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 1 2012: The world you experience you could see as the mirror of consciousness.
    From this you can't extract something out of the mirror to see yourself.
    A definition of consciousness will be senseless unless you take the word in the way it is often used which is the ability to discern yourself from the experience as a distinct being, having the experience.
    • Mar 1 2012: so then we never true experience a fullness of consciousness, just the reflection? i cannot help but wonder if true consciousness even exists or if it is just some form of enlightenment?
      the idea of reflection reminds me of the line from Hamlet, "to hold as twere the mirror up to nature," in that we are all just a mirror with microscopic imperfections, trying to absorb and make sense of what nature is reflecting to us...it just seems strange to think that under these circumstances we can only exist relative to others.
      it is also strange that the reflection of the experience would produce something (consciousness) that is detached from the experience and able to subjectively interpret the experience
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        Mar 2 2012: I don't think there's something like a subject or object.
        Consciousness is both the experience and that what has the experience.

        You see yourself in the limited focus that is highlighted through the code our senses put through.
        Senses act like a filter that relay some patterns from what we call reality. Our acting on this changes that reality.

        Consciousness is all there is (universe) and nothing is outside this. Within life we are indeed actors on a stage absorbed in our roles oblivious of the actor we are off stage as we are beyond life. We all are manifestations of one being each expressing its own typical characteristics.
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          Mar 2 2012: "Consciousness is all there is (universe) and nothing is outside this. Within life we are indeed actors on a stage absorbed in our roles oblivious of the actor we are off stage as we are beyond life. We all are manifestations of one being each expressing its own typical characteristics."........every where and all the time at the same time...beautifully said!!
        • Mar 6 2012: I do agree, this was quite wonderfully stated.
          Frans, what do you believe we are as actors offstage? or does the fact that this stage is always present inhibit us from defining ourselves without it? This also makes me wonder whether or not there is every a true self, or even a soul, or if it only comes into existence because of its relative position. I suppose that if there was no idea of a soul or of the self then it would reaffirm your belief that we are all of one. I can't wonder if i am this 'one being' and my existence allows me to obtain consciousness and perceive the world or if its the 'one being' that i am a manifestation of that allows me to identify myself. I feel like i'm having trouble articulating what i want to say but i hope you can understand what i am trying to get at.
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        Mar 7 2012: As a response Tyler I would suggest you as a help to separate "being" itself from being something, being this or that. The notion of to be is universal while we experience this as a relative state from a point within time/space.
        The soul could be compared to a blank mirror with no reflection until somebody starts to reflecting on it. A world of appearances evolves within the watcher distinguishes a body to identify with.
        Outside life concentrated to that one soul we form the seed to evolve from in ever more life’s.
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    Feb 29 2012: Corporeal consciousness is the process of the brain uploading - from a vetted data stream that balances external stimuli, internally generated translation of that stimuli (including weighting data clusters on behalf of the survival needs of the corporeal whole), internally generated planning and analysis of a larger focus, and the specifics that are required to link one instance of ongoing reality perception to the last - into the short term memory circuitry. That's quite a sentence, but what it means is that you actually experience conscious awareness as a very, very short term fully experienced memory of what just happened, and how you dealt with it. The realization of that lag time (unconscious, but still very palpable) by you is what causes you to feel that "separation" between your mind and your brain.

    There was a research finding in 2008 - ( http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v11/n5/abs/nn.2112.html ) - that indicated that the conscious mind's experience of decision lags the brain's initiation of that decision by up to 7 seconds. Some consider this to be proof of predetermination, but when wedded to my own research, it suggests that the actual experience of corporeal awareness originates between the cognitive vetting process and the short term memory's storage of that cognition for future usage. And it makes perfect sense when one considers that conscious awareness is the primary level of survival defense and initiation. Truth is, that damage to the short term memory section of the brain will generally result in the inability of the individual to establish a sense of reality continuity - with conscious awareness a jumble of fleeting impressions that never coalesce into a usable sense of self.

    Conscious awareness of self (originally the ability to place one's self accurately within a larger ongoing causal trajectory) was an epitome survival development, allowing the human brain to plan - definitely a leg up in the corporeal battle for competitive advantage.
    • Feb 29 2012: so corporeal consciousness is just like a movie reel that is being viewed through our self-preserving and subjective lense. is unconscious mind is just a compilation of the left over images that were moving too fast, or just the images that were deemed irrelevant to the goal of survival? Does this mean the the ultimate form of survival , in terms of evolution, is to produce a corporeal consciousness that can reflect and analyze events to plan for the future? it just doesnt seem like an intuitive leap that humans need to have a phenomenal experience in order to properly survive seeing as most animals, although i suppose we dont know this for sure, dont seem to be sharing this same experience. i guess that based on the fact that humans can survive in any niche would be a sound enough argument that corporeal consciousness is beneficial, but maybe im just confused as to how this experience could even be created merely through the filtration of short term memory and the reflection of these memories
      In regards to someone losing their short term memory, would you say that this person is no longer conscious or just that they are somehow less conscious of the world? where would the line even be drawn that says they are no longer conscious?
  • Mar 26 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N2l9oWd1lM&feature=related

