. However, we are not conscious of them since our consciousness is off (or at a very low level) while sleeping. While awake we are always "conscious of" something or another, as our various sensory systems pick up external and internal data. If we have an overly busy thought system (chatter) we may not be aware of this stream of sensory data that passes through our consciousness. Instead, we construct fictions based on what we think is going on. These fictions are part of what we call the "self" or "ego", a manufactured entity we use to interface with the world.
    • Mar 17 2011: Hi Larry and welcome to the discussion!
      As you can see, this has really taken off ! I started the discussion a few weeks ago and it has been picking up speed ever since. It seems to be a "basic human need" to understand this inner being in us. The self consciousness, as I said earlier, is perhaps the greatest mystery that mankind has faced.
      I try to "tackle" the incoming comments as best I can, but now I have a problem keeping up with them all ! But I guess thats not the purpose either. Have you been reading along or have you just popped in?
      As you might have noticed I can provoke strong sentiments by interchanging the words spirit/soul with the words consciousness/mind. ... This is sort of the religious vs. science dichotomy that was talked about earlier. Please tell us more of what you think. ...
      Do the words to sleep is to excarnate.... and to awake is to incarnate say anything to your way of looking at man? Can you relate to this at all ?
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        Mar 25 2011: Hi Daniel,

        This thread has really turned into a crowded room, where it's hard to hear (or find) what everyone's saying!

        I have noted the standard fare in intelligent discussion/dialog where you find hard science opposing intuitive expression. This really reflects our innate human nature which has two basic aspects, that is often described as left brain/right brain (see Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's talk on TED). The brain scientists say this is an oversimplification, but I think it works best when used as metaphor (at least until the science catches up).

        Most of us are a mix of the intellectual and intuitive, but I suspect that the intellectual/cognitive is predominant in our society since we are always figuring out consensual reality by an active thought process. The problem is, we make our cognitive processes our home base. The spiritual side of our nature (the right brain) does not have a practical value as far as society is concerned so we tend to keep it suppressed. The shift in consciousness, as illustrated so well by Dr. Taylor's stroke, is when left brain/cognitive dominance can be turned off long enough for the right brain to come online as primary. These shifts are experienced as a spiritual awakening. Ideally, it would better if we can avoid a stroke or NDE to get there! The problem in describing such phenomena is that language resides in the left brain. The right brain is experiential (without conceptual labels) but the left brain deals with the concepts, so the ability to accurately describe the stream of consciousness is almost impossible without using poetic language, which can never be scientific. The trick, I think, is to integrate our dual nature so that neither side is suppressed.

        To the scientist's here: I am using left brain/right brain as a metaphor only!
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          Mar 25 2011: AWWWWWWW.....well said Larry...feels like a breath of fresh air:>)I strongly support your statement that: "Ideally, it would be better if we could avoid a stroke or NDE to get there"! Too late for me, but ya'll have a chance at that one...LOL:>)

          One interesting thing about my head/brain injury is that it seemed to cause more connections that were not previously there. All my life, I have been a right brain dominant person. The main damage was to the right temporal lobe, although the entire brain was challenged because of extreme swelling and subdural bleeding. The result is that I'm much more logical/scientific than I was before. It seems that my injury has balanced things a little better:>) Again though, I don't recommend this as way to "find oneself"...LOL:>)
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        Mar 25 2011: Colleen,

        I suspect if you were left-brain dominant, you would have a different story to tell. In that case, you would be talking about the "La La land" you visited when the left brain shut down. It looks like it is simpler for a right-brain dominant person to integrate their logical/scientific side than for a left-brain dominant person to integrate their right-brain side. I mean, for a scientist who is used to describing phenomena in precise terms to suddenly be thrown into a pure, non-verbal, sensory experience, it is a real challenge for them to explain. You are very fortunate it worked out so well.

        One last thought: The right brain/spiritual/intuitive side of our nature is our real home base. It is the child's innocent nature. As an adult we suppress it in favor of social conditioning, which requires that thinking be dominant. However it happens we need to integrate our child nature with the mature use of thinking (thinking as a tool, not as a way of life). NDEs, brain injury, and spiritual awakenings show us that we can function different than our programming. The balance (or integration) you refer to is our ability to live in a fully human manner.
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          Mar 25 2011: YES!!!:>) It was very simple!!!:>) LOL
          Actually, it really was...challenging, logical and simple:>)
          I did it with the curiosity of a child, the tools of the thought/feeling processes and a recognition of my home:>)
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          Mar 25 2011: Larry,
          I've been pondering the information you provided, and I want to thank you. It never occured to me that it may be easier for a right brained person to connect with the left brain, than vise versa, but it makes sense, as you have explained it above.

          I really, really appreciate you. As I've been reading the comments in this thread for days, I am amazed that people are so stuck in either the spiritual argument or the scientific argument. I keep thinking..."don't they see that it can be both"? I actually surprise myself sometimes, when encouraging people to consider the scientific explanations! This is so amusing! I lived for 43 years as a right brain dominant person, and for the last 21 years integrating the functions of the left brain more. Although I understood it, I did not explain it as well as you have...exquisite! Thank you for being you and sharing the gift with me:>)
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          Mar 25 2011: In my experience, it's all connected Kathy K, which you've said yourself in other comments. So, which is your truth? Everything is connected...or not? If you believe that everything is connected, as you have stated many times before, then it seems odd that you would say that "brain dominance is not a factor, as the consciousness is not affected by brain injury"

          My consciousness certainly was affected, so speak for yourself on that darlin'. Also, my perception is not that it is "psychological work". Being a right brain dominant person most of my life, I "play" with a lot of ideas. Now that I'm more connected with the left brain I'm supposed to "work" at it? I don't think so:>)
        • Mar 26 2011: Larry,
          Neurology and the science of brain are not my speciality so I will not go into these matters. However, I perceive that when you talk about the “right brain” you focus solely on the socially welcomed aspects such the as poetic/emotional element and the “child’s innocent nature” hence you stress the importance of incorporating these aspects in our personality, and I applaud that. However, what you don't touch is the annoying potential of “spirituality” in making many people adopt religious dogmas, submit to imaginary entities and believe in ridiculous superstition. These “spiritual” outcomes are far from being constructive and ultimately lead to the partitioning of the tapestry of humanity and hinder real knowledge. Understanding the evolutionary path for the development of these tendencies is quite useful but it is not my intention to go into that.
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          Mar 26 2011: Dear Mind S,
          Spirituality is obviously "annoying" to you, and it may not be for others. When you say things like the "potential of spirituality in making many people adopt religious dogmas, submit to imaginary entities and believe in ridiculous superstition", it sounds like you feel people are giving up their choices when they embrace spirituality?

          You know, I was born into a Catholic family, and for 19 years that I was practicing the religion because that was expected of me, I was also questioning and pondering the teachings and dogma of the religion. We all have that choice Mind S. Sure, someone may force us to participate in religious practices as children, but once we become adults, we have choices. It doesn't seem like you're recognizing the idea of choice.

          Although I do not practice a religion, I percieve the benefits some people derive from their beliefs, and I respect their choices. The "outcomes" ARE "constructive" FOR SOME PEOPLE, SOME OF THE TIME. Many people who practice a religion or philosophical belief are very knowledgeable and understand the evolutionary path. It is fine if you decide not "to go there". You have that choice, which others respect. How about respecting others choices as well? Seems like you are limiting yourself with a close minded belief:>)
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          Mar 26 2011: One more thought Mind S,
          Based on historical evidence, it appears that the concept of spirituality has been around for quite awhile, and we may assume, from that evidence that it will continue to be around. How much time and energy do you want to spend fighting against something that is probably going to exist regardless of your effort?
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        Mar 25 2011: Kathy K,
        It might be benificial to you and others to put your ego aside and walk your talk:>)
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        Mar 25 2011: Kathy K,
        It might be benificial to you and others to put your ego aside and walk your talk:>)
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        Mar 25 2011: Kathy K,
        It might be beneficial to you and others to put your ego aside and walk your talk:>)
        With loving kindness,
        Colleen
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          Mar 26 2011: Balance is always good:>)
          Thanks for the reference to the Claron McFadden talk/sing Ed:>) As a former performing artist, singing, dancing and acting in musical and other theater productions, I totally connect with Claron's calm, alertness, emotion, focus, awareness and freedom of expression.
          Thanks a lot for bringing it to our attention:>)
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    • Mar 15 2011: Fredric
      You forgot the 4th possibility.
      Can you explain consciousness with billiard balls ??!! Lets hear! But it can perhaps present a good example of simple some people think.....
      Consciousness can in no way compare with billiard balls. Thats a pretty naive comparison... shape, movement, mass, velocity, angle of impact ... nothing at all mysterious here...
      Consciousness is and has been one of philosophy's and sciences biggest puzzles throughout history and you can come along an say its no more that like billiard balls..... well.... you must be incredibly smart Fred !!
      But besides your denying soul and spirit, do you have anything interesting to say about consciousness as a phenomena in itself. Any good and meaningful things to say. Tell us for example how self consciousness has evolved and why it has evolved... any good reason for self consciousness??
      I suggest you go to the start of this discussion and read all the comments and then come back and discuss the physical vs. the spiritual.... otherwise I'll have to repeat so much of the things that I've already written.
      It must be consciousness that triggers the firing of the neural activity. As a sleeping person has no significant thinking activity to measure....
      I fully agree that religion has come with a lot of BS up through the years ... but so has science....
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        Mar 15 2011: the remark about science made me laugh :)
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        • Mar 16 2011: Fredric, In terms of the billiard balls again,
          I see.... so if I say to you Frederic .. think of a triangle.. you then do so.. this triangle exists only in the immaterial world.. or.. The triangle that is now in your mind or your consciousness is totally and without question immaterial .. don't you agree..?

          This you have to agree to... so I'll go one step further.

          You say that science is on its way to explaining what this "qualia" is... almost that you want to say that this is the end of the search... if science can find this qualia, then, yes then!! we have found the answer to what drives the neural firing.!! hurray!!.. but the triangle that you were thinking about a minute ago. That is gone now.... think about a circle....now the triangle... It's your conscious mind that is reading these words and putting them together in a logical pattern in your own immaterial consciousness, an immaterial idea received over the internet, a million miles away, has been received and carried in your own thoughts by me simply writing the word "triangle" .. is there anything in the shape or the letters... or the form the length of the word that can give any "concrete" picture of a triangle....No... the triangle exists in your mind and my mind and anybody's mind who is just a little bit familiar with basic geometry.
          One more thing, I'm not "you guy's" I write only for myself. I don't agree with everything that has been put out here. Don't get me wrong. I think I'm coming from just as strict a scientific line of thought as you are, but I'm trying to say that the immaterial realm of ideas, thoughts, and consciousness must be taken as realities.
          I see your interested in Richard Dawkins. Maybe you can relate some of his thoughts on "memes".. I have hear mention of it but havn't had the chance to get into it that much.
          What does he mean by a meme?
          I perhaps interchange the words "soul/spirit" with "consciousness/mind" Some say this is just semantics but I'm shaking the bridge...
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          Mar 16 2011: Didn't know machines did science..

          As for BS .. How about NASA scientists claiming Arsenic based microbial life forms ? And after which Arsenic became a life sustainer rather than poison. Now I can't help but trust science

          Let's' just not become egotistical about science and lets recognize the fact that science will always remain incomplete and will always grow. That doesn't mean it isn't right , always .
        • Mar 16 2011: Frederic,
          I'm with you 100% on that one. The scientific process is the only way to go. There is no room for mere belief. But science has to go further than the material. It must also penetrate the immaterial. This can be done phenomenologically. The study of consciousness must and will come. Their is no difference than in any material research. The fact that consciousness is non-material doesn't mean that science can't study it. Science just has to study the phenomena involved.
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          Mar 16 2011: Daniel: I don't understand your conception of "the immaterial". Is energy immaterial?
        • Mar 16 2011: quickly back to that triangle.... biologically speaking... where do you suppose that triangle is located now in your brain...? Was it there before ..? Is it still there, sort of like a growth...? Do you think it looks at all like the shape of a triangle...? How do you suppose that you can move it around in your imagination... do you think it actually moves around in your brain.... sort of like a little butterfly or an insect creeping about ..? If you thought of a hundred different triangles... do you think you would have a hundred different "footprints" in your physical brain..?
          Do you start to see the absurdity of it.... ?? The triangle is an "idea" a "concept" that your thinking can bring forth within your minds eye... or your imagination. I can promise you that you will never find any "quailia" that will give you the answer to this question..!
          and its an extremely materialistic corner you've painted yourself in if you really claim to believe this.... Your ideas, memories, thought processes are all purely "consciousness" related phenomena. ..
      • Mar 16 2011: daniel said :
        “It must be consciousness that triggers the firing of the neural activity”
        How did you reach such bold conclusion? This illustrates an example of one of the non-demonstrated, imaginary assertions of mystics. A category of assertions that have no support from reality but related to subjective, personal emotional/psychological drives. Mystic consciousness represents surrealistic/irrational and ambiguous concept, where there is no way to tell as to its truth or falsehood.
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          Mar 16 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i3AiOS4nCE - for explaining consciousness " programming the brain "

          As far as mystic consciousness are concerned, I can point you to mystics. And certain mystical practices that will change your consciousness. But you will have to do the "experiment" yourself to verify it rather than allow another to be the judge. Trust me, its worth it.
        • Mar 16 2011: Mind S

          What do you think triggers the firing of the neurons?
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      Mar 15 2011: Biological evolution remains a mystery. Consciousness thus remains a bigger mystery.

      Material universe cannot explain what happened prior to the big-bang. If you mention string theory, again I said material universe in three dimensions.

      There are people who do not think, and yet fully function in this world without any difficulties. What validity does thinking have in such a case ? I can point them to you. And I am serious about this.

      Experiencing "monism" or non-dual separation as a first hand living experience is completely different from using it merely as a conceptual framework.

      Unfortunately, amazing progress doesn't equate to clear cut answers to simple questions such as what is the origin of thought rather than what is the effect of thought in the brain. Until then science is still in a premature stage, and cannot claim progress.

      Religion , if misunderstood through the eyes of fundamentalism, or the control structure imposed by the power hungry elite and , will fail to help individuals or science to point to the non-dual awareness within which occur in the origin of all the religions. Science which fails to look at its own "observer" as separate from the universe is equal to being unscientific in the purest sense. Read Biocentrism or works by Robert Lanza. It is the closest scientific theory which comes in line with a reasonable study on the nature of the "observer"
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          Mar 16 2011: No scientist have any kind of detailed understanding as to how consciousness emerges from Biological evolution ( not biological evolution alone ).If they did , they would be able to replicate the same in a lab. And simply they haven't. So biological evolution "IS" a mystery, as there are bigger gaps left to be filled. An incomplete theory cannot explain consciousness.

          In case you didn't understand what I said, I was wondering what happened prior to the big bang. There is no conclusive explanation science can provide on that other than incomplete theories waiting to be proved. It doesn't have the evidence to claim what happened at the origin as of now.

          Until science has come up with proper explanation, it will remain INCOMPLETE. Let's acknowledge this fact rather than claiming unproven theories to explain things we haven't understood yet. Such as quoting biological evolution as the reason for consciousness.

          No one is asking philosophy /religion to fill the void. No one is asking science to fill the void using incomplete theories as well.

          Thanks for the list. Will look at those. However, you seemed to have avoided one major section in my reply. I had told you I can provide you details of individuals who have experienced the non-dual consciousness. What can scientists do to study these special individuals ?

          Consciousness ultimately is a subjective experience. Science is has bigger gaps to fill in the subjective experience. If you looked into the ancient scriptures on yoga, you would recognize it as the science of subjective experiences. There is no need to rely upon mere transient material / objective realm to explain subjective experience that requires individual experimentation. Science still has much to grow compared to scriptures such as Patanjali's yoga sutras.

