Is Consciousness Universal?

Earlier this semester we talked about consciousness. I wanted to see what other ideas were involved in the existence of consciousness. Panspsychism is the belief that consciousness is universal. Everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness. This definition raises questions on what it means by “material” and by “mind”. Some philosophers argue that literally every object and every system of objects possess some mind-like qualities. Other philosophers argue that only some things possess mind or the smallest part of things like atoms possess minds. They may not be complete panspsychist though because they don’t believe that every thing has a conscious. Panspsychism does not attempt to define “mind” nor does it explain how mind relates to the objects that possess it. As a result, panspsychism is more of an overarching concept, a kind of meta-theory of mind.

I don’t think consciousness is universal. Things that are not alive or have a soul are not capable of having a conscious. I think something has a mind if they are capable of making their own decisions based on past experiences or other factors.

Physical States and Free Will

Dr. Jorati posted a research article on Carmen about the relation of a persons belief in free will and their physical states…

This research is very interesting.  I had never thought about something like this and how it could effect how a person thinks about the world around them.  For this experiment, they did not define free will, and simply asked the respondents to rate the extent in which they believed in free will.

I do not find it surprising to see that people do not believe in free will if they had, for example, vomited that day.  People do not have physical control over their bodies, so they think that they do not have any free will.  I find it interesting that people connect the inability to have control over their bodies and the idea of free will connected.  I understand, I cannot say that I would think I had much free will if I was chronically ill and could not help it.  I, however, do not think that free will applies to things like this.  The things that are investigated in this experiment (hunger, tiredness, among others) are things that are bodily, necessary functions and not things we can even control if we desired.  In Study 3, they investigated hunger.  Dieters, who work on overpowering hunger, say that they have the free will to overcome these functions.  These people are more likely to believe in free will than people who do not diet.

Even if we wanted to, we could not really control our bodily functions and I do not see its connection to free will.  I see free will, in a broad sense, the ability to make choices about our lifestyle and how we live.  I find it interesting that people can see our bodily functions having a relationship to free will and how they feel about it.

Benjamin Libet’s Experiments on Free Will

In class the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing the free will debate. In this post, I would like to bring to light an old research study pertaining to free will. Benjamin Libet was a famous 20th century neuroscientist who conducted groundbreaking research on the neurobiology of consciousness. In one of his classic experiments, Libet taped electrodes to the intact scalp of his study volunteers in an attempt to measure the correspondence of electrical signals from their brains. His goal was to measure this correspondence of electrical signals when the volunteers moved their wrists. The volunteers were required to look at a moving clock and take note of the precise time (to the millisecond) that they consciously decided to move their wrist. Following data collection, Libet compared the timing of brain activity with the timing of the volunteers’ decisions to move their wrist. His results showed that the volunteers’ brain activities preceded their conscious awareness of the decision to move their wrists by ~200 milliseconds.

Libet’s results sparked a debate about whether the volunteers’ decisions to move their wrists was predetermined or an act of free will. Those supporting the former claimed that because the volunteers’ brain activities preceded their decisions, it was in essence “predetermined” that the volunteers would subsequently move their wrist. On the other hand, those arguing for the free will side such as Libet himself claimed that there was a possibility for the volunteers to override the brain’s “proposal” to move the wrist at a given time. For instance, Libet argued that there was a brief period between the initiation of brain activity and the volunteers’ awareness of the intention to act during which they could “veto” the brain’s decision to initiate movement a moment after. If they did so, then they would prolong the initiation of movement. In this way, Libet argued that the volunteers exercised free will in deciding to veto the brain activity.

Libet’s justification reminds me of Kane’s businesswoman example in his article about free will, in which she has two conflicting decisions but ends up choosing one voluntarily (out of free will). In the same way, I feel that Libet’s volunteers must have had this internal conflict (whether to initiate movement a moment after as the brain specified or veto the brain’s decision), but consciously chose one (to veto the brain’s decision) over the other as an act of free will. As such, I feel that the free will defense of Libet’s experiments is more plausible than the determinism defense.


