We all agree we are conscious beings.
But what is consciousness?
There are numerous Harmonia Philosophica articles about consciousness and various aspects of that elusive and yet so familiar concept. We know we “are”, we know it is “us” who speak and act, we understand and question everything as persons and yet we fail every time we are asked to define what “consciousness” is.
For some – me included – consciousness is one more evidence that we are part of “something of higher essence”. Simple lifeless matter cannot question it’s own existence, cannot doubt about the meaning of being. We can. And yet, there are atheists who claim that many clues hint towards a different direction. Consciousness could be just a byproduct of our inner struggle with our oppressed instincts, a by-product of our ethical esoteric dialogue with our self. (Nietzsche) Others mention the fact that some experiments have shown how the neurons fire before we are conscious of an action we make as an argument in favor of the materiality and the unimportance of consciousness.
Could consciousness be something trivial?
Could consciousness be just an illusion?
Could consciousness be just a phenomenon of no significant importance?
The short answer: NO. The arguments in favor of that answer are many and significant. Consciousness is what makes us be “us”. Could that be affected by matter? Sure! Why not? At the end, everything is affected by everything. So? Could consciousness seem to be the product of the brain? Sure. In the same way the TV seems to be producing the images we see. But it does not. Could experiments showing that neurons fire before we are conscious of an action we make mean anything? Sure. If we know what the unconscious is, it could. Neurons fire and then we do something. But again, what fired the neurons? Do not forget the TV: It could fire up and start doing things before we start watching the show. But again, this does not mean anything about the one who made the show. Could it be that the neurons simply react to a field with which we are connected? Could we be part of something “higher” than us which dictates or affects what we feel and do? Couldn’t we just have made the decision before we are consciously aware of that decision? Who is “us” anyway? Is it the conscious and the unconscious combined? Is it something else (bigger than us) as well? Or could it be something much more simple? Every day we walk and we breath and we are not even aware of that actions. Does that mean that we do not actually do them? If some actions are dictated by “automations” in our circuitry (which again would be something material affecting the non-material), this does not mean that we do not exert free will in other more important aspects of our life, like creation of a sonnet for example. Let us not also forget quantum mechanics, which has shown that the observer can affect an experiment’s conclusion in the past. Could this be happening with our conscious mind and the brain? (see Penrose and his thoughts about quantum phenomena in the brain)
And it is not only the arguments in favor of the existence and the importance of consciousness and free will. It is that consciousness as a product of the mind poses more unsolved problems than the ones it supposedly solves. If matter is all there is, how can the matter of the brain affect the results of experiments? (quantum mechanics) If matter is all there is and we do what our neurons tells us to do, how come we feel that we are in charge? If we are wrong about such a fundamental thing, why not be wrong for science and its foundations as well? Why not be wrong for the validity of our own senses? In such an interconnected world of matter, what meaning is there in talking about the “self”? Such a world is more close to the One that Parmenides envisioned and that Christianism talked about in the form of God than any other idealistic theory could ever be. If everything is predetermined, does that mean that the love for God is predetermined as well? And how does that fit the atheistic materialistic world where the love for God is an illusion? Let’s not forget that we do not even know what matter is. As far as we know, matter is just a set of elusive waves of energy materializing when observed by “someone”. For people who do not even have a solid definition of matter, we are pretty arrogant trying to “prove” that everything is… matter. If neurons fire seconds before we are conscious of the decision, how can we say that brain produces consciousness? What is that thing which creates the firing in the neurons? Simple random movements of electrons? If so, why do these random movements produce actions which seem so… not random at all?
All in all, matter or no matter, denying the higher essence of consciousness is like denying your self. Modern people like that of course. They like the nothingness which comes as a result of the nihilism of believing in… nothing. And yet here they are. In the same cosmos, being conscious, questioning their own existence.
Could a machine do that?
Could matter believe it does not… exist?
Could the TV believe it does not… work?
We are conscious beings. Beings with free will.
And we believe we are not. What better proof could there be than this?