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It’s just you.

 
unsmoked
 
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08 August 2021 18:01
 

If you had been adopted at birth by Muslim foster parents and grew up studying the Koran and going to a mosque, and as a teen you were indoctrinated by a radical cleric . . . is that really you?

I copied the above sentence from another topic.  Suppose like most of us you aren’t adopted - we’re born into a Mormon family, an Amish family, a Catholic family, a Jewish family, a Muslim family, a Buddhist family, a Marxist family, a neo Nazi family.  So we grow up to be one of those.  Is that really who we are?  Is a German kid raised in the 1930’s as a Hitler Youth really preordained to be a Nazi for the rest of their life?

preordained  adjective   1.  of an outcome or course of action decided or determined beforehand; predestined.

About a thousand years ago Zen master Foyan told his students, “An ancient Zen master, seeing a monk go down a staircase, called to him, “Reverend!”  The monk turned around, whereat the Zen master said, “From birth to old age, it’s just you - why turn your head and revolve your brains?”

The monk understood Zen at this remark.

In this topic, it’s important to notice that this ancient Zen master didn’t say, “From kindergarten to old age it’s just you.”  He said, “From birth to old age it’s just you.”

In our own life, it’s interesting to notice that, even if we’ve been raised as a Mormon or a Muslim, there’s an original mind that’s just us - just what we were when we were born.  This original mind is always with us - it’s who we were when we were born - before we were molded into a category by our parents and society.

Zen master Linji comments:

“Zen students today are totally unaware of truth.  They are like foraging goats that pick up whatever they bump into.  They do not distinguish between the servant and the master [between their conditioned mind and their original mind], or between the guest [conditioned mind] and the host [just you when you were born - the original person].

Question:  Whatever our category today, can we, right now, be just you for a moment?  (just what we were when we were born).  If I understood EN in the topic called “What brings the universe into being” I think he’s saying that we are nothing when we are born - that we are only what our parents and society make us as we grow up.  No such thing as ‘From birth to old age it’s just you.’?

(Foyan and Linji quoted from the book, ZEN ESSENCE - the Science of Freedom translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)

[ Edited: 08 August 2021 18:04 by unsmoked]
 
 
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08 August 2021 19:07
 

We have self-consciousness - for me that’s the only “you” that exists all the way through - at least from the time our awareness forms.  And that self-consciousness has access to our memories, and has been formed by our experiences.  I will agree that a state of consciousness can be reached in which you silence your internal narrative.  But that state is not some true “you”.  It is just a mind at rest.  I’m sure there is benefit to reaching this state - I think it can be a relief to silence the narrator and just experience calm. But the minute you try to explain what it is you lapse back into the narrative form of thought that is our heritage as beings formed by our culture and experiences.

 
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09 August 2021 06:55
 

A lot of kids in school these days become presentists. I probably would have become one too, back before presentism was an issue to be dealt with, if more of my instructors had styled information the way one of my English teachers did—the way quite a few of today’s professors do. I don’t remember his name, but he inspired me to see otherwise positive figures such as King Leopold as horrible people. Maybe Leopold truly was a horrible person, maybe he wasn’t. I still feel strongly that his and other Euro-trash goings-on between the 16th century and the 20th were truly horrific. After all, “The horror!” exemplified Conrad’s disapproval of Leopold’s morality. My own morality was shaped a little bit as a result of having taken several literature courses from this person. What if I’d never taken those courses? Would I be a horrible person if I were to think well of poor old King Leopold then?

Commenting on presentism itself is hazardous for those of us who lack expertise in history, due to how difficult it is to understand long-gone social and educational contexts. Maybe Burt will comment on how we today can viscerally or otherwise understand ancient social and educational contexts to speak to the following point from Wikipedia:

Augustine of Hippo . . . holds that there exist timeless moral principles, but contends that certain practices (such as polygamy) were acceptable in the past because they were customary but now are neither customary nor acceptable.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presentism_(literary_and_historical_analysis)

 

 
 
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09 August 2021 09:42
 

I don’t think it is possible to construct a universally accepted “timeless” morality, which I identify as objective morality. Just as we are products of our environment, so is our common morality. Things change. That doesn’t mean that “anything goes” - it has to work. It does matter what we are attempting to achieve. If we want a stable society, we need certain moral principles. If we want a calm mind, we need to engage in certain practices. But none of it is objective and absolute, at least from the perspective of humanism.

