Between Neurophysiology and Philosophy: Some Speculations about Consciousness

Veröffentlicht: Oktober 29, 2017 in Wissenschaft
Schlagwörter:, , , , , , , ,

brain-image

Something that fascinated me since childhood is the question of „self“ and of consciousness. I well remember that even already at age eight I was experiencing moments of being aware of that I was being aware of that I was being aware…! I also recall that one morning my son being about the same age asked me: „Daddy, what I always wanted to ask you: why am I me?“The state of the self reflective awareness I experienced at that age I soon connected to the experiment of holding two mirrors near to face each other and seeing an „infinite“ series of mirrors. I have also vivid memories of very early conditions of awareness – from a bit more than age two – those days directed mostly at toys and my surrounding in general. Here´s not the space to go too far into that but it might give an impression of the attention I paid early to the concept of „one self“. Children might be early Philosophers in a much higher degree than adults usually assume – and remember.

Throughout the higher grades in school I spent lots of time on the contemplation about existence and time, having got into early contact (maybe age 14) with Relativity Theory and later on Quantum Physics. After all I became a Sociologist by and large confronting myself more with the problems of social interaction, oppression and exploitation, which is reflected in many topics I deal on this blog since end of 2010. But the basic question of „self“ and consciousness never really left me alone. And I developed more precise ideas about possible „mechanisms“ underlying those phenomena.

Julian Jaynes

It was not too long ago that discussions about consciousness with a good friend confronted me again with those long harbored ideas. Those discussions with that friend circulated around the works of Julian_Jaynes of whom I thus heard for the first time. I started reading in his book „The_Origin_of_Consciousness_in_the_Breakdown_of_the_Bicameral_Mind“ and found many fascinating points. He was a brilliant analyst concerning concrete aspects pointing clearly to all what we can do without being conscious, giving many insights, well summarized_here.

But, and there´s a big „but“, it didn´t convince me in its final conclusions. As well as it gives insight into mental disorders, it dates the coming up of consciousness some 3000 years ago in a somehow circumscribed area in the Near East connected to the coming up of urban life and more extended usage of writing. Uh, means that all other people were not conscious?! It results in some sort of ethnocentric view, which Jaynes possibly might not have really intended, the more since he didn´t link it to genetic concepts but social and historical circumstances, but that would be the conclusion. It could serve also as an excuse for all colonial atrocities, those people living under quite different conditions were not conscious, how could they really have suffered?! The hidden arrogance surfaces in this: „In the golden age of Greece, when men traveled about in freedom while slaves did the work, consciousness was as free as that“ (page 7). Thus it seems to be „consequent“ slaves were regarded in antiques as „speaking tools“.

Two Poles

Well, let´s leave the moral aspect aside, how could I have been conscious before having learned how to read and write (which I clearly was, even contemplating about death after my grandmother died before I started school), provided Jaynes was correct? And even if at a time people might have had a divided consciousness and heard the voices of Gods or ancestors coming from the other half of their brains, with the receiving half of their brain were conscious in a way.

So Jaynes must be regarded as one pole of the discussion. The other pole is to be seen in „Panpsychism“, the view that there is a „self“, a perceiving unit in everything, even in subatomic particles. This in deed appears to be equally absurd and has to be dismissed.

The Core of the Topic

It might be very difficult to describe what consciousness really is, but in a way we all know it very well, because we experience it, though at the same time often messing it up with different phenomena (which in deed Jaynes shows brilliantly). It is in a way the „space“ in which we combine the inner, including happiness, joy, desire, fear and anxiety, curiosity, friendship and hostility, and the orientation in the outside as well as our memories. And all this „Yet somehow we perceive it all as one unified conscious experience“ (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bobby-azarian/post_10079_b_8160914.html).

Mind, Self and Consciousness

At times misleading, but not totally false it is equated to mind as „self“. This gets clear when it comes to the term Theory_of_mind. This term plays a growing part also in the understanding of higher animals. Science becomes more and more aware that for example Great_Apes_have_theory_of_mind, and so might have other animals.

