What is consciousness? A scientist’s perspective.

ev.owaWe all know what consciousness is. We can tell when we’re awake, when we’re thinking, when we’re pondering the universe, but can anyone really explain the nature of this perception? Or even what separates conscious thought from subconscious thought?

Historically any debate over the nature of consciousness has fallen to philosophers and religious scholars rather than scientists. However, as our understanding of the brain increases so do the number of scientists willing and able to tackle this tricky subject.

What is consciousness?

ev.owa_1A good analogy of consciousness is explained here based on work by Giulio Tononi. Imagine the difference between the image of an apple to your brain and a digital camera. The raw image is the same whether on a camera screen or in your head. The camera treats each pixel independently and doesn’t recognise an object. Your brain, however, will combine parts of the image to identify an object, that it is an apple and that it is food. Here, the camera can be seen as ‘unconscious’ and the brain as ‘conscious’.

The bigger the better?

This example works as a simple analogy of how the brain processes information, but doesn’t explain the heightened consciousness of a human in comparison to say a mouse. Some people believe that brain size is linked with consciousness. A human brain contains roughly 86 billion neurons whereas a mouse brain contains only 75 million (over a thousand times less). A person might then argue that it is because our brains are bigger and contain more nerve cells that we can form more complex thoughts. While this may hold to a certain extent, it still doesn’t really explain how consciousness arises.

To explain why brain size isn’t the only thing that matters, we need to consider our brain in terms of the different structures/areas it consists of and not just as a single entity. The human cerebellum at the base of the brain contains roughly 70 billion neurons, whereas the cerebral cortex at the top of the brain contains roughly 16 billion. If you cut off a bit of your cerebellum (don’t try this at home) then you may walk a bit lopsided, but you would still be able to form conscious thoughts. If however, you decided to cut off a bit of your cortex, the outer-most folds of the brain, your conscious thought would be severely diminished and your life drastically impacted. So it seems that the number of brain cells we have doesn’t necessarily relate to conscious thought.


Linking information

As a general rule the more primal areas of the brain, such as the brain stem and cerebellum act a bit like the camera. Like the camera, they are purely responsible for receiving individual pieces of information from our sensory organs and don’t care for linking this information together. As you move higher up the brain, links form between different aspects of our sensory experiences. This linking begins in mid-brain structures (such as the thalamus) then these links are made more intricate and permanent in the cerebrum.

Tononi believes that it is this linking of information that is the basis for consciousness. As cells become more interlinked, information can be combined more readily and therefore the essence of complicated thought can be explained. The more possible links between cells, the more possible combinations there are and therefore a greater number of ‘thoughts’ are possible.

There may be more neurons in the cerebellum than the cerebrum, but because they are not as extensively linked to each other, they cannot form as complicated thoughts as the cerebrum. When information is relayed upwards from the cerebellum in the brain, it is passed to neurons that have more connections and can therefore make more abstract links. Perhaps a neuron responsible for telling the colour red links with a neuron responsible for the representation of a round object, giving you the notion of a red apple. If you multiply this process up a couple of times, cells soon hold a lot of combined information – smell, taste, colour etc. all come together to create your representation of the apple.

Too much connectivity

So it’s the number of connections that matter? The more connections the better? Well no, sadly it’s not quite that simple. The cells at the higher levels need to be highly interconnected but if all the cells in the brain were too interconnected then you would really be back to square one, where the whole system is either on or off. All the cells fire, or none of them do. Here, you lose all specific information and your brain doesn’t know whether it is red or round or anything, it just knows there’s something. Because along with your red apple cells, all your blue cells will fire, all your bicycle cells will fire and so on, meaning you’ll get no clear information about the apple whatsoever.

The key is that cells at the basic level need to be focused and not have their message conflicted by other information. They then pass their message up to a more connected cell that combines it with other information before passing it up a level, and so on and so forth. Now we have an entity that can build up complicated information from small bits. According to Tononi it is the ability to combine lots of information efficiently that yields the ability to analyse abstract concepts and thus gives us ‘consciousness’.

How do we become unconscious?

The true test of how good a theory of consciousness this is is whether it can also explain a loss of consciousness. Tononi believes that unconsciousness is brought on when the system becomes fragmented and connectivity in the brain decreases. This is exactly what seems to happen when in a deep sleep (when we don’t dream) or under general anaesthetic. Normally when awake and alert, fast activity can be found all over the brain and signals can be passed between areas. When we go into a deep sleep however, the brain moves to a state where signals cannot easily pass between different areas. Tononi believes that the cells temporarily shut off their connections with each other in order to rest and recuperate, therefore losing interconnectivity and associated higher thought processes.


While it may seem a far reach to suggest that consciousness is purely a state of high interconnectivity, what Tononi has done is to present the beginnings of a tangible scientific theory, backed by evidence that suggests interconnectivity is crucial for higher brain power. The question of why we can form conscious thoughts is more of a philosophical one but the scientific view seems to be that it is a fundamental property of our brains. The evolution of man has led our brains to become highly efficient at processing complex information, giving us a vast repertoire of possible thoughts. This repertoire has expanded to such an extent that we can now debate our very existence and purpose. Whatever you believe about the reasons behind consciousness, however, scientists are beginning to have their say about what rules may govern consciousness in the brain.

Post by: Oliver Freeman @ojfreeman

315 thoughts on “What is consciousness? A scientist’s perspective.”

  1. This article completely fails to address, let alone answer, the stated question: “what is consciousness?” It flirts with some of the phenomenology of brain activity and consciousness. We know that the brain must be involved, that it must process and integrate sensory information. But so what? The question was not – “what is the relationship between the phenomenology of consciousness and brain activity?”

    The assumption here seems to be that consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of brain activity, which is one view amongst many. In a way it is the path of least resistance for physical scientists, which is why philosophers don’t take scientists seriously as philosophers. Scientists seem unconcerned by their own assumptions and presuppositions when it comes to consciousness.

    An amoeba can identify an object it comes into contact with as food or not food. Indeed single celled organism are able to respond to their environment in a variety of ways – tropism is hardly consciousness though, is it? So that analogy breaks down, unless the author is suggesting that an amoeba is conscious.

    Rather than pretending that these observations and the (untested) inferences which some of the more speculative scientists draw from them are an explanation of what consciousness *is*, the author would have been better to settle for the less grandiose task of describing what consciousness begins to look like from the outside. It looks like a camera that includes pattern recognition – though that is not how we experience seeing from the inside. Describing the externally visible phenomena of consciousness is far from a complete project – the research described has merely scratched the surface – and it is only half the problem of what consciousness is.

    • What’s wrong with “flirting with the phenomenology”? Your simply saying “flirting with the way we experience it”.
      What are you suggesting? We should be discussing x the way we don’t experience it?
      In anycase, a more tractable question is “what is mind?”. So-called “consciousness” is simply an aspect of mind and mind is how we escape being locked into the actual present, a capacity that allows us to “visualise” and “actualise” possible states of affairs, a somewhat mixed blessing it seems but which allowed us to outstrip and exploit less flexible creatures.

      • There is a big distinction between “mind” and “consciousness”. Basically from Hindu thinking (The Vedanta). The label “mind” refers to all of the processes of the brain, and the brain is basically a biological senor array (audio, visual, olfactory, tactile, taste) for consciousness. the nature of consciousness is undeliminated, uncontrolled energy, always in process of transformation. The purpose of meditation is for consciousness to break the “habitual attachment” to this sensory experience. What is referred to as “death” is simply Conscientiousness withdrawing from this experience. nameste’

          • No , meditation has proven the Vast Void of thoughtlessness the mind loves so much is what we have started calling Pure Consciousness .
            Their words , not mine , clearly it exists . Eddie

    • If you think consciousness can be explained in its own terms you are howling at the moon. Explaining consciousness by itemising it’s content is tautologous for a start. All systems have to be explained in terms other than itself. Subjective reports of conscious agents are usefull but have to be mapped against other observable phenomena, fRMI scans, ethnological and behavioural studies and other cunning ploys to identify its functional ambit. Part of that investigation must include the cognitive processing introspective consciousness does not reveal. There is no point in saying “that is not consciousness”. As I say, that sort of demand explains nothing. My best guess is that consciousness is the means by which aspects of our experience are represented, stored, retrieved and shared with other minds via language and other signals. It seems to be the case that some at least of our reification of the world via our experience is culturally and linguistically structured, particularly items that are inferred from accumulated cultural and social knowledge. Evolutionary theory, or politics are processes real enough but not observable without a complex of cultural assumptions. Social realities as Searle calls them. Our best guess I would say is that consciousness and its role can only be inferred by external observation of its deployment in more general operations of the mind and it’s interaction with other minds. No simple matter.

      • While interacting in our day-to-day life, we need to act or react to bodily processes and the happenings in the world, sometimes instantly, to provide us beneficial outcomes.

        Consciousness is designed by the evolutionary process to allow data from such interactions that requires judgmental power to become available for making decisions, thereby benefiting from the capability of making free will decisions (If there were no free will, there was no requirement of consciousness).

        • Sorry, Parag Jasani, but your statement seems a bit muddled; let me see if I have this right:

          So we need consciousness so we have judgmental power to execute free will decisions. And all of this results from physical laws (brain and evolutionary process)?

          If our decisions are caused by something physical, and is therefore determinate, than we don’t have free will (because free will is not caused) and our thinking is the result of a great computational device (the brain). Under this paradigm, computers experience consciousness because they make decisions.

          I think that consciousness cannot be what you propose. Instead it must be something greater than merely the neurons in the brain. Interpret whatever you will, but consciousness will always be unsolvable by scientific methods; like a fish trying to understand water, we will never be able to escape our consciousness so that we can look “into” it from the “outside”. First we, must develop a theory of the “outside” world beyond our immediate experience.

          • Aaron,
            If we don’t immediate experience the “outside world” what do we experience and what does the experiencing? If that’s the case why assume there is an “outside world” and if there is it might be just a sky lab with my brain in a vat “hooked up to electrodes” as the story goes.
            If your about to suggest “we” experience ideas, the usual time honoured fantasy, why not just say we experience the world, and the resulting ideas (pictures, simulations, constructions) is how we experience it. Seems to be consistent with our perceptions (and mis perceptions) and hallucinogenic experiences.

          • You saying we will never escape Consciousness is correct . Nor can we look at it from the outside . We are Consciousness , we are not the body and a combination of the brain and body does not generate it . The Scientists are still trying to prove that it does . They are saying when we have a brain injury Consciousness is effected . The way I see it Consciousness is using the body and brain a as Vehicle , if the vehicle has damage it will only do what it can . Consciousness doesn’t need sleep only the body does . Consciousness doesn’t need food only the body .

          • Your statement “something physical, and is therefore determinate” is wrong.

            Does the human brain generate its own decisions? Or, as in computers, the decisions it ‘takes’ are pre-programmed (i.e. determined)?

            The answer: Both. The brain generates its own decisions, but such freedom is pre-programmed (determined).

      • AWESOME RETORT 🙂 thank you !!
        you might want to read Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway – great book

      Conscious is the state of persistent changes. Or consciousness is function of changes.

      Changes happen due to persistent work of atomic, sub-atomic particles and by various systems of body viz circulatory, respiratory etc.

      No changes no consciousness.

      By changes comes awareness pf time (time is measure of change), self and others

      Subjective experiences are due to distribution of changes in the parts of body.

    • I am vastly entertained by you comment. But, so to this point I must add not all “life” if I may say operates with the same functions. In this I belive you can not use tropism as a argument. This also lead me to see that both the article and this response you made make unjust and dependent arguements on phenomenon.

    • There is significant evidence indicating that things much smaller than an amoebas have the capacity for consciousness. For example, an electron will behave differently depending on whether or not it is being observed. Unobserved, the particle acts according to the properties of waves, but when the electron is subject to scrutiny it behaves in the manner we would expect it to. This suggests that the electron is aware of its self and of its relation to other conscience entities. But particles don’t have brains, and neither do amoebas so I think you are right in saying that consciousness is not a function of brain activity. But I agree with the author that the degree of anythings conscious is measurable by its inter connectivity, and that consciousness itself is quite possibly the actual, literal relationship or connection between self aware modules.

      • You seem to misunderstand what’s meant by “observation” in quantum mechanics. That electron has been “observed” when it leaves any kind of irreversible trace in the environment. It’s not about particles being shy.

    • Consciousness is the elusive wave upon which every particle of the universe rides, it is Pi, it is Spooky Action at a Distance, it is Schrodinger’s Cat, the evidence of the reason for free will, God or not…us or not, consciousness exists, we can only channel it via the vessel we inhabit at this point in time/space.

    • Your Consciousness is just another word for your experience. And this is the collective activity of all the cells of your body

      The author is exactly right what we call consciousness it is just the ability of our nervous system to integrate information

      If you think this some sort of Supernatural explanation or some sort of magic involved then you are simply going against any reasonable assessment of Life on this planet

      All creatures are responsive to their environment

      Humans being the most complex are simply responsive an internal responsive in a much more complex than nuanced way than other living creatures

      But it’s all living experience and it’s all brought about through the cells of the body coordinating activity

      There is no supernatural phenomena involved

      Of course Consciousness is just the product of the brain there’s tons of evidence for this if you damage the brain you damaged ones whole functioning

      If you damage the brain you damage any related abilities

      It’ll be great if there was some other existence we all were apart of but this is Imagination not reality… let’s make the best of this living experience understanding it and pushing it to the greatest possible relationships

      • Here’s the big problem with your comment Chris. We DON’T understand consciousness, and thus far naturalistic explanations have fallen short, merely redefining the problem over and over again with very little if any true innovation:

        Consciousness isn’t local to a specific region of the brain but how could consciousness not have a hierarchical ordering and dedicated structures?
        Consciousness involves qualia but how can strictly mechanical explanations produce qualia?
        Consciousness involves the integration of information but how can mere integration result in the human mind and its imagination?

        You state that consciousness has no supernatural component and your only evidence is that the functioning of consciousness can be impaired by brain damage. This would be a great argument for our facilities being located in the brain as opposed to our backsides but this has nothing to say about the existence of supernatural components.

        Say you smashed your laptop and its function was impaired; sure you could definitely argue that the hardware was important to the functioning of the laptop, but could you seriously argue against the existence of software operating the hardware?

        • This exchange is always entertaining.

          “Here’s this word I made up without a definition, please explain it for me!”

          • The facts about our universe such as quantum physics, Time and Relativity show us that our human minds share an agreed upon illusion about the world we observe and perceive. While our brains have evolved in order to effectively survive and navigate our world, it is obvious that “what” we perceive is not the whole story or even close to the true reality of what we perceive to be real. The only thing we are sure about is that we are experiencing something. We are conscious and aware of something. Why we are conscious of time and events that apparently, in reality , exists all at once is a mystery we may never solve. That is why we say that certain observations in physics such as entanglement are “spooky”. We experience space and distance between objects. However space as well as time may be just an illusion of our mind according to what physicists tell us.

      • Excellent Chris,
        Just because they don’t understand neuroscience doesn’t give them the right to make up hyperbole that anthropomorphizes neural activity.
        Its ok to speculate…unless science can explain it.

      • The Scientists have been making this argument forever , if I put you in a car that is damaged and will only go 55 mph then the perception you leave for any observers would be you chose to drive 55 mph . The Scientists will never get anywhere as all as they try to prove Rubbing two Neurons together makes fire .

    • Supposing an Amoeba is conscious?

      Can you then do a better job of defining a) what consciousness is and b) the processes seen by science by which it may be happening?

      You all argue from philosophical and quasi religious stances. But did your awareness encompass the fact that this is a scientific theory based on observation?

    • Hello,
      Much appreciation as I read on, about one’s consciousness.
      and similar topics.
      My take away from the Q&A are this, and I’m paraphrasing,
      Is seems to be if one answers a question, this is his or her opinion,
      Then to be followed up by a rebuttal or difference of opinion,
      My post is not to judge who more right than wrong , or answerd that question with the better or best response.
      What I have seen is a long answer then a long rebuttal, or perhaps more biased,
      Based on opinion, this Is my understanding from what I have read so far.
      One theory say this, then another objects, that theory.
      If we are consciously isolated ourselves to one theory of understanding with much conviction then we are still ( as someone mentioned we have just scratched the surface) of the antomy above the shoulders.
      My point is. since the Internet there are many great subjects to learn about if one chooses to do so, and by the way this is a brilliant subject , on the other hand much of the Internet is filled with just that,the opposite.
      I can still catch myself in the struggle of having my ideas being completely right and best of all, on how things originate and function.
      But then there are moments that I am both amazed and pissed off, then when I had my cooling down time,I am thankful and appreciative to have the opportunity to read what I have read here today, Best regards

  2. Excellent response. Science has no answers to the question of consciousness. I suspect consciousness develops because we form ideas and symbols through systems such as language, logic and mathematics. In ‘lower’ animals there may be a primitive consciousness, a basic sense of ‘self’, but there is no capacity to form ideas.

    Consciousness is also very closely linked to free will, which is expressed through our rational faculties. For instance, If I toss a coin, I can make my choice based on the result of the toss, detaching my actions entirely from any internal or environmental ‘causal chains’, as the outcome is purely a chance result, and my action follows from that only.

    Was Plato right all along? Is the material world just clothing for the real world? Does materialism/empiricism blind us to the essential ‘purposefulness’ of phenomena? I mean that every object, however small, is defined not by its physical ‘essence’ which we cannot determine, but it’s properties – charge, spin, mass, etc. While these are physical properties, they are also labels attached to the ‘thing-itself’, and not what it actually is.

    Consciousness is also the medium through which a subject perceives an object. Until we come up with a way of separating objects from our subjective POV, we must allow consciousness a central role in any attempt to define the external material world, which leads us to the paradox at the heart of epistomology.

    • Hi Geoff,

      No. It’s not that science has no answer to the question of consciousness. I don’t think that is the case either. But this article does not address the problem. However a number of scientists – and Antonio Damasio and Thomas Metzinger are my favourites do address the problem of what consciousness is. They seek to go beyond describing what is does, and to explain how it works (which is a step further along).

      You, like the author of the article, also seem more concerned with the phenomenology of consciousness (in quite a scientific way), i.e. what it does, than with the question of what it is or how it workd.

      I think Plato was answered quite comprehensively by Kant, and I don’t understand why anyone gets excited about Plato’s answers to his own questions in this day and age when his insights are so obviously outmoded and anachronistic.

      • ‘Plato is famous for his theory of forms – The world of the Forms is eternal and unchanging. Time and change belong only to the lower sensory world. “Time is a moving image of Eternity”.’


        Still seems fresh to me. In physics, especially cosmology and quantum physics, the questions arise whether our physical laws transcend space and time. Nobody has an answer to that one.

        Neuroscience, like all good science, is absolutely empirical. But consciousness is not an empirical phenomenon. Subjectivity is something only ‘I’ experience. You might be an automaton, but I know am not. You can’t prove you are not an automaton, and you can’t prove that I am one.

        It is this internal quality of the mind, that places it beyond objective analysis. The experience and knowledge of self is a priori, as Kant said. To the subject, all things are phenomena, whether mental or physical. In fact the distinction is academic. We cannot distinguish between real sensory perceptions and artificial ones, because we are forever trapped inside our nervous system. The world we think we see is constructed in and by our imagination, from a reality utterly beyond our true understanding.

        • The issue if time is tied to consciousness in important ways. Since our senses perceive sights, sounds, smells and tastes via receptors which pass information up the chain of neural circuits, the information often arrives out of sync and must be processed back into order. Additionally, we are always “conscious” of the world as it existed in the past, rather than the instantaneous present- granted the awareness we possess is only milliseconds behind but nonetheless our awareness is of the recent past.

        • What really bothers me its how our free will works,our capability of make random decisions because,if our brain works based on chemical reactions between our neurons,the idea that it gives to me is that the brain is programed therefore,its predictble,but its not!In mine humble opinion,conciousness its something beyond our knowlege and by that i mean it is what we can’t perceive or detect.I think it do not works based on atoms or some especific wavelenght of light wich are the things that compose the universe organized in the 4 dimensions.In short,i think we are too limited to study our conciesness that is,in some way,so far from us.

          • Do not bother much, we all die and our brains… organs…
            All the creation is an illusion -Hindu Vedanta. We are just illusion (similar to Simulation theory).

            Vibration creates the creation – Siva Thatva Different vibrations create different objects in this creation. (Siva philosophy).

            Because Western people do not know Hindu philosophy, they refer to Kant etcetera. Hindu philosophy is much more older than these guys. Refer to that.. Verify the relaity in it.

          • But what makes you think that we have a free will? I think the fact that we cannot always predict our brains is not evidence enough. The brain is very complex and not well understood.

        • I’m sorry, but “forms, because magic!” seems far less credible than “consciousness, because neurological connectivity!”.
          Also, what makes empiricism any less reliable than rationalism?
          It is not the senses themselves but the brain responsible for sensory deception, as it misinterprets the sensory information. ALL of our knowledge, including our thinking(rationalism), is based on experience, so if empiricism is flawed, rationalism is just as lacking.

      • The problem with Plato’s, Berkeley’s, Hume’s and Kant’s formulations are that they subscribe to the doctrine of Ideas, ie the so-called “Cartesian theatre” that treats ideas as objects of perception. As Thomas Reid clearly discerned, this leads to skepticism and potentially solipsism with no rejoinder available in those terms. Kant’s two world model (phenomena and Noumena) paralysed progress for two hundred years. Kant isn’t even consistent. He postulates a noumenal reality and then declares we are incapable of saying anything about it. Nietsche and Russel recognised the tautology inherent in it and David Stove called it the “Gem” argument. The only coherent resolution is to replace it with a “what” “how” distinction. There is a mind Independant reality and this is how we perceive it. This seems to be consistent with how we think the world works in general and how our minds work in particular. Consciousness is an aspect of the “how” that conflates the world and the objects in it into meaningful representations that preempts tedious cognitive processing.

        • It could be that wherever complex networks exists there emerges some form of consciousness. Perhaps the internet has a form of consciousness it is argued! We now have evidence that plants have consciousness for example. However for us perceptions and experience are constructs of the mind as a tool for navigating the world we live in. An example: Awareness and a range of perception exist for us in our consciousness so as to make choices that would promote our survival and procreation. The learning process from all experiences feeds our subconsious so as to save energy and time greatly needed in every day life. This is why after learning a skill we can perform it “without thinking about it”. That learned skill is hard coded in our brains sub conscious. So we can see there are different kinds of consciousness that exists even within our own mind like a hierarchy. There seem be all kinds of consciousness phenomenon existing in nature. In fact with what we know about mirror neurons in humans and the fact that animals and plants seem to interact within nature, consciousness could be an ever expanding and emerging “property” in the universe, existing wherever there is complex networks.

          • Yes there are many levels of sentience (which is a minimalist concept of awareness).


            Shows the kind of chemical mechanisms that convey information. They may (probably) trigger attention that concatenates through an assembly of behaviours and interactions where the triggering mechanisms are invisible but the urge to act is palpable. It is the palpable, the qualia we experience as conscious creatures we seem to be discussing. But we need to take care we don’t exalt the phenomenon as a supernatural complete and independent entity. In fact it seems to be like the topological surface of a complex array of psychosocial processing as represented in individual brains.