An individual can adopt a religious moral code and that is fine, if it works for that person. But he/she can’t expect everyone else to adopt the same code.

 
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09 August 2021 09:42
 

I don’t think it is possible to construct a universally accepted “timeless” morality, which I identify as objective morality. Just as we are products of our environment, so is our common morality. Things change. That doesn’t mean that “anything goes” - it has to work. It does matter what we are attempting to achieve. If we want a stable society, we need certain moral principles. If we want a calm mind, we need to engage in certain practices. But none of it is objective and absolute, at least from the perspective of humanism.

An individual can adopt a religious moral code and that is fine, if it works for that person. But he/she can’t expect everyone else to adopt the same code.

 
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09 August 2021 10:43
 

I’m reading a book on Suhrawardi, a12th century Persian mystic and philosopher, founder of the ishraqi (illuminist) school of Persian Sufism. One of his main questions was how could a person know themself. He makes use of an old skeptical argument that this is impossible because the self that knows is always distinct from the self that is known leading to an infinite regress. But then he resolves this by what he calls “knowledge by presence.” Or, basically, knowing by being. In his expression a person who knows themself in this non-conceptual, non-linguistic way experiences themself as light (I think today we’d say pure consciousness).

My favorite Persian, Omar Khayyam had some comments on this, too:

Misguided foes call me philosopher.
God knows, that is one thing I am not.
I am even less, in such a nest of sorrows
I cannot tell you even who I am.

In any case, I hope to soon initiate publication processes for my book of limericks:

Veils fell from my minds eye
And with this fall, the loss of “I.”
The world was there
I was nowhere.
A bell rings in the empty sky.

 
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09 August 2021 12:10
 
unsmoked - 08 August 2021 06:01 PM

In this topic, it’s important to notice that this ancient Zen master didn’t say, “From kindergarten to old age it’s just you.”  He said, “From birth to old age it’s just you.”

Well, I don’t really find it surprising at all that an 11th century Chinese philosopher didn’t use a word invented in Germany in 1840.  He also didn’t call the mind an “information superhighway”, or any use any other terms invented centuries after his death.  Because if he had, then those terms would have been invented centuries earlier than they were.

I don’t think you should take his ideas as literal.  At least, not until some aspect of the mind that is separate from the body can be demonstrated.

No one disputes that certain aspects of personality develop in the womb.  We have certain biological pressures that cause our personality to develop one way or another, and this is independent of the experiences we have during life.  A newborn baby has a human personality.

That said, this idea that our memories and experiences aren’t part of who we are seems pretty obviously false as well.  Yes, it is possible to leave an experience behind and have it not effect you… but you have to go through the process of experiences that make you capable of discarding the unwanted experience.  Zen training is a form of experience, and so any new personality stage that results from that training is not a mystical “original mind”, it is the mind that is produced from the experience of Zen training.  To demonstrate otherwise, you would need to show an example of someone who can achieve that state with no prior experience or training in any way.  You can’t even describe that mental state to them prior to their achievement of it.

There’s a concept of the flow state in psychology, which is very similar to mediation in a lot of ways.  The person becomes fully immersed in the experience and is entirely focused on the performance of an activity.  A slang term for this would “being in the zone”, such as when an athlete stops thinking about their performance and “just does” at the extreme high end of their capability.  But again, this requires training and experience to achieve.  Your mind has to have enough programming of the activity for you to do it without conscious usage of the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex.  If you have to think about the physical act and how it is done, you are not in this flow state.  This is not an “original mind”, but the product of complex and comprehensive training.

 
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09 August 2021 13:41
 
weird buffalo - 09 August 2021 12:10 PM

  This is not an “original mind”, but the product of complex and comprehensive training.

