What is Consciousness?


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Here is what scholar Stuart Sutherland has said about the term "consciousness": "Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it."

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon (quoting IOE, p. 106), here is one way Ayn Rand describes consciousness: "For instance (on the adult level), when a man sees a woman walking down the street, the action of his consciousness is perception; when he notes that she is beautiful, the action of his consciousness is evaluation; when he experiences an inner state of pleasure and approval, of admiration, the action of his consciousness is emotion; when he stops to watch her and draws conclusions, from the evidence, about her character, age, social position, etc., the action of his consciousness is thought; when, later, he recalls the incident, the action of his consciousness is reminiscence; when he projects that her appearance would be improved if her hair were blond rather than brown, and her dress were blue rather than red, the action of his consciousness is imagination."

The Rand quote obviously refutes the Sutherland quote, but the questions I wish to focus upon with this thread are these:

1. How is that which we think of as "consciousness" seperate from that which we think of as "self"?

2. Is the full breadth of our thinking the full breadth of our self, and thus our consciousness?

3. If our thoughts are objects which can be "observed" (e.g., "why is my mind racing so much today?"), what do we call that which does the observing?

4. Rand has said that consciousness is identification--what then is the identity of consciousness?

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This one is for the scholars but I will take a stab at 1 and 2.

It is about defining consciousness and self. Consciousness is a physical process which happens inside the brain. The self is a concept (created by the consciousness applied to thinking about it) which includes the individual body and its actions. And the rest, I suppose, is philosophy.

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This one is for the scholars but I will take a stab at 1 and 2.

It is about defining consciousness and self. Consciousness is a physical process which happens inside the brain. The self is a concept (created by the consciousness applied to thinking about it) which includes the individual body and its actions. And the rest, I suppose, is philosophy.

You seem to be saying that consciousness is a verb, rather than a noun. Sound right?

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1. I think our concept of consciousness comes from our deepest sense of self, but converted to a universal by observing the same essential characteristics of ourselves in other living things. If that's true, then we must first become aware of ourselves before we can become aware of consciousness in others.

3. Do we observe our thoughts? No, the observation is the thought. Thought is mental focus is controlled awareness is consciousness.

4. Consciousness is most certainly more than a physical process (Carol's definition), it entails an awareness of self which allows for free will (choice based on more than instant gratification).

I didn't understand the 2nd question. The full breadth of our thinking is the full breadth of our consciousness, by definition, but I don't know why you put "our self" first in the question.

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1. I think our concept of consciousness comes from our deepest sense of self, but converted to a universal by observing the same essential characteristics of ourselves in other living things. If that's true, then we must first become aware of ourselves before we can become aware of consciousness in others.

3. Do we observe our thoughts? No, the observation is the thought. Thought is mental focus; deliberate thought is consciousness.

4. Consciousness is most certainly more than a physical process (Carol's definition), it entails an awareness of self which allows for free will (choice based on more than instant gratification).

I didn't understand the 2nd question. The full breadth of our thinking is the full breadth of our consciousness, by definition, but I don't know why you put "our self" first in the question.

Very helpful thoughts. Thank you.

As to question 2, I am driving at the question of whether our "self" is simply (merely?) the sum total of our thoughts, or whether consciousness (as a noun, not a verb) is something independent of those thoughts, and, as such, subject, for instance, to the law of idenitity. I realize the questions bleed together somewhat.

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This one is for the scholars but I will take a stab at 1 and 2.

It is about defining consciousness and self. Consciousness is a physical process which happens inside the brain. The self is a concept (created by the consciousness applied to thinking about it) which includes the individual body and its actions. And the rest, I suppose, is philosophy.

You seem to be saying that consciousness is a verb, rather than a noun. Sound right?

It is a noun describing a process of action, like flight or thought. In grammar, at least, there is no "rather than" but a combination of verb and noun, as with gerunds.

