Sterling Ambivalence (sterlingnorth) wrote,
Sterling Ambivalence

Am I Conscious?

Back on Monday, the Washington Post published an article on the current thinking from neuroscientists on that weird feature we humans have called consciousness, which provoked a response from Mickey Kaus and a counter response from whomever writes Tapped at the American Prospect.

The current thinking by neuroscientists is that consciousness is more of an illusion made possible by your brain chemistry. Our brain, not content on being a good machine fools itself into thinking there is something more. That all makes sense. The brain loves to play these self deception games on us, but Mickey, who I lean with, asks why.
"Why would this consciousness come about?. Where's the big evolutionary edge? Couldn't you have an organism that looked like a human and did all the things humans do -- calculating advantage, striving to amass resources, lunging for status, feigning humor, seducing friends, punishing enemies -- in mechanical, computer-like fashion without any internal human feelings at all? A robotic creature, in short, not unlike California governor Gray Davis! And couldn't this organism succeed in an evolutionary sense (at least until it ran for president)? ...Consciousness still seems gratuitous, a gift. Philosopher David Chalmers says:

"It seems God could have created the world physically exactly like this one, atom for atom, but with no consciousness at all. And it would have worked just as well. But our universe isn't like that. Our universe has consciousness."

Am. Pro. responds that the answer is in the Wash Po article itself, that the brain needs to feel that it has accomplished something, as so to learn to recognize similar situations and calculate whether or not to follow through..
"The brain, [Harvard professor, and author Daniel] Wegner contends, produces consciousness to give itself a feeling of having done something. This feeling helps the brain recognize similar situations when they arise -- the next article in the newspaper, for instance. Being aware of its actions, the brain-machine can better decide whether to read another article."

That's cool and all, but it doesn't seem to explain many other experiences from the human brain. One example is something I call the "Eureka Moment". Named from when Archimedes discovered a solution to a problem a king gave him about finding out if the gold he had was real. Anyway, the Eureka moment is when for some reason with little explanation, you hit inspiration. It usually occurs after you hit a rock in your conscious thinking, and you can't seem to advance from a particular conundrum. With me it occurs only after banging my head against something for hours, and then giving up on it for a bit. From somewhere, I'd get this idea to try and "Eureka" problem solved. This seems to occur from beyond my consciousness, not at the subconscious level that is left-right-left-right of walking, or at the conscious level of "How do I do this." It just flashes there. If our mind is merely a machine, how do you explain this glitch?

I'll try to explain more on this later.
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