One thought on “The Wednesday – Issue No 133

  1. Peter wrote: “Now, this would be a valid, logical positivist line to take if it were true that there was by definition no way to verify that phenomenal consciousness existed without access consciousness. Fortunately, this is not the case. It’s entirely conceivable that neuroscience will reliably identify the neural correlates of consciousness, and then be able to assess whether this consciousness was taking place somewhere in the brain of a subject even though the subject was unaware of it.”

    Entirely conceivable indeed, but of course at the moment hypothetical.

    A good place to explore hypothetical ideas is science fiction. Here’s an idea for an SF/philosophy story based on that idea: what if there were to be a conscious process “running” in a person’s brain, which had access to the brain’s sensory inputs (sight, hearing, etc.), perhaps also to *other* conscious processes in the brain, but which *didn’t have access to the actuators which are used for communication to the outside world* (voice to speak, control of hands for writing,…). Also, which wasn’t able to pass messages to any other conscious processes inside the brain. This would then definitely not be “access consciousness,” as currently defined, because (if I’m understanding it correctly) that involves the consciousness having access to communicating with the outside world *through the body’s built-in capabilities.”

    This would be like Locked-In Syndrome (which is a real and tragic medical condition), but even more so. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locked-in_syndrome, “Those with locked-in syndrome may be able to communicate with others through coded messages by blinking or moving their eyes, which are often not affected by the paralysis.”

    Now, what if clever neuroscientists developed some means of detecting the existence of that process, as Peter conjectures? Say, using some evolved version of fMRI? Let’s take that a step further, and assume that they go beyond *detecting its existence*, and develop some means of *measuring some its internal states*. Say, in the way that and EEG can quantitatively measure *something* about the brain’s internal states.

    Even if that measurement is very crude, the internal conscious process could use it to communicate to those neuroscientists, through the medium of the external detector equipment. E.g., even if that equipment could only detect a binary on/off signal, the internal process could start communicating through some form of a digital code — in much the same way that *real* Locked-In Syndrome patients communicate using only eye-blinks.

    Who knows what such a previously-locked-in consciousness might have to “say” to others in the outside world, when finally being given a “voice”? Might it be simply be rather like our “ordinary” consciousness, and have nothing all that interesting to say (other than “Finally! Thank God! I’ve been going crazy in here!)? Or might it be somehow *different* from ordinary consciousness, and have something really interesting to say (perhaps something that’d make for a really neat plot twist 🙂 … hmm, story-telling wheels are starting to turn…)

    Of course, this is currently just a gedankenexperiment, triggered by Peter’s musings. To make it a good SF story it’d need other things, like a plot, characters, etc. 🙂

    But on a more serious note — I see from the Locked-In Syndrome wiki page that there is such a thing a *Total* Locked-In Syndrome, for people who have lost even the ability to blink their eyes. (Amazingly, it seems that some people have *volunteered* to experience this state temporarily, via curare injections! With apparently “no evidence of altered state of consciousness,” to Peter’s point that “states of consciousness” can already be somewhat detected by external means). Hmm, perhaps my above concept could be developed by someone into external equipment to help “unlock” those poor souls who suffer from TLIS…

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