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People seem to believe that one's consciousness is a "different" consciousness than that of others, but the "same" consciousness as the one that has been in one's body in the past and the one that will be in one's body in the future. How likely is this to be true? I have almost no knowledge about neuroscience, so please refrain from using much neuroscience jargon if feasible, even if it's at the cost of not giving a thorough explanation. A simple "yes," "no," or "we have no idea" answer would suffice if need be.

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  • $\begingroup$ Neuroscience has very little firm to say on any aspect of consciousness, particularly on a very "advanced" topic such as this. Perhaps this would get more productive attention on philosophy.SE. $\endgroup$ – Krysta Dec 26 '14 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a philosophical question. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 25 '15 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ChristianHummeluhr I answered the question including a more neuroscientific approach to make it less philosophical oriented. I also edited my answer since yesterday (definition and reference added). $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 26 '15 at 0:11
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Short answer
Consciousness is different between individuals and can change over time.

Background
Nelkin (1997) provides the following definition of consciousness:

When philosophers and psychologists think about consciousness, they generally focus on one or more of three features: phenomenality (how experiences feel), intentionality (that experiences are "of" something, that experiences mean something), and introspectibility (our awareness of phenomenality and intentionality of experiences).

Although I am not an expert on the matter I think this definition answers your question. You say People seem to believe that one's consciousness is a "different" consciousness than that of others, but the "same" consciousness as the one that has been in one's body in the past and the one that will be in one's body in the future. Because the phenomenality changes over time, because past experience change the way sensations feel (new versus familiar sensations are very different) your statement that consciousness is constant is invalid.

The intentionality and most notably the introspectibility makes consciousness a very personal thing, meaning that your statement ...one's consciousness is a "different" consciousness than that of other is valid.


As a neuroscientist I can tackle the two statements posed on more familiar ground to me. I dare to say that consciousness is not a stable entity, because in the end, sensations, perceptions and awareness of the world are all in your head and generated by neurons. Because psychoneuropharmaca or brain damage can lead to temporary and permanent altered states of consciousness, respectively, the statement that ...the "same" consciousness as the one that has been in one's body in the past and the one that will be in one's body in the future is simply invalid.

From a similar neuroscientific vantage point one's brain is obviously different and physically separate from another person's brain, so we quite frankly are not sharing a consciousness. Consciousness is therefore a personal thing, the more since one can suffer brain damage without another even noticing it, hence one's consciousness is a "different" consciousness than that of others must be true.

Reference
Nelkin N, Philosophy of Science 1993

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  • $\begingroup$ I know brain damage changes personalities and memories, but why would you think it changes consciousness? Is the concept of having "the same" consciousness even meaningful? $\endgroup$ – Kelmikra Mar 25 '15 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the answer. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 25 '15 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Great answer to a very difficult question. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Mar 26 '15 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ Though I upvoted this answer, I'm conflicted. On one hand it is a good answer with which I subjectively agree, but on the other hand, it is primarily subjective. I can't give a scientific reason for why I agree, nor can I evaluate the answer scientifically. The answer's credibility ultimately rests on @AliceD being a trained neuroscientist willing to take a firm personal position, not on the answer's semantic contents. While this is probably the best possible answer, it suggests to me that the question is, in fact, philosophical, not cognitive. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 26 '15 at 8:25
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After reading Consciousness article from wikipedia, my answer is no.
Consciousness is the quality or state of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.
First to deny consciousness exists seems so absurd for undeniably thoughts do exist and over time our awareness grows or falls our thougts change, so by stated definition our consciousness changes over time.
I think that if consciousness was the same in all people individuality and free will wouldn't exist. We are conscious that means we can take control and effect our lives. I've learned from vedas that we can divide our concious self to thoughts, emotions and focus. We can control our focus because we have free will to do so, and our focus is used to focus our thoughts to whatever we want.
Carl Gustav Jung coined a term "collective unconscious" it is proposed to be a part of the unconscious mind. Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, in that the personal unconscious is a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the collective unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species.

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  • $\begingroup$ On what information specifically are you basing these assertions? Answers are much more helpful when they have specific information, not just blanket statements. $\endgroup$ – Krysta Dec 26 '14 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ I have edited the answer. @Krysta $\endgroup$ – Davidenko Dec 26 '14 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @ Devidenko I think you misunderstand what consciousness it. Consciousness is more than just awareness; robots are aware of their surroundings but aren't typically considered conscious. I also don't understand what you mean when you say, "I think that if consciousness was the same in all people individuality and free will wouldn't exist." That's not a complete sentence. $\endgroup$ – Kelmikra Dec 27 '14 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but the crucial difference is that machines are not aware of themselves, as opposed to humans. $\endgroup$ – Davidenko Dec 27 '14 at 21:37

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