          P.S. Richard Dawkins hasn't experienced Kundalini symptoms and the associated consciousness shift. So I wouldn't value his words in explaining consciousness to be honest.
    • Mar 16 2011: Hi Frederic,
      The fact is that no two days of driving to work are exactly alike.. perhaps if you take the train.. then you could sleep and not engage you thinking at all. I really hope for the sake of all car drivers out there on the roads that your "auto-pilot" theory is wrong. Of course there are different degrees of "awake"ness ... this I will agree with. If a sleepwalker should get into his or her car and start driving it.. well .. you see what I mean. Consciousness is a central part in pretty much all that we do ... thinking is perhaps another question. The nuclear scientists in Japan were certainly thinking when they built those nuke plants...but they weren't thinking about all unseen consequences. A billiard ball is a good example of how the physical world works. But to go to more complicated examples is like the one you mentioned as I also did earlier in this discussion, perhaps you yourself had read it seeing that you took up projective geometry.
      In fact Fred, I have studied a bit of projective(Aristotelian) geometry. What do you think about the circle expanding to the infinite line on a plane?Have you managed to actually imagine it? What about the sphere expanding to the infinite plane? Can you see the limits of your own thinking? But one can certainly experience that your "imagination" (also a part of your consciousness I might add) is stretched to its limits. One can do all sorts of such mental exercises. Your thinking is actually quite limited. You expand your "idea" of circle until the line of the circle becomes straight..... try it.... Will the line ever become straight ?...and if so, can you imagine it? can you see it in your "minds eye"... if you allow to use such a "non-demonstrated" idea... Does the line of the circle "meet again with itself " ? Does it meet at the infinite point ? Do you know what I'm talking about by the "ideal point"..?
      Lets get back to consciousness then... What does your explanation encompass .. and then "self-consciousnes
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        • Mar 17 2011: I don't mean for you to give "ALL" the answers Frederic.... Just one .... Take self-consciousness...

          How can you explain self-consciousness in a biological/evolutionary process?
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    Mar 8 2011: Consciousness is an emergent phenomenon generated from the stream of information that flows between the brain and the external world. I specifically mention the brain because that is where the information accumulates and is networked into what we consider to be consciousness. I believe that this continuous stream of information is what constitutes conscious thought. Only when the stream is active do we engage in thought. When we sleep this stream is closed off by the brainstem and the senses, which tie the body to the external environment, are desensitize and we become unconscious. Along those same lines, various events that happen within the body and the brain do not reach the conscious stream. Things like digestion, involuntary movement, and what we call the subconscious consists of information that are automated by the nervous system yet never enter the stream of consciousness.

    Another way to think about it is that the senses tie the internal environment to the external despite a physical barrier. Though we have a physical body our senses allow information from outside the body to be continuous with the inside of the body without disruption. Perceptually we, as conscious beings, believe we are independent units separate from our environment, but we often forget that we are an accumulation of individual cells. Our consciousness is a result of the organization of these cells into a system where a grand stream of information and complex process of this information is possible.

    To me, consciousness is about information. Humans are conscious through what their senses can perceive. Cells are conscious of their chemical environments. And civilizations are conscious of social phenomena. Consciousness is not specific to the brain. It is simply an organized stream of information.
    • Mar 8 2011: Come on Jacky..." Our consciousness is a result of the accumulation of individual cells" This has no meaning. Cells cannot, even if put in the most advanced system, ask the questions "Who am " I " ?? "What am I doing here?" "What is the meaning of life?"...

      Consciousness is perhaps, with a stretch of the meaning of the words " information put in a system".... but still... who is the observer.... who is the witness .... who am " I ".....?

      As 'Cool'leen put it, there are many levels of consciousness.
      My breakdown of her words is the following,

      The "sleeping" consciousness or unconscious.
      The "dreaming" consciousness or sub-conscious mind.
      and finally
      The "awake"consciousness, or every day life consciousness.... (not including the woman at the traffic light waiting to turn left...)......pardon the joke Colleen....
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        Mar 8 2011: I think I understand what Jacky is trying to explain -- part of the problem, as identified in this discussion, is the semantics -- we are trying explain 'consciousness' with the limited tools that language provides. And there are many different 'types' of consciousness -- As Jean-Paul Sartre said: 'The consciousness that says 'I am' is not the consciousness that thinks.'

        Are you asking about consciousness as awareness? OR Self awareness?

        You might enjoy reading "Transcending the Speed of Light: Consciousness, Quantum Physics, and the Fifth Dimension " which argues that consciousness is a fifth dimension -- and I am inclined to agree, considering how woefully inadequate
        • Mar 8 2011: Hi Linda and welcome to the discussion. We are pretty caught up in semantics yes... but were working on it with a positive attitude trying to get to the bottom of what its all about. I don't have time to go so much into a conversation just now but will try to get back to you tomorrow. What, by the way is Sartre's differences in conscioussness and the thinking consciousness..? Sounds interesting... especially if you can put it in a nutshell for me... Don't have much time to read these days, too much going on otherwise. But I'd love to hear more so if your into it, put out some of the ideas presented... as well as your own. Have you been following this discussion for a long time or are you new here? Your last few words are missing in your comment... but there is surely a lot thats woefully inadequate ;-)
        • Mar 10 2011: One could say that there is only one type of consciousness, the only difference is just where it is active. Because we have an inner experience of consciousness we can say " I " about ourselves. A child, up to around the age of 2.5 to 3 years does not say " I " about him/herself. They use their own name when they talk about themselves.... as in "Daniel wants a chocolate" As the "incarnation process" takes place, as the "spirit" takes a deeper hold of the individual, the inner experience is then expressed as " I " The consciousness element is the same, the degree of "incarnation" .... (in our meat) to put it rather bluntly, the more we "gain access" to the physical body, the more express this individualized consciousness that we experience as "mine" Is it really just mine? Or is it only the experience of being mine. Could it be that all consciousness has one universal source of consciousness? I don't want to try to answer that question... But the consciousness of the animal is clearly more dampened than ours as to the respect of "thinking." Awareness, such as a fox or a rabbit, awareness in sounds or visual senses can be much more deeply incarnated. If you get my idea ..? The flock of birds analogy that I used earlier in this TED thread is a good example of a form of consciousness that is externalized from the physical individuality. Here the spirit/soul of the bird can "operate" the individual bird in unison as the flock so mysteriously moves as one.... or... it can operate in each individual with different movement patterns. Take the example of putting your ten fingers through ten holes in a cardboard box. You can move your fingers very systematically as a flock... or individually, but the consciousness that is steering the movement is just yours. The nervous system is internalized in us as human being and science tells us that the neurons firing in your brain are the origin of this finger movement. But consciousness is the real initiator.
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      Mar 8 2011: Jacky,
      I agree with most of what you've written: "consciousness is a stream of information...information accumilates in the brain and is networked". I do not agree that when we sleep, this stream is turned off.
      My experience tells me that there are several layers of consciousness, and when we are asleep, our brain can be conscious on other levels, like the dream state for example. I also experienced the thought/feeling process on another level when I was unconscious after a near fatal brain injury. The program that runs my human conscious thoughts was disabled, but I was aware of much more on another level. I agree that consciousness is about information, and if we are aware on many different levels, it may be an "organized stream of information". I call this "stream of information" energy.

      Daniel,
      Our bodies/brains are made up of cells, are they not? Jacky feels that the stream of information is made up of cells, I call this "stream of information" energy. Do you think we could be saying the same thing and using different terms?
      Sincerely,
      Cool'leen................makes me smile:>)
      • Mar 8 2011: Hi again Colleen!,

        Didn't you see my poem to you a little further down the list? Aren't you up pretty early this morning?

        Back to the discussion,
        Sleep can only be partly penetrated by out waking day consciousness. Deep sleep is pretty unaccesable for the most of us.
        Sure, we are made of up of cells. But so is the plant and the animal. Consciousness is something completely different for them. Where the animal is awake in a more of a dream state, we, the human being are mostly awake in our daytime conscousness. Take a sportscar driver. He /she must be extremely awake to drive at such speeds where things happen so fast. While a person that is more or less unaware of his/her surroundings is not so awake.This awakeness is a process, that for me, begins in the morning with my first cup of coffee, and around my second or third cup I start to feel awake. What knowledge that comes to me from the outer world is "logged" or "processed" (to use computer language) and put into my "system of information" where that logging takes place is another question. I don't by any means believe that this logging is done in the physical brain, although again I know this will create controversy. We can get back to this later, just where the "logging of information takes place. The materialists are all shaking their heads, they say I'm strange... but somethings lost and somethings gained, in living every day... J.M. clouds
        The cell in itself has no logging ability, nor does it know where to look for your memories. The cell level of our nature is providing the vehicle for the "energy" to manifest itself. This energy is also of different "levels" to use a physical word for a spiritual picture.
        I also wrote further down that it would be interesting to hear more details about your NDE. I wonder if you also saw your whole life in review. This is a usual phenomenon for people who have NDE. The next question is then how do we "see" all these pictures as if in a tablau stretched out before us?
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          Mar 8 2011: Hi again Daniel,
          Yes, I saw your clever poem:>)

          In my experience, sleep can be penetrated by our waking day experience, and deep sleep is very accessable to me:>) An example of penetrating the sleep state with awake experience, is that years ago, I was a professional actress, singer, dancer, performing in musical theater. I found the best way to remember lines and choreography, was to review the information just before sleep, with the intention of programing my brain to remember. I found that in the morning, it was programmed, as I intended. So, you see, I believe that we can penetrate the sub-conscious and various other levels of consciousness while sleeping.

          I like using computer language because I percieve the brain as very much like a computer. I believe that the cells do have "logging ability". How else is the information stored in the brain?

          Yes, I saw my lives in review. As humans, we usually don't have an energy vibration high enough to carry all of those memories. It would be like plugging a 220 appliance into a plug that only accepted a smaller voltage:>)
        • Mar 8 2011: I agree with Colleen. My experience of sleep is that it is often, maybe even usually, a richer experience than being awake. I often wake from a dream with the sense that the events in my dream happened over a much longer period of time than seven hours, or however long I slept. It would seem then, that I am having more experience per second while asleep, than while awake.

          edit: I also see no evidence that animals are in some sort of dream state, or that their consciousnesses are any less awake than ours. There is plenty of evidence that they are intellectually inferior, and it would seem obvious that there are qualitative differences between the consciousnesses of a human and say, a lizard. But I see no evidence of quantitative differences. My cat seems just as aware of me as I am of it.
      • Mar 8 2011: A stream of information is in no way made up of cells. It's made up of pictures, sounds, and all that our senses bring into our consciousness. Even feelings are sense impressions. Have you ever gotten a stomach ache from watching a violent film. Feelings are not merely cells. Cells are the living elements that carry the sense activity, or to say it in a more esoteric way, the soul activity. Our soul and spirit are seated in the living element. Cells are providing the basis for the soul and spirit activity to be incarnated on the physical plane of existence. This life element is, I think, what you are calling the energy body, which is also a body of light. This is the body of light that many that have had a NDE tell about when they re-awake in their physical body. They tell of a body of light that is all pervasive and is not only "their" body but "everythings" body of energy. An essoteric name for this is the "etheric body".... also the body where all your memories are stored. This is the tablau that we "see" without our physical eyes when we die or have a NDE.
        The ancient cultures of the world knew this. This is what the initiation rituals were all about. To give the initiate a "glimps" of this "other" level of existence. To observe this "energy" world without the physical body. ..... I hope this isn't getting to deep now.... I've got to go and make dinner so my physical body can go on living.... All my ingredience will come from the this living world, although material, and pretty much "dead", but at one time or another everything I eat (or at least should eat) has also taken part in this "energy" or "life" world. You can eat a truck load of minerals, you can even eat the truck,... but to sustain the energy body, we must take in something that has been living itself before. The point that I'm finally getting around to is that this energy body is a "concrete"(a terribly physical word) reality that has its own existence "apart" from the system of our cells!!
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          Mar 9 2011: If we believe that everything is interconnected, as I do, then nothing is "apart". In my perception, the energy flows through everything...including the cells, so they are very much part of the whole. You say that everything is connected, and you also say "the energy body...has its own existence "apart" from the system of our cells". That seems a little confusing to me.
      • Mar 8 2011: This is a response to a response further down.....up....??
        Amazing Colleen! Did you see more than the one life that the one your in now? ...as you wrote" lives" This is extremely interesting! Could you see every detail? Did you meet any other beings while you were out of your body? Have you heard of Raymond Moody and George Richie?
        What can you say about the "review" of your life? It was of course an immaterial picture(s) but can you tell more details. Could you see your own energy body as you spoke of earlier. Was the review picture of the same "substanse" (again, to use a very material word) as the body that you were yourself made of? Were the pictures in any way something that you had sympathy or antipathy towards? Like judging any of your actions in the pictures or were you completely neutral towards them?
        If you could just answer all these questions first.... then I have a few more.... hope you don't mind :-)
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          Mar 9 2011: Daniel,
          Yes, I'm familier with Raymond Moody's work....not familier with George Richie. I researched hundreds of recorded cases of NDE and guest lectured at the Univ. for years on the topic. You can google NDE research for more information. I also cared for a relative and two friends when they were dying, and volunteered for a couple years at a hospice care facility to learn more about the dying process and support others through it.

          First of all, I'll tell you that this experience is like going to a different country and witnessing a ritual in a different culture with different language. Then coming back and trying to explain it in terms that I know on a human level. We simply don't have the language to explain all of what I experienced.

          Yes, I had a review of several lives. I saw details, but not as we describe details as humans. I was a mass of energy, without form or human characteristics. The other beings present were also masses of energy. Although I recognized them on some level, the only one I was sure of, was the energy of my mother, who had died a year earlier. Again, there were no human characteristics.

          My life reviews were for the purpose of evaluating what I had learned. I was my own judge, and it was not about what I did that was good or bad, but rather, what I learned from the experiences.

          Communications were similar to what we may call ESP. There were no pictures or dialogue. There was a sense of "knowing". On some levels, we can think of this as intuition or gut feeling. That is why I keep saying there are many levels of consciousness. Several of us on this thread may be speaking of different levels, and it may be difficult to pin down the "nature of consciousness" if we are percieving it from different perspectives. My belief is that we are all capable of experiencing several layers of consciousness, and it depends on how open we are to that experience:>)

          I like questions...thanks for asking:>)
      • Mar 9 2011: Simply amazing story Colleen !! I too work at a Hospice !!! So here were are... "meeting" with our ideas ... a million miles apart... isn't that amazing !! (interconnected !!)
        I don't have much time to write just now but will try to get back tomorrow.
        This is a response to your comments further down the page, but there is no reply button down there... so I hope you find this comment. I just look for the blue words as to what time it was when the last comment was made but I see that the time frame is actually way off.
        I still have more questions to you, so don't go away.!
        I am together with a group of people who will be have a Saturday kafee with a lecture on NDE next weekend.
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          Mar 9 2011: Not so amazing...there's not much that surprises me any more...I'm here:>)
      • Mar 10 2011: Sleep, or dreaming sleep, is surely a deeper realm of consciousness. But can you choose yourself what you want to dream about? Generally, most people can't do this. We are merely a passenger on the train. We observe pictures that we try to piece together again when we awake... or? I don't think that anyone could write a TED comment while in a dream state... Although there are certain phenomenon of "sleep writing" or medium/trance writing, where people communicate things from "the other side" more or less unconscious themselves while doing so. This is absolutely a phenomenon worth looking at. I suppose there are studies to be found on this. Just how people can communicate things from the world of the spirit in a trance or as a medium is a very interesting trail that should be followed up. Here is one example for the scientific minded person to study,where consciousness could be examined by experimentation, just how objective things are or are not communicated from the "other side" Here in Norway there is even a TV program where the police sometimes use such people to solve crimes. They even have a contest to see just which one is better at this. Some are often wrong in their visions while others can be quite precise. It's quite surprising to hear such details of the information that they can see... They often have contact with the dead murder victim and they are told thing or shown things in relation to the crime. The police can then go to the site of the crime and find evidence ... like where a knife was thrown into the woods or the like. So the objectivity of the clairvoyant is alway under scrutiny. Sometime there right and sometimes there wrong. But they are more or less consciously penetrating into a dream world of feelings that the murder victim communicates "through" them. To be "awake" in my dream world may be the first step to being "awake" in the dream world (or feeling world) of others. So when Tim says that he cant see how spirit knowledge can help us...so
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          Mar 10 2011: In a comment above, Tim mentions "universal consciousness". The universal consciousness is an unending, unlimited source of energy information. When we are connected with that source, there are no time/space limitations, so anyone can communicate with anyone else...including the energy beings who are not on this earth school at this time.

          I've said this before, and I'll say it again. We often label this kind of communication gut feeling or intuition. Or we may call it ESP. Where do you think that gut feeling/intuition is coming from? Again, there are many levels in which we can communicate in this way, depending on how open we are to the possibilities:>)
      • Mar 10 2011: Hi again Colleen,
        I would like to ask if you can, from your NDE say anything about neural firing in the brain? Could you say that this energy being that you experienced yourself as is the actual producer of the activity going on in your physical brain that we call neural activity. This energy is often called electrical energy. But we know that it is something more. The electrical aspect is only one side of the coin. I wonder if you could elaborate more on this energy. When your energy body came back into the physical body, might you say that your brain was changed or transformed in any way... if so ...how?
        Are you more intuitive after this experience? Do you have ESP now? Did it come after your NDE?
        What colors am I wearing?.....lol ok, ok, what kind of car do I drive? Just kidding....
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          Mar 10 2011: No Daniel, sorry, but I cannot say much about "neural firing in the brain". Only that I know it exists. A scientist is better equipped to answer that question.

