On consciousness


Assume that consciousness arise in humans due to the presence of the brain and to some extent, the surrounding nervous system and any external stimuli it receives, together perhaps, with its ability to manipulate the external world.


Let us skip the question of whether consciousness would arise in a brain that received no input, and if consciousness would be possible if the brain had no way to interact with the world represented by that input. While these are interesting subjects in themselves, the exact degree of input/output necessary for consciousness is not important. But to be conservative, let us assume that they are necessary  to some degree.


What does a brain do ? It seems to continuously receive and process external (and internal via feedback/reflection) input, which is processed, resulting in some change of state (such as the creation of a memory, or the movement of a hand).


State, defined as the exact value of any physically (in theory) measurable property. While all may not be known, some that are known would be electrical charges, chemistry and even the configuration of the brain itself.


Since the brain is a physical entity, let us assume that it operates under the rules that govern the natural universe, the laws of physics. This would make the brain a deterministic, if complex, system which performs computation.


Comparing the brain to a computer is not new, has even been called an oversimplification, but there is no reason to assume all computers are binary, general-purpose machines with an architecture where program and machine are separate things, after all, they are both in the strictest sense, information.


The point is not whether the brain can be classified as a computer, but rather, that the nature of the brain is computational, which means that consciousness must arise as an artifact that computation.


If consciousness do rise from computation, that is reason to believe that true consciousness could arise from a machine which is not a brain, such as a computer, performing the correct computation. For example, the computation required for a sufficiently detailed simulation of an actual human brain, complete with the necessary measurable properties and ability for input and output.


Regardless of whether the brain is considered digital or analog, there will exist a situation, a state, where a property lies below some threshold for reaction, and another situation, or state, where a property lies above the threshold for reaction, in effect, a discrete step from one state to another.

Let us then assume (for I know nothing) that any action or reaction within the brain corresponds to a computation, and that computations are discrete in nature. If that is the case, then consciousness must also be discrete in nature.


This brings us back to our true consciousness, caused by computations in a machine which is not an organic brain, what happens to the consciousness if we pause the simulation? What happens if we continue it? What happens if we simulate a discrete step once every second? Would it experience the world go by at what would seem to us as blazing speed? Are we experiencing the same? Ever seen a million-frames-per-second video of an exploding firecracker?

Continued in: The value of life