the phrase be conscious on a pin board


Over the last few years, I have, more and more, been thinking about the hard problem of consciousness. What does consciousness mean? Where does it come from? What happens to it after death? With this post, I have tried to wax philosophical and give structure to my thoughts on this topic.

Overall, I think the possibilities can be summarised into the below three

Scenario 1 – Consciousness is purely a by-product of the physical structure of the brain and the neurons firing inside.

Scenario 2 – Consciousnesses is a combination of the physical structure of the brain and additionally something we cannot “see” or measure today. Some say it may be quantum phenomena. Both physical & quantum are tied to each other and cannot exist without each other.

Scenario 3 – Consciousness resides in the brain, but can free itself from the brain at death or during a Near-Death Experience. Is what most religious people call a “soul”.

Now let’s try comparing all three scenarios during hypothetical situations.

Teleportation & Consciousness

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Teleportation is a (theoretical) mechanism in which a machine reads your atomic structures at the “source” and relays it to another machine at the “destination”. Then the source machine disintegrates your body and the destination machine replicates it at the same time. Using this technique, you are supposed to instantaneously (Or at least at the speed of information transfer) travel from one place to another.

  • If Scenario 1 is true, then teleportation should theoretically work just fine. One simply enters on one side and seamlessly emerges on the other side. But if you think a bit deeper, a few paradoxes arise:

What if you don’t disintegrate the body at the source? Even better, what if you recreate the body at 2 destinations twice? Where does the person’s consciousness reside then?

Does the same consciousness exist at 2 (or more) places at the same time? Imagine the feeling.

As per me, the more likely explanation is that when you teleport, the person at the destination is not you, but a copy of you with your memories. So basically, when you undergo teleportation, your consciousness dies and a clone with your memories is born at the destination with a new consciousness.

  • If Scenario 2 is true, then teleportation will kill you at the source and just create a new body at the destination, which will be a brain-dead body. A working teleportation system will be next to impossible to develop in this scenario.
  • If Scenario 3 is true, then there’s no current theoretical basis of teleportation, but once we crack the mystery, it may turn out to be the easiest method of all. Your consciousness can easily transfer from one body to another. This is shown in many movies and TV shows like Altered Carbon.

Death and Consciousness

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The concept of consciousness has a profound impact on death (and finding ways to avoid it).

  • If Scenario 1 is true, it would be easy to cheat death. A common Sci-Fi trope is gaining immortality by transferring yourself to a computer. But the same paradoxes as teleportation arise. What if you transfer yourself to a computer before you die? Or you copy yourself to two different computers? Does your consciousness exist at 2 different places at the same time?

The more likely explanation is that it is impossible for consciousness to exist in a computer. Your digital clone may behave like you, but won’t have consciousness.

In such a case, the only way to cheat death would be to prevent the biological degradation of the body.

  • If Scenario 2 is true, the only way to cheat death would be to prevent the biological degradation of the body.
  • If Scenario 3 is true, we have no way (currently) to cheat death, but once the secret is cracked, it may be easiest of them all. Just transfer your consciousness to another body or a computer. This concept is shown in this specific episode of Black Mirror (One of my favourite TV episodes of all time). Or maybe after you die, your consciousness automatically moves to another body. This would translate to the concept of reincarnation in some religions. Maybe a soul can even exist without a body, which is where afterlife comes in.

Personally, I think Scenario 2 is true and human civilisation will perish long before we figure out the secrets of consciousness.

Personally, I hope Scenario 3 is true and one day we figure out how to do the things mentioned above, once we stop killing each other and the planet.

Talk to the dawg, yo

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