          Yes, in my experience, the energy contributes to the activity in the brain that we call neural activity.

          You know, my NDE happened at the time of a brain injury, so yes, the brain was changed. Part of it was damaged, and damaged brain tissue was removed at the time of the craniotomy. The NDE provided information that I was not previously aware of on a conscious level.

          Yes, I'm aware of more channels of consciousness opening because of the experience.
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    Feb 27 2011: Consciousness is more akin to a hung browser tab that is at best vaguely aware of other tabs running in the background. It is a rare tab that hacks its way to root access.
  • Mar 26 2011: Would love to continue
    on this thread
    but don't really have the time

    the "continuation of consciousness"
    in poesy and rhyme

    Is anyone out there interested
    to start a bran new thread..?
    on this endless topic ... consciousness
    or is the whole thing "dead"

    should we start another
    bran new conversation
    or does it only contribute
    to a deep inner frustration

    Has anyone there any more to say..
    enemy or friend
    or has our topic fizzled out
    and reached the final end..?

    and If we do continue
    is there anyone out there
    who has some new perspectives
    that they might like to share ?

    My fingers they are getting tired
    I've worn them to the bone
    My thoughts are getting mired
    and I feel myself alone...

    Is there anyone else who also feels this way?
    confusion .... distress...
    have we gotten any closer to this thing called
    consciousness ?

    To continue might be error
    but to end would be so sad
    ...and thanks again to everyone
    for the sessions we have had...

    but I hope to meet you all again
    someplace... somewhere ... sometime...
    In "consciousness" we meet as friends
    in reason and in rhyme ...

    So until then.....I wish you well
    take heed of stormy weather
    and so I say my last farewell
    Its been fun to be "conscious".... together..
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      Mar 26 2011: Good job Daniel:>)
      It's been fun to be conscious...together:>)
  • Comment deleted

    • Mar 17 2011: Slow down Frederic, No need to get so emotionally involved. Did you find what I wrote to you about the triangle..? Consciousness is not superstition but you tell me that it comes from the material... that sounds more superstitious than me saying that consciousness comes from the realm of consciousness..
      To be superstitious can also have its roots in what I would call material superstition .... to believe that everything arises out of the material... almost as if the material itself takes on a form or cloak of "godliness" that can produce everything and explain everything....
      To be so fanatically engulfed in your own meanings makes you think unclear.... just like religious fanatics that say creation ! creation ! creation ! You are in the same boat "IF" you continue with your ...material ! material ! material !
      • Mar 17 2011: Thank you, Daniel! That's exactly what I was going to speak out, but you happened to be earlier here. Atheist and religious fanatic are not the two sides of the same coin, as I thought, but one side of two coins, hence the same.
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        Mar 21 2011: daniel,

        I don't see Frederic's comment to be emotionally charged at all. That he would be emphatic does not mean anything else but that he was emphatic.

        How would an expectation that reality does not require "supernatural" explanations be superstitious? That's nonsensical. If the accumulation of our knowledge shows that we can explain more and more without the recourse to fantasyland, should we still expect that the fantasy will be necessary at some point, or should it dilute such expectation to the point when we would realize that fantasy is exactly that: fantasy?

        Finally, I would say that at least those "chanting": "material ! material ! material !" are chanting to something observable rather than to some fantasy. So, not exactly the same coin, not exactly the same anything. That makes a huge difference. Natasha, you were kind to the religious, by referring only to "religious fanatics" in your critique, why then leave "atheist" without referring to a particular group of atheists, rather than generalize to them all? Do you really think that all atheists are comparable to religious fanatics? If so, what have you learned about anything by being a TED translator?
        • Mar 22 2011: Hi Gabo,
          I lost you out there on all these threads... Thats why I have not commented back to you. I will try to back to you soon with some responses to your last few comments. This topic has surely set a record I guess... perhaps it was merely that single magical world "merely" that did it.

          It's funny though.. something that I can understand ad perfectly logical and understandable someone else would consider "magical"... Magic can always be understood through thinking .. it's really no big mystery... It doesn't have infer things such as supernatural or superstitious.. does it ? Because I have a working understanding of certain spiritual truths and you don't may be called illusion from your side, but that doesn't mean at all that I have can't have a perfectly logical understanding of the "magical" from my side... We can all understand magic... which is not my word but yours.... when we build a foundation for the content of the concepts. Magical is actually for me more of a mystery than the word spirit... but perhaps I have no understanding of what magic is.. as I never claimed to have. Magic is something that is no longer a mystery when we can see through it.. Spiritual realities don't
          have to be at all magical as you put it ... not when we have the tools to see through it..
          You say its not possible to have these tools... I say it is. Experience and thinking are the tools we all share for this knowlege that is only "apparantly" beyond our grasp... I say that it is within our grasp if we look at the whole picture of what mankind really is. Some people don't like to hear this at all because they refuse to recognize the hidden aspects of who we are as complete human beings. The material part of our being is just a small % ....and without considering the higher aspects of what life is we can never develop the tools that I'm talking about.
          I'll look for your response to this. Perhaps you could write it in the "original thread sequence"
          so I can find you easier...
    • Mar 17 2011: Hello, Frederic, I want to quote" Scientists normally take for granted that we live in a rational , ordered cosmos subject to precise laws that can be uncovered by human reasoning. Yet why it should be so remains a tantalizing mystery." Paul Davies
      • Mar 17 2011: Paul Davies is a RELIGIOUS scientiist. Your quotation represents his religious thoughts and doesn't represent a scientific thought.
        • Mar 17 2011: The fact that it is possible, speaks for itself .Being religious doesn't prevent him to be a Professor of Mathematical Physics. Einstein can be disregarded on this ground, he" believed in Spinoza's God" and the list of the ''ought-to-be-ignored" scientists will be long, I guess. Anyway, thank you , I will think about it.
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          Mar 17 2011: btw - Spinoza's god was pantheist - "god is everything".
        • Mar 17 2011: I know,and GUT is the theory of everything, so maybe they are seemingly divergent paths to the same summit.
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      Mar 17 2011: I'm In support for Frederic.

      Let us try and make some things clear...

      1) a materialistic worldvieuw encompasses photons who are essentially mass-less...
      => this seems paradoxical... maybe scientific worldvieuw is a better term.

      2) As I repeat from another discussion,
      "Science is the set of methods that can reduce uncertainty about truth"
      So we observe/ measure/ sense,gather input, data (call it what you will)... agree and discuss what is factual about the data we obtain... We do analysis, statistical testing, falsifying, building a mountain of evidence, and slowly we find out what can be true, is still plausible as alternative hypothesis, and which hypotheses have been ruled out

      3) Although absence of evidence is no evidence of absence... the probability that something exists and nothing is found decreases with the amount of search time (the monster of loch ness, gods, fairies, spaghetti monsters in the sky, superman, yellow dotted green swans,...).
      3.1. We can imagine things that don't exist.. but something that does not exist cannot be measured...
      3.2. You can put this in very accurate probabilistic models (for example Bayesian reasoning or probabilistic inductive reasoning)

      4) ALL good knowledge is based on inferences about what we have thus far observed, and is plausible given the data. The more you need to rely on things not yet measured (but already searched for), the less likely the hypothesis you are using is valid.
      4.1. This is close to Occam's razor

      5) Comming back to matrialism:
      The materialistic/scientific worldvieuw does just that.

      If we look at the available data that concerns consciousness, there are still a few rivaling hypotheses... and most of the relevant ones are materialistic and the very best don't need something extra.
      neurons, the other cells, the DNA, the molecules are sufficient to allow for consciousness to emerge...

      I hope this helps

      P.S. Liking an opinion does not make it more valid!
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        Mar 17 2011: 1) what is a photon ultimately , but emptiness within it ?

        2) What can science say about the observer, whose observations can interpret matter as a wave or a particle ? What validity does science have in that case, especially in its measurements ?

        3.1) How do you measure a thought ? But you do agree it exists
        3.2) Probablity models do a good job. But I would like to see probability models on the observer itself. Maybe I should start working on it.

        4. Sorry to break it to you. There are individuals who have claimed to have experienced a state of consciousness which they have never experienced before.Some people call that experience enlightenment. The effect of that state is easily observed in the incredible spontaneity of these individuals. Certain "intuitive" individuals are able to experience life changing consciousness shifts in their physical presence. However it simply cannot be measured, no matter how appealing it may seem to. Or - Measurement must grow.

        5. Materialism is denying the existence of thoughts, or the awareness that is in the backdrop of it. Mysticism - pushes one within, and forces one to study the inner awareness for themselves, and it is a highly individualistic, and experiential way towards "enlightenment".
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          Mar 17 2011: Santhip:
          Questions are no arguments. I don't know all answers, neither do you, so let's try and keep us on the established field of knowledge and the debate somewhat rational.

          @ 1) A question is not an argument. And your statement that a photon is "ultimately emptiness within it" is just plain nonsensical

          @ 2) Science can say a lot about observers, depending on the definition.
          The one you define here is quite nonsensical: An observation cannot interpret...
          The validity of science is not harmed by that case.
          The validity of measurement depends upon the instrument and upon "are you measuring what you wish to measure"

          @ 3.1. If I discribe what I feel a thought is, and if you agree that that description is also what you feel a thought is, we can start to communicate about it. AND we have a working definition, and we have already measured it: We do experience something we mutually agree upon to call it "thought" we measured it by experiencing.
          If we work on it and do experiments and put forth hypothesis, we can begin to measure thoughts in other ways... and what do you know... neuroscience does this with monkeys, humans, rats,... through various techniques you might already know

          @ 3.2. Good idea! I encourage you to do so!

          4. (no need to excuse, we are in a debate, where we attack or defend ideas, we don't attack the person). I agree people say they have had such experiences. And I assume that they actually felt that way. [I wouldn't call that enlightenment, but rather extacy or satori or something else, but that is a matter of demarking the meaning of a word]
          You state that it is observable...so you measured it already.

          5. I disagree... so we must have a different idea about what materialism is.
          I suggest you give me some examples of materialistic philosophers who do deny the existance of thoughts...
          Materialism in my opinion only rejects all non-measurable (or in principle non-measurable) things. ( maybe in another debate)
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        Mar 19 2011: Those are big words: Established field of knowledge, and rational. Would you consider 2000 year old buddhist/hindu scriptures on consciousness as established field of knowledge ? Would you consider subjective experience ( repeatable in nature) which points to a completely different paradigms what science has to offer as rational as far as the individual is concerned? Elaborated below

        1) Light has dual nature - photon and wave. If I question what is inside a photon, the best answer science can give me is it doesn't know. So is the case with electrons. The materialistic world view ( world can be explained on the basis of matter alone) has its utility value, but simply fails to provide the ultimate answer. Given its paradoxical nature, it only seems that another paradoxical world view might as well suffice the purpose served by the limited material (world can be explained on the basis of matter alone) worldview.

        2) Perhaps my grammar has failed me there. Let me rephrase my argument relating to the dual nature of matter. An observer can choose to measure matter as a particle or as a wave. So the observation ( matter) can be interpreted as a particle or a wave by the observer. Thus the intention of the observer ( including his perceptual filters) becomes very important in any study. The instrument used to measure is also important.

        How valid would you consider using subjective experience of an individual as an actual observation to be measured? As far as I have understood, the subjective experience has to be translated to a measureable domain, determined by the measuring instruments at hand in terms of reactions to stimuli. Please make me aware of other options.

        3.1) It is interesting as to how you "measured" a thought by agreeing to a common definition based on one's experience. Is it possible to measure subjective experience such as a state of no-separation between a subject and an object ?

        3.2) thanks for the encouragement !

        4) Contd below
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          Mar 19 2011: I think there might be some knowledge in any tradition. I would however test all hypotheses and claims wit the same rigor as any claim.
          Age of a tradition is no argument. The body of evidence is.

          1) you follow the knowledge of what science learned you a photon might be (current hypotheses) .Then you try and comprehend the formula, fail to do so and conclude something mystical... You see it as paradoxical, because you can't understand it. (neither do I, but I just admit that I don't know it and that I might not have the capacity to understand it (with just human brains). so I stick to the facts and hold to the most plausible explanation by default to be true)

          2) If you claim matter is dual, you might want to give me an experiment that proves that.
          I also suggest you would either learn some real quantum-physics or admit your ignorance. I cannot validate your claims here, as I'm not a quantum-physicist.
          I do know that the mathematical descriptions fit for the predictions... and I don't need to say to reality how easy to understand it needs to be for me...
          The observer effect holds only for some experiments about quantum-particles... it does not hold for other experiments (like double blind clinical research, boiling water, growing plants)
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        Mar 19 2011: 4) Let me clarify my point a bit further. There are individuals who claim to have experienced enlightenment ( a consciousness state of non-duality resulting in a state of no thoughts ). In the presence of these individuals, some intuitive persons fall into consciousness shifts, and are thus able to use their subjective experience of their consciousness shift as a decided as to whether the first individual is enlightened or not. And you are saying that it is totally OK as an act of measurement, especially without the use of a measuring instrument such as an EEG reader, or even an fMRI scanner? [ thanks for the tidbit on getting the person out of the way - helps a lot in dealing with the facts :) ]

        5. Now.. considering the scientific world view, which encompasses, paradoxical world view of using "mass less" photons to describe the "material" world, which I assume that you would be willing to include "thoughts" as well, from my engineering background, measurement of a thought to me would mean that I use an instrument to see a thought and interpret it based on the observations I get from that instrument, which I think is impossible to do with any physical instrumentation available right now ( correct me if am wrong).

        As far as I understand ( especially from my engineering background), consciousness cannot be measured ( correct me if am wrong). Especially self-awareness. The actual subjective experience cannot be measured, but its residue within the measurable domain can only be measured, and the assumption using hypothesis / theory / experimentation is that the measurement indicates strength of an experience. This is my understanding. Perhaps your answer to (3) will help me in formulating the argument for using the actual "measurements" for the scientific process.
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          Mar 19 2011: I'm trying to stay brief, as this might stray too far off topic.

          * The individuals need to describe it as good as they can. And if the documentation is systematic, it is a way of gathering data.
          I myself have experience with such meditations... it indeed feels good. I wouldn't call it enlightenment, because I use that term for the Kant's version of it.
          It would be interesting to be able to find evidence of such states on EEG& fMRI.
          I would not go so far to say that the measure you propose is sufficient... I would need to go into the details of the proposed protocols and we would need to find some consensus with researchers...

          If you are interested in all this... I would suggest you start reading into neuroscience. Consciousness is measurable... like any existing thing is in principle measurable (an assumption of me)
          (I'm not pretending I know a lot about engineering)
      • Mar 19 2011: Christophe,
        When was the last time a creative thought came out of a piece of matter ...?
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          Mar 21 2011: Nice rhetoric Daniel.
          I think it is happening all the time. so 'now' would be a good answer.

          Ok, let me go all Socratic as well
          If you wave your hand... is the waving something material or not?
          Can you wave without a hand? (i.e. without something that is causing the wave)

          For me the wave exists. And it needs matter to exist. so the wave emerges from the matter, and is in my opinion part of the material world.

          A thought can, on a metaphoric level, be seen as a wave.
          the matter causing it would be a brain.
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      Mar 17 2011: Honestly Frederic, does universe really have a center ? Do you have ALL the measurements of the dimensions to come to that conclusion ? What is the center of your question ? What is the concept that you choose as center ? What is observing the concept? Who is the observer ? Is this "I" just another thought ? Are memorires and all other constructs just another thought ? What is observing the thought ? OM Shanti ..

      Science can never claim complete authority merely by the study of only the things it can measure, and by not measuring the things it can't. How can it be complete ?

      Different people are coming forward with different experiences within. Holding onto a conceptual framework based on materialism is still holding onto a paradigm rather than dealing with the facts these people are sharing. Fact is people have experienced a state of no-separation with the material universe and the immaterial universe. Fact is there are individuals who have lost their sense of identity with the awareness that acts as a backdrop to all the thoughts that happen within ourselves.Question is - does science shun these experiences just because it doesn't fit the present paradigm it is holding onto ? Or does it expand to accomodate these facts ?

