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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 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.

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