Friday, September 16, 2011

Of Consciousness and confusion

The common viewpoint and generally accepted definition of consciousness is “awareness of the self or I”. This concept of “I” makes most of the confusion related to consciousness. Honestly, I haven’t so far been able to understand, accept or deny, or define this phenomenon which even science has just started studying and philosophers have always found difficult to handle.

Is consciousness something which has not been already defined? Is it different from human behavioural traits like perception, value judgement, sociability, emotions, and morality etc.? In short does consciousness at all exist as a separate and unique phenomenon?
If yes, then where does it come from? Is it something innate to our brain or it comes from outside of our physical self? If intrinsically related to our brain as a physically caused phenomenon then consciousness really doesn’t deserve any privileged position vis a vis other behavioural traits.

If it is something external to brain (not necessarily supernatural) where is it from and what is its purpose? We know every organ in our body, including brain, is meant for some function. Can consciousness manifest without being physically caused and then overwhelm and become causal of brain’s functioning? If yes, how and where does it fit in the evolutionary process if at all?

One viewpoint is about epiphenomenalism of consciousness. That is it has no causal powers. If that be the case, why bother about it? Could it better be left aside as non-existent or decidedly given another name, say, perception – which we already know a lot about scientifically?

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At Sunday, September 25, 2011 3:33:00 PM , Blogger Herbert Peters said...

Understanding consciousness from its antonyms or opposites
1. Fainting is the temporary loss of consciousness. The fainting person becomes, pale, begins to perspire, and then loses consciousness and collapses. He also has a weak pulse and dos not breathe regularly. Fainting usually lasts only a few minutes. As the fainting passes the muscles becomes firm, the pulse eat is stronger, and breathing becomes regular.
Fainting is caused by a rapid and great fall in blood pressure which results in a too small supply of blood to the brain. Usually the rapid fall in blood pressure is due to some mental or physical shock.
Fainting person should be treated by letting the person lie stretched out with the head slightly lower than the body. The person’s clothing should be loosened, and he should be given plenty of room and air. In a few cases hot applications to the back and legs can be used. A dash of cold water to the face or a whiff of ammonia to the nostrils is sometimes helpful.
2. Death is permanent loss of consciousness? Today I killed a black widow; it (or its consciousness) tried to escape. But after stamping it; it lay unconscious for ever!
It looks like that during unconsciousness, attention is disabled. Attention must be the primary survival instinct of all living things. Even plants move towards light, more like people migrate towards more rewarding socio-economic conditions.
Evolution of consciousness in matter was the theme around Sri Aurobindo Ashram and auroville.
Today, I arranged ‘The Human Animal’ by Hans Hass after Illusion, delusion, and hallucination. How much consciousness is there in animals and during illusion, delusion or hallucination?
Then I kept a Xerox copy inside ‘The Human Animal’. It read as follows:
• Our supposed rationality is one of the most prized possessions of human beings and is often alleged to be what distinguishes us most clearly from the rest of animal creation.
• There appears to be close links between having a capacity for conceptual thinking, being able to express one’s thoughts in language, and having an ability to engage in processes of reasoning. (Structure of our language is also the structure of our thoughts – a limiting factor.)
• Even chimpanzees, the cleverest of non-human primates, seem at best to display no sign at all of engaging in the kind of theoretical reasoning which is the hallmark of human achievement in the sciences. (Is that what we are doing?)
• However, the traditional idea that rationality is the exclusive preserve of human beings has recently come under pressure from two quite different quarters, even setting aside claims made on behalf of the reasoning abilities of non-human animals.
o On one hand information technology revolution has led to ambitious pronouncements by researchers in the field of artificial intelligence, some of whom maintain hat suitably programmed computes can literally engage in process of thought and reasoning.
So we come to evolution of consciousness in machines!
o On the other hand, ironically enough, some empirical psychologists have begun to challenge our own human pretentions to be able to think rationally.
Herbert Peters
The following also is about consciousness:

At Thursday, September 29, 2011 11:28:00 AM , Blogger R K SUDAN said...

Understanding a phenomenon from its ‘opposite’ is a perfectly valid method. Science is working on models that take the course of tracking events backwards. The Big Bang model is being tested the similar way.

In reply to a comment on my original post “Of consciousness and confusion” I asked, what will happen if we hypothetically removed consciousness from human beings. Will they cease to exist as human beings in absence of consciousness? Of course, all my doubts and reservations on the subject remain while this ‘removal of consciousness’ cropped up as a vague idea.

My friend Herbert Peters seems to have independently given this idea a serious thought and come up with a caption as above. However, I’d stick to word ‘opposites’ leaving out ‘antonyms’ that sounds too literal.

Herbert has cited ‘Fainting’ and ‘Death’ as two examples of the processes involving temporary and permanent loss of consciousness. I’d like to take on the permanent part as it somehow appears to be approximately in consonance with my vague idea of removal of consciousness.

