The problem associated with defining Consciousness

The study of philosophy has been researched for centuries. Many philosophers have debated many questions. One problem that has been raised is that philosophy has a scientific element and its hard to be objective when we are humans studying humans. However we need to be objective to see things in a different way. One particular area that has received a lot of attention recently is the study of consciousness.

The problem with defining consciousness is that it is a very complex subject and definitions have changed through the centuries of Philosophers. The issue is still being discussed today and it appears that every different philosopher has a particular view on the subject. If anything the research associated with consciousness is more wide spread now than ever. This essay hopes to analyse what the Philosophers say on the issue of Consciousness’ and bring across their theories and compare with other writers. Firstly the essay will address Authors definition of consciousness.

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It has been indicated that consciousness’ can be defined as a “physical reality or a “foundation of cognition”. Bem comments on Dennett who believed the theory behind consciousness’ could be that it is a human’s information processing system. There are so many different definitions of consciousness; this is an area that has received a lot of attention recently. However, in some ways it’s a difficult topic to investigate and research as how can we pin down consciousness in experiments?. (Bem and)

According to Ornstein (1992) consciousness can work on different levels and he notes that the part of the person’s mind where decisions interact can be described as consciousness. It can also be described in many different forms for example, we are fully conscious when awake and perhaps less conscious whilst sleeping and we can do things sub-consciously without having to think too much about something (e.g driving).

Another explanation given is that being conscious is being conscious of being aware of being aware. – reference!!!

Consciousness, according to Danasio () must be studied by looking at external and internal views. He comments that MRI Scans capture correlates of the mind, but these are not the mind. Contents of the mind are subjective but everyone has individual differences, therefore the study of consciousness is very complex.

Tannenbaum (2001) believes that consciousness has a biological aspect, and that the brain is the main organ for the function of consciousness to occur. He references to William James (1890) of gave an example of breaking it down by associating it as an organ or another sense that is difficult to define but that exist.

Studies of the brain have indicated a certain location might be the area where a sense of consciousness occurs. However it could be a structure that changes and moves around making it difficult to pin down and record. The levels may change due to an individuals needs. Constantly changing with time, for example a teenager going through development changes. Therefore indicating consciousness does not remain the same and changes with the individual and time. (Tannenbaum, 2001).

Perhaps in agreeance with this theory, This quote is from Jallaludin Rumi:

Originally you were clay. From being mineral you become vegetable. From vegetable, you become animal, and from animal, man. During these periods man did not know where he was going, but he was being taken on a long journey nonetheless. And you have to go through a hundred different worlds yet there are a thousand different forms of mind”.

This demonstrates that our minds are unique in many different ways and our life pattern changes and we change with time.

It has been indicated that consciousness be described as a mental state, it has the quality of experience this can be known as phenomenal qualities – qualia for short. There is a large mystery surrounding consciousness that people want to resolve and therefore this is why research is still being undertaken into what consciousness is. (Chalmers, 1996).

Individuals have visual experiences when they experience colour, shapes, darkness and light. An example indicates that Monocrome Mary was told all about the experience of colour but lived in a black and white room, how can she really experience colour this way?

Hypnosis, however can change the conscious being and “split” it, as it is not asleep but a superficial form which can make people respond to silly tasks. Hypnosis can be described as an altered state of consciousness, that can also occur when using or taking mind altering drugs.

It is apparent that the problem of consciousness has existed since people first became aware of conscious. The consciousness issue began with the mind-body discussions. Physicans believe that consciousness is a form of matter. Darwin disagrees with this claim and believes that consciousness is “property of all living things” which could indicate he believes plants and animals are all conscious. Therefore there are many different definitions of consciousness, making it harder to define.

Tannenbaum (2001) disagrees with epiphenomonistic view that consciousness has effects. He does indicate that consciousness works within our neural system and shares the same values but works in a different way. Therefore indicating that consciousness is a part of the brain functions.

