Why great minds can’t grasp consciousness

By Ker Than, LiveScience Staff Writer

It wasn’t that long ago that the study of consciousness was considered to be too abstract, too subjective or too difficult to study scientifically. But in recent years, it has emerged as one of the hottest new fields in biology, similar to string theory in physics or the search for extraterrestrial life in astronomy.

No longer the sole purview of philosophers and mystics, consciousness is now attracting the attention of scientists from across a variety of different fields, each, it seems, with their own theories about what consciousness is and how it arises from the brain.

Instead of trying to reduce consciousness to something else, some scientists suggest that consciousness should simply be taken for granted, the way that space and time and mass are in physics. But other researchers find this view unhelpful and suggest that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, similar to the ‘wetness’ of water or the ‘transparency’ of glass, both of which are properties that are the result of the actions of individual molecules.

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One Response to “Why great minds can’t grasp consciousness”

  1. bwinwnbwi Says:

    Consciousness is a major source of interest to me. I totally agree with you when you say: “Great minds can’t grasp consciousness.” I’m not a great mind, so maybe I have a chance (I’m about to retire from my janitor position after thirty-five years). I’ve put together the following thoughts on why consciousness is such a difficult nut to crack. Thanks for the opportunity to comment. For me, the brain, consciousness, and self-consciousness cannot be separated. (Oh, I just posted the following at another site–probably won’t be accepted though–will understand if that’s the case here too.)

    Nice post. I have not studied Zhuan Falun, but I have read some Chinese philosophy. In fact the Tai_Chi symbol is, essentially, a pictograph of the b~b~b structure that I will talk about below. I am also somewhat familiar with the situation that exists when it comes to bringing together the contradictory elements in QM and Relativity theory. I totally agree with you when you say:

    “Quantum entanglement shows that the universe is an inseparable whole, that things are related intrinsically by unknown factors, and that the whole is greater than the sum of the component objects. These all contradict the starting point of classical Western science and impose serious questions about the validity of the mainstream western world view.”

    It is the “wholeness issue” that I will now address with my explanation of self-consciousness and the integration of QM with Relativity. Thanks for the opportunity to post.

    When a “new standard model,” one that integrates the the physics of QM and Relativity is discovered/created, then the consciousness physics connection will loose or gain creditability. But, after 90 years of struggling to merge the physics of determinism and indeterminacy (by the smartest people in the world)–I am no longer holding my breath. The solution to the problem, for me at least, will not be found in consciousness nor in some future string theory; rather, the solution to this problem is found in the continuity/discontinuity structure of logical implication. In other words, at the source of what it means to be a thinking human being lies the solution to the discontinuity/continuity problem! What follows is an extract from my blog entitled: We, Unlike The Rest Of Nature, Stand As A Problem To Ourselves.

    [Similarities, dissimilarities, categorization, and particularization emerge from logi with their negations. Embedded in the set of differences out of which a particular arises, we find negation. Billig describes this condition, in the context of the rhetoric of argumentation, when he says: “Since the loci of arguments (the claim to essential set of differences) represent basic forms of thought, negation is a basic, even essential, characteristic of the thinking.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the agency of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. If it were not for the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self we would lack the capacity to: 1) become an “object” to ourselves, 2) access reflexive thought processes and self-narratives, and 3) make manifest the reflections that are most characteristically human.

    Beyond self-affirmation, however, there are additional efficacies in the negative facet of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. If it were not for the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self we would lack the capacity to; 1) become an “object” to ourselves, 2) access reflexive thought processes and self-narratives, and 3) make manifest the reflections that are most characteristically human. L.C. Simpson (1995: 29), in his reflections on the nature of self-understanding, states: “We, unlike the rest of nature, stand as a problem to ourselves. How are we to make sense of our lives? How are we to comport ourselves? What stories are we enacting and ought we to enact?”]

    The big question here is what does the above have to do with the determinism/indeterminacy problem? The logical structure that describes the above circumstance is expressed as b~b~bb. In ~bb (not being occurring in being) self-consciousness is implied (Descartes’ Cogito), while, at the same time, self-consciousness remains embedded in a physical event (b~b). The physical event accounts for the determinacy factor in physics while self-consciousness accounts for the indeterminacy factor in physics. But, in order to understand why this is we must first ask “where did b~b~bb come from.” This structure evolved out of a simpler structure which, in turn, evolved out of the structure ~~b (the duality that structures quantum phenomena). What follows is another extract from my blog entitled: Quantum Strangeness Structurally Explained-Question and Solution

    [The same attributes (discontinuity, indeterminism, and non-locality) that characterize self-consciousness characterize also the “double negation” that serves as the ground of freedom. Both of these “forms” generate implication. At “ground” implication remains open, while in self-consciousness, implication opens up the human world-historical-process. In other words, the negation that lies at the center of self-consciousness, the negation that permits our capacity to solve mathematical equations, lies also at the “ground level” of our experience with quantum physics. Because observation takes place in the space of continuity, determinism and locality– self-consciousness’s negative space— there is an unavoidable clash of worlds—the world of continuity, determinism and locality (relativity) clashes with the world of discontinuity, indeterminism, and non-locality (quantum physics). Bottom line—the theory of relativity accurately describes natural phenomena. Einstein’s equations, when applied to the world of physical events, provide accurate information concerning our status as participating agents in the physical universe. Likewise, quantum mechanics accurately describes natural phenomena. Only the phenomena being described are “fuzzy” because, as it is throughout freedom’s dialectic, the space that separates also embeds and connects. In other words, on the quantum level, self-consciousness confronts its own ground condition in the form of the “phenomenal strangeness” of quantum physics.

    Ultimately, from its most holistic perspective, dialectical freedom’s structural form tells us: Were it not for the negative space/condition of determinism, continuity, and locality, the human consciousness of discontinuity, non-locality, and indeterminism (opposites are necessary to conserve wholeness) would not be free in a world of our own experience (by degrees, experience of our own choosing), seeking truth, justice, and religious meaning.]

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