Truman or Jim?

Who is reading this? I’m not asking for names, I’m asking how do you know that “you” are reading this? How do you know who “you” are?

For most people, the answer is “I know who I am because I have my own soul and conscious.” The idea of a soul is an idea that is split among the general public. Some people believe in souls, others do not. The idea of consciousness is a concrete reality and something we can observe. You cannot doubt its existence. Even when we are consumed by doubt and ask ourselves: ‘Do I have a conscious?’ we can be certain that we are experiencing doubt. Consciousness is the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world. So, the next question to ask is what is the mind?

According to the dictionary, the mind is “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.” In other words, the mind is a flow of subjective experiences such as pain, anger, or love.

A quick reminder: subjective information is based on personal opinions, interpretations, points of view, emotions, and judgment, while objective information is fact-based, measurable and observable.

Scientists know a lot about the brain, but truthfully told, know very little about the mind and consciousness. The current theory says “consciousness is created by electrochemical reactions in the brain and that mental experiences fulfill some essential data-processing function.” We can use sophisticated technology and tools to link electrical currents and subjective experiences. For example, we can use fMRI to see where electric storms appear in the brain. If a person is sad, certain parts of the brain will light up, and when they are happy a different area of the brain will light up. Scientists today can even make people feel love or anger by electrically stimulating the right neurons. But how does the movement of electrons move from place to place in the brain translate to a subjective feeling like fear of excitement?

The most common explanation says that the brain is highly complex, with more than 80 billion neurons connected into numerous intricate webs. When billions of neurons send billions of electric signals back and forth we get a subjective experience. Sending and receiving each electrical signal is simple, but the interaction among all of these signals create something far more complex- the stream of consciousness. For example, the movement of a single car is simple, but when millions of cars move and interact at the same time, traffic jams happen.

Don’t get too excited though. This does not explain much to us. It does not give us any insight into how one phenomenon (billions of electric signals moving around) creates a very different kind of phenomenon (the subjective experience of love or anger). When thousands of cars move slowly in London, it does not create a powerful Londonian consciousness that hovers in the sky saying “Oh man I feel jammed.” So how come when billions of electric signals move around in our brain, a mind is formed that says “I am pissed!” or “Gosh, I am in love!”? As of 2017, we still have no idea. But the good news is that scientists admit when they don’t know something and try effortlessly to figure it out.

So, in the meantime, while the scientists figure out what consciousness is, we can make our consciousness into whatever we want. We can ask ourselves if we are Truman, the fictional man everyone watches and knows or Jim, the guy not even in the movie, but the one playing the character?

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