The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


The Self

Consciousness is more than just being aware of being. It comes with a strong notion: the distinction between self and non-self. I know that i am myself, but i also know that i am not anybody else, and that nobody else is me. I know that i am myself, and i know that i was myself yesterday and the day before and the year before and forty years ago. Consciousness carries a sense of identity, of me being me. And it comes with a sense that there are other selves.

Differentiation of self and the other is a fundamental property of living organisms. Even plants use protein discrimination mechanisms, and most organisms could not survive without the ability to distinguish alien organisms.

The US neurologist Roger Sperry can be said to have founded the scientific study of the self, when (“A Unifying Approach To Mind And Brain”, 1976) he posited that the self must be an “emergent” property of brain processes that, in turn, controls brain processes. This emergent property is thus generated by brain (neural) processes but, once it is born, it is no longer a brain (neural) phenomenon: it belongs to a different category that does not obey neurological laws anymore (“non-reductive physicalism”). Sperry believed that there is only one substance (as in monism). However, entities of that substance can create new entities that exhibit completely different properties, just like Quantum Mechanics tells us that interactions among elementary particles can result in (emergent) phenomena that have properties apparently unrelated to the properties of the particles. In general, Sperry thought that this is the way that human values emerge from the physical structure of our body, and they too constitute a completely independent category of entities.

A preliminary question that is virtually impossible to answer is where the self comes from. We inherit bodily traits from our parents: do we also inherit the consciousness of our self from our parents’ selves? After all, my brain’s structure is probably very related to my mother’s and/or my father’s brain. If the self (my feeling of who i am) is due to the processes inside my brain, then my self should be somehow similar to the self of my parents.



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