Looking for definition of consciousness lands us in a myriad of conflicting ideas. From the simple 'awareness' to arguably very complex ‘a creature is conscious if there is something it is like to be' definitions galore. Some persons have equated consciousness with god, others with the soul and yet others with the self, at times using the terms interchangeably.
When I read that one word - sentience, used by Sam Harris, it immediately struck my senses that this definition had substance. After all consciousness was a sensory experience. We can't have consciousness if it was not for our senses to perceive something. Every sensory input is processed by the brain and channelised into further use and the same holds good for consciousness as well. No matter how much exalted your consciousness is, it can’t foretell anything about the behavior of a conscious creature. It is highly subjective or phenomenal and we come to know of it only after some involuntary action had already happened.
There are a number of processes going on in various organs inside our body. Are we conscious of them? Human brain is processing lots of data at any given time and trillions of neurons are in action which we are not conscious of. A wound is healing but the individual is not conscious of the healing process. And when a malignant mutation is taking place somewhere inside the body, a medical scanner is required to detect it, not consciousness. What does consciousness do then? The closest analogy we can make is with ‘free will’ since consciousness is said by some to be directing functions of the brain. However, scientific studies on ‘free will’ have revealed that consciousness has always lagged behind involunteer acts of brain. In a sense consciousness is a thing of past as far as conscious observations / experiences are concerned.
Is consciousness some extra ability in addition to the ones we have like perceiving and feeling (sensory)? If yes, it means we evolved without it and it somehow got embedded into functioning of the brain. Where did it come from and with what functionality?
If on the other hand this is something intrinsic to our brains then do we have a need to make the issue complex by pursuing it? Why not then apply Ockham’s razor to consciousness and leave it aside for all practical purposes?
In my earlier blog post I raised this question; what would have happened if consciousness, as it is known, was removed from the human brain? Here is another similar dilemma which I'd like to portray in a hypothetical scenario like this:
Assume a human being without knowing any language or manners of expression (linguistic or sign). How would that individual then convey to others his conscious feelings? And in a society of such individuals (it is not an animal state) it would be impossible to consciously communicate unless human brain adapted to the new reality and devised some ways of doing so. Releasing of hormones or scents and / or developing special organs like compound eyes or heat and vibration seeking forked tongues, helps animals get over the problem. That was all possible through evolution. Since I have portrayed this problem for a human state, it appears consciousness would be helpless unless the brain worked a way out.