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Tyler Barron

High School Student,

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What exactly is or defines the self-aware, subjective, and phenomenal experience we call consciousness?

I am a senior in high school and and doing a 100-hour research project on consciousness. I am currently reading the book Self Comes to Mind by Antonio Damasio, but have yet to find clear answers as to something i can label as consciousness. Maybe the problem is that i am trying to label something that inherently cannot be defined or something that is greater than any definition seeing as any form of language or any concept of defining an object results from what we know to be consciousness. I know that Buddhism and Hinduism touch upon the concept of non-self and many-sidedness, and in a sense get at the concept of consciousness but in the physics realm, consciousness becomes something entirely new under the pretexts of general relativity and quantum mechanics. I'm not sure whether these ideas are applicable to the conscious experience in which they were created but maybe they point to some greater truths about what our self-awareness truly is. In my search for discovering consciousness, i have found that it very much overlaps with the idea of 'free will' and 'existential relative liberties,' however, i dont know if these are the same as consciousness or just a product of it. I have also come across the idea of the 'soul,' if it exists, what realm or dimension does it exist in and when or how is it formed? I suppose religion and philosophy try to answer these questions but i am unsure whether or not modern neuroscience will ever be able to get at a concrete answer. Maybe my original question is unanswerable and will only lead to dead ends, but i am curious to see what these dead ends will be. I would greatly appreciate any input on the topic! Thanks!

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  • Mar 22 2012: Hello again Tyler pt.1

    Decarte jumped to a conclusion. Decarte didn't see the flaw in his statement "I think therefore I am" There are many philosophers today that still bide by this statement. But it has a major flaw in it.
    He first "assumes" the faculty of thought itself and then goes on to the conclusion that therefore "I am" He presupposes the activity of thinking, when it is in fact thinking itself that becomes aware of the "object" of consciousness. Consciousness is also "object" here. Thinking discovers the idea of consciousness. After some time, as the concept or the idea becomes filled with meaning, in as much as our thinking can fill it with content... it then becomes a more and more complete concept the more it is filled with meaning. By this I mean if you think of a lion for example. Both you and I would like to say we have the concept of a lion. But usually, our day to day concepts that we operate with are in fact pretty superficial. To really know the concept of "lion" one needs to approach the entire "beingness" of what a lion is. One needs to know its smell, its strength, its temperment, its eating and sleeping habits, ... one needs to be aware of so much more of the lion than just what we saw in the picture in the book we remember from school. When you go to the zoo, you "fill out" your concept a bit more. Go in the cage with the lion trainer and you fill out your concept even a bit more. So the concept of the "beingness" of the lion is some that we acquire gradually. This is the same with consciousness. We awaken each morning with consciousness intact as a part of our being, but yet, until we really dwell upon its nature, experience it fully, penetrate it with our thinking, become a part of its "beingness" we may freely use the word, but in reality our concept is only a fragment of the real nature of consciousness. Consciousness is not illusion but an immaterial reality that thinking is free to examine and explore just as the lion is. cont.
    • Mar 22 2012: I feel as though the Buddhist approach to consciousness compliments the idea of fully understanding "beingness." it seems odd that they obtain some high understanding of consciousness though a loss of self and detachment from any self referential loop that could be considered self conscious.but maybe through the act of attaching ourselves to things we lose sight of the true nature and experience of the world.

      I think I may divide the presentation up into theoretical discussions of consciousness from a functionalist, Buddhist, vitalist, QM, neurological/thought and some rethinking-of-nature approach. Sadly there is much more I need to learn before I'll be comfortable giving any presentation
      Do you mean have I ever thought of these sorta of things, like what consciousness is, before or was it something my teacher had discussed?

      I do also feel as though I should touch upon the concept of self and group consciousness. It seems like a much too prevalent thing in nature with animals to ignore. It also tied into a Ted talk I watched recently by Jonathan haidt called religion, evolution and the ecstasy of self transcendence.

      Haha you a definitely right, there is nothing easy about this problem. It was appropriately named. I do think that my interest in neuroscience will lead me to a doctoral thesis on consciousness though. Some of these discussions are to interesting to avoid but sometimes aggravating in that there is sometimes no end in sight so I think it would be nice to someday clear as much of this up as I can for myself. Hopefully that day will come fairly soon
      • Mar 23 2012: Hello again Tyler!
        To be honest, I've never really studied Buddhism. I do think that their intention i partly to extinguish the "self" yes. But one needs to establish a clear definition of just what is meant by the word self.
        But at the same time, one would have to be pretty egocentric to spend as much time meditating as a lot of Buddhist monks do. The contemplative life is one thing but to focus so much on their own spiritual development seems to me to be detaching oneself from the "real" world.

        I was surprised that a young man of your age could be interested in such "hard questions" other than it being something that you had to do for your schoolwork. Great that you take it so seriously that you will take it all the way to a doctoral thesis. Really amazing if you follow it up! I hope you do.
        Do it for the world... not just for your....."self"!
        There is one name I would like to give you that I myself have read a lot. The man's name is Rudolf Steiner. Google him. I promise you that you wont regret it! Difficult reading at first but you get in the groove of it after a while. Start with some of his philosophical works and wait with the esoteric works. The philosophy of Freedom is central for his thinking but difficult. Check him out!!
        Got to run now, catch up with you later.
        • Mar 24 2012: Haha I agree, it is quite egocentric but it seems interesting that there is such an emphasis on phenomenology. I always wonder though that if through the first person perspective they discovered a greater meaning to consciousness rather than the typical scientific perspective that focuses on third person public information.

          Ever since learning about neuroscience in biology i always thought the mind was one of the most intriguing things, so when the research project that all of the seniors have to do each year came around I figured it'd be a good chance to get at the hard problem.

          I checked out steiner, which book of his would you recommend to read first? They all look really interesting!

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