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Discussion 9 to Talk Back 64
Defining consciousness

Philip van Bergen

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In trying to arrive at a suitable example of where the study of something not having a specific attribute has led to a greater understanding of the attribute itself, I tried to find a definition of "consciousness".

Well, there are as many as there are commentators who care to comment. Until we can agree on a common definition of consciousness, there's no point in taking the discussion further. The simplest definition I can find is "the ability to perceive". By that definition, any system that reacts to stimuli is conscious - and by logical extension, so is a computer that is programmed to react to a specific set of circumstances.

However, in answer to the previous critic, I would say that there are many areas where the study of something NOT appearing to exhibit a particular attribute or characteristic have led to a greater understanding of that attribute and the realisation that it is in fact ubiquitous. Black holes, buoyancy, vacuum fluctuations. To study only those "organism" that "exhibit" consciousness predetermines that,

a) consciousness is limited to organisms, and
b) it is limited to arrangements which we can perceive.

To quote Spock - "It's consciousness Jim, but not as we know it."