In the last few years, several scientists and philosophers are looking at panpsychism, the idea that everything in the universe might be conscious, or potentially conscious, or conscious when putting into particular configurations.
A narrower view is that anything could be conscious, providing that the information it contains is sufficiently interconnected and organized. The human brain fits the description, so do the brains of animals, though their consciousness may be different. But that principle may also apply to the internet or a smartphone.
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Patricia Churchland, a self-described neurophilosopher, thinks neuroscience will eventually show that consciousness is just brain states.
Several ideas are surfacing: "global workspace theory," "ego tunnels," "microtubules," even speculation that quantum theory may provide an answer. But some thinkers raise the possibility that they should not assume that they can solve every big philosophical puzzle that arises.
Science has been trying to ignore the problem of consciousness for a long time.
The "integrated information theory" has been tested. A device has been designed to measure how integrated the brain's neural circuits are. When people fall into a deep sleep, the device demonstrates that their brain integration declines too.
In theory, you can take any device, measure the complexity of the information contained in it, and then work out whether or not it was conscious.
Most may think of consciousness as something above our physical being - as if your mind were driving your body. But to accept this as a scientific principle would discount the laws of physics.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that reality consists of physical atoms and their component particles. If non-physical mental stuff did exist, how can it cause physical things to happen?
The problems of consciousness straddle the border between science and philosophy.
We could tell simple mechanical stories about the machinery of the eye, but it doesn't begin to explain the breathtaking experience of depth and clarity.
Consciousness can't just be made of ordinary physical atoms. Philosopher David Chalmers argues that it must be an additional ingredient in nature.
Consciousness could be described as the feeling of being inside your head, looking out, or of having a soul.
How we learn, store memories, or perceive things, are easy problems to solve. The problematic part is why all those complicated brain processes feel like anything from the inside.
Professor Daniel Dennett, the high-profile atheist, argues that consciousness is an illusion, that the normal functioning of the brain just makes it look as if there is something non-physical going on.
His opponents think he simply denies the existence of something everyone knows: that of their inner experience of sights, smells, emotions, and rest.
Consciousness is everything you experience - taste, pain, love, feeling. Where these experiences come from is a mystery.
Many modern analytic philosophers of mind either deny the existence of consciousness, or they argue that they can never be meaningfully studied by science.
For a long time, the question of consciousness itself has been kept off the table, and cannot be ignored any longer, as any breakthrough in science points to reality being subjective.
If we look at objects in the universe in terms of atoms, we will come to the conclusion that some atoms form objects that become conscious, while others don’t. It is difficult for science to suddenly explain away consciousness, something they have neglected for eons. The explanatory gap is too big if they acknowledge consciousness.
Though the subject of consciousness is hard to define and varies from individual to individual, at the base level it can be termed as ‘sentience’.
To say that a person or creature is conscious is something to do with the present moment being complete, even if we disregard all memory, behaviour, sights, sounds and experiences. It is the one thing that cannot be an illusion.
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