What do you mean by consciousness?

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deepone
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What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby deepone » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:01 pm UTC

What I would like to see in this thread is not a discussion about consciousness but free descriptions of what consciousness means to you.

Too bad: Participants should feel free to discuss and debate the specifics of any proposed definitions. Please see here for reference.

- Az


The reason that I'm starting this thread is that I feel like I'm starting to have a bit of trouble relating to peoples conceptions of consciousness. In some ways, I don't believe in consciousness any more and I'm starting to forget why one thinks it's important. Could you please remind me? :)

Very briefly, I think that consciousness is essentially a cultural construction, based on what we remember about interpreted perceptions. Nothing strange about it and certainly nothing that would, for example, separate humans from animals. To be clear, that's not an argument, it's just (a compact approximation of) how I happen to see it now.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby philsov » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:25 pm UTC

Being aware. And being aware that you're aware. And being aware that you're aware of that.... and on and on and on.

Manifestations of this include recognizing yourself in a reflection and willed motor control.

I don't believe in consciousness any more and I'm starting to forget why one thinks it's important.


Your belief in it is secondary to its existence. You still get to reap the benefits of it.

The importance is on both the personal and species level -- but it is essentially the quality that allows us to be proactive instead of merely reactive.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:37 pm UTC

philsov wrote:Being aware. And being aware that you're aware. And being aware that you're aware of that.... and on and on and on.

This, basically. I'm not sure how to test it, but AFAIK, no animal aside from humans has shown awareness of their own awareness. I wouldn't be surprised if some species had it, but I hold that those species are unique insofar as being particularly intelligent. This is basically my definition; consciousness is the state of being aware of your own awareness.

deepone wrote:Very briefly, I think that consciousness is essentially a cultural construction, based on what we remember about interpreted perceptions.

I very much disagree with this definition.

deepone wrote:Nothing strange about it and certainly nothing that would, for example, separate humans from animals.

And I very much disagree with this statement. I think you should study some animal behavior a bit; the vast majority of animals are not by any stretch of the mind conscious in the same way humans are.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Nem » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:18 pm UTC

I think of it as the ability to stand in a dispositional state, i.e. to experience associative pain and pleasure. That seems to require subjective experience and at least some sort of modelling of the world. To have an internal narrative or imagination or whatever you want to call it. I'd be hesitant to make my criteria any more restrictive than that because consciousness is a very important part of how I decide whether to care about you or not. If the puppy's not conscious, it really doesn't matter if you kick it to death; it's not like there'd actually be anything with - for lack of a better term - a soul in there.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:26 pm UTC

Nem wrote: If the puppy's not conscious, it really doesn't matter if you kick it to death; it's not like there'd actually be anything with - for lack of a better term - a soul in there.

Wat?

Organisms can experience suffering without being conscious.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Nem » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:32 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Nem wrote: If the puppy's not conscious, it really doesn't matter if you kick it to death; it's not like there'd actually be anything with - for lack of a better term - a soul in there.

Wat?

Organisms can experience suffering without being conscious.


I don't see how. You can't experience suffering while knocked out in the operating room.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:35 pm UTC

Because 'pain' is a sort of stimuli that even the most basic of organism possesses. It might not experience pain in the same way that you or I do (I assume you're human, but then, ability to express empathy is something that most humans are capable of), but that doesn't mean pain isn't 'unpleasant' for the organism, and that means that as a being aware of another beings state of existence, you shouldn't maximize it's suffering simply because it doesn't experience that suffering the same way you do.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby deepone » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:35 pm UTC

Ok, so obviously discussion is back in... ;)
Nem wrote:I think of it as the ability to stand in a dispositional state, i.e. to experience associative pain and pleasure.

I had to google "dispositional state". Seems pretty much to refer to having a preference for some state of affairs over others, possibly specifically in relation to future states. To me, that's primitive functions that are essentially there in bacteria. Life exists because of an ability to detect and avoid developments that tend towards unfavorable conditions.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Kingreaper » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:49 pm UTC

deepone wrote:Very briefly, I think that consciousness is essentially a cultural construction, based on what we remember about interpreted perceptions. Nothing strange about it and certainly nothing that would, for example, separate humans from animals.

This is interesting because to me consciousness isn't a thing that separates humans from animals.

Consciousness is a mental awareness of surroundings etc. which pretty much all macroscopic animals seem to me to have.