Yes, this is a good explanation. You can get in the zone, in the full present, and it is a different experience. It can be highly productive (as an athlete) or just calming and peaceful (as in meditation or mindfulness), but there is nothing original or even less, pre-natal, about it.

 
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09 August 2021 17:39
 

Suppose we are born into a neo Nazi family in present-day America and grow up expressing nazi views in school essays and attending youth rallies where we wear a brown shirt with a swastika armband.  Is that who we really are?  Is our life or fate based on a kind of luck of the draw?

Definition of the luck of the draw -  (noun phrase)
—used to say that the result of something cannot be controlled and depends on chance

What has to happen for us to break out of circumstances like this?

 
 
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09 August 2021 19:17
 
unsmoked - 09 August 2021 05:39 PM

Suppose we are born into a neo Nazi family in present-day America and grow up expressing nazi views in school essays and attending youth rallies where we wear a brown shirt with a swastika armband.  Is that who we really are?  Is our life or fate based on a kind of luck of the draw?

Definition of the luck of the draw -  (noun phrase)
—used to say that the result of something cannot be controlled and depends on chance

What has to happen for us to break out of circumstances like this?

We are always who we are in the moment.  How could we be anyone else?

To borrow from another zen phrase, just like you can never step in the same river twice, you are never the same person ever again.  You are always different.  I would instead argue that there is no “essential” you.  There is no mind behind the one that exists in our body.

 
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09 August 2021 19:19
 
weird buffalo - 09 August 2021 12:10 PM
unsmoked - 08 August 2021 06:01 PM

In this topic, it’s important to notice that this ancient Zen master didn’t say, “From kindergarten to old age it’s just you.”  He said, “From birth to old age it’s just you.”

Well, I don’t really find it surprising at all that an 11th century Chinese philosopher didn’t use a word invented in Germany in 1840.  He also didn’t call the mind an “information superhighway”, or any use any other terms invented centuries after his death.  Because if he had, then those terms would have been invented centuries earlier than they were.

I don’t think you should take his ideas as literal.  At least, not until some aspect of the mind that is separate from the body can be demonstrated.

No one disputes that certain aspects of personality develop in the womb.  We have certain biological pressures that cause our personality to develop one way or another, and this is independent of the experiences we have during life.  A newborn baby has a human personality.

That said, this idea that our memories and experiences aren’t part of who we are seems pretty obviously false as well.  Yes, it is possible to leave an experience behind and have it not effect you… but you have to go through the process of experiences that make you capable of discarding the unwanted experience.  Zen training is a form of experience, and so any new personality stage that results from that training is not a mystical “original mind”, it is the mind that is produced from the experience of Zen training.  To demonstrate otherwise, you would need to show an example of someone who can achieve that state with no prior experience or training in any way.  You can’t even describe that mental state to them prior to their achievement of it.

There’s a concept of the flow state in psychology, which is very similar to mediation in a lot of ways.  The person becomes fully immersed in the experience and is entirely focused on the performance of an activity.  A slang term for this would “being in the zone”, such as when an athlete stops thinking about their performance and “just does” at the extreme high end of their capability.  But again, this requires training and experience to achieve.  Your mind has to have enough programming of the activity for you to do it without conscious usage of the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex.  If you have to think about the physical act and how it is done, you are not in this flow state.  This is not an “original mind”, but the product of complex and comprehensive training.

Are you what you wear? Some people seem to think so. Recommend reading the article On Having No Head in the Dennett and Hofstader edited book The Mind’s I.

 
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10 August 2021 06:31
 

I found this, if it’s what you’re talking about.

Starting off on the far side of the room, he sees me as a full-length man-with-a-head. But as he approaches he finds half a man, then a head, ten a blurred cheek or eye or nose; then a mere blur and finally (at the point of contact) nothing at all. Alternatively, if he happens to be equipped with the necessary scientific instruments; he reports that the blur resolves itself into tissues, then cell groups, then a single cell, a cell-nucleus, giant molecules … and so on, till he comes to a place where nothing is to be seen, to space which is empty of all solid or material objects. In either case, the observer who comes here to see what it’s really like finds what I find here – vacancy. And if, having discovered and shared.