          • Could consciousness be the phenomenon caused by networks of matter that share information electrically? The nature and complexity of that network determining the nature and complexity of the conscious phenomenon. This may imply that the ingredients for consciousness lay dormant in the universe until evolution brings the right properties together in order to build the hierarchy upon which levels of awareness are built.

          • It’s important to resist the temptation to think of sentience (consciousness) in qualitative terms. That simply produces a pseudo answer like “dormative virtues”.
            Martin Nowak evolutionary biologist and mathematician believes a capacity for intense mental construction of immediate reality and the capacity to extrapolate possibilities within it is quite possibly an inevitable evolutionary development given our biological baggage. Yochai Benkler “The Penguin and the Leviathan” pretty much says the same.
            The principal ingredients seem to be the synergy of social and cooperative behaviour which requires information exchange, anticipation and a capacity to have a shared picture of reality and needs. Often described as a theory of other minds which among philosophers raises sceptical issues. Culture preserves the thinking of other minds remote in time and space so that we can benefit from someone else’s mistakes. These sort of descriptions are empirically verifiable whereas immaterialism by definition isn’t.
            So I think we should focus on this sort of approach. Theorisation, implication, prediction and verification is the most powerful explanatory device humanity has yet devised and so I think that is the only approach worth considering.

          • “It’s important to resist the temptation to think of sentience (consciousness) in qualitative terms. That simply produces a pseudo answer like “dormative virtues”.

            This is truly the stance that most scientists take on consciousness. However my question of whether consciousness might in fact be the result of complexity in nature was influenced by articles ive come across recently. excerpts from Christof Koch in an article found at wired.com:

            “The electric charge of an electron doesn’t arise out of more elemental properties. It simply has a charge. Likewise, I argue that we live in a universe of space, time, mass, energy, and consciousness arising out of complex systems.”

            In the case of the brain, it’s the whole system that’s conscious, not the individual nerve cells. For any one ecosystem, it’s a question of how richly the individual components, such as the trees in a forest, are integrated within themselves as compared to causal interactions between trees.”

            “We live in a universe where, for reasons we don’t understand, quantum physics simply is the reigning explanation. With consciousness, it’s ultimately going to be like that. We live in a universe where organized bits of matter give rise to consciousness.”


            And just to be complete here is the skeptiko show with Koch:


      • I don’t know about Matzinger but Damasio actually says that a “self” comes to mind, (Damasio does not say “a mind”) therefore the self (consciousness which embodies the self in this case) is not “mind”. You have to define which level of consciousness we are talking about? The article does a great job of describing the process of consciousness from a slightly different perspective than Damasio, but essentially they are saying the same thing. So if you agree with Damasio, it is not logical for you to make fun of this article.

      • Plato, Kant, Descartes and many others all make the same mistake, treating ideas as objects of perceptions. Ideas are not objects of perception (Idea-ism), they are generated by and during perception. They are abstractions that probably accelerate situation and object recognition. In our case they make it possible to entertain possibilities outside immediate experience. They transcend the present instance. I would suggest Consciousness is simply this capacity to dwell on and consider the implications experience has taught us are associated with our past experiences. To suggest that consciousness is a primal feature or characteristic of matter is just nonsense. The phenomenology of observed quantum events is a feature of perceptual modus operandi not the “woo woo” nature of reality.
        There are many peripheral signals our nervous systems have evolved to register significant states of affairs. The colour of edible foodstuffs such as fruit, the use of body odours and pheromones for sexual stimulation. In this sense reality is not constructed but the way we experience it to a large extent is.

    • “Consciousness is also very closely linked to free will, which is expressed through our rational faculties. For instance, If I toss a coin, I can make my choice based on the result of the toss, detaching my actions entirely from any internal or environmental ‘causal chains’, as the outcome is purely a chance result, and my action follows from that only”.
      Nope, the outcome is dependent on your choise to toss a coin. But you will not be able to tell exactly why you decided to toss the coin, and if you could we would still not know why you did that which made you toss the coin. Free will is an illusion, and a useful one, but there is no escape from responding to what just happened.

      “Consciousness is also the medium through which a subject perceives an object. ”
      Indeed it is, therefore all we perceive are a mediated re-presentation of something we cannot contact directly, as it is for any other entity. The mistake IMHO is the idea of a separate subject that “has” perception while the truth is that there are only objects, some with the faculty of consciousness (however we define it). Mind functions so that we perceive reality “as if” we were separate subjects with free will, disconnected from the intricate net of, more or less, adaptive responses among interacting objects.

      That’s my 2 cents.

      • Well said!
        I suggest that you replace the notion of interconnected objects with the notion of one big mechanism (aka world). This rids you of having to define an “object”.

    • When you toss a coin, the way you toss it, the air resistance and gravity, and the way you catch it will decide what side it lands on, right? Isn’t that a causal chain?

      If you decide to base a desicion on that coin toss, there is a chain of thoughts and events that lead you up to that moment, right?

      So I am not convinced by your argument for free will.

      I would also argue that what something is and what something does is the same thing because everything is a process.

      • In the realm of scientific inquiry, alot of what “seems like bullshit” can lead to truth and in many cases, turn out to be true. Look at theories like relativity, quantum non locality, entanglement, the holographic principle, etc. They seem like crack pot ideas but now we have solid mathmatics that support these ideas and are considered plausible if not true. Consciousness is one of those subjects where nothing is off the table.

        • I have an open, but also critical mind ☺
          From what I understand about quantum theory, evwrything is probability. In the small scale things are random, while at larger scale, patterns emerge. Where does free will fit?
          My knowledge of quantum theory is limited so feel free to educate me if you know more

  3. The direction of things in general should change as the notion of a subject directing brain processes is found to be false.

  4. Hi All,

    Thank you very much for your comments – I’ll try to respond to the common themes.

    Jayarava, let me start by agreeing with you that this theory is only scratching the surface of trying to understand the basis for consciousness. This should not be used to attack this theory however; as scientists we accept this and enjoy the possibility of more questions. To us, nothing is ever answered completely, and this is what excites us. My final paragraph says ‘…what Tononi has done is to present the beginnings of a tangible scientific theory’ so this point had been addressed.

    Your assumption that this theory is untested in relation to consciousness is not entirely correct I’m afraid. For example, Tononi has carried out experiments using transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce activity in the human brain whilst awake or asleep. The findings show that the induced activity can propagate around the brain whilst awake whereas whilst asleep, activity stays largely isolated and cannot propagate to different areas of the brain. He argues that this lack of propagation supports the connectivity theory. Once again, please don’t take away that this experiment categorically proves his point and this is a shut-book case – there is much more work to be done. There will always be more work to be done in scientific research.

    As for your view that this only explains how the brain processes information, that is true also but the view provided at the end of the article is that consciousness may just be an advanced form of information processing and could simply be down to the physical architecture of our brain. I appreciate this view does not sit well with religious people and similarly, religious views continue to collide with scientific views on many topics. I’m interested by your comment that philosophers take other philosophers more seriously than scientists and I’m sure that is the case. I’d say that the reverse is also true and I don’t think we will ever see eye-to-eye on this. There is a difference in mindset when it comes to a philosophical analysis and a scientific one and I won’t try to convert your thinking.

    Geoff, as for your view that ‘science has no answer to the question of consciousness’ I would say that science seeks predominantly to explain HOW things are the way they are, not WHY. Philosophy seems to me to be a discipline all about why things are the way they are and this is what your comment addresses. Science does not predominantly focus on this aspect and prefers to show how things work through the scientific method. I’d refer you to my previously discussed points about why your views that ‘consciousness is not an empirical phenomenon’ conflict with my scientific view. The scientific rationale which you seem to agree with when you say, ‘We cannot distinguish between real sensory perceptions and artificial ones, because we are forever trapped inside our nervous system.’

    A final point from me on Jayarava’s amoeba retort. I think here you should follow through my reasoning once more, particularly the section on ‘Linking Information’. When describing how an amoeba recognises food you are describing a simple reflexive signalling process. The amoeba will detect a chemical, and navigate towards/away from it based on simple signalling. A nervous system correlate of this could be a spinal reflex in the human – finger detects heat, message is sent up to spine which relays a message straight back, contracting muscles to move hand. This is a very simple neural circuit with few links to other circuits – hence non-conscious. The mere recognition of food was NOT an argument for a conscious being but an example of an aspect one link might represent.

    Thanks for your time and comments,


    • Although responses from ‘thebrainbank’ (i.e. Oliver) were posted some time ago, they are still very visible on the internet and should be addressed. It is actually quite alarming to observe the dismissive and condescending attitude towards a philosophical approach to investigating consciousness. Let me quote a couple of ‘thebrainbank’s replies to comments in this thread:

      ‘There is a difference in mindset when it comes to a philosophical analysis and a scientific one and I won’t try to convert your thinking’

      ‘A lot of the research in this area is psychological in nature and of course those of a philosophical mindset will have their say’

      Of course, the absurd implication is that science is more qualified to tackle questions about the nature of consciousness than any other disciplinary approach. There is a concurrent suggestion that science and philosophy should be kept well apart and that the scientific and philosophical ‘mindset’ are quite different things. Nonsense, I’m afraid. To tackle this ‘hard problem’ of consciousness by focusing solely on a single disciplinary approach would be intellectually impoverished, quite simply.

      As Matthew David Segall, from the California Institute of Integral Studies, has said: ‘…it seems to me that part of the problem with all the confusion around IIT is a lack of philosophical clarity about concepts like “mind” and “matter.” So for better or worse we need more philosophy first before we can study consciousness scientifically. Otherwise we don’t even know what we’re studying.’ (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/consciousness-and-crazyism-responses-to-critique-of-integrated-information-theory/)

      For instance, if you’re going to propose an ontological theory that amounts to panpsychism (which is what IIT does amount to, effectively), you need to look in-depth at the work of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who was the most significant thinker of modern times with regard to panpsychist philosophy and influenced a number of theoretical scientists, including Dave Bohm. The truth is that the greatest scientists have always been influenced by philosophical and metaphysical thought. Both Heisenberg and Schrodinger were very interested in Eastern mysticism. No really. Look it up.

      In fact, philosophy might help you spot some category errors in these discussions about IIT. For instance, it’s not really an ontological theory at all because it doesn’t really address the ‘hard problem’ itself – what is consciousness? The Idealist philosopher Bernardo Kastrup puts it quite beautifully: ‘Tononi’s “theory” does have practical applications. If it can, for instance, help us, on an heuristic basis, tell whether a patient in a vegetative state is actually conscious or not, it has great value to society. But this kind of pragmatic application should not be confused with an ontological explanation for the nature of consciousness.’ (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/01/koch-tononi-and-materialist-theory-of.html)

      So let’s not cling narrow-mindedly to a single disciplinary approach, dear ‘brainbank’, lest we become intellectually bankrupt…

    • If humans are, as Yeats suggests, souls fastened to dying animals, then clearly science seeks to analyze the dying animal, or the thing-ness of earthly life, while mystics, poets and artists convey an interior direct knowing. The brain is, in miniature, the dying animal, and is principally about fear and control and reduction, which I anticipate you will accuse me of . It knows it must die, and I would suggest that consciousness comes through the brain from some over source, and is not generated by the brain. It is as though some timeless aspect of ourselves were trying to speak to us in code of a higher self beyond petty rationality; of a life we already know and in rare moments recall.. I’ve long seen art as a metaphysical code, rather than a concealed social argument to be deciphered. It opens us to an ocean, which the brain is but a small row boat floating upon. Note the instant dismissal of this idea by most participants. Note that there was no real interval of sustained reflection, but rather a haughty smirk, a predictable “how do you know this?”, rather than a “do I myself already know this instinctively?” Reflection is beyond the brain, and fear based brain consciousness, doesn’t synthesize head, heart and gut, three modes of human perception, which numerologists are now seeing each to contain neural transmitters,. You can see in scientists the haughtiness of dismissal, but remember: arrogance is emotion. Here are these allegedly objective humans unconsciously emotionally attached to the dying animal and its fear of something higher, beyond their control. Put another way, there is no such thing as perception that doesn’t, consciously or not, synthesize head, heart and gut. I suggest to most of you head people, that you surrender the notion that head analysis equals objectivity. Firstly, because it isn’t remotely possible to be purely in your head, and secondly because, when you imagine that you are being purely rational, you are being puppeted from backstage by your unconscious emotions. Synthesis is consciousness. We will evolve by leaps and bounds when we recognize the inevitability of synthesis. Reality is invisible, infinite and polymorphous..mystics have always known that physical matter isn’t real, because what is real can’t be destroyed and is not subject to the illusion of time. The haughty smirks bloom, and what do they express beyond the fear of the dying animal?

      • addendum: I anticipate the turntable strategy of accusing me of embracing a fear based opiate. I assure you, everyday of my life I long for death, whether it is just lights out or a much larger reality. I can’t much longer stomach American culture, devoid of magic and meaning. Matter has no meaning in and of itself. It merely provides circumstances of suffering that, through agitating the dying animal, may actualize the intangible aspect of our nature. I am someone who grew up surrounded by the meaninglessness of endless analysis. I found refuge from it in creative works. Science centuries ago, liberated itself from alchemy, so that mysticism and science became strangers to one another, but how often is liberation just a new form of enslavement? Science is a fetish of modern man, who is nervous, because he has severed roots to something larger and higher.

        • When someone totally cuts all connections they have to ideas that they can’t immediatly fathom having a “known” way to be observed with, they begin operating on one wavelength.

          That is a breeding ground for dogma and fanaticism. Staunch materialistic evidentistic atheists are a great example of this. They can’t fathom that existence might not ever be able to be totally understand via materialist-centric observations.

    • to the moderators: please substitute “neurologists” for “numerologists”. That was a spell check glitch. thank you.

  5. I have been attracted to this website as I have the puzzling question on my mind too.
    Am I the result of very precisely orchestrated interacting chemical reactions, a fine mazed system of chemical connectivity, or is this fine system inside me just a gateway through which something divine can interact with the world around me?
    No I am not religious, nor am I here to ‘sell’ that thought, I just can’t believe my highest thoughts and reflections are the result of a very fine and complex organic computer called ‘my brain’. The only result I obtain by selfreflection is that something ‘divine’ is put inside, not because I necessarily want to believe I am divine, no, it’s just that I can’t form understanding that free will, thoughts, direction of thoughts and so forth are the result of organic material.
    It’s a truely magical thing consciousness, but at this moment of my life (43 years) I tend to think that something has to be put inside that system.
    The cruel thought came up that at the same time somebody in a less developed place on Earth isn’t at all occupied with this while begging for food or dedicating his or her day to find useful parts in a huge pile of waste.
    Or people we call ‘less intelligent’…it that pure back luck by raw nature that those persons have less developed levels of consciousness?
    It’s a strange inconsistent product a human being, don’t you think so?
    It’s coming close to perfection, and it’s truely amazing to see a daughter grow up with developing thoughts… with all respect for millions of years of evolution, I find it divine, consciousness, it’s fluid, it’s continuous, without interuption when awoke.
    Fine to know I have 86 billion neurons (not being sarcastic about that finding at all, I find it amazing we know it) forming the most fantastic reality interface which ever came into existance but isn’t our brain like Excel?
    Finely mazed, lots of possibilities, but something has to get hold of that system and drive it, occupy it is my belief. Well, this issue which will remain unanswered for me may be, but I hope to find opinions on the internet!
    Ciao Ciao!

    • Just food for thought Patrick regarding free will. I believe we do have some sort of free will, but not really. For example, when making a quick easy decision, there is a very rapid process of neurons firing off, but more importantly various inhibitory process in which one choice will rule out. “Should I order the healthy salad, or the cheeseburger?” Well maybe I know I should get the salad, but certain parts of my brain that want that reward might actually inhibit the logical parts and the cheeseburger wins out. (This has been studied extensively and is a similar process to swarms of bees picking a new home.)

      Ok so now I’m mad at myself for eating the burger, and this emotion/memory might make the salad win the battle of my brain next time.

      I know this is certainly over-simplified and I don’t mean to imply we are robots who can only do what our brains tell us. It’s a known fact that our environment and our interactions with it can alter the connections in the brain. For example if a child spends most of his childhood practicing and playing basketball, the parts of the brain involved in that are going to develop more. So in a way we can manipulate this.

      Just to push a little further, what about people with Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette’s… Do you think they are choosing to be like that of free will? Of course not. I myself have ADHD and I can assure you firsthand that what I want to do does not always match up with what I end up doing. It’s a highly frustrating thing, and people with more severe conditions pacting their brain chemistry, I would argue, have even less freedom to do what they want.

      Just food for thought

      • The decision to practice mediation is about the investigating and changing your habitual behaviour. Awakening. How one comes to that initial decision to practice awakening when one is habitually asleep , or has serious mental issues is a paradox I agree, and an option not available to everyone.

        • Mind blowing! Unlocking emotions after decades of Asperger’s
          John Elder Robison
          ”Free-range Aspergian” John Elder Robison, tells the story of how cutting-edge neuroscience helped him develop the ability to read other people’s emotional cues. His latest book, “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening” chronicles his journey. He also writes a blog.

          Piece by piece the mystery of mind (and consciousness) is slowly being explained without resorting to mumbo jumbo.

  6. Hi Both,

    Thanks for your comments.

    You raise some very interesting points Patrick. I think a lot of people, myself included, struggle to fully accept that consciousness can be ‘hard-wired’ into our brains; that it is purely a result of our brain development. We long to be able to say that we are in control and have ‘free will’ and choice of our own destiny.

    Justaspaz’s points on free will are very good and I agree. I don’t really think we have free will at all, or at least not much of it. We seem to be driven by our primal desires, just like Justaspaz’s burger vs salad analogy. I think we humans have a huge desire to explain things. We can’t accept that we don’t know how something works. That’s why we have scientists, philosophers etc. When there isn’t sufficient scientific backing for an idea we will fill that with our own thoughts and premonitions. Much like religious theories for the change in weather of times gone by or now, our discussions over consciousness.

    I believe ‘free will’ is largely a man-made idea that we have described out of comfort. There must be a point to us being here? We like to believe we have control over all our decisions but most of them are driven by our primal desires. I’m also very interested in Justaspaz’s point on neurological diseases. He will understand far more than myself how ADHD affects his decision making and what this means for the idea that he has a divine centre to him so he can drive his own decisions.

    You might be interested to read another article by a colleague of mine – http://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2012/06/22/blame-it-on-the-brain-can-you-be-held-legally-responsible-for-your-brain/ . Her article explores whether criminals who are mentally ill can really be held responsible for their actions. It seems that a fault in your brain can cause decision making to go awry and thus, this leads to believe that consciousness is governed by the intrinsic properties of the brain.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion,


    • There’s one problem though. By your theories, chemicals and neuronal activity is the reason for thought. Now if chemicals produced thought , then shouldn’t the chemicals outside the body possess the same properties? At the end of the day, neurons are made up of chemicals too which are made up of atoms. But atoms don’t have thought. If they did, this is just a hypothetical situation, then the light that we receive from the sun could say, you know I don’t want to shine on that planet today. That doesn’t happen, does it?

      And when some people have periods where they don’t think anything, are they suppressing neuronal activity? If so, then how? How do chemicals translate to emotions? I think saying that only interconnectivity of neurons is involved is a bit foolish.

      In my opinion, keeping our minds open to the possibilities is important.

  7. I had been reading about stilling the chatter in my brain and experiencing consciousness. Now that I can experience uncluttered consciousness for short periods of time, I find that there is no clear definition for what is actually happening when I do this. I guess I’ll need to think about it some more.

  8. We do know that there must be a physiological basis for consciousness because general anesthetics, as well as mood altering, and psycho-mimetic drugs, certainly exist. However, we have access only to the content of consciousness but not to consciousness itself. We do not yet know the right questions to ask.

    • “we have access only to the content of consciousness but not to consciousness itself”
      Is not that like saying we have access to the effects of pain but not to pain itself?
      If consciousness is nothing more than neurons firing and neuro-transmitters being released and reabsorbed, then every time we experience an event we are feeling our brain. In other words if you are looking at a red ball the neurons do not cause you to see red, they ARE the red (in your brain).

  9. i think this man has thought about it quite a lot and presents a very interesting and well formed case for it. better than any case i’ve read here anyway.

      • A very interesting video indeed. And on point to this thread.

        The core assumption in the video is: Consciousness is a separate category that could not possibly be merely a stream of patterns at the top of a cerebral cortex. This is self-evident from the experience of consciousness.

        You might react to that assumption by demanding “Why on earth should we assume that consciousness need be added into our fundamental theories, instead of emerging out of them like soooooo many other phenomena that those theories explain?”

        Peter Russel draws on Descartes insight to provide his motivation for that assumption:

        Alice: I can doubt that I have a brain, but I cannot doubt that I am conscious.

        Bob: But if you don’t have a brain you can’t doubt anything at all!

        Alice: Prove it.

        Bob: If I turn off your brain, you stop talking or moving or anything, you are unconscious.

        Alice: But just because I’m not in my body, you don’t know that my consciousness isn’t somewhere else.

        Russel asserts that the only thing we know for sure is that we are conscious… whatever that means. We can be more certain of that, even than we are of having a brain at all. We shouldn’t feel so sure we grasp the physical world anyways: Currently, we believe that everything is made of particles that aren’t even particles, they’re “eigenstates of a wave function.” Shouldn’t we be more certain of our Sense of Being (i.e. consciousness) than we are of our forever-t0-be-incomplete materialistic models? Why should it be crazy to assume that Consciousness is a knowing-of-itself that is everywhere all at once that, and that is metaphysically prior to all? At least that theory explains the one thing we know for certain!

        But as far as we can see, nearly EVERYTHING is what we would call “unconscious,” except for brains. So isn’t that highly suggestive that consciousness arises out of brains and nothing else? The only things that are conscious are things that walk around saying “I am conscious,” and those things all have brains.

        Well… let’s get more refined on what we mean by conscious.

        I Am.
        Things Are.
        Those two sentences are different, but not distinct. Because:
        If you meditate on the idea that “I” is just a bunch of stuff happening randomly in your brain, you can change your mind about being an “I”. It does not mean you have ceased to be conscious. Just that you lose the fantasy of a core spirit that makes free will decisions. Instead, you can just feel your brain happening to itself. Then you would not be a person who would say “I’m here, I’m conscious.” You would say “The universe is being itself in and around this body.” What is consciousness? you ask yourself. All you know is a felt beingness. You know it is unique to you, and unique to this moment, yet it is nothing but a continuous affirmation the one, ultimate, featureless, eternal, truth that all being things share – that they are. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING AND KNOWING THAT YOU ARE BEING? What does it mean to know. What does it mean to feel. If it is a stream of states of your brain, existing, then all states of all things, existing, are a kind of knowing and feeling.

        Because of that, we should say that, whatever consciousness is, if it lies in “I,” then it also lies in “things.” Then if consciousness IS an additional special sauce in the universe, it connects everything.

        From a scientific perspective, the real question is whether or not consciousness deserves to be added as a separate category on a fundamental physical level. Whether such an inclusion would add predictive power to our models of physics.

        Until someone writes down those equations and tests them, or until I have undeniable experiences of collective consciousness (as many have), I will remain agnostic. Unless one of you has a convincing argument?

  10. Animal’s brains also process information in this way (don’t they?).. which would surely be evidence of consciousness too, wouldn’t it? (unless I’ve missed something).

    • Hi Nick,

      We believe that animal’s brains do process information in the same way, yes. But this is not an argument for their consciousness.

