Conscious Talks are a series of scientific and philosophical musings that deal predominantly with topics too large to grasp using the scientific method. I believe that it is important to weigh in on ideas that are just out of reach of technology so that we can inspire a collective movement toward the future. I write these posts in a stream of consciousness fashion (hence the name) so that it is like engaging in an actual conversation. In essence, these written thoughts are a great way to understand me and the way I see the world.
There exists a fragile balance between science and art, treaded only by the bravest innovators in modern society. The common thread in our society between analytical objectivity and ingenuity is embedded in computation. It seems ironic that I should suggest that the most objective, logical sequences of our technological language should be the one and only force that will launch both the artist and scientist well into the future, but I do so with certainty.
And why? I believe that with computation comes the knowledge of a library interwoven by the subjective analysis of one thousand human minds. What makes code so dazzling, so brilliant– dare I say even so transcending?—is that it incorporates the interactive thought process of the writer of the code over an extended period of time and then relinquishes all the hours of coding into one single computational output. This library is built from the code and all of its data, and the weave is the human mind in the form of functions, classes, and comprehensive data sets.
With modern computation our knowledge will increase exponentially. We can suggest correlations with greater precision based on massive cross-analysis with stored experimental data, leading to greater efficiency in what we choose as our variables in the next experiments. We will create computation-derived variables that were never before considered or bring light to mathematical variables previously existent only in theory. We can continue to improve automation, and we can allow the automatic to experience, to reflect, and ultimate exist among the sentient, conscious minds.
Consciousness is the vital component of human existence. If one day the lights went out in the force that provides us with consciousness, we would cease to be human. What gives us meaning, what makes us human, happy, and fulfilled has been a question shared in fields of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy for as long as we have existed? Why then do we still not technically know what consciousness is?
What we know so far is that consciousness is the consolidation of sensory inputs and the processing of those inputs by a framework of stored experience. When broken down into its basic elements, the tasks that consciousness achieves are quite straightforward. In the simplest of terms, consciousness is how we subjectively observe the universe and our place in it. Consciousness requires an awareness and control of “self,” which is an innate property for survival, but its utility progresses to an understanding that the “self” can be distinguished from “other.” Consciousness must be contrasted in this discussion with sentience, which by definition is the ability to feel. Further discussion on the levels of sentience will come at a later time, but for now we will regard basic sentience as the ability to perceive and feel.
The question that remains here is whether it is the biological mechanisms that provide a structural backbone for consciousness to exist or consciousness is in itself a biological, survival mechanism itself. The former suggests that consciousness is static over the span of one’s life and processes such as synaptic pruning, memory consolidation, localized and/or epigenetic gene expression, and other biological modifications the brain might undergo can enhance how we use consciousness. This is to say that a baby can only use self-awareness because a newborn will not yet have experience with which to distinguish “self” from “other,” and until that baby has learned from observation, the tools provided by consciousness will not be fully available. By this model, consciousness is innate but how we use it can change, and if we search hard enough we might just stumble upon the center of human sentience.
The second model is that consciousness exists because our brains create it. While one can argue in the first model that animals can possess consciousness just not the means for high-order thought because of their biological framework, the second model states that if an animal does not have the correct biological framework, consciousness does not exist at all. In this model, it is possible for consciousness to be capable of plasticity just like the brain. Consciousness can be a learned trait of intelligent animals and can be accessed through years of evolution. Moreover, this model suggests that consciousness is nothing more than our original definition: the consolidation of sensory inputs and the processing of those inputs by a framework of stored experience. Interestingly enough, this simplified definition actually demonstrates why it might be so difficult to pinpoint consciousness in an experimental setting. Searching for consciousness as its own entity or force in the human brain might be impossible if it is not just one “thing.” Consciousness therefore would not exist in a localized region of the brain. Instead, consciousness would be the sum of our brain’s biological components in coordination with our capacity for high order thought.
When we are young we think about our passions in terms of dreaming about a career, and it gets locked in us to believe that we are only following our passion if we live up to the expectation that we have to be an astronaut (or a doctor or an engineer or the president…) when we grow up. In reality, and this branches from our maturity as we start to see the world for what it is, our passions can be of a much more sophisticated origin.
I have come to realize recently that in your pursuit of following your dreams you should keep an open mind to venture into other knowns as well as a realistic mind, so as not to abandon a logical expectation of your wellbeing. We are not abandoning our passion if we replace one dream with another, even in the case that an esoteric passion is the replacement for the aforementioned childhood expectation. More specifically, I mean to say that with age it becomes acceptable to replace your dream of being an astronaut with the fulfillment of simple pleasures leading toward genuine happiness. One might abandon the pursuit of becoming a millionaire for the pursuit of a relationship and a family. And believe it or not, this is not a compromise on ambition or your worth to society.