Monday, April 28, 2008

(no subject)

"Why do we have consciousness? is like asking why the ocean is wet.
Consciousness is not some special added feature; it's just what it feels
like when a central nervous system configured like ours processes
stimuli, recognizes patterns, sends and modulates signals to various
parts of the body, and goes about doing all those other things our
central nervous systems do.

So, you say, "why does it feel like anything, though? Why should it feel
like something to be alive"? Again, it's semantics. It feels like this
because we use the word "feel" to describe what this feels like. We made
that word to describe this phenomenon. We call it feeling, and that's
what it is. From the point of view of a rock, it probably feels like
being a rock. I doubt being a rock feels like being a human and having
consciousness, but there's no way the rock could tell us what it does
feel like, even if it could talk. Language requires common experience.
We all have it because we are all humans and we're all wired pretty much
the same way.

There isn't a special part of the brain that is the "conscious mind".
The mind is modular, with many different parts performing many different
tasks at the same time. You may think that the subvocalizing you're
doing right now as you read this is happening in some special, central
control room in your head, but it isn't. You're processing it in your
language center while other parts of you are thinking just as hard and
in exactly the same way about the temperature in your room, the noises
around you, what you were reading before you started on this post, what
you'll do as soon as you finish it, and a million other things.
Eventually you'll get to the end of this post — or you'll get bored and
give up on reading this — and you'll have to form a connection with the
part of your brain that has the information about what you were doing,
and what you're planning to do next. You'll probably subvocalize that
information to yourself again at that point, check it over to make sure
it makes sense and sounds right and that you still want to do it, and
then another part of your brain will stat making preparations to act on
it. All of this is happening, and would continue to happen even if that
part of your brain that "feels" like a voice in your head was burned out
and destroyed right now. With a big chunk missing from your language
processing center, you'd be unable to talk for a while, but you could
function normally in every single other way. And in all likelihood your
brain would eventually form new connections and you'd be up and talking
again, using a different part of your brain that got reassigned to the
task. But none of those parts are more or less conscious than the others.

Id/ego dichotomy, mind/body dichotomy, probably even self/other
dichotomy. These are useful models and useful tools, but they're not
truths and shouldn't be treated as such. We're all part of the same
soup, and the only reason you don't feel your keyboard is because your
nerves aren't wired to it. It's still no less a part of you than your
hand, really.

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