    Hi again Tyler,

    I was just out surfing on youtube and came over this young boy who is telling about his own OBE. He stumbles over his words, confused, unclear, not quite able to make a complete sentence. But his story is presenting a reality that these spiritual experiences might be quite real. This is why RS stresses the point that we really need to be developed in our inner being before we "take off" into the spiritual realm.
  • Mar 26 2012: Hello Tyler, pt.1
    I have come across Hagelin before. He seems pretty self confident that there are ..for example 10 dimensions..right.. how can he be so sure of himself..?
    What quantum physics is approaching as Hagelin is trying to describe with the ideas of string theory and rubber bands is according to my understand of what RS calls the etheric body. They are getting so close as to be knocking on the door.. sort of
    Now I am not clairvoyant (as RS was) neither am I a scientist (as RS also was) so my understanding of the "life body" or in esoteric terms the "ether body" is somewhat theoretical. I cannot see the ether body. But RS says that it is within our power to develop our ability to actually see it. It surrounds and penetrates every living thing. When a living thing dies, it's ether body returns again to the cosmic ether. I think the string theory is approaching this, a reality not only for RS but for ancient chinese medicine (the chi I believe its called) and diverse other medical and spiritual paths have also discovered. However, I think that what they are here pointing to may be only the first level of the spiritual dimension. Now I use the word "spiritual" quite freely. I have been reading RS for some years now and for the reality of the spiritual world is no longer a question. But this may not be true for you. That's completely OK.
    What I see as the etheric world is sort of a condensation of a still "thinner" (to borrow a physical term) world. The world of astral forces(feelings, desires, etc) This is getting too esoteric perhaps... And yet there is still another level of existence above that one. This is the level of pure consciousness or the "I" the "ego" aspect of our being.
    When we die, this "I" element in us then expands outward into the solar system. What we then observe is this life force, spread out as a tapestry... says RS. This tapestry, (Akashic record in esoteric terms) may in fact be what the string theory is closing in on. continued
  • Mar 25 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-558256/I-given-young-mans-heart---started-craving-beer-Kentucky-Fried-Chicken-My-daughter-said-I-walked-like-man.html

    Hi Tyler,

    Without going directly into your last response that posed the question about "easy problems" I chose to send you this link. Here is an example of a peculiar phenomenon that seems to arise when people have a transplant of various organs in the body. This is one example of many. The reason I send it to you now is to demonstrate how consciousness might not only be bound to the physical brain. On a discussion here on TED called "How are different body parts connected with different emotions we traditionally associate with them." By Andrew Leader under "questions"
    I posted this same link there but have yet to receive a response about its content. Andrew read it but seemed to miss the point. Of course, when we look only at what brain research tells us today the conclusion is that all our memory is lodged within the grey mass of our brain. There are a few other comments there that allude to the idea that memory could be lodged around the heart, the heart also has an electro-magnetic field... so why not? But what some people experience after an organ transplant such as in the link I sent you may be telling us just this. That the brain is not the only storage place for our experiences. This may sound strange but R. Steiner says that memories are stored on the surface of our organs. Now I don't really know much about this idea but it seems to me that there is something to it. It may be that this will come forth in scientific research. The newer technology that allows us to transplant organs may lead us to a new understanding of our entire body. Steiner says that we have what he calls "either body" or life body. An immaterial body that is a life force that keeps us alive. This may wander off the mat of the science of our times but in a the not so distant future I think science will discover this.
    • Mar 26 2012: i think the split brain example is mostly used to show how functions of the brain relate to conscious thinking and how through physical means we can better understand how our brains consciously view things. This may however, based on what ive read so far and due to my lack of understanding, be a poor justification for how the easy problems get at the hard one....

      i really enjoyed the link you posted, it was pretty humorous and interesting. that is something ive ever considered before though. it seems plausible that our consciousness doesnt need to directly be connected to our brain and could something be connected to objects, even ones that are not internal organs.

