I documented my neuroscience knowledge in www.kinberg.net/wordpress/stellan/neuroscience/I use some of these facts in my comments and conclusions. After a long trip that started 2017, I am back to the issue consciousness.
What is consciousness? Consciousness is the second most difficult issue that I ever met. The most difficult has so far been the Quantum math language (Riemann math etc). You find this math in the main menu above under learning-math.
I looked at a great Youtube with Anil Seth who is Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience University of Sussex. His speech is available also at https://soundcloud.com/royal-institution/sets/ri-science-podcast. His lesson was difficult to follow but it was worth it.
I discovered then Dan Bennett, a philosopher that has access and studied the latest neuroscience, Something Descartes, Kant, Locke, and others never could. You find my notes from his lessons under Philosopher view of consciousness
I was not so satisfied with Dan Bennet’s seminar. So I continued my search and found a seminar with Tony Nader. Tony Nader defines Consciousness in a very detailed way.
He connects nicely the issue of Consciousness to the implications of scientific discoveries like the heliocentric worldview and the quantum particle discoveries. He uses his impressing knowledge in physics, philosophy (Descartes) religion, and physiology describing Consciousness and the problems and solutions we see and have with its research.
writing this page, helped me to To digest the information Anil Seth, Susan Greenfield, and Daniel Bennett gave. hope that my screenshots and notes will be useful for you too.
- Previous articles
- etymology and definitions
- Tony Nader defines consciousness forms
- Consciousness the unified field?
- John Hagelin, a string theorist consciousness
- Anil Seth about consciousness and neuronal activity
- Susan Greenfield seminar on recent cognitive
- neuroscience opens in a separate page
- chimpanzees and men
- Philosopher view of consciousness
- augmented consciousness
- Emotional short-circuits.
- Artificial intelligence
I wrote about consciousness, “Faith and “Science”, body, soul and spirit” and then about neurotheology and neuroscience. This is a list with links to the pages I have written so far.
- 2017/10/22/consciousness-multiverse and Nirvana
Etymology and definitions
Etymology of consciousness
Let us look at the etymology of the word consciousness. The abstract noun consciousness is formed with the adjective conscious (that is related to conscience) and the element -ness.
“conscious” is like “with knowing”)
So let us now abandon etymology and continue with…
the definition of conscience
Conscience, a personal sense of the moral content of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character with regard to a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. Conscience, usually informed by acculturation and instruction, is thus generally understood to give intuitively authoritative judgments regarding the moral quality of single actions.
As Susan Greenfield says “consciousness can not be formally defined as it can not be referred to a higher set (like love is an emotion)” But if you search for a definition you find online. Let me start with a selection of some available definitions of consciousness.
the definition of consciousness
- the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself
- the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact
“psychological condition defined by the English philosopher John Locke as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.” (Read more about the history and different views of consciousness in https://www.britannica.com/topic )
“Consciousness is everything you experience. It is the tune stuck in your head, the sweetness of chocolate mousse, the throbbing pain of a toothache, the fierce love for your child, and the bitter knowledge that eventually all feelings will end.” Read more at www.scientificamerican.com
National Library of Medicine
In the Journal of Medicine and life, I found this text:
Conscience and Consciousness: a definition” written by Vithoulkas and Moresany. They write in their abstract “Conscience and consciousness are part of a system of information that governs our experience and decision-making process.” (read more at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov )
Tony Nader about Consciousness and physiology
Tony Nader is a Lebanese neuro-scientist, researcher, university president, author and leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement. He has a medical degree in internal medicine, received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked as a clinical and research fellow at a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. ( Wiki )
I looked at this video with him. He defines consciousness and explains the different levels of consciousness in this video. I added screenshots and notes from his seminar, below
Despite Nader talk about this issue late in his seminar, I add to start with this:
There are in Science a hard problem and an easy problem. Bot Nader and Greenfield talk about it (read my neuroscience page. )
The hard problem for science
- the hard problem for Science:
how do I subjectively experience the redness of a flower?
How do I become conscious of what I am doing?
- the hard problem for Science:
Which are the grandmother cell that finally tells the red flower is a rose?
- How can you ever tell that someone has consciousness?
- I may be the only one who has consciousness and you are zombies. Consciousness is one of the most intimate aspects of our lives.
- Do animals and trees have consciousness?
The easy problem for science
however difficult it is, we will one day be able to grasp one aspect of consciousness.
