My view on consciousness

Every organism that has the ability to remember the past can be able to know that the he/she(organism) is alive. So what about the organism that they don’t even know they are alive i,e Babies and some organims doesn’t even know that they are alive, But they seems to respond to specific kind of stimulus eg. Sound,touch,pain(especially heat or cold) in that case we have to come to the conclusion ‘Consciousness is anything that is being processed inside the brain’. Consciousness is not a static but a dynamic system. It seems to me that giving name for the processing of the brain is itself a form of mistake. It is just a name that someone created just because they don’t understand the brain. Since we know the brain was never understood by anyone in the past so they may have created a wrong kind of problem. Eg. We are the center of the universe problem, it was created because People doesn’t understand about astronomy in the past.

I think there are multiple kinds of consciousness, and they’re more complicated than just naming the brain’s processing. It tends to be like, something is conscious whereas something else is not conscious, for reasons.

For example, when you go under general anesthesia for surgery, you lose some form of consciousness. You don’t remember anything, hopefully because you didn’t experience anything. There are probably lots of studies about how the brain responds to stimuli under anesthesia. It still responds, but in a different way. I think I read somewhere that the response is more limited, like just the most basic sensory processing.


There is a fundamental flaw in this statement and so I must ask how do you know? First, you need some evidence that an organism has the ability to remember the past. That seems simple enough, isn’t that what happens with learning? A rat learns not to touch a lever because it has been shocked. When it avoids the lever, can we not say that it remembered the past? Sounds good, but how did it remember the past? This is just operant conditioning, but we’ll go with it. So now you are faced with an experiment showing that it knows that it is alive and this is where things go south. You cannot ask it if it is alive. There is no forthcoming cogito ergo sum. So now you can teach it to communicate, what they did with Koko and Alex, possibly others (we still do not know everything the USN did with dolphins). Then hold a conversation about being and certainly the animal should have read Sartre’s Being and Nothingness before being queried about existence.

Okay, so maybe that last part is a bit much. Let’s change the animal to a human, roughly 2-3 years old. Capable of multi-word sentences and quick to pick up things (smart). Ask, “What did you do with daddy yesterday?” and it will answer, “We went to grandma’s.” Voila! Clearly shows the ability to remember the past and articulate same. Now ask “Are you alive?” Of course, you could argue that it first has to be told that it is alive, but isn’t that cheating? I can train (tell) my dog that it is alive and that every time it is asked it should shake its head in the affirmative. Clearly, it does not know that it is alive even though it can remember the past and can respond correctly to the existential query. What does ‘knowing’ even mean?


If brain works normally then we have consciousness, if the process has been impaired by anaesthetic’s then we lose some part of consciousness. If consciousness can be regainable after the end of anaesthetic, doesn’t it mean that consciousness was being created inside the brain. Consciousness was never created nor destroyed, its not a energy or some form of fluid that fluctuates in the course of anaesthetics. Consciousness is having every input neurons functionally active to receive and get triggered again( i posted a post on this, you can check if you want).

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I want to ask you a question?
How do you know you are alive?
And you have been diagnosed with the odd form of brain disease that after every 10 seconds you will lose the memory you formed.
Now answer this question?
I want to know what is important on knowing that we are alive.

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I hate to say it, but I think you’ve stumbled into the wrong forum. The underlying purpose here is to understand and produce AI of a more general kind, possibly by studying brains in living organisms. This is about science and engineering, and is not about beliefs and introspection. Those questions are best asked elsewhere.


I understand… sorry for the inconvenience…

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Going absolutism, I believe we will neither really understand the brain, in near or far future. But I believe we’ll gradually come with better and better understandings so long as humanity last. That’s the way how science work as I (and probably many others) understand it.

Also a classic ancient Chinese assay from Taoism:


Tao, if articulable, is not the eternal Tao.
The name, if can be named, is not the eternal name.
Heaven and earth start with no name.
The named is the mother of everything under the sun.

There are 10 translations in the original page, above is my favorite one.

  1. Zhuāngzǐ (庄子) and Huìzǐ (惠子) were strolling on a bridge over the River Háo (濠).
  1. Zhuāngzǐ said: “The fish are out swimming about. That is the ‘Joy of Fish.’”
  1. Huìzǐ replied: "You are not a fish; from what do you know the joy of fish?
  1. "Zhuāngzǐ said: “You are not I; from what do you know whether I know the joy of fish?”
  1. Huìzǐ reposted: “I am not you, and so I can’t know. It follows that since you are not a fish, you can’t know the joy of fish. So there!”

Zhuāngzǐ (庄子) and Huìzǐ (惠子) have been reading Wittgenstein, haven’t they?

Anyway, not to wander too far from what @Prakash OP’d, but here is what I am reading now and those following this thread may find it interesting because it speaks (no pun intended) to learning and knowing and how children acquire it in the “no negative evidence” problem, which is a subset of unsupervised learning.

It is Terry Regier’s Berkeley dissertation. As such, it is well-written, technical and was vetted by Feldman and Lakoff, so quite critically peer-reviewed.

Regier’s technique sort of reminds me of one of Sherlock Holmes’ lines: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”


I always like reading other people’s views, like all participants in this thread, about consciousness, which is normally viewed as the culmination of all cognitive processes. I will not jump into this very profound question that has occupied many since the earliest historical records of humankind go. But I will agree with the general view that it all hinges around definitions and semantics. The importance of clear definitions for every term used, is essential. Natural language is by its very nature always ambiguous because we assign multiple meanings to almost every word and term we use. So this discussion is futile if we do not first assign a single meaning to a term, before we use it. And that is by no means impossible, it is just cumbersome.

