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Orlando Hawkins

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What is consciousness? What is required for consciousness to exist?

What makes consciousness important?

We already know that many of our mental experiences are reducable to brain function. The brain controls our feelings, our behaviors, our thoughts, speech, etc and all of these constitute to the experiences that we have. From a psycho-neural identity perspective mental and brain processes are one and the same. Mental that people (and other organisms) experience and think are real are nothing more than they physical functioning of the Brain and w/o a Brain, could their be an absence of mind or experiences? What Scientific or Philosophical approaches can support this claim? What issues arise if one is to completely accepts the reductionist position?

Do the other alternatives like dualism, pluralism and monism and quantum mechanics have something to offer to this question?

I understand that this may not bring us any closer to unlocking the mysteries of consciousness but I'm interested in learning more about it from different perspectives/approaches.

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  • Nov 1 2011: Orlando,
    I've written a lot of comments on this subject on TED.
    My answer is that there is no such thing as consciousness. It involves creating a false existence through a misunderstanding of the concept of perception. The simple fact is, we regard other people as objects and science can address everything about them as objects. We only produce a philosophical problem when we start thinking about ourselves.

    We can solve the various problems by supposing we are objects that perceive, that experience is what it is like for objects to perceive. We produce consistency if we express our experience as "I perceive X" rather than "I have consciousness of X" or "I have perceptions of X". This view can be integrated with Darwin's view that people are evolved objects.

    The evolution of language and concepts means that such a view is not self evident but is presented as an axiom or postulate.

    Supporting concepts include the notion that language is learned and shared and is manifest entirely and only as tokens in the real i.e. language of itself does not imply anything beyond the real. (Thought is the imagination of language.) Also, such a view is a product of, and reflexly supports, a relativist understanding of truth - language has meaning because it works and no perfect identity is required or implied, no perfect language, no ultimate truths. (Note this is proper relativism, the denial of absolutes, and not the notion that truth is relative to person or culture.) A consequence of this is the denial of perfect identity and therefore also of strict self-reference (including logical self reference) i.e. self reference paradoxes are illusory.
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      Nov 2 2011: Well I am sort of new to TED so I would not have known about any prior discourse on the subject of consciousness.

      In regards to saying there is no such thing as consciousness that is interesting and I am starting to think that what we call consciousness is nothing more than a product brain function. I do see two problems with this approach: the transformative experiences people have through introspective practices. The fact that consciousness has yet been proven to be reducable to brain activity leaves a window open to interpret consciousness as something that is outside of oneself.

      I understand everything that you have stated but I do have one question: If consciousness does not exist and is nothing more than just an illusion then what exactly is it that causes people to make claims about the transcendent experiences that they have? The experiences people have while meditating are indeed real, so what exactly are they experiencing if one is indeed "creating a false existence through a misunderstanding of the concept of perception"? In other word do you really think that the experiences that people have while meditating is nothing more that a psycho-chemical processes in ones brain?

      In response to your second paragraph I would actually argue that perception is actually a product of awareness. You mentioned that "I perceive X" but in this sense in order to make a statement about a subjective experience one is having (in this case the letter "I" implies an subjective observer) one has to be aware of this perception, of this experience in order to make a claim. In other words in order for one to know they are having experience, one has to be aware of their experience. I do not think this sort of awareness can be thought of as an illusion.

      So whatever it is that allows us to be aware of our experiences and ourselves is what I'm interested in rather or not consciousness exist.
      • Nov 3 2011: Orlando,
        "consciousness is nothing more than a product brain function"
        No! Our notion of the real derives from "I perceive X". To transform this into "I have perceptions of X" and say that the real produces these perceptions is hopelessly disordered and it creates that marvellous tangle that is the mind-body problem (the inability to state the relationship between our experience and the real).