      The argument for consciousness here is that it needs the right amount of connectivity so that we can seamlessly link together information that we need. This has developed to such an extent that we have many connections between our thalamus and our cerebrum (see my final diagram). This gives us the possibility to link high levels of detailed information together.

      If you look at an animal’s brain, the cerebrum isn’t as big, the surface isn’t as folded (important because of the increase in surface area) and we judge that their consciousness isn’t as developed. I’d imagine animals do have a certain level of consciousness, awareness is perhaps a better word, but to the extent of pondering their place in the universe… this is suspected to come from the higher order connectivity of our cerebrum/thalamus.

      Animals will have similar processing capabilities in the ‘lower’ brain regions they share with us, the brain steam, cerebellum etc. (once again see diagram). But less processing capabilities in the ‘higher’ regions. And this is where we are talking about ‘consciousness’ coming from. The elements in the animals brain will be the same, but the extent of the connectivity will be different.

      I hope this addresses your question.

      Thanks for commenting,


  11. Maybe it’s exactly this need to explain things after the fact what makes us being conscious. I think that ‘lower’ animals don’t think about such things and don’t try to explain their behavior.

    This is by no means a scientific response. It’s just what came to mind when I read all the comments.

  12. Perhaps the problem lies in the complexity of consciousness vs our ability to understand complex phenomena.
    Though it could probably be argued that as early hominids our immediate environment was enormously complex,
    there are perhaps phenomena as much as a million times more complex (consciousness? dark energy? black hole physics?).
    What’s interesting is that we now have the ability to supplement our understanding of complexity with artificial
    machines that could, perhaps in a few decades, equal or surpass human understanding. Especially if we allow them to
    assist in their own design. By reducing (not eliminating) the over riding primal desires and emotions we may be able
    to make substantial inroads in bringing complexity under control. You might even make the case that we are speeding up
    the evolution of our own cortexes.

  13. Nice information about brain ! I wanted to share my views on ‘unpredictable’ nature of our concious decisions. I feel the unpredictability arise from complex logics involved in brain. The logic in one person’s brain is not necessarily same as others. Also I see the difference between a computer (unconcious) and humans (concious) is “how the logic is created”. Living beings comes pre-programmed with logics and higher-organisms like humans have dynamic logic generation in brain. But computers are programmed by humans and hence we can predict its outcome.

    • Yes but the chemicals in each person’s brain are the same aren’t they?So how does the logic differ? Why should it differ?Technically we’re all made up of the same components, the same organic bases and everything. So why do our perceptions differ?Why do we experience anything? If we’re just chemicals, chemicals don’t have thoughts, then how does consciousness originate?

  14. I think the problem, Mr. Freeman, is that you are adressing what David Chalmers has dubbed “easy problems” of consciousness. When people google “what is consciousness?” (which is what I did to find this post), I think they are mostly looking for discussion on the hard problem of consciousness.

    To quote the problems Wikipedia page, it’s “the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences — how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colors and tastes.”

    The discussion on this page doesn’t distinguish between easy problems and the hard problem, so people are talking past eachother.

  15. What is the relationship between brain and consciousness and what is the connection between consciousness and information?

    Pivotal questions! Oliver Freeman’s outline refers mostly to the work of Giulio Tononi, which certainly contains many interesting ideas and considerations. However, reduced to the essential, the represented point of view is absolutely in line with the prevailing point of view of the scientific community, saying that the brain is a complex information processor whose highly interconnected neural circuits somehow produce consciousness.

    There is a big problem with this point of view: no matter how much one stresses complexity and interconnectivity, there will always be an explanatory gap because none of the theories and equations on the basis of which we describe the activity of the brain (be it on a physical, a chemical or a biological level) contains a reference to the phenomenal aspects of consciousness (inner life, feelings, emotions).

    It is my conviction that the only satisfying and natural solution is to postulate that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe. So, the core message of my approach is that consciousness is not produced by the brain, but based on an all-pervasive substrate. From this perspective, our individual consciousness results from the dynamic interaction between the brain and this substrate, or in other words, whenever the activity of the brain leaves a finger print (an information state) in this substrate, it generates a conscious state.

    This is a very elegant approach. However, it raises three key questions:
    1. What is this substrate?
    2. What is the underlying interaction mechanism?
    3. Can this mechanism be detected (verified) in the brain?

    Interestingly, stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a promising theoretical framework that provides a deeper understanding of quantum physics, gives the answers to these questions. SED furnishes the substrate as well as the appropriate mechanism and the neurophysiological body of evidence suggests that exactly this mechanism can be found in the brain.

    What does this mean explicitly: The brain is not a computer, but rather a resonant stochastic oscillator that operates near the critical point of a phase transition. The default mode is the disordered phase. A suitable sensory input induces a transition to the ordered phase and prompts a cell assembly to fall into an attractor (a perfectly synchronized activity pattern). Whenever a stable attractor is reached, an information state in the substrate of consciousness is generated and a conscious experience arises. In this way, the brain does not produce consciousness as such, but rather filters a conscious state out of the ubiquitous sea of consciousness.

    The details of this approach can be found in the following article: A new perspective on the functioning of the brain and the mechanisms behind conscious processes.

  16. Great article Oliver from my philosophical perspective.
    Your right. It’s all about information processing. Information of a particular kind. Social information with which we can record and predict (exploit) variable flexible behavioural responses. This character may be responsible for science which seeks to understand and predict formally enexplained phenomena. Flexible social behaviour and a capacity to understand it co-evolved of course.
    I think it is a miserable response to condemn these efforts because there is still much to do and establish.
    There is an evolutionary trajectory toward complexification because new possibilities of being become available (emergentism). Behavioural flexibility is one of them and cultural processing including symbolic representation (which this debate exploits) is the best flexible capacity we have yet developed. But it needs higher order processing that produces models of ourselves, others, the world and the way it works. To process this we seemed to have developed a “specious present” which gives us time to process disparate information into goal orientated representations. By the time it reaches consciousness, the information is already indelibly stamped with a priori inclinations and interests. This provides the motivation to act as David Hume observed. Something along those lines anyway.
    This has to be one of the most exciting frontiers on the planet because it explores reality by exploring our capacity to relate to it. There is of course an agenda in some circles to shut down these investigations as an intrusion into the “holy of holies”. We must push on regardless.

  17. To all concerned and no one in particular, the “explanatory gap” may turn out to be a non-issue. It reminds me of the “anthropic principle” which asks “why us?” or “why me? A question even thriving tape worms might ask (in principle). Given our evolved (presumeably) capacity to represent the world, it is hardly surprising we have a “colour coded” direct pre scientific apprehension of the world we call qualia or phenomenology. It is instructive here to consider synathesia which shows different qualia can represent the world. As long as it discriminates it works and if it works it is explained (and justified).

  18. Regarding free will, I think we do have it, but only when we choose to. Most of the things we do during the day, such as taking a shower, fixing a sandwich, or driving a car, don’t require free will. I like to think of it as being on autopilot. It works well most of the time, but sometimes it fails me, and my conscious free will has to take over and get things back on track.

    Free will sets policy and generally gives broad direction. If you’re doing something non-routine, the boss, your free will, gets into the details. I exercised my free will in composing this comment. I wouldn’t trust my autopilot with it.

    How much free will you have depends on how much you choose to use it.

  19. Regarding consciousnesses, adequate evidence of it’s workings have yet to be provided by science. Only theories with too many holes to hold together.

    Whether or not consciousness resides in our brains or whether our brains interact with consciousness is up for debate but the answer is somewhere in our brains.

    Unfortunately we are only just scratching the surface of our brains and are many lifetimes away from the answer.

  20. ~ The differnces of conscious and subconscious behaviors? My perspective

    ~ Simply put consciousness is the state of mind when we are spiritually aware of what we are sensing, and can extrapolate to make choices which control the effects we have on our surroundings. This occurs when we are alerted by our senses while being awake.

    ~ Unconsciousness occurs when our body is veiled from the outside senses, and the still functions in an intelligent manner that sustains our bodies life, with little control of our physical actions or choices. This occurs when we are asleep or sedated, then the mind is free to experience a world created by its own thoughts. The deeper the sleep or sedation, the less alert and active we become to our entirely sensed surroundings.

    This blog describes the process quite well with the apple and camera, the camera has only optical senses and nothing else to define the apple. As far as the camera knows it could be a banana, yet the camera is not unconscious, as it has no other purpose other than to collect light and deliver it to the film or memory of a inanimate object.

    ~ However then he goes on to try and compare brain size to intelligence, which is totally off base, and humanly bias. Using the example of a mouse and human we can see the difference in size, but that does not mean a mouse isn’t capable of intelligent thought. Mice and rats have often been used in maze experiments that prove they are capable of extrapolating from their experiences. The first time they are but in a maze they go through a process of trail and error to find the reward at the end. The second time they get more familiar with the course, and by the third, fourth, or maybe fifth time, depending on the intelligence of the mouse, they know the way.

    Humans act in just the same way, if we are put into a maze we search for the end by trial and error. The more times we enter the maze, the better we get at finding or remembering the correct path through. Yet this too is directly relevant to our individual level of naturally varying intelligence. A mouse does not need to think of complex problems because they are unconcerned with fame or fortune, all they are concerned with is food, shelter, survival, and mating.

    If only life was so simple for man, even though we would not have money, multiple forms of entertainment, and the toys that occupy our time, we would have less problems and live happier lifes concentrating on how we coexist and treat each other, rather than how to profit and from kill each other. but anyway thats a whole differnet topic and discussion.

    A brain is a brain, consciousness or unconsiusness or should i say aware or unaware are relative terms that apply to our state of mind. A sleeping body allows the mind and soul to concentrate on inner ideas and thoughts which we see as dreams. If we are in a deep sleep or sedated, we may not remember our dreams and inner thoughts, but we will always subconsciously remember and think to control our bodies life support system.

    Complicated thought and memories are the effect of repetative thoughts and experiances that allow our neurons and receptors to form habitual pathways, which then allows us to arrive and a conclusion faster so that we can consciously make a choice. Our choices are always based on individual knowledge, beliefs, or ideas that spring from our creativity, imagination, or even some subconscious thought that was created while we rested.

    Indeed the higher brain activity the more interlinked and quickly accessed our retained experiance or knowledge becomes, which allows for faster information recovery and greator possibilities of imagination. But the quantity of our thoughts are not as important as the concentration or focus of an important one to its completion and evolution. If we had a million thoughts in our head at once we would not be able to focus on or accomplish anything. Thus the term scatter brain is coined.

    Unconsciousness is more of a choice that we make when the body needs rest, rather than an effect of fragmentation, although it can be induced by anethsticia and sedative, this to is a choice made by someone. There are also the rare occasions of people people daydreaming or focusing to much on one thought without consideration for any other, which makes them unconscious of the people or enviornment around them. But as this occurs while we are awake, it is easily snapped out of if something grabs our attention.

    In conclusion consciousness is more a state of spiritual and physical awarness, than it is interconnectivity. A person can remain conscious regardless of their intelligence, or ability to formulate higher brain functions. Regardless of our evolution and current mental capabilities, not everone cares about where we come from or why we are here.

    MAtter of fact it seems more and more obvious that many people are only concerned with whats happening to them at the moment, and what they wish to happen in the next. Often this occurs to such a point that many don’t plan for the future as the squires bears and animals that hibernate do.

    ~ Which leads me into a question, has our society become so self concerned or obsorbed in themselves and the moment, that they have become less intelligent than many animals.? Think about it,,

    The difference between intelligence and wisdom is found in ones perspecive and attitude.
    ~ Everything is a matter of perspective and opinion, no matter where you are.

    ~ Have a great day and help create a better future with wisdom and mutually respectful choices.
    May all your paths and journey’s be filled with the beauty of understanding, the joy of knowing, and the compassion for sharing. ~ <3 ~

    • Does anyone know what “spiritually aware” means? I don’t but if someone can explain I would be delighted. I can accept “mind” as a label for higher order integrated representations of the world because it doesn’t beg “spooky” metaphysics but “spiritual” in an ontological or “being” sense leaves me cognitively prostrate. I can accept “spiritual” as a category of idealistic aspirations of course but as an independent realm? Too spooky for me.

      • Too spooky? A scientist afraid of an idea because they don’t understand it? Well, that’s worrying, Stuart.

        I’m not taking a position here, btw. Just making a point.

        Isn’t it a task of science to explore something not yet understood, hypothesise about it and then test those hypotheses? How does saying: I don’t understand it, therefore I don’t believe it, therefore it’s not true, fit into any scientific methodology?

        I’m curious as to why these discussions so often become arguments, not conversations. Leaving the extremist nutters out of it (please :/), most of those with a religious sensibility have no problem with science. It’s excellent at what it does.

        But it feels like a closed system sometimes. “This is outside our capacity to hypothesise and test, therefore it is errant nonsense and we refuse to explore any of the possibilities raised by others.”


        Can scientists not say: What if?

        What if… there are realities other than material realities? What would that look like? What questions could we ask about this? How would be go about using our intelligence to explore those possibilities and start testing some theories?

        Why does “science” seem so close-minded about these ideas?

        I’m not talking about magic men in the sky who know everything you think, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster versions of “religion”… just about the idea that there may be more to the universe than its material aspects.

        Can science, philosophy, and faith not have conversations—productive, open-minded, discussions—about this “what if”; which has occupied the minds of so many for so long?

        Language is a very clumsy tool, and almost all the terms I’ve used here would need to be argued and defined, but actually, that may not be the worst place to start the conversation anyway.

        I don’t know if there are realms other than the material. I don’t know. Which is why the subject fascinates me. Curiosity is a powerful motivator.

        But by god (lower-case), I cannot for the life of me understand why so many scientists seem to completely and absolutely refuse to countenance the possibility. It almost reminds me of theocracies that define any discussion which does not accept the certainty of a “God” as….heretical.

        Please do not begin any answer with some assumptions about “belief” and certain, fixed notions of Deity. We have to be beyond that kind of kindergarten thinking. And let’s try talking about, — not explanation, but exploration.

        And let’s try to find some good questions, because the world is already overflowing with stupid ones.

        • Very great points. I think you can equate consciousness as a quatitative phenimenon with “spirituality”. Both lie in the subjective arena of qualia and subjective experience. Science is based on the subject object split. You cant study consciousness in this way. We may study brain and experience correlations but we cant get to the root if the hard pribkem such as, why we have experience in the first place and all questions that would follow that path if inquiry.

          • Thanks, Scott.
            I’ll reply to your reply when I’ve gone through my Typo-English translator; I think you may have typed that very quickly, in the dark. With a cat on the keyboard. 😉

            Stuart Mathieson, are you getting this thread? I’d be very interested to hear your response to some of my points. Very interested.

  21. Spiritual awareness is controlling every nerve fibre to make it work only the way you want it to perform/function.
    It is beyond thinkable concept that only discovered in India (because the primary requirements including Geographical architect play a key role to prepare the ground to enter Spirituality which are available in India) and later on spread across the globe because Indian spirituals have been adventurous by the way. Take example of Swami Vivekananda.

    • I’ve had a quick read of Swami Vivekananda. He doesn’t use any argument whatsoever to establish spiritual reality. He actually starts with that assumption.
      It is revealing that on the one hand skeptics claim material explanations of consciousness are full of holes and then go on to “argue” for spiritual reality (souls) with nothing but holes.

  22. Consciousness is just simply an emergent property of a very complex brain.
    The reason this is so hard for people to accept is because people have been programmed since childhood to believe in fairy tales and heroes and gods and spirits and have been told how wonderful and grand they are. Nonsense.
    You are just a more complex animal than a mouse or dog, so the way we in particular interact with the world, ourselves, and others…we give the grand name of consciousness. But how about a severely mentally handicapped human with extreme retardation, blindness, deafness, and lack of mobility and social interaction? How well would you view their “consciousness”? Only as good as their physical state. Period.

    • if that’s true George…and i’m not saying you’re wrong…. can you explain how insentient matter (ie: atoms) of which everything is made of can give rise to conciousness? a rock presumably doesn’t know it exists but we do. we’re both made of the same stuff. is this magic?

      it defies the most rudimentary laws of science so while i’m not attacking your position there are empirical reasons to doubt that what you call nonsense is in fact nonsense and i am far less cavalier to be sure of anything like this.

      • Your strawman argument commits the fallacy of division.
        1. Atoms don’t have consciousness.
        2. Therefore aggregates of atoms can’t have consciousness.

        My brain is conscious therefore it has something other aggregates of atoms don’t have.

        Indeed it does. Consciousness emerges when matter is organised in communities of living cells which in turn emerges when molecules are organised into DNA, proteins, enzymes etc etc.

        It may be that brains need to be organised with the potential to be social and cultural nodes as well for consciousness to emerge. It may be linked to theories or expectations of other minds hard wired into their DNA. It has been established that new brain cells are hard wired to look for signals from other cells that “speak the same language”.

        Clearly very speculative and gappy but there is no reason to assume this naturalistic extrapolation won’t deliver the goods eventually.

        • i am not in any way an expert on this and while you call it “my strawman argument”…i’m not arguing. I just don’t understand like you and George seem to.

          You still haven’t really addressed in any way that I could accept how it’s possible that something insentient can give rise to something sentient.

          that’s all i’m saying.

          • I didn’t mean to demean your perspective or your questions. I’m just a philosophy graduate who cobbles together a bit of neuroscience from other peoples clever work. The point I was making is that organised structures can do things their components cannot. This isn’t an argument for Creationism because evolution, blind and random, can organise matter into novel combinations that confer new properties that allow new niches to be exploited.
            Conscious social interaction with a capacity to exchange knowledge culturally seems a very powerful adaptive asset to human flourishing. There are modest forerunners of it among other social animals too. It is difficult to prove other animals have or don’t have some sort of self and other awareness but a naturalistic approach would keep an open mind on the subject. If complex flexibility among social animals requires some “knowledge” of self and others within a spatiotemperal framework with a sense of past, present and future, that combination may be what the dreaded “C” thing is?

          • How come my pontifications are getting narrower? Is it something to do with replies to replies?

  23. I seem to be hogging the mike but it’s 2.56 am and ideas are popping.
    Consider this:
    When we learn a new task, say riding a bike, writing with a pen, driving a car, our minds seem to be very active in a conscious focused sort of way. This seems to be the case for all new skills. Once we achieve a certain level of competence it becomes increasingly automatic and mindless.
    Scientists have established (I’m not sure how) that the object or tool be it pen, bike or car actually behaves as a direct extension of our will or intention. On some way our brain/mind calibrates itself so that the action is incorporated into the intention or so it seems. This may give us an insight into mind and consciousness and unconsciousness for that matter. Consciousness may be nothing more than the purposeful content of mind, or the process that makes it so. Consciousness is associated with the unfamiar and is less required for the familiar. Though one presumes it is ready to flick its dragon eye open if there is any suggestion a task adjustment may be required which in many situations remains a constant possibility. Sleep is only possible when alertness is least required. It has also been established that the focussed “conscious” state is energy hungry and requires rest and refuelling.
    This fairly conclusively demonstrates it obeys the laws of thermodynamics and suggests spooky spiritual states are contraindicated.

    • I would humbly (extremely humbly) submit that you are speaking about what is referred to as “the easy problem” of conciousness…brain function after the fact.

      The topics you speak of are not prior to the seemingly impossible fact that it exists.
      The fact that somehow (spooky or not spooky)…insentient matter gives rise to sentient beings.

      • I would simply (and humbly) suggest insentient matter can be organised to produce sentient processes. Consciousness is simply an aspect of high level sentient processing. Even plants warn each other of browsing. It’s done by the release of molecules from macerated surfaces but it causes neighbouring vegetation to secrete molecules that are less palatable to the browser. That’s a kind of social interaction deemed biological altruism. It is tautologous to presume sentience is spooky “all the way down”.
        That is no more explanatory than claiming sleep is caused by a dormative principle.

  24. Hi
    I’m trying to find out what the state of research is with regard to the neurology of consciousness (also of conscience and empathy)>
    Do any of you know the answer to this or can you point me to a good site?

    I want to know whether the brain research indicates the neurological processes involved in self-consciousness, more specifically, in the exercise of compassionate and/or moral decisions.

    Would appreciate a reply here. Thanks.

  25. I am a lover of Science, but Science can’t tell us how consciousness works as it doesn’t know, there is currently only theory. The most fundamental question relating to consciousness (from a scientific perspective), is how does matter produce mind when it supposedly doesn’t constitute mind within it? Such logic would therefore purport the emergence of mind. A physical thing (the brain) is somehow able to behold non-physical properties such as consciousness – This doesn’t make logical sense and once we drill down deeper into the properties of nature, it actually creates a paradox for science, as not only is there a problem simply in accounting for the emergence of something so distinctive as consciousness from mere matter, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate a form of emergentism without considering a supreme power.

    • Much science is theory but not airy fairey. Scientific theory is explanatory not speculative. Typically science starts of
      1. with a problem or speculation.
      2. It then produces hypotheses which would explain if true and satisfy other criteria such as reliable predictions and novel predictions. ie this is how the world works.
      3. If those conditions are met then our confidence in the explanatory theory grows.
      4. The convergence of widely differing disciplines increases our confidence level. Ie climate change.

  26. The artical was extremely well written but I agree that you failed to answer the most important question.What is consciousness?

  27. Hi All,

    Perhaps there is a middle ground? By this I mean that our brain is a highly evolved machine millions of years in the making. Our frontal cortex is the crowning achievement of the human brain. Billions of complex neurons and a highly sophisticated brain “knows” how to process input from our sensory senses in order to bind this information into a way for us to navigate our reality. But obviously our brains do much more than help us find food or escape danger. Possibly as a side effect of these highly evolved unified systems in our brain we can also find “meaning” in our perceptions. We can choose to decide between what is “good” and what is “bad” by comparing information and predicting outcomes. We have an imagination that allows us to create a great technological world that fullfills a “vision” that was born in the mind. We have the ability to focus on whatever it is we want and then actually make it happen. Our thoughts and emotions can change our physical physiology. If you think of something that disgusts you you can literally make yourself sick. You can literally “worry yourself to death” or your faith in a placebo can cure you of an ailment. Our thoughts can even build neural networks in the physical structures of our brain and simply by learning and practicing we strengthen those connections. The point being that our “thoughts” and “experiences” however immaterial they are, give rise to the physical world “out there”.

    The point is that as amazing and spiritual as consciousness really is, it speaks to the evolutionary process and how in time even magic can be produced by this process. However consciousness arises really doesnt matter to me. We have something truly divine within us and we are just skimming the surface of how truly amazing this divine organ truly is.

    • I agree we construct models of reality and these “perceptions” can be manipulated, in laboratories and elsewhere. Of course this explanation is a constructed model too but it need not be a viscious regress. This one may be true (more or less). Seems to accord with our experience and that’s all we have to go on, that and the law of no contradiction.

  28. Still no description of consciousness. It is admittedly really really challenging to empirically describe it, but the theories presented here are more oriented toward explaining how it may arise, and not actually describing it.

    Come on, someone out there: Just try to describe it. Language inadequate? Use some other means. Doesn’t have to be scientific, but should be clinical or empirical. Art and verse lover here, but that’s not what I want to see on this theory: that is more for when I am painting or visiting the MOMA. Here, though, no. This subject is endless in its depth and probing of truth.