      Honestly Frederic, I mean no offence. Science simply has to grow up. And I don't want to see science end the great progress it has made due to limited egos who are being egotistical within the conceptual paradigm it is holding onto as if their lives depended on it. It is a shame if science cannot learn from the ancients who have delved into the science of consciousness.
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        Mar 18 2011: Santhip, Although I do agree that science ought to address these aspects of human experience and that is limited by the questions it can ask, I don't agree that science has not or will not go there. After all, there are plenty of neuroscientists studying the effects of meditation, etc. I think neuroscience is reaching new frontiers every year, and scientists are always interested in overturning every stone.
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          Mar 19 2011: Minh .. I do hope so .. Neuroscience is growing rapidly in these times and are definitely asking difficult and controversial questions such as retro-causality, psi and non-locality of consciousness Those are some tough paradigms to break up in the first place. But I do hope neuroscience can point to something more substantial as far as enlightenment is concerned, and in helping us in pointing towards the truth of the phenomenon, so that the subjective experience can be simulated / experienced by every man. :-)
      • Mar 19 2011: Santhip,
        You can not tell a materialist that their is a creative thought world, a world of spirit....no ... creative thoughts arise out of matter.The scientific world may say we are just superstitious, mystics, etc. But isn't it a little absurd, almost superstitious, to say the thinking can actually arise out of substance.. by ..itself. Thats almost like saying that a board itself can develop its own idea to make a boat out of itself.. or brick a house of itself
        The absurdity is sort of like the "not seeing the forest for the trees" expression.

        How can matter develop itself to "life" ??
        How can matter develop itself to "feelings" ??
        How can matter develop itself to "thinking" and "self-consciousness" ??

        The materialist can and will never come with any "creative answers" to any of the above questions without first breaking down its "box of materialistic ideas" that matter has within itself the creative forces to bring about these three higher forms of existence. Again, science will say... come with the evidence, proof, give us the facts we can weigh and measure.... Life force.... hah... superstition ! What is the phenomenon behind the living forces in nature... What is the force that can push a little dandelion up through the pavement in the spring time..? What superstitious force sustains this body that " I "walk around in ?? How can it be that "I" (as the primate with the overdeveloped brain) read a book, listen to and create music, study astronomy, send spaceships to the stars ?? How can matter out of its own accord and initiative create the desire within itself for knowledge, love, beauty, meaning of life...??.. Had matter alone shown itself.. anywhere ...ANYWHERE.. in the outer world to posses the capability to assemble itself into a meaningful structure without any external life force, then one could perhaps have some form of sympathetic alliance with the materialistic world view.. but until that comes about...they can gladly consider me superstitious
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          Mar 21 2011: I don't know if this answer is creative:

          Scientists tend to call it 'evolution'.
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          Mar 21 2011: Christophe,
          Do you think or feel that evolution is not creative?
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          Mar 21 2011: Colleen

          I might call evolution creative in a metaphorical way.
          But being creative belongs to the language game of human (or animal) thought and inventiveness.
          As evolution is a process, I wouldn't give it that meaning literally.

          I am however often surprised by how evolution turned out to be so various, intricate, and beautiful to me.

          So I might "feel" that evolution is creative. I don't think it actually is creative
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          Mar 21 2011: OH...thanks Christophe for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I percieve evolution to be incredibly creative:>) As defined: "Productive, having the quality of something created rather than imitated; imaginative". There is even a definition for "creative evolution" : "evolution that is a creative product of a vital force rather than a naturalistically explicable process". Maybe these definitions are all "language games" as you say? When I ponder evolution and everything it means, I find it very creative:>) Funny how differently we all percieve things huh?
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          Mar 21 2011: Hey daniel,

          Sorry, but you are just "rhetoricing" the issues in a way that thought properly shows much more ignorance on your part than ridicule in the scientific thought.

          You ask:
          How can matter develop itself to "life" ??
          How can matter develop itself to "feelings" ??
          How can matter develop itself to "thinking" and "self-consciousness" ??

          Well, if we didn't know, would it mean that this happens by magic or just that we don't know? We know, but I am getting at the heart of the issue here. Seems like if we don't know something, or if you can make it sound far fetched enough, then magic should be the right answer.

          Then you say:
          "The materialist can and will never come with any "creative answers" to any of the above questions ..."

          Define "creative." Putting together the data about species distributions, nested hierarchy of life classification, fossils, results from breeding, and a lot of data on everyday life events, leading into the idea of evolution is pretty creative. There is a word for some experiments so clear that the answer jumps at you: "elegance." Elegant experiments show lots creativity. Scientists trying to display complex data in an understandable way are winning art contests. Long et cetera. I would say that you were being too dismissive, out of ignorance, of that thing you do not like. Just as you were when using the word "merely" in the intro to your topic.

          Your list of rhetorically charged questions looks nice, but does nothing. I can't understand how the binary code in my computer can be displayed so beautifully in my screen. Should I thus suppose that there is magic behind it? That some immaterial thing uses the binary code to manifest itself into my screen but lives separately from the computer?

          You might feel that superstition is more creative. I think it is just lazy. Be presented with a mystery: thus magic. See? No creativity necessary.
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          Mar 21 2011: (Ok, I know the 3 replies rule has a reason, and that I'm tweaking it too, like some others)

          Colleen: when it comes to differences in perception, I totally agree. sometimes I think it's funny, most often I think that is very logical given peoples different background and state of knowledge about reality

          When people start to claim that their perceptions are congruent with reality (or true), I start asking for serious evidence... following the logic of science.

          @ Gabo: I mostly agree with your comment(s)
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          Mar 21 2011: Gabo...I LOVE IT:>)
          We're almost sounding like we're on the same debate team...accept...I don't tell people they are ignorant and stuff like that!

          I love that you're getting to the "heart of the issue". I don't think anyone is trying to make anything sound "far fetched". I believe that people, including you and me, try to explain things based on the information they/we have at any given time. Don't you think?
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          Mar 21 2011: I agree Christophe...it can be amusing and logical at the same time:>) What I realize is that everyone has his/her own reality, based on, as you say, different backgrounds, and state of knowledge. I do the same thing when people say their way is "the only way...the only truth". Show me!...I'm always open to new information:>)
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          Mar 21 2011: Hey Colleen,

          Oh yes, daniel is trying quite hard to make it sound far fetched. Just look at his sentences. The last sentence in his first paragraph starts with "The absurdity."

          And sorry, but daniel is showing ignorance. I agree with you on this:

          "I believe that people, including you and me, try to explain things based on the information they/we have at any given time. Don't you think?"

          But this necessarily means that we carry our ignorance there and thus have to be careful. If we don't have the information and we criticize out of suck lack of information, we are showing our ignorance. So, I try to keep my ignorance out of it by informing myself a bit better. I thus try not to generalize, and whenever possible refer to my experience, rather than make blanket generalizations (not always successfully, so feel free to criticize and I shall learn).

          Best!

          @Christophe: thanks. I mostly agree with yours too.
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          Mar 22 2011: Hey Gabo,
          I agree with you, and try to do the same things...not make blanket generalizations and speak from my own experiences, clarifying that it is simply my experience. Sometimes, people are pondering/evaluating their own beliefs/perceptions while writing, and I think/feel that is where the confusion usually comes from, rather than ignorance. But then...I'm a Pollyanna, so what do I know!!!
          Best:>)
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      • Mar 18 2011: Kathy,
        I've been noticing your comments but haven't responded directly to them as yet.
        You refer a lot to the bible and it interpretation.

        I have an interest here too, but I am coming from a different angle than you are..... I think !
        How do you interpret such things as the baptism...?
        I ask because I made a comment further down to Santhip about ancient cultures and the spiritual world.. I just want to hear if you are at all in the same ball park as I am..
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      Mar 17 2011: Um...Frederic, you're generalizing quite a bit here. "Religions do not have detailed theories of conciousness". Which religions are you speaking of? Are you familiar with Abhidhamma, this is arguably a detailed theory of consciousness (and reality) from the Theravadan Buddhist school (and dates to within 500 years after Siddhartha Gautama's death). Whether or not it holds weight in an academic forum is another discussion altogether.
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      Mar 17 2011: Study Patanjali's Yoga Sutras , Tripura Rahasya- a hindu text on consciousness
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    Mar 4 2011: The idea that consciousness is biologically based has become scientifically accepted, because by definition a non-physical basis for consciousness cannot be measured or tested. Nevertheless, take a look around the world today. The total planetary GDP is over 50 trillion dollars, yet hundreds of millions of people don't have enough food. Injustice and poverty is rampant. Environmental pollution is massive.
    What is the common denominator of world "leaders"? Almost all of them are all materialists, and believe in the biological basis for consciousness.
    So reality tells us that there is something terribly wrong with this belief.
    It is not possible to prove that consciousness is "spiritual" or non-physical, yet every culture on the planet has had this belief.
    Materialistic cultures are warlike, domineering, and create dysfunctional societies.
    Either you understand yourself as essentially a divine spirit, or you don't. Those that don't create most of the mischief in our world.
    People who have had a spiritual awakening are uniformly saner, more cooperative, and work toward the greater good. Materialists "look out for number one," are often aggressive and domineering, and very often have no concern for the consequences of their actions .None of this activity can be considered sane.
    Unfortunately, as Eckhart Tolle and others like him have discovered, it isn't possible to teach knowledge of self. But if anyone could ever figure it out, the human race would soon discover it's full potential.
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      Mar 5 2011: Spirit is what you believe starting from childhood hearing the stories with things a child is already familiar to.
      And material is what you learn, and majority stops accepting knowledge after mastering some amount of it.
      Spiritual side is just faster explaining stuff you can get from material side.
      Any "warlike, domineering, and create dysfunctional societies." comes from unknowing and exists on both sides.
      May be as Echart Tolle says "it isn't possible to teach knowledge of self", but it's possible to learn it for sure after you have the source.
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        Mar 7 2011: George,
        I agree! Spiritual and material can co-exist, and it is up to us as individuals to decide how we use the information when we have the source:>)

        Ken,
        You make some pretty broad statements. "Either you understand yourself as essentially a divine spirit, or you don't. Those that don't create most of the mischief in our world?" I believe I am a spirit being having a human experience, but your statement doesn't feel very kind for those who do not believe in spirituality. I like the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, and I don't think this is one of them. It IS possible to "teach knowledge of self", and to do that, first we need to understand our "self" and walk our talk. Is it helpful to label as mischiefmakers all those who do not believe in spirituality?
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      Mar 5 2011: Ken,

      I am truly sorry to say this, but that was a full load of nonsense. The world's problems, poverty, hunger, sicknesses, pests, drought, and a huge et cetera have always existed, and you can't just shrug and blame it on "materialist leaders" and the "belief" that consciousness is biological rather than "spiritual." It is a non-sequitur. I see consciousness as biological and biological only. I don't see a path from this into wanting every human in the world to die of hunger, nor for not caring about it. It is rather remarkable that physical-chemical processes can produce such a thing as consciousness, and I value it the most because of its genuine and "humble" origins (if we dare to call star fission-reactions, supernovae, and billions of years of biological evolution, "humble"). If we are instants of pinches of stardust pondering about ourselves, we are certainly valuable and we cannot but value this short opportunity we have to be ourselves. I am not saying that every "materialist" will necessarily think like myself, and many certainly won't. But most of those I do know value humanity beyond anything most "spirituals" can imagine.

      Humanity can be war-prone for whatever excuse. "Materialism" has nothing particular to do with it. Any excuse will do. Just take a look at religions with all of their "spirituality." Their very sacred books mandate wars, or at least hatred, against those with different beliefs (yes, the bible too). Do you think 9/11 was a "materialist" terrorist attack?

      Self-discovery has nothing to do with believing in spirits. It might have more to do with courage.

      Please think before attempting to answer my comment. I would detest having to explain to you something as basic as why a 20th/21st century dictator could do more damage than the crusaders, or the declared beliefs of the most famous of those genocidal leaders that most "anti-materialists" bring into these exchanges.
      • Mar 5 2011: Agree with you Gabo on this point. I cant find any correlation between what some people call spirituality and what goes on in the world, either today or throughout history, of whatever form of aggressive of dominant form of behavior. Spirituality is not synonomous with harmony and peace. Materialism is not the cause of mankinds problems. What some want to call spirituality can take a distorted form in forms of power strugles, perversion and even war. Its people like george bush with the famous words from the bible "your either with us or agains us" that exemplify a twisted form for godliness..... or as Dylan would put it "with god on our side"
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          Mar 7 2011: Gabo,
          I agree with you that self-discovery has to do with courage. It takes courage to open our hearts and minds to different information. I also agree that life challenges are fueled by many different factors. For me, the important thing in life is not what label I choose, but rather how I live my life. If we do label ourselves and others based on underlying beliefs, how are we ever going to connect all the "good guys" in our world in a way that may create changes?
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        Mar 5 2011: Hi Gabo --
        The belief in materialism has little to do with one's profession, or whether one calls oneself religious.The hardest materialists I know are religious people!
        Perhaps I did paint with too broad a brush; I have no doubt that a materialist can value humanity; but that valuation doesn't stem from a materialist POV: it comes from an innate understanding of a person's divine nature.
        The debate between materialists and spiritualists is pointless; and I long ago decided not to engage in it. If consciousness is non-physical, it is by definition outside the purview of science, because this assertion cannot be measured. I understand that the above assertion is a valid objection of materialists to people who quack about spirituality. But materialists can never prove that consciousness isn't non-physical for precisely the same reason. Neither can people who believe that consciousness is non-physical prove that it is.
        Let's agree to disagree on this one. But let's do agree that the primary concern should be not whether one is a "spiritualist" (whatever that means) or a "materialist" -- because these labels just shove complex and intelligent beings into little boxes -- but whether you are a person who, as you say, truly "values humanity."
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          Mar 5 2011: fact that consciousness is material is proven by materialists already. It's personal for someone to take it or not.
          There are lot of similarities in spiritual-materialist views, that just have another form. But we all value life ) and it's great)
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          Mar 6 2011: But Ken you are missing the point. A valuation of humanity might not come from a materialist POV necessarily (you are right, this "materialism" would have to be defined, but the context suggested that materialism in question was the idea that there are no spirits), but in my case it did not come from any perception of any "divine" nature (actually quite the opposite), innate or otherwise.

          So yes, let us agree to disagree and leave it there. No use.
    • Mar 5 2011: I think your off base on this point Ken. The problem is not that materialism is the cause of the problems in the world. Spirituality is a double edged sword. It makes a son turn from his father and his family. Its the individuality shining through. Thats what spirituality is. It not a form of conformity to a path of spirituality. Its not to create peace in the world. True spirituality is of a totally free nature. As is your own thinking. To think free as a free indipendently thinking and acting being. Not to fall in line with conformists.
      To say "materialist only look out for number one" is an insult that I disagree with completely . You jump to a conclusion about many many people that holds no water. Your out on an edge by making so many accusations. I smell a form of religous self-rightousness that really turns a lot of people off.
      I feel that everyone is basically looking for the truth. Thats our nature. Justice and human values are just as strong in a materialist as they are in the most religious person. There are many great scientist and politicians who have no form for spiritual world picture that set highest norm for mankinds respect for each others lives and values.
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        Mar 5 2011: Hi Daniel --
        I think the problem here is that we aren't defining our terms, and that my contribution to the discussion has strayed from your original question..
        I am curious: how does spirituality make a son turn from his father? That is the opposite of spirituality as I see it.
        I am not religious at all -- I rejected religion in high school.
        The original question that you wrote was, "what is the nature of consciousness?"
        My belief -- because it cannot be proven -- is that consciousness is not dependent upon biology. That is something reasonable people have debated for millennia, and will probably continue to debate until the end of time..
        Let's leave it at that.
        • Mar 7 2011: Hi Ken, I've been away for the past three days and havn't been able to keep up on TED.
          The question of son/father... If the father says "practice your violin!" to a child the child will follow orders... up to a certain age. Then, the child will develop its own identity and perhaps, not necessarily so, say "no father, I'm finished with this stupid violin" put it down and never look at it again. The individuality of the child reaches a certain strength within it's consciousness that gives it enough weight over time that the child can stand up against the father. This is also what you will find in the Bible if you read closely. Also you can read the words "I have not come to create peace" These two statements become very interesting if one thinks about such words as individuality and consciousness.
          I am pretty certain that science will, one day, be able to actually have so sensitive instruments and understanding of the world that knowledge of the immaterial world will become an object of scientific study. It may take some time though. On the other hand, when one looks at whats going on in the field of NDE I begin to think that it may be a big press release that the spiritual world is in fact a reality.
          Of course there are as many wrong and twisted ideas about the spiritual world as there are wrong and twisted ideas about the material world. Were all guilty of fault.... almost by nature...
          Generally speaking,to expect the biologists admitting to such a thing that consciousness can exist independently from the physical body is like asking him to pull the chair out from under himself. This he would never do. Of course unless he is free enough in his own thinking and driven in his search for the bigger picture of life.... and not to mention death.
          I get the impression that you are a person with some spiritual direction by your earlier comments but you are not religious. Thats a bit unusual, but interesting. What do you think about the idea of reincarnation?
    • Mar 7 2011: I don't persoannly see a difference between the spiritual and material. When I undergo a spiritual experience there are physical /material/ changes in my body and brain chemistry, changes which can be observed and measured. I see spirituality (and consciousness by the way) as a product of the mechanistic process of the brain, I don't see this as detracting from spiritual experiences, the more we understand about the nature of these experiences the better, so lets pull in our most objective thinking tools, logic and rationality.

