Many thanks to so many for stopping by to talk to the team at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday. We demonstrated a typical experimental paradigm to many keen volunteers (gathering some useful data in the process) and talked to many more about consciousness and the mind.
The question of the function of consciousness — what consciousness ‘does for us’ — remains very open philosophically and scientifically. I was interested in people’s views on this question. We had people from all walks of life, and with lots of life experience of everyday life and work, and sometimes illness, to draw on. Here are some of the ideas people were keen to share:
Consciousness is for making decisions, otherwise we would be automated. – Chi
I use consciousness to teach people. – Cathy
Consciousness individuates us. – John
We have it to have pleasure, and to make experience unique to the individual and personalized. – Patricia
My unconscious solves problems when I’m not thinking about it. – Jennifer
For humans, which have volition, it is to do with being self-motivating. The more we are running ourselves, the more important it is that we have self-awareness and consciousness. – Ray
Consciousness allows us to have memory of inputs. – Jeremy
Consciousness sets up inputs into a feedback loop, which is how some inputs are selected for action out of many that are received. But the selection is driven by intent, which is just as mysterious as consciousness. – Phil
It’s like hardware and software: it’s the arrangement of parts and interconnection of elements that gives rise to consciousness.
Self-awareness makes us sentient and we have the ability to utilise this to create, learn and connect with others, assisting with our social nature.
Self-awareness gives us ethics, because we think about the well-being of others.
Consciousness is not helpful for morality. There is no moral progress, rather moral decline. Consciousness just helps us to be fast and avoid troubles.
Consciousness is why we look out for each other in our village. People are different in towns. Consciousness is about how we perceive ourselves in relation to others.
Any more views?