On Sat, 8 Jun 1996, James Rose wrote:
What does "consciousness" - as a functional process - ...do for us in our interactions with the world? I am concerned with what utilitarain "purpose" it serves. In this sense, I think we could reasonably work toward a definition of consciousness ...
Defining consciousness is like defining any fundamental concept -- it can be accomplished only by pointing to the object of the concept and naming it. We cannot define any fundamental concept other than by pointing to its reference object (in consciousness, of course).
If we are not initially aware of the reference object then we must learn what is being referred to. Fundamental concepts cannot be defined in terms other than themselves -- that is by pointing to them, illustrating, differentiating the object from other objects.
The only terms we can use to define consciousness are those terms which can make us aware of the object, which can differentiate the object from other objects, can illustrate what we are referring to, etc.
Like the air we breathe, of which we are mostly unaware, consciousness is so pervasive, so ubiquitous, so "unconscious" that we are not even aware of its functions, purposes, or even existence, until it becomes the subject of dialogue such as this forum.
Now, having said that, we can refer to functions of consciousness which appear to differentiate it from other objects.
One of these functions appears to be a holistic function, which is more than a "binding problem" of how a red sensation becomes attached to an object of perception, or how it arises from neurological correlates. In the world of physical objects there is nothing we know of that relates one object to another object, particularly, for example, in the field of vision. In the brain there are numerous levels of activity, many areas of neurological function, inclusive of such things as psychological motivations and their correlates (hunger, sex, poverty, etc.) which all combine to affect how we perceive the world.
The closest approximation to interactions of many different objects is a "field" which combines the effects of these objects into a common summation of these effects. But this field is disparate, widely dispersed if it encompasses these effects, and one part of the field has no "knowledge" or common framework for other parts of the field.
In a computer memory one bit has nothing in common with another bit that would enable any holistic function to develop from these two bits or from an infinite number of bits. On the computer screen there may be a million bits of information -- all disparate, all disconnected from each other -- only appearing in consciousness as a whole with relationships that convey information or meaning. A computer has no means for "experiencing" the holistic relations between these disparate bits of information, the ones and zeroes. Consciousness supplies this experience of the field as a unity or pattern, as a holistic conglomeration of bits of information. There is no similar process for such an organization of disparate bits in the physical world including the brain, apart from our conscious apprehension or perception or cognition of such a holistic relationship among properties of objects.
This seems to pose a major problem for any theory that simply assumes that a conglomeration of functions, bits of information, or combinations of any kind, can supply this function of consciousness.