Monday, 24 May 2010

Subjective thoughts on the matter* of consciousness

Much of philosophy and theological or religious discussion seems to revolve around the idea of dualism — the mind/body problem. It's a debate that may shed some light on the true nature of consciousness.

I have an experience of my own self that it is something apart from my body, something separate, distinct from my flesh, bones and blood. It's more than likely, I feel, that my "self" is a psychological construct that my brain has created in order to process information in a way that it can perceive as a whole.

Where am I, in my body? Although I sense that I'm in my head, somewhere behind my eyes, I am also in my fingertips as they type on this keyboard. It seems that my brain has created an entire conceptual model of my essence — of "me" — that is at once the sum of all my parts, yet more. I have a concept of who and what I am, which is this entity — this identity — that I call "me", yet this is probably no more than the aggregation of a complex series of perceptual messages that are constantly being processed in my brain.

Back to the example of the keyboard: when I type, I move my fingers in a certain way to achieve the words that appear on screen. But do I, really, move my fingers? What I am in fact doing is flexing the muscles clustered around my wrists, and those muscles, being attached to the bones of my fingers (some distance away, anatomically speaking) cause my fingers to move. But am I doing even that? What causes the muscles around my wrists to flex? What I'm actually doing is sending nerve impulses from my brain to the nerves connected to those muscles.

So how far back must I go to find out where I actually reside in my body?

The answer, I suspect, is that the further back one goes, the more conceptual and abstract the process becomes. The "mental model" of the body that the brain creates — in order to operate the body — is probably just a complex synaptic relationship in some unspecific, diffuse area of the brain. This model is what gives us our sense of identity, of conscious self, when in fact there's nothing there.

No "me", no self, no soul.

I, myself, am an illusion.

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*Irony, ha!
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