    • Consciousness is the internal awareness of being. It is described scientifically only by means of its correlation to brain function such as the binding of neurological processes that correlate to thoughts and experiences in the brain. As to where thoughts and experiences arise is up for debate. It’s a chicken or egg issue until proven objectively. For now consciousness seems to be of a subjective reality. After cardiac arrest there is objective evidence that experiential awareness continues at least for approximately 30 seconds according to recent experiments. There is also evidence of consciousness existing in some who are in a coma or a vegetative state. Also worthy to note is that people who are revived as much as 10 hours after clinical death have regained consciousness. This implies that after clinical death consciousness is not annihilated. This begs the question of the nature of consciousness and is it really a product of the brain. If it is then why does consciousness not cease along with brain function? And how can consciousness be revived into a previously dead person? Did it hibernate while the brain was “dead”? Or is it something separate from the machine of the brain altogether? So far science can only observe the correlations but not the cause. Therefor it’s still speculation for now.

      • It does not mean conscious is independent of brain state. If it was the individual’s experience would continue unabated and consistently reported accordingly. The facts in fact “suggest” consciousness emerges out of higher level brain processing. This can be attenuated by tiredness, blood sugar levels, apoxia and drugs. All the empirical evidence suggests it is simply a higher level brain function that is somehow connected to behavioural flexibility in social and cultural contexts. In part it may be to do with empathy and anticipation. We anticipate the mental state of others by reflecting on our own mental state. That suggests our own mental state has to be bounded and distinguishable from the world. Still spectacularly speculative but reluctant to suspend the laws of thermodynamics.

        • Your comments point to the correlation of consciousness to brain function, namely “higher” brain function. I dont think it is conclusive that it “emerges” from these functions alone. When the cerebral cortex fires up when focusing on a complicated task, this deosnt prove that the thinking involved originated from the cerebral cortex. In fact it is shown more to be a unified process of different parts of the brain assembling information and somehow binding this information into an awareness and an experience as well as encoding the information into short term memory as the process builds upon that information in order to fullfill an intention or purpose. We commonly refer to this as will or “free will”. My personal thoughts with regard to the binding problem is that there is a detectable field of electromagnetic energy produced by the electrical firings of neurons. This field exists within the skull and isnt affected by external interference. The recently developed technique of magnetoencephalography (MEG) uses a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) and detects the fields generated by the brain. Our brain generates an em-field that encompasses a significant fraction of its neurones. I think it is highly possible that our consciousness is a product of the em-field generated by our brain and that the conscious em-field of the brain influences neuronal firing. Fortunately, this is all testable and the research leads me to think this may be the way consciousness works. Changing magnetic fields couple more strongly to tissue by inducing electrical fields that may stimulate neuron firing. And there is abundant evidence that rapidly changing magnetic fields do indeed affect brain activity. There is abundant evidence that the changes to the brain’s em field correlates with conscious awareness. Researchers observe that there exists an inevitable feedback loop between the brain’s neuronal network and the field generated by that network. The theory is that this em field becomes a seat of consciousness by which will is directed and the loop back provides the process of thinking and experiencing. Such a radical idea is now being employed by artificial intelligence researchers like John McFadden who believes that this em field may be the component needed to make artificial intelligence in robotics a reality. It could also explain why NDE’rs can have experience (at least temporary) after the brain dies. The feelings of detachment, an awareness of being outside the body, of time etc. Im not saying that this indeed proves why people have NDE’s but its just a thought.

          • you guys are clearly way more versed in all of this than me but I still can’t get my head around the one thorny question of how ‘insentient matter can give rise to anything sentient’.

            here’s my science.
            dead matter + dead matter = dead matter.

            does this not necessarily conclude that matter, despite what we think…is in fact not as ‘dead’ as we think?

            it seems to me – correct me if i’m missing something – ‘what is conciousness’ is the less important question compared to ‘how is it possible that anyone could ever have a single thought?’


          • I don’t think of matter as “dead”. In fact I don’t even think of matter as “matter” (any more). If the physicists are correct, the universe(s) is frothing with energy and that’s all there is. So-called matter, I.e. solid stuff are localised warpings of energy fields we experience as “solid stuff” in spite of the fact we know most of it is “empty” space. It’s the attractive and repellant forces that constitutes atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, sensation and cognition. That’s all.

      • ‘This implies that after clinical death consciousness is not annihilated.”
        It also implies that consciousness could be an integration of cognitive processing at a certain level or threshold of activity. No different than a circuit actuated light bulb. The “light” doesn’t go away and hide somewhere. A person revived from a coma usually has the same enduring sense of self but not always. If enough circuitry is intact or undamaged. This suggests to me that C” is no more and no less than brain function “at a certain level”.

        • “This suggests to me that C” is no more and no less than brain function “at a certain level”.”

          Not only C is a brain function “at a certain level”, the Dichotomized Operating System model explains all aspects of consciousness, like what consciousness is, what is its nature, why does it exist, how, why, when and where in the brain does it emerge, how is it causally related to sensations, perception, thoughts, awareness, attention, pain, etc., what are different conscious processes and how do they work together, how do conscious and unconscious mechanisms and processes work, how do conscious and unconscious thoughts influence decisions, what is the difference between awareness and consciousness, why are subjective experiences limited to the self, why does consciousness offer a rich and magical feel, etc. and also solves the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ by explaining how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experiences (I’m currently working on better explanation of the same  ). To top it all, I also claim that DOS model account of consciousness matches findings by neuroscientists Francis Crick, Christof Koch, Stanislas Dehaene, etc. using various experiments and neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) – (the model is based on the evolutionary process and explains causal role of consciousness at both, subjective and objective levels). In fact, it is the only causal account of human consciousness which is (additionally) verifiable with one’s subjective experiences at many levels.

          FYI, I also have a challenge where one can win a reward of $1,000 on falsifying my claim on consciousness http://www.whatismind.com/ConsciousnessChallenge.aspx

  29. To Jeff ” ‘how is it possible that anyone could ever have a single thought?’ I think depending on what you mean by that question, the answer is pretty easy at this point. If you mean “how can something as tangible as matter ever give rise to something as immaterial as an experience” well thats a harder question.

    When you consider the billions of synapses and networks, the millions of microtubules and all the intricate pieces and parts of the brain it becomes apparent that this just might have something to do with it! It just might be a long process for us to put it all together and understand how all this forms thoughts and experience. But we have come a long way and can find the many components that make it possible thanks to technology that detect energy fields in the brain. I also believe that as energy consciousness may work at the quantum level as well. It seems a bit mystical at first to think that animal consciousness (we are animals as well) is connected to the fundamental geometry of reality and can tap into that unified “oneness” (not to go woo woo here) but this isnt so supernatural I dont suppose.

    We have learned that all matter is energy and its by products such as thinking is also energy that we can detect. All energy is connected at the planke scale fundamentally. This is fundamental level is refered to as the unified field. Is it possible that consciousness and our thoughts interacts at the quantum level in some bizarre way? The double slit experiments seem to fit that hypothesis. I dont know for sure of course but it wouldnt shock me if it were true.

    • “how can something as tangible as matter ever give rise to something as immaterial as an experience”

      yes this is what is truly baffling me. and with regards to woo woo it’s interesting and funny to me that the deeper you go scientifically on this question the more like ‘woo woo’ it all sounds.

      thanks for your thoughts….if they even exist.

  30. If you look at the work of Suddendorf and Corballis the very plausible hypothesis that conscious thinking is an aspect of mind relating to reality simulation. The general idea is that the human primate with a complex social environment has to generate simulations of novel and unfamiliar states of affairs. There is an increasing body of evidence supporting this idea for example;
    1. The world is complex and the brain capacity finite. Our brains are organised for construction or simulation rather than bulk storage and much of our knowledge is coded and stored off-line in cultural representations.
    2. Visualisations are taxing on blood sugar and brain space.
    3. It requires higher order processing to knit together discrete gappy bits of coding into “seamless” representations.
    Electrical activity over the whole cortex seems to be a feature of this higher order processing.
    4. The segmented tensed character of human language seems to be suited to representations of complex actual and possible states of affairs, a pre-requisite presumeably for technical innovation, a useful but dangerous capacity we have.
    5. Our capacity to perform mundane familiar functions without much thought like driving to work but our capacity for the dragon’s eye to open when something unusual arises (as I said in a previous posting).
    Hope this provokes some thought.
    The lit can be found by Google Scholar using for example “mind as reality simulation”.

  31. Very interesting reading. Almost everybody loves to go on and on with very intelligent arguments. Although no one yet has given an answer to the basic question that Jeff is pointing out. Forget about how our brains works how smart we are. Even the stupidest animal knows that he exists. We know that there is a limited amount of elements that everything is made off. Galaxies, universes and everything visible is made of the same stuff. Myriads of combination of atoms are being made every second without creating a single speck of life. So the question is: what is life and derivative of it consciousness (not intelligence) considering that we are made from the same stuff that that the planets is made off.

    • I think you are prejudging or defining consciousness uniquely and non naturalistically knowing full well such a definition (arbitrary) is not derivable from the material. It’s a soul “explanation” you are after.
      But I say the subjective experience of being conscious doesn’t require any spooky assumptions or conclusions.
      We know consciousness varies according to natural laws (the five levels of conscious every first aider learns). If it responds to material naturalistic variables then it must be material and naturalistic. We know the human body can be reduced to two or three bars of soap and some fertiliser and water but that doesn’t mean that’s equivalent to a living organism. Life (and consciousness) is just chemistry but of a very complex organised kind.

    • Life (and consciousness) is not special “stuff”. It is just your ordinary cosmic dust that has produced increasingly complex arrangements over eons. I’ll bet life and it’s precoursers are distributed throughout the universe in compatible environments.
      The contrary assumption that we (homo saps) are special is just the collective narcism we call religion. I no more have a soul than my dogs do. But that doesn’t mean life isn’t worthy of respect and consciousness with it. My dogs are pretty conscious of my states of mind and moods, and I of theirs. The exceptionalism accorded humanity seems unfortunately associated with a contempt for other creatures (and all too frequently races).
      That’s why I call it collective narcism.
      Neuroscientists are now capable of predicting some of your thoughts from brain scans. Boy! Is that scary?

      • If by soul you mean an immaterial, invisible observer of reality that also has an affect on you, your physiology and the world around you then I would say that you do have a soul or perhaps the soul has you! Consciousness is the word to describe that invisible part of you that brings a certain quality to life. Our experience and perception of reality depends on a state of consciousness. Yet this very fundamental part of human life is only measured by the correlations to our brain. We still wrestle with the hard problem of why we should have a rich experience associated with brain functions. It seems quite unnecessary.

    • You claim to be conscious but we only have your word for that. None of your words are conscious!

  32. The supernaturalist thinks he has a trump card:
    You can’t pull a supernaturalistic rabbit out of a naturalistic hat!
    My response is:
    No, but I can pull a naturalistic rabbit that seems supernaturalistic out of a naturalistic hat. Just as the partly submerged stick seems bent etc etc.

    • Agnostic is the only reasonable stance for me.
      either side of that line is just a guess no matter how well marshalled the rhetoric is.

      • …either side of that line is just a guess no matter how well marshalled the rhetoric is.

        True, to a degree, however this puts religious people into the rather uncomfortable territory of admitting that, at best, they too are agnostic. Not a stance they would readily accept I would venture.

        I personally have no problem climbing off the fence towards atheism; it is up to religion to prove to me there is a god, rather than the onus on me to prove the non-exisitence of something. I guess that’s why they introduced ‘faith’ into the concept.

        Interesting discussion.

        • i stand and stare at atheism and think, “yeah probably”
          then i realize how incredibly finite my brain is and consider how impossible it would be for my cat to understand shakespeare and think, “how the hell do we know?” and to be “sure” of much is to so arrogant i feel.

          traditional religion – i’m an atheist.

          metaphysical suspicions tend to correct my gaze to agnostic.

          that’s just me though.

  33. The universe is always consistent because it has all the relevant information, the human mind isn’t because it doesn’t!

    • I dont personally believe in the supernatural as history shows that in many cases what was once the supernatural yesterday is now todays science. I remember a few years ago that claims of Lucid dreaming was not accepted as a serious phenomenon. Any scientist trying to prove the phenomenon was looked at as a psuedo scientist out to sell books or just plain woo woo. Science explained it away as illusory at best. Later it had been proven as a “real” phenomenon once able to be measured and verified in the lab thanks to then new technology. Now science deosnt bat an eye. The point is not that we should jump on supernatural explanations but to learn from history. There is nothing supernatural. There is only missing pieces to the puzzle. It doesnt mean we have to write phenomenon off or deny anything. Aknowledging the wonder of the mind isnt a step backwards. It just means that reality may be more mysterious than we imagine and therefor we have our work cut out for us.

  34. Hi the brain bank
    I hope to answer these questions
    1-How does the conductivity of the upper cerebrum cells lose under sleep statu? Which factor is depended on?
    2- If the brain receives different sensory directives of the body at once how the brain can be distinguished according to their source?
    2-Let us imagin a man did not have experience such that , he did not see things previously , can he distingush them by his consciousness when his eyes look for , though he has same brain as the other?

  35. Very interesting article. It is a good start to point to the observed correlations. Hopefully one day soon science will unveil how formless consciousness can arise from matter. I don’t think its dependent on having the complex connections we see in animal and human brains only. Even plants have a certain conscious awareness as it turns out. These forms of life can’t run to a watering hole when thirsty or hunt for food as they aren’t mobile. So nature has found another way for plants to survive because they are rooted. However expiriments show that they respond to stimulus. They sense pain. My point being that forms of consciousness can arise in different ways. Perhaps consciousness is comparative to electricity. The right combinations and conditions in nature can cause consciousness to arise. Why it should arise is a harder question. Why should a rich experience exist with brain functions at all? A philosophical zombie can succeed as good as a conscious and aware organism could. The good news in my opinion is that science (a practice of consciousness) will unlock her secrets soon.

  36. We tend to privilege consciousness because I suspect we assume it is unique to humans. A broader question is “what is sentience?” and it doesn’t have to be conscious. Much of what we do is not at the focus of our conscious attention. Watch a child playing with toys. They are to some degree oblivious of other things consciously. But that doesn’t mean the wider environment is not being observed. Blindsight for example when the brain responds more or less appropriately without the attention of conscious thought. we know the brain makes action descisions before the subject is conscious. The subject thinks this is a conscious decision. It isn’t, at least in some cases. I don’t think we can explore the origins and role of consciousness until we understand sentience more thoroughly. There are other issues too regarding the accumulation of experience and response at the group or population level. There is a sense in which creatures adapt and respond at the group and collective level. This is particularly obvious in species whose populations are made up of peculiarly specialised asexual individuals as one finds in various ant species. Even bacteria react surprisingly quickly to environmental challenges and plants certainly do, even to the browsing of their foliage which chemically signals to adjacent con-specifics. Does this count as sentience? Chemical sentience? Humans react to pheromones. Very important apparently. Even in mate choice. Is this chemical sentience?
    It is very obvious humans priviledge their own peculiarities and downgrade other forms of sentience accordingly.
    My belief is that human consciousness is not supernatural or transcendental. It is a device which achieves efficiency and power by constructing simulations from small amounts of sensory data based on accumulated experience and genetic hard wiring. Because it is constructed from outside input it has to be perceived inwardly. This gives the illusion of direct experience of the outside world and in a sense it is except that it is packaged or coded with our own wants and needs for survival and perhaps flourishing. We see positive features (for flourishing) in our environment as attractive, mates for example and other features as repellent. The ancient doctrine of ideas was a simplistic variant of this idea because it confused how we perceive with what we perceive. We don’t perceive constructs, constructs are how we perceive. Consciousness is an extra loop in the process probably binding the output from many subroutines in the brain.

    • I agree with you here. Consciousness is not supernatural. It just “is what is is” and we humans are like apes facinated with whats in front of them! Afterall it is amazing to us. It produces meaning for anything and everything, it identifies patterns within anything and everything that actually serves us well for the most part. At the same time we know that the brain only produces for us an illusion of the “out there”. Not that whats out there isnt real, but it isnt what it seems to be. Our brains are limited to detect and understand only that which is necessary for our survival basically and yet we are also capable of building instruments and technology that allow us to percieve so much more! The study of autistic savants shows the extraordinary ability of the brain when “wired” a little different to percieve and grasp very complex mathamatical computations at will and compose symphonies and other abilities unlike most people. The study of the brain on Psychodelics show how the brain when in altered states can produced feelings of euphoria and open up greater mental strengths and abilities. All of these experiences produced by the brain is what creates our “reality”. It is the organ responsible for everything that makes us human and give our lives depth and meaning and anything else we could imagine. To me its natural magic and a demonstration of what billions of years of evolution can produce in this strange cold yet beautiful universe we exist in.

  37. The explanation of consciousness is dead simple: we are the universe. We are the infinite/multiverse/whatever, and it all acts as one single eternal interconnected entity. There never was a physical plane and a conscious plane, these two are one and the same, only humans have evolved a dual way of percieving the world, hence the illusion of duality and all the fantasizing about how conscious stuff is somehow emerging from unconscious stuff. So the hard problem is nothing more than a complete misunderstanding, a question based on a duality that never existed. It makes no sense and that’s why it can’t be “solved”.

    What is going on in the individual mind is what is going on in the individual brain, I actually just wrote the same thing twice. The individual brain/mind is part of the infinite like everything else, so it is always “conscious” even before or after death. So basically consciousness means to be part of the universe/the infinite in the eternal now.

    • If it was so, how can you prove it in ways that should convince others?? Stated like that, is just equivalent to saying: “it is so because I say so, trust me”; and until further notice, the world will keep spinning around missing the sense and meaning of existence, failing to see that all greatness and madness of us depends on how we keep looking upon the world – especially true for science, economy and politics – that if we keep manhandling the seed and the sapling, they will grow up distorted and ill?

    • While interacting in our day-to-day life, we need to act or react to bodily processes and the happenings in the world, sometimes instantly, to provide us beneficial outcomes.

      Consciousness is designed by the evolutionary process to allow data from such interactions that requires judgmental power to become available for making decisions, thereby benefiting from the capability of making free will decisions (If there were no free will, there was no requirement of consciousness). To understand how interactions are continuously scrutinized for the requirement of judgmental power and how free will decisions are made, visit http://www.whatismind.com

      • Wow that is a very good point! “If there is no free will, there is no requirement of consciousness”. That is an angle I havent really stated plainly in such a way although it is my firm belief in that understanding. Whenever I engage with some people in the discussion of consciousness, free will comes up. Most people regard free will as an illusion as it seems to be posited by many authorities in the physics field as well as in neuroscience. Studies showing that sub conscious drives our behavior for example. And decisions being made milli seconds before we are aware of them and etc. But something about these statements which are based on such observations lack something for me. If free will is an “illusion” then why wouldn’t consciousness itself also be an illusion leading to the question of how could we be certain about any observations at all? It is apparent that our observations are usually correct for most of us as we have managed to survive and thrive in the reality we exist quite successfully. I agree that our “perceptions” are essentially an illusion but not in the sense of not being “real”. And thats what many scientists mean when they say free will is an illusion, that it isnt “real”. But we perceive ourselves having a free will to choose just as I perceive the things I am choosing between. And what good is consciousness if it isnt to be able to do just that?

        • I think it’s important to define ‘illusion’ in this sense. Rather than meaning unreal, or not real, it is used in this case to mean that ‘which deceives, or miselads intellectually’. This is an important distinction to make because we are not saying that what we see isn’t there, just that it may be not be perceived by us accurately. We know there is a whole different world which exists within our own; just look down a microscope and you’ll see things the naked eye isn’t capable of seeing. Yet, we wouldn’t doubt that atoms are present when we look at a coffee table, or a cup, or if we take a breath. If we were to walk around seeing everything magnified to this level, we would see a very different world to that which we perceive currently. We don’t doubt that that micro-world exists, but our perception of the world as we see it doesn’t include this level of detail. Could we then argue that what we see is only the reality that is decoded and interpreted for us by our brain functions. To this end, we could then take one step further and say that we are never really sure of what we are seeing in the first place. Our mind has created something for us which we call ‘real’, and have a shared experience of with one another, to ultimately conclude that this is what exists in front of us.

          Scott said, “And decisions being made milli seconds before we are aware of them.”

          I find this fascinating, and it certainly implies that free-will is questionable , but like you, I don’t know whether the action hasn’t still been generated by our will to do it. This is a conundrum that makes my head hurt frankly.

          I think I confuse myself when I really start thinking about this kind of thing and never really know whether I’m looking at it from a philosophical view-point, or a scientific one; maybe a bit of both. I think both would need to come together in any case, and to some extent, for these problems to be addressed.

          • With reference to the following

            Scott said, “And decisions being made milli seconds before we are aware of them.” I find this fascinating, and it certainly implies that free-will is questionable , but like you, I don’t know whether the action hasn’t still been generated by our will to do it. This is a conundrum that makes my head hurt frankly.

            (from whatismind.com)
            “Ever since neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet did it for the first time in 1983, many experiments are performed where subjects, while their brains are being scanned for neuronal activity, are asked to initiate a random action or make a random choice, e.g. pressing the left or right button on a device. The subjects are also asked to note down the time when they become aware of making the decision of pressing the particular button. All such experiments result into scans predicting the activity for which the decision is made, either left or right button, before the subjects are consciously aware of making it. In other words, the scans predict with good accuracy what button the subject is going to press before he is aware of making it. This gives rise to the belief that whatever action a person decides to execute is a result of his brain’s neuronal activity or something else, but not of his conscious free will, and thus, free will does not exist. For otherwise, how could a machine foretell which button the subject is going to press before he himself becomes aware of making it?

            The reason they become aware of making the decision at a later stage is that, as a random choice is to be made at a non-specified time…”

            More at
            FREE WILL – in detail

          • A key factor for delay between decision (or initiation of action) and conscious awareness is the miniscule yet finite amount of time that lapses between sensory input at the source (say, a photon striking the retina or a sound wave reaching the skin and eardrum) and the propagation of the signal through the various electrochemical pathways to the brain, and then through various brain structures that filter, amplify and either record or discard the signal. The processing performed by the brain often brings things that are not perfectly in sync as detected by our senses into sync when we become conscious of them. We become conscious of things after they have occurred (even if only by a matter of milliseconds), yet we experience them as in the immediate present. Free will is not the illusion- our perception of the world as conveyed by our senses is the illusion.

          • To compound this, their are brain experiments that tells us 6 seconds in advance of what a person will decide! Consciousness actually comes in at a very late stage of the process of making decisions! The sub conscious has certain beliefs and mechanisms that unfold and determine to go a certain way at a later point in time, even before we are aware of it. These tests are performed in an MRI scanner and computer that measures brain activity in real time with the experiments. Very strange indeed.

    • The problem I have with the idea that free will is illusory is that it suggests some degree of pre-determination. This itself leads to yet another blind-alley. Harris says we shouldn’t approach this illusion with the response, “…well what’s the point of choosing to do anything then…,” but rather look at it as: we can still make choices that are important, in order to put ourselves in a position so as we can create a number of (hopefully) beneficial avenues to ‘choose’ from, of which the choice has already been made. If I have understood this correctly, there’s a contradiction therein.