      this is something you may find interesting and may have heard of before, and sort of gets at the buddhist approach to meditation i was talking about before... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1EPuLLEoUk&feature=relmfu
      dr hagelin talks about a unity of consciousness, and how nature is comprised of the intelligence of consciousness, maybe similar to the 'life force' you talked about. he says the the string theory presents a unified field which is consciousness itself. the theory combines both quantum mechanics and classical physics which helps to unite the idea of the observed and the observed through this fluid process of observing. it creates a three-pronged aspect of nature where there is the known, the knower and the knowing which i again can see as being similar to your three fold concept of man in which the thinking would be this process of knowing, the feeling would be the knower and the willing would be the known by willing things into action. hagelin definitely pushes the idea of meditation to get in touch with the deeper levels of consciosness in order to reunite with the unity of nature. some of his stuff can at times seem far fetched but he raises some interesting points...let me know what you think of it!
      • Mar 26 2012: Part 2,

        Because this life force is the carrier of our memory pictures it can easily be misunderstood as the element of consciousness. I too am a bit on thin ice here. These things can be "scientifically researched" says RS. The only thing we need to do is develop our own faculties of perception enough to gain access to this higher realm of existence. People who experience a NDE often experience this tapestry of their entire life spread out before them in the smallest detail. This phenomenon can explain such mysteries as what happens under hypnosis for example. Where one is lead back into time, into childhood where something traumatic may have happened and needs to be sorted out by the therapist. The patient is then nearly "unconscious" under such circumstances. RS says we have the ability to enter this realm fully awake ... and he recommends no other means of getting there than under the power of our own thinking....

        So when we speak of consciousness, in terms of RS definition we still have a long long way to go to really understand it completely. RS even goes so far as to describe "beings" of consciousness that work in this higher level of the spirit world. If you surf on youtube you might search on DMT. This is a hallucinogenic that takes people over the threshold and into the spiritual world. This is very dangerous I might add. RS says explicitly that one has to be strengthened inwardly before casting oneself out into such experimentation. It's like the Bible says "Taking heaven by force" It's like entering a house through the window. This can lead to grave consequences for these individuals in the after life. RS emphasises in his book "knowledge of the Spiritual World and its Attainment" the importance of strengthening ones inner being before one even considers the attempt at such knowledge. This book, by the way, might be a good start for you read. A true journey within yourself.
  • Mar 25 2012: Tyler The easy problems are the solvable ones mainly in the realm of neurophysiology/neurochemistry, genetics and information processing/systems theory. Powerful instruments (fmri, petscan, and others) have allowed a glimpse of the workings of the living brain and, with the acceleration of information and more importantly, the free exchange of it, you may, in your lifetime see these "easy problems" solved.
    Then there is the "Hard Problem", a term coined by David Chalmers, an Aussie philosopher. The term is used to describe the problem of how this dense, rich, provocative and deeply personal "experiential" awareness gives us a feeling of a unified whole with the location "i". Some believe that it is a problem without a solution and others feel that it may be understood through the careful and continuing study of the natural world and the human nervous system.
    Go to the online journal ResearchGate: http://www.researchgate.net/topic/Neuroscience/
    You may need to start a free account, I'm not sure.

    This is an academic level discussion so have your dictionary handy.
    • Mar 26 2012: im just waiting for a confirmation email that my account has been approved. thank you for the source....do you believe that the easy problems will help to further understand the hard problem or do you think the hard problem is something that is in a whole different realm of understanding?
      • Mar 26 2012: Tyler Your question is a thoughtful one and deserves an answer. Conceptualizing and formulating even the right questions (forget the answers for the moment) concerning the hard problem is difficult. Why Chalmers' ideas gained traction in philosophical discourse is because he took the most difficult problems in modern science concerning the nature of the (highly complex) human mind (nervous system) and concluded that those are the "easy problems", thereby inferring that to understand the "hard problem" we might need to, as you have suggested, address a "whole different realm of understanding". Human knowledge is perspectival and historical and what is taken for "truth" in one era and under one set of perspectives often needs reconfiguring as more reasonable interpretations become available. Don't confuse this "whole different realm of understanding" as something mystical that is not accessible to our cognitive apprehension but rather a shift in perspective, allowing us to perceive something that's already under our noses. There are many examples of this in the history of reason. The earth centric system of Ptolemy, although being very sophisticated and conforming to observable data of the time was replaced by the Copernican model of heliocentrism as a more complete system with greater explanatory power. The social and intellectual consequences of such a shift was dramatic in that it threatened the conceptual habituation of our "special" place in our known universe. We were not the center of the universe any longer. This may be a problem similar to our present dilemma concerning consciousness while just a slight shift in our perspective might allow for the "hard problem" to be solvable after all. I imagine answering the easy questions (wether these answers sum up to any insight into the hard problem or not) may have some impact in understanding the hard problem of consciousness.
  • Mar 24 2012: Hi Tyler,

    Let me think a little bit about that question. It can often be easier to read what someone else says about RS ideas than going right to the source. It depends a bit on where you are coming from. What your interests are. There are in fact a few readings on youtube. These can be a good place to start. There is some stuff that is pretty misleading though.
    I'll get back to you with some suggestions