As an example, this is an equivocation fallacy.  In essence, he’s using the particularities of methods of observation to conclude that nothing is there, such as bringing the eye so close to the object that you can no longer see it.  That doesn’t mean the object stops existing, it means that the method of observation has limitations.  Then he switches to examining the distance between particles on the extremely small scale as evidence that there is nothing there.

It’s as ridiculous as saying that since I’m sitting in my house, and if I hold a piece of paper up to my face, and can no longer see the walls, floor, and ceiling… therefore there is no house.

If I stand between two cars in a parking lot and look at the ground in such a way that I cannot see any cars… that doesn’t mean the parking lot is empty and has no cars.  It means I have situated my method of observation in such a way that prevents me from seeing the things around me.

Just because we perceive things a certain way (such as having no head) does not mean our perception is correct.  Standing in a field, it can be hard to imagine that the Earth is round.  Our native perception ability is useful for dealing with things in that field, but it isn’t evolved to perceive the field as a tiny part of the whole Earth, and so we have to rely on other specific observations actually designed to detect whether the Earth is round or flat.

Another example would be magic.  And by magic, I mean the performance of magicians and illusionists who perform tricks for audiences.  Just because we perceive an illusionist causing the Statue of Liberty to disappear does not mean that the Statue of Liberty actually disappeared.  It’s a trick that is fooling our perception.

I’ve experienced mental states such as the one described in the link above.  It’s amazing and wonderful.  And yet, I have no reason to believe that it is a product of anything other than the physical state of my brain at the time.  There’s no evidence that there’s anything other than my brain and the environment around me influencing my brain that causes that mental state.  There’s no evidence that someone without a physical head can experience that.  In fact, we find an astonishing lack of reporting from anyone without a head about any experience whatsoever.

 
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10 August 2021 08:29
 

If you go with a pre-existing mind (“your mind before your parents were born”), you might as well make the jump to theism, where at least the rewards are better.

 
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10 August 2021 10:32
 
unsmoked - 09 August 2021 05:39 PM

Suppose we are born into a neo Nazi family in present-day America and grow up expressing nazi views in school essays and attending youth rallies where we wear a brown shirt with a swastika armband.  Is that who we really are?  Is our life or fate based on a kind of luck of the draw?

Definition of the luck of the draw -  (noun phrase)
—used to say that the result of something cannot be controlled and depends on chance

What has to happen for us to break out of circumstances like this?

I appreciate all of your comments about the topic title - “It’s just you.” 

All of us who aren’t brothers and sisters are born to different parents and into different social circumstances - usually into one of the major religions and one of the major political persuasions.  Each of us gets clothed with parental and social conditioning.  We go to school calling ourselves a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Republican, liberal, atheist.  It’s possible we could be born into an Amazonian tribe that has never had contact with the outside world.  After all, the Amazon Rain Forest is 5 times the size of Texas. 

So, is that who we really are?  A kid wearing a brown shirt with a swastika armband getting expelled while he’s in 5th grade because of what he said about Jews?

Speaking of kindergarten or the time we were born, Zen master Yuansou carries it a step further:

“Real Zennists set a single eye on the state before the embryo is formed, before any signs become distinct.  This opens up and clears the mind, so that it penetrates the whole universe.  Then they are no different from the Buddha and the founder of Zen.”  (end quote)

Again - do you all agree that when we’re born our parents and society begin dressing us after their fashion?  Is that who we really are?  Once we’re wearing our Amish hat, Muslim burqa, or Amazonian tattoos, is that who we really are?

“Throw your clothes away.  You must be naked.”  -  Zen

(Yuansou quoted from the book, ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom translated and edited by Thomas Cleary)

 
 
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10 August 2021 11:05
 
weird buffalo - 10 August 2021 06:31 AM

I found this, if it’s what you’re talking about.

