No topic evokes greater passion or draws out greater debate than a discussion on Consciousness. It is something that we all possess and we think we know what it could possibly be. While for any other matter related to the body people are ready to talk to a specialist and one might even not hesitate visiting a Psychologist or a Psycho-therapist yet, about Consciousness we think we know it, we don’t need to consult any specialist on it. Even if a specialist is to be consulted it would be someone in the realm of spiritual or religious domain. I think, lot of people might say that, consult, is a heavy word for such a meeting; ‘seeking guidance’ is where one would like to put it. This is the thing about Consciousness, everybody knows something but may be, nobody knows everything about it.

This subject of consciousness has moved out of the realm of Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy and also entered an Objective field like Science, lot of scientific experiments, especially after the advent of Quantum Mechanics/Physics, have become difficult to comprehend without factoring Consciousness into it. This as a subject can engulf all other subjects.Some may point out that, if we don’t understand this then we might not understand anything else and yet there may be some who would say this is tough to understand let us leave this aside and understand other things independent of it.

In usual parlance we associate a lot of mysticism with Consciousness, the modern day effort however is to associate lot of realism to it and reduce the element of mysticism. So, when we talk of consciousness one would always be keen to know what form of Consciousness are we talking about? Restricting ourselves to Human Consciousness, might be a good way to start an scientific experiment, however if the idea is to understand Consciousness then we have to understand all other types along with Human Consciousness. The following are the types of Consciousness that I realise we might need to focus on

  • Human Consciousness
    • Sub-Conscious
    • Unconscious
    •  Meta Conscious
    • Sleep
    • Coma
    • Death
    • Anesthesia
    • Local
    • Non-Local
    • Sensual
    • Non-sensual
  • Animal Consciousness [Most of the above sub-factors apply]
  • Plant Consciousness [Most of the above sub-factors apply]
  • Consciousness of Non-Living matter
  • Consciousness in Nature
  • Consciousness of an atomic/sub-atomic particle
  • Consciousness in the Universe

There could be many many more forms that we could think of and could add to this list. Each of these topics have now become areas of big scientific experiments and also equally occupy hallowed place in the field of Philosophy. As history would suggest, Philosophical understanding has always fueled Scientific development and discoveries. So we can only hope that both these fields feed of each other and give us a greater understanding of this subject than what exists today and make it available for public consumption.

Let me start my journey into this by asking some basic questions

  • Does Consciousness Exist?
  • Where does it reside?
  • What is Consciousness?
    • Nature of Consciousness
    • Is it Matter of Energy
  • Can Consciousness be studied
    • Will understanding Consciousness solve some of the long standing problems of science?

Does Consciousness Exist?
A Human being, as I see it, is a combination of an Objective aspect and an Subjective aspect. Objective are the ones that all of us can see and qualify ex: the body, hair, eyes etc. subjective is the unique point of view, internal interpretation to events, personal experience (Qualia) that the person brings with him which is not tangible but nonetheless observable.
This subjective aspect is what people commonly call as Consciousness (CS) in one of it’s form, so I could say yes it does exist, however we don’t know where is it emerging or originating from. Yet there are other important questions that come up, like

  • What happens to my consciousness when I fall asleep?
  • When I dream in my sleep is that another type of consciousness?

 There is a strong nature of subjectivity associated with it that makes coming at any mutually agreed consensual understanding, extremely tough. The moment I think I have a grasp of it, it suddenly opens up into plethora of options leaving me exactly where I started.Today Neuroscience has made significant progress in mapping the brain and also understanding the functioning of each aspect, and the areas of the brain responsible for feelings like anger, happiness, anxiety have been determined. So much so that as far as human consciousness is concerned we have something called Neural Co-relate of Consciousness (NCR) which attempts to explain everything about Consciousness by understanding the neural functions. Yet one can’t be certain that after all the functioning of a brain in a certain individuals body is completely understood and if it was to be transplanted into another individual’s body whether it would still have similar functionality. I am guessing that study of mono-zygotic or identical twins could possibly make an interesting read.

How about CS in animals? Knowing that animals also possess feelings like humans and interpret and act to situations it would be safe to assume that they do possess some form of CS even if not entirely similar to Human CS.

While above aspect needs further arbitration, what is even more interesting to find out is do Plants possess CS or does non-living matter possess CS? Jagadish Chandra Bose had demonstrated that Plants also react to stimuli, similar to humans, and if spoken to Plants are capable of reacting. It is also well known that they sure possess intelligence to make the roots grow in the direction of water and the shoots in the direction of sunlight. Also it’s proven that a tree can be drugged or put under influence of anesthesia before being transplanted at a different location. So all indications that even if not exactly similar to Human or Animal CS Plants also possess some form of CS.

Even more interesting aspect to dwell on is, does non-living matter possess CS? I was, at the very outset, instinctively, wanted to dismiss this notion all together. However the more I thought the more it became blurry and I could not distinguish Non-Living / Living and definitely about CS.
It is well known that Life took form in the aquatic world and from non-living elements that under some special condition and situation gave rise to a living form. If a living form has an origin in non-living then, non-living matter should also possess some elements of CS. Most Spiritual practices suggest knowing and becoming one with CS is the ultimate aim of human life. Yet as per widely accepted theory everything started from the Big Bang. If knowing CS is the ultimate aim then CS should have existed even before Big Bang and been the cause for the big bang. In that case living or non-living become just different manifestation of CS. There are many more thoughts like these that can blur the lines between living/non-living and what can or cannot possess CS.

A subject like Consciousness is not something that I could have thought of covering in a single publication on this blog. I shared an aspect of the journey taken by me to understand CS and see what different approaches people have adopted and if we could come to a universal agreement by approaching the same subject from various fields. I will continue sharing my journey as we go along.