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Where Does Consciousness Come From?


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    I think this is a fascinating question, and all the more interesting because Science with a capital S doesn't have much of any answer to this very large and important question. Science can't even agree fully on what consciousness is, let alone what generates it exactly. Which leads to wild speculation, and that means we can all speculate too, in this forum.

    So, where do you think consciousness comes from? Quite honestly no answer is off the table, so you don't have to back it up with hard science, but extra double bonus points if you can.

    There are two main camps when it comes to this question, and one has a lot more members than the other --

    Camp #1 says the brain generates consciousness. From that axiom, science at large can't seem to agree or explain exactly how, at all, but they generally point to chemical reactions in the brain and are actively searching for the exact part(s) of the brain that would be responsible for it's generation.

    There is one recent study done at Harvard that does suggest we can maybe pinpoint consciousness generation in the brain. Harvard Scientists Think They've Pinpointed The Physical Source of Consciousness. I particularly like their definition or way of thinking about consciousness --

    Consciousness is generally thought of as being comprised of two critical components - arousal and awareness.

    Having identified the part of the brain responsible for arousal fairly concretely it seems, the major hurdle is finding the part that generates 'awareness'. And THAT'S the part I am most interested in.

    They think they have discovered the possible answer. Give that article a read and see if you agree. I am not so sure, in part because I currently belong to the other camp, the much smaller camp.

    Camp #2 thinks that consciousness is non-local, and that the brain acts as a receiver of consciousness. Now this idea or line of thinking makes a majority of scientists roll their eyes, as it smacks of spiritual science, or more derogatorily pseudoscience.

    It should be said that science, at least mainstream Science, is largely based on materialism. If we can't psychically see and test something, or at least explain it with abstract mathematics, it is not real and not worth science's time or resources. And it has little patience or consideration for 'woo'.

    But you also have to admit that Physics and Astronomy in particular are fields of Science becoming more and more mainstream and fundamental, and they are anything but materialists. The deeper you get into both fields, I think, the more 'woo' and strange and counter-intuitive it becomes. Especially if you entertain the idea of String Theory.

    That said, to buy into Camp #2, you have to believe that consciousness is in some way, shape or form floating around in the ether like a signal, and that are brains 'tune into it', much like a TV antenna receives, unpacks and displays a TV signal. Or the way computers accept wifi signals. And in a larger sense, you might also have to buy into the idea that the universe itself is conscious, or that in a very base way, not that it is conscious but that it is MADE of consciousness, an even stranger proposition.

    And that's what makes Science so uncomfortable about seriously entertaining Camp #2's approach. It feels too 'spiritual' and it borderline suggests religion might be right in some fundamental, abstract ways, that an all emanating force or energy or knowledge or whatever is in and of all things, and that we are tuning into it, and that we operate in a symbiotic relationship with it.

    This thread is already too long. :) I could go on and on and on, but I should stop somewhere and see what everyone's thoughts are before this turns into an unreadable diatribe. Anyways, please share your thoughts on this subject. Endlessly interesting topic to me, and if you are in Camp #1 (as most are) if you can cite any proof or studies suggesting proof, I welcome the chance to have my mind changed.

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    I think there's a saying about science (I'm going to butcher it) that touches on just what you said about there is a requirement for something to be physical or able to be measured in some form or another. But that's where science hits a brick wall, and what people consider to be the trump card against the validity that science is the only answer and more correct than other ways of explaining the universe.

    I've teetered between both camps honestly, with a conclusion that both could be right and that it's a combination of both streams of thought. I wonder since the brain stem has been found to process arousal and perhaps awareness, then why couldn't it, like you said, be like the TV antenna that is receiving the signal? Our brain chemistry is so intricate that it's more of an information highway in the brain. Some say serotonin is responsible for reality itself, then why couldn't a chemical be responsible for consciousness as well? After all, it's made up of a sort of biological data that is sending information to parts of the brain? I believe scientists on the fringe of physics are our only hope in this endeavor.

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    Oh, here's a pretty neat video on consciousness. I think the cartoons help. Wink

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    I'm in camp #2. Scientific American has a piece on panpsychism, which is what I think I most align with.

    Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?