Thursday, May 8, 2008

Consciousness is Not Physical: Some evidence

I suddenly realized that I had, all this time, direct proof that consciousness isn't physical.

I have only scattered memories before I was about three years old, as most people do.

However, one of them is extremely significant. I remember that my memories plunged in and out of blackness all the time when I was a toddler. I remember thinking this is normal, as indeed it is.

For instance, I bent down to pet a small dog who was eating, after his owner warned me that I shouldn't. He snapped at me and then...blackness. Like a film that's been cut off.

A bit later the film resumes. I'm crying in my mother's arms in the living room, explaining (or maybe just thinking? It's hard to tell) that it was my fault for petting the dog when I knew I shouldn't. (Incidentally also my first memory of being a philosopher.)

In other words I ran from that dog to my mother, and explained the situation, without being at any point in between, conscious.

At least, I think I explained it. She knew the situation. Perhaps she came and got me in the intervening hole, and asked the neighbour what happened. I don't know, I was unconscious (but not asleep!) at the time.

In other words, even the human organism can function quite well without consciousness...and yet it still exists.

It's for this reason, actually, that we don't remember our earliest years. We weren't conscious then, at least not properly, not reliably. We don't lay down memories of what's happening to us.

Nevertheless, we learn to walk and talk, to manipulate our parents, what and how to eat, the rules of the house, and myriad other monumental tasks. We lay down memories. Unconsciously.

It would seem at first blush that this only confirms the determinist's worst fears; it is indeed easy for complex neural nets to simulate consciousness, feelings, suffering, and free will.

It is also a fact that we are conscious. That it needs specific neural events to occur, which cost energy. Even though we can do anything physical without having a mind, we create one anyway.

What benefit can it possibly give us? The only remaining option is that it gives a nonphysical benefit. That it somehow reaches to a realm of interactions beyond energy and mathematics.

As indeed we would expect from the facts of qualia. Qualia are entirely different to anything we have found in the physical realm; their existence, properties, and interactions are all entirely unique.

It would be bizarre indeed to have found that they are mere products of physical processes.

No comments: