Why are we conscious?
I was struggling with this yesterday, as I meandered philosophically.
I figured out the prerequisites for consciousness, but not the necessity of consciousness. By this I mean something very specific and intuitive. Consciousness might play a role in the activity of the organism, but what I want to know is why that role requires the sort of self-awareness in which "I" exists in a vivid and irrefutable way. We directly experience perceptions. We are not zombies or robots. We feel stuff.
As another netizen says, "From a purely logical point of view it appears that consciousness, as such, is not really necessary at all. Theoretically an android could be constructed and programmed in such a way that it would eat cake and comment on how wonderful it tastes without actually experiencing the taste of cake at all. Indeed, it seems that a whole population of self-replicating androids could be constructed and programmed to replay the entire course of human history without a single one of them having even a glimmer of conscious experience. So once again, why are we conscious at all?" On the Nature of Mind and Spiritual Meaning
Pleasure and pain are not merely signals within the nervous system, they are profoundly real sensations to the organism feeling them. When a religion like Buddhism promises an end to suffering, you might be skeptical, but you understand why people might fall for it. You know what suffering is.
The fact of suffering can drive a person insane, or even to suicide. For people who are sufficiently empathic, the suffering of others can drive them insane, or even to suicide. I know. Believe me, I know. I empathize too much sometimes. There is so much pain and evil in the world that if I try to stay in touch with too much of it I fall apart.
Similarly, the availability of pleasure can lead a person to addiction or even death. I've done a good job of avoiding addictions, and I'm still alive, so I'm doing OK in the not-too-much-pleasure department. But pleasure can be just as harmful as pain.
And we really really feel these things when they happen to us.
Sometimes, when I wax philosophical, I say stuff like, "If we didn't have religion we'd have to invent it."
Well ... if we didn't have consciousness, what would be the point of the universe? If there is nobody to observe a universe, either from within or from without, then ... um ... so what?
Is this why we are conscious? Because if we weren't, then ... um ... so what?
This is a self-justification if I ever saw one!
But, seriously, what is the point of existence if you don't feel it?
We can go further down that road. What is the point of existence if you never have to work for it or risk anything for it? What is the point of existence if it never changes, or lasts forever?
When I think about this stuff, sometimes I become scared, imagining a point of consciousness that never changes and lives forever. I would not want to be that point of consciousness. At least, that's what I think now. Maybe it isn't so bad ... maybe it would depend on the structure of that consciousness. But it could be bad. It could be like Hell.
Hell can be imagined, that's for sure. But that doesn't mean it exists, or that I'll end up there.
So, we are conscious because consciousness makes existence real. As far as I can tell, the stuff of the universe and the rules that bind it have the potential for consciousness built-in. When consciousness arises, due to either arbitrary or divine design, then the stuff and the rules become observable. Consciousness makes matter, energy, and causation appear real, to themselves! Without consciousness ... nothing matters.
There are still some things I haven't figured out about consciousness. But I've come a long way.
And this time it isn't driving me crazy.
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