It would in fact be difficult to understand playing_animalsor animals like dogs wildly enjoying reunions without being aware of the self and „the other“. The more difficult it would be to understand friendships_across_different_species without that potential. Even more impressive is the ability for example of Bonobo_Kanzi_using_a_touchpad to speak, so that another „self“ (a human) understands him.

The Scope of Consciousness

In Jaynes book there´s a good metaphor, consciousness like a torchlight in a dark room wandering over things. We´re not conscious all the time of all we know and of all what happens around us. To follow this metaphor, the torchlight could have different strength, the space the light covers could be varying, there could be fog in the room and so on. Remembering our own development of consciousness we can see how the space covered by the „torchlight“ had expanded, likewise the distance things could be reached. The channels of information developed. The content of our consciousness thus expands from our immediate surrounding, our parents and siblings to more remote things. Adding to those things brought to us by our senses comes „abstract“ knowledge, in which reading and nowadays the media play a great part.

We start being conscious about our immediate life space to extended family, to school, to town, to country, possibly we become conscious of „the world and its problems“, possibly of our solar system and maybe of the galaxy and maybe of what science has found out about the universe. Possibly we become conscious about the deeper questions concerning time, space, existence and so on. We could become conscious of suppression, of injustice, of exploitation. This again might reflect on our actions, adding to our daily life activities. All this surely goes far beyond the consciousness of even the most intelligent animals, but it would be very arrogant to deny them being conscious of themselves and many other things. After all the scope of things to get into consciousness is one thing, the basic nature of it is another thing.

What Creates Consciousness?

It is obvious that we can hardly imagine consciousness without a brain, so to speak, the – highly complicated – hardware. This „hardware“ works with bio-electrical processes, processing information. Great efforts have been undertaken to integrate what is known so far, like in this great_article_by_Dr_Avinash_de_Sousa from 2013.

In the last section of his article he formulates interesting questions:

  1. Is an integrated theory encompassing all fields on the neurobiology of consciousness possible? Is it necessary?
  2. Is it possible to understand true biological substrates of consciousness or are we looking at pure phenomenology?

  3. Does the study of altered states of consciousness, with an approach from pathology to normalcy, hold the key to the neurobiology of consciousness?

  4. Should research groups from various arenas come together to form a more integrative research protocol to study consciousness?

  5. Do we need further focused neurobiological studies both at a micro and macro level to understand consciousness?

  6. Do we need to go top down from cognitive psychology to neurobiology to understand consciousness or should the reverse be done?

  7. Will we in the near future impinge upon an ultimate holistic theory that solves the riddle of the neurobiology of consciousness?

  8. Will better neuroimaging studies and modalities in the future, together with advances in cellular neuroscience, help solve the puzzle of consciousness?

  9. Will all stakeholders agree to a comprehensive definition of consciousness?

It all makes me believe that something is missing here yet which has come to my mind since long.

My Speculations on the Matter

What came to my mind many years ago is that the bio-electrical activities can not be all what is contributing to consciousness. There should be field phenomena taken into consideration. Since years Magnetic_resonance_imaging is used to get a deeper insight into_our_brain_activities. Since consciousness seems to bear holistic aspects as well, field phenomena come very close to that holistic aspect. Shouldn´t we think of the possibility that the bio-electrical processes in our brains create field phenomena which are having effect on the bio-electrical processes and influence it, thus forming circles of effects?

Neurological structures can be receptive to field phenomena in many ways. Obviously birds_brains_are_receptive_to_magnetic_fields. Even very primitive beings show Magnetoreception. Electromagnetic sensitivity is the basis of our ability to see. In sharks Electroreception is highly developed. Electrosensibility_in_humans is nowadays discussed and researches have found sensitivity_of_neurons_to_weak_electric_fields. The anatomic situation of the cerebral cortex could make it plausible that the field effects influence other parts of the brain which again bio-electrically influence the cortex to have repercussion again on the fields. And we even might not be aware of all kind of field phenomena.

Possibly the receptivity within certain brain cells might have taken the evolutionary start at the problem of orientation in the larger surrounding like with birds and then expanded its receptivity to the field effects produced by the brain cells themselves.