Tannenbaum (2001) notes that to understand consciousness people must know about the senses. Therefore this could indicate that consciousness is another sense and perhaps that it works with the senses for people to feel emotion or pain. Making it individual, as everyone experiences of pain and emotion are different, due to the complexity of humans.

Jones refers to Huxley, who indicated that he was a epiphenomenalist, which is the view that the mind is a product of the brain. For someone who believes this theory it indicates that without the brain, there be no mind, therefore consciousness in his view is part of the brain.

Consciousness can be seen as subjective as it works within individuals in one organism rather than working externally. Therefore indicating that the mind and body remain as one thing. (Tannenbaum, 2001).

The first person who believed that mind and body were separate, indicating dualism was Plato, who was a greek philosopher in 300BC, he believed that souls are immortal and that the true reality of the soul is uncovered when an individual dies. Another well known philosopher in agreeance with him was Descaretes – he indicated that the mind and body are two beings but he believed there was a link between them which he said was the “Pineal Gland”, however he did believe the mind could survive without body. He spent a lot of time meditating and contemplating many philosophical debates. He also proposed that a mechanism gives an automatic response to external events, he was credited for the founding of reflex theory. descaretes also had a theory “method of doubt” that indicates that you could doubt the existence of the mind – Descarates famous quote was “I think therefore I am” – you exist because you are able to think without this you would not be able to be here.

Aristotle indicated that the body and the soul are one and the same, just two different aspects. This indicates that he was a monist, believing that the mind and body are the same entity.

Consiousness has many different forms, you can be described as being conscious when you are awake and when you are sleeping you are also conscious. This is the easiest way to explain conciousness, however the larger issue comes from the fact that individuals experience consciousness in different forms. For instance our experience of consciousness may not the same as a friends view on the topic etc. Everyone has their experiences to talk of. An easy process of another explanation is to describe the topic cognitively for example the processes of the brain. Therefore the issue associated with consciousness are complex and diverse. (Shear, 1997).

“Depending on the figure of speech chosen it is a state of being, a place, an epiphenomenon, an emergent aspect of matter, is the only true reality” (Miller, Page 25)

Consciousness is a very hard subject to study there has been so much discussion and theories put forward for analysing the subject that it is difficult to find one definition perhaps one would be “true reality”. Perhaps for further understanding further research needs to be completed. The benefits of knowing more information about the topic of consciousness is that we would be able to answer the question without stumbling over everyone elses ideas. It is hard to be objective due to the fact that we are humans studying humans. Scientists believe this is possible. Reductionists do not believe in consciousness. (Miller, ).

Spinoza (1632-77) was a materialist philosopher who believed that mind and body interact with each other but are part of one substance. Materialists have two different approaches, one is that the mind and body are one substance, the other view is to not believe there is such a thing as mind as it cannot be defined. He was noted as saying that people are “modes” which insinuates that humans are like machines only existing for a particular purpose or aim.

Another area of research that has been completed recently is the question of whether a machine can be conscious. A difficult question to answer, one of the issues is the difficulty of making a machine conscious – how can we begin to design a conscious machine when no-one can officially define what consciousness actually is.

Wittgenstein has noted in his philosophical investigations that only humans can be conscious and alive, indicating he believed in Monism, the theory that mind and body are one entity. His claim links consciousness to being alive, it is hard for us to relate to a stone as a stone does not appear to have feelings or does not act the same way as a human, making it difficult for us to find consciousness of a stone. (McGuinn, 1991).

McGuinn (1991) indicates that being biologically alive is not a condition of consciousness but that is it necessary that a conscious being should behave like a living thing. Therefore consciousness could be linked to being a human that is alive, indicating once more that the mind and body are one entity.

In answer to the question can a machine be conscious, it is difficult to reach a conclusion as a human does not know the full implications of consciousness yet, but perhaps this will change with time.

In summary there has been a wide range of views on consciousness and definitions of what it means. It is clear that further research needs to be undertaken to investigate the subject further. Perhaps further research can be undertaken into the brain functions and the different forms of consciousness be investigated with different individuals. There has been a lot of research into the function of the brain which has looked at consciousness scientifically. – develop!