Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Attempting to Solve the Hard Probelm of Consciousness

I remember asking one of my computer science friends a few months ago when he was coding a small game "When your program plays the game, does it actually know the rules, or does it just act as per your algorithms as to how to proceed at each imaginable point that comes up during the game? Is the program conscious of the game?"

Now, I think, that question of mine was invalid.

We go inside the mind of a human baby, an infant.
It knows nothing - a blank slate. Very importantly, what we call consciousness, or the awareness of the self is absent. Somewhere along the line, it becomes conscious and begins thinking of itself.

[I'm gonna be putting seemingly random thoughts throughout this post, just make sure each one of them are agreeable]

How do we learn something?
As small kids, we are shown or we see everything around us. Cats, people, stones, toys, moving things, immobile things, living things, non-living things, this, that, everything.
Right from the delivery bed there's a training process that begins. Mom points at a moving thing and says "DAD". Then, "CAT", "DOG", "PEN", and so on...
There can't possibly be any understanding as to what "dad" or "pen" means at that time. BUT, very importantly there are memories, or conditioned reflexes formed. [Remember Pavlov's dog? After Pavlov repeatedly struck a bell before feeding a dog for a few times, just striking the bell brought about salivation].
So, the next time you see the same pen or the same cat, you, as a baby, remembers to associate with the sound "CAT" or "PEN"
That's initial variable declaration kind of memory formation.

Then, you learn categories, methods, activities, etc.
This is a cat. This doesn't move. This is not even 3D. This is just a "PICTURE" of a cat. Cats in pictures can't move.

Then you go school. Teachers tell you:
Cat is an animal. Dog is an animal.
Cat can change its position. Cat can move. Animals are those things that can move.
And then, all your memories of cats, of movement, and of cats moving surfaces in your mind.
Of dogs too.
And then you learn what it takes to be an animal.

I repeat. A baby knows nothing.
How does it learn? By conditionally associating words that it hear with the visual (or tactile in a blind person) stimuli that is accompanying the sound always.
Not just objects. Methods like motion, fall, rise, rolling, everything is associated to the words for it.


Then there are categories. And there are inherited methods, inherited properties.

A baby learns to categorize things. It learns that if a rat is an animal, it'll move too. (Even this is taught. You've got to remind her "Idiot, it's an animal. Animals move")
So, the baby now learns to identify, categorize, etc.

Now, we move on to the hard problem of self awareness.
It's not really hard.
The baby is taught about the existence of self.
It's taught that whichever part of the universe is under its direct control is called "self".
And there always is the unconsciously learned skills like moving own hands, feet, etc. which leads to an image of the body being formed in the brain (cerebellum).

(I say, if we were to keep something contiguous with the body 24x7, 365 days for a non-leap year, it'd finally form a part of the body image.
In fact when we grow up, and we start using mobile phones, we get addicted to it, then it becomes so repetitive that even the mobile handset forms a part of the body image. But this is usually prevented by the fact that we keep the sets down at times. But what I mean to say, is that if we were to associate, consciously as the mobile being an extension of our body, it'll finally become a part of our self. Maybe this is true with prosthetic limbs and all. No, they will tell you it feels alien, but that's because they have not tried to consciously associate with it, nor do they get sensory stimulus from the prosthetic)

Thus, the baby begins to identify itself. (Even this is just an information stored in the neurons)

Now, consciousness.
The fact that there is something that's observing my thoughts.

I am thinking hard.

It's hard to solve.

Emotions, etc can be explained with hormones, and the sense of well being. Like negative words are associated with bad memories, bad memories bring on the be wary mode, leading to release of be wary hormones, which would bring about a bad mood - negative emotion. Vice versa with positive emotions.

But who is feeling this well being?
That, is really hard to solve.

And I go back to the question I asked my friend. He should have retorted with this question: "What do you mean by 'conscious'ness?"

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