Re: longevity vs singularity/Question

J. R. Molloy (
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 09:39:46 -0700

From: Dennis Roberts <>
>It seems to me that you look at consciousness as a monolithic entity as
>to a phenomenon
>that is composed of the sum of many parts, such as crowd of people, a flock
>birds or the weather.

No, I = consciousness. (Consciousness means the epiphenomenon of self-awareness which occurs in the CNS.) Consequently, consciousness looks at itself according to whatever paradigm it has learned -- ranging from humunculi to Darwin machines. But _pure_ consciousness, i.e., self-awareness uncontaminated by any pre-conceived ideas, requires that consciousness experience itself directly. Some people have opined that you (by "you" I mean the consciousness inherent in your CNS) can directly experience consciousness only metaphorically because, as they say, "you can't bite your own teeth" and so on.

Calvin, Edelman, Crick, Dennett, Minsky, Hofstadter, and others have offered theories of how the brain thinks, and by extension, how it produces consciousness. The brain can produce the cacaphonous chatter of a flock of birds, a crowd of people (your metaphors), or it can sustain complex harmony and intricate melody as it engages tranquil creativity and learning. I've found the metaphor of emptiness most useful in analysing consciousness. Like an empty cup, consciousness provides a space wherein reality may vibrate reflectively. A more complicated metaphor has it that consciousness acts like a holographic mirror that reflects the universe in three dimensions. But all this merely constitutes models and metaphors. To really know how brains create consciousness will require science to identify and measure all its components. It hasn't done so yet. To theorize about consciousness without linking to direct observation and empirical evidence, corresponds to mere conjecture.

> My analogy was meant to relate the consequences of loss of an
>small part of such a phenomenon.

Without knowing the details of the phenomenon (or epiphenomenon, in the case of consciousness) itself, the consequences of action upon consciousness remain unknown.

> Of what consequence is the loss of one starling to a flock of millions?
> Of what consequence is the loss of one person in the behavior of the
>of Columbus, Ohio ?
> Of what consequence is the loss of one rain drop in a cloudburst ?

More directly related to consciousness, one might ask, Of what consequence is the loss of one neuron, synapse, lobe, etc.

> Maybe the loss would be noticed, the mayor dies, but the life of the city
> As someone who daily looks at the effects of brain damage, injury, tumors,
>Alzheimer's, etc. on the level of consciousness of real live people, I am
>continually amazed at the amount of brain loss that it takes to make a
>significant change in perceptible behavior.

Yes, that would tend to argue in favor of the "monolithic" view of (impure) consciousness, since consciousness apparently remains whole, even though some part of its biological structure departs.

There are folks walking around,
>functioning normally, who have 1/2 the brain mass of your average Joe.
> They present a great argument in favor of the holographic theory of
>consciousness. Of what consequence is the loss of 1/1000000 of a hologram
to its
>ability to reconstruct the image that produced it ?

Again, I think the way to find out for sure involves empirical study. Using your own consciousness to learn about consciousness doesn't fit the scientific method for objective investigations, but then, consciousness involves the subjective as much as the objective. English has no word for the science of subjectivity, but in Sanskrit it equates to dhyana, which some people call meditation. "Inquire within" as they say. Ruthlessly discarding everything from your attention which does not comply with the rigor of empirical knowledge, first-hand, direct experience, leaves you with pure consciousness. An enlightening experience, indeed.