Eli5: Why is consciousness such a hard thing to study?


Eli5: Why is consciousness such a hard thing to study?

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Because most things we study we do so by breaking it into smaller parts. That’s not really an option.

Your brain is made of millions of little cells we dont fully understand, that somehow works together in sync more than any manmade computer. We dont know about the brain things much more simple than consciousness. Also, hard to study it on dead people, and studying on living people is more difficult.

Its hard to study something like that, that isnt physical in nature. Brain is physical, but consciousness isnt.

Now the most sane and logical explanation is, consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of brain. But it cant be pinpointed. And even if it is an emergent property of brain itself, it would be gargantuan in complexity. I personally think its as close to impossible as something can get to be explained. Not because its mystical or supernatural, but simply because of its scale and complexity. Its just too much.

Other explanations exist, in the realm of spiritual and supernatural even, and, however unlikely some of them may seem to be, i keep my reservations regarding them, dont wanna dispose of them, because i dont want to make claims about an area in which i dont know how much i dont know.

Because it’s a phenomenon, as in it’s a subjective thing relating to personal experiences. We can’t look into the head of other people, we can’t even determine a threshold for brain activity or configuration at which point you can say “now we have achieved consciousness”. The best thing we can do is to look for neural correlates for consciousness, but since we can’t say for sure that anyone else besides ourselves is actually conscious, that one’s pretty hard as well.

The main problem is that there’s no single universally accepted scientific definition of what consciousness is.

Outside of science, especially in philosophy, there are several related and partially overlapping definitions. Several of them don’t lead to something that can be scientifically tested.

Individual scientists have offered different scientific definitions of consciousness which can be tested, but there’s no agreement on which one definition to use.