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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2 responses to “Is Consciousness Real?

  1. Hey Moses! Really interesting blog post you have here. If I were to really think about whether or not my consciousness is real, I’d only get really confused (and probably a headache). I don’t have a theory as to what our consciousness is, and I can’t even begin to argue for or against its reality. I think the fact that there are so many theories means that consciousness is still a concept that no one really understands that well yet, and that the truth about it is up in the air. Still, despite the uncertainty of it, I think it’s good that we’re looking into this. Perhaps another few hundred or thousand years of discussion and contemplation will bring us closer to the “truth.”

  2. Similar to what Caroline said, consciousness is a tricky concept that is hard for people to grasp and truly understand. The fact that one will see consciousness in a slightly different way along with the fact that we are all believed to have our consciousnesses makes it harder to validate its true existence at all. I also agree that it could go either way in terms of consciousness being a real thing or just being an image constructed by our brains. Another odd thing to think about is that if our consciousnesses don’t exactly exist as we think they do, than can we validate our thinking processes at all? This subject is very difficult to wrap one’s head around but it is a very interesting point nonetheless.

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