The word consciousness gets thrown around a lot on these forums, but what does it really mean? The first, easy, shallow definition to come up on The Internet is "the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself". So when do humans become "aware"? Looking back on your own experiences as a child, would you really call yourself "conscious"? What is the relation between wakefulness and consciousness? What is consciousness?

I'm trying something distinct from the typical long-winded highbrow posts seem here: bullet pointing data[1], with admittedly subjective conclusions and some questions/wonderings for more active engagement and personal opinion-forming with the topic. Partially wikipedia-style, given the sheer density of footnotes, but much more speculative, with tendrils extending into various broader topics.

  • Self-awareness is associated with an area of the brain called the DMN (default mode network)
    • Maybe it can be selectively blocked
    • Or selectively electrically stimulated (what effects would that have on someone's life?)
  • When do we become self-aware?
    • Children have a DMN that is much more weakly connected.[2]What is the critical point for self-awareness and how can it be stimulated earlier?
  • Conscious vs Self-aware
    • A nomenclature issue - these are often used to describe the same idea, but consciousness is often associated with the variable "in a sleep state". Can it be quantified by just checking frequencies of brain waves?
      • In that case, is being in REM sleep conscious? Is the word "consciousness" sufficient?
        • Is lucid dreaming conscious? (more research needs to be done on this - how exactly does a lucid dreaming state differ from REM)
      • I propose [3]a two-pronged definition, each part individually specified and quantified (in the past[4], complexity of brain activity has been used to measure consciousness - that is effective when consciousness is artificially induced through anesthetics but less valuable practically):  
        • degrees of wakefulness - measured through frequencies of EEG waves, or in the future, if REM sleep should not count as wakefulness, biosensing[5] of various neurotransmitters such as glycine or specific proportional combinations of histamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin[6]
        • degrees of self-awareness - measured by connectiveness of DMN
      • Different proportions of these data points can make up distinct, discrete "types" of consciousness
  • Consciousness is exclusively in memory [theory][7]
    • We perceive stimuli 100-150ms (up to 400 - nearly half a second!) after they happen
      • Our brains are creating conscious experiences in memory, not in real-time
      • Eye saccades[8] exist, which involve our minds just warping our perception of time to fix inherent inadequacies in input
      • Can we slow down time?
        • If conscious experience is in memory, what is stopping humans from perceiving things more slowly and stretching out their existence? This happens when adrenaline is released[9] and thoughts speed up, but is there a way to make this sustainable? Is the brain's physiology a limitation or is it just habit/specialisation?
  • Internal monologues
    • Very obvious manifestation of consciousness, activates DMN
    • Not everyone has one - how does the experience of constant verbal feedback stream differ from a conceptual one? Are their conceptual connections more strongly connected?
      • How do certain inputs or lack thereof in general (vision, hearing, etc) affect perception of life?
  • Sleep deprivation, psychosis, and delirium 
    • Microsleeps[10]
      • Consciousness on a wake-sleep level is not linear - when sleep deprived, people can lapse into 10-15 second bursts of delta waves (typical wakeful state is alpha/beta)
    • Are states of psychosis and delirium an entirely separate form of consciousness? Are personality disorders (for example, those that can be imposed by dopamine agonists)? What about psychedelics?
  • Why do we not have conscious control of certain subconscious systems?
    • There are certain parts of the peripheral nervous system such as breathing and blinking that we can control by will. But why can we not consciously control pain?[11] Will it be possible to do this in the future, forging new communication channels?
  • Meditation
    • Increases DMN activity and is associated with a slew of benefits - also falls into a distinct category of consciousness?
  • The brain is just a communication network of electrical signals built to optimize for a specific goal [12]. Where does consciousness come in evolutionarily? Are hive minds conscious? 
    • Is AI conscious?
      • Complex problem in and of itself - can it measured as it is biologically, through complexity or the measurable output of processing patterns?

 

  1. ^

    I believe that offering up information in the most concise way possible and linking to more in-depth data is the most efficient way to convey a point. I personally find it really bothersome to read through something where I'm familiar with a lot of the background information but the author still explains it in detail within their post about a more complex topic. I also find value in forming my own conclusions from data instead of taking someone else's opinion, and if everyone did this, the scientific (and of course philosophical, perhaps social) community would benefit from more unique ideas. 

    We readily accept interpretations of experiments that may not get at the actual cause (for example, it is widely believed that serotonin disbalance cause depression, however a recent meta-analysis/review found no correlation), but if people independently consider/derive systems, disregarding some known information, someone will hit on something new to test. This will increase the overall rate of innovation, humanity's best trait (in my opinion).

  2. ^

    The maturing architecture of the brain's default network - https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.0800376105 

  3. ^

    I am not a neuroscientist - yet. If I go that path in life, I will try to experiment further with this. I am certain that similar schemes have been proposed, but technology has come a long way and being able to multi-dimensionally, ideally non-invasively quantify consciousness with the granularity of modern tech is novel

  4. ^

    Brain activity complexity has a nonlinear relation to the level of propofol sedation -  https://www.bjanaesthesia.org.uk/article/S0007-0912(21)00283-X/fulltext 

  5. ^

    An Update of the Classical and Novel Methods Used for Measuring Fast Neurotransmitters During Normal and Brain Altered Function - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428024 

  6. ^
  7. ^

     Cueing Attention after the Stimulus Is Gone Can Retrospectively Trigger Conscious Perception - https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(12)01391-7

  8. ^
  9. ^

    When time slows down: The influence of threat on time perception in anxiety

  10. ^
  11. ^

    Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21501665/ 

  12. ^

11

0
0

Reactions

0
0

More posts like this

Comments2
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:38 AM

The creative process consists of a singularity consciousness (1) in a universe of nothingness (0) vibrating and creating everything you imagine exists. 1001100 vibrating energy What you hear and say decibels What you see angstroms What you think consciousness All are just a creation and expression of vibrating energy There is nothing physical Atoms are electrons protons neutrons Those are leptons quarks bosons This are actually subatomic electromagnetic energy waves NOT PARTICLES I THINK THEREFORE “I AM Tell them I AM has sent you. The Creator is our collective consciousness PURPOSE: To make our existence as a BORED LONELY SINGULARITY CONSCIOUSNESS (1) IN A UNIVERSE OF nothingness (0) a more enjoyable experience.

Apologies for the long-winded highbrow response, but I did really like this podcast episode on consciousness from 80,000 Hours (and I listen to very few of their episodes). They discuss:

  • Why is there so little consensus among philosophers about so many key questions?
  • Can free will exist, even in a deterministic universe?
  • Might we be living in a simulation? Why is this worth talking about?
  • The hard problem of consciousness
  • Materialism, functionalism, idealism, illusionism, panpsychism, and other views about the nature of consciousness
  • The story of ‘integrated information theory’
  • What philosophers think of eating meat
  • Should we worry about AI becoming conscious, and therefore worthy of moral concern?
  • Should we expect to get to conscious AI well before we get human-level artificial general intelligence?
  • Could minds uploaded to a computer be conscious?
  • If you uploaded your mind, would that mind be ‘you’?
  • Why did Dave [the interviewee] start thinking about the ‘singularity’?
  • Careers in academia
  • And whether a sense of humour is useful for research.

I think the wakefulness/self-awareness distinction and the question of whether we can slow down time are important from an ethical perspective (I think people often dismiss something as not capable of experiencing pain/happiness just because it doesn't appear to be self-aware and presumably if things are in some sense "perceiving things more slowly and stretching out their existence" then those experiences should count for more).

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities