General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Can self-awareness be proven?

Asked by AstroChuck (37438points) May 7th, 2009

René Descarte stated Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). I don’t know about anybody else here, but I exist. And although I am 100% positive that I have consciousness, I don’t know of any way to prove it to you. Do you think that there is any scientific method that could point to consciousness and show that it is something that is material (e.g., by measuring brain waves, perhaps)? Is self-awarenessness something that is phenomenal and cannot be measured because, perhaps, it is without any material form? Could it be that cognizance is something that is preternatural outside of human beings? (I strongly doubt that last question.)
What do you think? (Or do you really think at all?)

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27 Answers

spresto's avatar

I am not aware of any scientific studies that can prove the material existance of “awareness.” I could be wrong, anybody knows of one feel free to say.

However, I know that I am here. That is enough for me to ask questions about the world and the universe.

What do you mean by preternatural?

gailcalled's avatar

” If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? ” Merchant of Venice; (III-I-49–61).

Preternatural = beyond what is normal or natural.

spresto's avatar

But the last question has not been answered. We don’t know if awareness stops after death. Unless…YOU’RE A ZOMBIE!!!!!!!!

gailcalled's avatar

Shakespeare is more interesting to read, however. He neither shouts nor overuses punctuation. I am aware of that, at least.

Response moderated
squirbel's avatar

I believe the time will come when we will be able to measure what is currently invisible to us.

ccbatx's avatar

I think if you weren’t aware of yourself being and living and doing, then you wouldn’t be here. None of us would. i believe that if you can have feelings, any kind of feelings (love, hate, happiness, sadness) then you feel, and you know that you’re feeling. I.e. when someone says ‘man, today was a great day,’ they arent just saying word. They are aware of the fact that the day was great. Plus the fact that you asked this question makes you aware of your own self living. Confusing…

Lupin's avatar

This sounds like a chapter from Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid”. (one of my favorite books)
My take is: “Burpito, ergo sum”

AstroChuck's avatar

@ccbatx- My own self-awareness isn’t in question here.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

What if consciousness is only an illusion?

ratboy's avatar

Consciousness and self-awareness are distinct concepts. All sentient beings seem to be conscious, but only a few species offer evidence of self-awareness.

gambitking's avatar

I believe you accurately answered your own question by the Rene Descartes quote. That is exactly how I would have resolved this one. Not only did Rene Descartes prove self-awareness with “Cogito Ergo Sum”, he greatly expounded on the precepts therein, using his Six Meditations. However, he didn’t just prove his own existence, he also used these philosophies to reason the proof of other people, as well as God. Cogito Ergo Sum is just the beginning.

BUT, some people may have a differing opinion of the meaning of self-awareness in this context. The variable here may be the point one becomes self-aware as opposed to simply confirming one’s existence. I believe actual ‘self-awareness’ is a point in someone’s life where a new level of consciousness is achieved and they become ‘self-aware’. Many people see this as a significant, life-changing transition, typically occuring near the end of the adolescence period and creating a segway to adulthood and our idea of ‘maturity’.

In my humble opinion (as i’ve thought about this many times), I believe the point of self-awareness comes the first time we use a mood/mind altering substance. Hear me out here. All our lives as children, we leave our mind alone, and create stimulation through our environment around us such as playing with toys are climbing on the jungle gym. We achieve gratification through this combination.

But when we first use a chemical or drug, we are flipping things around. We are now leaving our environment alone, yet it becomes gratifying without any changes because we have directly created the stimuation within our minds. It’s a conversion from external stimulation to internal, whereby the otherwise ordinary surroundings are suddenly extraordinary, for no other reason than the changes in our mental capacities. I guess some people might call that better living through chemistry. I’d call it Proof.

GAMBIT's avatar

When I write songs a little of my self awareness comes into view since most of my song writing is done in speed writing. I never know exactly what will show up on paper. A few days later when I reread and play what I wrote I have a clearer understanding of who I am.

AstroChuck's avatar

@gambitking- Descartes only proved self-awareness to himself. My question is addressing how you could prove that to others, or rather if you could at all.

wundayatta's avatar

I think consciousness, and many other internal states of humans (emotions, thoughts, etc) boil down to behavior. The way we attribute consciousness (or any other internal state, including self-awareness) it by looking at their behavior. If they do the things that we do when we experience consciousness, we attribute consciousness to them.

So, if people talk to me, and respond to me in a varied and unpredictable way; if they seem to have ideas and can express them to me; in short, if I believe they are communicating with me, I attribute consciousness to them. To the extent that someone (or something) can communicate with me in a way where I believe we understand each other, then I attribute that level of consciousness to them.

