What evidence exists for the idea that consciousness is indelible?
Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz
A forthright answer to this question is: None. It should perhaps be unpacked by the additional remark that we commonly assume that evidence is a persuasive criterion for our belief in the reality of whatever it suggests. But evidence can be false, fictitious, mistaken, manipulated, wrongly interpreted etc. Hence it is pointless asking for evidence in a situation where it is proof that we demand. “Is x possible?” cannot be ascertained by speculative means, for this is precisely what your question amounts to.
Bear in mind that facts related to consciousness are notorious for their denotational blur, and so thin on the ground that no-one could confidently stand up and claim that he/she is discoursing on a well-defined thing or process – it does not even exhibit an unambiguous phenomenology. Which is not surprising, after all, since every living thing has its own individualised consciousness, while at the same time it is one kind of universal phenomenon that clearly demarcates living things from all other phenomena. And then we confront intentionality: does it imply a genuine autonomy or can it be reduced to the mechanical give and take that Descartes postulated for biological machines? Not to mention memories: What are they? Pictures, movies? Where and how are memories stored? How are they accessed by consciousness? Once again candour should rule: we are not in possession of enough knowledge to settle such arguments, though we can be reasonable certain that human organisms don’t keep a photo album or a zip files on a hidden hard drive.
This leaves us with two very dubious ways out of the dilemma. We can appeal to the ancient philosophical dictum that a soul is not made of parts, therefore it cannot fall apart on the demise of its owner. But at bottom this is a “take it or leave it” argument. Alternatively we can play around with thought experiments which typically begin with the words “I can imagine…”, and proceed with propositions of such hair-raising improbability as no-one can actually “imagine” because the idea cannot be fleshed out in any semblance of reality – for example “anything that can happen will happen”, which takes up a mortgage for eternity in the name of logic, whereas the very notion of ‘eternity’ is already logically defective in that it pretends to knowledge that is impossible to have.
And so I will propose a sample right now, that “I can imagine” scientists of the future replicating my hippocampus and wiring it into a computer, so as to engender mental events in the machine that will duplicate my sense of selfhood, conscious intentionality, memory formation, dreams etc., and that this device can then be manufactured on an assembly line and installed in any number of artificial Doppelgangers here on Earth and eventually on far away planets of other galaxies, so that the word “I” can be pronounced by all of them in the full conviction that each is speaking for itself.
Can I really imagine this or is it just blabber? If asked, I could not enlighten a questioner about the merest details of this supposedly imaginative scenario, so yes, mere blabber.
Let us return to home ground and interrogate the sole reliable witness (aka evidence), which is of course the hippocampus. As it is an organ, it is mortal. Therefore it is utterly improbable to expect from it the creation of thoughts and ideas and conscious states that can outlive it. Conclusion: Indelibility is not on the agenda of any mortal creature.