Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Toward a theory of consciousness survival

A commenter in my previous post asked me "what is the consciousness survival theory?" Great question, as there actually isn't a unified theory of consciousness survival. I often make the mistake that many others do by interchangeably using the words "hypothesis" and "theory". These two words in the framework of the scientific method are quite different, and it is wrong to interchange them the way that I have.

I meant, the "survival hypothesis", which stipulates that consciousness co-exists (at least for a time) in both a physical and non-physical form. The most obvious question based on this hypothesis is, "what exactly is consciousness?"

The answer to that question is, "nobody really knows." So technically, the survival hypothesis itself is very weak, in that the focal point of the hypothesis is an undefined "thing" which can neither be described nor measured (not yet).

I believe we are several years away from having a real definition of consciousness and decades away from the hope of having a theory that can be tested.

Some people compare the survival hypothesis to the theory of gravity. They point out that there's still a lot about the theory of gravity we don't know or understand, yet we know it's there from observation.

For those who are interested in the search for consciousness and a survival hypothesis/theory, here is a well-written, balanced, yet slightly skeptical summary of where we currently stand.

National Institute for Discovery Science: Survival of Consciousness by James Whinnery, M.D.

1 comment:

terren said...

Hi there Marcel, thanks for the follow up. Unfortunately, I didn't get much out of your explanation or even the article you linked to. Specifically, I don't understand what the "survival hypothesis" is trying to explain. It seems to be saying that consciousness can survive the death of the body, but that sounds more like a statement of faith than an explanation of some phenomenon.

Nicholas Humphrey is suggesting that consciousness isn't a *thing* that needs explanation, but a trick we play on ourselves, in order to make life worth living. Even if he is aware of this survival hypothesis, I doubt he would mention it in his article because it's precisely the kind of thing he suggests we can eliminate as "asking the wrong question".