Starting off on the far side of the room, he sees me as a full-length man-with-a-head. But as he approaches he finds half a man, then a head, ten a blurred cheek or eye or nose; then a mere blur and finally (at the point of contact) nothing at all. Alternatively, if he happens to be equipped with the necessary scientific instruments; he reports that the blur resolves itself into tissues, then cell groups, then a single cell, a cell-nucleus, giant molecules … and so on, till he comes to a place where nothing is to be seen, to space which is empty of all solid or material objects. In either case, the observer who comes here to see what it’s really like finds what I find here – vacancy. And if, having discovered and shared.

As an example, this is an equivocation fallacy.  In essence, he’s using the particularities of methods of observation to conclude that nothing is there, such as bringing the eye so close to the object that you can no longer see it.  That doesn’t mean the object stops existing, it means that the method of observation has limitations.  Then he switches to examining the distance between particles on the extremely small scale as evidence that there is nothing there.

It’s as ridiculous as saying that since I’m sitting in my house, and if I hold a piece of paper up to my face, and can no longer see the walls, floor, and ceiling… therefore there is no house.

If I stand between two cars in a parking lot and look at the ground in such a way that I cannot see any cars… that doesn’t mean the parking lot is empty and has no cars.  It means I have situated my method of observation in such a way that prevents me from seeing the things around me.

Just because we perceive things a certain way (such as having no head) does not mean our perception is correct.  Standing in a field, it can be hard to imagine that the Earth is round.  Our native perception ability is useful for dealing with things in that field, but it isn’t evolved to perceive the field as a tiny part of the whole Earth, and so we have to rely on other specific observations actually designed to detect whether the Earth is round or flat.

Another example would be magic.  And by magic, I mean the performance of magicians and illusionists who perform tricks for audiences.  Just because we perceive an illusionist causing the Statue of Liberty to disappear does not mean that the Statue of Liberty actually disappeared.  It’s a trick that is fooling our perception.

I’ve experienced mental states such as the one described in the link above.  It’s amazing and wonderful.  And yet, I have no reason to believe that it is a product of anything other than the physical state of my brain at the time.  There’s no evidence that there’s anything other than my brain and the environment around me influencing my brain that causes that mental state.  There’s no evidence that someone without a physical head can experience that.  In fact, we find an astonishing lack of reporting from anyone without a head about any experience whatsoever.

I can attest that the headless state he describes is an actual experiential state. What’s behind it, I wouldn’t want to say. The point is that there is a state of consciousness in which the normal, socially constructed and conditioned self is not present but there is still awareness. That, I’d say, is evidence for the claim that consciousness is distinct from our ordinary self-consciousness and pre-exists (although certainly not in the way that our everyday consciousness does, constrained as it is by the limitations of brain and body). So when you say that there is “no evidence that there’s anything other than my brain and the environment around me influencing my brain that causes that mental state,” that is not relevant. The question isn’t about what causes the state but rather about its nature: does consciousness (without an object) emerge from material brain processes, or does it pre-exist and is experienced in terms of brain processes. In the first case, you have to say how this emergence happens, how do brain processes produce the actual awareness you experience (the zombie question); in the second case, you assume that consciousness is an innate property of reality.

 
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10 August 2021 12:08
 
burt - 10 August 2021 11:05 AM
weird buffalo - 10 August 2021 06:31 AM

I found this, if it’s what you’re talking about.

Starting off on the far side of the room, he sees me as a full-length man-with-a-head. But as he approaches he finds half a man, then a head, ten a blurred cheek or eye or nose; then a mere blur and finally (at the point of contact) nothing at all. Alternatively, if he happens to be equipped with the necessary scientific instruments; he reports that the blur resolves itself into tissues, then cell groups, then a single cell, a cell-nucleus, giant molecules … and so on, till he comes to a place where nothing is to be seen, to space which is empty of all solid or material objects. In either case, the observer who comes here to see what it’s really like finds what I find here – vacancy. And if, having discovered and shared.

As an example, this is an equivocation fallacy.  In essence, he’s using the particularities of methods of observation to conclude that nothing is there, such as bringing the eye so close to the object that you can no longer see it.  That doesn’t mean the object stops existing, it means that the method of observation has limitations.  Then he switches to examining the distance between particles on the extremely small scale as evidence that there is nothing there.