But I think I see where you are going. Yes, "consciousness" as a noun could also be considered a concept. I see it as a description of a process.

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This one is for the scholars but I will take a stab at 1 and 2.

It is about defining consciousness and self. Consciousness is a physical process which happens inside the brain. The self is a concept (created by the consciousness applied to thinking about it) which includes the individual body and its actions. And the rest, I suppose, is philosophy.

You seem to be saying that consciousness is a verb, rather than a noun. Sound right?

It is a noun describing a process of action, like flight or thought. In grammar, at least, there is no "rather than" but a combination of verb and noun, as with gerunds.

But I think I see where you are going. Yes, "consciousness" as a noun could also be considered a concept. I see it as a description of a process.

I bring up your work boots and you bring up gerunds. Is that how this is going to work?

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This one is for the scholars but I will take a stab at 1 and 2.

It is about defining consciousness and self. Consciousness is a physical process which happens inside the brain. The self is a concept (created by the consciousness applied to thinking about it) which includes the individual body and its actions. And the rest, I suppose, is philosophy.

You seem to be saying that consciousness is a verb, rather than a noun. Sound right?

It is a noun describing a process of action, like flight or thought. In grammar, at least, there is no "rather than" but a combination of verb and noun, as with gerunds.

But I think I see where you are going. Yes, "consciousness" as a noun could also be considered a concept. I see it as a description of a process.

I bring up your work boots and you bring up gerunds. Is that how this is going to work?

Am I on the wrong thread? I left my work boots at the pub. At least I remember taking off the left one. It was pinching and the pinching got so annoying, and the conversation turned to philosophising...

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Very helpful thoughts. Thank you.

As to question 2, I am driving at the question of whether our "self" is simply (merely?) the sum total of our thoughts, or whether consciousness (as a noun, not a verb) is something independent of those thoughts, and, as such, subject, for instance, to the law of idenitity. I realize the questions bleed together somewhat.

I changed a part of my last post because thought is always deliberate, otherwise it's just awareness. Got my terms mixed up a bit.

As for the question, we do the thinking, so we are not the thoughts themselves. Do we create the thoughts or have them? We create the focus, but not the object of the focus. There's a lot of stuff our brain does without us telling it to, obviously. But do we limit our concept of self to that which we can control?

To function in reality, we have to include our unconscious processes into our concept of self simply because of our unconditional dependence on them.

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....and then the bill came and I dont remember anything else and I cant find my right boot either, I must have worn it home though...man if I lose another pair of boots the foreman is going to freak out....

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Very helpful thoughts. Thank you.

As to question 2, I am driving at the question of whether our "self" is simply (merely?) the sum total of our thoughts, or whether consciousness (as a noun, not a verb) is something independent of those thoughts, and, as such, subject, for instance, to the law of idenitity. I realize the questions bleed together somewhat.

I changed a part of my last post because thought is always deliberate, otherwise it's just awareness. Got my terms mixed up a bit.

As for the question, we do the thinking, so we are not the thoughts themselves. Do we create the thoughts or have them? We create the focus, but not the object of the focus. There's a lot of stuff our brain does without us telling it to, obviously. But do we limit our concept of self to that which we can control?

To function in reality, we have to include our unconscious processes into our concept of self simply because of our unconditional dependence on them.

Is thought always deliberate?

When your mind chatters away while driving home from work, bouncing from one random topic to another without rhyme or reason, are those thoughts deliberate? I don't think they are.

In fact, getting to the nub of the purpose of the thread, what is "it" that notices the mind chatter/random thoughts? Isn't that (i.e., that which notices our random thoughts) our "self"?

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But you don't notice the thoughts, you notice the thinking; or that you've been thinking. The effort required to think is deliberate, the information in our brains is not controlled by us, but accessible to us.

When you're driving home and you focus on one thing in your brain, then jump to a connected concept, you do that deliberately. You may not be aware of any other options, and so the choice is between continuing with your momentum or breaking the train of thought.

