General, Research, Technology

What is consciousness and how did it come about?

For many, trying to explain consciousness is likeexposing your favorite trick - having learned the secret, you can forever lose faith in miracles. So if you are not ready to doubt your own beliefs, this article is not for you. And if you are always happy with new knowledge, the information that a person consists of about 100 trillion cells that work together should not surprise you. Another thing is surprising - individually, not one of the one hundred trillion cells of the human body has consciousness. Cells do not care who we are, what we are, and why. This means that in order to explain consciousness, it is necessary to understand how it turned out that hundreds, millions, billions and trillions of tiny cells that are not aware of themselves and are not very different from bacteria, create a unique personality that can think.

Let's look at consciousness from the point of view of science - where exactly in the brain is it and are we looking there?

“How can a slow, unreasonable process create something that can create something that a slow unreasonable process cannot create?” Alan Turing

The illusion of control and the war of memes

The American cognitive philosopher Daniel Dennett,Professor of Taft University (USA), devoted his scientific activity to the study of the nature of consciousness. Dennett is trying to explain how biological processes in the human body create an endless stream of thoughts and images. And the first thing the professor talks about in his lectures and books is that our consciousness is not as mysterious as we think about it. In a sense, the work of consciousness resembles the work of human memory. And she, as we are well aware, is not perfect.

Many people deal with the phenomenon of false memory.researchers. The most famous is the American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. At the beginning of the Ted Talks lecture, Loftus talks about a man named Steve Titus who was charged and sentenced to prison for raping a woman. When the victim first testified, she pointed to Titus, as he was most like a rapist. And at the second testimony, the woman was sure that it was Steve Titus who committed the crime. Subsequently, several years later, Titus was acquitted, as a real rapist was found, and his guilt was proved after conducting a DNA test. Nevertheless, the life of Steve Taitus due to imprisonment was destroyed and soon after his release, he died, apparently without experiencing extreme stress. And there are many such stories.

The work of consciousness, like our memory, is not perfect. We simply do not notice most of the processes taking place, for example, thinking. Moreover, all the decisions we make are actually made by the brain a few seconds before we think about them. The same thing happens with false memories - the brain fills in the gaps of non-existent information. It turns out that we do not control the most important life processes, although it seems to us that this is not so. Thanks to the joint and coordinated work of billions of neurons, the brain creates a complete illusion of control over its own mind. It turns out that consciousness is a set of tricks and tricks that the brain skillfully uses. But how did this happen?

There are people who are sure that they saw Elvis Presley fly away on a flying saucer

Theory of evolution through natural selection,first described by Charles Darwin in 1859, describes the history of the development of millions of species of living things on Earth, including humans. Over millions of years, evolution has created increasingly complex cognitive thinking abilities. To a certain extent, everyone has them - a seahorse, a lobster and your cat. But the cognitive capabilities of chimpanzees are superior to the cognitive capabilities of a dolphin, and ours stepped even further. It is our cognitive abilities that make us special - we do not just act on the basis of some reasons, we give an account of these reasons to ourselves and others. Moreover, we ask ourselves about the causes of certain actions and are able to answer them. This gives us the opportunity to plan our actions and anticipate their consequences. We share information and knowledge with others. No living creature on Earth is capable of anything like that.

But it is not only a matter of natural selection of genes. When we talk about consciousness, we also talk about cultural evolution - the natural selection of memes, which, according to Richard Dawkins, are units of cultural information that copy themselves for reproduction. And those memes that are copied better survive. Human culture is the habitat of memes. Thus, we can explain the emergence of consciousness by many factors that have influenced the evolution of Homo Sapiens.

Meme - (Eng. meme) is a unit of culturally significant information. A meme is any idea, symbol, manner or mode of action that is transmitted consciously or unconsciously from person to person through speech, writing, video, rituals, gestures, etc.

Can radical ideas explain consciousness?

Today, scientists can’t get close tothe study of consciousness. The situation is limited by the fact that, on the one hand, neuroscientists study areas of the brain that are associated with conscious activity - for example, face recognition, pain, or a state of happiness. But the science of consciousness is still a science of relationships, it does not explain anything. We know that certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain types of conscious reactions, but we don’t know why. In recent years, a huge number of discoveries have been made about the work of various areas of the brain. So, just recently we told you that scientists were able to detect a completely new signal in the human brain, which no one knew before. This is great, but does it bring us closer to the answer to the question of what consciousness is?

According to the theory of panpsychism, the Universe has consciousness (but this is not accurate)

Speaking at Ted Talks, Australiana psychologist specializing in the philosophy of consciousness, David Chalmers, compares a person’s consciousness with a subjective film that is constantly being played before one’s eyes. The question that most concerns the scientist is why behavior - which can be explained in terms of biology, as professor of neurobiology at Stanford University Robert Sapolsky brilliantly does - is accompanied by subjective experience. But we cannot explain the existence of this subjective experience in the same way that physics explains chemistry, chemistry, biology, and biology, in part, psychology. In order to understand what consciousness is, radical ideas are needed.

