Sunday

Self-Awareness Revisited

Presumably your self-awareness begins at conception, and thus there is self-awareness even at the cellular level. Now if you, and here ‘you' could be a plant or a microbe, respond to stimuli (external or internal), then you are self-aware, albeit awareness of self comes in degrees – a mammal is more self-aware than a cactus even though both can respond to stimuli. If you respond to stimuli in a way that's not predictable by the laws of physics then you are self-aware. A rock cannot be a ‘you' since it does not respond to stimuli in any way that physics cannot predict and thus a rock is not self-aware.

Chain of Thought: Part One

Your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes. It's an unbreakable link.

If, or rather since your self-awareness resides in your brain and since your brain is just a finite combination* of various chemicals, neural connections and energy configurations, then your self-awareness is also a product of a finite combination of various chemicals, neural connections and energy configurations.

Your awareness of self presumably only takes up a relatively small percentage of your brain's chemistry, neural connections and type of energy transactions. That should increase the awareness of self finiteness and thus the probability therefore of there being more than one self-aware you.

So given enough bodies (animal or human) with brains, the particular combination that results in your self-awareness should repeat eventually elsewhere and/or elsewhen, but apparently it doesn't. Something is screwy somewhere.

If there is a limit of a singular self-awareness per customer, regardless of how many customers there are, who is doing the limiting?

* Though zillions of combinations might be possible, most would result in non-functionality. Presumably you wouldn't survive if your brain instructed the stomach to pump and the heart to secrete digestive juices. That should at least reduce zillions of potential possibilities down to a more reasonable trillion(s) of actual viable functionality.

By analogy, there is only so many ways to assemble an automobile or building and have a viable and functional means of transport or accommodation. There are many, many more ways of putting together an automobile or a building that results however in non-functionality.

Chain of Thought: Part Two

Your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes. The question here is how I can shut down your awareness of self without destroying your brain thingy.

If I were to do it, the most obvious way would be to put you under – give you some sort of aesthetic (or get you so blind drunk you pass out, or knock you unconscious).

But you can do that yourself just by going to sleep. Your five senses shut down for the duration (unless there's an extremely powerful outside stimulus). But you can only take that absence of an awareness of self just so far and no farther as we shall see.

So if you were born without any of your five senses operating, would or could you still be self-aware? Yes – there's a limit to how far you can shut down the nervous system and still be or remain alive. So even if you couldn't see, hear, touch, taste or smell, you'd still be aware of various sensations.

You'd still be aware of hunger and the opposite, the need to go potty in the bathroom. You'd still be aware of becoming tired and the need to go to sleep, and the opposite, of being wide-awake and unable to sleep. You'd be aware of the need to inhale and exhale. You'd be aware that something was wrong if you experienced a heart attack (even though you wouldn't feel any pain). You'd still be aware of the need to cough, sneeze and yawn.

So awareness of self is not just about the external world that you are aware of and your place in it and what it is doing to you thanks to your five senses. Awareness of self is also about awareness of your internal world (your body), unless you want to consider anything external to your brain as belonging to your external world too, even if it's your stomach and stomach ulcer or heart and heart attack.

So the bottom line seems to be that you have self-awareness even in the absence of external stimuli – external to your body that is, but not stimuli that's internal to your body (like hunger, etc.). If you have no self-awareness of stimuli internal to your body but still external as far as your mind is concerned, then you're dead – or soon will be.

So your self-awareness is dependent on the cooperation of your body (ideally including your five senses) – it's a joint partnership (unless some mad scientist places and nurtures your brain in a vat in which case the vat becomes your body. As I said before, your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes).

As an aside, you can have a functioning brain without a mind (that which generates self-awareness) like when you're in a deep dreamless sleep or in a coma or passed out blind drunk, but you can't have a functioning mind without a brain. Just in case you were wondering about that particular chicken-egg or mind-body question.

Chain of Thought: Part Three

Your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes. That also applies to a lot of other personality traits.

Your self-awareness is not a separate and apart body organ or tissue or cellular conglomeration, like say the liver, gall bladder or the pineal gland. Instead it is housed in a nebulous sort of way in an organ, in this case the brain – as pointed out several times previously. But that equally applies to a lot of other equally nebulous things – morality, emotions, memory, decision making and creativity. And that brings up an interesting quasi-paradox.

There is some degree of morality or ethics that is born innately within us quite separate and apart from what society (religion, parents, teachers, the legal system, etc.) rams down our throats. I conclude this based on observations of my cats whose interactions with each other demonstrate a degree of inbuilt morality or ethics, and they never had any religious instruction shoved down their throats or any other book learning. So it's probably not surprising that two (or more) people, of differing ages, sexes, races, cultural backgrounds, share much the same views on morals and ethics.

Two (or more) people can have identical memories of X. Say today is defined as being Wednesday the 10th of July 2013. X might be the memory that yesterday was therefore defined as being a numerical date (the 9th), on a day of the week (Tuesday), in the month of (July) within the year (2013). Lots of people would have that memory; all those would agree on that shared memory. Or, though my cats do not share the same self-awareness, they both share a common memory of where the litter box is; where their food and water bowls are; where the sunniest place in the house is (which changes as the seasons change, so that's a neat trick on their part).

Two (or more) people on opposite sides of the globe could have an identical creative thought. That's no big surprise. Coincidence is often the norm, not the exception.

Two (or more) people could experience the exact same sad emotion; say by watching a particular part of the movie "Bambi", or experience the same adrenalin rush when hearing their nation's national anthem.

Two (or more) people could decide to perform the exact same action based on the exact same set of circumstances, like say get out of bed ready to face the day at 8am or tune into the exact same TV program.