    Greetings Daniel
    • Mar 24 2012: Haha i can imagine, some of the stuff seemed pretty dense. ill check out some of the youtube readings to see what i can find.
      I was wondering if you knew any examples of "easy problems" that have helped to change how we view consciousness? ive been thinking about how it makes sense that we can get closer to narrowing down the hard problem by getting at the easy ones but can only find the example of split-brain patients...
      • Mar 25 2012: I am not familiar with split-brain patients. Can you tell in short what it is about?
  • Mar 22 2012: part 4

    Of whatever you can pull out of all this, I hope you will think it through and find your own truths (or untruths) in the ideas. I see as well that this way over reaches that which one would be expected in a high school paper, but at the same time, I guess there are others out there reading these comments and hope that they too would find them of interest and as well feel free to engage in this interesting topic. It is, I can understand, a slightly overwhelming project to really get a hold of these ideas and then represent them in a high school paper, condensed over such a short period of time. Just the same, they might plant some seeds somewhere in the back of your mind where, on a future occasion, they might grow to further fruits of interest. After all, ... it is THE "hard question"... the mystery of mysteries. ... It wasn't meant to be easy... ;-)
  • Mar 22 2012: Part 3

    Again, I feel that I'm getting carried away here on this comment
    Another interesting aspect of consciousness is what one can see as the evolution of consciousness. In our day and age mankind has become more and more of an individual. This has not always been the case. Our experience of "I am" today is not what was experienced by people for several thousand years ago. Then we could say that people lived more in a "we" consciousness. A group consciousness. This is the predominant difference between the animals and mankind. Animals you might say live in more of a group soul consciousness. Study fish, birds, whales, wolves. They operate together. Look at the motion of a flock of birds.

    The "individuality" you might say, is not as "within" themselves, as ours is. It is more on the outside. We experience our own consciousness as ours alone. In the case of identical twins you might often find that this border of mine and yours becomes less evident. Some identical twins can somehow know when their sibling is in distress or is going through a traumatic experience. Such stories are told where, sure enough, the one twin calls on the telephone just at the moment the other twin is experiencing something dramatic. They one seems to already know the soul condition of the other
    This phenomena might point in the direction of the explanation of what we call clairvoyance. Where the "projection" of one person can merge with the sensory experiences of the other. ..a bit off topic here.. but this again is a phenomena that could be examined around the nature of consciousness

    Is clairvoyance something to be reckoned with? Can we project this thing we call consciousness? If clairvoyance is in fact a real phenomena and can be scientifically proven, then we might be able to explore what conditions can arouse it. This again, like NDE's and OBE's might point to the possibility that consciousness is in fact not at all bound to the physical brain as the paradigm of the age says it is
  • Mar 22 2012: Part 2
    In regards to the last part of your question that of breaking the idea of consciousness into parts.

    The threefold nature of man. Thinking, feeling and willing. In my mind would be a solid place to start.

    Thinking as the most awake.
    Feeling as more dreaming
    Willing as the most asleep

    This is a simple way of looking at the phenomena of consciousness is easily accessible to even the newcomer. Try to keep your focus on the phenomena itself. Present different types of situations where "awareness" becomes either amplified or reduced. You might bake into it the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms but this would require some extra work on your part. One example might be to study the various patterns in animal behavior.
    On this however I think you should talk to your teacher first. It may be carrying the project too far. You might rather take as your doctor thesis later on in life if the questions continue living within you.
    These ideas are not generally thought of, particularly buy a very traditionally bound thinker (your teacher perhaps) who does not give room for developing new perspectives. Have you ever thought about these things before..?

    There is another discussion here on TED that relates to the neural activity in the heart. Very interesting. The heart is staring to be looked at as some kind of thought processor and is compared with the neural activity of the brain. This goes back of course to the idea that I spoke of earlier that the more we can penetrate our thinking activity down into the dreaming life of feeling, down into the sleeping life of the will, the more we become truly free human beings.
  • 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!
  • Mar 21 2012: PART 3

    I continue here from the second comment below Tyler. The whole idea of the subject / object relationship is allowed to exist at all simply because thinking as created this relationship. Do you see? So the faculty we are in possession of, namely our own thinking, is the the beginning and the end of the discussion of objectivity or subjectivity. Thinking and/or the scientific approach is in no way an influence that distorts our objectivity but if we give credit where credit is deserved, to our thinking activity, we can then see through the whole subject / object model that "exists at all" simply due to the mercy of our own thinking.

