Sunday, January 11, 2009

consciousness and time

Slime mold has just been added to the list of animals for whom scientific speculation exists about their status as conscious (or at least intelligent) beings. I am always fascinated as this list grows and which lifeforms get added to it- in fact I should make a referenced list someday. A much more exclusive list is that of self aware creatures, to which the magpie has been added, the second non-mammalian addition after pigeons.

As I was waiting for a friend to visit, I began to think about how my perception of the passage of time changes depending on what I am doing. After considering several different situations from faster to slower perceptions of the passage time, it seemed to lead to the conclusion that time doesn't exist for dead people, and consciousness, therefore, must include a sense of the passage of time. If this is true, then in answer to the question: "Where do you go/ what happens when you die?" would be "You don't go anywhere and nothing happens; everything stops". But stopping stops too; it is utterly impossible to imagine, let alone describe, nothing. As we can only imagine something, the only state that has any reality to us is conscious awareness, and that is all that would appear to ever have any meaningful existence to us. Though we die, if ever we are, we are alive.

2 comments:

Aratina said...

Surprising! I guess it just shows we don't really know the right mechanism yet. Surely a computer model of slime mold would be possible to create. It seems to have memory, a sense of pain, and the ability to learn.

About death, I remember discussing this before. What do you think about a comparison of dreamless sleep to death? To me, that is an experience although not a conscious one. As long as you wake up, you can experience dreamless sleep such as the mismatch between how things were when you went to sleep, including internal feelings, and how they are now. So death is completely imaginable as a dreamless sleep you never awaken from. An even better comparison for the experience of death is being under general anesthesia if you have ever been in that situation. On the other hand, nobody can remember the instant where they lose consciousness so it is absolutely right to say from a subjective point of view that we never die or its inverse: "Though we die, if we are, we are alive."

Keir said...

Temporal awareness

I remember an odd argument that I used to hear Dr. Benesch make a few times. It thought it was kind of a cheap trick, but in so many words it basically ran like this:

Premise A: I am alive now.
Premise B: It is always now.
Conclusion: Therefore, I am always alive (or "Therefore, I am immortal.")

Just to clarify the distinction made between conscious experiences and unconscious experiences... An unconscious experience is something that we are only aware of after it has occurred and must meet two criteria: 1) we must wake up and 2) we must recall our conscious experience preceding the unconscious experience, which allows us to infer that an interval of time has passed during which we lacked awareness. Death may be a dreamless sleep, but who can say whether or not we wake from it?

I was under general anesthesia when I had my wisdom teeth removed. That and the pain medication made for a very disorienting (though very pleasant) experience.