This is exactly what Daniel Dennett offers. In his opinion, there are no complex problems in the study of consciousness. According to Dennett, the whole idea of ​​this subjective cinema implies the illusion that the brain gives us. Therefore, science can only explain the objective functioning of brain behavior. The idea of ​​Dennett, in my opinion, is the most realistic of all others. But to create a similar neurobiological theory of consciousness, a large number of studies are needed.

This is interesting: Can robots gain consciousness?

Those who do not agree that consciousness isjust an illusion skillfully created by the brain, even more radical theories of consciousness offer. So, David Chalmers suggests considering consciousness as something fundamental - as the fundamental laws of physics. In physics, such concepts as space, time, mass are fundamental. Based on these concepts, scientists derive further principles and laws - the law of universal gravitation, the laws of quantum mechanics, etc. It is noteworthy that all the listed fundamental properties and laws are no longer explained in any way. We accept them as elementary and build a picture of the world on their basis. Such an approach, according to Chalmers, opens up new possibilities for science, since it will require the study of fundamental laws that govern consciousness. These laws should also combine consciousness with other fundamental principles - space, mass, time and other physical processes. We do not know what these laws are, but we can try to find them.

Modern physics considers the Universe, in which the fundamental forces of nature act

The second is no less radical and, perhaps, insanethe idea Chalmers talks about is panpsychism. The theory that consciousness is universal and any system possesses it to some extent. According to this theory, or rather a hypothesis, even elementary particles and photons possess consciousness. The idea itself, of course, is not that electrons and photons are intellectually developed, but that these particles have a certain primitive sense of consciousness. Despite the fact that this idea seems to us contrary to common sense, people from cultures who consider the human mind as one with nature, the theory of panpsychism seems quite logical.

Which of the above ideas seems most plausible to you? Share your opinion in the comments and with the participants of our Telegram chat.

And yet, to find the answer to the question of whatsuch a consciousness, it is worth paying attention to how the evolution of the brain went. In the end, we send rockets into space and defeated such dangerous diseases as smallpox thanks to science. So, sooner or later, scientists will be able to create a unified theory of consciousness.

How does science explain consciousness?

Due to the fact that consciousness was often consideredin the context of religion, philosophy, and cognitive science, he received insufficient attention from the point of view of evolutionary processes. Perhaps it is for this reason that we know so little about how the adaptive value of knowledge came about and when. But there is good news - a new theory that appeared about five years ago can answer these questions.

According to The Atlantic, the theory of attention schemes(AST) suggests that consciousness arose to solve one of the fundamental problems facing any nervous system: there is too much information around and the brain simply cannot completely process it. According to this theory, during evolution, the brain developed increasingly complex mechanisms for deep processing of several selected signals at the expense of others, and in AST, consciousness is the end result of this evolutionary sequence. If the theory is true - and this remains to be seen - consciousness has evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a number of vertebrate species. In addition, AST does not contradict Dennett’s theory of consciousness.

Perhaps in order to answer the question of what consciousness is, you need to look at things from a different angle.

And yet, in matters of consciousness, scientists have advancednot as far as we would like. Nevertheless, among a huge number of questions and unknowns, we can single out that neurobiological studies will definitely NOT tell us. As he writes in his book “Biology of Good and Evil. As science explains our actions ”Robert Sapolsky, neurobiology does not have to prove the obvious, and to prove the internal mental states is not required at all. So, today there is an MRI scan, thanks to which scientists learned that PTSD is formed with limited brain damage, and the brain of serial killers, which we described in detail on our channel in Yandex.Zen, differs physiologically from the brain of other people. However, the most important thing, according to Sapolsky, is that neurobiology cannot be used to prove feelings or thoughts, since there is a duality of assessments. For example, if a person committed a crime, and then scientists found out that he did it because almost all the cells of his prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling behavior, had died out, this would entail biological or organic explanations of what was happening.

But how, in this case, neurobiologicalCan studies form the basis of a not yet existing unified theory of consciousness? If you look closely, we will see that today science as a whole explains the causes of strange, aggressive, sexual and even religious behavior. And from the point of view of neurobiology, the brain is not at all the place where behavior originates. The brain is a gathering point where all factors come together and, gathered together in a united front, initiate behavior. Maybe consciousness should not be considered separately from behavior or other processes? So, thanks to the work of cognitive philosophers, neurobiologists, evolutionary biologists and other scientists, today we have input data that allow us to get closer to understanding what consciousness is. From a scientific point of view, of course.