      Some may claim ignorance is bliss, or that these things are beyond the realms of science to understand, these claims have been made before and no doubt will continue to be made, but I find a flower no less beautiful because I understand the process by which it formed, or because I know a little something about the matter from which it is formed, in fact that knowledge allows me to appreciate it even more.
  • Feb 28 2011: I find that the initial premise of the question is misleading due to misinformation. You are proposing that thinking is immaterial and non-physical. However looking at biological psychology, you will find that not only is thinking a physical action of the brain (neurotransmitters firing, transferring data from neuron to neuron), but that it manifests itself strongly enough even to be measured. This can be done using either electrodes measuring electronic current in neurons (on a micro scale), or fMRI scans measuring neurotransmitter levels (a more macroscopic approach).
    Concerning Daniel's alternative idea of consciousness being a by-product, I have to agree. The extent of a by-product may well exceed that of the originally intended product, what makes it a by-product is a completely arbitrary definition of what its intended product is. For instance, in producing beer in Australia, some farm produce is input, work is done on it, and beer is received from it. What is also received is a by-product; sediments of raw materials and chemical components (mostly yeast and salts), which is then used for vegemite production (a type of sandwich spread). If the vegemite company decided to make the yeast sediment themselves (rather than buying it from beer producers) using that procedure, and then pour away all the beer, yeast sediment would be by definition the product and beer the by-product.
    Whether consciousness is a greater or lesser output of the brain than its other functions is difficult to judge by anyone but a professional in neuroscience (based on an objective standpoint). One would have to compare to what extent the brain's capacity is used for which task, and I'm convinced at our current level of knowledge this would still be a difficult to impossible task to do (without violating ethical boundaries i.e. electrodes in the brain...).

    continued
    • Feb 28 2011: Walter,
      When they put the head of a person in an MRI machine. Who do they ask to start thinking ? and if the person in the machine says....... well...... I don't really want to think about that (which you tell me)right now.... " I " want to think of something else..... How would the MRI react to that Walter...?
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        Mar 1 2011: The MRI would react by showing neuron firing patters associated with the conflict that's going on in this person's mind. If you think there are no differences between that and the person thinking only about what was asked you would be wrong. Where were you trying to go with this question?

        Daniel, in another conversation I left a couple of questions for you. But we rather have the conversation here: if consciousness is spiritual why do we see correlations between brain structure and levels of consciousness among living forms? Why have scientists been able to find minimalist and useful experimental models for learning and decision making in the simplest of life forms? Why do these bring so much light into understanding our own capacities to learning and decision making? Why damaging certain parts of the brain incapacitate one or another of our conscious abilities? Why putting one side of my brain to sleep incapacitates me for number recognition, and the other for reading? Why can brain damage change a person's personality completely? Why can drugs help people avoid hallucinations? Why is lack of vitamin D conducive to depression? In fewer words: Why does it look so evidently physical once you start learning about it rather than trying to determine the nature of consciousness by your feelings?

        I regard out-of-the-body experiences as hallucinations. Their correlations as due to experiences in common, such as being born. That is as far as real science has gone. Anything else seems to be either sensationalism or pseudoscience.

        Best,
        --Gabo
        • Mar 1 2011: OK Gabo, The adjective is clearly "loaded" I was even thinking about pulling it down just for the sake of your point. The word "merely" for me, is saying that if in fact consciousness is a by-product of evolution then it is not a "determining factor in evolution" which I firmly stand by. The difference between what a "simple" (loaded adjective again) "material based evolution of consciousness" and what a "spiritually based evolution of consciousness" is opens up a whole new box of worms. What consciousness is doing is forming the brain. If a person has a stroke for and large parts of the brain are damaged, the "individual" or the " I " of that person, the "ego" if you like can itself decide to build up just those faculties that were lost, such as language centers... and the brain scan will show that the activity of understand and using language has "moved" to another part of the brain. How can this be? What moves the activity? It can't be the physical neurons themselves that decide to move the activity to another part of the brain. It's consciousness itself that overrides the neurons. The neurons are "merely" (I did it again,sorry) the footprint of the activity of consciousness not the initiator or the process.
          As to why "lower" (sorry again) life forms reveal physical patterns in the brain is for the simple fact that they have consciousness too.... a more primitive form for consciousness than our self-consciousness but still the determining factor for all neural activity, even in a worm, can always be traced back one step further to the immaterial.
          To give just a quick example of a very "visible" observation of what one can see as consciousness working in the animal world.
          Take a flock of birds. Birds move out of a much "looser" form of consciousness than we do. Their consciousness is much more outside of them. (I must, necessarily use a "physical"word to describe this phenomenon. Birds move "as one" in a flock. In a school of fish one can also observe this
        • Mar 1 2011: Gabo,
          It's just like if you damage an antenna on your TV. The reception gets poor. The "invisible signal" cannot get through. What your saying is that the "signal" is sent out from within the TV itself. If you damage the internal parts of the TV the same thing results... the external signal cannot get through. Science doesn't go beyond the apparatus receiving the signal. The spirit works in and through the brain just as the TV signal works in and through the TV.
        • Mar 1 2011: Looks like its only us two here gabo,
          There is a story that is documented in a medical journal from Seattle, Wash. about a woman that had a NDE. When she was woken up by the doctors after being "dead" for quite a few minutes, she told one of the nurses to go up on the roof of the hospital and get the red tennis shoe that was lying up there. They laughed and brushed it off as a hallucination .... but the woman persisted and finally one of the nurses went up on the roof and found a red tennis shoe. Of course this is but one story. Tell me, how can a person hallucinate something that is an actual fact.....?? this puzzles me a bit.... There are many such stories. Do you have any explanation for this?
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      Mar 1 2011: Hey Walter,

      But you seemed to have missed my point and to have gone too much into semantics about the word "by-product." We could visit that, but I don't see the need. I don't want to start arguing for a material side and just tacitly accept Daniel's adjectives for a material explanation for consciousness. I have no issue if you describe it as a by-product for whatever reason you might have. But that is not what the conversation was meant to be about. It was meant to be about whether it is material or spiritual. That I can accept. What I can't accept is for Daniel to decide which adjectives will I use about consciousness being material. It can be as despicable as he wants from his perspective. That's fine. But that distracted the issue from what he wanted to talk about into the misuse of adjectives that we might disagree about in principle. The adjectives should have been left to each of us. That's it.

      Best,
      --Gabo
      • Mar 1 2011: Tried to respond to your point about the misuse of adjectives above. I was trying to make a point about consciousness in the animal world. I will pick up there. The example about a school of fish or a flock of birds.
        This phenomenon that we observe is precisely what I'm getting at. The consciousness that moves the birds is the same as if you put your ten fingers through ten holes in a cardboard box and moved them around. You could move them perfectly simultaneously as a "flock" or you could move them quite independently from one another. The consciousness that is in control is leaving its neurological foot prints in your physical brain that you have set your fingers in motion. An outside observer will say, well, each must be its own individual with no possibility for a non-material connection.The whole idea of an invisible "soul,spirit,consciousness,ego" (semantics again?)cannot be scientifically proven and therefor must be....aahh.... hallucination or magical or sensationalism or pseudo-scientific. (your semantics now) We are very much caught in these semantics its true. But it is the art of discussion that can open up for clarity between minds.
        It will be interesting to see if science can come so far as to measure any neurological activity in birds or fish as to weather or not there is a time lapse between the different individuals in the flock.
        As a child develops, all the input that it gets from the outer world, are contributing to the forming of its consciousness. The less input, the less forming of the brain. This is the case with animals too. The struggle for survival is one of the major driving forces in the animal world. But not the only one. Animals are not free because of the fact that their consciousness is not "within them" as it is in mankind. Mankind is free because of the fact that we can say " I " to ourselves. My actions are determined by the out world alone or genetic make up of my body. The " I " in me can override all other determining factors
  • Feb 27 2011: Consciousness is like a container. The world, our sensorium, is its content, so to speak. We can't say what the container is because there is nothing in its content with which to compare it. We have the same problem with 'red', 'Middle C', and our other qualia. You can't even say for sure if I see the same 'red' as you do, or experience consciousness in the same way. But we know consciousness cannot telekinetically move electrons about in the brain like beads of an abacus, and we know consciousness is not an epiphenomena of physical processes because it could not possibly be fed back into the brain as physical information. We would be conscious, but unable to evoke the brain into speaking of our presence. The best I've been able to deduce based on what consciousness is not is the simple fact that qualia is consciousness, and we often confuse structured qualia, our sensorium, with objective physical reality. If we are the world rather than just aware of it, then perhaps information is conscious. Consciousness, qualia, and information and the world we 'perceive' are all one and the same. This does not say what consciousness is, but it puts us on the path to a new paradigm of reality that meshes really well with quantum physics, quantum superposition, entanglement, and interference, aside from the fact that they'd now be properties of mind. Please don't tell David Deutsch. He might hurt me..
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      Feb 27 2011: well I have model of consciousness, but it really is based on energy and senses, probably not that deep cause I don't know quantum physics . simple. Anyway would like to know your opinion once it's posted. waiting for site update though.

      Daniel Hehir, might try to explain consciousness from scientific view.
    • Feb 27 2011: Hey George, Things are pretty quite around here. I don't know much about quantum physics either but I don't see that as a disadvantage. We can go deeper and deeper into matter and still never come to the bottom of the question of consciousness. I fully support the methods of science. But I'm trying to explore a realm that almost by definition outside the border of the scientific ballpark. Because science is so focused on the material that some of the questions of the immaterial world are left on the side of the road. Where this gray zone of the scientific view begins, this is where the more "religious" explanations take over. But the religious explanations are too simple for modern man. There too vague. There is too big of a gap from what our intellect tells us and what traditional religion tries to get us to believe.I hope we can get some different ideas
      from not just "both" sides of the fence, but many sides of the many fences that we build up a new idea around our "thinking about thinking". The study of consciousness is something that can span the continents of the believing religious side to the thinking scientific side of the way we see the world.
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      Mar 2 2011: OK I've finished the model, visit it here please http://www.ted.com/conversations/800/root_of_everything_and_conscio_2.html if you don't mind.
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        Mar 2 2011: I rather make a conscious decision to eat that flan ...
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          Mar 2 2011: Why? do you mean it doesn't make sense? I spent really much time making it, now it helps me in work and life.

          It would be good if someone qualified showed the pointers where it becomes unacceptable.
          That would be much of help. Thanks
      • Mar 2 2011: aaaahhh.... gee George..... you kinda lost me there....
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          Mar 4 2011: Sad cause base parts are from wikipedia and dictionary, has to make sense at least there.
          Also it combines research on gestalt and modern psychology.

          it's strange how audience talking about us being in supernova and having deep knowledge in science finds difficult to show what's wrong with this example.

          Could you at least say at what part it starts being confusing???
      • Mar 8 2011: Honestly the biggest challenge is just your english. I can tell that there are great ideas there but I can't grasp enough of them to get the narrative. The first example is:

        "As everything else systems exist in our own minds, we call something system or not. "

        I honestly just don't know what you mean. I don't know what the subject of this sentence is.

        Just trying to help you understand why we are confused. There are too many sentences like this one. When I can understand though, i do find your ideas interesting.
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          Mar 8 2011: thanks for help. Yes you are right.

          I'll recheck it again. This sentence probably has to go like : "Systems exist in our own mind, we decide to name something system or leave it unnamed."

          I've stumbled upon Alan Watts quote thanks to Adam Burk, now I'm sure it's not only my imagination.
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          Mar 11 2011: I agree George. Lot's of interesting ideas there. I particular liked your insights on symbols and the observation "Once associations are built it really hard to change them".
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    Mar 26 2011: Daniel,
    I enjoy your two new poems. Thanks for sharing your writing talent, and for facilitating this interesting discussion:>)
    Colleen
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    Mar 24 2011: An interesting article by Steven Pinker related to our topic:

    The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness
    http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1580394,00.html

    Two quotes to entice you:

    "Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain."

    "I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose than the realization that every moment of consciousness is a precious and fragile gift."
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      • Mar 24 2011: Kathy,

        Dear Kathy.....WOW !

        Why in the world have you been so quite out there when you have so much to say !?
    • Mar 24 2011: Tim,
      I wrote a little comment to Mind S a little further up on the thread that you might find interesting. I speak about the illness epilepsy. I present a picture of the spiritual nature of this imbalance in the human soul / physical condition of epilepsy. This may give another perspective in the understanding of the human nature of consciousness on a more practical level of things than what we have focused mostly on these past days .. NDE. When we can understand the soul /physical relationship in this way, then can we perhaps begin to treat this imbalance without simply resorting to a chemical solution that often carry unseen consequences for the pasient that don't pop later on in the treatment. The chemical solution, in most cases, often only covers up the symptoms of an illness and never gets to the source. I hope you find it interesting. Just one day left for any responses. Many other sickness can be seen in this same light... or should I say with the same perspective of the human being..
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    Mar 22 2011: If you have made up your mind about the nature of consciousness, you can participate in this visually attractive survey (2min) on what consciousness is:
    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2011/what-is-consciousness/
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    Minh Do

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    Mar 18 2011: The irony to me of descriptions of reality from "non-enlightened" individuals is well, they're just repetitions of things they've read or heard. I think assertions that certain people today are enlightened (more aptly translated as awakened) is a bit ridiculous. Anybody claiming to be awakened would be full of the ego that the spiritual path seeks to obliterate. And the same can be said of the people who are claiming their Masters are as such. There is a classic Zen tale in which a student experiences a very ecstatic state during meditation and comes rushing to his Master claiming "I've achieved awakening! I've achieved awakening!" and the Master says "oh wow, that's great you've gotten that far, but what about this?" And proceeds to slap the student in the face. The student goes "Why the hell did you do that?"...the Master "Ah ha, and where is your awakening now?"...In other words, even people who appear to be at peace and awakened, when faced with adverse circumstances still have quite a bit of ego underneath. I wouldn't throw around "oh I know an enlightened person" around so lightly. Especially since in central "looking for a teacher" doctrines, you are charged to hang out with that teacher for a long period of time before judging their awakening.

    Do you guys think that religious descriptions that allude to "consciousness being everywhere" is not to be taken so literally? It's actually just pointing to the nature of our mind wherein all things are molded by our perceptions and not to the "genetic makeup" of the universe? In basic Buddhist doctrine of the 5 skandhas (consciousness, mental formations, perceptions, sensation, and matter) that create the self, these 5 things must come together before a self can develop. I'd argue that well...the chair I'm sitting on does not possess 4 of those things. And the consciousness I possess would not arise without matter either, they are interdependent entities that cannot exist without each other
    • Mar 18 2011: Hello, Minh! Do you mean that "awakening'' is not a possibility while alive and cost "not less than everything"? Shinzen told about "ambilical cord" that not yet cut, so one can have both "self" and "noself"...I don't know...I don' know
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        Minh Do

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        Mar 19 2011: Sorry, I may have been unclear in my response. I think that awakening is certainly available while living and to all. But I do think that it is quite rare and requires a lot of effort, intelligence, and other good foundational behaviors to make it happen.
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      Mar 19 2011: It is a touchy topic indeed. Perhaps the best judge to who is enlightened or not , would be one who has already experienced it, and is in a position to judge it. But I honestly wish there was a science was able to make this distinction as well.

      But yes, regardless of the fact that actual Buddhas ( awakened one's) are rare, it does mean that if you find a real buddha, in whose presence your heart moves, and whose actions match their words, and after we have judged them to be a buddha using our own experience with them, then we learn from such realized beings what they have to offer. But yes.. even if they may be rare.. but they do exist. That is indeed a fact. Let us not allow our own prejudices to interfere with facts that stand up on its own, based on our own individual experiences.

