once as a freshman in college I found myself scribbling about the ways that consciousness might arise randomly under certain circumstances. our brain surely evolved under completely random circumstances – so we are at least one random arrangement of atoms that has a sense of self. so maybe other arrangements of atoms pop into existence every now and then that also have a sense of self – and maybe those arrangements are not necessarily brains, or even living.
it’s easy to think that brains are necessary for consciousness. but maybe not. sure, we’ve got a brain with tons of chunks and parts – but if none of those parts are in and of themselves conscious, and if we are relatively complex life-forms that evolved randomly….then perhaps less-complex (non-living) forms that evolved under the same random processes might briefly or spontaneously become conscious.
for example – should consciousness be introduced when a physical system has _________ characteristics, and should those characteristics be emergent in more systems than simply brains, then it’s possible that little selves are emerging and disappearing all over us very quickly all the time.
then i stumbled upon the Boltzmann Brain concept online and realized my idea was not innovative whatsoever. but it’s cool to think that someone reached the same odd conclusion/paradox so long ago.
Why would one reward end up being more powerful than another? Where do individual differences come in to decide which rewards are pursued? Which brain regions and systems go into these types of attributes?
Well this is a terrifying thing to stumble upon at 2:41 in the morning.
Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.
Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.
last wednesday i was finishing up acting class at Macalester when my tummy began to rumble. time to stuff some food into my abdomen! despite receiving some 200 hours of acting training from professor Harry Waters Jr since last year he and I had not yet grabbed lunch together – big mistake. we walked down to the St. Clair broiler & sat down in a booth next to the uncomfortably large fish mounted upon the wall.
mr marvin berry & i discussed some of the more topical/superfluous/symptomatic elements of our conscious experience: how things are going lately, a few stories about youth & a bit of personal background, etc. it was the typical type of conversation that most humans have. amidst our conversation about parenting, teaching, and life there was an older gentleman sitting one booth over reading a book. when we finished our dessert & got up to leave the fellow, wearing a red sweater and a friendly smile, got our attention.
“Sorry to interrupt you two, but did I hear you talking about teaching a few times?”
“Well, yes, you did!”
“Are you a teacher? Or, I mean, do you teach? I teach. I used to be a professor over here at St. Thomas, which is why I ask.”
& so the conversation began. Harry had to leave after a brief period of time but professor Tom Sullivan and I went on to chat for over an hour. he’s a philosopher who is extremely well respected and well versed in the areas of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and theology. it was quite enjoyable to have an extended conversation about consciousness with someone who is equally (or more) informed, intrigued, and stumped by the hard problem of consciousness. we discussed the merits of nagel and chalmers (duh) and the shortcomings of koch and crick (sorry, boys). Tom was nice enough to offer an extended explanation of what he finds to be the problem with creating a theory of consciousness. In a later blog post I will lay that out (or perhaps just upload my notes from the conversation).
“…But, to determine more absolutely, what Light is, after what manner refracted, and by what modes or actions it produceth in our minds the Phantasms of Colours, is not so easie. And I shall not mingle conjectures with certainties.
Reviewing what I have written, I see the discourse it self will lead to divers Experiments sufficient for its examination: And therefore I shall not trouble you further, than to describe one of those, which I have already insinuated.
In a darkened Room make a hole in the shut of a window, whose diameter may conveniently be about a third part of an inch, to admit a convenient quantity of the Suns light: And there place a clear and colourless Prisme, to refract the entring light towards the further part of the Room, which, as I said, will thereby be diffused into an oblong coloured Image…”
Newton, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 80 (19 Feb. 1671/2), pp. 3075-3087.