Tuesday, January 31, 2012

377: Consciousness and Unity

Consciousness has three aspects that make it different from other biological phenomena, and indeed different from other phenomena in the natural world.

These three aspects are qualitativeness, subjectivity, and unity. These three essential features of consciousness are logically interrelated.

Qualitativeness - 'it feels like …'- implies Subjectivity - the quality of being MY experience- which implies Unity - consciousness not experiences as a big bag of individual experiences -

This unity, what is meant by that? Philosophers love to talk about mental states. Common sense thinking concludes ..ok so consciousness is a multitude of mental states.

We are inclined to believe that mental states are a kind of stand alone states, as if consciousness is a kind of big container with all kinds of states on board.

But while thinking about the text of this lecture I also can feel a pain in my fingertip, while I have cut myself, but yet I go on formulating sentences.

In other words, all conscious experiences at any given point in an person's life come as part of one unified conscious field.

If I am sitting at my desk looking out the window, I do not just see the sky above and a backyard and a lawn,

and at the same time feel the pressure of my body against the chair, the shirt against my back, and the aftertaste of coffee in my mouth, rather I experience all of these as part of a single unified conscious field.

So, when thinking of all these "separate" conscious states, in fact I am thinking of just a number of different centers of consciousness.

It is a remarkable fact that within my conscious field at any given time I can shift my attention at will from one aspect to another.

So for example, right now I am not paying any attention to the pressure of the shoes on my feet or the feeling of the shirt on my neck. But I can shift my attention to them any time I want.

An interesting problem related to our experiencing the unity of consciousness is called the "binding problem" or how the unity of conscious perception is brought about by the distributed activities of the central nervous system.

When I see an animal, brain scans show that a number of separate areas in the brain are active. Yet we don't experience a kind of puzzle in ourselves, which we have to put together. We just see a tiger and the environment.

Just as the visual system binds all of the different stimulus inputs into a single unified visual percept, so the entire brain somehow unites all of the variety of our different stimulus inputs into a single unified conscious experience.

This kind of instantaneous unity has to be distinguished from the organized unification of conscious sequences that we get from short term memory.

For example, when I speak a sentence I have to be able to remember the beginning of the sentence at the time I get to the end if I am to produce coherent speech.

Whereas instantaneous unity is essential to, and is part of, the definition of consciousness, organized unity across time is essential to the healthy functioning of the conscious organism, but it is not necessary for the very existence of conscious subjectivity. Also people with memory problems are conscious persons.

This combined feature of qualitative, unified subjectivity is the essence of consciousness and it, more than anything else, is what makes consciousness different from other phenomena studied by the natural sciences.

The problem is to explain how brain processes, which are objective third person biological, chemical and electrical processes, produce subjective states of feeling and thinking.

How does the brain get us over the hump, so to speak, from events in the synaptic cleft and the ion channels to conscious thoughts and feelings?

This qualitative, subjective unity, which we experience as our consciousness and emphatically this unity, may perhaps be one of the biggest neuroscientific challenges.