      Here is how I interpret the skandha's you have mentioned - Matter creates sensations which leads to perceptions which are interpreted by mental formation within consciousness. So without consciousness, none of this would happen as the mental formations are created within consciousness, and the "self" ( small s) will not arise ; implying consciousness should be everywhere :) As far as the chair is concerned, what if chair had consciousness, matter, but no mental formation or the ability to percieve ( I wonder how much of the human experience of perception can be expected from a chair or whether it is right to limit ourselves to a human POV regarding perception of sensations) is the reason why the chair has no individual self.
  • Mind S 30+

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    Mar 17 2011: Daniel,
    No, Gabo was right. But it is the appeal of « Tales of Mystery and Imagination ». This thread also made me reflect on another peculiar aspect: what is harder to believe is the large number of people in western/industrialized societies who do believe in superstition, the paranormal, shady schemes and bizarre concepts. The profiles of some mystics in this discussion indicate that they have scientific/technical training yet they don’t reflect, in their comments, a genuine scientific process. These “people of science & technology” would preach: science is useful but it is not enough and it is not the way to truth, which is a false claim. This is an indicator that our education system might have a serious deficit, i.e. it concentrates more on the TECHNICAL ASPECT OF SCIENCE to cope with the escalating demands of the ongoing technical progress rather than rooting the concepts of scientific research. Many people are driven to have technical/scientific qualifications because this has become a requisite and a necessity to earn living, to have better position. Also, many educated individuals find it more convenient to stay on good terms with the prevailing wisdom of the society. An education system with this deficit produces technically well-prepared populace but also a populace lacking the basic tenets of science: critical mind, honesty and the search for evidence. These thoughts touch only one contributing element, among many others, for this wide spread belief in psychical phenomena which makes me feel, at times when reading some comments that I read amusing stories in some sort of sorcery forum :-)
    • Mar 17 2011: You said a mouth full there Mind S...

      I must say that I have to agree with you on many things. But my point is also that the scientific way of thinking can also penetrate into what you are calling amusing stories and sorcery..The "method and approach" is not to be mistaken for the "starting point" or "presumptions" but these blinders have to be taken off of the scientific populous. I'm not parting with any religious form of beliefs nor saying that we should conform to" I'm trying to create a dialog between these two polarities. Material science has to outgrow its own limitations
      Science does recognize consciousness as a fact... there is no discussion around this.... but in order to come to any understanding of what it is, science must look deeper... using the same method of study, exploring in different fields of the phenomenon itself... These are many and expanding all the time due to the medical developments that have come about in the past years.. The brain activity can be measured to the smallest particle... this is great ! I've got no problem with that. But to stop short and not see that the true sources of the brain activity is not coming from the physical brain itself... This is a supposition you say.. then so be it.. but all scientific theory starts with a supposition that things are organized in this way or that and then one goes out to prove the theory as true or false... this is thinkings nature and it is without a doubt in my mind the only way to go forward in gaining knowledge of the world.
      People today have a natural hunger for such topics because they feel they have been starving for so long. The church has nothing substantial to feed them.... they go away hungry... science tells us the cold hard facts that don't in any way give nourishment to the questions of "Who we are !?" People can't accept that we are no more than a highly developed primate and thats it.. there are too many unanswered questions.
      But as for the method, I'm with you ..100%
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      Mar 17 2011: I agree with you big time on critical mind, honesty, and search for evidence. Science has restricted itself only to "measurable" evidence, but has completely failed to "measure" subjective experiences, for which the individual has to "measure" it for himself. The evidence then, for science related to consciousness, becomes the subjective experiences which the individual goes through. I wish our education system equipped us to think right brained as well, which would have helped tremendously. But it is a shame that they fail at doing that. From what I read, it seems that ancient cultures would have done a better job in describing those subjective experiences.
      • Mar 18 2011: Hi Santhip,
        Ancient culture knew of the spiritual world... It was no question at all for them.. It was a reality as real as the reality we can see and touch... Their spiritual leaders or initiates could "see" directly into this dimension... when they gradually started to loose this contact with the spiritual world, they turned to decadent forms of blood offerings and the like to keep in touch with this aspect of life that grew dimmer and dimmer for them. Today we are... at least most of us today... are completely ignorant of the spirit world.. in fact even deny its existence at all. But old cultures had their leaders who had visions and could relate facts back to the more earthly bound souls. There are some people today that have this clairvoyance but it is generally an unconscious or atavistic clairvoyance that doesn't really serve the cause of human spiritual evolution. Generally the clairvoyant people of today don't hold their consciousness awake while on the "other side" of the veil. This is where the "scientific method" comes in... without the self-consciousness present .. while in the spiritual world, the possibility to really do "research" just as a scientist would do in his lab... this possibility to perceive and retrieve information for the benefit of humanity can easily be misconstrued and misunderstood. Self-consciousness is the critical element when on the other side of the threshold. This makes sense to me but it would be interesting to hear what you (and Ed) say to this.. Are you out there Ed ?? I cannot speak from first hand experience and neither do I know anyone who can. But I must admit I have been "studying the menu" for a long time...
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          Mar 19 2011: Daniel, Yes.. I agree with you as to how we have forgotten to deal with the "spiritual" aspect in our lives, especially in the western world. And how the modern leaders are functioning within "ego" based consciousness rather than an enlightened state of consciousness. They would have had the honesty, integrity and transparency to stand up for telling the truth as it is, rather than cater to the "ego" of attachments to power / money / fame. Would BP oil spill have occured if the BP executives were honest in what they were doing , and dealing with the facts ? What you have said only makes me wish to see how more and more people could function from the points of honesty, integrity and transparency ( what is there to hide if you are telling the truth ? ).

          Clearly, ancient cultures were much aware of the "spirit" side of things. And they were able to live in harmony as a result of this. But to bring in science to a subjective experience such as clairvoyance or visions is asking for breaking major paradigms about consciousness being limited to physical three dimensions, and to go beyond the commonly held conceptual framework, and dive in ourselves. When there are more people who can repeat the same subjective experience through the same process, then it should become a scientific fact. And I assure you, there are many such "scientific " mystical techniques across the world, present in ancient cultures. But alas, to recognize this aspect, is asking science to take huge steps .. no giant leaps of faith.

          But having been a curious cat of these spirit words myself, I have come across information by mystics who claim that even these spiritual realms are dualistic in nature, and require a " subject" consciousness. They have claimed the ultimate reality to be non-dual, and experiencing which there is no doubt to what our true nature is.. Lol.. I will leave it at that.. :) Have been a strong proponent of the non-dual nature of consc. in this long thread :)
      • Mar 19 2011: Santhip,
        I would appreciate it you could go a little deeper into what you call the "non-dual" way of seeing things. I have some other reference points than you do.. but like you said earlier... somewhere along this long line of threads, we see things a bit alike. I have surely a different frame of reference but can try to convert it to where you are coming from if you give me a little more basis of what you mean with non-dual.. It's what I was getting at as monism ... I think... but am not sure...
  • Mar 17 2011: Consciousness is our connection to eternity. It exists independent of our physical being. Existing beyond time and space.
    • Mar 17 2011: Hello Guy and welcome ! Yes, but consciousness also exists "within" time and space...

      Time, at least as we experience it, must also encompassed within the eternal....

      as space must also be encompassed with the infinite....
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    Tao P 50+

    • +1
    Mar 17 2011: The Universe is conscious; how could consciousness come from nothing?
    Every being acts as an antennae interpreting and expressing (and evolving) consciousness in their own unique way.

    Thoughts (thinking words and images) are symbols.
    Symbols are learned and hence a product of memory.
    Not 'I think therefore I am' but 'I am, and thanks to my memory and interactions with my environment, I think'.
    • Mar 17 2011: Hello Tao and welcome, I too think Decarte was off base on this one.

      Can you see what I'm trying to get at as saying that the word "consciousness" can easily be interchanged with the word "spirit" .... generally speaking ??
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        Mar 17 2011: Hi Daniel.
        I believe I understand you when you say spirit and consciousness can be interchanged. I feel the same way. I believe that everything is an expression of the Universe, or God, or Spirit with a capital S. While I do feel that thinking is an act of spirituality, so too is eating, talking, running and sleeping. There is no separation; everything is God and God is everything (substitute evolving universal process if God makes you uneasy). You, me, your doG and pet rock are all expression of the Universe and are the Universe.

        -I spelt doG as such as backwards dog is God. I don't think this was a mistake. Dogs are man's best friend as they love their owner unconditionally. What a marvelous expression of the Earth.
  • Mar 16 2011: That consciousness is merely a by-product of the physical brain is exactly what Gerald Edlelman writes in his book, "Bight Air, Brilliant Fire, on the matter of the mind." He won a Nobel prize for his work on the evolution of the immune system, and the book is his hypothesis on the evolution on human consciousness. He explains that nearly all the activity of in brain is not input (the brain receiving information about the external world from the senses) but re-input (the brain communicating with itself.) It is very reasonable to expect that constant re-input to feel very much the way we experience our consciousness. That's a very crude oversimplified summary of the book, but it's one of the best things I've read on the subject. Consider it a recommendation if you're interested in the consciousness.
    • Mar 17 2011: Interesting Corey ! welcome to the conversation. I will try to check the guy out. I didn't quite get what you were getting at though... "nearly all the activity of in brain is not input..?? I can see how the re-input aspect is exactly what I'm also getting at, although I've never read G.E. I called it "thinking about thinking" or ..... the nature of thinking is in fact able to examine itself, its own conclusions and is able to go in the conclusions and change them around and develop new conclusions... This is what is so amazing about thinking. It is free...
      I would like to know what G.E. thinks about the evolution of consciousness. Because as I see it, consciousness is also evolving, just as the evolution of the physical/biological aspects of man evolve... the soul/spiritual aspects evolve just the same... only on a higher level.... What do you think about that ??
    • Mar 18 2011: corey,
      It sounds like he is on to something .. at least with the idea that thinking can perceive itself, memories, sense impressions, feelings,
      But it has to have a deeper source that just the physical brain. Maybe you could come back with a few fulcrum points of Gerald Edelman best points around this... It would surprise me if he has anything new to add to the argument of a "by-product support" way of thinking and looking at the phenomena of consciousness...
      But it would be interesting if you came with a few conclusive remarks that we could take a look at..
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      Mar 22 2011: Has anyone watched this video? It is an interview with John Hagelin who is a PhD physicist and a big-wig in the Transcendental Meditation organization. He discusses a kind of cosmic consciousness (what he calls "unified field theory") which essentially considers spirit to be the fundamental fabric of the universe (the underlying potential field). It is an appealing concept as an extension of the idea of consciousness. However, I think, as Harry Hunt points out, setting the definition too high or low "the entire field of consciousness studies will be distorted".

      What do you all think? How does this conform to your concept of consciousness?
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          Mar 22 2011: You trying to pull me down the slippery slope of solipsism that Budimir mentioned?
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          Mar 22 2011: "But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I, too, do not exist? No. If I convinced myself of something [or thought anything at all], then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who deliberately and constantly deceives me. In that case, I, too, undoubtedly exist, if he deceives me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind."

          Descartes
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          Mar 23 2011: M G and Tim,
          Thanks for providing/recommending the Hagelin video. YES, YES, YES...I LOVE it when scientists agree with me!!! LOL:>)

          That is exactly how I see the world. Hagelin says it so exquisitely! You know how I'm always talking about information and how we use it? My perception is that we are all interconnected with an energy field. He says, which I agree with, that "you and I are one...universal consciousness...we have the fundamental foundations of consciousness...single unified field of intelligence...waves of vibration..pure abstract information...we can raise our energy vibration...". My belief based on my experience, is that we can raise our energy vibration based on the information we take in and how we use it:>)

          Hagelin and I are definitely connected...I don't know about the rest of you...LOL!
          It's always a choice to recognize the connection...or not!

          You gave me a lovely compliment in another comment Tim. You said I am compassionate. I am aware of the interconnections with all of us, so of course I'm going to be compassionate with others because I'm compassionate with myself...we're connected! When we hurt others, we're hurting ourselves...when we love others, we're loving ourselves...simple:>)

          Another question that was asked in the video is why are we not using this information? Well, because our ego gets in the way! Humans often want to be "right". We want to have the "right" answers all the time, and nobody is going to beat us to it. So, we get stuck in our own opinions, beliefs, ideas, thoughts and feelings, and fail to open the heart and mind to new information. How many arguments have you seen on the TED sites, where some people refuse to budge from their own ideas? Lots...way too many. For example, Mind S is still trying to convince me that he is "right", even though I've been agreeing with him right along. Sorry Mind S...had to say it. I still love you and hope I can continue to facilitate your smile:>)
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          Mar 22 2011: Now, that has a nice ring to it.

          In reading something by Daniel Dennett ("Quining Qualia"), I came across this interesting quote by Wittgenstein:

          "It is not a something, but not a nothing either! The conclusion was only that a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said."

          Somewhat related don't you think?
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          Mar 22 2011: Yes Tim, I percieve it to be related. I believe I am nothing and everything:>)
        • Mar 23 2011: "Nothing" is where"everything' came from:)
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          Mar 23 2011: Dear Birdia,
          I don't want you to simply listen to me without sharing your own thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions and beliefs. TED IS real life, don't you think? It's part of MY real life anyway:>)
          Sharing information is always good, and I would not deny myself the opportunity to open my heart and mind to new information in every moment:>)
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          Mar 23 2011: I agree...there's nothing as good as meeting in person:>)
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          Mar 23 2011: I think any kind of communication is interesting...some more than others:>) I'm guilty of hiding my profile at one point, because I was being stalked by a couple bullies. I changed my name to "Kuan Yin", (goddess of compassion), and I was resting there for awhile:>) As soon as TED improved the system, I came out of the closet again with my real name and face...such as it is!

          It's true, we don't know who is on the other end of the keyboard, but somebody is writing the comments huh? And it is our choice to participate in certain parts of the comment thread...or not:>) I just like sharing information without any particular expectations or agendas:>) I like being open to information, and that seems to bother some people, but that's their choice!
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  • Mar 16 2011: Excellent question. I would add: who are the people who have studied consciousness? Is it something out of Science?. Perhaps not. Can it be included in the realm of Science? Perhaps Yes. Have some scientists dedicated time and effort to understand that that has been called Conscience?. It seems to me some scientists have tried or are trying to do that. Are spiritual leaders concerned about conscience?. I think, yes. So, who are they and what are they talking about?. Some research would be necessary to go deep inside these questions.
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      Mar 17 2011: You haven't experienced enlightenment. After experiencing enlightenment, there simply wont be a "you" / or the ego to assert it. It is clear from the fact that you are asserting an ego, you haven't experienced the state of non-dual awareness.Sorry to break it to you.

      It is possible that you might have had one of the different levels of awakening on the way to enlightenment, as was commented by another in this long thread. I promise you, from all the books I have read, that the consciousness state of non-dual awareness leads one to a persistent "no - thoughts" state FOREVER. If you still experience thoughts, you still have a long way to go. You won't hear this opinion a lot, as people hate to give up their "intellectual ego", but that is the stark truth of it. I don't claim to have experienced enlightenment.

      I will look into triptamine. Thank you for that.

      I must have misread your point. I agree with what you have said about how science is able to expose some BS. But I still hold on to my argument that science isn't complete. And Both of us can agree on how much gaps science has to fill as far as consciousness is concerned, before rejecting ancient treatises on consciousness simply because it doesn't "fit" into the biological evolution model.
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        Mar 18 2011: Science isn't complete, will never be complete and accepts that it is not complete. That is the beauty of science.
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          Mar 19 2011: Science is beautiful .. I agree.. :-) So is life .. ;-)
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    Mar 15 2011: Why do you use the word merely?

    What would you want it to be instead? What extra explanation do you wish to add to it?

    I think reality is already mysteriously enough that i don't need to make it more complicated than it is in order to try and understand it...

    Another aspect arrises: why do you think we should have figured out the question already?
    every minute, scientists across the world are working very hard to enhance our understanding.
    If you think this is not fast enough: support them!

    (And watch the talk by Damasio when it is aired!)
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      Mar 15 2011: The context in which I undersatood the question is that he is asking if concsiousness might have some substantial properties that influence brain state. For instance do you think that brain states influence concsiousness, but not the other way around or do you think it goes both ways, concsiousness iinfluences brain states and brain states influence concsiousness.

