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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What IS Consciousness

This perplexing puzzle has confounded researchers for several millennia. It is, in fact, a fairly easy problem to solve as long as you don’t start with details and expect, after some investigation, to discover something which you failed to define in the first place. Researchers identify various brain functions and arbitrarily declare them to be part of consciousness even if those functions are in part or whole not even discernable by a conscious individual. Any overarching model of consciousness will necessarily cross over all disciplines concerned with consciousness, not something any scientist focussed on their own specialisation are either equipped for or willing to attempt. The necessary compartmentalization of models with only modest interdisciplinary collaboration has failed to progress Consciousness Studies.
As the evidence for the existence of consciousness in any living system or anywhere else at all comes from the subjective reports of individuals it is prudent to start there, with the assumption that, based on the reports of individuals, consciousness exists and forms some kind of inner world and inner experience. We can, therefore, with some confidence state that in the living human consciousness serves the brain that hosts it, in turn the brain serves the body that hosts it and the body primarily hosts, maintains and extends life including the tools, conditions and environment that supports life and this is the primary purpose of the body.
Running the other way we note that life needs a physical substrate to host it and the physical substrate must be able to perform several functions in support of life, namely to maintain it for some period of time and allow it proliferate in some form. Biological models of life outline the necessary properties of a living thing and evolution by natural and sexual selection outlines the behavioural direction of all living things, the ‘Selfish Gene’ being a more recent model that considers the progress of information accompanying all living things.
The body has several tools with which to perform this task including the organs that includes the nervous system. The nervous system has numerous tools with which to perform its duties including perception, decision making, information storage and a consciousness function which can also be described as ‘life’ in neuronal form.
Whatever the purposes of life are, being in common with all living entities right from the very first here on Earth, they are also the purposes of the body, brain and consciousness. Whilst ultimate purpose may be inaccessible to empirical investigation, those purposes or functions, in generic form, less than the ultimate purpose certainly can be known, outlined and identified with the functions of consciousness. Biological sciences have already identified most of the properties of life and these properties encapsulate all living things and not just primordial living cells.
Subjectively, we ask what it would be like if the life of an individual could reach out through the brain and communicate with us? It can and does. Consciousness can be described as life in neuronal form. We can only see the contents, functions, structure and some of the purposes of life and consciousness but we can not see or capture these directly. Therefore it is prudent to consider what can be known or investigated empirically and leave the reality to the only tool capable of detecting it directly, that is, each individual within the orb of their own subjective experience.
Robert Karl Stonjek