The Discussion

[2012/01/24 13:22] herman Bergson: Thank you...
[2012/01/24 13:22] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks..the floor is yours
[2012/01/24 13:22] Lizzy Pleides: brilliant again!
[2012/01/24 13:23] harmoniasophia Scribe whispers: Hi everyone
[2012/01/24 13:23] Farv Hallison: Thank you Prof Bergson.
[2012/01/24 13:23] herman Bergson: Thank you , Lizzy
[2012/01/24 13:23] Jarapanda Snook: well done Herman - that will set me thinking for days
[2012/01/24 13:23] bergfrau Apfelbaum: and ty herman
[2012/01/24 13:23] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ***** APPPPPPPLLLLAAAUUUSSSSEEEEEEE***********
[2012/01/24 13:23] herman Bergson: That sounds good Jara
[2012/01/24 13:24] herman Bergson: But the unity of consciousness is to me the greatest mystery....
[2012/01/24 13:24] Mick Nerido: Do u think we will ever know how a brain becomes concious?
[2012/01/24 13:24] herman Bergson: THAT is the big question Mick....
[2012/01/24 13:25] Jarapanda Snook: What is The Id? Is that the part that we know as a cognitive unity, despite it comprising of nothing more than electrical pulses?
[2012/01/24 13:25] herman Bergson: We know how molecules can get in a state of liquidity....we know the conditions...
[2012/01/24 13:25] herman Bergson: Well Jara...that is the point....
[2012/01/24 13:25] herman Bergson: how do these braincells do it....
[2012/01/24 13:25] herman Bergson: the thing is....
[2012/01/24 13:26] herman Bergson: not a single brain scans shows whatever unity...
[2012/01/24 13:26] herman Bergson: But yet we experience it....
[2012/01/24 13:26] Farv Hallison: Can a string of zeros and ones become conscious?
[2012/01/24 13:26] herman Bergson: I would say NO...Farv...
[2012/01/24 13:26] Lizzy Pleides: nods*
[2012/01/24 13:27] Jarapanda Snook: If a series of electrical impulses in out brains can become conscious, can a computer ?
[2012/01/24 13:27] herman Bergson: for the simple reason that they are produced in chips....not in th ecomplexuity of our brain
[2012/01/24 13:27] Jaelle Faerye: i think if they could, our computers would have told us
[2012/01/24 13:27] herman Bergson: You all are going too fast....!
[2012/01/24 13:27] Jarapanda Snook: well - what if the computer senses itself, regardless of the fact that it is in a load of chips?
[2012/01/24 13:27] Farv Hallison: What if the values keep changing so if you watch them closely you can decode a message?
[2012/01/24 13:28] herman Bergson: part of the processes in the brain is electircal...
[2012/01/24 13:28] herman Bergson: but that is not the whole brain
[2012/01/24 13:28] herman Bergson: We love to compare the brain with a computer and the mind with the computer program....
[2012/01/24 13:29] Mistyowl Warrhol: Is the function of consciousness, really something that evolved to help processs what our senses have picked up, so we can decide which data we have received is a threat vs food?
[2012/01/24 13:29] Lizzy Pleides: it can only be a simulation or a copy of our consciousness
[2012/01/24 13:29] herman Bergson: it is a simplification in my opinion
[2012/01/24 13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Lizzy....of course computers can simulate waht a brain does....
[2012/01/24 13:29] herman Bergson: but it still is a symbol shuffling machine....
[2012/01/24 13:30] herman Bergson: with no understanding at all
[2012/01/24 13:30] Agnos (agnos): Thank you Herman
[2012/01/24 13:30] Jarapanda Snook: but how do we know that a computer of the future would not reach a level of complexity at which it becomes conscious?
[2012/01/24 13:30] harmoniasophia Scribe: isn't the brain a symbol shuffling machine also?
[2012/01/24 13:30] herman Bergson: I don't think that such suggestions ar erelevant, Jara....
[2012/01/24 13:31] herman Bergson: We also could say...
[2012/01/24 13:31] herman Bergson: how do we know how the homo sapiens will continue his evolution.....and grow wings for instance
[2012/01/24 13:31] herman Bergson: no Harmonia , the brain isn't….
[2012/01/24 13:32] herman Bergson: the brain works with meanings...symbols have meanings
[2012/01/24 13:32] harmoniasophia Scribe: meaning is a symbol
[2012/01/24 13:32] herman Bergson: for a computer no symbol has any meaning....
[2012/01/24 13:32] harmoniasophia Scribe: you cannot have one without the other
[2012/01/24 13:32] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): *smiles
[2012/01/24 13:32] herman Bergson: it is us who assign meaning to what appears on the screen
[2012/01/24 13:33] Sybyle Perdide: the pc is not the point.. imagine we have one, complex enough to "imitate" the brain.. what we need too, is a software.. and there we are again at the point were we are now
[2012/01/24 13:33] Jarapanda Snook: how will homo sapiens evolve further, Herman. All of Darwin's forces have been taken out of our condition.
[2012/01/24 13:33] harmoniasophia Scribe: when we speak of happiness we never speak of happiness in itself- e always reference it to something that causes our happiness - the form from which it was received - we identify objects with meaning
[2012/01/24 13:34] herman Bergson: yes, harmonia....
[2012/01/24 13:34] Lizzy Pleides: why objects?
[2012/01/24 13:34] herman Bergson: and Sybyle...I only can point at th eChinese room agrument of John Searle here
[2012/01/24 13:35] herman Bergson: Do you think so, Jara....?
[2012/01/24 13:35] harmoniasophia Scribe: so our shuffles symbols by way of the meaning which is inteconnected to how we felt
[2012/01/24 13:35] harmoniasophia Scribe: our brain^^
[2012/01/24 13:36] herman Bergson: if evolution is an interaction between organism and environment we still see evolution
[2012/01/24 13:36] Lizzy Pleides: we probably think in associations but is it an object always?
[2012/01/24 13:36] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Is this John Rogers Searle?
[2012/01/24 13:36] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): (wikipedia)
[2012/01/24 13:36] harmoniasophia Scribe: however abstract the symbol is - it still is an object
[2012/01/24 13:36] herman Bergson: At least John Searle, Mick…don't know that second firstname
[2012/01/24 13:37] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Hmm
[2012/01/24 13:37] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Born 1932?
[2012/01/24 13:37] Lizzy Pleides: for the computer i agree
[2012/01/24 13:37] herman Bergson: yes 1932
[2012/01/24 13:37] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes that must be him then :)
[2012/01/24 13:38] Farv Hallison: That is a nice year, when the neutron was duiscovered/
[2012/01/24 13:38] herman Bergson: the neutron or the neuron Farv?
[2012/01/24 13:39] Farv Hallison: neutron.
[2012/01/24 13:39] herman Bergson: ok
[2012/01/24 13:39] herman Bergson: You mean it was discovered in 1932?
[2012/01/24 13:39] Jaelle Faerye wishes she would have invented the neuron
[2012/01/24 13:40] herman Bergson: Well anyway....to get back to consciousness...
[2012/01/24 13:40] herman Bergson: We experience ourselves as one person...an "I", a self....
[2012/01/24 13:40] Farv Hallison: nuclear physics was invented because thety knew the the nucleous was mage of protons and neutrons.
[2012/01/24 13:40] Jarapanda Snook: yes - and how do you see how future human evolution will affect what we call consciousness?
[2012/01/24 13:40] herman Bergson: That is the hardest thing to explain neuroscientifically
[2012/01/24 13:41] Jarapanda Snook: Herman - how do you see how future human evolution will affect what we now call consciousness?
[2012/01/24 13:42] herman Bergson: That is a very complex issue Jara.....
[2012/01/24 13:42] Jarapanda Snook: and one i ponder often...
[2012/01/24 13:42] herman Bergson: on the one hand the human brain is inits basic responses to its environment still at the level of the chimpanse
[2012/01/24 13:43] Mick Nerido: Is consciousness an inevitable result in our universe?
[2012/01/24 13:43] herman Bergson: on the other hand we have the development of civilisation....
[2012/01/24 13:43] herman Bergson: I would say it is a coincidence Mick
[2012/01/24 13:43] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): People say then man has evolved very little in 100,000 years
[2012/01/24 13:43] herman Bergson: not a necessary result of the configuration of matter
[2012/01/24 13:43] Mistyowl Warrhol: But unfortunately, humans have learned to control their personal enviorment.. so they are losing the ability to adapt.
[2012/01/24 13:44] Mick Nerido: yiu mean it did not have to happen...
[2012/01/24 13:44] Jarapanda Snook: excatly, Misty - my point precisely.
[2012/01/24 13:44] herman Bergson: I don't agree with you Misty..
[2012/01/24 13:45] Mistyowl Warrhol: We live in air conditioned homes and drive air conditioned vehicles..we do not adapt to extremes any more.
[2012/01/24 13:45] herman Bergson: But there is a big distance between different aspects of our way of being.....
[2012/01/24 13:45] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): I think I know what Misty is saying
[2012/01/24 13:45] herman Bergson: Ah in that way....
[2012/01/24 13:45] Jarapanda Snook: we now control our environment and protect the weak, so I propose that we may not evolve much further at all
