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The Mystery of Self-Consciousness
2008/03/03 06:51
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     Why are you here and reading this book? What really happened when your eyes read the first line and a second passed? Why do we, the six billion people on earth, share the same time but experience it individually?
     Self-consciousness is still a mystery to modern science. Maybe it is because the issue is related to our brain, which is still not understood completely. Maybe it is because many imaginary experiments that could reveal interesting stories can’t be realized, because it will kill people to perform them. Maybe it is because our computer devices are not powerful enough at this time to analyze the biological complexity of our body, or to simulate the processes of neural networks. However, we may ask more questions to show that perhaps these possible explanations are not to the point.
     What happens to a person’s self-consciousness when he or she sleeps and can’t experience it? If it existed, what did it look like before he or she was born? After a person dies, what will the self-consciousness look like, and will it still exist? For a person who has mental illness or whose brain is partly injured, what does his or her self-consciousness look like?
     All these questions are unlikely to be answered by the scientific method. Self-consciousness is something very different from the normal objects studied in science. In science, the common topics are systematic rules and smart techniques, but consciousness is the being finding systematic rules and creating smart techniques. In science, we discuss what objects exist and how to observe them; with consciousness, our problem becomes why it exists and why it is observed in a particular way. In science, we check how things are composed of smaller things, but perhaps consciousness is an integral concept that is unable to be analyzed in this way. In science, we find reasons behind knowing things, whereas consciousness is the idea that all known experiences are based upon. The problem of consciousness is intrinsic and subtle.
     What makes you feel that you own your body, and are separated from the universe? Do you make it clear each time you say, “I” or “me,” that you mean the status of your existence or your physical effects on the world? Are your decisions made from your free will (what’s that?) or are they just the result of electrical and chemical reactions in your brain? Why do you exist at this time and at this place?
     Do you feel confused by the above questions? I tried to convince you that the consciousnesses of you, me, and everyone else in the world are very special. They are so special that we have many different names like soul, spirit, mind, etc. used to refer to this subject. All these nouns, as well as their exact meanings, depending on the people who use them, are created to represent the ideas around conscious experiences. Are conscious experiences merely illusions? Do they have some reality? Can they be understood following the pattern of our successfulness on science?
     Maybe the idea of self-consciousness can’t be explained by science. Let’s see what this supposition implies if it is true. If science can’t explain a thing at some place, at some time, science can’t explain everything in the universe for all time, from the past to the future. In this case, there are some things beyond the capabilities of science. Whether they are some separated single events or they are systematic events, they are some things beyond the capabilities of science. It is more reasonable for us to presume that they are systematic events, like the events in the physical world, which are able to be understood systematically by the scientific method. We may hope that the things beyond science also have their rules and are possible to be understood.
     It is not too dangerous to say that all people who ever lived have similar self-consciousness experiences. We believe all of the issues noted here were deliberated and discussed by some other curious people in the same way, or some similar ways, but in different forms. It is not by accident that, from the past till now, some people have believed some things beyond the standard explanations of physical experiences, and left some heritage on this topic. All these things belong to a category of human knowledge called religion.

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