Consciousness and Sleep

by casebash 1 min read7th Jan 201636 comments


This will be a short article. I've been seeing a lot of dubious reasoning about consciousness and sleep. One famous problem is the problem of personal identity with a destructive teleporter. In this problem, we imagine that you are cloned perfectly in an alternate location and then your body is destroyed. The question asked is whether this clone is the same person as you.

One really bad argument that I've seen around this is the notion that the fact that we sleep every night means that we experience this teleporter every day.

The reason why this is a very bad argument is that it equivocates with two different meanings of consciousness:

  • Consciousness as opposed to being asleep or unconscious, where certain brain functions are inactive
  • Consciousness as opposed to being non-sentient, like a rock or bacteria, where you lack the ability to have experiences
You can still have experiences while you are asleep, these are internal experiences and they are called dreams. Your sensory system is still running, but in a kind of reduced power mode. If someone shouts or prods you or it gets too hot, then you wake up. You aren't like a rock.

Perhaps some people would like to talk about what kind of waves we do or do not see while you are asleep. What I would like to point out is that we still have very little understanding of the brain. Just because we don't see one particular wave or another doesn't mean much given our incredibly limited understanding of what consciousness is. Perhaps in the future, we will have this knowledge, but anything at the moment is merely speculation.

I'm not arguing either way on personal identity. I haven't done enough reading yet to comment. But this is one particularly bad argument that needs to be done away with.