Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where does consciousness reside?


Descartes' oft-quoted mantra “I think therefore I am” is pithy but not necessarily true, as most cognitive psychologists posit.

But when one is conscious and thinking, one can locate the thought, consciousness, as if it were somewhere above the eyes, hanging like a constrained cloud of intangible mass just beyond the cerebral cortex, but not outside one’s head.

Wikipedia has a concise section on consciousness:

And for the more academically inclined, Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a rather complete exegesis:

But for this posting, we’ll set aside the amorphous cogitations on consciousness for a down-to-earth rendering….

If Descartes had stopped at “Je pense” (or just “Cogito”), he would have made a metaphysical statement.

But by adding “Je suis” he extrapolated beyond a reality that could be or can be verified.

Not wishing to get bogged down in the niceties of the philosophical meanderings about consciousness (or the “soul” for some), it is patently obvious that the person typing this is conscious.

And if that is only a reality in the typist’s firmament, then so be it. The “discussion” is valid within the framework created by the cogito dictum.

The question then arises, What happens to that consciousness when the typist expires, or goes dormant as with a coma or stroke?

Does it (consciousness) remain connected to the defunct human being, eventually to wane, along with the living tissues?

Or does it transport to an ethereal state, disconnected from the brain or pineal gland that generated it? (Did the brain or pineal gland actually generate it?)

What formed the consciousness in the first place? A nexus of sensory input accumulated over the lifetime of the typist? An accumulation of “spiritual-like DNA” provided by the Collective Unconscious? Or a combination of both, as Jung posited?

Life after death experiences and out-of-body anecdotes purport to tell us that consciousness continues to exist, away from the body.

But those episodes have not been substantiated in any real way, so one should discount them to maintain a kind of scientific objectivity.

If consciousness does continue to exist at the demise of the body that housed it, where does it go when the body no longer lives (exists)?

If it persists, consciousness that is, why can no one access it? Houdini, among others, wished to do so, but to no avail.

If it goes to another realm, as religionists insist, one can never access it, until or unless their consciousness also goes to that same realm. And if quantum physicists or string theorists are right, how can consciousness be tethered to one realm rather than any other? What would be the mechanism for the sorting of consciousness to one realm over another?

Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, as the maxim states, but consciousness is not matter. The essence of consciousness seems to be evanescence. Consciousness is a reality without substance – the only such reality.

How is it possible to concretize that insubstantial reality? It isn’t possible.

Consciousness, like many other discussable matters of philosophers, physicists, and in this instance, psychologists, is an ultimately non-provable state of being.

Like the concept of God, or the infinity of the Universe, consciousness will remain an unresolved enigma.

It can’t be deconstructed. It can’t be defined (and hasn’t been defined). And what happens to it will not be, cannot be, deter- mined, so sane persons should move on, to matters that can be.

But perhaps you disagree…..


Rich said...

Scientifically speaking, I guess there may never be a way to prove what least certainly not anywhere in the forseeable future. Furthermore, at the very least, our culture (and others) probably wouldn't take well to "roundabout experiments" in hospitals, ambulances, etc. to try and figure out whether someone who has died and come back actually "left their body." Databases could be kept of experiences and even things they "got right" without any possible prior knowledge...i.e. "seeing" red socks left on the roof of a hospital at their exact location (made this up whether good example or not...just an off hand example). In other words, it is such a grand fundamental question, that it seems to me that somethings (perhaps pretty simple things) could be done to, at the very least, TRY and answer all of this...even if not exactly so scientific...but I think we (the world) should try our best. We owe it to ourselves! All wishful thinking on my part of course since I don't ever see this happening...of course! Really all very much wishful thinking. Anyway, hopefully I sounded sane in this comment...hahaha.

Bruce Duensing said...

More deep reflections on distinctions on your part. Is there an inner distinction which is not dependant on the sensate process of self organizing energy in the form of information, which creates a conceptual virtual reality, which is in effect a tool mistaken for the ability to use it? Does a shovel have a purpose beyond the act of its apparent use? Why is shoveling necessary? Perhaps at the point of maximum acceleration when we disperse or jettison our shovel, what remains is what we have other words..the outside is inside and the inside is outside..we have created in a formulative stage, a distinctive and unique container that takes the clear water of truth and by its container, colors it as we have chosen. Some folks see the world as hell... some as heaven. Perhaps these two reciprocal dualities are purposeful in that its how they fit together as two sides of a coin rather than their distinctive, empirical dissimilarities. Like body and mind.

RRRGroup said...


Your conjecture will be taken up in our next post, about Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" (et cetera).

Rich said...

A crazy thought on the English language...don't know about other languages...? When we talk of "our minds" it is almost like we know we are "sitting outside" of it or that we are somehow seperate from it. I've "lost my mind." You would also not say "I have a brain in my head" would say this is "my brain," as if something "owns" it and resides "outside" of it. Anyway...."I've really lost my mind, because my brain isn't doing too well." Hahaha!