[2012/01/24 13:45] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): ooh
[2012/01/24 13:45] harmoniasophia Scribe: we do?
[2012/01/24 13:46] Mistyowl Warrhol: But those that live, say in Alaska or africa and have not the modern things, they will still be able to evolve.
[2012/01/24 13:46] herman Bergson: well Jara....we grow older than our ancestors to begin with
[2012/01/24 13:46] Sybyle Perdide: why not, Jara?
[2012/01/24 13:46] Jarapanda Snook: what evolutionary forces are going to encourage humans to become, for example, more intelligent?
[2012/01/24 13:47] Farv Hallison: We will let the non conforists die because they can't afford healthcare.
[2012/01/24 13:47] Jarapanda Snook: that is due to increases in public health
[2012/01/24 13:47] Mistyowl Warrhol: But As Jara is implying, where the weak used to die off, now they live and so it is not the strong that survive and reproduce.
[2012/01/24 13:47] Sybyle Perdide: may be not more intelligent, but intelligent in another way
[2012/01/24 13:47] Mick Nerido: We are all accidental ....
[2012/01/24 13:47] herman Bergson: Hold on...!!!
[2012/01/24 13:47] Mick Nerido: not inevitable
[2012/01/24 13:48] herman Bergson: This is not right!
[2012/01/24 13:48] harmoniasophia Scribe: evolution is the process of exchanging equal and opposite effects - that this is the case - it nets zero - gives the appearance of pregress but is equal regress - and to the one who sees it as the case is doing the same thing over and expecting different results
[2012/01/24 13:48] Mistyowl Warrhol: but it is bad, that everyone has a chance now..?
[2012/01/24 13:48] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): this is a bit off-topic but still interesting
[2012/01/24 13:48] herman Bergson: Does anyone know Stephan Hawkins???
[2012/01/24 13:48] Lizzy Pleides: yes
[2012/01/24 13:48] Sybyle Perdide: this frustrated man?
[2012/01/24 13:48] Hokon Cazalet: yes
[2012/01/24 13:48] Mick Nerido: yes
[2012/01/24 13:48] Mistyowl Warrhol: Love Doc, Hawkins, my idol !!!
[2012/01/24 13:48] herman Bergson: One of the greatest astrosientists of this century...
[2012/01/24 13:48] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): yes i know him
[2012/01/24 13:48] Jarapanda Snook: of course
[2012/01/24 13:48] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Some say he is the most famous man in the world
[2012/01/24 13:49] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): or... the most recognizable perhaps
[2012/01/24 13:49] Mistyowl Warrhol: For sure the most intelligent
[2012/01/24 13:49] Jarapanda Snook: and amazing considering his health problems
[2012/01/24 13:49] herman Bergson: He would have been dead as we wouldn't have kept the weak alive and took care of them
[2012/01/24 13:49] Hokon Cazalet: correct herman
[2012/01/24 13:49] herman Bergson: there wouldnt have been that great scientist
[2012/01/24 13:49] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): But without reproduction there is no evolution
[2012/01/24 13:49] Mistyowl Warrhol: As I said, is it wrong to let the weak survive?
[2012/01/24 13:50] herman Bergson: SO I guess that the weak - strong dichotomy is a bit obsolete today
[2012/01/24 13:50] harmoniasophia Scribe: Hawkins is a joke
[2012/01/24 13:50] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): aww thats not nice
[2012/01/24 13:50] harmoniasophia Scribe: the truth sometimes hurts
[2012/01/24 13:50] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): how can you say that Harmonia
[2012/01/24 13:50] Hokon Cazalet: i'd also add, evolution does not favor intelligence or strength in themselves, what can survive until it reproduces it what goes on - what works this century may not the next
[2012/01/24 13:50] herman Bergson: No Harmonia...that is an argumentum ad hominen....forbiddenin this class
[2012/01/24 13:51] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): lol
[2012/01/24 13:51] Jarapanda Snook: I suspect that as soon as humanity reached a certain point, when it became civilised and conscious, the natural forces of Darwinism were diminished
[2012/01/24 13:51] harmoniasophia Scribe: In so far as psychology is concerned - I wholly agree with Einstein - we cannot fix a problem with the same mind that created it - and that is the case with all mans knowledge - he just continually excerbates the problem
[2012/01/24 13:51] herman Bergson: frowns....
[2012/01/24 13:52] herman Bergson: that is a kind of metaphysics Jara....
[2012/01/24 13:52] Hokon Cazalet: i think so jara, given that we don't have isolated populations, we make ourselves more and more immune to changes in the enviroment [we make nature change for us], etc
