How do I define consciousness? I don't define it at all. It can't be defined, and I've made peace with that. I used to be very bothered by this challenge put forth by people like Dennett to define it in a satisfactory way. No longer. In the past few years, I've come to understand that it is truly intractable and can be left alone.
I've also come to understand that there are real zombies among us. They are not mere thought experiments. They're the source of the impasse. We foolishly analyze their position granting them the Polite Axiom, the assumption that all people have consciousness, and then we try to come up with a definition that is inclusive of all. This is doomed to failure from the start. We can't reach sound conclusions when we start with faulty axioms.
The Something Else
It's absolutely incoherent to challenge me to define consciousness. It's also incoherent to claim that it's an illusion.
These claims, however, make perfect sense to a zombie. When I see something, there's all the Rube-Golberg-machine physical chain reactions from electron-on-receptor through into neural-activity cascades. But there's also the actual seeing. To say that the actual seeing is an illusion is utterly incoherent. A layperson could be excused for thinking this makes sense. They won't achieve the clarity of thought and language until they've really turned it over for quite some time, probably years. But for someone who has deeply considered it, and still doesn't know what the actual seeing is, I can only conclude they're truly a zombie.
When I hear something, again, there's vibrations rattling around moving membranes that touch neurons firing signals that propagate through a cascade blah blah blah. But there's also the actual hearing. A zombie will never know what this is.
The actual seeing, the actual hearing, the actual feeling are incoherent to a zombie. A zombie will never know what these are. A zombie will have no possible way to conceive of the actual experience of any of these, because a zombie has never experienced anything.
These things are just as incoherent to a zombie as the claim they're an illusion is incoherent to me.
You Had To Be There
I will never define conciousness to the satisfaction of Dennett and his zombie hordes because it simply has a "first-person ontology" that zombies will never get to share in.
Dennett thinks he's dispensed with this kind of talk by making fun of it so often. All he's done is expose himself as a zombie.
There is truly no way to ever bridge the chasm, and I genuinely believe that there is such a chasm between those of us who experience that Something Else, and real, honest-to-god zombies among us.
As Close A Definition As You'll Ever Get
All I can do is list some qualities of consciousness. If you can't fathom what I'm talking about, if you don't relate to it at all, then I have a surprise for you: you're a zombie.
- It's ineffable, impossible to ever share. It's only to ever be referenced by associations and assumptions.
- It can't be seen under a microscope - its first-person ontology precludes this. Map my 86 billion neurons with their 100 trillion synpases and you still won't be looking at it. It's incoherent to think you could.
- It's Something Else - Above and beyond all the neuroscience you could ever possibly describe to me, there's still one more thing there. I understand axons and dendrites and myelination and synaptic clefts and action potentials and spike trains just fine. I'm telling you, it's not an understanding gap on my part. It's not a lack of imagination. There's one more thing that rides along associated with all that machinery: The Something Else.
- It just is. It's not wakefulness. It's not awareness. It's not identity or sense of self. I'm not confused about the language. I experience something that just is. Simply, inexplicably, undeniably there, is Something Else.