Free Will and Intuition

In class, we discussed the issues involved in the compatibility of free will and determinism. In thoughts about these subjects, most people tend to have two intuitions:

1) People have the ability to make free choices, and

2) The choices we make are influenced or determined by our previous experiences.

Clearly, these intuitions contradict. It seems that the most rational way to mediate this intuitions is to acknowledge that they are both true, but how is this possible?

Simply, there are hard choices and easy choices, as Ruth Chang explains in her Ted Talk “How to Make Hard Choices.” The easy choices are determined by our previous experiences, and clearly have one option being better than another, like the choice between receiving one million dollars or one. Some choices, however, are not so easily decided. Imagine if you had to, say, murder an innocent animal for one million dollars or save an animal from inhumane testing and receive one dollar. Now, the decision has become hard, for most people.

I think it is very important to remember that what may be a hard choice for one person may not be a hard choice for someone else, since each person has their own individual set of values. Using my example from above, if the animal was, perhaps, a fly, then the choice may become easier. Even the choice between a piece of chocolate cake and a peach may be one of the hardest decision someone will ever make.

Neuroscience of Free Will

We’ve been discussing Free Will in class and I decided to look up a scientific way to prove if Free Will exists or not. Researchers at the University of California-Davis measured the brain activity of a handful of undergraduates as each made choices to look left or right when prompted by images on a screen. A bunch of controls ensured the only thing directing their gaze was their own arbitrary choice. The researchers want to determine if what they call “ongoing spontaneous variability” in neural signaling (brain’s background noise) influenced the student’s decisions. The result showed the fluctuations in brain static actually predicted the direction in which students chose to look. These constant fluctuations exist apart from the normal chain of thought, so they seem to allow spontaneous bits to disrupt constant chain of thoughts toward particular actions and open up other possibilities. Our purposeful intentions, desires, and goals drive our decisions in a linear cause-and-effect kind of way, but their findings shows that decisions can also be influenced by neural noise within any given moment. This can be problematic because it probably plays a role in making mistakes or acting against a person’s intentions but it does prove that we have the freedom of choice.

The Problem of Free Will

We recently discussed Free Will and if it really exists or not. There are five different views broad incompatibilists , semicompatibilists, hard incompatibilists, soft incompatibilists, and soft causalists. Broad incompatibilists think both free will and moral responsibility are incompatible with determinism. Semicompatibilists are narrow compatibilists who are agnostic about free will and determinism but claim moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Hard incompatibilists think both free will and moral responsibility are not compatible with determinism. Illusionists are incompatibilists who say free will is an illusion. Soft incompatibilists think both free will and moral responsibility are incompatible with strict determinism, but both are compatible with an adequate determinism. Soft causalists are event-causalists who accept causality bu admit some unpredictable events that are cause sui (self0-caused cause) and which start new causal chains.

There are six essential requirements for chance to contribute to libertarian free will.

1) Chance exists in the universe. Quantum mechanics is correct. Indeterminism is true.

2) Chance is important for free will. It breaks the causal chain for determinism.

3)Chance cannot directly cause our actions. We cannot be responsible for random actions.

4) Chance can only generate random unpredictable alternative possibilities for action or thought.

5)Chance, in the form of noise, both quantum and thermal, must be present.

6) Chance must be overcome or suppressed by the adequately determine will when it decides to act, de-liberating the prior free options that “one could have done”.

I think I’m a broad incompatibilists because I think free will and moral responsibility are not compatible with determinism. A person decides what to do with their life and their decisions cannot be determined in advance by earlier circumstances. You can predict someone’s actions based on their past but it’s not definite. Someone can easily change their mind. What are you?


Everything happens for a reason.

When some tragic instance occurs, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” comforts those in pain, letting them know that there is some bigger picture or plan for all of us. Although this thought is comforting, it actually can bring confusion, anxiety and depression.

In Thomas Nagel’s 6th chapter entitled “Free Will” in his book What Does it All Mean?, he discusses the implications of free will and determinism. If everything happens for a reason, then what is the point of any of our choices? We may believe that we have the freedom to make our own choice, like a major in college, when in reality this is chosen for us by our previous experiences and everything that led up to that decision.

