Consciousness Is Something Physical

Source: Thinkspot

Here’s a bold claim: there is a physical part inside your body that is responsible for making you conscious. I can demonstrate this with a simple mathematical argument despite the fact that I know next to nothing about what consciousness really is.

I don’t want to waste your time with a brand new definition of what it means to be conscious because, frankly, I don’t have a new definition.

If you, dear reader, have clicked on this article with a preconceived religious or philosophical notion of consciousness, then I will ask you to hold on to it. This argument should work no matter what views you espouse.

Begin this exercise by imagining a person’s body.

Got it?

Now I will ask you a tricky question. Pay attention. This is the most important part:

What’s the maximum percentage of this person’s body that we can replace with identical parts without them losing their consciousness?

In other words, assuming that the replacements are done instantly and that the person cannot die as a result of a faulty transplant, how many limbs, organs, and cells as a percentage of the person’s overall mass can we theoretically replace such that the person retains their consciousness?

Once again, I unfortunately don’t know the answer to this question. However, I think you will agree with me that the following are not the correct answers:

a) 0%

Surely, the correct answer is bigger than nothing. At any given instant new cells are born in our bodies and old cells die. We gain and lose mass all the time and despite these hidden processes we seem to retain our consciousness. For a more extreme example, think of a prosthetic arm. Though we may disagree about what consciousness actually is, just about everyone will agree that when a person’s arm is replaced, they don’t lose their consciousness.

b) 100%

Replacing the person entirely, on the other hand, is equivalent to creating their exact clone. This time, just about everyone will intuitively say that their doppelganger will have a distinct consciousness despite sharing identical physical traits.

This tells us that the true maximum percentage P that can be replaced without loss of consciousness lies in the range 0 < P < 100. This implies that we don’t require the full human body to experience consciousness, but also that in order to remain conscious we must keep at least some of our original body. Therefore, consciousness is something physical inside of you.

That’s it for my argument. We can extend it past this point by zeroing in on the human brain since modern science tells us that’s where most of the magic happens. Which parts of the brain are essential depends on which definition of consciousness we’re sticking with. I would, for instance, argue that the motor functions in our brains are totally replaceable since a person with compromised motor skills is definitely still conscious. Long and short term memory, as well as reasoning faculties are harder to pinpoint, but I would still imagine that someone with advanced Alzheimer’s disease is conscious. Apparently, the line between consciousness and unconsciousness eventually becomes very thin.

One breathtaking possibility that has been suggested by physicist Roger Penrose is that consciousness could in fact be described as a collection of entangled quantum particles. This is my personal favorite theory in terms of sheer craziness as it would mean that our entire body with the exception of a few subatomic particles is replaceable. It’s kind of like the universe is letting us know that we’re almost entirely replaceable. A bit rude, if you ask me.

Math student with an interest in philosophy and history