Is Consciousness Real?

Consciousness is usually defined as the awareness of the self and the surrounding world. Traditionally, consciousness is theorized to be an immaterial entity, a production of the mind rather than the brain. Consequently, most people believe that there is no physiological mechanism for the production of consciousness; it is just present with every human being and is intertwined with his thoughts and feelings. Locke and Hegel both discuss consciousness in the readings we did for this class, and both philosophers do not think that the brain produces consciousness. Locke asserts that consciousness is necessary for the thought process but it is not itself produced by thought.

However, modern philosophers are skeptical of this traditional model of consciousness. A NYTimes article, “Are We Really Conscious?”, discusses the works of Patricia S. Churchland and Daniel C. Dennett on a new model for human consciousness. They believe that consciousness is merely an illusion produced by the brain. The brain takes into account that there is an observer in every situation and the brain assumes that the observer is the person himself thus creating a somewhat subjective experience. The brain is a calculating machine that simulates a subjective experience; the brain itself does not have a subjective property to it.

According to these philosophers, the brain automatically creates models for complex situations, which are not necessarily accurate. As a result, it is important to always question and examine our intuition. If our traditional model of consciousness turns out to be inaccurate, then there will be huge ramifications. Analogies can be drawn to the Copernican Revolution. At that time, the long-standing belief that humans were in a special place at the center of the universe was discredited creating a major revolution in the way humans thought of themselves. If the traditional model for consciousness is discredited in the future, then humans will no longer think of themselves as a special intelligent species but more as a group of calculating robots.

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