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The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

The Paradox Of the Big Bang

The Paradox Of the Big Bang

The idea that about 13 billion years ago, everything including time, matter, space, laws, gravity, cause and effect, simply sprang out of nothing in a loud bang, seems to be a foolish thing to believe.

Nothing cannot suddenly give rise to everything. The very act of the big bang requires time and space as a prerequisite to even occur.

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The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

The Mystery of Consciousness | Sam Harris

https://samharris.org/the-mystery-of-consciousness/

samharris.org

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Key Ideas

Consciousness as sentience

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.

Beyond The Physical

Quantum mechanics and modern physics (like string theory) has made the concept of physical reality and the tangible, solid universe a fluid and slippery concept.

Those who are trying to find consciousness in the physical world are stuck in the past, as consciousness may have nothing to do with the brain or the subjective reality.

The Paradox Of the Big Bang

The idea that about 13 billion years ago, everything including time, matter, space, laws, gravity, cause and effect, simply sprang out of nothing in a loud bang, seems to be a foolish thing to believe.

Nothing cannot suddenly give rise to everything. The very act of the big bang requires time and space as a prerequisite to even occur.

Consciousness Out Of Unconsciousness

Just like the failed Big Bang Theory, the idea of consciousness emerging from or being identical to unconscious physical events sounds far fetched and hard to conceive.

The fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience is something to ponder, and we might be groping in the dark all this time because we have deliberately closed our eyes.

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The Mystery Of Consciousness

The Mystery Of Consciousness

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.

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Life Is Unexplainable

The very things that are taken for granted or are overlooked hold the key to the understanding of life and consciousness. The things we find in nature cannot be imagined by us by any stretch of the imagination.

Example: A delicate, complex living organism, which can reproduce itself indefinitely.

Being Alive

Conceiving life while not being alive seems inconceivable, but as an analogy, how can vision be created from processes that are themselves blind?

The complicated chain of processes does point out that there is some higher intelligence/consciousness that operates on a different level, which may be out of our reach.

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The Hard Problem of Consciousness

The Hard Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness could be described as the feeling of being inside your head, looking out, or of having a soul.

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Between Science And Philosophy

The problems of consciousness straddle the border between science and philosophy.

  • Some argue that conscious sensations, such as pain, don't really exist, others, that plants and trees must also be conscious.
  • A handful of neuroscientists have come to believe that the problem is about to be solved if we are willing to accept the conclusion that computers or the internet might soon become conscious too.

Ignoring The Problem

Science has been trying to ignore the problem of consciousness for a long time.

  • In the 1600s, René Descartes declared that nothing is more obvious and undeniable than the fact that we are conscious. Your consciousness can't be a fantasy. At the same time, your consciousness does not obey any of the usual rules of science. It doesn't seem to be physical. It can't be observed or really described. Descartes concluded that it had been bequeathed to us by God.
  • This Cartesian dualism remained the assumption into the 18th century. But it was unacceptable to the secular scientist that took the position that only physical things exist.
  • As late as 1989, the British psychologist Stuart Sutherland declared that it is impossible to specify what consciousness is, what it does, or why it evolved.
  • In 1990 Francis Crick and Christof Kock mentioned in a paper that most of the work in both cognitive and neurosciences makes no reference to consciousness because most don't know of a useful way of approaching the problem.

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Consciousness And Quantum Physics

Consciousness And Quantum Physics

Understanding consciousness and how it fits in the universe is a perennial puzzle for decades. Some call it the holy grail of science.

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The Observer Effect

Modern science is hesitant to talk about consciousness due to it opening a pandora’s box, putting their previously ‘bulletproof’ theories under suspicion.

Quantum Theory had a similar ‘uh oh’ moment when it was found that the behaviour of atomic level particles changes when we (a conscious observer) are looking at it, or not. This is known as the Observer Effect.

Objectivity Vs Consciousness

Physicists argue that objectivity might as well be an illusion, and consciousness has to be put in the picture of its worldview.

The two puzzles of Science, Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics, might as well be closely related, with one arising because of the other.

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