Consciousness: I Think Therefore I Am, Or Am I?

Pic: Atchama (CC)

Pic: Atchama (CC)

Let me just begin by stating that I was once one to subscribe to just about any belief system which claimed to have an esoteric model that could coincide with contemporary physical theory. However, as time has progressed and I grow gradually older and more skeptical, I’ve come to disregard nearly everything that mashes up buzzwords like “quantum” with any new age or occult idea. Where I once sought to justify my esoteric practices with at least some sort of reasonably functioning model of reality (perhaps due to my insecurity as a developing magician) I have come to realize that magick needs no apologetics to function within the world I exist in. While I see drawn out explanations for consciousness or paranormal occurrences such as the one seen in Peter Caroll’s “Apophenion” as useful to some who may have difficulty with the “suspension of disbelief” aspect of Chaos Magick, I feel that it detracts from the real core of the work, which to me is learning by experience. The old maxim “If it works, use it, if not, throw it out” tends to be a motto I try and base my life work upon.

That being said, I had a very thought provoking conversation with a friend of mine, who also happens to be a budding astrophysicist. The question, which remains unanswered, is a glaring remnant of philosophical solipsism. How can I be certain that I am actually a conscious being, making conscious decisions, when everything that occurs within me is the result of some physical process? How would we know if we are actually nothing more than passive observers, seated in the cockpit of the human body, led to believe that every decision made was our own, when it was in fact determined causally?

At first I was hesitant to go down this road, and tried to prompt him to maintain an empirically materialist perspective, but I also knew from past experience how this question could loom over one’s head and occupy the obsessive hours of restless sleep. How do we know that when we wake up each day, we’re not in a different body than we were the day before? Can consciousness make “quantum leaps” into various body’s? The only thing that can be said for certain is that there is still much ground to be covered in every aspect of the sciences, and that although many cosmologists believe we are in fact on the verge of obtaining a bonafide unified field theory, we are still ages away from realizing what that means with regard to consciousness.

The question is persistent, and is a lingering relic of a time when the only theory of consciousness was embedded deep within the spiritual dogma of the time. It is my belief that consciousness arises as a result of increasingly complex neurological processes, and that this is the reason we are seeing progressively more intelligent machines.  To those unfamiliar with the “technological singularity”, it’s something of a grand ‘rapture’ for brainiacs; an almost religious hope that at some point in the near future, Moore’s Law, which indicates an exponentially increasing complexity of machine architecture, will somehow give way for machines to become entirely self conscious, and that we will be delivered unto an “ever accelerating progress of technology and change in the mode of human life, which [will] give the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue” to quote Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann.

If we do, in the years to come, come to witness an emergence of machine intelligence which parallels our own consciousness, it will provide us an understanding of the way in which our own consciousness came to exist. Many who still ascribe to the old model of soul-constituting-consciousness, as an entity independent of the physical body, likely would not submit belief into the idea that machines had become self-aware, as clearly, machines have no soul endowed within them by an external creator. But if the prediction of some scientists, transhumanists, and philosophers come to pass, it should say something about evolution and the development of consciousness.

Could it be that at a previous point in our species’ existence we operated more mechanistically? We’re we, as slaves to our baser instincts for survival, like the machine? Coded by our genetics to persist in an increasingly entropic development of human civilization? Only time will tell at this point, and until that day comes we are condemned to endlessly debate. But does not the fact that this question has risen in the first place indicate that we are in fact making the decisions which govern our behavior?

10 Comments on "Consciousness: I Think Therefore I Am, Or Am I?"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Jan 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm |

    it was the Buddha
    who discovered quantum vibration
    he speculated that anything that snaps in & out of existence
    @10 to the 13th power
    cannot possibly be real in the way wee think of real

    human consciousness is extremely limited
    wee can only perceive ~5% of the known universe
    wee don’t know how thoughts are formed or their origin
    most can’t control their thoughts or their behavior with 100% certainty
    wee tend to make snap judgements based on limited data & perceptions
    our consciousness is easily manipulated by external factors
    it’s the only tool wee have with which to experience life

    and yes
    If it works, use it, if not, throw it out

  2. Simon Valentine | Jan 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm |

    not entropic
    see “birthday paradox”
    and other statistical misdemeanors

    or look for information/discussion regarding “the zeroth law of thermodynamics is wrong” (or any of the l.o.t.)

    carbon is four, or something else tends towards that result, and four dimensions, four seasons, four four four four >.< ?

    did you know that given a unit regular tetrahedron (all edges the same length) that it is impossible to connect a fifth point to all of the four points such that the distance between the fifth point and each of the four is an integer based on said unit? that is, unless the fifth point is exactly where one of the other four are. superposition. error, or complicated way of doing something wrong? breaking the law of simple, Q is.