        "The experiences people have while meditating are indeed real .."
        Experiences are not real. Objects are real, an understanding that is derived from "I perceive X". If you do not maintain disciplined meaning for words like 'real' and 'exist' then you cannot have a precise conversation - it will always remain vague and muddled.

        Regarding transcendent experience, I see no reason to set it apart from the "I perceives X"'s of memory, imagination and emotion. As commented above, these experiences are not a product, and certainly not a product of anything real - there is no identity between the 'something imaginary' in "I perceive something imaginary" and chemical processes. The significance of such experience is an open question, but if people really are objects that perceive then such experience really is imaginary/delusional/irrelevant if it does not address the real in some way - it is just pointless self-absorbed entertainment.

        "perception is actually a product of awareness".
        'product' is used here as a metaphor. 'Awareness' is an abstraction. If you use the word 'perception' in this way we have nothing to talk about.
        I use 'perception' in this way:- experience is understood to arise from perception. In proposing that people are objects that perceive we are stating a relationship between experience and the real. In this understanding perception is a physical process, light mediates vision, sound mediates hearing etc. 'I' is the object that perceives. I think you are suggesting that "I perceive X" is wrong and should be replaced with "I am aware that I perceive X". Good luck!
        • Nov 3 2011: So... we are evolved objets, a conjuctions of facts that made us what we are, no thing more nothing less, not a mistery behind our behavior, or trascendancy in our thoughts, so under this premises there is a line, a dualist concept of life, energy that keeps a balance in our body so we can live, if that breaks we stop living therefore existing.

          I can only assume, because i have no factual evidense to support what im saying, that death is more than the abscense of life.

          i used to think in condcutism is what we are, a response to our enviroment a result, controllable and replicable, but here is a mystery, once you are aware of this proces you can decide, more than decide change our very inner preconcepts, conditions.

          in the very same way we can be aware of what made us, we can explore this inner proces of perception, and "be aware" of two diferent levels concius, one as the subconcius bound to the physical body, and other subtle perception that does not recognice facts, even thought it's aware.
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          Nov 3 2011: I agree with you about reducing conscious experience to brain function would indeed contribute to a discussion about the mind-body problem. Of all the things that we can state is an illusion consciousness is the one thing in the universe, that cannot be an illusion and when I am speaking about consciousness I am speaking about the thing that is aware of itself. There are two things that allow for consciousness: awareness and experience and the fact that I am having an experience is really indisputable and I am sure that the fact that you are having experience is indisputable. So to say consciousness does not merely exist is really an absurd claim. I am not saying that consciousness is something that is independent but its is very vital for the human experience. Now the problem with consciousness is that there is absolutely no evidence for it in the physical world outside of ones subjective experience. And there is nothing about the brain to suggest that it is something that can produce experiences so In that sense you would come off as correct in saying that consciousness may not be reduable to the brain but myself, along with many other people know that it is there to be explored.

          Now to say experiences are not real is really surprising. If one meditates and has a life changing experience and these experiences results in a change of behavior for the individual an those around her/him then the experience was indeed real. The fact that an individual is able to understand and realize that they are having experience suggest that those experiences are real. If we are talking about external objects being real I will ask you this:if all of our five senses send information to the brain to be processed and then a part of our brain is damaged to the point where information is affected, would the objects then be real? When it comes to transcendent experiences, the meaning may be debated but the experience of it I do not think can be disputed.
      • Nov 4 2011: Orlando,

        The certainty of your posts doesn't match the confusion and unknowing suggested by your question: "What is consciousness? What is required for consciousness to exist?"

        You can access people's comments by name if you really are interested "in learning more about it from different perspectives/approaches." That was the point of my remark that I'd written a lot on this subject on TED.

        Interpreting experience as "I perceive X" is incompatible with "I have experience".

