Here's a selection from Thomas Metzinger's "The Science of Mind and the Myth of the Self", p. 216 First a little background before the quote. TM attempts to integrate philosophy (his discipline), consciousness studies, artificial intelligence, ethics and neuroscience. In the last few years the latter has given us fMRI techniques that allow us to watch the brain in operation. In addition, the discovery of mirror neurons demonstrate a physical basis for how we understand others -- our brains essential "mirror" the behavior of others allowing us to understand them -- at least through the lens of our own consciousness. Social consciousness was born. In a very real sense we experience the other as ourselves, as if we were them. Neuroscience is now giving us unprecedented insight into the mechanisms of consciousness.
In the below, you'll see reference to a self-model. A key contribution of TM is that the brain creates a self-model -- a model that differentiates self from other -- this is us. It tells us that this is our body, our thoughts and so forth. We know that such a model exists because it is not present in all humans in the same way. We know there is no central operation in the brain that is us, no conductor, no boss.
"Now we are entering an unprecedented stage. Centuries of philosophical searching for a theory of consciousness have culminated in a rigorous empirical project that progressing incrementally and in an sustainable manner. This process is recursive, in that it will also change the contents and the functional structure of our self-model. This fact tells us something about the physical universe in which these events are occurring: The universe has a potential not only for self-organization of life and the evolution of strong subjectivity but also for an even higher level of complexity. I will not go so far as to say that in us the physical universe becomes conscious of itself. Nevertheless, the emergence of coherent conscious reality-models in biological nervous systems created a new form of self-similarity within the physical universe. The world evolved world-modelers. Parts began to mirror the whole. Billions of conscious brains are like billions of eyes, with which the universe can look at itself as being present.
More important the world evolved self-modelers who were able to form groups; the process of increasing self-similarity via internal modeling jumped from nervous systems to scientific communities. Another new quality was created. Thes groups in turn created theoretical portraits of the universe and of consciousness, as well as a rigorous strategy of continually improving these portraits. Through science, the dynamic processes of self-modeling and of world-modeling were extended into the symbolic, the social, and historical dimensions: We became rational theory-makers. We used the unity of consciousness to search for the unity of knowledge, and we also discovered the idea of moral integrity. The conscious self-model of Homo Sapiens made this step possible."
The bottom line is that science is beginning to physically confirm the insights of spirituality. Consciousness creates experience. The "me" is a function of consciousness, not the owner of it. I'm just a long for the ride -- as long as I'm useful. Maybe you and I just aren't as useful as we used to be.
The above may be seen as reductionist. However, the job of science to simplify, to reduce, to boil things down to their essence. Good reductions simplify and deepen understanding. Bad ones miss important elements. According to TM, a system needs three things to develop subjectivity -- a self-model, a world model, an Ideal Observer, and a Now around which to order events. BTW, the human Now is about 3 seconds long. That's your window of experience.
TM sees dramatic implications, "an unprecedented stage", where humanity is challenged to internalize and interpret the insights of modern neuroscience. He outlines scary scenarios where it will become possible to create conscious artificial or hybrid bio-computer systems. Primitive forms of these have been built today - computer controlled cockroaches and primitive robots with a self-model that learn to walk and evolve their operation in response to their environment. It will become possible to create states of consciousness as their neural correlates become known. We will need to understand which states of consciousness are ethically desirable and which are not. The field of consciousness ethics will emerge.
Sounds like science fiction? These are serious ideas from the limits of scientific consciousness studies.
If you're not scared, I am. Makes drugs look like child play doesn't it? You won't only select tunes on the phone of the future, you'll download an experience -- any experience. For a $1.
On the positive side, neuroscience tells us that we haven't even begun to explore our human potential. We experience only a very small part of the potential of human consciousness. Again not a feel-good hypothesis, but a direct implication of science's understanding of neural networks and the brain.
Consciousness is seeking to understand it's own mechanisms. But why? And what should we do? Eckhart Tolle said "The purpose of intimate relationships isn't to make us happy, but to make us conscious." Maybe that's the purpose life?