Different terms like Sapience apply to the human/animal distinction in my mind.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Azrael » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:56 pm UTC

Nem wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:
Nem wrote: If the puppy's not conscious, it really doesn't matter if you kick it to death; it's not like there'd actually be anything with - for lack of a better term - a soul in there.
Wat?

Organisms can experience suffering without being conscious.
I don't see how. You can't experience suffering while knocked out in the operating room.

Anesthesia is only a single instance -- one specific way that we render people unconscious. I would not consider it the rule. There are plenty of cases where the typical definition would classify someone as unconscious (e.g. in a coma) and yet they react to pain stimuli.

I agree with Kingreaper that conscious and sapient are different terms. Conscious is typically a synonym of sentient. The puppy is sentient, and as such can feel things. It is not sapient, in that it can not act with wisdom.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby deepone » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:00 pm UTC

Kingreaper wrote:Different terms like Sapience apply to the human/animal distinction in my mind.

Had to google "sapience" as well. :) Yes, sapience seems to have a lot more to do with what you are "conscious of", which is more interesting in several ways. (In "non-consciousness-terms" that would be how you interpret/model/simulate/understand the world).

philsov wrote:The importance is on both the personal and species level -- but it is essentially the quality that allows us to be proactive instead of merely reactive.
All mammals (at least) are proactive. For example, a fox hunting a hare that disappears behind a bush can run towards the other side of the bush to intercept it. That is, it acts on predictions of future states. Humans "simply" have the ability to act on predictions that go far further into the future and concern more complex phenomena (like other humans).

Izawwlgood wrote:the vast majority of animals are not by any stretch of the mind conscious in the same way humans are.
Agreed. With emphasis on "in the same way humans are".

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Azrael » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:09 pm UTC

deepone wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:the vast majority of animals are not by any stretch of the mind conscious in the same way humans are.
Agreed. With emphasis on "in the same way humans are".

By typical definitions, it is roughly true that sentience [The ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious] is a trait common to many animals (e.g. mammals, birds, lizards but maybe not mollusks and certainly not plants) where only a few animals come close to being sapient [Displaying sound judgment in a complex, dynamic environment] (e.g. some primates, dolphins).

Which underlines the problem with using consciousness as the delineation between humans and animals.

For the most basic example of how language already handles this: How would you describe it if a dog ran headlong into a glass door (that it did not see) and was rendered into a state like sleep in which it was not aware of it's surroundings, but from which it could not be readily roused? You'd say the dog knocked itself unconscious. Do do so, it would have to be conscious first.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thrasymachus » Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:45 pm UTC

To invoke Nagel, I would say that if there "something it would be like" to be a thing, then that thing would be conscious. Basically, there would have to be some sort of internal representation of the external world where the possibilities of behavior are predicated upon the features of that representation.

Consciousness doesn't really separate humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom, but rather, the capacity for self-consciousness, the representing of representation. And even fully conscious humans aren't always self-conscious. There are many times when we "turn off" our self-conscious minds and act by rote or instinct. Driving home from work, zoning out in front of the TV, engaging in a simple, repetitive task, and so forth, are everyday examples of when this occurs. This is probably what it's "like" to be a dog or a pigeon, if we disregard possibly large differences in sensory modalities. We're usually most self-conscious when we have to deal with other people in some way, which seems to indicate that human sapience is largely a social adaptation. We model our world, which includes models of other people, and our models of other people include the fact that they model the world too, and their models include models of us, including our own modeling. In this way, we become aware of our own awareness. It's because we are aware that others are aware that we can become self-aware.

Crocodiles are certainly aware of the antelope trying to cross their river, but it seems doubtful that they are aware that the antelope is aware. Dogs, and other social creatures, seem to be aware that other dogs, or other members of their society are aware, but they don't seem to make the jump back to themselves, and become aware that they themselves are aware, and they often don't seem aware that things that are not members of society are aware. Humans, on the other hand, seem to start with the presupposition that everything is aware, and through experience subtract out those things that are not aware. A two-year old will quite seriously tell you about why her blanket is unhappy, and when things go wrong, fully mature human beings often revert to treating clearly non-aware things as if they were not just aware, but self-aware. How many of us have insulted our cars or computers when they crash or run out of gas, or even such simple objects as doors, chairs or tables when we run our toes into them, or pleaded with them to do what we wish, "please don't break, please reboot, please make it to the gas station..." When we do this self-consciously, we'll often laugh at our behavior, and admit that we do it only because it relieves the stress of the situation, but isn't it interesting that treating non-aware objects as if they were aware relieves stress in us?