Thus consciousness could imply a new quality of resonance, which itself could be modified by various factors. If these assumptions would be true, consciousness would have emerged at a certain point of evolution bringing about a new quality, somehow as a „big bang“ in the final sense allowing parts of the Universe to become aware of itself. After genetic evolution had reached a certain point, this new quality would have had repercussions on the genetic evolution as well.

brain-waves

What Could be the Consequence if these Assumptions would be true?

If these assumptions would be true more consequences would be imaginable. The brain would thus be an emitter as well as a receiver. It possibly could not only be an emitter to influence the brain itself but it might be an emitter to the outside as well. Would it be possible that in evolution it served the early hominids already to find back to each other in the open savannas after roaming around for hunting and gathering? It surely wouldn´t be a very accurate way of „communication“ but could even function as a basis for some sort of telepathic communication, at least in the way of an „alarm system“.

This might be a bit far fetched but it could explain why in the West as in the East as well quite some amount of money was spent on secret_telepathic_projects. The effect of those things might be highly questionable, the dangers coming from our sensitivity towards (especially electromagnetic) fields might no more be questionable as shown for example by mysterious_illnesses_that_strike_people_in_their_own_homes. Likewise this sensitivity makes us vulnerable to electro-magnetic_weapons either designed to be weapons or just functioning as such.

Final Remarks

As said at the beginning I´m just a Sociologist and not an expert in the field of Neurobiology. Thus on this matter I can only express assumptions and hypotheses. Living science nevertheless has always from time to time got inspirations from laymen or laywomen, and this is what I want to contribute here. Maybe one ore another expert might contemplate on the ideas expressed here and develop methods to further explore whether there´s something profound with these ideas.

Andreas Schlüter

Interesting link, Quantum approaches: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-consciousness/

&

https://www.livescience.com/47096-theories-seek-to-explain-consciousness.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/03/phlegm-theories-of-consciousness/472812/

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Kommentare
  1. „Uh, means that all other people were not conscious?! It results in some sort of ethnocentric view, which Jaynes possibly might not have really intended, the more since he didn´t link it to genetic concepts but social and historical circumstances, but that would be the conclusion. It could serve also as an excuse for all colonial atrocities, those people living under quite different conditions were not conscious, how could they really have suffered?!“

    There are many common misunderstandings of Jaynes‘ theory of the bicameral mind. When speaking of ‚consciousness‘, he didn’t mean what most people mean when using that word. There are good reasons for why he chose to use that word, but it unfortunately has led to confusion. What he really meant was a specific mindset, not only self-awareness (for in a sense the bicameral people would have had self-awareness, albeit involving a far different sense of self). What he didn’t mean was that any particular mindset is inherently superior. He makes the point that the bicameral societies were able to accomplish great things.

    It was maybe mere accidents of shifting external conditions that led to post-bicameral ‚consciousness‘ (possibly because of mass environmental catastrophes that ended the Bronze Age societies). A new change in external conditions could make post-bicameral ‚consciousness‘ disappear again. It is ethnocentric to consider modern consciousness as the pinnacle of humanity and earthly existence and that any society that lacked it would be of less value. The potential for the human mind is immense, far beyond mere consciousness, however one wishes to define it. Future civilizations may be as perplexed with our obsession with consciousness as we are with the idea that a world could have existed without it.

  2. Norman Pilon sagt:

    By the way, with respect to Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, the claim that it was ever demonstrated that there is an interaction between light and gravity, that a sufficiently large gravitational field will „bend“ the path of light, viz., „the Dyson, Eddington and Davidson expedition to Sobral and Principe for the for the eclipse of May 29, 1919,“ and that remains a major pillar of modern physics, is thoroughly refuted by Dr. Paul Marmet in a his short Appendix II to his Einstein’s Theory of Relativity versus Classical Mechanics, and titled: The Deflection of Light by the Sun’s Gravitational Field: An Analysis of the 1919 Solar Eclipse Expeditions.

    Enjoy.