I like the last question, above: What does ‘knowing’ even mean? Just like the question about knowing to be alive. What does alive mean? First, we need to define alive (or life as a concept) and also knowing. And it is not important that everyone participating agrees that a given definition of “alive” or of “knowing” is their preferred definition. It is only important that all participants are aware of what is meant when the word is used by others, within the given discussion. Everyone has to accept that a word is just a token for a given object, action, adjective or concept. If that is clear, the discussion will have logical consistency and perhaps enrich all participants with more knowledge. A common problem is, that not all participants want to discuss the same thing. I then suggest they should fork the thread into separate topics, and perhaps they all wish to discuss the separate topics. Some people also like ambiguity. I highly dislike ambiguity, which does not mean I am not open to multiple topics, in separate dialogs.

One example of a definition of life, and being alive: Life is matter that is capable of storing information, which determine its physical traits (phenotype) and is inheritable (genotype) and which can reproduce or replicate either independently as an individual (asexually) or by interactions with likes in kind (sexual reproduction), creating subsequent generations within a population.

So, with this definition, is a virus alive? No, a virus cannot replicate without a host. So it violates the definition above. If we change the above definition of life, sure, a virus could be alive. But we all agree why. Language should not stand in our way.


Off topic a bit, they didn’t unless time-travel had been an ancient technology.

Born: c. 369 BC
Died: c. 286 BC (aged c. 82 – 83)

Born: 26 April 1889
Died: 29 April 1951 (aged 62)

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Humor is one of the more delightful consequences of consciousness.

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Your concern with clear definitions is commendable, and I’d like to say I agree with you. However, language doesn’t work like that. We use words (and phrases etc) by convention, guided by our intuition as to what the word means and what our listener will take from it. Usage comes first, definitions follow. A definition of a word is a codification of how we think a word is (or should be) used. Murray et al knew that when they started on the OED.

So it’s not surprising that debates with semantics and definitions at the heart are never resolved – how could they be? The key focus of this forum is the science and engineering of AI, which should avoid these problems, if only we could agree on what constitutes intelligence!


This definition acts as a standard to compare with the assumptions. When we try to understand about the brain there is no standard model or schema to compare with. Even if some researchers got the solution right they don’t have anything to compare to prove their theory. So we try to create our own standard schema -
Assumption → testing → standard.
Researchers struggles at the second level i think so. I find numerous assumptions without solid evidence.
Some one said in this thread that system can’t understand itself. I will understand only if it had a standard schema to compare with.

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How do you eliminate impossible? I think only by comparing with the knowledge you acquired. What will you do if can’t acquire knowledge on the matter.

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About alive-ness, I suppose there can be many things/concepts around though of vastly different concerns.

It’s undoubtedly crucial to genetically implant some proper mechanism, which would drive an organism to struggle for survival, including innate fear for death and reaction to threats.

But I read somewhere (pity I’m not a researcher and have not been tracking references properly) human as a universal learner can achieve extra awareness of life than non-human animals.

Imagine a human baby within 3~5 years old, it has gained capacity to learn while has not learned plenty. At the very first incidence it encountered a dead animal, e.g. a birdy, it would ask an adult or its elder siblings why the birdy is not moving at all, unlike all other birdies it has ever seen. “It’s dead.” The plain simple answer should be a trigger word, for the baby to start “knowing” about death, and only after it has figured out that itself will die some day, it becomes aware that itself is alive at the moment, in a sense beyond the ability by other animals.

Another assumption bites the dust.

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Yeah, this is refreshing.

I used to think that’s just some genetic mechanism to protect spices from Prion spread, though I’ve also heard that elephants seem to have human-like emotions.

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There is a significant difference between emotions and feelings. The best example of this is fear, an emotion, and anxiety, a feeling. All mammals exhibit fear, but only humans have anxiety, which requires consciousness, which requires language. Yes, all sorts of assumptions, but it just makes so much sense. Anyway, here’s Jaynes on it, from the Afterword in The Origin:

From Fear to Anxiety

In fear, there are a class of stimuli, usually abrupt and men- acing, which stop the animal or person from ongoing behavior, provoke flight, and in most social mammals produce specific bodily expressions and internally a rise in the level of catecholamines in the blood, such as adrenalin and noradrenalin. This is the well- known emergency response, which dissipates after a few minutes if the frightening object or situation is removed.

But with consciousness in a modern human being, when we reminisce about previous fears or imagine future ones, fear becomes mixed with the feeling of anxiety. If we wish to make echoes here of the James-Lange theory of the emotions, we would call anxiety the knowledge of our fear. We see a bear, run away in fear, and have anxiety. But anxiety as a rehearsal of actual fear partially occasions the emergency response at least weakly. It is man’s new capacity for conscious imagery that can keep an analog of the frightening situation in consciousness with a continuing response to it. And how to turn off this response with its biochemical basis was and I think still is a problem for conscious human beings, particularly with the resulting increase in catecholamine levels and all its long-term effects. I would ask you here to consider what it was like for an individual back in the first millennium B.C. to have these anxieties that did not have their own built-in mechanism of cessation and before human beings learned conscious mechanisms of thought for doing so.

This is demonstrated in the famous incident described by Herodotus of the very first tragedy performed in Athens. It was performed only once. The play was The Fall of Miletus by Phrynicus, describing the sack of that Ionian city by the Persians in 494 B.C., a disaster that had happened the previous year. The reaction of the audience was so extreme that all Athens could not function for several days. Phrynicus was banished, never to be heard of again, and his tragedy burnt.