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby deepone » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:17 am UTC

@Thrasymachus, I essentially buy what you wrote there. I notice that you use the word aware "instead of" conscious. What would you say is the difference between being aware of something and perceiving it?

I guess you can talk about conscious vs. unconscious perception - and then we're really getting somewhere, in my opinion. :) I imagine that what makes some perception "conscious" while other precepts stay "unconscious" is very tightly connected to their presence in our (working) memory. It seems to me like the terms you use are more philosophical. Do you know how such reasoning is commonly related to cognitive neuroscience and such concepts as working memory and accessibility?

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thrasymachus » Fri Mar 15, 2013 1:03 am UTC

None. That is, if it is perceived, then it is consciously perceived. That doesn't mean that it was self-consciously perceived however. That's the trouble with thinking about consciousness or perception or awareness. By thinking about it, you are being self-conscious, but too often people try to use that self-consciousness as the model for mere perception or mere consciousness. I would say that this mistake is largely responsible for the idea that consciousness in an organism is a single, unified internal state. Consciousness is largely a matter of degree, and I would go so far as to say that the only things that lack consciousness are things which are not alive. Even under heavy anesthetic, you're still conscious of some things, even if its a much more minimalistic consciousness than what you normally display. Further, consciousness is not typically unified unless it's self-conscious. Consciousness occurs all over the body involving biological processes and mechanics that may have relatively little to do with other processes of perceiving. The explicit unification of disparate perceptions is an act of self-consciousness, as opposed to the accidental unification of disparate perceptions passed down through selection. However, the explicit unification of perceptions does rely upon the accidental, or evolved unifications, in order to be possible. These would be akin to Kant's synthetic a priori claims.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby morriswalters » Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:24 am UTC

I find that for me being conscious is to be aware that you exist separately from the environment. How aware of the separation you might be is a matter of some discussion. I believe there is no bright clean line that for either sapience or sentience. There are degrees of each. Language gives us some skills that less complete forms of communication don't. And there is a large bias in the concepts, since we define those terms relative to ourselves having no other examples to consider.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby dendrobates314 » Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:20 pm UTC

I guess you can talk about conscious vs. unconscious perception [...] Do you know how such reasoning is commonly related to cognitive neuroscience and such concepts as working memory and accessibility?


There is a nice theory of functional consciousness called "Global Workspace Theory" by the neuroscientists Bernard Baars and Murray Shanahan (see e.g. Baars, 2005. "Global workspace theory of consciousness: toward a cognitive neuroscience of human experience?").
Briefly and informally, the idea is that the function of consciousness is to provide an information filter, letting through only important, novel, or urgent information, in order to facilitate a quick response. Conscious percepts are proposed to be a subset of working memory, and serve the purpose to inform the selection of an appropriate action. Such an information filter is extremely important for biological organisms, since they have limited time and resources, and since the action selection correlates of the brain (basal ganglia, prefrontal cortex) do not have the capacity to process all unfiltered sensory input quickly and in parallel. Contemplating all those nice bird chirps when there is a tiger running towards you might be unwise ;-), thus you won't be conscious of them.

Maybe Baars' theater metaphor for consciousness is a better description:
In the "theater of consciousness" a "spotlight of selective attention" shines a bright spot on stage. The bright spot reveals the contents of consciousness, actors moving in and out, making speeches or interacting with each other. The audience is not lit up --- it is in the dark (i.e., unconscious) watching the play. Behind the scenes, also in the dark, are the director (executive processes), stage hands, script writers, scene designers and the like. They shape the visible activities in the bright spot, but are themselves invisible.

None. That is, if it is perceived, then it is consciously perceived.


By my definition of "consciousness" and "perception" (coming from a computational neuroscience / cognitive modelling background), I have to disagree with this. There are countless examples of the brains perceptual system (e.g. visual or auditory cortices) processing some information, and even influencing subsequent actions, without the stimulus becoming conscious (i.e. participants do not consciously notice it and are unable to report it). Priming experiments are just a very salient example (presentation of subsequent stimuli, such as words, too quickly for subjects to notice - but the stimuli still influence later response; see wiki article on priming), but there are many others.


