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More on the Mystery of Self-Consciousness
2008/03/03 05:54
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     Here’s a fun activity: Take some pieces of blank paper and write down anything relating to your self-consciousness. They can be your definitions, your descriptions, your questions, your confusions, your feelings, your beliefs, etc. You must have many things to write, because you have lived decades with your self-consciousness experience.
     Me too. I am also an existence with self-consciousness. The following are what I would like to write for this activity:
     It is much easier to say what self-consciousness is not than what self-consciousness is. Self-consciousness is not senses. We know that a person who lost some sense still has self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is not language ability. There were some people isolated decades before they came in contact with other human beings. When they knew people used language for communication, they eagerly learned this ability. They had self-consciousness, too. Self-consciousness is not a physical principle or an object that can be described by physical principles. Physical principles point out that some particles like electrons have certain behaviors under certain conditions, but nobody knows how to describe self-consciousness in this way.
     Self-consciousness is a status of a person. This status is different when that person is awake or asleep. If a body’s functions are stopped, the status must become a different one or nothing. However, a person whose bodily functions have stopped can’t react to tell us whether his or her self-consciousness becomes a different status or nothing at all.
     Self-consciousness is a concept in a person’s mind. A person possessing consciousness considers that he or she is different and separated from the other things of the universe. Some may insist that he or she is a part of the universe, or that the universe is a part of him or her. However, he or she must confess the relations between him or her and certain things are different from the relations between him or her and other things. For example, the relation between a man and his time is different from the relation between the man and Lake Michigan. He or she also must assume the idea of his or her identity during this kind of discussions. This assumption is not meaningless and can’t be replaced by other ideas.
     Self-consciousness relates to the feelings of time and space. A possessor of self-consciousness is aware of time passing, second by second, and the sizes and positions of objects relating to his or her body in space because of his or her self-consciousness. I recognize that I am at this place, the date is today, and the time is now because of my self-consciousness. It is the way in which I exist. A fast and complex computer does not feel this way.
     Self-consciousness creates a world, a personal world containing many properties and possibilities. We define and talk about many things because we assume that everyone has his or her own world. It is analogous to our idea of space. We may describe the locations and status of objects and discuss the interactions between them because of the idea of space. Space is not an object, for it is more elementary than objects and allows objects to exist and work in it. Self-consciousness opens an abstract philosophic space that allows ideas to exist and work in it. We live within this abstract philosophic space so familiar and instinctive that we are not aware of its existence most of the time. If we build a computer, no matter how fast or how complex it is, we don’t have to assume that there is such a space associated to it. Actually, we have never created an inner world from which the computer observes the universe. If we compare a modern computer to a pocket calculator, it is more complex. It is mathematically more complex. But it is only mathematically more complex. If we compare a human to any other kind of animal, the capacity of his or her brain is bigger and the network of his or her neural system is more complex. But besides that, he or she has self-consciousness and he or she uses it to observe the world.
     All of the above are what I can write down. They look like several small pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle. They can’t come together, and we can’t discover the original picture by them. However, it is the way that self-consciousnesses appear in this world. For a self-consciousness, only the possessor of this self-consciousness can experience this self-consciousness, and only the possessor of this self-consciousness can prove the existence of this self-consciousness. This is how self-consciousness exists. This is also the very meaning of self-consciousness.
     The following is the main reason that makes me believe that self-consciousness can’t be explained by science. The principal discipline of science is generalization. The principal experience of self-consciousness is uniqueness. How can science explain this intrinsic property, uniqueness, of self-consciousness? How can science explain why a person experiences a life for a certain number of years and occupies some space during these years because some substance found everywhere on earth forms his or her body?
     Have you wished to become another person, that is, your self-consciousness jumping into another person who has a higher social status, more properties, better personal relationships, or better looks than you? You suppose that you would be better satisfied and happier in this imaginary situation than you are in your present one. There are some dramas and novels based on this idea. However, doesn’t this kind of imagination prove that the existence of self-consciousness and the existence of body are two different things? Doesn’t it allude that we can’t deduce that self-consciousness is generated by the activities of a body? This imaginary scene suggests our conscious experiences can’t be explained by science.
     It is my belief that self-consciousness is endowed by God beyond the physical world. It can be called a soul, too. A person became a being with self-consciousness and began to recognize this world at the moment of being conceived or at some time during a certain embryonic stage. When his or her body dies, his or her self-consciousness will not disappear and will experience other things outside the physical world. This process is arranged by God. If someday some scientists successfully clone a person, i.e., replace the genes of a fertilized egg with another person’s genes and let the egg develop into a baby in a womb, the cloned person should be endowed self-consciousness by God. He or she will learn how to love and be loved as other people using a body derived from the genes of another person with his or her own self-consciousness. Because it is God’s plan and the reason the universe was created that God let each Homo sapiens have self-consciousness using free will to explore the world.
     Have you read some books written by atheists claiming that self-consciousness is just an illusion and can be explained by science, like The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick or Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett? Maybe only 10 percent of people on earth have interests in this genre of books, but these books talk about the most important characteristics of all people. I can’t disagree with these books more; however, they are respectable works, and it will take another book as thick as these books to refute them so I can’t do it here. Important to note is that the existence of these books shows that many atheists also recognize that the problem of self-consciousness is a challenge to their beliefs. They clearly know that if they can’t prove that self-consciousness is just an illusion, atheism can’t stand.
     Nevertheless, how can self-consciousness be just an illusion? It should be one of the most important and meaningful qualities of our universe. It may be the only important and meaningful quality of our universe. A universe without any existence of self-consciousness looks like a city without anyone living in it. Imagine that in Chicago all streets were silent and all buildings were empty. It also looks like a computer which has never been plugged in to an electrical socket. Without electricity, the computer is not different than a piece of stone. The physical world’s objects are more like illusions than self-consciousness, according to some viewpoints. Our vision is just the interpretation of our brain when photons hit our eyes. A table is hard because the electromagnetic force of the atoms of the table dominates some space, which is actually empty. However, excluding human consciousnesses, the universe is nonsense.
     We discuss this topic because for a serious and firm atheist who has systematic thoughts to confront religious ideas, his or her self-consciousness seems the only proof to shatter his or her conviction. If this proof is useless for a person having confidence in materialism or atheism so much that he or she denies his or her very existence and considers his or her life merely an illusion, others can do nothing except worry about him or her. Anyway, he or she is the only one who possesses, experiences, and controls his or her self-consciousness. He or she is the only one who is responsible for the future of his or her self-consciousness.

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