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Ben the Neuroscientist and the Quest for Consciousness

One day, Ben falls off his chair while analyzing data from a million x3 scans on his quantum laptop. “My God,” he says, “I have found consciousness! It’s so obvious, why didn’t I see this before? It’s just the recursive De Morgan’s cluster, together with diffuse activation structures of the cyclic nimbus, firing at a Klaus von Hoffman standard ratio! Gosh—so simple!” Ben hurries to write a paper, with the title “Consciousness Discovered,” and claims consciousness is no longer a mystery. But some are unconvinced. Critics claim that Ben has merely found neural correlates of consciousness and has not explained how consciousness is caused. To fully understand how consciousness is caused, it is insufficient to understand what structures and processes go along with consciousness. For a scientific understanding of consciousness, they say, we must go beyond correlation and provide a causal account.

With a furrowed brow, Ben goes back to his datasets, reanalyzes them, and performs more scans and analyses. Once again, he falls off his chair as he is analyzing dataset number 34537. “My God,” he says, “it’s so obvious, why didn’t I see it before? It’s the cyclic nimbus firing at the Klaus von Hoffman ratio along with a diffuse influx of acetylcholine that causes consciousness; the other structures are just going along for the ride. Surely the critics must be convinced this time!” Ben is also able, through experimentation, to predict, manipulate, and control states of consciousness.

Ben publishes another paper, titled “The Causal Structures of Consciousness Discovered.” Ben has managed to shake the scientific community, and all agree that Ben has found the causal mechanism of consciousness in human brains. They are particularly impressed by how his carefully designed experiments demonstrate the true causal relationship between his structure and consciousness.

Subsequent research by others finds Ben’s causal structure—or what are very similar structures—also in other primates. The consensus of the scientific community is that consciousness is no longer a mystery, and it even looks as though we will be able to understand how consciousness has evolved, by studying variants of Ben’s structure throughout the animal kingdom.

A flood of important applications of Ben’s discovery ensues. Anesthesiologists learn how to disable the structures—now referred to simply as “Ben’s complex”— to render patients unconscious with Ben’s complex-targeting drugs, which are safe, with no side effects. Many coma patients can also be awakened by neurologists activating Ben’s complex through deep-brain stimulation, and neurosurgeons take precautions not to damage Ben’s complex when performing surgeries.

Other applications are also discovered, and some are peculiar. It appears that consciousness can be turned up and down—like a dimmable light—with Ben’s complex-targeting drugs. In this way, it is possible to reach intense states of consciousness—like those that rock climbers experience—as being remarkably alive, present, and aware. Scientists also discuss more intense states—hyperconscious states beyond anything previously known. It is said that a hyperconscious individual can understand all conversations at a social gathering simultaneously. It is also possible to induce ultraconsciousness, which is a state of being unaware of oneself and what one is doing—much like someone who is awfully drunk, but without muddled thinking, slow reactions, and poor control of bodily actions, etc.

Consciousness is no longer a mystery, as its causes are known and it can be sufficiently manipulated and controlled; thus, science is deemed to have a handle on it. But Ben starts having doubts while working on his data set one night, haunted by the idea that consciousness is still a mystery. Why? When Ben looks at his complex causal structure, rendered in high resolution on his laptop with a holographic display, he asks how it could cause consciousness. “It’s just a bunch of processes,” he says, as he zooms in and out of the structure, slowly tilting his head from side to side. He grimaces slightly and moves his fingers through the holographic projection, as if he wants to feel the structure. Then he has a sip of red wine, looks out his window, and murmurs, “How could those processes make me conscious?” People say he has become a mysterian.

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