    • Simon Valentine | Jan 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm |

      for a somewhat less demeaning statistical reference try Pascal’s triangle

  3. Gjallarbru | Jan 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm |

    On the idea that complicated systems give rise to consciousness, I would say that correlation is mistaken for causation. Consciousness is certainly more detectable or blatant within complex systems, but that neither means that they cause consciousness, or that complex systems have an exclusivity on consciousness.

    So, in my opinion, machines can certainly give rise to expressions of consciousness given sufficient hardware with adequate software to run it. Should machine ever become conscious in a similar to humans, it neither diminishes nor differentiate itself from me, save for the physical form.

    But, I highly doubt that the brain in my skull actually generates my consciousness, for a multitude of experiences that I have had. Granted, they are subjective, and quite a few are hard to reproduce, but not all. Having a incredible talent to link up with animals, I see their consciousness in their behavior, yet they are nowhere near our human neurology.

    In other words, correlation is not causation. Pretending that complexity, as if a vertue onto itself, creates consciousness is nothing more than presenting correlation as causation. The problem here is that science mesures, and consciousness can’t be mesured with current means. So consciousness can’t be study by our current sciences as to its true origins. Many scientist ignore consciousness as a valid study subject, and I suspect it is a sort of admission that they just don’t have the means.

    It is possible that consciousness shall always be a subjective, impossible to mesure experience. The fact that we still can’t mesure it, like a material thing, should point to its immaterial origins. I would think, if consciousness should be of the material world, we would already have a mesure for it, like megahertz for a processor. The fact is, we don’t have a scale, a mesure, and this is a clue as to consciousness’s nature.

  4. BuzzCoastin | Jan 21, 2014 at 3:36 pm |

    what most call consciousness is not consciousness
    pure awareness is consciousness

    thoughts, emotions, actions
    are all perceptions of consciousness
    not consciousness itself
    if you look carefully you’ll notice
    consciousness is omnipresent

  5. I was going to leave a comment about what i thought about consciousness, but it took some weird turns. So I think i might try to submit it to Disinfo

  6. kowalityjesus | Jan 21, 2014 at 8:28 pm |

    I think I am just going to stick with Descartes for now, lol.

  7. Empath TwentyThree | Jan 21, 2014 at 8:40 pm |

    I suppose you could say that I am rather biased being in the “anatman” camp Gjallarbru. Anyways, the article was not meant to be definitive, it was only meant to stimulate thought. I certainly don’t know how this thing works. There are many great models, but in the end it really is up to personal taste.
    As to your ascertation that there is no measure of consciousness, many have been devised, though none of them certainly ‘take the cake’ so to speak. The turing test is a decent example, and there are definitely many more, but unfortunately my limited understanding of mathematics cannot convey any of these ideas adequately.

    • Kevin Leonard | Jan 22, 2014 at 12:56 am |

      The Turing Test is no measure of consciousness, but a measure of an A.I.’s ability to deceive another that it is a self-governing and self-motivated awareness. Which is an interesting thought, in itself, considering the ego’s assertion that it is a self-governing and self-motivated awareness.

  8. Monkey See Monkey Do | Jan 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

    “Many who still ascribe to the old model of
    soul-constituting-consciousness, as an entity independent of the
    physical body, likely would not submit belief into the idea that
    machines had become self-aware, as clearly, machines have no soul
    endowed within them by an external creator.” – There is no basis for this argument. It would actually take someone to consider that the soul can exist everywhere to postulate that a machine could contain the awareness of a human. Shamans, mystics and pantheists the world over see ‘soul’ in objects that materialists take for granted as inanimate or lifeless. Ie: The planets, the plants, mountains, natural phenomena. As for having the soul endowed by an external creator. It makes perfect sense to the pantheist that if computers become self aware (or already have), that we humans are their creators. We would have endowed them with a ‘soul’.

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