The beauty of the Global Workspace Theory (GWT) is that it pins down the functional purpose of a part of consciousness, and thus makes it possible to look for what part of the brain is responsible for it and how (note: GWT does not claim to explain all facets of consciousness; there are many it ignores, such as phenomenal consciousness / the subjective experience of stimuli). Recent work has shown that by investigating oscillatory synchrony in different brain areas, researchers can actually tell whether subjects are conscious of a stimulus - just from brain imaging data.

A very nice experiment in this area has been done by Doesburg et al. in 2009 (Rhythms of Consciousness: Binocular Rivalry Reveals Large-Scale Oscillatory Network Dynamics Mediating Visual Perception). They have presented two different images to the two eyes of subjects, and measured large scale theta-band oscillatory synchrony in their brains. They have succeeded in telling the moment when people switched from being conscious of the left image to being conscious of the right image (or vice versa), from the synchrony plot.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thrasymachus » Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:37 pm UTC

Everything you describe as mere consciousness above falls within my definition of self-consciousness, i.e. the awareness that one is aware. That indeed involves the filtering of perceptions and selective attention. It's less a disagreement than a matter of differing definitions. Terms like "conscious" and "unconscious" are fraught with difficulties when it comes to any kind of robust analysis, in part because they are not really formal terms, but include all kinds of normal use meanings that need to be carefully separated when doing any kind of careful investigation of them.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby dendrobates314 » Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:36 pm UTC

Everything you describe as mere consciousness above falls within my definition of self-consciousness, i.e. the awareness that one is aware.


This is not entirely true (but maybe my description was unclear). Your definition of self-consciousness is very close to what in the cognitive sciences would be called metacognition - "The awareness that one is aware", "We model our world, which includes models of other people, and our models of other people include the fact that they model the world too, and their models include models of us, including our own modeling. In this way, we become aware of our own awareness. It's because we are aware that others are aware that we can become self-aware.".

I definitely agree that assuming your definiton, the assertion that "Consciousness doesn't really separate humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom, but rather, the capacity for self-consciousness, the representing of representation." is correct.

However,
Everything you describe as mere consciousness above falls within my definition of self-consciousness, i.e. the awareness that one is aware.

I think is not entirely true, for two reasons (I'll use "functional consciousness" for my definition, to distinguish it from yours):
a) the kind of functional consciousness Global Workspace Theory describes extends to the animal kingdom (and, indeed, the brains of chimpanzees or macaques exhibit similar synchrony patterns to humans when conscious of a stimulus in this sense);
b) That is, if it is perceived, then it is consciously perceived [...] the possibilities of behavior are predicated upon the features of that representation." under this definition consciousness cannot possibly encompass all perceived stimuli, since there can in principle be perceived stimuli that do not lead to behavior. Some memories of sensory information never inform actions - and eventually, gradually, are forgotten -, but this information was still perceived. Maybe a better example is the A-not-B experiment, where babies are shown where a toy is hidden, and they subsequently look for the toy there (exhibiting the same behavior) even if it is moved in plain view of the baby (i.e. they were conscious of the percept but it did not inform their behavior)

Finally, for animals or organism not exhibiting "self-consciousness" or meta-cognition, we still need to distinguish between stimuli processed by the sensory cortices but not reaching either memory or action selection (unconscious) and stimuli that are both processed and acted upon or remembered (conscious). This filter can be observed in many animals (except for simple organisms), and cannot be constrained to "self-consciousness" or meta-cognition.

Terms like "conscious" and "unconscious" are fraught with difficulties


That's very true. This is the reason why an information processing view on consciousness (or at least a part thereof) is vastly useful. There is even a computational implementation of GWT - while such models naturally only capture tiny aspects of any cognitive phenomenon, they do help verifying hypotheses, and making definitions absolutely unambiguous and precise.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thrasymachus » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:17 pm UTC