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But you don't notice the thoughts, you notice the thinking; or that you've been thinking. The effort required to think is deliberate, the information in our brains is not controlled by us, but accessible to us.

When you're driving home and you focus on one thing in your brain, then jump to a connected concept, you do that deliberately. You may not be aware of any other options, and so the choice is between continuing with your momentum or breaking the train of thought.

I don't agree with your first sentence. Random thoughts are, by definition, not deliberate, and thus are not "thinking", per your formulation. Can you explain, or have I misinterpreted?

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The object of the thoughts may be random, but the effort to focus is chosen.

Can we watch ourselves thinking? If thought is focus on a concept, then we must focus on our concept of self, which does not think. So no, we can recall thinking, but we cannot watch ourselves think.

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The object of the thoughts may be random, but the effort to focus is chosen.

Can we watch ourselves thinking? If thought is focus on a concept, then we must focus on our concept of self, which does not think. So no, we can recall thinking, but we cannot watch ourselves think.

Per your first line, chosen by what?

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PDS, you are the one thinking, correct? If it's you thinking, then you are not the one watching the thinking.

I'm going to go ahead and say that if we are going to talk about the "self", we ought to limit it to one action at a time. That does not mean that we cannot organize the automatic functions of the brain, like flipping switches, in a way, but we cannot focus on more than one thing at once.

Consider a drummer playing four different patterns, one with each limb... it takes time to learn how to multitask like this, but that is just a matter of maneuvering one's focus, rather than focusing on multiple things at once. It's like regular multitasking, like cooking, you time it so you check on one pan at an opportune moment, but you are not literally focusing on many things at once... you're just bouncing around.

Sorry, it's just that this topic is important as a starting point for something I've been thinking about related to ethics--normative proportionality (rationality) and an overall appreciation of what one has.

The fundamental trait of consciousness, or conscious beings, is having. Are our bodies alive? Or are we alive, because we have our bodies? The concept of consciousness comes before the concept of possession.

Is consciousness a process or a force (like gravity)? I'd argue that is a force that acts upon matter, and in that sense I am a dualist. Does consciousness come from unconsciousness? I believe consciousness is the result of organized awareness.

I believe awareness is something without self-control, but if you get the right mix, things start to happen.

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If one were to zoom in to the brain at the subatomic level one would see mostly "empty" space, and yet when one zooms out to normal human vision and scale we see an intelligent operating human with values, goals, and emotions. Teh question is; Why (or how)? I believe intelligence gathers iteslf together on micro and macro scales via communication that we have not been able to discover or understand yet, even though this idea has been posited by some scientists. In other words, consciousness is not the brain, the brain is the reciever. This is one of the main reasons why I am a Deist and not an atheist.-I don't think that consciousness can be reduced to mere physical reductionism, even though definite physical laws of nature are at play.

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The object of the thoughts may be random, but the effort to focus is chosen.

Can we watch ourselves thinking? If thought is focus on a concept, then we must focus on our concept of self, which does not think. So no, we can recall thinking, but we cannot watch ourselves think.

Per your first line, chosen by what?

The object of the thoughts may be random, but the effort to focus is chosen.

Can we watch ourselves thinking? If thought is focus on a concept, then we must focus on our concept of self, which does not think. So no, we can recall thinking, but we cannot watch ourselves think.

Per your first line, chosen by what?

By a specific process of the functions of the processes being discussed here, those of consciousness and the consciousness of consciousness, beyond there be dragons.

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I think this discussion is aided by the consideration of whether consciousness is a noun or a verb.

The Rand quote speaks of "the acts of his consciousness," which implies that it is a noun. In other contexts, she calls consciousness a "faculty".

If something is a noun, it exists.

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Reductio ad absurdam. A noun is definition of the type of words which describe things, a thing cannot "be"be" its own descriptor. you are just saying that existence exists.

It doesn't?

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