      • I honestly dont like the idea of predestination. I personally find it a useless thing to believe in. Why should we evolve such a sophisticated way of perceiving and making decisions if those decisions aren’t “ours” but the unfolding of the universe? Why then should we have experience and consciousness in the first place? We can unfold according to probable outcomes without it. On the other hand the experiments are what they are. And if I am to be rational I should accept the evidence. On the otherhand its very liberating in a way. Our goals will be reached and our story will unfold just the way its supposed to regardless of how much we worry about making these happen! Its kind of spiritual but better. We have evidence to support our claims!

        • There are also counter-claims to the Libit experiments in that there are variables and discrepancies with respect to timing. I’m not sure how conclusive they are, but as you say, the results are what they are. Most of my frustration is centred around the fact some of these problems are unanswerable; the fact I am not in control of any decision I make I can perhaps live with, no matter how unsettling this may be…then again, maybe I am in denial!!

  38. forgive my dumbness but isn’t this sort of a different topic….related and fascinating but more in a conscious vs un-conscious sort of way?

    being ‘downstream’ of consciously knowing you’ve made a decision isn’t the same phenomena as how does matter organize itself to give rise to an experiencing being….how is there a stream at all? i suppose has been the dominant query in this thread….the hard problem.

    am i wrong?

    peace either way.

    • I would say that we can gain clues about the how and why of this phenomenon of consciousness by looking at all aspects of it. Such as the decision experiment. To say that 6 seconds before a person is aware of the decision implies that even before the test is ran, the brain knows how it will answer! How would this be possible? Are we living in a kind of predestined biological computer simulation and we simply unfold according to the program? If this were the case it could explain a whole lot as to the nature of consciousness! If this is crazy talk then we explore other alternatives. But whatever we find will still tell us a whole lot about where and how consciousness arises.

  39. Outstanding post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more
    on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit
    more. Thank you!

  40. ‘Tononi believes that unconsciousness is brought on when the system becomes fragmented and connectivity in the brain decreases’.

    So what induces ‘the system’ to get fragmented and decrease neuronal connectivity, esp. when we tuck ourselves in bed and prepare to ‘voluntarily’ undergo the unconscious state of sleep? And how and why ‘the system’ regains that sort of neuronal connectivity during the transition from deep sleep (unconscious) to fully awake state (conscious)?

  41. What is consciousness? Interaction, plain and simple. Consciousness IS interaction. All our senses, our emotions, our feelings of self awareness, everything that we call “consciousness”, is all a form of interaction…complex interactions. The human brain is a highly evolved mechanism which allows us to interact on very complex levels. The less evolved or the less complex brains are, the less complex those interactions are, the less aware an organism or creature is and the less ability it has to interact with its environment. If a brain is injured or damaged or that complex arrangement is altered, it affects our ability to interact. Fundamentally, what are interactions? Interactions are forces of nature which are present everywhere in the universe, gravity, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. It is by these fundamental interactions that ANYTHING is able to interact at all. We humans interact via the fundamental forces. It is because of the complex arrangement in our brains that those fundamental interactions or forces can perform such complex functions. When it boils down to it, we are not really “conscious”, we are just forms of matter which interact in a more complex manner than other forms. There is no true consciousness, there is only INTERACTION and that is fundamental. Everything – all matter – interacts at some level.

  42. I agree that consciousness may be what complexity of matter deos however what is the tipping point where unconscious matter becomes conscious? Some parts of the brain or body may have more neuron connections and are not considered conscious.

    • “consciousness may be what complexity of matter deos”. It’s a pity that even Christof Koch, who is the leading researcher in the field of consciousness is also of the same opinion. Any discussion on what is the nature of consciousness or how and why it emerges is pure guesswork, as such opinions are based on beliefs, not causality. The only causal account of consciousness is offered by DOS model, which says that it is a result of the optimizing aspects of the evolutionary process (consciousness allows us to consume information that is necessary to reach our goals in an optimized manner). The model explains how, when and why consciousness emerges and how subconscious and unconscious thoughts and processes influence decisions and behaviour, besides explaining causal relations of consciousness to sensations, perceptions, thoughts, awareness, attention, pain, hunger, etc. Many aspects such explanations are also subjectively verifiable.

  43. Interesting conversations. Consciousness a complex manifestation of a will to survive built over millions of years. What this will is and why it came from nothing is the real question? Free will is the choice we have of how we try to survive.

    Science is an invaluable tool that helps us understand things from our perspective through empirical evidence. This doesn’t take away from how beautiful the things it attempts to explain are. Also like linguistics scientific theories and facts are still just our labels or simplifications of of the real thing. Even if we create a consciousness greater than our own through technology and scientific advances we are still the ones creating it with those tools and we do have the power to create life, you know if you’ve ever had a kid.

  44. So, question to everyone. In theory, if consciousness is based purely on matter, no God, does that mean that when we die, as long as somewhere down the line our consciousness is assembled in a new form to the state we died in, we will simultaneously experience reawakening in that new place, for better or worse?

  45. maybe the consciousness it is in just one cell ,that receive and process the information and send the orders.

  46. That might be the reason why mental illnesses are so tough to cure , because it is inside a cellula where the problem might actually be .

  47. The mechanistic (0r strictly chemical) view of consciousness doesn’t make sense to me. I like Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, or a “field” of consciousness that is interpreted by our brains. We are not separate from the world and yet we still look at our physical parts in isolation.

    Also, philosophy is the best process we have at keep science in check. Philosophy is not religion, and it’s imperative that scientists don’t dismiss it since it helps reveal science’s faith and belief structure. Everything in the end is a leap of faith, even science. It’s your consciousness that will be the only thing that tells you otherwise.

    • Most of science believes in the philosophy of determinism. That all matter in the universe is determined to one outcome. The brain is also matter, therefor it is predetermined to act and function in a certain predetermined way. There is no free will and no need for consciousness. Consciousness is only an illusion. I disagree.

      For this to be true would ultimately negate the idea of a controlled experiment and ultimately science as a reliable method. I do see that evolution favored time towards intelligence. Meaning that after a certain amount of time, intelligence emerged in order to evolve towards intelligent entities to will choices for its own survival and thriving within the framework of a deterministic world. There are of course barriers to free will in a vast cosmos of deterministic causes and event chains, however there are so many examples of where we as intelligent creatures have improved our ability to survive and thrive in a deterministic world by using methods based on determinism! We are able to step away to some degree by means of our consciousness or qualities of consciousness such as intelligence, creativity, and the ability to imagine and foresee or predict the future.

      So I see consciousness as a transcending quality of reality. I see on one end of the spectrum determinism and on the other is free will which is a quality of consciousness itself. Perhaps the universe determined that consciousness and free will exist in flourish to some degree. Perhaps the only real answer we can give to where consciousness comes from is simply the universe!

  48. If the smaller ‘inside’ parts of our brain are the receivers (input) and the larger ‘outside’ parts of our brain provide the element of consciousness (processing), does that not mean that our ability to be conscious of external input, or to decipher and process this input, is directly related to the ability of the outside areas of our brain to do this deciphering and processing. Now comes the real question – given that the speed of information transfer between neurons is finite, and increased brain size relates to increased distance between neurons (or even if you fill the space with more neurons, there will be less connections) – is there an optimum brain size which will result in maximum ‘consciousness’, (or does the brain need to undergo a fundamental change (upgrade with more specialised external processing areas) to allow this to happen.

    • “is there an optimum brain size which will result in maximum ‘consciousness’” –

      I suspect that it is the ability to combine lots of information efficiently that yields the ability to analyse abstract concepts and thus gives us ‘consciousness’, not necessarily size.

      Cells at the basic level need to be directed and focused, not having their message conflicted by other information processing. They then pass their message up to a more connected cell that combines it with other information before passing it up a level, and so on. In this way the brain is a computer that can build up complicated information from small bits efficiently.

      So I think consciousness in a brain is purely a state of high interconnectivity but why we can form thoughts to begin with is highly philosophical. Where is the line of interconnection and complexity drawn that marks the rise to internal experience? At what stage of evolution did consciousness arise or was it always there in some primitive form? And does it only manifest clearly at a certain threshold in a “brain”?

      For example, How aware are plants? Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University argues that a plant can see, smell and feel. It can mount a defense when under siege, and warn its neighbors of trouble on the way. A plant can even be said to have a memory! Could plants have a form of consciousness without a brain like ours? And how can matter evolve to attain this phenomenon to begin with? I can only conclude that there must be something about matter and energy fundamentally that has the potential to give rise to what we call awareness or consciousness. And this phenomenon has a diverse way of expressing itself and by different means.

  49. At the risk of seeming tantalisingly obscure here are some ideas gleaned from systems control.
    1. Trailing averages. These allow us to assess the significance of the present point in time with respect to the past.
    2. Before satellite navigation became highly developed America nuclear submarines plotted their position by recording every navigational change.
    3. Ariadne’s thread. She gave this and a sword to Theseus so that after killing the Minotaur he could find his way back through the blackness of the labyrinth.
    4. I have skied back country in whiteout conditions. Often you can only assess your progress by looking back at your tracks.

    Whats this got to do with consciousness? I hear you chorus. Everything I suspect. We are unconsciously linked to the past but from that we simulate or confabulate the present but its a post hoc “present”. It takes a lot of energy to maintain so it must be important for something. That something is to do with reality checks and anticipation. A bit like the chess board that records previous moves and future options (to the competent player) To the novice the “choices” seem plentiful. To the expert and “Big Blue”, the objective moves are quite limited. Its the psychological and cognitive shortcomings of your opponent that provides the options. Because we don’t directly experience the subconscious but only the confabulated “present” like novice chess players “we” think “we” are in control. We aint!

    This is not meant to be the definitive answer but it might suggest some lines of thought or suggest experiments.

  50. I am new here! This blog appears a serious one with some really interesting points. I would like to contribute my own analysis in a systematic manner. There are two apparent aspects of “mind-consciousness” problem that needs some differentiation – one, a biological aspect which deals with how and where mind/consciousness is generated; and two, a metaphysical aspect which deals with the question of what is mind/consciousness. We will take up the first question now and save the next one for a later analysis.
    At the outset it must be understood that mind is not a phenomenon peculiar to human beings – rather the human mind has gradually evolved across generations from the lower organisms. An analysis is presented below to make this point clear. All organisms have a basic desire to live, and in order to cope up with the surrounding environment all life forms on the earth have to perform the following four basic survival functions:
    (1) They have to procure food
    (2) They have to protect themselves from predators
    (3) They have to grow in size
    (4) They have to procreate
    To perform each of the above functions all life forms have to sense the external world – or, in other words, they have to receive the stimuli from the external world. For example, an organism has to sense the presence of food in its surroundings in order to reach for it. Likewise, in order to protect themselves the organisms have to sense their predators; and in order to grow and procreate they have to sense favorable conditions in their vicinity.
    In the case of microorganisms, they employ various techniques like chemotaxis, mechanotaxis etc to ‘sense’ their external environment and carry out their survival functions. For example, the amoebae have to sense the presence of food in order to move their pseudopodia towards it, and they have to sense the presence of a favorable environment before they divide – and if they sense unfavorable conditions they tend to form spores. Plants employ phototaxis, geotaxis, and other such mechanisms for their survival and propagation. For example, a creeper in the garden has to sense its surroundings in order to creep towards the source of sunlight. Not only for food, but all other survival acts need sensing the environment as a primary requirement – a vine tendril senses the presence of a beam as a support and reaches out for it and wraps around it (thigmotropism).
    In other words, all the organisms must be aware of their surroundings in order to execute their survival functions. This means that awareness is the characteristic feature of all life forms. Thus, we can pass the following statement:
    Awareness is sensing the environment, and all life forms possess awareness
    Now we will see how this awareness in the case of animals advances into consciousness. All animals also have to demonstrate the above survival functions, and thus all animals also must be aware of their surroundings in order to survive. However, all animals (starting from worms to insects, reptiles, birds and mammals) become aware of their external environment by the way of senses like smell, vision, sound, touch etc. This advanced form of awareness is possible only when they have a nervous system to assist them, and thus all animals possess some sort of nervous system in them. By using neural mechanisms the animals can perceive these sensations and thus they have became capable of moving around in space more effectively and perform all the four basic functions. Thus, we can say that:
    Perception is awareness
    The characteristic feature of nervous system is not only to perceive the senses but to hold these perceptions in them for at least a briefest period – i.e. to form memory. Thus, all these animals are not only aware of their surroundings, but are capable of holding this awareness in memory for variable periods, and this memory helps them to navigate in their surroundings efficiently – even a snail needs some slight memory to move around in space. This sort of awareness stored in the nervous system as memory is called consciousness. The animals now have become conscious of their surroundings (not just being aware of their surroundings like plants). A busy bee hovers over the flowers in a garden until they are empty of their nectar, and could fly to a distant garden in search of more flowers – which means that it is conscious of the next possible source; a deer is conscious of its predators in the jungle; a mother monkey is conscious of its baby monkey playing around, so on. We can also notice here that the nervous system in animals has set a time-scale for its stimulus-response to improve survival chances (which is absent in plants). Hence we can pass the following statement:
    Memory is the cornerstone of consciousness, and all animals possess consciousness
    The consciousness in animals progresses into higher levels as the complexity of their nervous system increases. The lower animals (worms and insects) have only very short memory which works only to serve their immediate survival instincts. As animals become more advanced (e.g. reptiles, birds and lower mammals) their brain’s neural connections become increasingly complex, and the consciousness progresses to provide them with a longer memory and, more importantly, in a better organized fashion. Thus, as animals ascend in their phylogeny they become more capable of organizing their memory to perform the four survival functions – an “eyeless” earthworm can only move around in space and cannot have any further memory; an insect like mosquito has a little more memory to repeat its movements over and over; a bird like parrot can do far better in memorizing the external events; a mouse in a maze or a monkey in a predicament can store more details in their memory and surpass all hurdles with their tricks. Thus, all these animals possess consciousness in improving degrees as they become more advanced.
    The nervous system in the more advanced mammals like elephants, dogs, tigers etc is much more complex, and the consciousness is much more advanced and can store much more memory. In fact, the memory in these advanced animals takes the form of a solid long-term memory which can be used to perform certain intelligent tasks. This advanced form of consciousness is the mind. Thus, elephants are not only conscious but they have minds of their own, so is the case with your pet dog. As we can see, the simple survival function of awareness in lower life forms has transformed into a complex mind in higher animals, and reached its zenith in the human beings. Perhaps in the next post we will make some interesting observations regarding the central executive, free will and human psychology.

  51. At what stage of evolution did consciousness arise? What is consciousness?
    This is my question too.
    Can we pinpoint the possess we go from the atom the physical world to metaphysical?
    Seems to me that all the building blocks are still here for us to examine, tho parts of that possess may have been lost in evolution
    Consciousness in its most simple form would be the ability to react like instinct, but instinct is not consciousness.

    To quote Parag Jasani November 18, 2013
    Consciousness is designed by the evolutionary process to allow data from such interactions that requires judgmental power to become available for making decisions, thereby benefiting from the capability of making free will decisions (If there were no free will, there was no requirement of consciousness).

    Instinct would be a stepping stone in evolution. Instincts seem to be automatic, an unconscious drive developed out of need to survive
    Consciousness and free will decide if that male birds feathers are pretty enough to attract my favors because instinct says its time to breed.
    Now we get into a thought process, but still this don’t answer the question. What is consciousness? I cant think of the answer but this voice in my head keeps telling me to keep trying.

  52. Well if conciousness is all about interconnectivity than what about computer system in the world, if a computer can make more connection to world which is by the way happening for parallel processing than can we compare it to conciousness??? If yes then a computer can transfer its concious to other computers but humnas can’t …..
    This is where a debate come in case of human cloning If we ever able to record and copy anyones whole brain does that mean a person can become imortal ….. My guess is No ….. Conciousness is something else and we are still far from basic definition …..

  53. the capacity to decide weather to act or in-act upon an instinct or pulse is called Consciouness
    Animals are limited by the no. of instincts and a capacity to decide weather to act or not so they cannot be called as conscious as humans
    so one cat is no different from the other but one human is different from the other based on what he acts upon and what he does’nt act upon

  54. When I see guys debating consciousness and plato I feel like evolutionary dead end. This article was well written…clearly built the concept of consciouness being a top up pruning of sensory information.

    Really powerful.

  55. So many people talking about consciousness, it appeared to be very confusing and misdirecting to where it should point out. This article is best expression of how consciousness works individually rather than collectively as much as the opinion and idea of others. If this is the case, consciousness has a varying degrees of level on every persons life and experiences, therefore, it is undeniable fact and must be the end of confusion that, consciousness is the one and only reality.

  56. Erm, I hope this doesn’t sound tangential ‘cos I haven’t read all the comments.

    IMHO, analyzing self-awareness without defining “will power” may be an inadequate approach ? The reason for self-awareness is perhaps a “something” that drives the brain towards specific goals or at least in specific directions. When we’re shown an apple and asked to identify it we, first of all, need to “command” or consciousness to “focus” on that object and then well, LOL, perhaps execute an SQL query on the database inside our brains to elicit the a priori knowledge that it *must* be an apple because of our past “experience” or “knowledge” or whatever.

    Ergo, this intangible thingy called focus or will power or whatever is at the root of self-awareness, IMHO. This of course as yet does not touch upon the other intangible emotion and its role knowledge acquisition itself.

    Should some wiser counsel not elaborate on that ?
    tks and I do hope that I haven’t been rambling.

  57. I am new to this discussion and am neither a philosopher nor a scientist. However, I am conscious and my very consciousness has prompted me to think hard on this subject.

    I hark all the way back to Peter Russell’s U-Tube presentation on the subject of what consciousness is in 2013. He arrived at a very basic (albeit controversial) answer to what consciousness is that certainly made me think (and, I suspect, his sponsor, Jeff). It seems that many of your contributors have not bothered to watch that presentation and are getting lost in semantics. Their definition of ‘consciousness’ appears to be confused either with human intelligence or the condition of wakefulness. They glibly dismiss any idea that the ‘lower animals’ possess consciousness as we know it.

    PR explained very lucidly that he ‘believes’ consciousness is at the very pinnacle of all life’s progress from amoeba to human being. Perhaps pinnacle is the wrong word but it is nevertheless indicative of its importance. ‘I am God’ – my I-ness; my I-AM-ness. There you have very controversial expressions that boil down to what ‘consciousness’ really means.

    PR used the significant phrase “I am not the person I once was” to illustrate his opinion that consciousness is the blank canvas that we all start from, onto which our character and subsequent growing intelligence is painted, for some by great artists and for others by graffiti vandals. As an expressed dog-lover he knows full well that his ‘lower animal’ possesses consciousness and that growing intelligence beloved of us all.

    Whether we choose to think of consciousness as a metaphysical property of life or as a scientific hypothesis that needs to be developed and eventually proved, really depends on personal taste. I see no harm in either position. The amoeba reaches the limit of its quest to ‘grow’ its character and its intelligence when it does what amoeba do best, procreates. Plants grow and react to light (and many other things as we are now learning) and produce what they do. The scorned or much-loved ‘lower animals’ reach their level of self satisfaction and awareness much to our delight or fear. There can be no doubt that all living things possess that initial consciousness, that god factor, that blank canvas to start from.

    ‘Things’ don’t have consciousness. They are not self-aware. Whatever weird and wonderful scientific explanations there are out there for how our brains manage to ‘materialise’ those things our senses tell us are out there giving us our concept of the world around us, our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, it cannot be denied that, without the ‘developed’ consciousness (the acquired knowledge) of men and women far cleverer than I am, our awareness of such advanced ideas would not exist. Inanimate things don’t have brains, so they don’t have consciousness. There are vast numbers of people out there who don’t appear to have ‘brains’ – to use a loose term. They have no knowledge of or interest in the discussions on these internet pages – and care less. Are they ‘unconscious’ in the eyes of some of your contributors?

    (PS and only loosely on topic, can anyone tell me what’s happened to ‘biocentricity’ or ‘biocentrism’?

    • Hi John.
      Glad someone watched that piece. PR is really just giving his version (a very comprehensive one) of an older theory described here. It’s called Panpsychism and it’s somewhat attractive and coherent for a variety of reasons.

      • Thank you, Jeff. I think I prefer PR’s contribution:-) Can you tell me by email if PR is still developing his theory? I am fascinated by this whole subject and will continue to follow the discussions.

        Parag Jasani’s link below has kept me busy (I’m taking a break – there’s too much to absorb in one session).

  58. Here’s a simple little postulate.
    Imagine a creature resembling outwardly something like ourselves (a zombie perhaps).
    Add the fact that coordinated behaviour behaviour in social groups generates shareable capital generally beyond the reach of isolated individuals.
    Speculate that coordinated behaviour requires an awareness of ones own behaviour, the behaviour of others, the ability to assess when and where (selectively) to coordinate or cooperate in shared tasks on the basis of past experience continuously during wakefulness when such interaction is required.
    The result is consciousness isn’t it?

    • Here’s a counter-postulate (if that’s a word):

      Primitive self-copying cells grow towards light sources in order to get certain nutrients to survive.
      The process is just mechanical (There’s no need for a cell to KNOW anything).

      Primitive animals, faced with more than one problem at a time, develop ways of prioritising based on mechanical gauges. Pursuing the weightiest priority first, over others.
      This could be explained chemically / mechanically (There’s no need for these creatures to KNOW anything).

      Creatures can eventually interact with each other; using sounds and ears, and facial expressions to deflect certain light into each other’s eyes. They have a brain that is always prioritising the weight of these social inputs among other inputs, like hunger and thirst.
      It can all be mechanical (There’s no need for these social creatures to actually KNOW anything).

      A creature could evolve that has a measured amount of curiosity, and is compelled to explore other terrain, and eventually as a by-product is biologically urged to explore the way the world works physically. Some individuals can eventually build apparatus for detecting micro-organisms and atoms, and representing them with scaled / coloured images the creatures can interpret.
      They balance these advancements with other stimuli, like wanting to end world hunger (the deep-seated instincts for creatures supporting each other, to live).

      Yes… they are pretty human!! Their behaviours could all be explained as a collection of constant mechanical impulses, which are then prioritised by the brain, and converted into actions to accommodate the most pressing impulses first.
      Couldn’t it all be mechanical? Why do they ever need to KNOW / EXPERIENCE anything?
      And how is it even possible that they can?

  59. We can develop this argument of course. Generalised rules or conventions are helpful so that we can anticipate what is required for fruitful reciprocal interaction and the result is flexible language and morality. Simple!

  60. Here’s a counter-postulate (if that’s a word):

    Primitive self-copying cells grow towards light sources in order to get certain nutrients to survive.
    The process is just mechanical (There’s no need for a cell to KNOW anything).

    Primitive animals, faced with more than one problem at a time, develop ways of prioritising based on mechanical gauges. Pursuing the weightiest priority, over others.
    This could be explained chemically / mechanically (There’s no need for these creatures to KNOW anything).

    Creatures can eventually interact with each other; using sounds and ears, and facial expressions to deflect certain light into each other’s eyes. They have a brain that is always prioritising the weight of these social inputs, against other inputs like hunger and thirst.
    It can all be mechanical (There’s no need for these social creatures to actually KNOW anything).

    A creature could evolve that has a measured amount of curiosity, and is compelled to explore other terrain, and eventually as a by-product is biologically urged to explore the way the world works physically. Some individuals can eventually build apparatus for detecting micro-organisms and atoms, and representing them with scaled / coloured images the creatures can interpret.
    They balance these advancements with other stimuli, like wanting to end world hunger (the deep-seated instincts for supporting their fellows, to live).
    Yes… they are pretty human!! Their behaviours could all be explained as a collection of constant mechanical impulses, which are then prioritised by the brain, and converted into actions to accommodate the most pressing impulses first.

