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The Mystery of Consciousness II | Sam Harris

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.

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The Mystery of Consciousness II | Sam Harris

The Mystery of Consciousness II | Sam Harris

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

samharris.org

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Key Ideas

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.

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.

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.

How We See Things

  • Our brain studies the colour, contours, motion, location of an object, but for consciousness, everything has to arise in seamless unity, all at once, to be able to be experienced.

  • We have a lot of unanswered questions about sleep, memories, duplication of the self, and other things that are puzzling to science.

  • Science has to acknowledge consciousness, through deep foundation, inquiry, motivation and introspection, directly, or it may not be discovered at all.

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The Hard Problem of Consciousness

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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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The mystery of consciousness

The mystery of consciousness

We have made advances in understanding how the brain works and how it affects human behavior. But no one is able to explain how all this results in feelings, emotions, and experiences.

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Consciousness: A unique scientific problem

For much of the 20th century, consciousness was not a serious topic for "serious science." That has changed. The problem of consciousness is a scientific dilemma.

For one, consciousness is unobservable. We know consciousness exists through our immediate awareness of our own feelings and experiences. But you can't look in the head of someone else to see their feelings and experiences.

Using observation for an unobservable issue

When we are dealing with data, we can do experiments to test whether what we observe matches the hypothesis. But we are dealing with the unobservable data of consciousness.

The best scientists can do is to correlate unobservable experiences with observable processes. For example, the feeling of hunger is associated with visible activity in the brain's hypothalamus.

But collecting correlations does not explain why conscious experiences correspond with brain activity.

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Consciousness as sentience

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’.

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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.

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