What is consciousness? What does consciousness mean, and how to define consciousness?
what is the hard problem of consciousness? This, and much more, you will find in the video above or in the following article:
There is a very unique phenomenon, which remains inexplicable by science and philosophy. Furthermore, this phenomenon is so common, that only a few even notice that it is exceptional and cannot be explained.
This phenomenon is called “experience.”
Suppose we look at a rose, and we experience the color red. But what is red?
Some may say: “what’s the problem? Red is, in fact, light:, an electromagnetic wave in the range of visible light frequencies, with a frequency of about 450 terra Hertz.
But is it so?
Is Red a light?
According to the prevailing scientific theory today, an electromagnetic wave is actually an electric field and a magnetic field moving together through space, while the strength of the fields oscillates at a certain frequency.
Ultimately, light is just fields exerting magnetic and electric force. (By the way, the reason we don’t see the light exerting a force on magnets or electrical charges is because the field is changing the direction of the force it exerts so rapidly that it practically cancels itself for objects on a large scale. However, it certainly exerts a force on objects at the molecular or atomic level.)
But since light is essentially just forces of attraction and repulsion, where is the Red? And why is it that if we slightly change the frequency of the wave, as in this example (illustrative animation) it causes us to experience blue, which is a completely different experience from red.
At this point there would be those who would say: “The blue and Red are not in the electromagnetic wave, but in the brain. The electromagnetic wave is simply the trigger that activates, through the mechanism of vision, the experience of blue or red in our brain.
Ok. So we have made some progress. We agree that experience is not a quality of the external world. Rather, it resides within the brain.
So let’s look for the experience in the brain….
Is experience a product of the brain? – The hard problem of consciousness
In order to do so, let us look at a simplified computer. It has a camera, a processing mechanism, a memory and a screen. The electromagnetic wave hits the camera. The camera sends analog electrical signals to the processing mechanism. It transforms these signals into a digital code which is then stored in memory. Later, the processing mechanism retrieves the code from memory, converts it into electrical signals that reach the screen and are converted back into electromagnetic waves.
Can we say that the computer is experiencing red? Probably not. In this system there are electromagnetic waves, electric signals, digital codes, stored in a magnetic or another medium, but nowhere can we find an experience of red.
What about the brain? The brain is not much different from the computer (except it has no monitor). The light hitting the eye turns into electrical signals, which are sent to the brain. There they are converted into other electrical signals or to chemical signals that are actually various molecules of protein used for transferring information in the neural process.
So what do we have here?
Electromagnetic waves, electrical signals, molecules, brain cells and structures that are essentially also molecules of various substances. This is a machine that runs on physical laws. So where is the experience of Red? Where is the experience of blue? Where is the taste, the pain, the love?
I hope you understand what I’m talking about. There is nothing in the known physical world that can explain the existence of experience.
This is known as “The hard problem” of consciousness.
This is a very subtle distinction, so I want to give another example that might further clarify it.
When you take a picture and save it to the computer’s memory, where is the picture? In the computer’s memory, right? Not true. There is no image in the memory of the computer. In the memory of the computer there is a binary code, which is a long number consisting of the digits 0 and 1. For example, 0110010110011. All the files on the computer are stored in this way, whether they are images, music, text, etc. So how can you claim that this number 0110010110011 is an image? It can equally be a text or music. Indeed, this number is neither an image, a text or music. It is just a code.
Codes, and virtually all information are meaningful only in the presence of a decoding mechanism; a mechanism that has the ability and knowledge to take the information and turn it into something else – in this case, a picture. Without a decoding mechanism, this number, 0110010110011, is meaningless.
Similarly, everything in the brain – its cells, its chemicals or the electrical impulses in the nerves – is just the interaction of forces and physical structures. These contain no experience. They may serve as a code that triggers experiences, but where is the decoding mechanism?
Now we have reached consciousness.
What is consciousness?