    These comments here are perhaps far more that what belongs here on a TED conversation. It is however meant with a good will and I hope that you find these words of some value.
    Looking forward to hearing back from you

    Greetings from Daniel
  • Mar 19 2012: Tyler,
    I really expected to see a lot more activity here on your discussion. It's interesting to see what subjects awaken the interest of the TED community. Consciousness, God, religion, evolution and the like are usually really debated a lot.
    I had a similar title about a year ago and had around 650 comments.... half of them perhaps my own though, .. It was called What is the nature of consciousness? Is consciousness merely a by product of the physical brain? I believe you can go in on my profile and read the comments if you wish. We really got carried away some places. We even started debating in rhyme.
    Good luck on your project!

    Greetings from Daniel
    • Mar 19 2012: Haha I was hoping it would too. Thank you for all of your comments though, they were extremely helpful! I will definitely check out your conversation as well.
      Just out of curiosity, what is your take on the quantum approach to consciousness? I've been reading a bit about the orchestrated objective reduction theory and although im having a little trouble grasping it, it seems like a fairly sound argument.
      • Mar 20 2012: Hello again Tyler, PART 1
        Out of an honest respect for your question, I made a rather short attempt to grasp the OOR approach to the mystery of consciousness. I too must admit that it is not easy to grasp.
        But what always strikes me most in such theory is that the search continues only deep and deeper into a material explanation of the non-material phenomena of consciousness. Perhaps the search will lead science eventually to the point where there is no material substance left to research. This is sciences destiny.
        To me, It could be likened to going into a restaurant and studying the menu, lets say we want a hamburger. Here it stands written. 1/4 pound beef, juicy, fresh, lettuce, pickle, mayonnaise, sesame seed bun, etc. We read all the details. Write them down. And then we eat the menu. In tasting it, in the end, it tastes like paper. We go down the street to another restaurant... same procedure.... but the menu here taste like cardboard. ... hmmm..? Next restaurant...
        The fact that consciousness is by nature something that must be experienced and experiences are not so easily weighed and measured, this fact alone makes consciousness already beyond the reach of the material tools science has at its disposition. Whatever I experienced yesterday is mine and mine alone. You cannot reproduce it and make it subject to the scientific method proof by reproducing the experience again and again. It happened once, that time, to me, in the way I experienced it at just that moment. It therefore lives in my consciousness and mine alone. Furthermore, I have within my own ability to recall the experience, detail for detail and re-experience the event all within my own being. Even to the point of recalling the joy or the sorrow that the event brought on at that moment yesterday. This ability is quite a real factor within our being and without it we would be helpless to meet our daily challenges even of the simplest nature.

        Continued below
      • Mar 21 2012: Continued from above. PART 2

        The trust in our thinking and our sense perceptions is really the ONLY foundation we have to gain knowledge. Really! Think about it. We have no other tools. We can make measurements, compare statistics with the most advanced instruments etc. etc. but in the end, it all boils down to our own thinking and the energy or "will" we engage in this thought process. Thinking is a real forces in the universe. Consciousness is its carrier. It is the activity of our own thinking that "discovers" consciousness and particularly "self consciousness" because it lies so close up to our own world of experiences. We experience ourselves within ourselves...
        A person who has never been a part of a social organism or society would without a doubt be a very special individual. You might like to google the name Kasper Hauser and read the most interesting story of how he was kidnapped as a very young child and kept in isolation for almost 12 years. The individuality is of course severely hindered in its development. Consciousness is perhaps what one might even call enhanced to a high degree. The senses are in a way undisturbed, untouched. Imagine the sense apparatus of the hearing or seeing of a new born child. They are incredibly "sensitive" to light, color and sound. Imagine then a boy of 12 with the senses of a little baby.

        I'm just kind of dumping out my thoughts here Tyler in response to your last comment. Hope you don't mind the lengthy and long winded comments.

        The fact that within the nature of our thinking, thinking itself has the ability to examine and adjust and reevaluate its own conclusions! This is really a most amazing thing and yet philosopher's such as Kant and others have never really given credit to this obvious fact. That thinking is neither objective or subjective. Thinking itself has in fact created "BOTH" subject and object. Do you see this point..?? This is a very very important point to understand.
  • Mar 2 2012: Tyler,
    In regards to consciousness and thinking, one might say that thinking is being acted out on the stage of our consciousness. Our thoughts manifest themselves on this stage.. willingly and unwillingly. Thoughts most often just flows along with our sense impressions. But, when we think about our own thinking, we discover that our own thoughts can become the object of our perceptions.
    So thinking is really the key to our free will. The more we give in to our impulses, desires, whims, etc. the less free we are. The more we are steered by our un-conscious mind the less free we are. To speak of the "free will" one could say that the will is the least free part of our being. We are most free in our thinking. We are less free in our feeling. We are least free in our will.