It’s as ridiculous as saying that since I’m sitting in my house, and if I hold a piece of paper up to my face, and can no longer see the walls, floor, and ceiling… therefore there is no house.

If I stand between two cars in a parking lot and look at the ground in such a way that I cannot see any cars… that doesn’t mean the parking lot is empty and has no cars.  It means I have situated my method of observation in such a way that prevents me from seeing the things around me.

Just because we perceive things a certain way (such as having no head) does not mean our perception is correct.  Standing in a field, it can be hard to imagine that the Earth is round.  Our native perception ability is useful for dealing with things in that field, but it isn’t evolved to perceive the field as a tiny part of the whole Earth, and so we have to rely on other specific observations actually designed to detect whether the Earth is round or flat.

Another example would be magic.  And by magic, I mean the performance of magicians and illusionists who perform tricks for audiences.  Just because we perceive an illusionist causing the Statue of Liberty to disappear does not mean that the Statue of Liberty actually disappeared.  It’s a trick that is fooling our perception.

I’ve experienced mental states such as the one described in the link above.  It’s amazing and wonderful.  And yet, I have no reason to believe that it is a product of anything other than the physical state of my brain at the time.  There’s no evidence that there’s anything other than my brain and the environment around me influencing my brain that causes that mental state.  There’s no evidence that someone without a physical head can experience that.  In fact, we find an astonishing lack of reporting from anyone without a head about any experience whatsoever.

I can attest that the headless state he describes is an actual experiential state. What’s behind it, I wouldn’t want to say. The point is that there is a state of consciousness in which the normal, socially constructed and conditioned self is not present but there is still awareness. That, I’d say, is evidence for the claim that consciousness is distinct from our ordinary self-consciousness and pre-exists (although certainly not in the way that our everyday consciousness does, constrained as it is by the limitations of brain and body). So when you say that there is “no evidence that there’s anything other than my brain and the environment around me influencing my brain that causes that mental state,” that is not relevant. The question isn’t about what causes the state but rather about its nature: does consciousness (without an object) emerge from material brain processes, or does it pre-exist and is experienced in terms of brain processes. In the first case, you have to say how this emergence happens, how do brain processes produce the actual awareness you experience (the zombie question); in the second case, you assume that consciousness is an innate property of reality.

I completely disagree.

For one, when you say “What’s behind it, I wouldn’t want to say.”  That’s fine… but then you have to stop there.  You can’t say “I’m not going to say what the explanation is” and then go on to try to explain it.  Well, you can do that… since you just did, but it clearly calls into question everything you say.  It’s like when someone says “I don’t know what I saw, but I’m sure it was a ghost.”  No, no, no, no.  If you don’t know what it was, than the explanation that it was a ghost is already false.

If you note in my above post, I agree that the brain state described exists.  I admit that I’ve felt it as well.

If someone wants to claim that this brain state is caused by some non-physical phenomena… then this has to be demonstrated.  Our brains ability to perceive things is easily deceived, and just because it “feels like” you are separated from your self-conscious persona does not mean that you are experiencing something that is not produced by your brains interaction with your body and the environment.

Here’s a dichotomy to consider:
1) that brain state is produced by something that is possible to detect in the discipline of Physics.
2) that brain state is produced by something that is NOT possible to detect in the discipline of Physics.

At the moment, for consciousness to be separate from the brain, option 2 would have to be true, at least as far as we understand Physics right now.  In addition, this process of consciousness would have to have some way of interacting with the neurons in our brain in some way that cannot be detected.  When a neuron fires it releases sodium until a positive charge is built up sufficient to cause the electrical impulse to fire.  For consciousness to be outside of the brain, it would need some way of interacting with this process.  We know how brain cells work.  Sure, there’s a lot we don’t understand about the entire structure of the brain, but fundamentally we already know the basic physics and chemistry at play.  For consciousness to be “somewhere else”, it means you’d have to discover some new mechanism in this process that we were previously unaware of.

That seems like a bit of a longshot at this point.

 
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