Since my last musing, my life has achieved a remarkable closure. This posting will be the end of my musings in this form and I feel delighted to have reached this point of satisfaction.
First let me explain how I see my life at this point approaching my 77th birthday. Throughout my life, I have visualized my life in purposeful blocks of time. Foremost was my early identification of 1 decade of fun as a child, then 1 more decade of education preparing me for a career and a family. (Of course the 'decades' need to be rounded to the nearest multiple of 10.) Then after these 20 years (in reality it turned out to be 22 years) I began my career and shortly after began my family. My career took up a block of 3 decades after which I retired. The retirement block is now in its 23rd year with no known end point. My role as head of my family with children living under my roof took almost exactly 5 decades to the day. Now I live alone with my wife and cats in an otherwise empty nest.
I was aware of those blocks of time throughout my life and they helped me plan for focusing on the task at hand and for preparing for the transitions to the next blocks.
But lately I realized that my lifetime could be analyzed into another set of time blocks identified by my personal philosophy. The first block was my first four years as an oblivious child. The second block began with my first recognition of my own consciousness at age 4 (or maybe it was 5). At that moment I began an enthusiastic search for answers to the mysteries of the mind, the end of which is marked by this very last post in these Musings. The 70-year search being over, I expect to relax and enjoy the rest of my life.
The 70-year-search block of time can be broken down further into the first decade or so being convinced that other people know the answers I sought and that I only needed to become sufficiently educated in order to learn and understand those answers. In the second decade I began to have serious doubts that anyone actually had the answers so that by the time I was 24, or so, I was convinced that nobody did. From then on, I slowly developed my own tentative answers, until after my reading of Nagel, which I have already described, I became convinced that I had a pretty good understanding of the answers.
Then came the short period of the past few months during which I was ambivalent about whether, and if so how, to present my ideas to the world. That quandary has been an important component of these musings, as any of my readers already knows.
That brings us to the exciting finish which I will now describe. As you know, I despaired of ever getting any serious attention from the people I respect in academia. I have written introductory letters to Roger Penrose and Max Tegmark, which led nowhere. I did establish a nice dialog with Professor Patrick Grimm, but I got the feeling that he was not willing to put any energy into a deeper development of the ideas he had planted in my mind.
In these musings, I also described my views on the possibilities of reaching an audience by writing a book and that I concluded that it would not be a satisfactory approach. I wasn't sure what to do.
It was during this period of indecision and ambivalence that I happened to stumble across the FQXi organization of Max Tegmark. In the notes I had taken while reading his book, I had noted the organization's URL and just for completeness, with no real expectations, I visited the website. To my amazement and delight, I discovered that the organization was sponsoring an essay contest which had a deadline only a few weeks away.
Here was a chance to make my best case and be guaranteed that, as long as I could get it accepted, it would be read by some of Max Tegmark's colleagues, and maybe even by Max himself. It was as if the Universe itself had set this opportunity right in front of me.
After talking it over with Ellen, and finding that she enthusiastically encouraged me to make it my highest priority and enter the contest, I did exactly that. There were some other prior time commitments, like hosting a group of Venture Scouts at our log home, and of doing some snowshoeing with Ellen on a day she was off work, but otherwise I spent most of my alert waking hours, and many hours thinking about it instead of sleeping during the wee hours of the night, working on composing my essay entry.
I went through many drafts and revisions making sure I fit within the qualification limits and I submitted my essay just a couple days before the deadline.
The way the contest is run, you only get to submit your essay once, and once it is accepted, it is posted for public review. Readers, whether they be contest officials, other essay contestants, or the public, can post comments and thereby start a dialog with the author. In addition to comments, the essays can be rated and those ratings contribute to the selection of the winners.
I didn't know what to expect and didn't do much reading of other essays before I posted mine. Once it was posted, though, I got a feeling for how the essay will be accepted by other people and whether or not I was going to find interlocutors that I wanted to communicate with. Now, after about a week or so, I have concluded that I am not going to find any.
But I am satisfied that I have put forth my best case and gotten it in front of at least some people at the level of Max Tegmark. That is enough for me. If anything develops any further, so much the better.
So, that brings you up to the minute on my state of transitioning out of this penultimate stage in my philosophical development. This musing, as the title implies, will end this series, except for one final thought which I almost forgot.
The whole objective of my lifelong philosophical inquiry was to explain consciousness. That explanation has been developed as clearly and systematically as I could do in this musing format. And, the explanation was condensed into the 25,000 character limit of the essay contest. But there is one piece missing from both.
In my intermediate drafts of the paper, I wrote a definition of consciousness that ended up getting jettisoned from my essay for space reasons. In my prior musings, I developed a lot of preliminary ideas leading up to this definition, but it didn't get included because I hadn't thought of it by the time of my previous musing. So now, to end this installment, I will dig that definition out and present it to you.
But before I do, I want to sincerely thank you for reading and considering what I wrote here. It is for you that I poured myself out onto my keyboard to create it. I thank you from the deepest recesses of my heart.
Here is my definition of consciousness:
We begin with the structure of consciousness. Here is a list of some, perhaps not all, of the features or components:
Awareness, experience, perception, the ability to notice, the self, thought, feelings, intentionality, attention, free will, purpose, imagination, conception, pattern recognition, memory, self-reflection, logical ability (reason), knowledge, comprehension, understanding, meaning, value, morality, wisdom.
The list is arranged in the order the components would appear in a narrative I might deliver to answer the question, "What is consciousness like for you?" I might say,
"I am aware that I have experiences, I perceive a world around me which just asked me a question about consciousness, and I notice that I need to use the word "I" frequently just to respond to the question. That "I" is my self.
"I experience thought happening and among the thoughts I experience are many feelings ranging from pain to various other sensations and urges. My attention seems to be focused on one mental aspect at a time. Among the feelings are intentions, which somehow urge me to take some action. I take those actions by exercising my free will to redirect my attention so that I may achieve some purpose.
"I can imagine counterfactuals by an exercise of will. I can recognize patterns and concepts among those counterfactuals. I can relegate those concepts, along with perceptions and other experiences to my memory and retrieve them later. I have the ability to consider concepts and infer new and different concepts as logical implications of the ones I am considering. I can reason.
"In my memory, I have accumulated quite a store of concepts along with myriad percepts which, taken together, I count as knowledge. I comprehend many of the interrelationships among the percepts and concepts that I know. Thus, I understand much of what I know. I seem to understand some of the relationships between what I know and the world around me, which gives that knowledge some meaning. Some of those relationships are more important than others, which gives them value. Applying those values to the world constitutes morality. And understanding morality constitutes wisdom."
Paul R. Martin
March 6, 2017
©2017 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.