    Again, differentiation brings us closer to the true nature of things, it's a bit lazy to say that "all is consciousness" or the "cosmic consciousness" "we are all one" ... No....We must differentiate as to how consciousness expresses itself in the diverse phenomena in the real world. It is always within my own power to become free, but it is a constant struggle. Generally speaking I just go and get that ice cream because I really like ice cream... But "I" the thinker, "I" the self consciousness says to myself ... no, you don't really need all those calories now do you..I choose not to have that ice cream. As apposed to the animal which is a slave to his desires.
    The real important thing is here is that through our THINKING we can observe BOTH the subject and the object. The whole thought construction of what we call the "subject / object relationship" EXISTS at the mercy of thinking ! I can examine not only the object in view ... but also my own thoughts and observations of how that object works upon me ...myself... the once subject becomes myself the object... Think about it..!! Our self consciousness and its tool thinking, create the "possibility" for us to become truly FREE !!
    • Mar 6 2012: Thank you so much for your response. I greatly appreciate the input. I think that the idea of differentiating between different types of consciousness help to clear up what i am trying to answer. It is interesting to think that thinking is the key to exploring and discovering our consciousness but I suppose my main struggle lies in this process in which there is a unification of thoughts and connections to identify the self. Would you say that the process of though alone builds the foundation of the stage of consciousness or is there some missing link between this metaphysical construction and our thoughts?
      I also really like the concept that humans are more conscious than animals because they dont give in to their instinctual desires. we maintain the capacity to revise and edit our thoughts to produce the most desirable outcome.
      As my previous question broadly reflects, i guess that i am still unsure of whether the idea you present, which seems to be that consciousness is dependent on our thought capacity and will arise out of our being as an emergent property, can explain something so powerful as sentience or even explain a need for sentience. Maybe my intuition is leading me in the wrong direction, and maybe i am placing too much importance on conscious but i can't help but be intrigued by the idea of qualia of the concept of philosophical zombies. Do you think either of these ideas present valid arguments or do you think they lead down the path of a 'hard problem' that can't be answered by saying that there is something more basic to life than just matter?
      • Mar 7 2012: Tyler,
        You ask some difficult and slippery questions! I'll try the best I can to help to gain an approach of attack. When we look at the phenomenon of consciousness in man, we can see that something very special occurs at the age of 2.5-3 years. Around this age, generally speaking, we "wake up" to the fact that "I" am also an "I" We start saying "I want a candy." instead of "Tyler wants a candy." This is the awakening of the "self-conscious" Not many of us can remember back to this moment, but some people can. The little child is of course conscious and in fact very conscious. If we can again think in degrees of awareness, we might say that the child's experience of taste is much much more sensitive than a person who is much older. That which we call consciousness is more confined to the head in the grown up human being, while the child you might say tastes with his whole body. The sentience in the child is much more amplified. This you can also observe, just give a baby a lemon to suck on...:-)

        I would prefer not to call consciousness a metaphysical "construction", because it gives the impression of not being "real" or something thinking has in itself produced .... It's not simply due to our thinking that we have consciousness. It's not an emergent property. Thinking in and of itself is a real force in the world.... as is consciousness. They are existing entities in the world. Self sustaining entities that we "take part in" to different degrees through the course of the day and night. All to his or her own degree of awareness and degree of the amount of "will" that we apply in our thinking.

        As to the basics in life, we are undoubtedly much much more than just simply matter. As consciousness is often referred to as the "hard problem" .. well it is really only hard if you only operate with materialistic concepts. It's like trying to study a shoe without recognizing that it must fit on a foot. You can only get so far....
      • Mar 20 2012: This inner realm that we have access to allows for the continuity of consciousness that we experiences. Although we fall asleep at night and consciousness is "broken" or at least seems to be cut off from our daily experiences, we are still able to pick up the thread from where we left off the day before.
        Science cannot gain an explanation for this without moving away from its strictly physical model of explanation.
        The quantum physics and OOR theory seem to be getting deeper and deeper into this material explanation.The map they are studying is getting more and more down to the pixels that represent the bigger picture. Although the pixels are a part of the whole map, they are still not able to give us the bigger picture of.... where are we actually going here anyway.?
        I took the liberty to continue on this next comment section because it looks like its just you and me out here anyway.
        Should quantum theory ever think it has come so far as to be able to point its finger at a physical explanation or event of what consciousness is... and say "HERE!" ... here is consciousness!. again, this cannot be consciousness "in and of itself" What may apparently provide for the manifestation of consciousness is by no means consciousness itself. Therefor, at least the way I see it, regardless of how down to the bone quantum theory gets it will never achieve the task. It may however come to the realization of that which I will call the "next level" of our existence which is the level of life. The "life force" if you will. This next level is what I was telling about in an earlier comment. This I believe quantum physics seems to be zeroing in on... and its "discovery" will also be a major shift of the paradigm that is slowly leading us further down the road in the direction of understanding the true spiritual nature of the human being.

