Consciousness is the most (if not only) subjective experience in existence. There is no scientific definition for it, there is no scientific explanation for it. Consciousness is something you have, you experience, but can’t describe.
Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.Susan Schneider
Yet, lots of people believe that consciousness is a by-product of the brain. Almost all people believe that other people are conscious. And finally, you believe you were conscious five seconds ago and you will be conscious in five more.
All beliefs based on observations about our real world, but they are all beliefs nonetheless. Maybe our consciousness is merely connected to our brain. Maybe you are the only conscious person in existence, and other people are just very good at faking it. Maybe, just maybe, you were not conscious until now. All you know about your past is your current conscious experience of your memory anyway.
None of these claims are falsifiable. Any conscious experience except your own (right now), is nothing more than a belief. And unless we ever define it in a different way than your subjective experience, it will always be just that: a belief.
With the recent progress in computing, and more specifically artificial intelligence (mainly neural networks), it is not strange that we see more and more sources say that it is only a question of time before such a computer program will eventually surpass the capabilities and intelligence of the human brain. A scary thought for one, an interesting thought for another. But if this is indeed a possibility, what will this mean for (human) consciousness and our understanding of it?
This article will explore the consequences for the existence of consciousness in a very specific type of computer simulation: a deterministic simulation.
Due to the complexity of the subject, and the size of the article it has taken me a while to finish. But part one of the Familiar Existence series is finally published!
You can read it here. Enjoy!
What is our familiar existence? Seemingly a silly question. As I look out of the window I see the sun shining, trains passing by and people living their lives. This is what feels as our familiar existence. The world we expect to still be there when we wake up from a nights sleep. The world that was here before we were born and the world that will continue after we are long gone. The physical world.
But what is it really?
We are very good at understanding the physical world because it is so important to our survival. We have to know that if we fall of a cliff or don’t get food in time, we die. Our brains developed not only to understand these concepts, but to live them. That’s what makes them so familiar.
But even though we literally live and breathe the physical, it might just be part of the truth about our existence.
For what ultimately is our existence, is not the parts that construct us, but our mind itself. Out of all the things we know or think to know about reality, this is the one thing we actually know -or rather feel- to exist. Our local existence: consciousness.
Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefor I am)René Descartes
While the physical world is the world we interact with, consciousness is the world we experience. The physical is often described as real, tangible. But is consciousness not just as real, if not more so?
Even though consciousness is at the core of our being, the discussion of existence is often polluted by the things that come most natural to us: the physical world.
In our daily lives cities are made of buildings and buildings are made of bricks. So it is understandable that the question of what existence is, is often answered by looking for the underlying building blocks.
We understand a great deal about what we call physical. Yet, this instinctive way of looking at the world does not seem to match the way it actually is. We do not expect consciousness to arise when we construct a building. Nor can we explain our own.
So where does consciousness find its origin?
Think back about your conclusions when you imagined yourself to be in that white room. What did you think? And what do those answers say about your beliefs? Could others make sense as well?
Is consciousness merely a side effect of the physical world we experience as true, or is it possible that the truth lies somewhere else?
During the next series we will explore our local existence: Consciousness. What is existence? What are you?
Imagine being in a perfectly round, white room. You’re standing on one half of the room, and as you look around you notice someone else is there.
Except it is not someone else, it’s you.
A perfect clone of yourself has appeared on exactly the opposite side of the room. Your clone is wearing exactly the clothes you are, is standing in the same way you are standing and even has the same expression of confusion you have. Every molecule, every atom, every quark is encountered for. The clone is a perfect physical copy.
A perfect copy of you.
If you ignore the influence of the world outside the room and you were to find yourself in this situation. Do you think you could ever have a conversation with your clone?
Given this happened to you….Who is the original?
How do you know?
How many people would you say are in the room?
What makes a person?
While the concept of everything lies within the fathomable its actual form only casts a shadow in my mind. A promise of it being there, but with edges faded and unclear.
Even though the concept of everything is fathomable, its actual form is not. It is an unending sea of unfathomable mystery that only gives rise to islands of fathomable.
Our first island contained nothing from our everyday reality. Nothing about the chair you sit on, the air you breathe, the space you move through or the time that ages you. Instead, it described how “nothing” is but a concept without any bases in existence. A statement that in turn dictates the existence of everything. Not just as a concept, but as a reality. Our most basic and deep reality. A reality so infinite it cannot ever be described or understood. Our minds can but dive into that infinite sea in the hope to explore more of the islands we hold as familiar. Islands that can only be observed by our minds.
But how does one continue? If our local existence is but an island of fathomable, we now merely know about the ocean of unfathomable it resides in.
We might not be able to answer how something that starts in the unfathomable ends up being fathomable, as I imagine the answer to that question to lie in the unfathomable itself.
To continue, we will have to change the starting point. Instead of starting with nothing, we will start at one of the islands most familiar to us. Now it is time to start thinking about the air we breathe and the chair we sit on. Heck, we might even include time and space.
In the next series I will focus more on our local existence. Using observations combined with the mind. Even though this is a more classical approach I hope to give a new and unique perspective to the reality we know. With countless islands left unexplored, the next series we marvel and wonder at the existence we think to know. Our familiar existence.