This gets into the difficulties of the unity of awareness or consciousness. As I sit here on the couch typing up this response, it may be that my foot is tickled by a small piece of debris in my shoe, which results in my toes twitching as a reflex response, yet I remain apparently unaware and continue typing as if nothing had happened, and indeed I may even really be unaware, the event may have passed under my attention. I hesitate to say that I was unaware or unconscious of that piece of debris, my toes twitched as a result of the interaction, after all. But I would be more comfortable saying that my consciousness of that debris is not unified with my consciousness of typing this response, or with my self-consciousness generally. It passed underneath my self-conscious attention, but it didn't pass underneath the merely conscious attention of my reflex-arc involving my toes and spinal column. This is where I think we make the mistake of attributing features of self-consciousness to features of mere consciousness. Self-consciousness is necessarily unified. Mere consciousness is only accidentally (or better, evolutionarily), not necessarily unified, and in a single organism there may be multiple consciousness-processes running in parallel that are not necessarily unified into a single representational schema.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Nem » Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:44 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Because 'pain' is a sort of stimuli that even the most basic of organism possesses. It might not experience pain in the same way that you or I do (I assume you're human, but then, ability to express empathy is something that most humans are capable of), but that doesn't mean pain isn't 'unpleasant' for the organism, and that means that as a being aware of another beings state of existence, you shouldn't maximize it's suffering simply because it doesn't experience that suffering the same way you do.


Coincidentally that is how your response reads and I don't think I've done anything to deserve it - humans regularly boil lobsters alive and under my account they're conscious and morally considerable and you shouldn't do that. Similarly throughout much of human history people have been incredibly brutal to one another. Humans today I don't think are particularly empathic either, they're just irrelevant - they go to work and indulge themselves when they're at home and where in this life of continual indulgence is compassion and empathy exactly?

Trying to ignore that however: If you're defining pain as any signalling mechanism for tissue damage or the impending presence of such then I'm not sure why I should care. Even things without brains have such signalling mechanisms and even humans have such mechanisms when the signal is demonstrably decoupled from suffering. Suffering seems to be the morally considerable thing there, and not just the mechanical signal. And consciousness seems to be tied to whatever mechanism is responsible for that.

deepone wrote:Ok, so obviously discussion is back in... ;)
Nem wrote:I think of it as the ability to stand in a dispositional state, i.e. to experience associative pain and pleasure.

I had to google "dispositional state". Seems pretty much to refer to having a preference for some state of affairs over others, possibly specifically in relation to future states. To me, that's primitive functions that are essentially there in bacteria. Life exists because of an ability to detect and avoid developments that tend towards unfavorable conditions.


Low-level life exists because of selection over mutation. It doesn't detect and avoid developments that tend towards unfavourable conditions. It either lives through those unfavourable conditions and those with a higher fitness go on or it doesn't.

Azrael wrote:
Nem wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:
Nem wrote: If the puppy's not conscious, it really doesn't matter if you kick it to death; it's not like there'd actually be anything with - for lack of a better term - a soul in there.
Wat?

Organisms can experience suffering without being conscious.
I don't see how. You can't experience suffering while knocked out in the operating room.

Anesthesia is only a single instance -- one specific way that we render people unconscious. I would not consider it the rule. There are plenty of cases where the typical definition would classify someone as unconscious (e.g. in a coma) and yet they react to pain stimuli.


And arguably coma patients have an awareness of the world - which rather horrifyingly fits them inside the definition of consciousness I chose.

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http://www.newser.com/story/9386/do-veg ... sheep.html

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby deepone » Tue Mar 19, 2013 11:43 pm UTC

Nem wrote:
Nem wrote:I think of it as the ability to stand in a dispositional state, i.e. to experience associative pain and pleasure.
deepone wrote:I had to google "dispositional state". Seems pretty much to refer to having a preference for some state of affairs over others, possibly specifically in relation to future states. To me, that's primitive functions that are essentially there in bacteria. Life exists because of an ability to detect and avoid developments that tend towards unfavorable conditions.
Low-level life exists because of selection over mutation. It doesn't detect and avoid developments that tend towards unfavourable conditions. It either lives through those unfavourable conditions and those with a higher fitness go on or it doesn't.
Well, maybe my use of the word "exists" opens this for debate, since evolution (presumably (I agree)) works at levels even below life and so selection and mutation can be said to have brought life into existence and thus "caused" life, but... There is a (plausible) reason that evolution has led to life: the ability of living organisms to persist through time by responding to stimuli in order to avoid less desirable situations and facilitate more desirable situations. Hard-coded reactions in simple life forms can most definitely be considered to be hard-coded preferences, essentially imprinting the "evolutionary prediction" that response A would lead to bad stuff because avoiding it has benefited the replication of my genes. It is true that these reactions are very direct in the lowest level life forms but learning to stay further and further away from danger by recognizing signs of "bad developments" (gradients) at an ever earlier stage is an important and continuous aspect of increasingly advanced life.

