The question was: How has your definition of consciousness changed since the beginning of class? Also, I make one reference to the book we read written by Susan Blackmore. My original definition isn’t important. I just want to hear what you guys think about all this!
My definition of consciousness is still similar to the one I wrote down on the first day of class, but it has expanded a bit more. I think consciousness is the wrong word altogether. It gets too confusing since no one has a good grip on what it means. Then, on the flipside I think awareness is too narrow to be the topic of discussion in this class. I think the fundamental feature that we want to talk about is the human’s ability to feel human. The ability to shine the light on the light-shiner.
Personally, I think consciousness is what everything in the universe has in common. I mean if you take as the basic suppositions that this all began with a big bang and there is no god in the Jahovah sense then we are all made of the same stuff. So, we must have something in common with plants, animals, stars, every other person, etc. I think consciousness is the best word to describe this collectiveness. I mean it has to be the most fascinating aspect of reality that when you take god out of the picture, subjective consciousness becomes a million times more impressive and interesting.
I use subjective consciousness to refer to the ability of humans to “look” at themselves. But I think this is something different from what I consider consciousness. I think our ability to abstract and sort of take a sidestep and look in at ourselves is something explainable through nature. I think we gained this adaptation through evolution and it’s just as likely that any other animal ended up with the ability to look at itself. I mean, we feel so mighty and superior to the other living organisms on this planet but take a look at what’s out there. There’s creatures so small you can’t even see them with the naked eye and yet they can desimate your body in days. Have you seen a tiger or cheetah lately? Pardon my language, but next to them we look physically retarded. Or a bird for fuck’s sake! We can’t even fly on our own, come on now.
Our adaptation, like the bird’s ability to fly, is one of the brain. Maybe, the only one of it’s kind on Earth. We evolved on the inside instead of out. Big whoop, we need to stop feeling so superior to nature which is where we come from in case you forgot.
To be perfectly specific, I think the term “consciousness” as you refer to it is, “Am I happy?” See, the ability to ask yourself a question makes absolutely no sense in the animal kingdom. A tiger has no need to question itself and it doesn’t have the ability to do so even if it wanted to, as far as I can tell. But for survival purposes this is extremely useful to us.
I think two things stop most of us from believing everything is conscious (at least believing in different levels of consciousness and excluding the obvious dead end of believing in an all-powerful god.) The first one is language. I think language is a double-edged sword. How awesome is it that we made up a TON of sounds to mean different things that we all experience? But a word can never encapsulate what an experience is really like so me talking right now is a water-downed version of what I truly think and feel. And because some organisms don’t have a verbal language it seems perfectly obvious that they are not conscious. I don’t buy that. What are the odds that everything in the universe can talk. Praise Allah that isn’t the case or we would never get any sleep! Secondly, I think our adaptation, that is the consciousness you speak of or the subjective experience factor we worry so much about is the “anti-depressant pill that may cause depression.” We can abstract, we can dream like no other animal (as far as I can tell,) we can think about thinking, but this is also limiting. Like a cheetah running faster than any other land animal but it can ONLY RUN SO FAST.
I think the limits of self-awareness or consciousness or whatever you want to call the human’s X-factor is that it is absolutely meaningless at the end of the day. This X-factor adaption is so useful I probably wouldn’t be here if we didn’t obtain it and I definitely wouldn’t know I was here to the same degree without it. But, when you think about something just like when you put an experience into words, you have to add a medium and it can never truly be the full experience. Take love for instance, what love feels like can never be expressed in words or thoughts or any other medium. We have plenty of words that refer to what the experience is like but you don’t know jack-shit about love until it happens to you. Well, when we think about things and play with different strategies and outcomes or whatever we want to think about, it gives us a vague idea of what might happen but it never sets us up for reality. I mean one problem is we can never know all the variables. Not to mention life is just a series of spontaneous events, as far as I can tell.
I think we’re fascinated with this consciousness idea because we can be fascinated with this idea because we can have ideas and then reflect back on these ideas and it’s fascinating. You see? Our adaptation is on par with the cheetah’s 75 mph sprint. Only, ours has the funny ability of being able to self-inflate. A cheetah can’t run so fast it realizes it’s running fast therefore runs faster! It’s in the nature of our adaptation to feel better than it is.
From the book I would say I take bits and pieces from Blackmore, Dennett and Chalmers. If I had to sum up my views on conciousness I would say it’s something everything has, ours isn’t special at all but has the ability to think it’s special (ha ha) and we will never find the root of it because there is no root of it. We will do plenty of awesome neuroscience and find out many great things which are all secondary to consciousness like Chalmers believes. We may even find the exact number of neurons that correspond to AWARENESS and all sorts of mental states of this nature. But the real heart of consciousness will never be found because there is none. We dreamed it up because we can dream it up. We made up a word to correspond to that feeling you get when you think “hey, you ever look at yourself in the mirror and think who’s looking at myself…and who’s asking who’s looking at myself and who would be answering?” It’s a disturbing confusion of the mind that we think we are so special on this planet. That we have some mysterious ability unlike anything else. I’m not buying it, unless I’m in the mood to feel better than everything else since my adaptation allows me to do so, therefore I am a genius, where’s my grant?