Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Consciousness makes no sense

~From Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga, pages 320-321:

I was recently asked by a Time magazine reporter, "If we could build a robot or an android that duplicated the processes behind human consciousness, would it actually be conscious?"


Underlying this question is the assumption that consciousness reflects some kind of process that brings all of our zillions of thoughts into a special energy and reality called personal or phenomenal consciousness. That is not how it works. Consciousness is an emergent property and not a process in and of itself. When one tastes salt, for example, the consciousness of taste an emergent property of the sensory system, not the combination of elements that make up table salt. Our cognitive capacities, memories, dreams, and so on reflect distributed processes throughout the brain, and each of those entities produces its own emergent states of consciousness.

In closing, remember this one fact. A split-brain patient, a human who has had the two halves of his brain disconnected from each other, does not find one side of the brain missing the other.

Some people theorize that any sort of feedback loop at all is conscious. I'm really not sure about that, but this twist on how we think about consciousness is still hard to wrap the mind around. Splitting the brain does not split consciousness, and I think that's confusing in and of itself. What if we split the brain even more? Well, that'd probably kill people... but there is not one part of the brain that is the "conscious" part. Consciousness arises from a bunch of other systems. And, if you really get down to it, isn't consciousness just atoms moving around? It really makes no sense.



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