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…..