        I see you still have 9 days left on your discussion. Perhaps we can continue to explore some of these questions ..

        Greetings from Daniel
        • Mar 20 2012: Do you believe that these materialist view points will ever yield a reasonable explanation or do you think they will continue to encounter the same problems?
          It feels natural that if you put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, defining and explaining the functional properties that are thought to apply to consciousness, then you will be at the limit of what you are calling consciousness. Regardless of what people see in the outcome (the solved puzzle) it seems like this should be a sufficient explanation. I feel as though this is the approach that has been taken with explaining the processes of life and to this point it has been accepted as an explanation. Maybe this jigsaw puzzle metaphor is flawed, and I understand that even when the puzzle is solved there will always seem to be the missing piece of why these pieces produce an experience but I feel as though it creates a worthy, if not complete, representation of consciousness. But maybe that is just it, all we can ever obtain is a 'representation' or a correlation between what we think is consciousness and what we think creates it. I myself don't like the underlying pessimism of this reasoning and don't want to agree with the Dennet deflationary explanation. However, the concept of this 'life force' seems very appealing but in saying that I worry that it is appealing to me because I want to think my conscious experience is something greater than the millions of connections in my brain. In the book I am reading called Explaining consciousness-the hard problem there is an essay by Richard Warner that talks about the incorrigibility of humans and how we must guard against subjective distorting influences in order to produce some sense of objectivity and I feel that in this search for an 'appealing' answer that we may be succumbing to this distorting influences. It's hard to ignore the fact that consciousness requires a subjective element so maybe the fact that we are accustomed to looking at science through an
        • Mar 20 2012: ...objective lense once again distorts our image. It does seem a little backwards to distrust the only lense that we have to see the world, but at the same time it seems somewhat natural based on our observations....do you think a person who has always been alone would have a concept of consciousness unless there was someone there to prove they were in fact conscious?
    • Mar 6 2012: In response to what you said about free will, are you saying that our free will is what dictates the unconscious mind or that is it what allows for the conscious awareness of thought? Would you say that 'full' consciousness, if it is to exists, lies in our ability to uncover the entirety of our unconscious mind? Also, i can not help but wonder where the line between the unconscious and conscious are, and what controls the passage of our thoughts across these planes of consciousness. What are your thoughts on this?
      • Mar 7 2012: The degree that thinking can illuminate the unconsciousness motives for what we do determines the degree in which we are free beings. We are not free if we are driven through life by unconscious motivations. Egoism is perhaps a very common unconscious motivation. The need for love is another. The need for respect is very strong... especially in some cultures. We are at all times pulsating with different conscious and unconscious motivations for what we do. To draw a "line" between the two would be like trying to paint a painting on the surface of the ocean. Our thoughts though are amazing things. We have within our power to search our own soul for these impulses that can take control of us. We do however need to take a strong and decisive step in the direction of gaining control over our own being. Think about the following example

        If you lay a 2x4 down on the ground and try to walk over it, it would not be so difficult would it? You could almost do it blindfolded. But now take the very same 2x4 and elevate it 10 meters and then try to walk across it... it would suddenly become very difficult. Your movements become stiff and stakkato. Why does this happen? You might answer well ... the fear of falling down of course... but isn't it rather the fear that is creating an "over-awareness" of your feet on the board. Consciousness becomes "awake" in your feet ... where it should be "sleeping" ... if you had to think about every step you take it wouldn't be so easy to walk .. would it?
        These are explanations that I'm sure you have never heard before and perhaps are getting a little too esoteric for a comment on TED. But when we try to understand these questions in this way, we can find clues as to what consciousness really is.

        Thinking can be compared to being awake
        Feeling can be compared to dreaming.
        Willing can be compared to being asleep.

        To operate and function in daily life there must be a harmony in these three elements.

        Catch you later!
      • Mar 21 2012: Hi Tyler,

        The strictly material viewpoint will only take science so far. Sooner or later it will have to look itself in the eyes and say "There is something more here" we with our physical tools have now reached the very bottom of material existence and still that which we call consciousness slips past our fingers. That is the point where science will perhaps choose to step across the line into the metaphysical or the non-material aspect of existence. There is really no real reason that science cannot allow itself to make this step. It stands in complete lack of methodology of course. Perhaps by studying such phenomena as NDE's and OBE's can at least give a sort of direction towards the recognition of the immaterial world. I thinks this is not so very far off in the future of this type of study.

        Back to the nature of consciousness. As something experiential, it is not so easy to "define" is it? I mean, if I ask you to define the taste of a cheeseburger. You can use a million adjectives and still you wont be able to convey to me just how the taste of the cheeseburger really is. Word cannot convey it. Even the simplest things like sweet. What is sweetness? So the word Consciousness becomes an enormous hurdle to explain in words alone. The phenomena must be observed and compared, observed and compared, and possibly even use the good old scientific method and reproduce experiments where we can study how the mystery of consciousness reveals itself. Consciousness in many cases leaves its footprint in the material world.