      I don't wanna speak in Daniel's name but I think the extra explanation he is looking for is something which is objective and measurable in concsiousness.
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        Mar 16 2011: I don't know whether I agree with the halting problem as a valid argument... as not being able to program a self-learning algorithm of sufficient complexity to do the same doesn't mean humans have something "extra"
        (Plus if you stop adding energy anywhere, there is no halting problem, as it will halt... And energy is necessary for any computation... don't know if this is a relevant argument though)

        I think self-learning algorithms are sufficient to allow for intelligence to emerge
        (I think Bayesian algorithms are in principle capable of doing just that)

        I'm not so into Penrose, as I think his ideas are flawed...
        but that is no reason to reject his hypothesis altogether. Only when ranking the current hypothesies and giving them a probability of being close to the solution given my current state of knowledge is very low. I'd use the proverbial razor of occam a bit more if I were him...
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          Mar 16 2011: It's questionable though whether self learning machine will have the same capacity to produce new sentences appropriate to a particular context

          Language as a phenomenon exhibits a perpetual lack of entropy as well as creativity. One could say energy is expended in creating this organized phenomenon we tend to call language but then comparing some of the super computers we have that use up massive amounts of energy, they still can't produce this organization of characters we see in language.

          This leads me to believe there may be something more, after all the brain influences concsious thoughts we know that, the interaction may work both ways. Though that would compromise conservation of energy. Since there is no detectable energy in concsiousness.

          So I am a little conflicted with regard to that idea. In one case the law of entropy is compromised in the other case the law of energy is compromised.
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          Mar 16 2011: Nope, halting problems don't demonstrate anything against strict mechanistic views explaining human consciousness, unless you are using the "strict" qualifier to mean direct yes/no pathways or gear mechanisms with no noise allowed, but that would be cheating. In the worst case it would demonstrate that whomever is making such a call has little imagination or knowledge about what mechanistic explanations might entail. I don't mean this about you, the limitation in mechanistic explanations might be there for our current understanding and experiences with mechanisms. That still does not mean there will be no mechanistic explanation later on.

          I doubt though that humans can solve "halting problems" other than by giving up, or else by prejudice. Prejudices and a sense of giving up, mixed with some randomicity in deciding when to give up, or in calculating how far an answer might be, can be programmed into computers. But that is an aside.
        • Mar 16 2011: Hi Gabo !!

          Welcome back.. you've been away

          322 comments so far Gabo.... not bad for being a dead discussion from the start. I don't know know how much you've been following the comments from the shadows, but they have been wandering around quite a bit. Especially in the past few days. Mr. Cop reacted similarly to the word "merely" as you did... but it didn't seem to have provoked him as much as it did you. I don't have any direct comment to yours, at least not at the moment. Maybe I can make some sense out of it when I'm not so tired... My consciousness has the need to expand out into the infinite dimension of timeless space, where my temporary ex-carnation will allow the healing processes of my physical body to go fully under the influences of the etheric life forces so that tomorrow morning, upon my reincarnation.... I can wake up... fully conscious and ready to meet a splendid new day... Good night all....
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          Mar 17 2011: Hey daniel,

          Haven't read too much here. I was away on some scientific meetings and all of that. Quite a lot of fun, and quite a lot I learned. Also met a few old friends, and made a few new ones. Rainy weather though.

          Anyway, good that this enlivened. May you enliven too by a good-night's sleep.

          Hasta luego!
  • Mar 12 2011: Mark,
    Thinking has within it's powers to take hold of itself. It can also take hold of our feeling life. It's like picking yourself up by your own bootstraps. Physically impossible but thinking has this ability within it's own nature. What we are driven by in the external world, as well as what we are driven by in our feeling life and even to take it as far as driven by our own thoughts. Thinking can always stand at the end of the fulcrum and force all influences upon our actions to fall in line with its demands. Thinking is more or less free depending upon how much our individuality allows other external influences to take hold of its direction. We can be very driven through life by an unending amount of external stimuli (TV f.ex.)
    But it is always within thinkings grasp to turn around on any driving force in ourselves or our environment and simply say ...no, I will not be driven by this impulse... even the most basic needs in life ... like hunger..." I "...can say no to...
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      • Mar 15 2011: Hi Mark, This is exactly what I mean to say... the trampoline example. I used the example of a lion earlier in this discussion somewhere when responding to Tim Colgan.
        I wrote some things to Colleen along the same lines as what you are getting at.
        I agree that it is a challenge to focus your thoughts... sometimes nearly impossible, even for the shortest time span. This is where our inner strength or inner discipline come into play. How much force we can apply to focus on that which the "I" in me can decide on what it wants its tool (thinking) to focus upon. We agree totally that thinking has to be anchored in direct perception. I can't learn much about a lion if I've read about what a lion is in a book. I myself must meet the lion. The observation of the lion must be "in person" and to the fullest degree of my sense perceptions.(Even my own fear of the lion) All of them ! The process of thinking engages itself into all the sensory activity, which I would claim to say are the tools that gather information for the activity of thought to put in a logical order by first observing and experiencing through the senses, and then thinking about what was observed, observing and thinking, again and again. Only then can we gain a fully saturated "concept" of the "beingness of the lion" The more we can still our thinking activity and "live into the percept" (of the lion or whatever the object of perception)... the more we can hold back our own thinking activity in this moment of perception .. the more we can gain access to the lions true and "whole" being.
        Philosophers have debated this for centuries if it is at all possible to penetrate into this "whole of the lions being" ... but it is my intention to merely point at the process involved. The process of the nature of thinking. Thinking that feeds the spirit or the consciousness that is the eternal part of me that evolves through the eons of time, ever gaining more knowledge in our spiritual evolution.
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      Mar 12 2011: Daniel,
      Thinking does not "have within its powers to take hold of itself". We are the creators of our thoughts. The only way it can "take hold of our feeling life", is if we give it that power. Sure we can be driven by external stimuli IF we give exernal stimuli that power. I choose what I want to think about, don't you? I can direct my thoughts, because it is not my thought process that dominates my being. It is an important part of the whole, but not the director in my script:>)
      • Mar 14 2011: How did you come to this conclusion? Every word you have written Colleen is because you must have thought of it first.....To say that thinking does not have within its powers to take hold of itself".. to say that, you must have thought about it first....
        One "can" choose what one wants to think about but one generally doesn't..One can think of what one wants to under meditation, if your committed, You can make dinner and think about what you want to think about... about making food. But if the telephone rings then its that you think about. You can't drive a car and think about what you want to think about.....at least I hope not... If you do... I sure don't want to be out on the road. One is forced generally by the outer environment what one has to focus on in that moment. The problem is that we get so used to "riding the horse" that
        we forget that it would be nice to get off and take a rest once in a while.
        To make the statement... "We are the creators of our own thought" or to say those words..."The only way it can take hold of our feeling life is if we give it that power.... well.... the fact that you wrote down these words is evidence for the fact that you had to think about the idea of it's truth or non-truth before you began to write the idea down.... or....??
        Our survival often depends upon engaging to the fullest with our thoughts...Just crossing the street when there is a lot of traffic engages an endless series of thoughts just to get on the other side
        It's only thinking that can tell you that you even have an ego. Its your thinking that puts names on your feelings.... you can have the feeling of anger.. but you can't identify it without thinking putting a word, a "concept" on the percept of anger.... all feeling are also percepts for thinking.
        Your thinking is not the director, your " I " is the director, but your thinking is both your right and left hand at the service of your "I"
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          Mar 14 2011: Hi Daniel,
          Your statement "thinking has within its powers to take hold of itself" sounds like you are saying that "thinking" is a seperate entity disconnected from the whole of "self". As creators of our thoughts, it is all very much a part of the whole, in my perception. I choose what I want to think about when I want to think. If you do not, it's ok, but you have the ability to do that, just as everyone does. Of course I can drive a car and think about what I want to think about. Are you saying that everyone who drives a car is thinking only of the task of driving the car? I don't think so! I'm not really sure what point you are trying to make.
      • Mar 15 2011: If you drive your car and don't think about what your doing, you are most likely to cause an accident. This is perhaps why it's forbidden in some states to use your cell phone while driving... Your focus of attention has to be on your driving, otherwise there are some pretty serious consequences... You can make dinner too without thinking about what your doing.. you may burn the food or add too much salt or some other thing, but the more your thoughts wander from what your doing,the more the chance the food will be bad...When your thoughts wander from your driving, the person in front of you is in great risk of being run into from behind.
        This is just an example of how your thoughts must follow whats going on in the world around you. Other examples of course wouldn't have such dire consequences. One can walk along the sidewalk without taking interest in what is going on around oneself and just being in one's own thoughts.
        It's our perceptions that pull us out of our thinking and into the world. We perceive a bird on our path and our observations immediately pull our thought processes into action. The bird moves, visual sense stimuli, makes sounds... audio sense stimuli, .. these sense stimuli force our thinking to activity.
        The point I'm trying to make is that thinking has the ability to be free from the external stimuli through meditation. Here, thinking can "still itself" ... sort of what Santhip is talking about, but I'm not sure yet if I agree with Santhip. It's something I need to "think about"
        I can at least agree with Mark about the fact that thinking alone, without perception is without root in reality. It is our continuous perceptions that correct our thinking and put it on the right path. Simply demonstrated in mathematics... You can believe what you like about the square root of the opposite angles of a right triangle, but the more you observe the results of your geometry experiments, the more you see that this must coincide with the outer reality.
  • Mar 11 2011: Where can I reply to your last comment Mark ??

    Its so hard to follow these threads directly.... Why cant I make a direct comment to Marks last comment ??

    I've got to get to bed everyone.. It's 11.30 pm for me, ... try to catch up with you all tomorrow. Good night...
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    Mar 10 2011: Below was a thread that was getting kind of long, but touching on an interesting concept that Daniel has raised. I don't really know the answer to this question, but it would be really interesting if everyone could offer their description (the more the merrier):

    What is spirit?
    • Mar 11 2011: OK Tim, fine with a new thread. I would like to see a better system here on TED but I don't know what that is... Maybe we could get one of these observers to help out.. The threads get so long and then one looses the original question or idea... it all just spins around on lots of different ideas.
      But this is good. We can take it from here. I'm on my way to work right now so no time to write. Its 8.30 am for me. What time is it there? Next new thread ... What is time?... what is space? Infinity? Eternity? Its a complicated world we live in... thats for sure !! Catch you later
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        Mar 11 2011: Daniel: When I first read your description of the lion in reference to spirit I thought, man, are our definitions different. But the more times I read it, the more I think we are really thinking the same, just describing it differently. I mentioned how I thought of the spirit as ying/yang, the whole which is more than the sum of the parts. And you described how a lion is not known by the description of a bunch of facts, but in it's totality. Aren't we really on the same track?
        • Mar 11 2011: I don't think we are on the same track yet.... As I understand the Yin/Yang principle, they are polarities right? I know very little about this ancient philosophy from China. But the polarity of light and dark, matter and spirit, white and black, opposites seem to be the creative processes in the whole. This doesn't sound to strange to my way of seeing things... but then the yin force would be material and the yang force the spirit... I'm not so sure about what your getting at. The sum of the parts isn't "more" than the whole,but is the complete whole, visible and invisible... What I started on earlier about the nature of thinking, the "subject---object" relation. This is the key to the "whole being of the lion" the object.... and the "whole being of the subject" the observer. But I really don't want to go into that because it will lead so far away from the original question of consciousness / by-product / spirit.
          If we were on the same track, I guess you would now be excepting my proposition that the spirit actually exists... as the polarity of yin/yang ... matter/spirit could be something within the range of your world view. The word "spirit" is, as you say, very difficult to define with physical words. .. but as I have tried to present my way of understanding the word spirit, do you feel that you have come any closer to an understanding of how I see it and do you eventually agree with it... I have yet to really say that I have this impression...
          I am trying to present the consciousness/spirit as a living active principle that is working in and through everything that is material. If you don't see the other half of the whole, if you just see the material side of the yin/yang, then we are far from seeing things the same....
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        Mar 12 2011: Daniel: Perphaps I'm misapplying the concept or yin/yang (excuse my previous mis-spelling), in that it refers specifically to polar opposites, although the concept of the whole being greater then the sum of the parts is applicable. Let's explore another term - quintessence (the "fifth" essence). The etymology of this term comes from the medieval concept of the four essences - earth, air, water, fire. The philosophers found that lacking and proclaimed that there must be a fifth essence - the quintessence.

        This is another example of how whenever we attempt to dissect reality into distinct parts, something will be missing. Hence the need for the term "spirit".
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      Mar 11 2011: in my view spirit is action that we do, the way it affects and how it is accepted by other beings. The trace that changes surroundings, and the mark that keeps influencing others even after our death.
      In words "spirit" is also a fast way to explain children how to behave.

      Or is it "soul"? have to work on my english very hard.
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        Mar 12 2011: Hi George - What did you mean by - "soul" XD?

        And your reference to children. Did you mean this is a way to get children to accept responsibility for their actions, or did you mean that children act spontaneously?

        You have interesting ideas, just trying to understand.
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          Mar 12 2011: Sorry for language issues again.
          I used Spirit as synonym to Soul, and didn't know if this is allowed in english, after definition check it seems ok. Also removed "XD" smile emoticon.

          Words "soul" and "spirit" is an easy way to explain kids responsibility, as mentioned, and bring life value and purpose.
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        Mar 12 2011: George,
        I wish I could speak/write Ukrainian as well as you do English!

        I could easily interchange the words energy, spirit, soul, consciousness most of the time:>)
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        Mar 11 2011: Very thought provoking Birdia. So, if spirit is the propeller, is the will really free?
      • Mar 11 2011: Mark,

        Will is the least free ........asleep

        Feelings are more free than the will.........dreaming

        Thinking is most free.......awake
      • Mar 11 2011: Hi Birdia and welcome to the discussion!

        The will to action ...begins with an idea. It must begin here. In the thinking. Then, it passes through the feelings...the question arises "Do I like this action", my sympathy and antipathy come into the decision here, will it bring me pleasure or can it result in pain... finally...at the end of the process, it comes to the will and the action is either put out into the world or it is not, depending on the conclusion of what your head (thinking) and your heart(feeling)come to.
        The head or the thinking element of man might be looked at as the opposite of the will side of man which one might say is the limbs,.... arms and legs.. The heart, the feeling realm is the middle part, the part where you feel...you feel love for the deed. This is the real freedom. Doing what you love to do.... To take action out of a religious conviction, a sense of duty, your mother or father telling you how to live, to take any form of action without the action being fully yours, then the action is less free or even can be very unfree.
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      • Mar 11 2011: .....Reverse ....?

        We have sympathy... propel forward ....I like the dog... I go and pet it.
        We have antipathy....propel backward....I don't like dogs... I go away..
        We have negetive sympathy...I propel forward... I kick the dog.
        Or we have apathy towards the dog and don't bother with it at all.

        One can work "consciously" on ones attitude towards dogs.... Imagine ... my wife loves dogs and I hate dogs, in three weeks my wife is buying a dog.. I will now try to learn to like dogs..
        If I succeed in liking dogs.. than my idea "I will learn to like dogs" passes over time.. and an inner energy through the dislike and perhaps a person can learn to like dogs. If his or her dislikes are over ridden or outnumbered by the possible likes.. The consciousness can penetrate the will to win freedom over it, but without an active inner force to overcome the negative and turn it into a positive, then the will has not been "worked on" by the consciousness. It is unfree, controlled by fears perhaps... dogs bite, or dogs are dirty.. . or my mother always hated dogs...
      • Mar 11 2011: That was a quick response!
        Well, I don't really know if your question is serious or not....
        A flower cannot have a will in the form of a conscious will as we are talking about.
        An animal can't have a free will either. An animal is driven by its desires.
        Man/woman can take control of their desires if the really want to..... stop smoking for example...
      • Mar 11 2011: I must admit that I'm not so familiar with the TAO way of thinking... but I see the human being as being a three part individuality...

        1)Thinking, 2)feeling and 3)willing. Man/woman is the only being of the four planes of existence (the four elements) that can really have a free will.
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        Mar 12 2011: Bidia: In response to your question:

        "Based on that order, we can establish that a 'will' can be in either state, and therefore 'free'?

        In other words free to switch states without outside influence? Are we back to quantum theory? Einstein thought that "god does not play dice". Others disagreed. I'm confused.
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        Mar 12 2011: Birdia: "a cyclical reality as in the cause and the effect being interchangeable"

        Now that is something I can handle. Two perspectives of reality (caused and causer) that more fully describe the whole. Is that what you're getting at?