    Couldn’t it all be mechanical? Why do they ever need to KNOW / EXPERIENCE anything?
    And how is it even possible that they can?

    • “Couldn’t it all be mechanical? Why do they ever need to KNOW / EXPERIENCE anything?
      And how is it even possible that they can?” –

      The same could be asked of us human beings. We have no need of an inner experience to function. We could just as well function on ‘autopilot’. And for all I ‘know’ everyone else around me in fact does! There is no way to prove that anyone else is having an inner experience. The only thing I know for certain is that I am conscious of a perception and an experience.

      Consciousness has information regarding its experience, and the experience is integrated to the extent that parts of an experience are informative of each other. So possibly what happens is that the more complex a system is, the more ‘consciousness’ that system has. With this idea there should be a principled theoretical framework fundamental to consciousness. So that it exists in some measure all the way down. For example, since the number of different possible experiences generated by a human consciousness is considerably large, the amount of information this conscious system must hold should also be large.

  61. My problem with the idea of consciousness being a decision making mechanism is; do we really make any decisions?

    1. If free will (quite plausibly) isn’t real at all, then why do we need to observe / experience the things our bodies do?

    2. If free will really exists, then how is that even possible materialistically? (It kind of replaces the problem.)

  62. My My it’s a wordy world. Could not the simple answer be that, long long ago in some primeval forest, Ugg the ugly got so peed off with bumping into tree’s he was forced to come to terms with the realization ”I AM” and the tree’s are not ‘I’. Consciousness was born and Ugg had better remember that if he does not want to keep head- butting tree’s.
    Consciousness might just be feeling toned memory. Reject this if you will, I would, I never even passed my 11+.

  63. Just to confirm my lack of education but, interest in this subject, does Panpsychism boil down to, us, me and you and my dog being an appendage of the Psyche? Or two altogether seperate ”things” some how forming a unity? Trouble is, Panpsychism does not bump into trees nor would it need trees to manifest itself. I am happy to stand in the corner with a dunces hat on.

    • hey man,

      go up a bit and you’ll see a video of a guy who looks like a saturday night live version of a philosopher explaining it. i posted it about a month ago.

      understandable yet i find it hard to accept that on some primitive level my coffee cup is conscious.

      • It is hard to accept that a coffee cup or any piece of matter could be conscious or have any level of awareness. One reason is that we always imagine consciousness as what we experience as consciousness to some degree.

        I think the reason philosophers and scientists such as Guilliano Totoni and David Chalmers would postulate such an idea is because we don’t know where the dividing line would or should be between non conscious and conscious matter. Where in our evolution for example did consciousness magically appear? Or did it evolve from a more primitive version just like our physical characteristics did? And if consciousness evolved, what state marks a beginning of consciousness and its progressive evolution? How can we describe that state?

        There is a very interesting theory that puts a mathematical description of any level of consciousness on a given system called the ‘ Integrated Information Theory ‘. When applied to conscious experience as ‘we’ know it, since the number of different possible experiences generated by a human consciousness is considerably large, the amount of information this conscious system must hold should also be large. The list of a system’s possible states is called its “repertoire” in IIT.

        In a system composed of connected “mechanisms” (nodes containing information and causally influencing other nodes), the information among them is said to be integrated if and to the extent that there is a greater amount of information in the repertoire of a whole system regarding its previous state than there is in the sum of the all the mechanisms’ considered individually. In this way, integrated information does not increase by simply adding more mechanisms to a system if the mechanisms are independent of each other. Applied to consciousness, parts of an experience (qualia) such as color and shape are not experienced separately for the reason that they are integrated, unified in a single, whole experience; applied in another way, our digestive system is not considered part of our consciousness because the information generated in the body is not intrinsically integrated with the brain. There are five axioms underpinning the theory:
        Consciousness exists
        Consciousness is compositional (structured)
        Consciousness is informative
        Consciousness is integrated
        Consciousness is exclusive

        This idea although it seems radical and somewhat metaphysical, has managed to gain acceptance in the scientific community.

      • Thanks Jeff. Babel’s triumph stampedes the thoughtless herd. In my head anyway. I can believe in consciousness, because i experience it’s contents. I can believe you are conscious because you responded to my post. That’s my limit. What consciousness is, is something else. I can’t help but think it has something to do with painful lessons learnt by our primordial soup swimming forebears. Memory, like a sentinel, just registering events, not caring about the outcome. Cheers Man.

  64. Can someone take a crack at actually ‘describing’ consciousness? Like, what is it? Is it a field, a hologram, a blur, something, anything? I have no idea to start, but develop some system or form of language or signifiers to describe it in empirical terms

    What it does is important, but what it is is more important, IMHO.

  65. ”Where in our evolution for example did consciousness magically appear?” Quote from Scott.
    According to C.G.Jung, consciousness arrived when one of our distant forebears looked out and saw the world about him and realised this was not him and he was not ‘it’. This was when we left the prison of our environment and to a degree; our animal instinct’s. I’m presuming this was at the end of a long process. If there was an explanation of this process, it’s been lost in the mist of time, to me at least.

  66. I stopped reading when you said the brain has “nerve cells”. Nerve cells are located in the PNS…not the CNS.

  67. Hello, I am only a 19 year old pondering on the world, so sorry for my lack of knowledge and understanding and depth of question. What i dont understand is that if our consciousness or how we take our decitions (burger vs. salad) comes from our primal surges or animal desires, then what would artificial intelligence be? A computer with individual thought and knowledge, but without our primal surges, would that not be a purer form of what we come to know as consciousness? I hope someone could answer and expand my question to a more knowledgable level.

  68. Consciousness can only be given a “functional” definition. It cannot be defined formally.
    The last definition I read was, “Consciousness is that which recognizes itself”. I am also reminded of a quote from Tilopa (to his disciples): “Alright, I will give you a verbal definition of the transcendent in words.” “There are no words to describe the transcendent.” I have experienced at times, from an objective witness, the movements of my mind, body, and emotions. Seeing my attachments to the exterior world, and the various natures of what my consciousness was tied to, showed me that consciousness has levels. When I am not attached, there is simply consciousness of everything, and all levels, as one. It is rare, but it is noticeable. My knowledge exposure has led me contemplate another aspect of consciousness with respect to the brain. Consciousness is the root cause of everything. Nothing else is causal in this sense. For instance, the universe is not causal. Consciousness projected the body (brain) and the psyche which operates across the various systems of the body, which then interacts with the “exterior” world. I have also contemplated, and still contemplate, that the “true nature of consciousness is void”.

    So what is the “isness” that we seek to formalize, systematize? The last thing I will continue to contemplate is that “the void is not convertible”, but can convert everything. For laughs I think, this sounds a bit like a black hole, or Shiva.

    These theories still, are very stimulating. I was looking for a remedy to soothe my mind after reading various comments and conversations, of the general sort, on different sites about U.S., local, and global events. I noticed that conversations about, “what is going on?”, can start from anywhere a body chooses, and reach conclusions that happen to satisfy the attachments of consciousness in the moment. I have described it as, “Flees swallowing elephants”, “Kissing one’s own elbows”, or, “Jumping over one’s own knees”. There is a lot to understand about, “independent arising”, and what is truly causal. But alas, “it is what it is”: levels of consciousness. Consciousness. There is a theory which places theories in a level of consciousness. A rare occurrence for a human, from which an extensive enough embrace of knowledge, allows for explanations of phenomena from a “unified” or “whole world” point of view.
    But they are theories: yet to be proven. Thanks for the article.

  69. Well, from what I’ve read so far , it gives me the impression that your site is going to be a good source of information. Hopefully, it will live up to my expectations. Thanks.

    • Sorry, l hadn’t really understood the question.
      When l started to read the comments, it dawned on me that the question was about consciousness.
      Well, to be honest l find it very difficult to define, that’s why I jumped at the chance of learning something about it.

  70. Michael Mamas told the story that “A devotee once asked an Indian saint, ‘Why did the universe manifest?’ He answered, ‘It didn’t.’”

    Then Dr. Mamas (of Mount Soma, Clyde, NC) goes on to explain, “The transcendental realm, is sometimes called the ‘absolute.’ Put simply, the transcendent realm equals Pure Consciousness. Pure Consciousness is the ultimate reality, it is Truth. In the final analysis, Pure Consciousness is the only thing that actually IS. All that exists is pure Consciousness.” Taken from http://www.michaelmamas.net/transcendental-realm/

    He explains the more superficial structures that arise out of pure consciousness in detail here: http://www.drmichaelmamas.com/the-veda/consciousness/

    For an effective transcending meditation, which are rare, see http://www.mountsoma.org/meditation/ for the free Surya Ram meditation.

  71. I agree consciousness is probably an advanced form of information/sensory processing, but I would also say it’s very much linked to the identity of a self/body. I found it very interesting, and I don’t think scientists have noted this fact, but from the article it seems when the brain is awake, and firing away… it’s also conscious of a self being aware.

    But when in deep sleep… the personal self seems to disappear along with consciousness into unconsciousness. My question is where did that personal sense of a self that is in the brain and memories….where did it vanish. Is it consciousness of a body that creates the illusory impression of a personal self in the brain?

    • Asking where does consciousness “go” or where does it vanish away “to” when one falls into deep sleep is maybe like asking, where does wetness go when water dissapates. Perhaps consciousness is what naturally emerges when physical properties reach a certain state. Once that state changes, then so does consciousness. This correlation may clue us into where consciousness comes from. However, it still doesn’t tell us the whole story. Consciousness is a very special kind of phenomenon and has to do with the ability of a system to become aware of itself and of the sense perception. It definetly requires a feed back loop between unified systems within itself.

  72. Just Now I have Completed ” What Is Consciousness”. I think all these are somewhat mechanical description of Consciousness. Please Read Vedas of Hindu Philosophy or The writings of Swami Vivekananda. Firstly Consciousness is understandable only through feelings and feelings cannot be explained through the bio-chemical or bio-physical or neurobiophysical or neurobiophysio-psycological explanations. As Vedanta says it is not expressible through any intellectuals processes.
    Please Consult the Studies made by the physicists at Centre for Consciousness studies at Cambridge University. You may get some most modern concept using theories amalgamated with neuro science.s

  73. As I get older and closer to the end of my life span I think about this alot. I have heard science try to make a good argument about consciousness and quite honestly they fail miserably. The evolutionary process has no other example to offer that relates to human consciousness. Some think some animals have some possible ability to be self aware but weather that means they have full on consciousness is unclear. Regardless nothing the animal kingdom has, including many large well connected animal brains, have anything along the lines of human consciousness. The simple question is why? Why are we seemingly evolutions chosen? In fact what purpose and by what mechanism does evolution even create conscious beings? It seems like alot of wasted energy? Is it just one big lucky stroke of a mutation? Is that what consciousness is just one huge mutation we humans got stuck with? If you try to offer other explanations of consciousness that might not be totally biologically centric science really frowns on it. Even though many quantum Physicist wildly throw out theories, like String Theory, that will never be testable. How can you test a multiverse theory if you can’t travel to the multiverse. Any supposed evidence you can gain from any kind of observation would only support the possiblity that among many possible solutions the multiverse solution is too plausible. But one can never say for certain String Theory is a fact. So why do folks who propose Quantum Consciousness theories get laughed at. I would argue that String Theory is really String Hypothesis and Quantum Consciousness Hypothesis have at least equal amounts of evidence to support them as so called String Theory. Science and particularly those who don’t see any possiblity beyond pure biology for our existence refuse to even entertain other possible avenues for consciousness. Yet some of those same scientist and physicist want me to believe there is a multiverse with many universes and many Planet Earths with many copies of me for infinity and propose this as real science. They don’t even delve into the question of why evolution would, in there multiverse, produce consciouss human beings over and over again for eternity. So in my opinion if human consciousness is purely biological and not Quantum or not something else then String Theory is absolutely wrong, and Extraterrestrial or Extradimensional Life like us does not exist. If human beings are a genetic mutation of evolution, an accident, the odds of it happening exactly the same way out in the universe seem insurmountable to me. There could be life even intelligent life but consciouss, self aware, empathetic life in the universe likely does not exist. Which means if we mess around and announce our presence to the universe and we are unlucky enough to meet highly intellgient creatures that don’t have conciousness we are screwed. So when it comes to human consciousness one has to just pick a belief. You can just say the reason we are is because of a biological and evolutionary accident, the multiverse is poppycock and when we die we cease to exist. It is a belief to believe this way. Or one can believe like me that human conciousness is Quantum and there is no such thing as death. Everything lives forever they just never know it. I believe I die and wake up in the morning as me living my life in what ever manner the current universe I wake up in has me living. If Stephen Hawkings String Hypothesis is correct thats how I believe it is. I wake up eternally in the multiverse never knowing I ever died. Good Day.

  74. I just simply refute any claims about consciousness that depends on non-materialism. Sorry I can’t justify it but I maintain the default option has to be some sort of “meta” processing whereby chunked data is used to construct visualisations. I have no idea how it happens but I think there is a reasonable chance we will figure out the nuts and bolts one day. Because we haven’t succeeded thus far is not a sound argument for forays into metaphysical speculation. We are already pretty familiar with hallucinations and distorted visualisations with testable explanations and that has to be plausible evidence that it’s all taking place within the nervous system.
    Having already had several close calls and 71 years of age I have no existential
    hangups that desperately search for skyhook “explanations”. The material universe is sufficiently extraordinary and wonderful for me. Resorting to the supernatural is simply asking to be manipulated by unscrupulous people. Human destiny lies in this world not elsewhere. So we had better focus on looking after it. (Something the greedy psychopaths that run things don’t want you to realise).

    • “I just simply refute any claims about consciousness that depends on non-materialism. Sorry I can’t justify it but I maintain the default option has to be some sort of “meta” processing whereby chunked data is used to construct visualisations. I have no idea how it happens but I think there is a reasonable chance we will figure out the nuts and bolts one day.”

      Stuart Mathieson, you may find this useful – http://www.consciousnessexplained.com

      • I did find that interesting and helpful. Without yet a careful read chunks of it sounded familiar for example automatic actions such as driving my car allowing me to focus my conscious attention on street signs and unpredictable features such as children and dogs. We know from science and medicine much energy is required to maintain a concerted degree of consciousness. I think that is why older folk need to nap during the day. Cats and dogs too. Thermal imaging gives a vivid picture of the energy expended.

        • The material universe is wonderful and extraordinary. I agree. BUT the universe is mostly non material. Dark matter and dark energy makes up most of the universe! So perhaps “non material” explanations aren’t as supernatural as we think it is? Perhaps not everything that exists is reducible. This is so far the case with consciousness I think.

          • You know what I mean. “Materialism” means whatever the universe (matter) turns out to be ultimately made of. Multidimensional whirlpools of energy we call “quarks” if you like. As long as it follows the laws of thermodynamics at the macro level and quantum mechanics at the micro level. Concealing metaphysical fantasies in the inaccessible is not allowed. The aggregate of the ultimate constituents of reality is what leaves bruising on your shins.

          • I would say that it is obvious that to genuinely uncover these transcendent phenomena one must eliminate lower level categories first. It is worthwhile to investigate the “nuts and bots” of it all first. But I think this sort of project has been exhausted in this case and we have hit a wall (my opinion) A miracle could be defined as something that is observed to have no observable causation. Like say, the big bang for example, or how life emerged from non living matter. These things did happen. How matter became conscious is another such “miracle”. These sort of miracles are rare. And I don’t conclude for anyone that god did it and I personally don’t have a real answer. I would say that perhaps the human mind may be too limited to comprehend or make sense of certain things in nature at face value. But this shouldn’t stop us from looking for the answer. But maybe, just maybe we have to explore alternative technology in order to get anywhere? Just my two cents.

  75. Consciousness can definitely be attributed to an evolutionary process. What the author has focussed on is the workings of consciousness. The grand questions seems to be whether consciousness is essential to all living beings?

    The essence of consciousness is to be able to possess a retainable awareness of causality in an environment. There seems to be a natural evolutionary order in developing consciousness, as in, it is by no means a mistake primarily because it has evolved as a reactionary mutation due to circumstances existing in the environment.

    Unlike non-living beings, sentient life forms are conceived in a highly survival-oriented environment, making the survival instincts alienate them from nature. As a result, consciousness is therefore a primary pursuit for every living being in order to be a harmonious entity of nature.

  76. How do you People live a normal life knowing this? I have now a month read about this. Its eating me up…cant function right. I think about this 24/7. What does this mean for us?are we not living? Cant find any happiness..i get anxiety thinking off this..does it mean we are just machines thinking we experince things? Life would be som boring knowing this. How do u Guys living a normal life? Feeling like i can never get back to normal knowing this

    • Hi Sandra, I’m sorry to hear that,

      I feel that describing an experience in greater detail shouldn’t take away from the experience.
      If anything, it should enhance it and make it deeper.

      …unless maybe the actual belief that it can’t be described was important to me.

      “What does this mean for us?are we not living?”

      If I’m experiencing stuff, then logically that shows I’m living – I think the question is more about how could it work?

    • I think it goes without saying that we’re “machines thinking we experience things,” but I don’t know how you get to things like “not living” or how “life would be so boring knowing this.” Knowing what, exactly?

    • Sandra,

      I think that what you are getting at is that if consciousness is merely mechanical then we cannot be agents (in the sense that we operate in total freedom) and don’t have free will. Instead, we would have the illusion of free will while the reality is that our actions are based on unseen causes. Thus there is no right or wrong and there is no morality. Justice, which we all care deeply about, would be reduced from the punishment of evil and restitution for victims to the culling of bad genetic stock. All other deeply set beliefs would likewise be debased as evolutionarily “advantageous or disadventageous”.

      These are serious philosophical problems with the strictly mechanical view of consciousness and cannot be dismissed with the false optimism of further scientific knowledge.

      • Im not sure exactly what u mean aron..english is not my language. I understood the first part i think..but the last one was a bit confusing for me..thanks

      • Aaron, there are also serious scientific problems with the strictly philosophical view of consciousness which cannot be empirically explained without the the true neutrality of scientific knowledge.

        There is also the issue that the idea of a “mechanically” generated consciousness should not be demeaned by the label “merely”. If the phenomenon turned out to indeed be generated purely through biological processes, it would be totally astounding that something which otherwise could only be created by an omnipotent god should arise from inert matter all by itself.

        Regarding the illusion of free will, it is much worse than that! It is the illusion of reality itself that we struggle to accept – a persistent illusion we live in that we are forced to create from the sensory inputs that manage to reach our brains from the world outside of our thick bony skulls.

        We can develop, maintain and defend “deeply set beliefs” as vehemently as we like against the “debasement” of scientific reality – it does not make them true. If we are not willing to give up these comfortable positions we should not be engaging in conversations about them of a scientific nature.

    • The truth is that we are limited by the mind. We are constantly fooled by the mind which is informed by chemical and electrical processes. I deal with a depressed family member. We always say she is not “herself” at times. But she is always herself because “we” are a reflection of any state of mind at the time. The only constant is experience itself. There is spiritual insight to be gained by embracing this truth about life and the implications that come with it.

      • Scott.I dont understand what u mean by that im afraid, spirutal? In what Way? Im feeling like life i meaningless and that there is no true emotions.. and also when u Guys say The brain is u. That then means no life after death etc? Should u be afraid? The thought of not seeing my mom ever againg is hard to imagen.Terrifyed of death btw. only 23 years old är.

        • The test of life is to be fearless! Face the truth. Face what we know to be true. We know that our identity is wrapped up in brain states. That is why people can become different people by the influence of drugs or damage to the brain, etc. So we should protect it! Put a premium on health in general. That should be the purpose of life.But experience itself is the only thing that is a constant. And experience is really intriguing from a scientific perspective. How can matter like a brain become aware of itself and its surroundings? Is experience inherent to all matter to some degree? So for me consciousness itself is another beautiful thing about life..in fact its the only means by which we can perceive reality at all, even if what we perceive is through a filter of a physical brain. It is up to us to embrace this fact and find value and meaning through it all. For me, experience may continue at death or may simply stop. But I have learned to not fear it either way. But I try everyday to value this life and focus on what is truly meaningful such as being a positive cause in the reality I exist in. I assume you only live once so we must make the most of it and enjoy it to its fullest.

          • How do you guys know for certain that consciussnes is only in the brain when scientist cant find it? I want there to be more then The brain i guess…Everyone u ask have a diffrent opinion about what happens after death…its so confusing. Is science the only thing thats true??

          • The answer is that no one knows almost anything “for certain”. Science is about getting the most probable explanation for things. I would say that there is a great argument to be made that consciousness is not restricted to just brains in humans and animals. But “truth” is the business of philosophy while “facts” and theories are the business of science. It is a fact that when you change your physical brain state you then change your conscious experience. The two are definetly correlated. It is a safe bet that without a working brain you will not be conscious and aware of reality the same way you have a working healthy brain at the very least!

          • What is that argument? I really dont feel like myself if this is true..dont feel like a human…am i overthinking this? Feel like its just brain walking around wating to die. My emotions dont feel real anymore

          • There is a natural tendency to feel protective of our ego which is just a narrative or a story of who we are as a separate and finite being in our time and space. This is true on some level but really we are ultimately the universe experiencing itself through our experience. This is one way to look at it at least. So in a sense we are forever because we are causally connected to the universe from its beginning according to modern scientific understanding. We are simply a fluctuation of the same energy that was first put in motion eons ago! I dont think there is any reason to believe in a dual nature of being. I dont think we “have” a soul. I think we emerge from something much greater and grander than we can even imagine or understand fully. And on a deeper fundamental level there is only one unified existence. We dont exist in a vaccum. There is only oneness essentially. I would suggest looking into “science and non duality” to see the alternative views of self based on science and spirituality.

        • Hi Sandra. I am also afraid of death. I find some consolation when I am present with my emotions in my daily activities. And i try to think that if I live like this I will feel ready when death comes.

        • Sandra, if you don’t want to face the idea that your belief systems may be false, then its best to stop reading websites like this. Such debates are here for us to vigorously challenge even the most fundamental of our beliefs in every walk of life.

          Worlds will come crashing down in the quest for truth.

    • Sandra,

      I think that what you are getting at is that if consciousness is merely mechanical then we cannot be agents (in the sense that we operate in total freedom) and don’t have free will. Instead, we would have the illusion of free will while the reality is that our actions are based on unseen causes. Thus there is no right or wrong and there is no morality. Justice, which we all care deeply about, would be reduced from the punishment of evil and restitution for victims to the culling of bad genetic stock. All other deeply set beliefs would likewise be debased as evolutionarily “advantageous” or “disadvantageous”.

      These are serious philosophical problems with the strictly mechanical view of consciousness and cannot be dismissed with the false optimism of further scientific knowledge.

      • There still is right and wrong because we experience right and wrong. And our experiences are real even if they are subjective.

        • I won’t get into the weeds with what is real and what is not real. But what “is” is a totally different question than what “ought to be”, which is what people mean by right or wrong.

          What happens when we “experience” right and wrong differently? We can’t be both right, that would be a contradiction in logic. So right and wrong must be something objective or the concept has no meaning and there is no “ought to be.” Instead we have harm or benefit which are purely subjective ideas.

