The implications of a physical consciousness

One of the biggest questions anyone can ask is, “what is consciousness?” Is it an illusion created by the brain, or evidence of a soul?

All right, let’s be honest here. Most people do not make up their mind based on reason, logic, or even intuition. The truth is, most people believe what they do for social or emotional reasons — truth be damned. An evangelical Christian believes in the soul, based on faith, regardless of reason. A hardcore physical scientist will never, ever admit the existence of the soul, even when faced with irrefutable proof, lest he be ridiculed by his colleagues. Therefore, there can never be an honest debate about consciousness — that’s just a fact.

So, to make it harder for anyone to escape the logic, I’m going to make it real simple. I want to show what it actually means to say that consciousness is created by the brain. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that consciousness is physical and see where we get.

Let’s start with two simple, proven bases.

1) In physics, nothing is created. Nothing that exists is created from nothing, but instead built from smaller pieces that already exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish a cherried-out ’65 fastback Mustang could magically appear out of thin air (in my garage, thank you), but it ain’t gonna happen. According to science, neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed.

2) Consciousness exists.

Are you reading this? Good, then don’t try to argue that consciousness is an illusion. That’s bullshit. Illusions can only exist in the perceptions of an observer — a consciousness. Or, if you like Descartes: “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”

Now, with these two bases, the logical ramification is clear: consciousness is not created, but built from smaller parts of consciousness. So, what are the smaller “pieces” of consciousness? There are two possibilities:

  • there is a yet undiscovered physical “consciousness particle” or “consciousness force”
  • consciousness is a property of existing physical particles or forces

Either way, consciousness is built in to our universe. Also, remember: in physics, not only can matter/energy not be created, it can’t be destroyed, either. And therefore, consciousness is eternal. Hardcore physical scientists, who believe that the universe is dead and mindless, really hate this conclusion.

Of course, the context of my logic is that consciousness is physical. The only way to escape the conclusion that consciousness is eternal and built into the universe is to believe that consciousness is metaphysical, and thus, outside the scope of physics. If you believe anything else, and you can’t point out specific flaws in my logic, then you aren’t being honest.

Edited 1/28/07

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3 Responses to “The implications of a physical consciousness”

  1. Ϸ Says:

    > point out specific flaws in my logic,

    Ok, here’s one:

    > Also, remember: in physics, not only can things not be created, they can’t be destroyed, either.

    See that word “things”?
    Physics says matter and energy cannot be destroyed. It doesn’t say “things”.

    This computer here on my desk is a thing, and it CAN be destroyed. Perhaps not destroyed in the absolute, literal sense of matter or energy being destroyed- where it just doesn’t exist anymore… But destroyed for all practical purposes. Just give me a hammer and a bottle of lighter fluid.
    Still plenty of matter and energy, but no more computer.

    More apt to the discussion of consciousness: No more Mac OS X 10.4, either.

    Yes, consciousness necessarily arises from “smaller pieces” of the universe and it is probably inevitable that there is going to be consciousness SOMEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE at any given time, and in that sense it is “eternal.” But because consciousness is such a complex, high-level sort of “thing,” just a minor rearrangement of those pieces would be sufficient to end any specific local concentration of consciousness (aka “you”.)

    Sorry, you still have to die, no matter how badly you want not to.

  2. Daniel Says:

    To the previous poster:

    I made a small edit to show that your complaint doesn’t actually effect my logic:

    “Also, remember: in physics, not only can matter/energy not be created, it can’t be destroyed, either.”

    Thank for pointing out my imprecise writing.

    As for your computer example: All computer logic can be broken down to bits — an electric signal is either off or on. The worst you could do to a computer would be to turn all signals off! The logic would actually still be working!

  3. Umunandi Says:

    You are a genius. Again, the only point made here that I disagree with is calling consciousness ‘physical’.

    As an ex-materialist (and someone who had absolutely no death anxiety prior to reluctantly adopting a panpsychist view), it’s hard for me to understand how anyone could deny the soundness of your argument. Sans dogma, you just have to accept the probability of panpsychism being true if you’ve been exposed to and understand the basic argument against materialism (defies direct experience), emergent property dualism and Cartesian substance dualism (the logical inconceivability of mind emerging from mindless matter or causally interacting with it as a fundamentally unrelated and independent thing).

    Re : the computer point : I think it’s a contradiction to admit that ‘matter’ cannot be destroyed but ‘things’ can. A computer is a specific arrangement of indivisible sub-atomic particles, it’s not anything above and beyond the sum of it’s parts. You’ve ‘destroyed’ the computer in the sense that you’ve rearranged it into something unrecognizable but you haven’t obliterated it, for ‘practical purposes’ or otherwise. Likewise, experience *changes* but it doesn’t begin or end.

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