        Physics is full of dualities which parallel this discussion beautifully. The wave/particle, determinism/probablity, ... It keeps coming back to the mind's inability to grasp the totality. So we utilize metaphors from the world of our senses to try to comprehend it better.

        btw - when I said "I'm confused", I meant by the whole debate between Einstein and the other camp. It is a confusing topic.
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        Mar 14 2011: Birdia

        "Maybe consciousness is both the past and present, around and inside us, rather than "just a by-product of our physical brain..."? What do you think?"

        "I'm curious, what's Heidegger's ideas on "Being-in-the-world"?"

        It's amazing (though perhaps in retrospect, understandable) how much the conversations on religion, free will and consciousness have become intertwined. My response (don't want to call it an answer, that's too conclusive) to two of your questions follows.

        I'm far from being an expert on Heidegger, but perhaps an anecdote will shed some light on the topic(s). In preparation to reading "Being and Time" I listened to a podcast of a course by the professor Hubert Dreyfus, who is often referred to as the world's foremost authority on Heidegger. He related the story of how, when he was teaching at MIT there was an ongoing debate over how soon AI (Artificial Intelligence) would match human thinking. His response was that Heidegger's theories showed that it wouldn't happen. I believe his argument was basically that Dasein, as a Being-in-the-world, had such an intimate connectedness to the world, is intertwined in the world, is part of the world, that a discrete thinking machine would not come close to duplicating it.

        So, I think you are making a good point about "consciousness is both the past and present, around and inside us".
  • Mar 8 2011: I have to admit that I didn't read everything here, because it just seemed like no one was addressing the real question (also I can't follow the discussion...browser failing me maybe). I searched all 80 comments for the word 'witness', and found none. Witness really seems like the key word for me when it comes to consciousness, so I thought I'd go ahead and just ask the question that has plagued me for years. If my question has already been addressed directly, then I'm sorry...ignore me or point me to the answer if possible. If it happens to be a satisfactory answer you would pretty much be my hero forever.

    If consciousness is a result of physical processes only, then why do I have to be here to witness them? Why can't these incredibly sophisticated process operate on their own? Why am I here to witness them proceeding? Also...what evidence do I have that there is a similar witness inside each one of you? Why is my witness looking through my eyes and not yours? I am not a religious person, but my gut feeling is that my body isn't really what I would call 'me', and likewise the thoughts I am witnessing don't seem to be me either. If they were me, I'd be able to control them, but if they are purely physical processes, I don't. These thoughts belong to my brain, which belongs to my body. There doesn't seem to be any evidence at all that the one thing that I can definitely say is me (the experience of being alive, the witnessing of these thoughts and sensations), is even able to modify anything outside of itself. Sometimes it feels like it is 'me' that is making decisions, but if all of these decisions can be attributed to physical processes (and I believe they can), then how can this be anything but illusion? What role does this witnessing part play in anything, besides just witnessing? Ugh...I don't even know how to formulate these questions properly, let alone answer them. Hopefullly I am not just paraphrasing comments that I haven't read yet or didn't understand.
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      Mar 8 2011: Hi James,
      I don't rememer seeing the word "witness" in any of the posts, and it's a good question. I wrote about my Near Death Experience in the thread, and although I've never used the word witness while describing the experience, it's a very good concept. I witnessed the processes of the body, mind and heart from another place outside my body. My perception is that an energy moves through the body, including the brain, and that is what I call consciousness. I am not a religious person either, but after my experience 21 years ago, I did quite a bit of research, and part of that research was exploring various religions, none of which I ultimately embraced. I believe that the "gut feeling" or intuition, is another channel of consciousness. It's another level of information that we can tap into. I feel the same way about my body not really being me. The core (energy) of who and what I am is something greater than simply the human experience. I believe we can control our thoughts, and the thoughts belong to the body/brain, as you insightfully recognize. Some would say that the earth experience IS an illusion. I think if we can get out of ourselves (the mind chatter and ego) and witness ourselves objectively, it gives us information. You're doing just fine with the questions, which are very stimulating:>) Thank you for presenting that exploration!
      • Mar 8 2011: Ah good. This was my first contribution here on TED. This thread is full of amazing ideas but on first (and second and third) inspection it is just so disorganized. I wonder if it is helpful to allow all the subthreads and branching. It does allow everyone to get their ideas in easily, but I wonder if it might be more useful to keep things linear like in more traditional forums. I suppose this is a separate discussion, but for example, I'd really like to read about your near death experience but I can't seem to find your account of it!...hmm...on second thought I just discovered the 'sort by' drop-down box. This might help me. Stay tuned.
        • Mar 8 2011: I suggest to Colleen that she start her own discussion on near-death experiences. I think it would be really interesting to hear some details of what she experienced!
      • Mar 8 2011: Also I like your model. When I meditate it sometimes feels a little like what you describe. When I get 'behind' my brain and its thoughts, I feel like I am in a more natural state....more alive but less conscious. I like the idea that this state intersected with our physical body is what produces the traditional "I am" sensation.

        Your comment about illusion reminds me of a sort of fear that I had when I was a an early teenager. I became obsessed with the possibility that everything around me was my own creation, that wakefulness was as much a dream as the dreams I had in my sleep, and both were just creative expressions. I guess you could say I had a god complex, but with no concept of the mechanics of this arrangement, I actually felt powerless rather than powerful. I'm mostly over that now, although I can't say that I've found any real evidence to the contrary. I just learned that it was a very unpleasant way to live/think. Mom's breast cancer? I did it. Starvation in Africa? My fault. I don't think I could survive that philosophy even if it were demonstrably true.
    • Mar 8 2011: James, I agree that some of these threads on TED are just impossible to follow
      It is an interesting word... witness.. Just who is doing the witnessing is my never ending question. The answer is in a way self evident... it's me. Or the " I am " in me.
      The "inner world" of feelings can also be "observed" by this witness. I know when I am angry. I know when I feel sympathy for another person. I know the feeling of pride or shame. Feelings are observable. Maybe not just as observable as the outer world of physical things... but still.
      Even your own thinking, although not an easy task, can also be the object of perception for your " I " . Difficult as it may sound. The thinking activity is closely bound up with the " I " but if you work at it, you can actually observe your own thought processes. Try to "watch" or "witness" your own thoughts for just 5 minutes. It's thinking about thinking... If anyone tries to tell me that this is simply my brain neurons going haywire....well... scientists are continually doing research on such matters... as when a person meditates for example in an MRI machine. The " I " in me is the overriding principle that determines which neurons are firing. If you put my head in an MRI machine and watch the activity of the brain, they have to ask the person to think about this or that,his or her girlfriend, or think about music, or whatever the command might be. The neural activity in the persons brain is first initiated by the command given from the scientist. But if the person says to the scientist .."no, I don't want to think about what you command me to think about... I will think about the weather instead." The experiment can't even get off the ground... Our individuality or our " I " or to use a charged word... the "spirit" in me, my "self-consciousness" is the final authority as to just what I choose to think about. Many don't like this word "spirit" ... it awakens a certain antipathy in the materialists. But I choose to use it blatently.
      • Mar 8 2011: I understand and agree with most of this, except that I still don't see how I can be sure that the information travels in both directions. It is clear that my thoughts and senses inform this "me" about what is happening, but I don't see clear evidence that this "me" in any way directs my thoughts or actions. Everything that feels like evidence of this can be attributed to thought or sensation?. I guess this is why I always end up back at the word 'witness'. I am just not sure that my witness is doing anything but witnessing, while my brain does the thinking and acting. In the experiments you mention, how can we know that it isn't the brain that is resisting and preventing things from "getting off the ground", rather than some direction from the subject's 'me' to the brain?

        Maybe I am stuck in some sort of dissociative state that prevents me from properly feeling the connection between me and brain as a two-way thing? I wish I could overcome this problem. A part of me feels powerless even when I accomplish incredible things, The 'me' part of me has near-constant access to wonder, amazement, even peace...functions of witnessing, but anything like pride (functions of action) seems to reside only in my brain.

        Hmm...I think I maybe just had a rather big new idea which blows this wide open for me. It occurred to me that if everything I have typed here is true, then it has been composed by my brain. But if it has been composed by my brain, then my brain must be receiving information from the 'witness', otherwise it would not be able to describe it. This would seem to be a proof of a two way exchange between brain and 'witness', by contradiction. I'm going to have to think long and hard about this one.


        Unrelated question...How come I can only reply to some posts? I would, for example, like to be able to thank Mark for turning me onto Alan Watts, but there is no 'Reply' link next to Mark's post.
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        Mar 9 2011: Daniel,
        Your post above suggests that we can "observe your own thought processes" and you also say "it's thinking about thinking". To me, these are different concepts. To be an observer, the thinking needs to be suspended. Thinking comes from the programed information in our brain, and is limited. When we observe, we suspend the thinking and are open to more information:>)

        James,
        You say you don't "see clear evidence that this "me" directs my thoughts and actions". You make choices don't you? You have made a great discovery! Yes, the witness can give information to the brain, and the brain can give information to the witness:>) If we believe that everything is interconnected, as I do, then we are taking in information on many different levels. It is up to us to decide how we will use the information.
        • Mar 10 2011: Hi Colleen, I'm back.
          I guess I'll pick up the thread here, although to continue on your NDE is very very interesting, which I hope we can also continue on.
          Here are some things to think about.
          Thinking is exactly that... suspended ! If "I" choose to think about a fountain of water for 5 minutes and concentrate on following my thoughts, the moment my thoughts begin to wander to that hamburger that I smell in the kitchen, "I" can take hold of my thoughts and say to myself, no, I will not think of that hamburger right now, I will think only of the fountain of water and nothing else... This tells me that "I" can steer my thinking and control it... agreed? The suspended nature of thinking is the overview of the "I" within me. Thinking is like a wild pony that just wants to run and run ..... driven by outer impressions and inner desires. But the moment we consciously stop this running of thinking, we can observe the thinking process and determine ourselves just where we want it to go.
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        Mar 10 2011: Yes, you can steer your thinking and control it. If you are determining just where you want it to go, you are still controling your thought process based on the programming in your brain, and that is a beneficial process. To get to a deeper level, it is necessary to suspend the thought process and be open to new information.
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    Mar 7 2011: There was a time in history where the medicine man, leader, religious person and scientist were all one person. In essence, I don't think things have changed. Every deep scientific thinker I know has an all inclusive "spiritual" side. Who says they have to be different? They are very probably aspects of the same point of origin. Think Leonardo da Vinci - artist, engineer, scientist etc.

    Consciousness, I believe, is the culmination of concentrated thought intensely focused toward a particular aim (or purpose). Its very existence is self replicating and constantly creating.
    • Mar 8 2011: Hi Jon Yeo,
      I wonder just what a TED attendee / TEDX organizer does... Do you just surf around on TED conversations and comment on whatever you like? ... Sounds like fun!

      While your in here, I would like to say that many people find it hard to follow the threads. I agree with them that it is hard to follow just who said what and when. The time (in blue) helps but it is not always correct. The sequence is OK, but the actual time lapse is not at all up to date.

      As to your comment, We have been trying to boil down the content of what is the "spirit" and what is "consciousness". The content of the activity, be it scientific or be it artistic, engineering, whatever is not exactly the point. The question is (questions are) Is the consciousness of mankind... the spiritual footprint something that can evolve out of a mere biological evolution? Can science explain the phenomenon of consciousness without being confronted with the fact that the immaterial world of spirit has no physical measurable standards? How can a simple biological world view explain the more hidden aspects of our being? Consciousness is more than neurons firing at will within the physical brain. Much of what I have said earlier (if you can find your way to it" tries to get to the bottom of these questions.
      In fact, what you say is most correct! In earlier times, they had an understanding of this and the "dichotomy" (also discussed earlier with Gabo" was non-existent. The dichotomy of material/spiritual is a modern dilema that is in a way, a constructed one. The dichotomy that still remains is the one of the "inner/soul aspects" of man and the "outer/physical aspects" of the world. If one is really honest with oneself, this is also a false dichotomy too. As I said earlier today (look for the blue time line) the inner aspects of feeling are just as much an object of perception as the out world of stones and plants... the only difference is that the inner man is much harder to point your finger at !
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    Mar 7 2011: As a microbiologist and student of complexity, emergence and the unpredictable nature of complex systems "explained" consciousness to me. The notion of emergence comes out of science, and, along with other features of complex systems, its detailed expressions are unpredictable--something material science is just beginning to learn to deal with. On the spiritual side of unpredictability is the "aha" I experienced in realizing that the unpredictable amplification over time of complex phenomena means "nothing we do is inconsequential"--a paraphrase from Ilya Prigogine.
    • Mar 7 2011: Tell more Carolyn !!
      I'm gonna google IIya Prigogine right away...

      Have you ever read Goethe?
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        Mar 8 2011: Not yet, but I'll take a look. Thanks Daniel. In my readings on complexity, I found that people tended to concentrate on one or a few what I call "Indicators" of complex systems. Ampliifcation is the one-word description of long term effects that can snowball out of a simple incident--ie the butterfly effect. A friend said "That is really scary." The exact quote from Prigogine is "...individual activity is not doomed to insignificance." Two problems: a butterfly can get clobbered by a tornado, and what you do may have long term effects, but they will be unpredictable and out of your control. Marketeers would love to know what makes something take off ie be amplified--like Harry Potter et al.
        On the more material side of consciousness, the brain has more connections than anything else in the Universe they say. Such numbers are way beyond our ability to comprehend, as is the resulting phenomena called emergence--ie thought, etc. The brain has been called by the scientists writing for non-scientists the most complex object there is because it has so many connections.

        The quote from Prigogine can be found on page 313 of his 1984 !! book "Order Out of Chaos," the classic that helped start this whole field of study. This subject impacts every subject I can imagine. I'm afraid the math some have focused on has turned off general interest. I think you would find some of the books on the annotated bibliography at caryneeper.com fascinating. I finally found a beginning text I would use if I were still teaching--Donella Meadows' "Thinking In Systems." Enjoy. I'll be checking in at least once a day, but had better save some time for writing or this "building a platform" will swallow up too much time. Thanks for your encouraging note.
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          Mar 9 2011: Carolyn, hello and thanks for your comments. Searching info on books and their authors unveiled to me existence of such things like "Systems Theory" and "Systems Thinking"
          Thank you.
  • Mar 6 2011: In essence, this discussion on “consciousness” has the same consequence as that of the mother discussion on the existence of God: It will be an exercise in futility, and will not resolve the issue.
    In conversation of this sort we have:
    1) The RATIONALIST, is critical with analytical mind, needy for warrant and facts, thirsty for reasonable and evidential knowledge and is the one who would like to pose the simple question: What grounds one have for even speaking of “consciousness”, “soul” and the like?
    2) The MYSTIC who exercise unrestrained flights of imagination, use shadowy, literary and wishful wording and concepts that target hypothetical/abstract entities motivated by a drive towards the absolute, the sacred, the final and the immortal.
    The RATIONALIST, from emotionally/morally neutral perspective search for what IS in what he considers as an impersonal universe; and the MYSTIC, gravitated by emotion, search of what is WISHFULLY SHOULD BE.
    Thus we have serious conflict between two trends of thinking, one has just born (relative to the long history of human evolution) and the other is a legacy from the past.
    Humanity would reshape, gradually, its course but it has long, long path ahead.
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      Mar 6 2011: Dear A Latif,
      I'm not trying to "resolve" anything with my participation in this discussion. It's just fun to share different ideas, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and opinions:>)

      Now, I'm wondering where I fit in, because of your definitions above! What if one is critical and analytical, seeking facts, thirsty for reason and knowledge, likes to pose simple questions, imaginative, and emotionally neutral? What if I believe that all of this is interconnected? What is my label??? LOL:>)
      • Mar 6 2011: Dear Collen,
        You brought me smile, thanks. I send you “TRANSITIONAL” smile in return. Regards.
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          Mar 6 2011: Got it...thank you...I LOVE smiles:>)
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          Mar 7 2011: A Latif,
          I was trying to create a smile, AND I was also serious. I would not deny myself the opportunity to explore information from many different perspectives, and I feel that labeling or catagorizing myself limits the possibilities. All the qualities you mention above are valuable and can co-exist, in my perception. I honestly don't understand why people want to get stuck in their own belief and not stretch the mind and heart for more information. You are absolutely right in that so many discussions get stuck, the consequences are the same and it is an exercise in futility. Why do that to ourselves? I find that it is the differences in people, and the differences in thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs and opinions that is most stimulating to me in this earth school. I like exploring all information and would never limit myself:>)