          • I believe that we can experience difference between right and wrong. And that this is a human ability that we share.
            But as you say, we do experience the world differently because of inheritance and what we have learned and experienced. I still believe that this shared ability gives most of us some common ground on the question of right and wrong.

            If you see right and wrong as subjective, then there is no contradiction in two people being right at the same time. But I believe that in contact with each other, we find and expand our common ground on what is right or wrong.

            Why is a subjective view on right and wrong meaningless?

            Are harm and benefit purely subjective? What harms the life and reproduction of an organism seems pretty objective to me.

          • It’s laid out as a “god debate” but they really are talking about subjective vs objective grounding for morality. Not sure that is has much to do with consciousness but the topic of how things are vs how they ‘ought to be’ are laid out pretty exhaustively.

          • Johnnyboy,
            Harm and benefit (I might have better said pain and pleasure) are subjective because they are experienced states. To value one state over the other is an appeal to objectivity. In other words, why is it better for a creature to reproduce rather than die?

            I hate to answer your other question (“why is a subjective view of right and wrong meaningless”) with another question, but bear with me. But why is right better than wrong?

  77. Cant look forward to anything in life any more. I only see death and darkness. How do you live life?!

    • As for life after death, I personally don’t believe in it…

      Anyway, I think living forever would make all my experiences pretty mute and meaningless; watching a beautiful sunset infinite times would make it feel like nothing. The fact that I am only here for a while, gives my life urgency, and makes it like a story.
      That’s something I tell myself.

    • Sandra – Remember that you’re reading a lot of hard-line materialist reductionist comments on this thread – and remember that theirs is not the only approach (they only think it is). Why not try Bernardo Kastrup’s blog (www.bernardokastrup.com) for something different?

  78. The question is `to be or not to be?´. Is consciousness subjective, meaning is it based on the limitations of our own senses, or is it collective? A perfect way of describing collective consciousness would be to imagine the mind as a television set or a mobile phone simply tuning into a constant wave or stream of consciousness. I will come on to free will later. FB Benjamin David Kelvin Thompson

  79. Although responses from ‘thebrainbank’ (i.e. Oliver) were posted some time ago, they are still very visible on the internet and should be addressed. It is actually quite alarming to observe the dismissive and condescending attitude towards a philosophical approach to investigating consciousness. Let me quote a couple of ‘thebrainbank’s replies to comments in this thread:

    ‘There is a difference in mindset when it comes to a philosophical analysis and a scientific one and I won’t try to convert your thinking’

    ‘A lot of the research in this area is psychological in nature and of course those of a philosophical mindset will have their say’

    Of course, the absurd implication is that science is more qualified to tackle questions about the nature of consciousness than any other disciplinary approach. There is a concurrent suggestion that science and philosophy should be kept well apart and that the scientific and philosophical ‘mindset’ are quite different things. Nonsense, I’m afraid. To tackle this ‘hard problem’ of consciousness by focusing solely on a single disciplinary approach would be intellectually impoverished, quite simply.

    As Matthew David Segall, from the California Institute of Integral Studies, has said: ‘…it seems to me that part of the problem with all the confusion around IIT is a lack of philosophical clarity about concepts like “mind” and “matter.” So for better or worse we need more philosophy first before we can study consciousness scientifically. Otherwise we don’t even know what we’re studying.’ (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/consciousness-and-crazyism-responses-to-critique-of-integrated-information-theory/)

    For instance, if you’re going to propose an ontological theory that amounts to panpsychism (which is what IIT does amount to, effectively), you need to look in-depth at the work of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who was the most significant thinker of modern times in panpsychist philosophy and influenced a number of theoretical scientists, including Dave Bohm. The truth is that the greatest scientists have always been influenced by philosophical and metaphysical thought. Both Heisenberg and Schrodinger were very interested in Eastern mysticism. No really. Look it up.

    In fact, philosophy might help you spot some category errors in these discussions about IIT. For instance, it’s not really an ontological theory at all because it doesn’t really address the ‘hard problem’ itself – what is consciousness? The Idealist philosopher Bernardo Kastrup puts it quite beautifully: ‘Tononi’s “theory” does have practical applications. If it can, for instance, help us, on an heuristic basis, tell whether a patient in a vegetative state is actually conscious or not, it has great value to society. But this kind of pragmatic application should not be confused with an ontological explanation for the nature of consciousness.’ (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2012/01/koch-tononi-and-materialist-theory-of.html)

    So let’s not cling narrow-mindedly to a single disciplinary approach, dear ‘brainbank’, lest we become intellectually bankrupt…

    • You could equally argue for the “equal” inclusion of religious or mythological viewpoints…

      The title of the article does, however, include the phrase “a scientist’s perspective”.

  80. Let’s all take a moment to thank Stuart for starting this 3 year conversation!
    Many of the submissions I have found very helpful. Others seem like bullshit.

    Either way, thanks Stuart!

  81. The article is effectively about a certain STATE of consciousness NOT consciousness which is there even in (REM, nice band btw) sleep or even deep sleep. Else the subject is simply dead (which is another band btw but i havent heard it). And to a point correctly uses interchangeably the term awareness instead of consciousness, even more correctly waking consciousness. i would go on to say that subconscious is again a state of consciousness (in fact i already said that above), but will not elaborate further on this (which is a huge subject anyway). What function does consciousness server, why is needed? That’s a nice question which may just provide answers.

  82. The article commits a logical fallacy of begging the question: Supporting the proposition with the proposition. The problem is to say consciousness is just brain activity is reductionist. Here is a simple example: We see light. However the brain is a completely dark entity. Therefore, consciousness is more than just brain activity. It also is enlightening to recall what British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell said regarding consciousness: “matter cannot be said to exist it must appear in consciousness and be recognized”.

  83. Consciousness is an adjective and therefore it cannot exist without a corresponding noun, which is a soul. It is just like light, which cannot exist without a noun like an electric bulb. Similarly energy is an adjective, and must have a noun like sun, without which it cannot also exist. Unless scientists recognize that there must be a soul, scientists will not be able to fathom consciousness, and will waste time in looking inside the brain as its noun.

    You wrote – “The true test of how good a theory of consciousness this is is whether it can also explain a loss of consciousness.” – Consciousness is only one of the many properties of soul. Yogic power, reincarnation, destiny, eternal recurrence, memory in nature, etc. are more advanced features of soul, described both in Bible and Vedas, which must be explainable using the brain theory of consciousness. Take a look at some properties of soul at the blog site https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

    You wrote – “The raw image is the same whether on a camera screen or in your head.”
    There are cases where a camera cannot see a yogi, whereas humans can see the same yogi. This shows that our eyes and brains are more advanced than physical concept of cameras. It also shows how soul theory and yogic power can fundamentally change the physical characteristics of our bodies. There is a chapter on yogic power in the above free book on soul theory.

    • I would say that consciousness is an aspect of matter. Many make the same mistake today of thinking that we know enough about the nature of physical stuff to know that conscious experience can’t be physical. We don’t really know this. We don’t know the intrinsic nature of physical stuff. We don’t see that the hard problem is not what consciousness is, it’s what matter is — what the physical is. What is the fundamental stuff of physical reality, the stuff that is structured in the way physics reveals? The answer, again, is that we don’t know — except insofar as this stuff takes the form of conscious experience. In particular, we don’t know anything about the physical that gives us good reason to think that consciousness can’t be wholly physical. I think that the physical and consciousness go together as the same process in nature. This much we can correlate for certain. Where the physical reality comes ‘from’ fundamentally and this includes consciousness, is the mystery for which there is no answer as of yet.

  84. consciousness is just complexity of association stemming from sensory input. That we learn to hear inwardly creates the illusion of consciousness.Take away this and we again are just left with experience of sensory input , in the purest form this is yoga meditation

  85. Different people approach this subject from very different, often totally incompatible bases. Discussions of mystical origins of such things as life and consciousness or ideas of spiritual manifestation should really be part of a very different conversation from this one.

    A scientific discussion of the concept of “life”, for example, will explore the idea that there is really no discernible difference between living and non-living matter at any level other than the higher level organisational one. Iron or hydrogen atoms within “living” things are not only identical, they are totally interchangeable. The same is true even with rather more complex molecules.

    By contrast, a scientific inquiry into the nature of something being “alive” will not include the existence of some spiritual “life essence” being involved that does not occur in rocks or gases. It will also not include a series of arguments concerning what we mean when we use the word “living” in any metaphysical sense. Simple properties such as the ability to move, ingest and digest nutrients, reproduce and so on suffice as the scientific definition for “living” things.

    The same is true with such concepts as “awareness”, “consciousness”, “thought”, “illusion”, “perception”, “reality” and so on. Science has a very different job to do with regard to things than have philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, spirituality and other “non-scientific” pursuits. Science is indeed a very specific approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

    It would perhaps be most helpful if we could develop a scientific definition of each of the relevant concepts that are pertinent to this discussion, that would “tie down” what it is we are attempting to understand before proceeding with analysis, sharing and discussion.

    Perhaps the key idea here is what we are referring to as “consciousness”. Many commentators use the term in a way that suggests that it is a “thing” or “substance” or even a form of “energy”. Others seem to imply or even say directly it is a “state” of some aspect of the brain. The implication (or even belief) in most cases is that “consciousness” could exist independently of a brain somehow.

    But as a few commentators above have put forward, none of these concepts (in addition to being apparently unverifiable or undemonstrable) addresses the main quality of “consciousness” which is that it can only be known as an internal stream of direct experience. There is some process of observation, evaluation, emotional and even “physical” response, immersed within the internal stream of perception, that is creating this phenomenon of experience.

    It is this process (which can even be turned upon itself as if to say “this is me swimming in my stream of perception and how it feels to be doing that”) that we are calling “consciousness”. It is something that happens to us. It is something going on.

    We are not conscious because we possess some magical substance or energy called “consciousness”. We are conscious because we are able to observe and experience our brain processing the ongoing deluge of “data” coming from our senses and our memories.

    It is essentially an extremely complex and detailed “conversation” we are having with ourselves and our “information sources”. So really what we are wanting to understand is the mechanism through which this “conversation” takes place.

    Discussions of how this may have evolved, and indeed (what has not been touched on at all in the conversation above) how it develops from conception/birth to adulthood, and then how it might vary between humans of varying levels of “civilisation”, education and cultural development, will become far more useful once we have a proper scientific hypothesis/theory/description of the mechanism of consciousness. Also, we will be able to make more sense of whether other creatures can be said to be conscious.

    I have no doubt that “consciousness” will be shown to be a physical process going on in the brain, and that we will eventually be able to duplicate it to a greater or lesser extent in our future “computers”. It is my hunch that it will have little or nothing to do with quantum mechanics, metaphysics, the gods, underlying substrates of universal consciousness or parallel universes.

    I suspect that it will be shown to be the effect of an inner set of incredibly complex mental processes whereby one part of our brain is observing and responding to the results of other parts of it at work. It will be biochemical/biolelectrical more than anything.

    • I am not convinced by your strict separation between science, philosophy and mysticism/spirituality. Would you like to elaborate?
      I think it is important, as you say, to have a clear understanding of the concepts we are talking about. But I think that science, philosophy and spirituality/mysticism are related. Therefore, I think that they could all contribute to this discussion, even though the headline is “a scientist’s perspective”.

      • Your question is not addressed to me Johnyboy but may I offer the following. Consciousness is an evolved bundle of processes varying in capacity between species to navigate the organism through physical and biological reality. Social animals also have to deal with social and cultural reality. Our cultural reality includes beliefs about religion and spiritual matters. In order to competently survive and reproduce in such a world we have to be able to understand beliefs (which motivate) and replicate them. Natural selection decides whether those beliefs have survival value.

    • I like your statement Graeme. Any account that suggests a miraculous suspension of the laws on energy and thermodynamics is immediately dismissed by me.
      I summarise your account by claiming “consciousness” as the collective noun for a bundle of interacting physical processes. It’s a process that is reasonably well understood at the cellular and social level. Levels that are not entirely divorced from each other.

  86. Hi Johnnyboy and thanks for your response.

    Before I elaborate, I would like to know why and how you think that science, philosophy and spirituality/mysticism are related. Simply asserting that something is so is neither scientifically nor philosophically sufficient. The use of the word “therefore” either scientifically or philosophically (both of which require consistent logic) means “it follows causally or logically that…”, which it obviously does not.

    The purpose of understanding the mechanism of “consciousness” scientifically is not so that we can adopt belief systems around it. It is so that we can utilise that knowledge to create physical, practical results such as creating “consciousness” artificially, transferring it into some other device that oblivion may not forever be our earthly fate, enhancing it that we might make it more powerful or intense or even curing or ameliorating physical problems that might arise with it.

    Philosophy, in contrast, has no such goals, nor even to the main extent an “exterior” view of “consciousness”. It explores rather the nature of the experience from within, the thinking entity looking at itself from inside asking “what am I?” and “what is this thing that I am calling my consciousness?”. Philosophy has no way to determine or inspect the physical process in which “consciousness” is generated by the atoms and currents within the skull. Indeed it has never shown any interest in doing so.

    Mystical constructs of “consciousness” are ever remote from scientific enquiry, as they are based on postulated entities and forces which, despite claiming to hugely influence and participate in the workings of reality are totally undetectable by any scientifically robust means. Spiritual “explanations” of this phenomenon are one hundred percent contradictory with any scientific attempts to comprehend it. Similarly, philosophy is utterly contradictory with any mystical explanation of consciousness in that there is no logical way to support such a claim from the basis of perception, nor any logical way to extrapolate such an idea from anything that we can be truly said to “know”.

    A thorough reading of “The Central Questions Of Philosophy” by A.J. Ayer, an incredible summation and analysis of these ideas, is a great clarifier in this pursuit.

    So, while it is true that all three disciplines may have an interest in the question, “What is consciousness?”, for each the question is of a totally different sort, for each the methodology and approach to seeking the answer is entirely different and for each the reasons for wanting to know are utterly unconnected.

    These are in fact three entirely different conversations and courses of enquiry and conflating them can only produce confusion.

    • Thanks for a thorough reply to my comment. I will try to answer you the best that I can.
      I think that philosophy and science intersect in many cases. Scientific method is based on philosophical thinking on how we can obtain knowledge about the world. So I think that when explaining consciousness from a scientific point of view, philosophy can be useful. And maybe vice versa.
      I do not think that science has one goal. I think that science is a collection of tools that can be developed, and used in order to understand the world. And this understanding can be further used in whatever way possible.
      I do not think that science and philosophy need to be contradictory to mysticism. An important aspect of the universe is patterns. The universe is not filled with random scattered parts of matter. Matter is collected in systems. Galaxies, solar systems, molecules etc. Things seem to have directions. Life forms move in directions. They do not move “aimlessly” around. I think these directions is not so far from what one may call “god”. I do not mean god as a character that sits on a cloud and decides things, but god as a universal meaning. But with a literal interpretation of religious scriptures, they will contradict science.

      Also, I think that religion and mystical beliefs fill important needs in human beings, that can help us in our lives. Understanding and explanation may not be their main purpose. So mystical explanation may not be the same as scientific explanation, even though the word “explanation” is the same.

      I think you are right that it can cause confusion to mix the different approaches. Especially without a clear understanding of the concepts.

      I also think that consciousness is a product of our complex brains. And that it can be created. What is more difficult to create is other aspects of life, such as our self replicability. So the consciousness that is created would not be the same as our consciousness.

  87. As an addendum here, a word about the discipline of Psychology which for whatever reason had not been mentioned much in this thread.

    As far as I know, Psychology has never attempted to explain what “consciousness” is, although it has spent forever arguing and postulating about how it works at a higher level, and what to do when it goes wrong.

    The discipline has gone in depth into the “psyche” and developed concepts such as the “mind”, the “subconscious”, the “unconscious”, the “ego”, the “id”, the “self” and so on. It has produced a wealth of theory of how we learn, how we develop “personality”, about “memory” etc etc.

    But all of this has been done without the faintest clue of how the brain generates “conscious” or other experiences.

    Indeed, psychology is often referred to as a pseudoscience, as its premises historically have been largely based on mystical/spiritual concepts of what consciousness and personality are. No experimenter has ever detected or measured the “ego” or the “self”. Phenomena such as hypnosis, NDE’s, hallucinations, LSD trips, religious visions, transcendental meditation, “astral travelling”, and even dreams have really only ever been viewed through spiritual or psychological lenses.

    Since the 1970’s and the great rise of atheism, along with the emergence of behavioural science, the explanatory power of mysticism and psychology has been severely eroded and the way has been paved for the emergence of a new theory of brain/mind.

    Before now (and to a large extent it is still this way) we have been very reluctant to accept the idea that life generates spontaneously wherever and whenever the conditions are right, that complex organisms will evolve whenever suitable conditions persist long enough, and that brains (including the phenomenon of conscious experience) will eventually be a natural result of this process.

    For this to be truly accepted (unlike the other disciplines which have thrived with no such requirement), science needs to develop a detailed, evidence based, proven model of how brain tissues, doing what they do, cause us to have a stream of aware experience. It is now vital that we come to understand what is really going on inside the brain when “conscious” experiences occur.

    • I heard of a theory on a radio program once called “pan consciousness” i think. I have not been able to find anything about it later, so I may got the name wrong.
      The theory was that consciousness is a property that emerges in systems with a high rate of interaction between the parts. But it is the degree of consciousness that gets higher. So a stone also has consciousness, only a to a very low degree.

    • Consciousness may be a byproduct of entropy. Our brains may have developed to maximize the information around us, recognizing threats and opportunities, in order to increase our chances of survival. But this evolutionary advantage may come at a price, a higher rate of entropy. Scientists recently found parts of the brain which may form a circuit that provides consciousness. But how did it come about? A group of scientists from France and Canada believe that consciousness may have arisen in response to entropy. Our brains, just like any other system, are hurdling towards the end. Consciousness, these scientists argue, is a byproduct of that process. This is just one theory being proposed out of many!

      Consciousness may therefor be a fundamental property of nature. Anything that emerges from nature, for whatever the reason, is just an expression of a mathematical probability. In this way, consciousness in some primitive form may exists “all the way down” to the fundamental level of reality to what Quantum science refers to as the unified field where all that exists, actually emerges from.

      Max Tegmark and Giulio Tononi have done alot of work to describe this scenario mathematically. The quality of consciousness may increase depending on complexity which effects a given entities ability to integrate information in more meaningful ways.

      • Scott, what does all this even mean? How can we say that consciousness is a byproduct of entropy even we have no idea what consciousness is? Entropy is, I believe, the tendency of the universe or a given system to move towards a lower energy state. Or am I wrong? How does this produce consciousness?

        The phrase “a group of scientists believe that…” is a journalistic phrase to add credibility to some idea or hypothesis, usually in the absence of evidence. Otherwise they would say “have shown that…” or even “proved that…” or “demonstrated that…”.

        If consciousness is a property of all things, how does it manifest, for example, in a stone? What abilities does it confer on water? How can it be detected in hydrogen? In fact, what is it exactly and by what mechanism does it become useful to humans?

        • Graeme –
          Consciousness appears to arise naturally as a result of a brain maximizing its information content. So says a group of scientists in Canada and France, which has studied how the electrical activity in people’s brains varies according to individuals’ conscious states. The researchers find that normal waking states are associated with maximum values of what they call a brain’s “entropy”. You can look at the evidence and decide if it makes sense. As I said it is one idea out of many.
          “If consciousness is a property of all things, how does it manifest, for example, in a stone?” –

          Scientists who take on this idea of “pantheism”are not suggesting consciousness on a primitive level is anything like consciousness that emerges in a brain or in a plant. But there is a principle in nature that allows for various stages or forms of awareness to arise depending on the arrangement of energy and matter.

          For example, the same atoms that make up a stone, makes up a human brain. The difference would be the arrangement of those atoms so that consciousness may arise in the brain.

          The stone wouldn’t be conscious of course. But the principles that allow consciousness to arise are inherent in nature. If the fundamental properties of nature can be arranged just right, a way is possible in nature to allow for different forms and stages of what we call consciousness.

          Now here’s the point: When we fully digest that the mind (like ours) is the activity of an evolved brain, it radically transforms our view of the mind’s place in the universe – and our view of the universe itself. The physical universe ceases to be an unconscious object, observed and explored by conscious minds which somehow stand above or outside it. Conscious minds are part of the physical universe, as much as rocks and trees. Our consciousness is not simply consciousness of the universe; our consciousness is a part of the universe, and thus the universe itself is partially conscious. When you contemplate the universe, part of the universe becomes conscious of itself.

          As Carl Sagan put it, ‘humans are the stuff of the cosmos examining itself’. And Darwin’s theory of evolution explains how this could be so – how clumps of matter could come to be organized in such a way that they are able to contemplate themselves and the rest of the cosmos.

          So I answer that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality. Without consciousness there is no reality to talk about.

          • Ah! So, (minus all the complicated words), consciousness happens when we organise atoms and energy in the right way, without any esoteric force or explanation needed. In other words, the brain is a machine. A biological computer.

            If this summation is accurate, we agree 100%.

            Now we just need to work out HOW it happens…

          • Richard Feynman stated “What I cannot create, I do not understand”

            Research that has been underway for a few years now is quickly accelerating our understanding of how integrating information can create artificial intelligence in machines.

            A Northwestern University team developed a new computational model that performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test. This work is an important step toward making artificial intelligence systems that see and understand the world as humans do.


            “The model performs in the 75th percentile for American adults, making it better than average,” said Northwestern Engineering’s Ken Forbus. “The problems that are hard for people are also hard for the model, providing additional evidence that its operation is capturing some important properties of human cognition.”

            The fact that we can actually create theories that meet the predictions that the mathematics describe lets us know that we are understanding the HOW of consciousness and intelligence.


          • No Scott. There is always a reality. Without the reality of mind, perception and language, you can’t talk about it. Big difference.

          • “Also, Scott, I just read through the article on AI you linked to. It has nothing at all to do with consciousness.” –

            You must not have read the article then!

    • “No Scott. There is always a reality. ” –

      That isnt what I mean. Of course there is reality whether we are conscious of it or not. B

      “Scott, please elucidate how consciousness is described mathematically” –

      A new theory of consciousness developed in the last ten years or so by Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and others. Tononi’s key idea is that consciousness is a phenomenon in which information is integrated in the brain in a way that cannot be broken down.

      What makes Tononi’s ideas different from other theories of consciousness is that it can be modelled mathematically using ideas from physics and information theory. That doesn’t mean this theory is correct. But it does mean that, for the first time, neuroscientists, biologists physicists and anybody else can all reason about consciousness using the universal language of science: mathematics.

      The central part of their new work is to describe the mathematical properties of a system that can store integrated information in this way but without it leaking away. And this leads them to their central proof. “The implications of this proof are that we have to abandon either the idea that people enjoy genuinely [integrated] consciousness or that brain processes can be modelled computationally,”


        • “Do you suggest that storing information is what makes consciousness arise?” –

          It is so hard to know for sure. It must be a part of it. I think there must be also an interaction. An integration of this information from the internal/external and an interaction with itself and with the external environment. Leaning can evolve and more complex creations in response to environmental pressures or stimulus. In that case, consciousness will arise naturally. Possibly the complexity involved in such a system will define to what level of consciousness we are talking about.