        Objects are real. We say they exist which means they persist regardless of whether we perceive them or not (and regardless of whether we have incompetent or damaged perception of them). Experience is not an object, nor is it real, nor do we perceive it (because this would lead to an infinite regression). These sorts of statements define what real and exist mean. If you want to understand the idea that experience can be correctly interpreted as "I perceive X" where 'I' is the perceiving object and perception is a process in the real, then you must accept, if only in this context, these disciplined meanings.
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          Nov 4 2011: Actually it does. The only thing that I said that was certain is that consciousness exist being that it is what allows me to have experiences and be aware of these experiences. Other than the fact that I know that I am alive and typing on the computer right now is the only thing that I am certain of but in regards to everything else I say on here I am well aware that I could be completely wrong. I really do want an understanding of consciousness from all perspectives but I am entitled to my opinions. The only thing I challenge in your post is what you said about experiences being an illusion which is I believe to be false. perhaps the meanings of them and how our brain processes these experiences could be debated but as far as one having experiences I do not think is indisputable. The truth of the matter is, I know nothing about consciousness and I've stated this before.

          Now I understand what you are saying. I honestly do think that objects are real but a lot of quantum theoriest who deal with how sub-atomic particles are influenced by an observer tend not to think so and state that objects do not exist a conscious organism decides to look at it (which I think is absurd being that most of them reject the notion that there is an external world). What I am saying is that yes there is an external world but if ones brain cannot process the information correctly or an area of the brain is damaged this does influence ones experience of the world. Secondly if by real you mean solid, external, full of mass then yes experiences are not like these but the experiences (the fact that one is having experience and is experiencing a particular object is indeed real (if you understand what I am saying). In other words I sort of get what your saying but I think where we differ is I guess how we perceive experience and its vicissitudes.
      • Nov 5 2011: Orlando,
        You haven't read my comments. If you have you wouldn't be suggesting to me that quantum mechanics can save consciousness theory.

        We can judge Descartes' "I perceive therefore I exist" to be a true statement because 'I' is an object that perceives and objects exist. It is not an absolutely certain statement because we use the concept of perception to comprehend experience and this choice is contingent. The notion that it is absolutely certain that 'perceptions' exist is nonsense because there is no absolute certainty attached to the terms 'perceptions' and 'exist'. The most secure thing Descartes can be understood to be saying is "I perceive therefore I perceive" which says nothing at all. This is why neither you nor Descartes have been able to derive any further unquestionable certainties from the statement (- you ought to have been puzzled by this).

        The idea that you can inherit concepts such as 'exist', 'real', 'perception' and 'consciousness' and then frame absolutely certain statements using them, is unjustified.

        You say: "The only thing that I said that was certain is that consciousness exist being that it is what allows me to have experiences and be aware of these experiences." and "The truth of the matter is, I know nothing about consciousness ".

        You say "The only thing I challenge in your post is what you said about experiences being an illusion which is I believe to be false."
        I interpret experience to indicate that experience can be comprehended in terms of "I perceive X". That you have mangled this into the notion that experience is an illusion is your own doing. I hope it is obvious that you are being offered much sharper meanings than you currently use.
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          Nov 7 2011: I think the feeling is mutual. I never once stated that quantum mechanics will save your consciousness theory. I even stated that I think such notions are absurd. Also I stated that a lot of quantum theorist do not think objects themselves exist independent of an observer, in which I also do not agree with (being that their notion of this is based mainly off theory, although it has been stated that real objects have been influenced by sub-atomic particles, but I'm not a physicist so I do no know how true this is).

          I think you may have misconstrued Descartes philosophy. Descartes was referring to experience, not perception (two completely different things). He rejected perception being that it would have in part, came from the senses. He came to the conclusion of him having experience because of thought (nothing more, nothing less). That fact that Descartes was having experience was irrefutable (at least to him) and the fact that many other living individuals have experiences as well will lead them to believe that they too exist. In this case the only thing one can be certain of is the life that they are experiencing.

