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"

Conceptual Life

The US mathematician Douglas Hofstadter noted that the self can exist not only because of an ability (consciousness, which is basically a tautology) but also because of an inability: we are unable to perceive the working of our brain. Our mind's ability to create symbols (categories, concepts, ideas) out of the signals it receives through the senses becomes the very limit of our mind's ability to understand reality: it cannot perceive anything at lower levels. Our mind cannot peer below the level of symbols. Were we able to perceive the detailed operations of our brain's neurons, we probably wouldn't be "self-aware". The self is an illusion that is created by the fact that we do not perceive ourselves as billions of neurons exchanging electrochemical messages. We perceive ourselves and our lives and the world around us as concepts: sun, busy, good, tired, etc. At the physical level each of these is an electrochemical process in our brain that involves millions of neurons. We know it as a scientific fact, but we do not perceive it. Thinking is inherently opaque: when i think of myself, i think of my goals, failures, desires, memories, but i don't think of Neuron 345-769-045 triggering Neuron 745-809-760 triggering Neuron...

On the other hand, the self is capable of perceiving the symbolic activity: we "know" that we know something, we can retrace the steps of our logic, we can argue with ourselves why we believe in something. We cannot perceive the working of the neurons that make concepts possible (the working of our neural life), but we perceive the working of our conceptual life. That perception “is” us.

"Our very nature is such as to prevent us from fully understanding its very nature".


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