          But its also important to realize that it is still impossible to prove 100% that such a system is “aware” or “conscious”. For the same reason you cannot prove I am not just a zombie in a biological machine or that any other person you meet that tells you he/she is conscious and aware is either for that matter! All we have are the correlations of consciousness. So the same holds true for the machines we build and seem to learn and create and do the stuff humans and animals also do. But I would safely assume they could be conscious just as I grant you the same.

        • Well, you can define consciousness as the ability to store and access information, including information about the thing (animal, machine, software) itself that is conscious. Information is acquired either innately (DNA, preprogrammed code or preinstalled data), learned via sensors (eyes, ears, nose, tactile nerves, or their counterparts), or downloaded (art, music, speech, written language and computer access to the internet). To be self aware a thing has to have the ability to acquire and manipulate both internal (concerning anything about the thing itself) and external data. To be conscious, the thing must have the ability to acquire data in the third way. Many animals communicate knowledge- ants via chemical signals, bees with dances, and so on. The greater the ability to “download” information, the higher the level of consciousness.

          The ability to download implies the ability to upload as well

          The prime question remains- what causes the thing to acquire, manipulate and store information?

          Data can not be acquired that is not some finite amount of time (though possibly an infinitesimal amount of time) from the past.

  88. Also, Scott, I just read through the article on AI you linked to. It has nothing at all to do with consciousness.

    • Scott: “You must not have read the article then!”

      This after I had just said I had.

      I just went and did a word search on the article. The words “conscious” or “consciousness” occur nowhere in the text. In fact the article is about using computers to create AI models of problem solving which seem to be similar to human problem solving in success terms.

      They do not claim anywhere that the computer model is aware it is solving problems.

      Perhaps you mis-linked?

  89. Scott. What I forgot to mention earlier is that when you begin to describe your universe in terms the idea of pantheism (that everything is part of god) then we part ways and I am more aligned with Stuart M.

    We don’t delve into quantum theory or esotericism to explain how trees grow or how a car works. Shouldn’t we attempt to formulate explanations of consciousness in more “down to earth” terms before we look for more complicated answers? Surely Occam and parsimony require us at least to put these on the table?

    • “Shouldn’t we attempt to formulate explanations of consciousness in more “down to earth” terms before we look for more complicated answers? ” –

      Mathematics is not “down to earth”?

      “before we look for more complicated answers? ” – The problem is that consciousness cannot be reduced to a thing or a property. No it isn’t that simple unfortunately. If it were then surely we would have the answer by now.

      Consciousness may be an emergent property that can arise because of natural principles that exist inherent within nature. How can it arise? What would be the dividing line for example between non conscious things and conscious things? I offer to the discussion what researchers who ask these questions have come up with thus far.

      As for the articles relevancy. Well it is about research being done in the area of AI. Intelligence and problem solving require awareness as a part of conciousness and if you subscribe to the idea that the brain is like a computer, then it follows that it should be possible to one day create conscious machines.

      This isn’t the only example. Google’s AI translation tool has managed to create its own secrete language in order to aid in learning other languages.


      The HOW of making such achievements possible is well underway as the articles both underscore by virtue of what these machines are now able to do.

      Again, I quote Ken Forbus here “The problems that are hard for people are also hard for the model, providing additional evidence that its operation is capturing some important properties of human cognition.” For machines to analyse and create solutions without any intervention by humans isn’t a small thing! If you believe it is irrelevant to this discussion then you miss the point completely.

      “Human cognition” requires making distinctions, being aware of internal and external states in order to figure our solutions.

      • Hi Scott.

        “No it isn’t that simple unfortunately. If it were then surely we would have the answer by now.” – This would suggest that any simple answer that may exist for anything has already been found and that there are only complicated ones left. Not sure I buy that.

        “For machines to analyse and create solutions without any intervention by humans isn’t a small thing!” – That is very true, but such machines can in no way be said to be aware of the fact that they are doing it, whereas a simple creature like a mouse can certainly be claimed to be aware of what it is doing even though in a very basic way.

        “The problem is that consciousness cannot be reduced to a thing or a property…” – then – “Consciousness may be an emergent property that…” Ermmm…

        What if being conscious is neither a property nor a thing, but a process? Something that the brain is doing rather than being?

        • ” This would suggest that any simple answer that may exist for anything has already been found and that there are only complicated ones left. Not sure I buy that” –

          There are problems in physics and the list is growing smaller. But then there are the “hard” problems that have been with us for a while. Problems like Problem of time, Cosmic inflation, Baryon asymmetry, Cosmological constant problem, Dark matter/Galaxy rotation curve and Dark energy as a few examples. I am saying that consciousness has been regarded as one of those “hard” problems. It isn’t reducible to some fundamental cause or property that we can’t point to and say “ah ha..we have to have this element first before we have this “thing” we call consciousness”

          “What if being conscious is neither a property nor a thing, but a process? Something that the brain is doing rather than being?” –

          I think we can both agree that this question is most likely true. But that deosnt answer the hard problem. We know that the brain is processing information all the time. The information is coming from our sense organs, our internal memories, internal chemical and electrical states that shape our brain states, trillions of connections and feedback loops and reactions every second that give you a moment of awareness all the time. We know that if you change any one of these states at any time by taking a drug, or by drinking a beer, or by meditating or reading a book, watching a suspensful movie, then you change your state of consciousness and your state of being. But again, these only correlate to conscious “states”. Brain states are closely linked to “what” one is conscious of or how one feels but this is’t explaining HOW consciousness arises. But I do agree that consciousness is one with a process. I absolutely see it that way generally speaking. I dont subscribe to soul duality or mind body duality either. Russel Peters describes this issue in an interesting way:

      • Is it really that difficult to describe consciousness with simple words? I think it is a good exercise trying to describe it using simple words. It is easy to get lost in complicated language. Because consciousness is something that we all have intimate knowledge about, it shouldn’t be that difficult an exercise to at least pin down some of its characteristics using everyday language

        • “Is it really that difficult to describe consciousness with simple words? I think it is a good exercise trying to describe it using simple words” –

          We can of course describe consciousness simply. You are correct to say that we all have such an intimate knowledge of consciousness. Awareness is a priori. It is the only conduit we have for knowing or describing anything since it is the very experience of the things we can ever know to begin with.

          The problem becomes hard when trying to “reduce” consciousness or when we make it an objective science. The best we can do is identify and measure correlations.

          • Yes. Maybe because it is an emergent property of complex systems, it is difficult (impossible?) To reduce it to its simple parts. Because it is something that is more that the parts it consist of (?)

          • “Because it is something that is more that the parts it consist of (?)” –

            This makes sense. And I would only guess that the form of consciousness depends on the complexity or the kind of parts. But the base level for it all of it is the same ‘base’ awareness from which consciousness branches off from. Perhaps there is a base level of simple unchanging ‘beings’ or awareness and then complexity comes along and adds dimension and function so that a thing can be said to be ‘conscious’ or there is a quality of ‘being like’ a certain thing?

            We know that plants seem to exhibit a form of consciousness by the way they perform calculations and respond to stimuli, even warning other plants that may be down stream but connected by their root system. Monocellulars known as slime molds have no central nervous system but behave like conscious intelligent creatures.



  90. Here’s something I was thinking about all this the other day.

    Actions that are engaged in (by any creatures) as an instant and direct result of stimulus are things like reflexes and conditioned responses. One distinguishing feature of them is that they occur contemporaneously with the stimulus. Another is that (unless more advanced abilities are present) they are irresistible. The response will always be the immediate result of the stimulus.

    There is no need for additional processing in these types of activities and more importantly there is no need for the introduction of time. The responses are not delayed nor are they conditional upon some future possible event.

    Such a creature may well build an internal model of 3D reality in some form, and it will, at a certain level of complexity, definitely be able to store information for later use, such as “memorising” the actions to take based on a repeated stimulus so that a specific result can be consistently achieved.

    However, this 3D internal world will be instantaneous and there will be no sense of what has gone before nor anticipation of what is to happen next. Memorised information will only be triggered in the instant that the stimulus registers in the internal 3D world. Except for that moment, that stored information is inaccessible.

    I would not use the words “conscious” or “aware”, nor even “intelligent” or “sentient” to describe such a creatures inner experience.

    But all this changes once the creature evolves the ability to hold a “sequence” of states of this inner 3D world in some form of inner “ram” (as in computer memory) for a number of seconds or even minutes, so that things that change and things that remain the same can be identified.

    Such a brain is able to identify patterns that persist in time, as well as things which disrupt the patterns. The waving grass of the plains, the clouds drifting across the sky, the undulating sands or the leaves of the trees wafting regularly in the breeze are all parts of the 3D world that do not present hazard. The things that disturb the patterns, the uncharacteristic flick of the lions ear as he twitches it to unseat a fly, the fleeting movement of something in the undergrowth, the tiny dark flapping shape of a bird in the sky swooping are the things that stand out, despite being so small. And it is these things that threaten and present hazard.

    This brain can learn to spot danger before it strikes and take action. It compares each moment to the ones that passed before, on an ongoing basis, to identify the hazard hiding in the safety of patterns.

    Such a brain needs to be alert, ensuring it is getting as clear a picture of what is happening in the 3D world as possible, ensuring it does not miss the anomaly that could mean pain or death. And such a brain would have, even if to a small extent, a sense of time passing, or things occurring or not occurring, and an anticipation that something that is not now happening could well occur.

    Although I would resist applying the words “thinking”, “intelligent” or “conscious” to such a brain (or even mind), I would grant such ideas as “awareness” or “focus”, even “concentration”, to it. Such a brain has evolved to “crave” pattern (in addition to its instinctive need for food, safety and sex) and actively seeks it. But it also needs to remain alert and be continuously processing the incoming data, ceaselessly comparing each instant with the last, just in case some hazard presents itself.

    If such a brain is deprived of hazard it will tend to cease operation and go to sleep. In most cases it is fortunate that nature (or reality) provides an ongoing “barrage” of these moments, to variable extents, and thus “wakefulness” is maintained.

    If there is too little pattern, or too much randomness and hazard, the creature will become stressed and seek pattern, which could entail for example hiding in the bushes, burying itself in the sand or submerging itself in water.

    So this brain has evolved to be an organ that craves a balance between pattern and novelty at which it feels most comfortable. As we might say, stimulated but not overly so, and calm but not bored.

    Overlaying this capability, the trick of have a 3D inner world with a time component which allows an ongoing comparison of past moments with the current version, over the ability to store memories of repeated events at varying levels of complexity, we now have the basis for a mind which is able to recall objects, events or scenarios that are not currently happening.

    We also have the basis for a mind which is able to predict with varying degrees of certainty what is possibly going to happen next. In a 3D world where things tend to operate in very orderly ways in general, where not a lot changes very much from moment to moment or day today, this brain is able to create expectations which can now be compared with the current moment when it arrives, to test whether there is hazard or not.

    Such a mind now does not only have sense of the past, but a sense of the future too, to whatever extent it is capable of holding the sequences in “ram” memory. It could be a few seconds or minutes, or in advanced cases days or even years. This is all a matter of degree.

    From here it is not difficult to see how such a brain might construct, from incoming data and from stored fragments, substantially fabricated versions of the inner 3D moment to moment reality. We could call this “imagination”.

    Comparing these varying streams of “experience” on an ongoing basis allows for a very complex experience of “reality”. In probably multiple brain locations, complex neurological structures will be constantly cross referencing between the changing 3D “models”, both “real” and “fabricated”, both “past” and “current”, both “predicted” and “actual”, from the viewpoint of each sense, of each identified object in the “mindscape” and of the ebb and flow of “pattern” and “novelty”, as time passes.

    And in higher developed brains, judgments and decisions will be made.

    At some point, this cerebral structure has already passed a number of the roadmarkers that qualify its processes as “consciousness”. But a couple of steps are still to be added.

    The ability to coagulate a segment of the inner 3D world into something we can then identify with a symbol, for example an audio cue, a visual gesture or a written glyph, makes possible not only the existence of “ideas” but of language. It allows this brain not only to conceptualise this ongoing 3D timescape as constructed of “building blocks” which interact to create subsets and eventually the whole, it allows these ideas to be shared “between” similarly programmed brains. Furthermore, it allows the brain to share ideas with itself in an inwardly directed process.

    At this level of operation, where “ideas” or “thoughts” can be fabricated and used as tools to “think” about the nature of the 3D inner reality, choices of action can now be made amongst many options, after running predictions on what outcomes might result from each. Comparisons with desires can then be taken into account, and indeed an understanding of whether disruptions to pattern (and thence hazard) may result.

    This brain does not need to understand that this is what it is doing before it can be said to be “conscious” or “aware”. It just has to be doing it. It will with little difficulty develop a sense of “self” as all this requires in addition to what it already “knows” is to see what it looks like, feels like, sounds like and so on from outside itself. We develop this sense from around the age of two or three at a basic level. Of course it becomes highly sophisticated as we grow.

    There are three uniquely (as far as I am currently aware) human abilities that spring from all this as obvious corollaries, and which I will put forward in a future post, hopefully soon.

    But for now, I hope I have clearly set out my ideas as to how consciousness may well arise in a purely biological organism, with no recourse to mysticism, quantum mechanics, ethereal vibrations or the requirement of a universal consciousness (whatever these things might be taken to mean).

    If it turns out that conscious mind as a purely biological phenomenon is the answer, and if my “model” is anywhere close to the truth, then not only will we be able to eventually identify where each of these things happens in our brains, not only may we be able to fix things when they get broken inside, we may also be able to create something similar from non living materials ourselves. True artificial “consciousness”.

    If the priests, the shamans, the quantum guys or universal oneness people turn out to be right, we will be forever prohibited from understanding in any practical way what consciousness is or how it works. My bet is that they are wrong.

    • In our waking state, a continuous filtration process keeps segregating our ongoing interactions for those that are:
      1) repetitive
      2) condition based
      3) random and
      4) genetically programmed
      Rest of them are
      5) new interactions, and thus may require the power of making judgments on how to handle them. Consciousness is required only for no. 5, i.e. those that may require the power of making judgments. more http://www.consciousnessexplained.com

      • Parag – not sure I agree with your construction here.

        In order for the brain to create our internal model of the forever remote external reality, we need to process all incoming information including signals from our body itself. Once we have consciousness we become conscious of even reflex actions such as a twitch in a muscle.

        Anything at all that is not part of the pattern that persists from previous moments will be flagged up and attract our “attention” and “focus”. In other words, our consciousness, regardless of its source.

        In fact, when we are moving through sequences of 3D world time where nothing is changing from moment to moment, there will still be the expectation that something might suddenly occur that is “novel”. Without this we would not attempt to predict the future and we would have no sense of it.

        I agree that without “novelty” consciousness would not have evolved. But, by the same token, without “pattern” even the most basic brains would have been impossible. In fact, reality itself would not have come about.

        John Fowles, in his book The Aristos, puts forward a superb description of the universe as a system of “pattern” and “novelty”, of “order” and “chaos”, and of eternal imbalance between the two.

        I would resist the idea that we “filter out” repetitive information and are unconscious of it. Indeed my position is that our consciousness arises in part due to the dynamic tension between the two as we move through time in our inner 3D virtual reality.

        Regarding your point number two (by which I imagine you mean conditioned responses a la Pavlov), while I do agree that the simplest “brains” can do this without consciousness, once we have “awareness”, these responses become part of our conscious experience. I know when I am drooling, when my heart is racing or when I have an erection. They are not filtered out of my conscious stream.

        About “random” events that enter our stream of experience, surely it is precisely these things that demand our focus more than anything? These are the primary source of hazard. They behave in ways we cannot predict and thus attract our attention. Our brain wants to learn about them so we can recognise them if we encounter them again.

        Genetically programmed activity such as the heartbeat, digestion, muscular contraction at a physical level and so on, can easily become part of our conscious experience, simply through the conscious direction of our focus. More often it is because something irregular happens within those processes.

        It is true that we don’t “notice” these things most of the time but it does not necessarily follow that they are not part of the ongoing stream of our experience in the same way that the leaves on a tree, despite being just an element in a “pattern”, are part of the view we see as we observe the landscape.

        When it comes to your item number 5, the claim that consciousness is required to deal with “new interactions” suggests that creatures which lack consciousness cannot deal with novelty. To turn that inside out, it suggests that creatures that can respond to novelty possess consciousness. This would include snails, cockroaches, perhaps even some worms.

        In this context its hard to see what the “power to make judgments” could practically mean.

        • Graeme – please find the note on the bottom of the minisite – “This and other minisites are designed to explain unresolved phenomena related to the human mind and brain in a simplified manner. To understand them fully, you need to go through their detailed explanations available on the website WhatisMind.com.”

          Mechanisms underlying all that have mentioned in reply are explained as a part of the same framework, but for that, you need to go to WhatisMind.com and understand the DOS model. What is explained? What is consciousness, what is its nature, why does it exist, how, why, when and where in the brain does it emerge, how is it causally related to other phenomena like sensations, perception, thoughts, awareness, attention, pain, etc., how do conscious and unconscious thoughts influence decision making, how do conscious and unconscious mechanisms and processes work, why does consciousness offer a rich and magical feel, why are subjective experiences limited to the self, how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experiences, etc.

  91. Parag, I have spent hours wading through your lengthy discussion of your opinion as to how the brain produces consciousness.

    Has there been any concrete research to support your extensive opinion? Where might I see this? Have you proposed any? If so what was the response?

    I do think it somewhat exaggerated to claim you have fully explained consciousness, and that you’re the only person ever to have achieved this amazing feat, which would suggest that now we can all stop looking and just read your opinions.

    Have you been approached by major networks to make documentary of it all yet? Or a publisher to write it as a book? Are any leading neuroscientists paying attention to your ideas yet?

    So where precisely in the brain is the effect of consciousness created?

    • The biggest problem I face is when people say to the effect of what you have said, “now we can all stop looking and just read your opinions”. And there is a good reason for that. The entire effort of understanding consciousness has always been based on opinions and observations, may it be science, philosophy, religion or spirituality. There is no room for opinions in my account of consciousness. It is completely based on causation, which starts from the process of natural selection. When it is based on causation, one needs to understand the step by step causal logic. This makes it easily falsifiable and to refute it, one just needs to point out in which step(s) in the causal logic there is a problem. To put it differently, if I say that 2+2-2=2, you cannot blame me for my opinion.

      The answer to your question “where precisely in the brain is the effect of consciousness created” is here http://www.consciousnessexplained.com/OAC.aspx#BCL .

      It is impossible to understand consciousness without understanding how different sensory modalities work together, how attention works, how perception works and how awareness works. That is the bare minimum. Those who try to explain consciousness do not go through that route. They just form their opinions on some logic based on observations. The DOS model explains mechanisms underlying all such phenomena (I will also suggest you to visit a minisite I just published http://awarenessexplained.com).

  92. Our definition of consciousness:
    “We hypothesize that human explicit self-consciousness
    may be an active executer that intermediates
    between implicit non-conscious and unconsciousness
    and the external environment by means of feedback and
    feed-forward interactions. This executive function makes
    it possible for self-consciousness to continuously develop
    in self-organized evolution. In the waking state, human
    self-consciousness may be an abstract, language-dependent
    manifestation of the unconscious. Our self-conscious
    thinking, and every decision made at a given moment,
    may be a coherent and convergent dynamic (discrete
    events) manifestation of our unconscious processes.”

    Rev Neurosci. 2014;25(1):163-75.
    Challenges to free will: transgenerational epigenetic information, unconscious processes, and vanishing twin syndrome.
    Bókkon I, Vas JP, Császár N, Lukács T.


    • The concept of consciousness is relative to the meaning.
      Of all species, only humans can ask why, etc.
      Could we be created in the image of God. Can we conceive of God?

  93. I am the center of me. The body just sends signals to me, and for some reason I am stuck in this body, not of my own will. Wherever the body goes, I am dragged along with it. If the body gets sick or is damaged, it makes me feel miserable. Based on the above experience, it is not unreasonable to understand that there has to be a physical explanation, not so much for the “Body”, but for “Me” whatever that is. Here is an analogy… If you turn a radio on, electrons vibrate and the radio pours forth speech or music…or perhaps white noise… The speech, music or white noise (as well as heat from the components of the radio) go with the radio, where ever it goes. It is the vibration of the electrons in the circuitry that are stuck within the confines of the physical radio, that pour forth speech, music or white noise. Upon turning the radio off, it is dead. It no longer speaks, makes music or even buzzes. But does the radio “experience anything?”… And that is the rub! So our brain is really nothing more than a glorified radio that has it’s battery recharged by digestion of food, and breathing. We still haven’t gotten to what consciousness is. A radio is not self aware. So there has to be an additional component to the equation. Who or what is sensing the inputs from the sensor system (Body) we are held hostage to? An easy solution is to go philosophical. But I find that approach circuitous and unfruitful. (ie I think, therefore I am, just avoids the problem). I for one believe that since God calls himself “I Am”, only He understands what “I am”. Note the difference I use in the capitalization in the construct. In short, there is a construct for the subset {I am} of the primary set {I Am}. The properties of {I am} are inherited from {I Am}. You have to look at the primary set properties to understand the concept of consciousness. Who you are {I am} always exists independent of “The Radio” I’ve been assigned to. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to explore the properties of the primary set {I Am} to understand not only existence and consciousness, but the purpose of being. My thought is, if there is no purpose other than vibrating electrons, then why bother? I’d rather not be here, because it would be pointless. Unfortunately some philosophers have come to the same conclusion and checked out. The point is, we are here. That necessarily leads one to a very needful question… Why?? Why is much more important than what.

  94. I am not a highly learned man and the many arguments put forth really don’t answer most folks questions. I mean the above argument might as well just say consciousness just is. I mean are human beings lucky, or unfortunate depending on how you look at it, to be self aware? I mean being the only animal with a high consciousness and the only animal to invent Gods, and various other ways to avoid death, is that really an efficient way for evolution to flow? Each human is born from nothing and lives out there lives and die to return to nothing! I remember nothing before I was born and I’ll remember nothing after I’m dead but does any of that mean death is the end? What if consciousness is made up of quantum particles and what if there a special kind of quantum particles that adhere to complex and connected brains? There many highly evolved animals with complex and connected brains in the animal kingdom but none of them have our type of self awareness and consciousness. Physicist claim some very small particles act different when observed as opposed to when unobserved. Those particles don’t have visual cortex or eyes yet they sense, perceive and perhaps even see that there being observed. What if nothingness doesn’t exist, or never has existed? What if the universe permeates with consciousness or perhaps the universe its self is conscious! I don’t think human consciousness or animal consciousness dies, I think death is an illusion. I could be wrong but thats what I think. I do think consciousness is somehow cleansed of past memories before it arises out of nothing again perhaps in a parallel universe or perhaps in the same body it came from but at a different point in time. Maybe were destined to live the same life over and over again constantly dying and waking up again back in time in a constant time loop like the movie Ground Hog Day on a large scale living our entire lives over, and over and over again for eternity. Finally maybe there is nothing but what a boring and horrible ending that would be and still the question of why would persist for eternity.

    • Based on teh theory of Relativity, which seems to be a very solid theory regarding space-time, we apparently exist within a ‘Block Universe’. This means that Space-time’ always ‘is’. Time exists evrywhere in the universe. This would mean that ‘consciousness’ is a strange phenomenon of experiencing local time as a dynamic forward flowing, stream of events. But because we exist in a ‘Block Universe’, we are always beingborn and always dying and everything in between. So in a real sense, it seems there is a big possibility that we infact do ‘persist for eternity’ like the ground hog day analogy you describe!

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