The scientists want to solve this problem looking at the neural correlates of consciousness, thinking, etc, and brain injuries with different techniques, EEG, and others… With these techniques, we can say today what a patient is thinking about. Or we can see if a patient e.g. in a coma and vegetative states respond to an invite to think about something.
- the intimate relationship between consciousness and physiology
if something happens in your physiology consciousness is involved
If something happens in your consciousness, physiology is involved.
Information can be processed at different levels of consciousness. Not all that you learn is conscious.
Information can be stored at lower levels, like e.g how to drive a car.
We learn a lot of things subconsciously without being conscious
Information processing levels
consciousness can be in
- relative state
consciousness changes, it is object referral. it refers itself to some thoughts or activity or functioning
- absolute state
Is consciousness something or just a product of language?
These are aspects of consciousness:
This word is used in some countries instead of consciousness. But it has an ethical value.
consciousness is to be awake and conscious of something and the ability to evaluate ourselves and our environment. But
Consciousness and awareness are different things
- Consciousness is a state of being a conscious individual.
- Awareness is the ability to be aware of something.
The brain and its Physiology can be aware of something (like light signals). The brain can react but the individual may not be conscious about it.
I have had the feeling on the street that someone is looking at me. My physiology reacted probably because my eyes saw someone’s eyes e.g. in a window while I was not aware about it. Only looking around I could see that in fact, someone was looking at me from a window. Can it have been that my amygdala signaled my cortex about it?
different levels or quality of Consciousness
- Locked-in state
You are conscious but in a paralyzed body
- Minimal conscious states
you go through states of dreaming – waking -sleeping while being minimally responsive. It is a sort of vegetative state.
No dreaming – wake -sleeping cycles
- vegetative state
can have some consciousness but
the brain is sleeping but the body is walking with violence expressions
consciousness about only its own consciousness. Shows different physiology, physiology goes in deep rest, a rest bigger that is deeper than in deep sleep while the individual is keeping a high awareness.
A comment of mine: I think that I have experienced a Locked-in State having Sleep_paralysis experience a few times. My body was paralyzed but I heared voices in my apartment. I tried to turn around to see who was there but couldn’t. It was a scarying experience the first time. Then i recognized it the second time.
I have also experienced hypnosis where my friend who hypnotized me took over my will controlling my hand over the table. I came out of the hypnosis when it started raining outside and raindrops hit the windows.
We are the observer that may have as object of our observation, the consciousness. Consciousness is also the process of observation.
Types of consciousness
is the sense of self you have an identity
Tells you or others about your intentions, wishes, etc.
The nervous system
Nader shares in his seminar a view of the nervous system important for understanding how we get awake and conscious about our world. I share his slides in my neuroscience page.
Like the material world is described by a unified field of all the laws of Nature starting from a singularity
so the assumption is that consciousness
- is both singularity (one reality) and a plurality
- at the same time it is unity and diversity and
- manifest and nonmanifest
We are deceived by our senses.
A string theorist about Consciousness
John Hagelin is a string theorist. “During his time at CERN, SLAC and MUM, Hagelin worked on supersymmetric extensions of the standard model and grand unification theories. His work on the flipped SU(5) heterotic superstring theory is considered one of the more successful unified field theories, or “theories of everything”, and was highlighted in 1991 in a cover story in Discover magazine.” ( Wiki )
shares a rather curious view of Consciousness that i personally do not understand so well. But as Nader said (see video above) there is a state of consciousness where you observe your own consciousness. You reach it with meditation and for John Hagelin with TM.
In 1987 and 1989 JohnHagelin, graduated in physics published two papers in the Maharishi University of Management’s Journal of Modern Science and Vedic Science in which he claimed that superstring theory’s “unified field” was identical to what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called the “unified field of consciousness”. (Read more in Wiki )
Here is the article called “Is Consciousness the Unified Field? A Field Theorist’s Perspective” in www.miu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/07/hagelin.pdf
Anil Seth about consciousness
Anil Seth isAnil K Seth is a professor in cognitive and computational neuroscience at the Sussex University.
Here are few screenshots of his video with some comments of mine. He refers to a previous lecture about the “beast machine” See www.youtube.com/watch?v=1syDjtlMGbo )
Anil made me remember when I was operated here on Lipari a few years ago. I wake up maybe 30 minutes later but it was like only a second passed. My conscious was deactivated. No dreams, just nothing.
