Consciousness

pavan03 Monsieur_Lynx at brown.edu
Wed Nov 12 23:58:58 EST 2003


"Dio" <dadaismo at tin.it> wrote in message news:<9yasb.6880$9_.283969 at news1.tin.it>...
> Is consciousness produced only by brain or it could be produced by a machine
> too?

Ah, there are 2 different views here. One is called physicalism, the
other's called dualism.
1)Physicalism would hold that all that exists in the universe is
matter. There's no such thing as a non-physical soul. We don't
perceive anything like a mind, or a soul, so how do we know such
things exist?  What we call consciousness is produced by the brain.
2)Dualism holds that 2 distinct types of things that exist. One is
matter, the other is consciousness. What I am (or you are) is
consciousness. The body that I'm *in* (note the very careful use of
terminology here--people often ask questions like whether or not I
*have* a soul. That is, they identify themselves with the body and
wonder whether or not there's a soul *in* them, which leads to
puzzlement over what death is, problems of personal identity, etc.
etc.)

So you see, people who believe in physicalism would think of the brain
as somehow producing consciousness. Then, when the brain stops
functioning, there is no more consciousness "produced" by it.
  People who divide up existence into physical substances (that is,
something made of matter), and non-physical substances (soul, that is,
I, the thing that persists though the body I'm in continuously
changes), would say the *presence* of consciousness, that is, my
existence, makes this brain function. When I'm no longer there,
there's no point in my brain continuing to function.  In this view,
the brain is reduced to a purely mechanical device, just sending
signals to the right parts of the body, knowing about as much as any
other machine does, and "producing" consciousness the way my computer
produces consciousness (that is, not at all).
   The first view is fairly prevalent, and I think the reason for that
is
1)We observe that consciousness is very closely tied to the brain.
2)Most of the people who think of the brain as producing consciousness
don't think of consciousness as a "substance", so to explain
consciousness in terms of what they see (that is, the brain
controlling the operation of the body), they assume that the brain
somehow produces "awareness".

But an important point to make is just because there are correlations
between the brain and what I experience doesn't mean that the brain
itself is somehow producing consciousness, nor does it mean that it's
possible to explain consciousness strictly in terms of the physical
body.
  In other words it's entirely possible that there is this substance
that's composed of consciousness (which is what I am, what you are).
If I exist, then then this body functions. When there's no longer a
soul in it, then this body becomes a corpse. The soul would then be
the sentient thing--that is, what's capable of experiencing, what's
aware of the objects perceived by the physical body.  It's a bit of a
strange concept, because an "individual" is then not the body, but the
soul in the body. And knowledge, instead of being reduced to
electrical signals/composition of atoms, would then be stored in me
(the soul), that substance that's made of consciousness.
   What if the brain actually does store knowledge?
1)If brain cells get replaced over time, so should the knowledge
that's stored in it.
2)If knowledge is stored in my brain, rather than in me, then when I'm
no longer there, and my brain's still around, one would expect to find
"knowledge" contained in it!
3)The input that enters my eyes for example, is simply light waves.
This somehow would have to be converted into "knowing" what's out
there, which is bizarre--how would anything be able to extract
knowledge out of light rays?
   What if the brain actually does produce consciousness?
1)The question then would be, what is then aware of what the brain
produces?  You have a brain producing consciousness. For example,
let's assume that when light rays bouncing off an object enter the eye
& reach the brain, the brain somehow produces "awareness" (whatever
that means) of that object.  What then perceives this? If an object
produces light/sound, there has to be an observer? Clearly, **I** must
perceive whatever the brain is producing. What then am I? It follows
then that I am something distinct from the body, which would then go
against the concept that everything is physical in nature.

[note: I don't agree with the viewpoint that the brain produces some
sort of consciousness, then there is something which perceives it.
Rather, I like to think of the brain as a sort of an "engine" for the
body--just a bunch of parts mechanically functioning. Changes to it
however, result in an experience being perceived by me, since the body
is a medium for the soul. And this matter-consciousness gap is
something to be resolved later...]

2)Has anyone observed the brain producing consciousness? If not,then
there's no scientific evidence that the brain produces consciousness.
If the electricity observed is itself consciousness, then why can't
matter & energy found elsewhere be considered consciousness? If it's
argued that the brain still somehow does produce consciousness, we
then have a case of a physical substance producing something
non-physical.

   It seems like this viewpoint that the brain produces consciousness
is so problematic, and that question that you ask does raise an
interesting point. If the brain actually produces consciousness, isn't
it possible that some other machine can also produce consciousness?
What if a device were constructed that mimicked the electricity of
brain waves, would it then be "thinking" or producing consciousness?
The answer, at least to a dualist, would quite obviously be no, who
would argue that consciousness is a substance, whose presence makes
the body "alive", not something produced by matter.  Indeed, just
because there are changes to my body (controlled by my brain) whenever
I am conscious of something, does that mean that my brain has
something to do with "producing" consciousness or that consciousness
can be explained solely in terms of the brain?
   So essentially, substance dualism has to be thoroughly rejected
before the viewpoint that the brain produces consciousness can be
brought forth [which leads to a whole MESS of problems--you can't
define life, you can't explain the continuity to an individual through
a changing body, you can't explain how everything in the physical
world is deterministic but we are not, you can't explain what was
there in a living body that's not there in a dead body, it becomes
fuzzy to decide which material things are conscious, and what things
aren't, etc.)
Yes, I know I'm equating I=soul=consciousness, which I believe has
been done before. Perhaps more light could be shed concerning this?

Monsieur Lynx



More information about the Neur-sci mailing list