An interesting take on the issues involved in trying to define exactly what human consciousness is. When science knows things or analytical philosophy for that matter, that knowledge can be defined by mathematics. Will science or philosophy ever be able to quantify consciousness to that degree. Self as Symbol – The loopy nature of consciousness trips up scientists studying themselves
Perhaps that’s because the consciousness problem is inherently similar to another famous problem that actually has been proved unsolvable: finding a self-consistent set of axioms for deducing all of mathematics. As the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel proved eight decades ago, no such axiomatic system is possible; any system as complicated as arithmetic contains true statements that cannot be proved within the system.
Gödel’s proof emerged from deep insights into the self-referential nature of mathematical statements. He showed how a system referring to itself creates paradoxes that cannot be logically resolved — and so certain questions cannot in principle be answered. Consciousness, in a way, is in the same logical boat. At its core, consciousness is self-referential awareness, the self’s sense of its own existence. It is consciousness itself that is trying to explain consciousness.
Self-reference, feedback loops, paradoxes and Gödel’s proof all play central roles in the view of consciousness articulated by Douglas Hofstadter in his 2007 book I Am a Strange Loop. Hofstadter is (among other things) a computer scientist, and he views consciousness through lenses unfamiliar to most neuroscientists. In his eyes, it’s not so bizarre to compare math and numbers to the mind and consciousness. Math is, after all, deeply concerned with logic and reason — the stuff of thought. Mathematical paradoxes, Hofstadter points out, open up “profound questions concerning the nature of reasoning — and thus concerning the elusive nature of thinking — and thus concerning the mysterious nature of the human mind itself.”
I’m going to try and likely fail at giving my version of the kind of example Hofstadter and others have used. Let’s say that one day a researcher – having worked on a logical proof of what consciousness is came up with a number – a symbol. Because we can contemplate that symbol and possible meanings, immediately we’ve changed its state from something definite to something with some footnotes. We have also changed the nature of what the ultimate definition of consciousness is. This is not terribly different – though a quantum physicist passing by may disagree – from some of the problems inherent in quantum mechanics. If we can see what the quarks are doing is it because we have changed their behavior by observation or are they always in that state, if we knew we would always be able to predict their position, but we can’t. Your friends may describe you as someone who smiles frequently, but they do not see you when you’re alone at two in the morning obsessing over some problem.
Carl Zimmer explores in Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed — a weird and wonderful almanac of the lovable geek who immortalized passion for science on their living flesh. Zimmer divides the book into sections around each of the major sciences — math , chemistry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, astronomy, and even an entire chapter on DNA — and uses each tattoo as a meditation pillow from whence to reflect on the science in question with his unmistakeable essay style of intelligent wit.
There are some science tattoo photos at the link. The DNA helices that turn into a dragon is clever.
She was the first woman ever to circumnavigate the globe, but she did it dressed as a man. For more than two years she traveled on a French naval vessel with linen bandages wrapped tightly around her upper body to flatten her chest. It was a small ship with 300 men who knew her as “Jean.” But she wasn’t Jean. She was Jeanne. Then one day, they found her out.
[ ]…Two years later, they hatched a plan. The French government announced it would send two ships around the world to discover new territories for the glory of France, and they needed a plant hunter-botanist on board. Philibert de Commerson got the job. He, in turn, needed an assistant, and though the French Navy expressly prohibited women on its ships, Philibert agreed to dress Jeanne like a man. She (or, rather “he”) would show up, as if by accident, at the gangplank on the day of departure, offer “his” services, and be hired on the spot. It was a bizarre, dangerous, crazy idea, but that’s what they did, and it worked.
They look big in those Disney pirate movies but sailing ships of 1700s made for fairly tight living quarters. With all these men on a ship with nothing but men they became curious pretty soon as to why Jeanne never undressed or went to the toilet in front of the other men. Philibert came up with a plausible explanation considering the times. Jeanne had been captured at one point and castrated by Ottoman Turks.
It is possible that another woman had circumnavigated the globe, but it was never documented.