Another rant about consciousness

The nature of consciousness — the real consciousness, not some empirically measured proxy thereof — is pretty elusive. Why do we have a phenomenological feeling of free will, being in control, any feeling of being at all, if it’s all just an epiphenomenon, if everything is predetermined, if we are all just in the service of history?

People do things without being consciously aware of them. No high-brow examples are needed, no appeal to Freud or to being tricked by social psychologists to do things “we” didn’t choose: think about bladder control. You only become conscious of what your bladder is up to when your internal sphincter muscle lets go and your external sphincter (the one that feels under your control, or IS under your control, depending on your religious perspective) has to do some work. Bodies, including brains, do stuff which is kept hidden from their phenomenal consciousness.

The bit of you which feels like You might not be the only conscious bit of your body. Your enteric nervous system, controlling what your gut is up to, has a hundred million neurons. Maybe it feels like it’s in control, inhabiting an environment as natural to it as is “our” environment of fields and trees to us. Maybe your internal sphincter and associated nervous system is conscious too. There’s a stronger position that everything is conscious: panpsychism. Even blades of grass have a dash of consciousness according to this view. Not great news for vegans if it’s true.

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