The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
. . . still studying and learning how to live

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Web Site/Blog ...

I’m going to toot my own horn just a bit and put in a plug for my new, improved “Short Course on Consciousness“, found on my web site. I’ve spent the last 3 months doing some pretty intense reading to catch up on what’s been happening in the academic world and research community with regard to consciousness; i.e., the attempts to finally define the nature and functioning of our conscious awareness, i.e. the stuff that happens when we aren’t dead, asleep, under anesthesia, or otherwise out of it.

In some ways, consciousness seems pretty simple; and yet, when you really try to think about it and put it into context, it suddenly gets VERY complex. Around 1995, I got quite interested in the topic, given that a lot of new books and research papers were coming out on the subject. I read lots of stuff by philosophers, neuroscientists, computer experts, and psychologists about consciousness (none of that New Age “woo-woo” stuff for me, thank you), hoping to find a trenchant and powerfully incisive concept that would make it all fall in place.

Well, that concept never came along — or at least I didn’t stumble across it. So, after 2007, I moved on to other intellectual interests, mainly modern physics and cosmology. Not long ago, I looked at the web site pages on consciousness that I had put up back in 2006. They were very well intended — I wanted to share some of the insights that I had came across, even if there never was a “big answer”. I went so far as to propose a “big answer” of my own — a dualist dichotomy between the physical world and the mental world, whereby both realms interacted with each-other on a continual basis. It looked OK on paper, but I never really believed it.

Over the last handful of weeks, I decided to re-visit the whole consciousness thing, especially to update myself on the implications of the biggest new theory to come along since my years, i.e. Tononi’s “Integrated Information Theory”. Somehow this got my own neurons firing once again, and some new interests and ideas started flowing, despite my brain’s advancing age. I was surprised about my reaction, but I wanted to go with it, see where it led to.

Well, where it led was a major update, expansion and revision of my thoughts on consciousness. A lot on the old site had gotten really old and needed dusting off and updating; and much new stuff needed to be added. And I took a new approach with regard to what I think consciousness is all about. My “proposed approach”, my own beliefs about consciousness, is and are now very different. I’m still a dualist, but now I focus on the notion that the reality that we know and which science has been studying is a virtual reality, an information field at work. By going outside the realm of consciousness and expanding my horizons to “the whole shooting-match”, i.e. high-energy particle physics and cosmology, I came up with a lot of new insights.

Dualism allows a second ontological reality, the reality of consciousness. If the physical world is really just a lot of information at work, as modern physics now seems to hint at, consciousness as a “real substance” MIGHT provide a very good reason for all this information to exist. I.e., the information field projects images into the consciousness field, and from that field interaction, conscious beings experience their lives; conscious experience of the world, such as what your and I experience, somehow emerges (once again, MAYBE). All of that information seems to gain a purpose (and we as conscious entities also gain a purpose, i.e. to bear witness to the beautiful pictures painted by this universal information field).

At first it sounds really, really far out there, and to be honest, I didn’t believe it either at first. But over the past few weeks, I’ve found more and more from the world of science and philosophy that supports many aspects of such a view. So, I managed to convince myself about it, to take what was at first a postulate put together just for the sake of saying something, and finding that it actually makes some sense after all.

Well, it was fun working on this project over the past few weeks; I don’t get the opportunity very much anymore to really put my mind in gear and do some deep thinking. But all good things come to an end, and it’s now time for me to get back to “real life”, in all its quotidian glory. Outside of academia, which I’m definitely a stranger to, no one much takes this stuff seriously. There aren’t a whole lot of true “eternal students” out there.

But if one of you rare non-academic thinking individuals does happen to come across this, and human consciousness (from a scientific and philosophical perspective) is on your list of interests, then here’s the link, once more. Then again, even if you are not an amateur (or even professional) brain-mind heavyweight, but are just generally curious, you might still enjoy the headings and images. So enjoy, and I hope this inspires some thinking and imagining on your own part about just what the heck “reality” is REALLY all about!

Oh, BTW, my “Short Course” covers three different web pages; you have to scroll from one to the other once you are finished with a page. And I will admit, it isn’t all that short anymore. It has grown over the years. Hopefully, that growth has been worthwhile, and has allowed my site to come a little bit closer to the big mystery: just what the heck is consciousness, really ?!!

PS — I don’t provide an answer to that question. What I do, however, is to share the various theories on consciousness that I have read about over the years, including the heralded “Integrated Information Theory” by Dr. Giulio Tononi. And then I conclude that they just don’t capture it. I just don’t think that we presently have a sufficiently deep and fundamental understanding of “all of reality” to figure out how consciousness works. I suspect that consciousness goes to the heart of whatever reality is all about. I take a guess on my “Course” on what such a reality might be like, but to be honest, I’m just shooting in the dark. I.e., total “S.W.A.G.” !! But, hope you enjoy, nonetheless.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:15 pm      

  1. Jim, You can tell you weren’t a Marketing major! If you really want people to take your course, you don’t tell them that your ideas are really just some wild ass guess!

    By the way, I must admit to being a little disappointed that you had no commentary on the November elections.

    Comment by Zreebs — November 13, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

  2. Jim, You sound very happy with your work and that’s an important thing when someone has finished a long piece of work. Some individuals at particular times find they can see all the mistakes and ways things would be better said and end up disappointed with one’s work. So, I’m happy you are happy with what you’ve accomplished.

    However, I don’t feel in any even very small way able to comment as I definitely am no scientist. And on the opposite end of the spectrum I have absolutely no creative ability.

    So given that your piece is scientific and, in its way, has a creative aspect to it, I feel completely and totally unqualified to make any comment.

    I would ask a question. You mention in the P.S. that before consciousness can be completely understood “‘all of reality’” will require a “fundamental understanding” before it will be possible to “figure out how consciousness works”. Do you think that it will *ever* be possible to understand “all of reality”? – well, at least in this particular 3 dimensional world we are in at this point? Perhaps we will only be able to understand that aspect of consciousness we are privy to in this world. Just a question that comes to me. (And perhaps it’s similar to the first question I asked in a very scientific graduate course I audited one time; I was summarily told that if I had to ask that question I should withdraw from the course, which I quickly did.) So, again, I realize I may be out of my league here in even asking this question.

    I’m very glad you are pleased with your work and find, now that you’ve finished it, that you have done a good piece of work that makes you happy. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 13, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  3. Mary, excellent questions. As to whether I believe that it will *ever* be possible to understand “all of reality” . . . probably not. But humankind is going to need to get a lot closer than it is now before it captures what consciousness is really all about, IMHO.

    “Perhaps we will only be able to understand that aspect of consciousness we are privy to in this world” [i.e. the 3-D + time world that we directly experience]. I would turn this proposition around. Once again, IMHO, consciousness is the means by which we are privy, at least in some sense, to the universe at large — even beyond what we presently know empirically / scientifically about that universe. To fully understand consciousness, then, we would have to fully (or at least MORE fully) understand the universe at large. And right now, we don’t.

    Again, this is my “stupid wild ass guess”. Your own mileage may vary.

    Comment by Jim G — November 15, 2014 @ 12:05 am

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