          Secondly no, your line of reasoning is quite confusing and you certainly have a play on words. The only difference between "perceive and perception" is that perception involves the mental(or shall I say consciousness) aspects. Both require information from the senses(which I never rejected) but with the definition like perceive, it just stops there. Your really using semantics to support your own conclusion about consciousness not existing.
          You said "Experiences are not real" as well as "self reference paradoxes are illusory". This is where I got your entire notion of experiences being an illusion. Those who are self-reflective perhaps have the most wisdom (Thich Nhat Hanh for example) and you call this an illusion? haha. I really suggest you learn more about eastern traditions, mystics and books on neuroscience so we can have a serious convo.
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          Nov 9 2011: I have always found the argument that "I" exists but consciousness does not as profoundly backwards. I admit at the outset that I do not know what the "truth" is, but using logic to deny or make an illusion the only thing we really "have" just seems weird to me.

          Unfortunately, Descartes assumed the "I" in his statement, sort of nullifying the whole argument, and it seems to me like Lawrence is doing the same (though I do not fully understand your position). We can evaluate his statement if we assume there is an agreed upon "I" to perceive (just like Lawrence's assumption that objects exist and perceive).

          I think the argument Orlando is pointing to is the one that states that the "I" is the illusion which muddles our thinking of the whole situation, not consciousness. Eastern philosophies discuss this matter at great lengths, while going so far as to say that one cannot really understand it with the mind. One can only be conscious of it.

          I only enter this discussion because I have never been able to wrap my head around denying consciousness. Maybe that is true, but it seems far more likely that I don't exist but consciousness does. After all, I have tons of "evidence" that consciousness exists. The "evidence" that independent objects exist is far less substantial.
      • Nov 7 2011: Orlando,
        Using words to comprehend experience effectively, to identify correctly and to state relationships correctly can hardly be dismissed as just semantics.

        If we say that the core meaning of 'real' and 'exist' lies in statements such as "Objects exist" then a lot of close reasoning is required to progress to saying not-real things exist. Objects are real, they exist, they persist regardless of whether we perceive them or not. So the idea that we can deduce new existences from the fact of perception (of all things!) seems absurd at first glance. Saying that consciousness exists looks at best a metaphor. The idea that wisdom can be progressed through ill constructed metaphor and vague abstraction seems wrong to me. So yes, I cheerfully admit wilful ignorance of eastern mystics - it appears that people are entirely real and the way forward is to study the real.
        Regarding neuroscience, you will note that these 2 TED talks emphasise the concrete:

        Pinker: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_language_and_thought.html
        and the recent one by
        Wolpert: http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html

        I am sorry you have not found our conversation to be a serious one. I hope you will rethink the matter sometime.
        Wishing you all the best - LT
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          Nov 8 2011: I understand what you are saying and I'll be honest and state that I did not think you were taking the conversation seriously.

          I'll admit my ignorance in Pinker and I actually have a book of his called the stuff of thought (and another one). I'll take a look at those link and hopefully if we ever debate again I'll be more informed on your perspective.

          I will state this though: you did give me a lot to think about so next time hopefully we can get pass arguing what is real, what exist and focus the core of our argument about perception, consciousness, the subjective observer, etc
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      Nov 10 2011: The truth as it pertains to consciousness, is simply, if you believe in something you can't prove or dis-prove it's true for that person. If one does not believe in something that can't be proven or dis-proven it's not true relavant to that person.
      The Dala lama recently went to Austria I believe to witness with his own eyes, an atom in the class double-slit light experiment in the realm of quantium mechanics. This machine he was to observe can shoot a ray a light so slow, it shoot one wave/perticle of light at a time. In other words, one atom at a time. This machine had never failed, however, the Dala was willing to conceed if this model of an atom could be explained to him, he would have to re-think how his religion was taught. 2 factors,1) he did not believe in atoms,2) however he did allow for the opposing side to his belief to be. Hence, when the Dala Lama watched the machine, it failed to work properly.

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