But no two people share the same self-awareness, even though morality, memory, emotions, creativity, and other nebulous things all contribute to an awareness of self. Self-awareness is associated with, but is not dependent upon any particular set of memories, morality, etc.

Chain of Thought: Part Four

Your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes. Wouldn't it be interesting if that one awareness of self could exist in differing geographies and go in several directions!

There can be more than one self-awareness in one body, like dual or split personalities. Then too, that would be the case if one (human or animal) were born with two heads (therefore two brains). Such freaks of nature have happened as in Siamese Twins. But what we're interested in is not two (or more) self-aware ‘persons' in one body, but an awareness of self in two (or more) bodies.

However, for reasons unknown, you can't have an awareness of self in two (or more) bodies. Now that's odd since extremely rare things happen. Amazing coincidences almost seem to be the norm. Some people have won top prize in lotto more than once for example. You'll even find two (or more) humans with identical albeit extremely rare names (Christian; Middle; Family).

The ideal conditions or candidates for such a scenario would be identical twins sharing the same conception, the same DNA, total (100%) organ transplant compatibility, etc.

However, even in the case of identical twins there are still two bodies (2 brains) housing two separate and apart self-aware entities.

Chain of Thought: Part Five

Your self-awareness resides in your brain. Your sense of self goes wherever your brain goes. But what if we duplicate your brain thingy? There appears to be two ways of doing that: the technologically-assisted ‘natural' way (cloning), and the technological way (downloading).

There's no theoretical reason why a human being, such as you, could not be cloned. The only reasons against doing that in the here and now are ethical and legal reasons. However, the brain of a cloned you would be a blank slate, since all those nebulous traits like memory and morality could not be cloned. But what about the self-awareness part of the brain? Presumably your most faintest stirrings of self-awareness begin at conception and increase as the complexity of your entity increases. Presumably a clone of your brain, all things being equal, would have the same chemistry and neural connections. But, all things probably aren't going to be equal. There will probably be external and environmental influences which will alter, even if just subtly, the brain chemistry (diet, drugs, etc.) and neural pathways (disease, injuries, etc.) of the clone. Therefore, I suspect that your clone would not have your self-awareness and vice-versa. Your clone is in the exact same category as your identical twin.

The other, yet to be achievable, technological methodology of duplicating your self-awareness would be to download it into another form of hardware – not squishy wetware biology but as bits and bytes software into some sort of suitable receptacle, call it a computer if you will, perhaps with artificial arms and legs attached – a robot/android. [A cyborg would result if your actual squishy brain thingy were placed in an artificial receptacle or container or constructed body.] Again, there will have to be lots of legal and moral issues sorted out first, but the technology to do this should be achievable. So, the awareness of self in your biological squishiness will be the same as your awareness of self as, say a robot. Now the interesting thing is that you, your self-awareness, could be downloaded hundreds of times over, just like you can copy and paste a document on your PC. How could you cope being self-aware hundreds of times over in hundreds of different places? This might be akin to a hive-mind or to a computer network.

Which then leads to the next stage: if one could create a self-aware artificial intelligence (AI) then that could be copied again and again, then presumably whatever one AI entity experienced, all would experience. And with that we really enter the realm of science fiction.

•  If there is a biological entity (human or animal) in one place that is a self-aware entity; and there is another biological entity (human or animal) in another place that has the exact same brain chemistry and neural network structure, then the latter entity presumably has the same self-awareness as the former. For each to be not only self-aware as being their own entity but self-aware as being the other entity too, wouldn't there have to be some sort of telepathic exchange (call it communication if you will) between the two separate and apart bodies? How would that work? Actually it doesn't logically follow. If you self-aware in another body there's no need for communication of that fact since you are already self-aware of it.

•  The most likely answer to this whole one self-awareness per customer issue might like in the statistical improbability of it all. Yes, very unlikely things can happen. It's not inconceivable to toss a coin heads up 1000 times in a row; a monkey pecking away at a typewriter could reproduce say the U.S. Constitution. It just might be the case that the number of combinations of brain chemistry and neural network connections is just so vast, that the number of possible combinations, the number of possible self-aware entities, exceeds by many, many orders of magnitude the numbers of actual self-aware entities that have and every will likely exist. Therefore, the possibility of two or more entities sharing an exact state of self-awareness is just about the same as a tornado tearing through a junkyard and assembling a replica of the White House.

An Extra Chain of Thought:

Some, especial spiritual and New Age types suggest that the cosmos is and always has been self-aware or has consciousness because the cosmos contains entities that are self-aware (like us). We (for example) are the universe's way of contemplating its own navel – of knowing itself. But I think several problems arise with that point of view.

Firstly, there was a time the universe contained no self-aware beings, even microbes. The spiritual types however extend self-awareness down to self-aware rocks and atoms and even electrons that have awareness of self. That's an interesting but deluded worldview IMHO.

Secondly, if we accept that rocks and atoms and even electrons do not have awareness of self, we note that the cosmos is mainly composed of just that sort of non-aware stuff, from the macroscopic (stars and rocks, etc.) to the microscopic (atoms and electrons). That rock in your garden isn't self-aware even if you, your pet dog and your garden plants are. In other words, can a cosmos be said to be self-aware if only the most minuscule part of that cosmos is aware of itself?

Thirdly, a self-aware universe (as defined by having self-aware inhabitants) would have to have an overall self-awareness that was a composite of all the self-aware entities in it which would also change and evolve as self-aware entities came into being, evolved, and then died out. What sort of self-awareness would result if you merged into one great melting pot all of the individual self-aware entities currently in existence on Planet Earth? It would be a dog's breakfast methinks.

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