    Also, following upon that, you should have a look at this title, also by Marmet, another and more thorough refutation of the so called subsequent „proofs“ of the matter at hand: Relativistic Deflection of Light Near the Sun Using Radio Signals and Visible Light

    • Schlüter sagt:

      Well, dear Norman, I took Einstein´s General Relativity Theory for proven (like the Special Relativity Theory). Very busy at Moment, but I´ll check after a while. Thanks for the links.
      Regards

      • Norman Pilon sagt:

        “ I took Einstein´s General Relativity Theory for proven“

        Indeed. As does everyone who „assumes“ the field of physics’s and cosmology’s pre-suppositions as „historically given.“ A critical examination of that „gournd“ yields something quite different — as so many other fields of research, be it in the „hard“ of „soft“ sciences. But, yes, when you get the chance, I think you will be both surprised and persuaded.

  3. Norman Pilon sagt:

    Sorry. If I may fix that last sentence, to make more apparent what is the „link“ and my comment on it:

    Einstein’s Theory of Relativity versus Classical Mechanics.

    Simply brilliant if completely neglected by mainstream physics, or rather and especially, relativists. My only reservation about Marmet’s theorizing is that he has a tendency to reify constructs, a minor and forgivable sin that is, at any rate, rampant in the physical and material sciences, and especially in the field of cosmology.

  4. Norman Pilon sagt:

    Interesting speculation over consciousness as an „imagined“ object. The problem of consciousness, as I see it, is akin to the problem of the eye seeing itself without the aid of a reflecting surface. It cannot be done. And when the conscious eye does apprehend a reflection of itself, although it takes the content of the reflection to be „itself,“ the reflection is in actual fact not actually directly of itself, but a moment of apperception that abstracts away the moment of reflection.

    I think that to the degree that awareness is a slave to its material substrates, its material substrates being what we commonly perceive as the human body, but the human body rooted in its complex environment, to the degree that we can apprehend the complexities and layers of our environment(s), aspects of which are physical, biological, social and psychological, possibly including fields, as you put it, yet to be conceptualized and analytically delineated, it is at most possible to discover and exploit pathways that determine, that is to say, force in a constraining manner states of perception or cognition. But how awareness can determine itself, come to instruct itself or be instructed by other minds to perceive or conceptualize like „this“ rather than as „that,“ that will forever escape us in the manner of the impossibility of ever being able to gaze spontaneously upon one’s own face as upon another. So although we can observe and conceptualize and categorize as types „activities“ that we undertake in what we designate as our mental exertions and in that „space“ that we reference for ourselves linguistically as consciousness, that objectifying object that we experience as our „self,“ I don’t think we will ever be able to penetrate that particular mystery all that far or deeply. I suspect, however and in diametrical opposition to Jaynes, that consciousness is an effect and an intentionality (in the phenomenological sense) that is cosmically primal and that, although there are likely varying degrees of awareness, some becoming over the course of their specifically limited range of their possible dialectical elaboration more or less encompassing, is more prevalent throughout nature than we narcissistically imagine.

    As for the phenomenon of time: there is, in fact, no proof that time even exists, that it is not entirely a human construct. This is not to say that things do not as we put it to ourselves „happen“ and that „occurrences“ do not follow an irreversible order or sequence, and that series of rates of occurrences within frames of references do not unfold in at mutually conditioned „rates.“ For example, in a given uniform gravitational field, such as exists more or less uniformly at the surface of the earth, all atomic emissions of a given species of radioactive material would correlate in number in a more or less perfect ratio to the number of emissions of another species of radioactive material: figuratively, so many „tics“ of this to so many „tocs“ of that. The proof that time is more construct than substance is that its measure is always in terms of a comparison being made between at a minimum two series or sets of occurrences. Time, physically measured, is always a ratio between so many „tics“ of this to so many „tocs“ of that.

    For a fascinating and definitive refutation of General and Special Relativity, see the website Newton Physics, an archive of the late Doctor Paul Marmet’s empirically informed theoretical work, and especially what he dismissively calls „The Book,“ his Einstein’s Theory of Relativity versus Classical Mechanics. Simply brilliant if completely neglected by mainstream physics. My only reservation about Marmet’s theorizing is that he has a tendency to reify constructs, a minor and forgivable sin that is, at any rate, rampant in the physical and material sciences, and especially in the field of cosmology.

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