Death is more than a mere permanent loss of consciousness, I think. To understand death we take the help of its ‘opposite’ – life. Life starts with Germ-plasm (that abiogenetic jelly like globule of protoplasm called cell of life) but as we go up the evolutionary ladder from simple to complex, life starts developing somatic cells which carry the element of death in them. Somatic cells die but the germ (plasma) cells don’t. Death, therefore, is a failure of one or more of the organs having somatic genesis. Then a brain dead person is technically alive and so is the one in terminally deep coma. However, consciousness in both the cases is absent implying that permanent loss of consciousness is possible even without being dead.

Attention is another grey area in this matter. Herbert’s statement – it looks like that during unconsciousness, attention is disabled – appears to be true but its opposite is also true. Consider children quarrelling in your back room while you are busy with something else. Unless you are told about their fighting you may not even notice them shouting and crying. This implies that attention could be disabled even you are fully conscious. The ticking of the table clock by my bed side is noticed only during night when no other sound draws my attention. I’ll struggle to explain what I had for breakfast and that too only when you asked me about that, else that thing doesn’t appear to be in my consciousness.

Does this mean; a) something is not happening if I am not aware of that (children quarrelling). Where is my consciousness then in the first place which pops up suddenly when I am made aware of an event happening within my audible range? And, b) Am I doing many things automatically without being conscious of them (ref: Libet’s free will experimentation) like going through routines like having breakfast?

My idea is not semantics. What I am interested to know is how consciousness came into being and whether it directs human brain to do things in a particular way or this is purely a function of brain like cognition, perception, attention etc are.

At Tuesday, October 04, 2011 3:49:00 PM , Blogger Herbert Peters said...

Understanding consciousness from exploitation and foolishness
“Fools are a gift of god, we should use them,” wrote Anu a nursing student.
When she was an 8th standard student, she went to play with a boy of 6th standard to another friend’s house, where there was a ferocious dog that had chased her on few occasions. So she gave the younger boy an advice, “If the dog comes, tell it: ‘Chapatti Board’, then it will go away”
When they started playing the owners of the house put the dog under a big basket. But after a while the dog let loose and started chasing Anu. The boy, like a hero, jumped in front of the dog and said the magic words. And the dog responded with a bite.
Priya’s friend Sophie, a beautiful plus 2 girl, was in love with an engineering student since many years. While her love continued with the engineering student, she started a new love with her classmate Kishore – Priya’s cousin.
“Why are you fooling Kishore?” Priya asked Sophie.
“What can I do, he is giving me sweets and gifts. If I don’t accept them he would be sad. But this way both of us are happy. So why is it wrong?” Sophie replied.
When men get married, they have lots of love and devotion to their wives and children:
Thomas was an handicapped autodriver. He couldn’t walk as he had very short legs due to birth deformity. Being from a wealthy family, the parents purchased an auto for his son to earn a living. Then an attractive girl of their own church fell in love with him and both got married and lived very happy for about four years and had a son.
Out of love and trust, Kesav transferred his house and property to his beloved wife – Sallly.
Months later, sally was missing. Thomas came to know that she was living with another autodriver of the same auto stand, so he went there with his son and called her back.
She refused to go back with him.
The next day morning, Thomas left his son with his mother and went back to his home and hung himself.
When a child is born, parents are filled with hope and fantasies about how he is going to change them and their world. Like any other animal we too bestow all love and care for the helpless infant.
Before Thomas was born there must have been high hopes, but after birth it must have been such a painful experience. Still parents took care of him.
But it is only male instinct to become addicted to a beautiful woman.
And any type of addiction destroys health, relationships and wealth. And religion is definitely an addiction.
Jesus said to Peter –the fisherman, “Come with me. You don’t have to catch fish any more. From now on you will catch men”

At Wednesday, October 05, 2011 5:18:00 PM , Blogger Herbert Peters said...

What should this ‘consciousness’ do for us?
Super consciousness and superhuman beings?
The following is from a small booklet – The heaven of the heart.
“Escape from yourself and be free
“Are you afraid of the shadows that darken the path that you thread – the fears and the doubts that beset you when wondering what lies ahead? …
Remember they are noting but shadows and shadows are cast by the light – so cling to the hope that is in you, then all will be well and come right.
When thoughts of despair and self-pity shadowy ghosts haunt the mind – you live in perpetual twilight – no glimmer of pleasure you find. Walk straight through the cobwebs of worry. Just brush them aside and you’ll see – the things that you feared were but phantoms.. Escape from yourself and be free.”
Awareness of the self is awareness of our fears?
No, it is not just the fears: our habits, conditioning and culture.
• Progress is achieved through paradigm shifts
• Knowledge organization is achieved through paradigm shifts

Kuhn, Thomas (Samuel) - U.S. historian and philosopher of science.
Born July 18, 1922, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., died June 17, 1996, Cambridge, Mass.
He taught at Berkeley (1956–64), Princeton (1964–79), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1979–91). In his highly influential work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), he questioned the previously accepted view of scientific progress as a gradual accumulation of knowledge based on universally valid experimental methods and results, claiming that progress was often achieved by far-reaching “paradigm shifts.” His other works include The Copernican Revolution (1957), The Essential Tension (1977), and Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity (1978).
Paradigm shift is the background or context changing thru new values and interests


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