Monday, October 17, 2011

Consciousness, Philosophical Zombies, and Connections Between Courses

Hello again!

The semester is suddenly picking up speed - midterms are over, I'm back and settled at Clark from Columbus Day break, and projects are approaching speedily. Coming up first, I have my SOC 203 paper/presentation on circumcision occurring on November 3rd. Following that, I present my PSYC 270 paper/powerpoint over prosopagnosia on November 28th. As I work more specifically with information relating to my SOC circumcision project in the next couple of days, I'll post more about it.

Today in PSYC 270, my capstone, we began student presentations. Sarah, one of my classmates, presented on the topic of the evolution of consciousness. Bits of the presentation were difficult to follow at times, if only because it's hard to define exactly what consciousness even means; Sarah suggested that there are two types of consciousness
1. phenomenal awareness (as displayed by all living things) and
2. conscious thought (as displayed by only humans)

With the first point being thought of as awareness, and the second point being a meta-reaction; awareness of having such awareness.

We talked about a couple "chicken or egg" scenarios: does culture create a need for consciousness, or does group consciousness create culture? Do feelings lead to behavior, or does behavior elicit feelings?

Obviously, there's no clear-cut response to such questions about consciousness because it's difficult to even determine if others around us maintain consciousness; thus brings into question the philosophical zombie: a being that appears as a normal human but is lacking in conscious thought.

Which then leads to "Cogito ergo sum", or "I think therefore I am"; we can only be certain of our own consciousness because we can never know the thought processes involved in others' actions (or are they all just zombies, reacting to stimuli with no conscious thought involved?)

Anyway, before getting into all this philosophical stuff, I was thinking that in very simplistic terms this topic, of consciousness, relates directly to some thoughts I was having as a result of my COPACE course On Death & Dying, mainly, how do we determine quality of life, especially in regards to consciousness?

If an individual is in a state of being unable to connect with people around, is he/she experiencing a quality of life that is valuable to the individual to sustain?

I suppose, more than anything, it is impossible to determine for each individual when exactly life is worth living, and at which point it becomes less than desirable. Luckily, things like the living will help to record for the individual's family and friends which type of care should be presented under certain situations. But, going back to a point I've mentioned many times previously: people fear death. It is fearful to discuss situations where death is inevitable, where a person may be unresponsive or lacking consciousness.

It's a tough thing to come to a conclusion on. Luckily, I have many more presentations on different types of consciousness to view in the coming weeks; maybe after viewing the remainder of my classmates' presentations I'll have more ideas about what consciousness means to me, and what it can mean in a medical sense or in terms of quality of life.

So, an update over things that aren't class-related (and a plug for student council): I had a chance to go to Boston this past weekend, on the bi-weekly free bus that student-council provides! It was quite lovely, I do recommend that students take advantage of the bus (it's free! And convenient). Here's a picture of Boston at night, taken from a bridge, to close out the entry.

I hope everyone's week starts out well! I'll update soon with more course-things and likely some club-things as well.

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