Consciousness have various definitions. In general, it refers to an awareness of both internal and external existence. You know what’s going on either within you or in your surroundings because you are conscious. However, we are only aware of our own mental process. Even science has no solid proof of consciousness. There are theories supposing that the universe behaves depending on how-or if-we look at it. In light of this, how do you know for sure if what you see is reality?
States of Consciousness
Coma, dreamless sleep, and death are brain states in which consciousness appear to be absent. On the other hand, an altered state of consciousness is a condition that’s significantly different from one’s normal mental state: changes or disturbances in thinking, emotional expression, sense of time, and sense of control. For instance, dream sleep induces distorted thoughts. This explains strange images we encounter in our dreams, while disruption of memory makes us forget them within a few minutes of waking up. Psychoactive drugs, meditation, and medical conditions such as partial epileptic seizure, also produce an altered state of consciousness.
Introduced by Edmund Husseri, this approach focuses on studying the structures of consciousness regardless of its relation to the physical world. Later developed by other philosophers and scientists, it branched out into both philosophy and psychology. Phenomenological Psychology deals with the study of subjective experience–what it means to perceive a certain thing. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, stated that we become aware when sensation and understanding are combined. We see the world as a set of distinct things (object, shape, quality, space and time) and internalize it (we know our traits, attitudes, and emotions from observing our own behavior and the situations in which they occur). Unlike animals, we know the cause and possible consequences of our behavior.
This is an ongoing conundrum in philosophy and metaphysics concerning the relationship between consciousness and the physical realm. Cartesian Dualism discusses how mind and body are separate. Descartes proposed that the immaterial and material domain only interact in the brain, particularly the pineal gland. Lack of alternative solutions made the French philosopher’s view accepted despite a lot of scholars disagreeing. Moreover, David Chalmers formulated the hard problem of consciousness which is how and why sentient organisms have phenomenal experiences. He wrote, “…How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?”
Problems of Other Minds
As with Animal Consciousness and Artifact/Artificial Consciousness, humans recognize other beings as conscious, though they can’t see their minds, by identifying human-like behavior. This is not definite reasoning according to philosophers. For instance, they argue that it violates the law of parsimony (simplest explanation of an event or observation is preferred) by using something invisible that’s unnecessary to explain what we observe. We truly are aware of our own consciousness alone.
Quantum Physics and Consciousness
Quantum Physics aims to understand nature through the smallest scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It goes beyond logic and physical laws. John Archibald Wheeler, a theoretical physicist, proposed participatory anthropic principle, related to the ‘Observer Effect’, claiming that the entire universe collapsed into the state we see now because of conscious observers. The Observer Effect is a theory suggesting that the mere act of observing a phenomenon changes that phenomenon. Copenhagen interpretation adds to this. It states that a quantum particle doesn’t exist in one state or another, but in all its possible states at once. Our observation forces it to choose one which is the state that we observe.
A number of experiments such as the double-slit experiment and the delayed-choice experiment support this notion, making it seem like nature knows when we are looking or if we’re planning to look. Physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose, says maybe our ability to sustain seemingly incompatible mental states is no quirk of perception, but a real quantum effect.According to some scientists, we may already understand what consciousness is or consciousness may be a mere illusion. After all, we have no idea where it comes from.
There’s still no sure way of knowing absolute reality. Maybe we have yet to discover it. In the meantime, all we can do is use the already available hard facts to make sense of the world within and outside of us. Just appreciating the wonders of consciousness and our possession of it beats the exhausting task of tackling a mystery. Sit tight, we might be getting close to finding the answer.
Share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear them!