To the extent that they talk about their own consciousness, and seem to understand how their thinking process works, I attribute self-awareness to them. Consciousness is a specific behavior.

It really doesn’t matter if the other “consciousness” is actually thinking or conscious, or not. If they behave as I expect someone with consciousness to behave, then I believe they are conscious. Consciousness can only be an illusion if a person’s senses are misperceiving things. So someone might attribute consciousness to a rock or a tree, if he or she thought their behavior was communication with with them, and they could communicate back to them. If anyone else did this, then I would think that the consciousness of the rock was an illusion (unless, of course, I experienced the communication, too).

Conscious entities exhibit the behaviors of consciousness. They communicate. It’s easy to prove they are attempting to communicate. You can measure sound or movements. You can observe responses to attempts by other entities to communicate. If they look like they are communicating, then we have proven they are conscious.

mammal's avatar

i think that you are subscribing to the `cogito ergo sum’ aspect of Descartes’ Philosophy but trying to refute the Dualism, ie his belief that the mind/body is irreconcilably distinct, thus the mind has no material quality that could be measured Scientifically, therefore you are trying to have your cake and eat it :)

Ricky's avatar

Awareness is not understood through knowledge it is understood through wisdom. Knowledge is to know what the peach looks like and tastes like. Wisdom is to touch the nature of the peach, to be one with the peach. Self awareness can only be proven through wisdom. The effect of awareness can be seen in ones compassion.

augustlan's avatar

AC, I love it when you talk deep to me. ;)

gailcalled's avatar

“Do I dare to eat a peach?” if I am not yet at one with it?

Ricky's avatar

Yes eat the peach. Why not eat it?

ratboy's avatar

Interestingly enough, those scum-sucking, brain-slurping zombies are afforded a speaking role in this production.

Jayne's avatar

I would start off by saying that cogito ergo sum is no proof that you exist as Astrochuck. A person’s consciousness can be ordinarily conceived of as a series of mental states, capable of being parsed to almost infinite brevity; all that cogito ergo sum can prove is that my current mental state exists. It may be one of a sequence, it may exist singly within a universe, it may be the universe, and there is no way to know. This is impossible to image, because one can only think of oneself inside that frame of consciousness, observing it, while instead one is that frame, and that frame must include the act of observation; and one cannot observe oneself. So cogito ergo sum cannot prove anything about your nature, other than that it is capable of sustaining your instantaneous frame of mind. I also doubt that it can be used to prove anything else, because a logical proof is by definition a sequence of steps, and I doubt that one frame of mind can encapsulate more than the relationship between a given two such steps. Thus, if the current frame of mind, the only one you know exists, includes the conclusion of the proof, one cannot know that the proof itself exists.

All of that is of course premised on the idea that there is such a thing as consciousness. It would be more accurate, I think, to say that there exists a reality of which one part or all consists of process or entity of sufficient complexity that it references and extrapolates from itself, part of the result of which is the production of the words “cogito ergo sum”. This is, of course, a terribly limited thing to prove, as it says nothing about the reality in which that entity exists, and thus I see no possibly way to prove the existence of other such entities. I’m sure Descartes didn’t; from what I read of him, his logic is often extremely faulty whenever he strays away from mathematics (which is not to say that mine is any more infallible). In short, I agree that all that one can know is that cogito ergo sum, with an amended view of cogito and a very harshly truncated view of the sum that is ergo, such that nothing else can be extrapolated from this one fact. Because of this, I don’t think that the self-awareness of others can be proven without assuming some handy axioms.

mammal's avatar

anyhow, to prove, categorically, the existence of the other would only serve to emphasise a sense of individual desolation and detatchment that would further heap misery on mankind and his world.

Strauss's avatar

@AstroChuck You do exist. We are all just computerized projections of your own creation.~

fireside's avatar

The only way to know that self-awareness exists is through actions.
Similar to proving Love, or Anger, the state of awareness is manifest in the world through actions. This can be body language, written or spoken words, and gestures.

How do we know Love exists? Because people smile when they see each other and hold hands or sit close or do any number of things which we have come to associate with Love.

mattbrowne's avatar

Great apes, dolphins, and elephants are capable of passing the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness.

paganwinter's avatar

wrt “I don’t know about anybody else here, but I exist”
I’d like to say this… I too at times feel that way…
Don’t feel that I am diluting the seriousness of this conversation by quoting this, but have you guys seen The Trueman Show?
I sometimes get this feeling that why do I have to be.
Why can’t I just be a silent spectator to this world.

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