A very interesting conversation I had lately touched on the human consciousness, and what it entails to be ‘human’ and to be ‘conscious’. This is a subject I’ve put much thought into, and this conversation prompted me to detail my perception of human consciousness and the human ‘experience’. This is, of course, a subject that philosophy, religion, and the sciences have long attempted to tackle. As such, there exists a wide array of beliefs and understandings of the human consciousness and the human experience. My own perception is perhaps no more correct than any other, but I believe that it holds the most ‘true’ to empirical reality. I hold empirical truths as a necessary part of any theory; without the ability to observe something, to claim an understanding of it is both ignorant and arrogant. With observation comes the capacity to experiment and derive conclusions; from this, empirical truths are revealed. As such, I reject understandings of the human consciousness and human experience which are based on unempirical concepts, such as the existence of the ‘soul’ as something separate from direct observation, or of the ‘mind’ of something more than the physical brain from which it is produced.
Instead, my perception of consciousness is that it is purely a manifestation of the physcial processes of the brain, and nothing more. Just as a computer program may serve many functions and is capable of functional computation but relies upon the computer’s hardware to calculate and upon its program to guide it, we are capable of conscious thought and the ‘consciousness’ which we perceive as the human ‘experience’ because of our brain’s design and the ‘programming’ which guides it. Our perception of reality is the sum accumulation of sensory inputs; we are guided by our 5 senses. Without these sensations, we would be incapable of perceiving reality; a blind man cannot see the world, and if was never told that the world of sight existed, he would never know of it. Yet, while these inputs are manifest as sensations, which in turn we perceive as conscious reality, they are really nothing more than the firing of neurons in the brain. Accordingly, if the brain is damaged, the sensations perceived by that individual are unlike those perceived by those with ‘properly’ functioning brains. They are perceiving a a different consciousness of reality. Yet what about thoughts? As humans, we take absolute pride in our intellectual capabilities, which are powered by the ability to think. We are often of the mind that our thoughts set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet thoughts too are manifestations of the workings of the brain. We are in control of our thoughts, but they are not separate from our physical self; hence, mental disorders, brought about from physical ailment of the brain, often create instability in thought or in action.
What does this realization on consciousness, that it is purely and completely the way we perceive the functioning of our brain and is the manifestation of its workings, mean about the human experience? For one, it means that conscious ‘experience’ is not unique. Like us, all other animals operate based on sensation; kick a dog, and it will react, for it feels pain. As it has a functioning brain, it necessarily perceives a consciousness manifested from that brain. Its capacity for thought is limited compared to ours, but that by no means makes the canine ‘experience’ of any less merit than ours, or any less real. For me, recognizing that consciousness and experience are tied intimately to the physical world, and not to a separate entity such as the ‘soul’ allows an understanding of the rest of the animal world. Other animals are not instinctual machines any less than we are; instead, they operate in their conscious reality based on the limitations of their brain. Our experience and understanding of reality is limited to the capabilities of our brain to understand it, meaning that our consciousness is different than the consciousness experienced by other animals. Thus, the human ‘experience’ is also profoundly unique. No other creature may experience it, and indeed even different humans have different experiences of consciousness. Recognizing the unique quality of the human consciousness and the human ‘experience’ allows me to answer the question of what it means to be ‘human’: it is how we perceive reality.
Let me expand on this, and in doing so touch upon what I discussed earlier. Reality, isn’t. Instead, what we perceive as ‘reality’ is our understanding of an absolute ‘truth’ based on the limitations inherent in the human brain. For example, we are limited to the visual spectrum of light, yet there exists a much wider spectra. If we had not the technological capabilities to study these other spectra, their existence would be totally unknown to us. Similar to this is how we can only perceive a small range of sound, while a much wider range of sound exists. These examples easily show the limitations of human consciousness towards understanding reality, but let’s take it farther, and delve into the realm of the unknown. What possible ‘truths’ will we never know of because our brain is simply incapable of perceiving it? We are arrogant to assume that we know the universe, or ever will. Instead, we simply know of what we can perceive. An absolute understanding of the universe is thus impossible, for we undoubtedly blind to great ‘truths’ which simply lie outside the realm of human comprehension.
The human ‘experience’ and ‘consciousness’ is something which interests me profoundly, and which I continue to develop a philosophical understanding of. Yet, for me, it is apparent that the closest we can come to understanding it and recognizing it is through the lenses of science, and through the mentality of scientific function. My understanding, at least for now, is that consciousness is the sum of the physical parts and processes of the mind. It is the manifestation of the brain, all the way down to the simplest firing of neurons. Because, after all, the most complex computer program is, at its simplest, a series of 1s and 0s. I challenge anyone who disagrees with my perception of the human consciousness to detail how the human mind functions in a manner different from an immensely complex computer program. I do not believe anyone can, and if they can I will accordingly need to change my views. Yet, as of now, I myself have failed to do so, and thus I believe I have stumbled upon the truest ‘reality’ of the human consciousness and the human experience.