That is, the function is admittedly very different in a human and an amoeba, but one can think of this "dispositional state" as a continuum from here to there, and there is little reason (upon initial thought) to assume any distinct breaks in kind along the way.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby joshumax » Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:19 pm UTC

I think being conscious is having the ability to contemplate the meaning of consciousness.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Harshada » Tue May 28, 2013 10:12 am UTC

Consciousness means A system which makes decisions is a conscious system.

The most conscious part of our mind:- :D

Super consciousness is the mechanism using which we can select the right mind manually.

We become less conscious when we move away from the default Semi voluntary mind in either direction. When we use the dreaming mind we would be unconscious of the rest of our life other than our dream. When we use the compulsive mind we would be aware of just one would-be action and unconscious of rest of our life.

The Semi voluntary mind is the most conscious mind because we can be aware of our dreams and the real world and power consumption and control are optimum.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Tomlidich the second » Tue Jun 25, 2013 7:19 pm UTC

for me at least, i like to think of it like this:

your brain is always aware of every idea you have had, are currently having, and future ideas already forming.

conciousness, is just a nice way of organizing those ideas and giving a few of them priority, due to the limited amount of them you can give attention to.

certain things float in and out of concious thought as they become relevant.

the idea of a conciousness works, as long as you don't try to define what conciousness itself is. we don't yet have a reason for why we perceive things the way we do, and exactly how this funny thing called being concious works, it just does its job, and does it pretty well.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby CesarioRose » Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:03 pm UTC

Consciousness isn't easily defined by one definition or even one perspective. I Think anyone can agree on that.

If we're looking for a medical perspective, even laying on that operating table we can plainly see with out eyes that using a scalpel can cause a bodily pain response. Opening flesh like that is sure to ordinarily cause the pain receptors in our bodies to send signals to our brain to interpret pain, and cause bleeding. That's pain, right? We'd ordinarily be conscience if it weren't for that pesky Anesthesia. Which sort of brings up a nifty question: if we're ordinarily, medically, conscious, how what is the experience like?

Of which, everyone seems to have a few ways of seeing things. :P

I think we can all agree there are ways to alter our consciousness, either through a drug, mental concentration, mental disorder, medical disorder, or a social/cultural philosophical construct. Anyone can, and is equally, entitled to a definition. And count me in the pool of volunteers of people who believe that I can alter my perception of reality as I see fit.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thesh » Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:12 pm UTC

To me, consciousness is the ability to process stimuli combined with the ability to consider stimuli. So while feeling hungry and seaking food is a reaction, feeling hungry and thinking about what you want to eat and whether you want to wait to eat is a conscious decision.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Jun 26, 2013 12:11 pm UTC

Doesn't a rabbit do just that when he sees a fox sitting in his favorite greens?

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jun 26, 2013 12:54 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:To me, consciousness is the ability to process stimuli combined with the ability to consider stimuli. So while feeling hungry and seaking food is a reaction, feeling hungry and thinking about what you want to eat and whether you want to wait to eat is a conscious decision.
What do you mean 'consider stimuli'? Lots of incredibly simple organisms respond to stimuli. Do you mean 'delaying immediate needs due to mitigating circumstances'? Lots of incredibly simple organisms modulate their responses to stimuli based on mitigating circumstances. For example, C. elegans goes has a hibernation like phase it can go through if conditions aren't right, and emerge from about a year later in hopes that conditions have improved. The decision to enter this phase is based on about a dozen chemoreceptors, neural circuits, and a host of conditions. Would you call the mighty nematode conscious?
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:21 pm UTC

Consider, meaning think about; even if it's multiple factors, if it is just a set of if..else statements in a deterministic instinct program then it's still just a reaction. I can't necessarily give you an answer to the cases given, because I'm not really familiar enough with it to say. Rule of thumb, if a particular animal as well as animals in the same species respond differently given the same stimuli, then it is likely a display of consciousness, but if they all respond the same it is probably a reaction.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:45 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:Consider, meaning think about; even if it's multiple factors, if it is just a set of if..else statements in a deterministic instinct program then it's still just a reaction. I can't necessarily give you an answer to the cases given, because I'm not really familiar enough with it to say. Rule of thumb, if a particular animal as well as animals in the same species respond differently given the same stimuli, then it is likely a display of consciousness, but if they all respond the same it is probably a reaction.
I don't think that's correct; behavioral studies aren't black and white, if you put 100 nematodes on a dish, and put two stimuli on either end, some %'age will go one way, some %'age will go the other. When you're talking about 'response to stimuli', it's often '70% will find this aversive, 20% won't react, and 10% will find it attractive'. And that's just with moving towards or away something; more complex behaviors, like the inclination to go into that hibernation phase, can be the product of thousands of stimuli and circuits. In a given dish of a healthy population of nematodes, you're going to have some percentage that just 'thought', 'fuckit, I'm hibernating'. Was that a conscious decision?
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby CesarioRose » Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:51 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:Consider, meaning think about; even if it's multiple factors, if it is just a set of if..else statements in a deterministic instinct program then it's still just a reaction. I can't necessarily give you an answer to the cases given, because I'm not really familiar enough with it to say. Rule of thumb, if a particular animal as well as animals in the same species respond differently given the same stimuli, then it is likely a display of consciousness, but if they all respond the same it is probably a reaction.


So, for you, then, the entirety of the circumstances in which: (Stimuli => Reaction)Instinct. correct? How do you handle memories and learning, then? (If you don't mind my asking?)

I've met a lot of people, over the years, which develop their own unique way of defining the experiences they, at times, unwittingly, and wittingly, experience. But learning has always been a huge interest of mine. Because if we attribute the same equation above; (Stimuli => Reaction)Instinct. (Meaning, a human being), has something happen to them. they react. this is attributed to "instinct." They instinct-fully react. In my experiences, few have proven to me that human nature can naturally learn from their instinct-attributed experiences easily. If someone is to learn, they must be cognitively aware of (as much) as they can. (Instinct, also, i've learned over the years, can have their own learning curve, but it's not the exact same.)

Izawwlgood said it better then I did, I think. But we're on the same basic page.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:58 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Thesh wrote:Consider, meaning think about; even if it's multiple factors, if it is just a set of if..else statements in a deterministic instinct program then it's still just a reaction. I can't necessarily give you an answer to the cases given, because I'm not really familiar enough with it to say. Rule of thumb, if a particular animal as well as animals in the same species respond differently given the same stimuli, then it is likely a display of consciousness, but if they all respond the same it is probably a reaction.
I don't think that's correct; behavioral studies aren't black and white, if you put 100 nematodes on a dish, and put two stimuli on either end, some %'age will go one way, some %'age will go the other. When you're talking about 'response to stimuli', it's often '70% will find this aversive, 20% won't react, and 10% will find it attractive'. And that's just with moving towards or away something; more complex behaviors, like the inclination to go into that hibernation phase, can be the product of thousands of stimuli and circuits. In a given dish of a healthy population of nematodes, you're going to have some percentage that just 'thought', 'fuckit, I'm hibernating'. Was that a conscious decision?


Well, then my rule of thumb is probably wrong, but the rest still stands. Also, if nematodes are actually able to think the words "fuckit, I'm hibernating" then that is consciousness, but something tells me that isn't the case.

CesarioRose wrote:
Thesh wrote:Consider, meaning think about; even if it's multiple factors, if it is just a set of if..else statements in a deterministic instinct program then it's still just a reaction. I can't necessarily give you an answer to the cases given, because I'm not really familiar enough with it to say. Rule of thumb, if a particular animal as well as animals in the same species respond differently given the same stimuli, then it is likely a display of consciousness, but if they all respond the same it is probably a reaction.


So, for you, then, the entirety of the circumstances in which: (Stimuli => Reaction)Instinct. correct? How do you handle memories and learning, then? (If you don't mind my asking?)

I've met a lot of people, over the years, which develop their own unique way of defining the experiences they, at times, unwittingly, and wittingly, experience. But learning has always been a huge interest of mine. Because if we attribute the same equation above; (Stimuli => Reaction)Instinct. (Meaning, a human being), has something happen to them. they react. this is attributed to "instinct." They instinct-fully react. In my experiences, few have proven to me that human nature can naturally learn from their instinct-attributed experiences easily. If someone is to learn, they must be cognitively aware of (as much) as they can. (Instinct, also, i've learned over the years, can have their own learning curve, but it's not the exact same.)

Izawwlgood said it better then I did, I think. But we're on the same basic page.


Well, there is definitely conditioning as has been shown by Pavlov; it's not consciousness but merely just changing the reaction. It may be very difficult to prove with just behavioral studies, but there has to be actual thought involved. People driving is a mixture of conditioning and thought; you make a decision where to go, you make decisions to change lanes, but if the car in front of you slows or speed up, you will automatically do the same. The latter is conditioning, the former is consciousness.

EDIT: Another example is my friend Catherine. When she is outside and it is light out, she will let me come to her to be petted. When it is getting dark or she has just been out for a while, she knows I'm going to make her come in soon, so she won't let me near her. I believe that is a conscious decision.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Tomlidich the second » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:26 pm UTC

the line between concious thought and conditioning is a blurry one.

do you feel happy when eating ice cream because you actually like ice cream, or have you been conditioned to like ice cream because your parents did so?
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:31 pm UTC

Taste in food is purely a mixture of conditioning and instinct; I don't think anyone actually makes a conscious decision as to what they like to eat.
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Tomlidich the second » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:37 pm UTC

its easy to feel like its a concious decision sometimes.

another example may be your favorite colour, it feels like something you made a decision about, but did you really?
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby CesarioRose » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:57 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:Taste in food is purely a mixture of conditioning and instinct; I don't think anyone actually makes a conscious decision as to what they like to eat.


I have made many conscious decisions that I like and want to eat delicious pizza with artichokes. :P (And I do mean that the way it sounds.)

Yes I know there are distinctions around the taste buds, and if I really needed to eat that slice of pizza. But I chose to do it because I had my reasons. Just as anyone else did in their own ways.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Thesh » Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:12 pm UTC

I agree that you can choose to condition yourself to like something, but if you are eating something that tastes horrible to you, you can't choose for it to instantly change to tasting good (unless you have greater control over your brain than I, and I assume most people, do).
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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby CesarioRose » Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:40 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:I agree that you can choose to condition yourself to like something, but if you are eating something that tastes horrible to you, you can't choose for it to instantly change to tasting good (unless you have greater control over your brain than I, and I assume most people, do).


And I think the truth may surprise you. Take for instance, why do some people like, say, mushrooms over candy? Or Olives is a good example. The old saying "acquired taste." A similar example is why people have tastes in other people's personalities? At one point, I couldn't stand a type of person, but as I grew older, my tastes change. The same for yucky food. As a elder-teen, I HATED mushrooms and olives. Now at 27, I love them. Not just for the taste, but the the health benefits. I chose, at some point, to consciously, change my tastes.

I was about to say your driving example is another good point. Yes, the laws/rules of the roads are a big part social. But what about the mechanics? Surely, not one every turns the steering wheel the EXACT same way. Surely, not everyone merges lanes at the same time; thats why we have merging lanes on highways. To give time/leeway/fairness. Cars, them selves, act mechanically the same everytime... but their pilots aren't all the same. We're all bound by the same rules, definitely, but how we drive isn't. Nor is our perceptions of the experience. Take for example the abnormal psychology of Dissociation. Everyone experiences it to a degree at some point; highway hypnosis is the popular phrase. You aren't 100%, completely aware, at all times, able to recall in perfect detail, every single thing you see. Every tree in detail as you pass. Every car that either made you angry, or gave you a joy reaction. And so on.

Your suggestion has a particular merit to it; the way I am not sure if you're suggesting it. But animals; particular animals form defenses from predators. Some of those defenses are taste or smell, or otherwise, biologically or otherwise, harmful. Unless someone is poisonousness, or otherwise will cost us our health, immediate taste is irrelevant in a way. There are odorless, tasteless dangerous substances, for example. You can consciously change a taste as long as it isn't dangerous.

Why do you think people form anxieties/neurosis about particular things? I had a taste aversion to the mushroom example above. When I was young, I tasted a mushroom and tossed chunks 5 minutes later because the taste. It took me years, and lots of griping from my family to change my mind. And then I did. And it was glorious. But it was an anxiety response. Which is changeable.

Yes I agree, most things aren't instantaneous. But there are things which are. Anxiety/stress is an example of the same thing. A individual with clear pathological anxiety, or stress response, will always (until changed) act in a certain, simple or complex, way. Dissociation in it's extreme is the splitting of consciousness into compartmentalized "safe" zones, for example. But the split of consciousness is clear and immediate.

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Re: What do you mean by consciousness?

Postby Tomlidich the second » Wed Jun 26, 2013 9:42 pm UTC

so then, are emotional responses conditioned, or are they concious?

does a baby laugh because its copying its parents, or because of a concious decision to laugh?
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