So, then, why is the phrase “everything happens for a reason” so comforting? Furthermore, why do people enjoy the concepts of fate and karma?

I believe that people have several paths that they may take in life. Although these paths are predetermined, they have a high range of variability in-between them. No path to success was ever perfect, and the drawbacks that were found along the way helped them grow and succeed. These downfalls are a part of the path and they help the person succeed. In essence, we have some choice, and can find meaning in several areas in the world. When we are on these paths, we have a set road that we can detour from in a variety of ways, and grow in our lives in the direction we choose.

Brain-Inspired Computer Chip

Last week in class, we read Daniel Dennett’s article in which he imagined a hypothetical scenario in which his brain was removed from his body, placed in a vat, and a computer served as his second “brain.” But is this truly plausible? Most of us, including Dennett, would not think so. However, a recently created brain-inspired chip may pave the way for this to be possible in the future (to an extent). This chip, created by IBM, consists of a densely interconnected web of transistors that aim to mimic the brain’s neuronal networks. Thus, the chip is able to process information like the brain does and recognize human actions. In addition, the chip may even be able to control robots and direct them to perform tasks. Based on this, would it hypothetically be possible to remove a human’s brain, replace it with this chip, and have the human function normally (i.e. perform normal tasks a human can?). Theoretically, if the chip is able to control robots, it should also be able to serve as a “brain” in humans and allow them to perform basic tasks. However, would this chip necessarily give rise to consciousness in these humans? I do not believe so, because as a proponent of the idea that the mind is separate from the brain, I am not sure that the chip carries any component that would allow the human to exercise free will or have a true sense of consciousness. Therefore, I feel that such technology would give rise to philosophical zombies that are able to perform normal functions a human can by command, but do not have consciousness or higher cognitive abilities.


Science of Consciousness

In class, we’ve been discussing the connection between mind and body. I decided to look up some scientific discoveries related to consciousness. fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) produces vivid images of the areas of the brain that respond to a variety of stimuli. Instead of trying to measure a purely subjective response, such as “that made me feel good”, scientists can also see what part of the subject’s brain is responding, for how long, and to what degree. Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed one of the most promising theories for consciousness, known as integrated information theory. Integrated information theory starts with consciousness itself, and tries to work backward to understand the physical processes that give rise to the phenomenon. Bernard Baars, a neuroscientist at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, developed the theory known as the global workspace theory. This idea is based on an old concept from artificial intelligence called the blackboard, a memory bank that different computer programs could access. Anything from the appearance of a person’s face to a memory of childhood can be loaded into the brain’s blackboard, where it can be sent to other brain areas that will process it. According to Baar’s theory, the act of broadcasting information around the brain from this memory bank is what represents consciousness. What do you think about Baar’s theory? I think it makes sense and explains why we feel a certain way about something because of past experiences.

Science of the Mind

The brain is, currently, seen as the home of the mind.  There is some sort of connection between the mind and the brain, but there is not a way to gauge that connection with current science.  There is no science of the consciousness as of yet.  But there are connections between the brain and the mind that science has found so far.  There is a common belief that the soul/mind is where our personality comes from, and things like our emotions and our memories.

There is definitely a connection between the personality and the brain.  For example, an  American railway foreman, Phineas Gage, had a drastic personality change when he suffered an injury to the frontal lobe in 1848.  He had little to no intellectual change, only his personality became more violent.  Many personality changes come from damage to the frontal lobe, temporal lobe and other changes can come from chemical derailments in the brain.  During scans, there is evidence that parts of the brain are related to emotion.  The brain and the mind are connected on some level, a level so complex, that humans cannot even begin to grasp what it is.  If there is such a thing as the soul/mind as a separate entity from our physical person, I believe that it would be dependent on the brain.  Since injuries to the brain can cause such drastic changes to us as people, there has to be a connection.  The pineal gland in the brand is dubbed the “third eye” and has been called the seat of the soul. There are many parts to our brain that have connections to the spiritual experience of being a human.  While the relationship between our physical self and our spiritual self has not been directly defined, there is evidence that they are both interconnected.