[2012/01/24 13:52] herman Bergson: you presuppose some kind of reality here with forces and so on.....
[2012/01/24 13:52] Farv Hallison: no, we are still evolving by letting the fittest corporations survive.
[2012/01/24 13:53] herman Bergson: Besides that....any evolution takes thousands of years...
[2012/01/24 13:53] Hokon Cazalet: yup
[2012/01/24 13:53] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): We can read faster than one person can write but not as fast as 10 can write
[2012/01/24 13:53] herman Bergson: we can t see the changes
[2012/01/24 13:53] harmoniasophia Scribe: oh Hokon that is merely the opposite side of the see saw - eventually we will push it past the limit and the sides will reverse
[2012/01/24 13:53] Hokon Cazalet: dunno, oxygen producers were quite successful in changing this planet . . .
[2012/01/24 13:53] Jarapanda Snook: NO - I simply imply that Man has reached a certain point, and we won't evolve much further. SO speculation about us developing into super beings is irrelevant
[2012/01/24 13:53] Lizzy Pleides: we can watch differences in thinking between tge generations
[2012/01/24 13:54] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): society is changing rapidly
[2012/01/24 13:54] Hokon Cazalet: evolution doesn't imply super-beings btw, there isn't an Aristotelian ladder
[2012/01/24 13:54] harmoniasophia Scribe: and eventually the planet will compemsate for our theft and push back
[2012/01/24 13:54] Mistyowl Warrhol: Some changes are being seen, as we have better health, we are seeing ppl with higher intelligence and taller bodies, even in the last 100 years.
[2012/01/24 13:54] Jarapanda Snook: I also suspect that this level of consciousness may be a limiting point for all intelligence in the Universe
[2012/01/24 13:54] herman Bergson: Evolution is a randomprocess without a goal...so superbeings...why that direction?
[2012/01/24 13:55] Lizzy Pleides: exactly herman!
[2012/01/24 13:55] Sybyle Perdide: yes
[2012/01/24 13:55] herman Bergson: maybe eventually we return to the sea
[2012/01/24 13:55] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): No goal ... I agree
[2012/01/24 13:55] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Dawkins says that
[2012/01/24 13:55] herman Bergson: Oh does he..lol
[2012/01/24 13:55] Mistyowl Warrhol: I would love the return to the sea :)
[2012/01/24 13:55] Mick Nerido: Most mutations are harmful...
[2012/01/24 13:55] harmoniasophia Scribe: herman when you blow up a balloon past its resistance it will burst - not because it is intelligent or has a goal - but because it has a limit
[2012/01/24 13:55] herman Bergson: yes...never rainy days anymore!
[2012/01/24 13:56] Mistyowl Warrhol: evolution is a direct response to our eviroment.
[2012/01/24 13:56] herman Bergson: Well my friends.....
[2012/01/24 13:56] herman Bergson: looks at his watch...
[2012/01/24 13:56] herman Bergson: A lot to think about....
[2012/01/24 13:56] Jarapanda Snook: awwwww I was so enjoying this
[2012/01/24 13:56] herman Bergson: all will be in the blog , if you want to reread it
[2012/01/24 13:56] Jarapanda Snook: Thanks Herman for your time
[2012/01/24 13:56] Mistyowl Warrhol: We were just getting started :-)
[2012/01/24 13:56] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Yes, a nice get - together
[2012/01/24 13:56] Jarapanda Snook: hehe
[2012/01/24 13:56] herman Bergson: This was a great discussion indeed Jara...
[2012/01/24 13:57] Mick Nerido: Thank herman good lecture!
[2012/01/24 13:57] Jarapanda Snook: I thoroughly enjoyed that
[2012/01/24 13:57] herman Bergson: so thank you all for you terrific participation....
[2012/01/24 13:57] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[2012/01/24 13:57] Sybyle Perdide: thank you! Herman
[2012/01/24 13:57] harmoniasophia Scribe: lol
[2012/01/24 13:57] Mistyowl Warrhol: awwww sniff
[2012/01/24 13:57] Farv Hallison: Thank you for being provocative.
[2012/01/24 13:57] Jaelle Faerye: thanks all
[2012/01/24 13:57] Lizzy Pleides: Thanky Herman
[2012/01/24 13:57] Mistyowl Warrhol: TY, Herman. for a very thought provoking topic :-)
[2012/01/24 13:57] Hokon Cazalet: lol, i just got here, i always fail when i say "i'll be there in just a moment"
[[2012/01/24 13:58] herman Bergson: Allunanswered questions and remarks of you will keep your brain going....
[2012/01/24 13:58] Hokon Cazalet needs a watch
[2012/01/24 13:58] Merlin (merlin.saxondale): Bye everyone
[2012/01/24 13:58] Jaelle Faerye: bye Merlin

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