Consciousness is the thing that makes the experience possible. If you like, you can say it is the decoding mechanism of the brain. Moreover, consciousness is the experiencer itself. It is quite clear that there cannot be an experience without someone experiencing it. However, the experiencer and the experience are not the same.
As I said in the video “who am I”, the word consciousness is often used to refer the mind or intelligence.
I define consciousness with a specific meaning:
The capacity to experience… to be aware of…
We can imagine consciousness as a blank screen. On the screen, we can project films using a projector. The projector is the brain.
The films are experiences: cold, hot, love, pain, knowing how to make an apple pie and so on.
They are what I call the Mind or the Psyche.
Where is the viewer?
The viewer is actually the screen itself. The screen enables the existence of these films and it experiences them, but it is not the films.
In order to answer the question what is consciousness, let us look at some features of consciousness which can be found out by observation and logical thinking:
1) You cannot observe your consciousness:
and the reason is that consciousness itself is the observer. It cannot observe itself just as we cannot see our eyes. We can only observe the thoughts, the emotions and the sensations we have, and conclude by that what consciousness is. It can be said that the consciousness needs the mind in order to know itself.
2) Consciousness is constant and unchanging:
No matter how many films we project onto the screen, the screen will not change and will remain essentially blank. This means that no matter what we experience in our life, our consciousness is not affected by it. You may say: “but if I go through a traumatic experience, I continue to experience it all my life”. This is true, but it isn’t your consciousness that has changed, but rather, your memory, that is the mind. This means that the projector gets stuck on a tragic film and continues to project it onto the screen of consciousness for a lifetime, but the screen itself is still blank, that is, content-less. By the way, remember the condition for the existence of the “I”, in the video “who am I?”
The “I” has to be constant everywhere I am. And since consciousness never changes, it meets this condition.
“Wait a minute… but if consciousness does not change, then why are there people talking about states of consciousness or the evolution of consciousness? In fact, according to the definitions I use, these are states of mind and evolution of the mind which enable consciousness to experience a more subtle perception of reality.
3) Consciousness is nothing that can be everything:
Question: When does it happen to us that there are no films on the screen?
Answer: When we lose consciousness – like during deep sleep. It is not that consciousness is gone, but rather, that there is no experience projected onto it and, therefore, it does not experience anything. Therefore, we can say that in its essence, consciousness is nothing. A void.
Another question: what films can be played on the screen?
Answer: Any possible film. This means that consciousness can experience every possible experience. Therefore, we can say that it can, potentially, become anything. And indeed it can, because there is nothing in our reality that is not an experience – but I’ll explain this statement another time.
4) The human mind limits the experiences of consciousness:
As we know we can classify the human experiences into three main categories:
- Sensations – coming from the five senses
- Emotions – such as love, jealousy, anger, etc.
- And Thoughts.
There may be other types of experiences other than one of these three, but the human psyche, as we know it in the average person, does not know how to produce or receive other types of experiences. Even in the context of these three types of experiences, the human mind is limited. For example, there are animals that see and hear beyond the range of frequencies that we perceive. If we could see light in ultraviolet ranges, like bees, for example, we may have been able to experience new colors that we are not experiencing now.
Finally, as human beings, at least as far as we know, our consciousness is limited only to our inner world. We do not directly experience the feelings or thoughts of others as we experience our own feelings and thoughts
5) Everyone’s consciousness is the same:
if consciousness is a blank screen that can experience everything projected onto it, this means that the consciousnesses of all people are identical. In fact, they are identical to the consciousnesses of animals and any other sentient being. What distinguishes humans and other sentient beings is the structure of their mind and its contents.
6) Essentially, We are all the same.
Remember the question “Who am I?” We have discovered the ‘I’, the “self”, is consciousness. And if all consciousnesses are identical, so my “I”, your “I” and the “I” of every other sentient being in the universe, is identical. I do not claim that all consciousnesses are essentially the same one consciousness. I have no way to examine this possibility. I’m just saying that the characteristics of all the various consciousnesses are the same.