A Formal Treatment of Consciousness


Instead of going into detail right now explaining Libet's Half-second Delay, I'll just sketch out the method. We may fill in the details later when it is time to tie up loose ends at that level of detail. The basic explanation is that in the various acts and events taking place during Libet's measurements, there is a considerable amount of communication in both directions on the brain/Beon communication link. Assuming that there is some delay in propagation on that link, the net effect will show up as the mysterious half-second delay that characterizes the experiment. What we need to do is to draw a parallel narrative between the experiment and our proposal for consciousness residing solely in Beon. Using the Mars Rover analogy, it should be easy.

We have gotten ahead of ourselves in our musings by talking about our speculations on the residence of Beons in hyperspace and their interaction with our physical brains. Let's now go back to the axiomatic development of our answer to the question of, What do we know?

To review, we established the undeniable and certain truth that "Thought happens". We have established that there are at least two "Thinkers" (you, the reader of this text, and me, the writer), each of whom experiences an intermittent stream of thought which follows along the world line of the respective associated brain/body of the "Thinker".

We then embarked on speculation in which we suppose that the thoughts actually, and only, occur in structures we have called Beons, which reside in hyperspace outside of the manifold of science and ordinary experience. So Beons are the "thinkers" and consciousness is the experience of thought happening. Beons are the experiencers of the thought happening.

So to return to our axiomatic development of what amounts to our theory of reality, let me drag out an interjection I made at the end of my 5/26/15 musing. There I interjected a partially developed start at laying out my axioms. Rather than repeating it all, I'll just cite the first axiom and the first definition slightly modified:

Axiom 1: Thought happens

Definition 1. Consciousness is the experience of thought happening.

Mathematically, we are treating 'Thought', 'Happens', and 'Experience' as primitive terms.

Now, glancing ahead at our proposed development, we see that our objective is to describe as many aspects and features of consciousness as we can in a logically consistent story. We expect that consciousness occurs only in Beons and that Beons experience the illusion that the consciousness occurs right behind the eyeballs of an earthly organism, like a human being (keep in mind that only a conscious entity can be deceived by an illusion so it must be Beon that is decieved).

What we need to do now is to analyze consciousness into its constituent parts and then consider the role each part plays in our story. If we accept Definition 1, then at least some of the constituent parts can be identified by answering the question, What kinds of thoughts can happen?

Well, we can experience the awareness of feelings, of perceptions, of conceptions (I mean the generation of a concept, not a zygote), of attention, and of will. This list is probably not complete.

We can analyze these further:

Feelings might be of emotions, or of pain, or of hunger, or even of boredom. And emotions can be broken down further into such feelings as fear, joy, anxiety, love, sadness, etc.

Perceptions can be broken down into the five familiar sense impressions, of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These, and maybe others, can be further broken down into specific qualia such as colors, tones, flavors, odors, etc.

Conceptions produce concepts which vary widely. Concepts are components of complex structures relating each to the others. One example is the words and grammar making up a natural language. Another is the myriad concepts involved in mathematics.

Concepts form a hierarchical structure that ranges from simple basic concepts to concepts involving an unimaginably huge number of subordinate concepts. Consider the concept of a living organism and the many concepts involved in understanding it. Then consider the chain of concepts from the fundamental particles and fields of physics, to the atoms and molecules of chemistry, to the macro-molecules and cells of biology, to a multi-cellular organism, to an eco-system of many organisms, to human societies, to human institutions such as governments and states. Concepts cover an enormous territory, so thoughts about them can be extremely complex.

Attention and will are closely linked and are somewhat different in kind from the ones we just mentioned. Feelings, perceptions, and even conceptions can be thought of as passive. That is, we may be conscious of all of them in the same way we are conscious of the story presented on a movie screen. We could just watch and take it all in.

But attention and will can be deliberately chosen or altered by the experiencer of consciousness, i.e. Beon. We (speaking as Beon) may deliberately choose to direct our attention toward or away from certain feelings, perceptions, or conceptions and in many cases, the attempt is successful.

That sort of deliberate choice is an exercise of free will, and it plays an important role in our manipulation of the concepts involved in such things as language and mathematics.

That is probably enough for now having given us a glimpse of how varied, complex, and enormous the range of consciousness is.

At this point, we need to formalize some definitions that we are ready to make:

Definition 2: Beon is a hyper-spatial structure and the sole experiencer of consciousness.

Definition 3: Body/Brain is the physical 3D structure commonly identified with a human.

Definition 4: Feelings are conscious experiences of various states of the body.

Definition 5: Perceptions are conscious experiences of states outside the body as conveyed by the senses of the body.

Definition 6: Concepts are conscious experiences of patterns and structures of patterns occurring in Beon not involving the brain or the body.

Definition 7: Attention is the point of division in the process of thought happening which separates the thoughts that have already happened from those yet to happen.

Definition 8: Will is the capability of Beon to deliberately choose from among the candidates for the next pending thoughts to appear to the attention.

In searching my own store of concepts, using my own free will, I have tried to tease out some kind of organizing pattern among the aspects and piece parts of consciousness. It occurs to me that among the most fundamental constituents of consciousness is raw awareness. It is only when we are aware of concepts, or perceptions, or feelings, that we are truly conscious of them.

Now let's think about the word 'awareness'. What do we really mean? Well, it seems that it means that the knowledge that there is something (that of which we are aware) is somehow presented to the experiencer (Beon) so that a new fact becomes known to Beon. In other words, awareness means that Beon acquires new knowledge of something. In that case, we say that Beon is aware of that something.

That "something" of which Beon becomes aware, could be any of the previously listed components of consciousness. Beon could become aware of a new pain, or of a new sensation, or of a new concept or idea. It would then "know" of that pain, sensation, or so on.

We are now faced with grappling with the idea of knowing and of knowledge. That seems reasonable because it takes us directly into the subject of epistemology, which is one of the fundamental categories of philosophy. It deserves our attention. (Ahem, we need to direct our attention there using our free will. i.e. stay with me please.)

We have the choice to accept the notion of knowing as a primitive concept, or we could accept some philosopher's definition, or we could attempt to define it ourselves in more primitive terms. Let's do it ourselves. Let's make the following definitions:

Definition 9: Information is a difference that makes a difference to Beon. (We have augmented Claude Shannon's definition by declaring to whom the difference makes a difference.)

Definition 10: Knowledge is information of which Beon is aware or which is available to Beon's awareness.

Definition 11: Knowing is the acquisition or possession of information by Beon, i.e. it is the process of a new, previously non-existent, thought happening. .

Definition 12: Awareness is Beon's knowledge that new knowledge has been/is being acquired.

At this point I should explain my polite refusal to accept the standard official definition of 'knowledge' from philosophy. In past discussions on various Internet forums, I learned that the official, and as I understand it, nearly unanimously accepted definition of knowledge is Justified True Belief (JTB).

When I learned that, I strenuously objected to each of the three words in the definition. I don't consider Belief to be a good basis for knowledge given the wide disparity of beliefs and the utter falsity of most of them. I objected to the qualifier True because the difficulty of establishing truth would tend to make the set of true beliefs nearly empty. And I quarreled with the notion of justification. "Who, exactly," I asked, "gets to be the judge?"

It was when I received the answer to that last question that I turned away from their definition. I was told that each philosopher is his own judge. I'll stick with my definition. Please accept mine while you are reading these musings. Otherwise you can adopt any definition you like.

The Beon driving my fingers over this keyboard is experiencing the conscious feeling of hunger pangs. It is time to stop musing and get some lunch. To be continued.

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