        We must also trust our Thinking. We must trust the scientific method. I'm in support of the "method" But it can be broadened to also encompass the bigger picture that would include the immaterial world. Thinking is of course quite immaterial. So are feeling. There is no physical correlate for them. No one will ever be able to point at the neuron that gives us this or that thought.

        The trust in both our thinking as well as our observations ... cont
        • Mar 22 2012: Hmm, I had never realized the impact of thought in consciousness before. It seems like a hard thing to overlook now but when it comes down to it, it is our only tool to make any realizations. I had also not thought of thinking as the thing which divides subjectivity and objectivity, but it definitely makes sense. It sort of seems like consciousness could be some illusion created by our thoughts.
          Would you say there Descartes was in a way correct based on the nonphysical nature of thoughts and consciousness? If there is physical and nonphysical then to some degree his dualist approach was right
          I do have one question, and you can choose to answer it or not because it sort of drifts away from the whole conversation, but if you were to break consciousness, as a topic, into various parts, what would those parts be? After looking back through the conversation, I'm still sort of struggling to figure out how I should break up the presentation I need to give and was wondering what aspects of consciousness you think are more important or whether there are obvious divides you see in the topic
  • Mar 2 2012: Tyler, Very interesting topic Tyler!
    To gain a clearer understanding of what consciousness is one needs to differentiate somewhat closer in regards to the phenomena of the world. To differentiate phenomena in the world, both observable as well as non-observable gives us a little better grasp of what we might call a "definition of consciousness" Although some aspects of the definition... if we can then consider it "defined" remain allusive. .. and perhaps even a task beyond our everyday thinking capacities.

    But to try to break it down in the following way may provide a little key to open up the mystery a bit.

    1.The mineral. The stone. The lifeless.

    2. The plant kingdom. Sharing the physical aspects of existence with the mineral world but has an additional element. The element of life. The plant can not be considered conscious as the animal or man. But it moves, though slowly, it has a metamorphosis. Perhaps a deep deep sleeping consciousness

    3. The animal kingdom. They have feelings. Animals are conscious but not "self-conscious"as is mankind. They breath. They have desires. They seek pleasure and avoid pain. They think in a comparatively primitive and simple way. They live more in a dream consciousness... or a "group consciousness". .... or "group soul" if you like. This I can come back to later.

    4. Mankind is a self-aware thinking being. We are the most conscious. We, because of our thinking capacities have the possibility to become free. We have a "spirit" or "I" or ego if you will. I know that by using the word spirit I set myself up to become legal "bait" for a lot of materialists, evolutionists, even for some of religious minded people. The word "spirit" for many should not become too "concrete" However, I choose to use it.

    So the four levels are simply the following

    mineral= / lifeless

    plant = mineral / life

    animal = life / feeling / dream consciousness / soul

    human being = life / feeling / self-consciousness / spirit
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    Feb 29 2012: “All you need do is totally believe that pattern “x” exsist and if “x” is potentially real, it will pass over into the actual. This requires a push-pull relationship between the person and reality. He cant ,say, will a blue phoenix into exsistance ex nihilo; the person must enter into a progressive intricate dialogue with reality in which there is feedback between both parties. Reality testing, not its absence, is required. He is feeling out its softer flexible parts, where it will yield, how much and in what way.”

    -Philip K. Dick

    consiousness could be the reflection of macro contained in the micro
    • Feb 29 2012: Are we then just a potential pattern that is willed into the actual? is the push/pull relationship our relationship to others in order to create a reality or is it the possible push/pull of our 'soul' in relation to a metaphysical dimension? what happens if there is too much pushing or pulling?
      Also what exactly constitutes the macro that is being reflected?
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        Mar 1 2012: well according to philip k dick ( which i present here becuase i agree)

        is that the 'actual" is the patternt which we are presented with every nanoseconed, and that it is us to determin out of that pattern what is reality (he saw it as binary, 0 and 1, refer to plato "streak of the irrational in the world soul" the streak would be 0's, reality would be 1's) and in order to create reality we must first percieve (think) it and then the pull is pulling yourself into that reality, thus "there you are". this happends at split seconed flash cut time. he believed thought time reality is superimposed constanly/instanly.

        as for the macro, see taoism .
        • Mar 2 2012: i suppose that like any idea or object that is created it must first be perceived in order to pull it into reality, but it seems strange that reality itself, something that i would understand to be the foundation of thought, must also be thought of first in order to exist. in that case, does reality not exist if it has not been thought of or is it just always there and yet to be discovered or unveiled?
          is the macro that you speak of the concept of macrobiotics?