What is
consciousness?

Consciousness is
a topic that millions of people have tried to figure out over millions of
years, but no human has come to a definitive answer. One of the problem is the fact
that we cannot compare consciousness to anything physical. It is like to see
the colour blue, to taste sweets or to feel happy or sad. Philosophers call
this phenomenology. Unlike other stuff, it is not something we can point to or
hold in our hand. It is not something we have been able to calculate or visualise
using computer simulation or even our imagination. The dictionary definition of
consciousness is “the state of being aware of and responsive to
one’s surroundings. “But this does not seem to explain why we are conscious,
how ewe are different from unconcious people and how our brain seems to make
sence all the information from all our senses.

The
study of what consciousness started millions of years ago, not with scientists
or philosophers studying it, but Hindus meditating to connect themselves with a
“higher consciousness.” By meditating they wanted to connect to a higher state
of consciousness. The Egyptians also had a simple
understanding of what consciousness was. They believed in “Ka” and “Ba” which
were connected to consciousness and its importance. Through the many years,
people have been trying to find out how our brain works through clinical
methods, until the 21st century where we have the MRI scanners where
we can see the brain people its work live. This has changed the way we think
about consciousness and how our brains work differently to people who are in a
coma or people who are unconscious.

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David Chalmers
published a paper in 1994 explaining why understanding consciousness was so
hard. He was not the first to analyse these challenges but he was
the first to categorise them into easy and hard problems. The “easy problem”
was to explain how our mind receives and process our information from our
senses to create focus and attention. Explaining this is not easy as pie but
the nervous system and how it reacts in different conditions can determine it.
The “hard problem” in contrast is much harder to solve- near
impossible. The hard problem is determining why or how consciousness occurs
given the right arrangement of brain matter.

So why do people
think that the “hard problem is insolvable”. There are two arguments
supporting this view. The first argument is that our weak brains are not able
to find a solution because our brains do not have the ability to take in the
vast amount of information and then process it, which would then lead to an
understanding of consciousness. The second argument supporting the statement is
that a solution to a problem requires that you not be part of the problem. What
does that mean? To solve a problem, or the argument, you must have an
understanding of the facts and mechanisms that lead to the problem. But since
that all of us reading this are conscious, we can never come to a decisive
conclusion that isn’t bias.

But this this
argument fails to cover the fact that we can use inductive thinking to find
out. The dictionary definition for inductive thinking is “Inductive reasoning
is a style of reasoning in which decisions are made and conclusions are reached
by a process of analysing available evidence and past experiences.” But in
simple terms inductive thinking is the “bottom-up” logic we often use to
construct our daily lives. One way we use induction every day is when choosing
what to wear. We choose a particular type of outfit to wear based on past
weather. If we know the outdoor temperature has been 25 degrees Celsius for the
last 10 days, we can assume it will be hot outside, thus it is appropriate to
put on a short-sleeved t-shirt and even some shorts. Of course, you could be
totally wrong by using inductive thoughts. For example, this summer you might
find that a 25-degree day follows a 12-degree day. In that case the belief you
arrived is false. But induction seems to work in many most of the time. So,
it’s unclear why we could not use inductive reasoning to solve the hard
problem.

Another idea
called functionalism. This theory says that the brain holds many different
mental states which are then chosen by the function or role they play in a
given system. Under this theory, mental states exist as causal relations to
other mental states, like a mutual relationship. Functionalism is especially
popular among a group called computationalists, those who believe the brain is
just a biological implementation of a computer. According to computationalists
the brain is a supercomputer which is physically able to realize mental states
and crate the concept of consciousness.

Descartes, a French philosopher, proposed the idea of “cogito
ergo sum” (I think; therefore, I am), which suggested that the act of just
thinking demonstrates the reality of a someones existence and consciousness.
Today, consciousness is often viewed as an individual’s awareness of their own
internal states as well as the events going on around them. If you can describe
something you are experiencing in words, then it is part of your consciousness.

In the last few decades, neuroscientists have begun to attack the
problem of understanding consciousness from an evidence-based perspective. Many
researchers have sought to discover specific neurons or neural networks that
are linked to conscious experiences. They have been trying to look at patients
in comas and differentiate their brain activity to healthy humans

Modern researchers have proposed two major theories of
consciousness:

Integrated information theory attempts
to look at consciousness by learning more about the physical processes that
underlie our conscious experiences. The theory attempts to create a measure of
the integrated information that forms consciousness. The quality of an
organism’s consciousness is represented by the level of integration. This
theory tends to focus on whether something is conscious and to what degree it
is conscious.

The global workspace theory suggests
that we have a memory bank from which the brain draws information to form the
experience of conscious awareness. The Integrated information theory has been widely
accepted and criticized.

An Italian Scientist Dr. Giulio
Tonoi introduced the system of phi in 2004, a scale of consciousness. Everything
on earth has a phi scale. Our human brains have a high phi; in contrast a
computer hard drive has a low phi. You might be wondering why a hard drive has
a phi score, this is because of how phi is calculated. Phi is a measure of the
extent to which a given system—for example, a brain—is capable of fusing these
distinctive bits of information. A hard drive can store information but cannot
make any use with it, while a human brain can store information and use it to
calculate and/or perceive emotions and senses.

 

To conclude
consciousness is a vast topic with many people having understood it in
different ways. David Chalmers introduced the hard and easy problem which has
been widely accepted and is the most popular theory to this day. Closer to the
21st century we have been analysing the problem from many different
angle. There are two major theory’s- IIT and the global workspace theory. A
famous scientist who devotes his life- Dr. Tonoi- to find the answer of what
consciousness is has introduced the system of measuring consciousness “Phi”.
The topic is so vast and is discussed so much that many scientists travel to
America during the 1st week of April to go to the “science of consciousness”
a conference to put forwarder new theories to see how they can be proved wrong.
A bit of fuel for thought, if you can remove half of your brain and still live,
what happens if you connect your half of a brain to someone else’s- who are
you?

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