Is Consciousness Discrete?

Jo!hn johnhkm at
Mon Oct 4 06:11:50 EST 1999

Doug Klimesh <dougklim at> wrote in message
news:37F78505.7A221256 at
> "Jo!hn" wrote:
> > But haven't we already found a number of "mechanisms" of consciousness?
> What mechanisms of consciousness have been found?  Sure we have more
> than a basic understanding of how the brain and neurons work, but can we
> point to a mechanism and say, "consciousness is due to this"?

Consciousness is due to many things. At this point I prefer not to think it
is due to some special hidden thing we haven't yet discovered. I prefer to
think that the task before you boffins is find ways to integrate this vast
amount of information, then the question may be answered. I do not think of
consciousness as a singular thing but as a concept we use to explain our own
experience in the world. I don't know what consciousness is so I see no
warrant for presuming it is a single mechanism and would be very surprised
if it was. And I'm a closet Zen Buddhist!

> > It
> > seems to me that you choose to perceive consciousness as this discrete
> > "out there" somewhere interacting with the world. I'm not even sure that
> > dichotomy is valid,
> Just the opposite.  I say that consciousness is not discrete and there
> is no dichotomy.
> > I don't think you can think about consciousness without
> > the environment.
> What about a pure consciousness without any environment?  For example
> when a person is dreaming they are (some type of) conscious but are not
> interacting with the world.  Or a brain without any sensory input.  A
> computer will still compute whether there are any input devices attached
> to it or not.

Dreaming is only part of the picture, we are always in touch with the world.
The brain may shut down in some ways during dreaming but it's still in
touch. We sleep peacefully because brains keep listening to the environment.

A brain without any sensory input will cease to be a brain. Solitary
isolation and sensory deprivation are good tortures. Brains are dynamic,
their stablility arises because of an ongoing interaction. Take that away
and the whole thing begins to crumble. Consciousness will be not destroyed
immediately but it will be eventually.

> >  For myself consciousness is a coalition of processes. That
> > may or may not be true, it is too early to tell, but the evidence seems
> > be pointing that way.
> What kind of processes?  What evidence?

If we have found no processes then why this discipline called AI? Isn't it
premised on the belief (?) that we understand something about how organisms
interact with the world. Processes abound, the literature is full of it.

Perhaps the difference here is that I don't see consciousness as something
hidden amongst all the detail but rather as the coalescence of all these
details. We have to dissect to understand, at some point, hopefully
(although I'm still with D. T. Suzuki [zen scholar], "The sword cannot cut
itself."), we can begin to find ways to see how all these processes working
together  give rise to consciousness.

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