What is consciousness? I touched briefly upon the idea of consciousness in my blog post about image analysis, a subject close to my heart.
Consciousness, or our subjective everyday experience, is really only defined by our senses. Consciousness is an awareness of a sense.
Think of sight. According to the movie The Matrix, sight is simply “electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” But that’s not quite correct. Rather, it’s an awareness of photons through time. Not the process of how we see (electrical signals interpreted by our brain), but rather the subjective experience of me seeing something in front of me, is an awareness of photons hitting my eyes over time. It’s an awareness of photons through time.
There’s no instantaneous consciousness. Rather consciousness is dynamic, like a wave washing through us. Our worlds in front of us are smoothly changing as photons hit our eyes. Our hearing ebbs and flows. Senses don’t spontaneously appear. There is always a buildup. Since time is always divisible (well not technically, but that’s the subject of a future post) by definition a buildup must occur, no matter how seemingly acute it would appear.
Imagine taking a little symbolic man, and pushing him forward through those different photons hitting his eyes, as he is constantly being aware of those photons. He moves and acts and makes decisions based on his rudimentary awareness of those photons. I say rudimentary because our sight is of a limited range. Other animals may have different ranges of photons’ wavelengths in their visible spectrum, and therefore it would be reasonable to assume that their experience of sight may be different than ours.
This brings us to our definitions:
- Consciousness is an awareness of a sense.
- A sense is an awareness of some property of the universe through time.
This definition will be an important axiom for future blog posts. But for now, we can define our experience of sound as an awareness of sound waves, or rather energy waves through time. Our touch is an awareness of the nuclear force preventing two particles from overlapping and containing the same space. Modern science understands taste and smell as simply receptors for specific chemicals, and as such our taste and smell can simply be categorized as an awareness of chemical structures. The awareness of chemical structures is really an awareness of chemical bonds existing in a specific shape. One might say that it’s an awareness of geometry.
Evolution is biology’s attempt to figure out the universe. Life can be seen as a optimized development of senses to become more aware of different pieces of the universe. Life is here to survive. It is resilient and expands and grows greedily. Life is really, though, at the end of the day, an evolution of senses. It’s an evolution of an awareness of the universe. It needs to survive so that it can be aware of all pieces of the universe.
Trace evolution over time. The evolution of sight over time started as a single receptor and evolved into our beautiful array of colors we see today. It’s simply an increased awareness. Life has evolved the ability to be aware of photons in the universe, and use that information to allow us to make better choices. This is going to be an important point when we discuss the concept of choice more deeply in a future post.
For now, it is sufficient for us to cover the five senses in this bog post, and future blog posts will cover several additional senses given our definition. Stay tuned.