We are the beast machines.
Anil Seth says: “Our conscious sense of self arises because of and not despite of the fact that we too (ed. like animals) are beast machines.”
1998 Sutherland, Sussex University, wroteThings have however changed a lot since 1998. Crick and Koch wrote 1990 this article:
- From studies in physiology, we know that “Life is a constellation of partially separable processes, metabolism, homeostasis, reproduction” In the same way we can maybe learn what consciousness is by breaking down the study to three parts (taken from different parts of the lecture:
- levels: the different aspects and dimensions of consciousness levels, e.g. the difference between being in dreamless sleep, coma, under general anesthesia, or being awake. conscious experiences are highly informative and integrated. Depends on a complex balance of differentiation and integration
- contents: what you are conscious about, e.g. sights, emotions, feelings, believes. We are conscious of something. These are the brain’s best “guesses” of the causes of its sensory inputs.
- self: the experience of being you. There are many aspects of self (min 42):
- bodily self, identifying with and owning a particular body
- perspectival self, perceiving the world from a specific perspective
- volitional self, a concept of will the perspective of making thing happen (at min 42.50)
- narrative self
- social self
- there are different levels of consciousness and wakefullness, like it is illustrated in this image:
Understanding the underlying mechanisms
Anil Seth said about this:
- the number of neurons does not matter. there are 4 times more neurons in our cerebellum than in our cortex and you do not lose consciousness with damages in cerebellum
- thalamus and underlying brain regions are more like on-off switches.
- The brain is very active during sleep
- consciousness depends on how to different regions and talk to each other”.
transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and EEG to see how brain regions talk with each other in specific ways
Massimini et al in Italy used 2005 transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS and listened to echoes in the brain with electroencephalography EEG. he found that, when we are awake, echoes bounce around all over the cortex. Different regions of the cortex talk with each other.
This happens also with TMS during sleep but during sleep, the echoes stay more localized to the point of stimulation and the echoes do not last very long.
The complexity of these echoes can be quantified as illustrated in the graph below with the Perturbation complexity index (PCI) as one scale.
There is a huge amount of information in all kind of conscious experiences
the brain – a prediction machine
- Herman Helmholtz, a German physicist physiologist proposed the idea that the brain is a kind of prediction machine.
- What we see and feel is the brain’s best guess about the causes of sensory inputs.
- The brain is locked into the skull and has indirect access to the external existing objects. All it receives are ambiguous and noisy sensory signals.
- Examples of this is shown from minute 24.
This reminds me about an experiment where you remove vowels from a text (disemvoweling a text) Your brain is still able to predict and read texts like reading this “Th qck brwn fx jmps vr th lzy dg”
We have different kind of prediction (at min 44:44)
- proprioceptive predictions based on proprioceptive signals that inform the brain about the body’s configuration and position in space
- interoceptive predictions from signals that originate from within the body,
I wonder if this could be the limbic system, that warns about a danger
- exteroceptive predictions
The body is always making inferences about what is part of the body and what is not.
Top-down, inside out connections
To down, connections are important for perception.
Top-down connections convey predictions from high levels to lower levels back out to the sensory surfaces like in this image:
“normal perception is a fantasy that is constrained by reality.”
The historian of art F.H. Gombrich said:
this has much in commons with neuroscience, that perception is largely an act of imagination and creation. Perception is hypothesis testing. (min 52:29)
Visual and tactile signals to convince your brain that a fake hand is part of your body
Anil shows a fantastic experiment where a volunteer think that a fake hand is his own hand. This has to be seen in ANil Seth’s youtube. (min 47:52)
This is the second youtube that talks about neuroscientific studies of consciousness. It is a brainstorm experience to follow her so I had to look at this lecture twice. I found her lecture very interesting,
She starts with the first assumption:
1 that consciousness can not be formally defined as it can not be referred to a higher set (like love is an emotion).
Nor can we define its functional property as consciousness is “when you do what you are”.
The second assumption is
2. The hard problem is the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness
“is an addon luxury on normal consciousness” and meta representation that children get after one and 1½ years.
a rat never looks at the windows and says “Ia am a rat” but they could be conscious.
where you are conscious but you are not conscious of a particular thing even though it may inform that current state
3. Consciousness is created by, for and for the brain.
4. Any scientific explanation must include the quintessential feature of consciousness: subjectivity.
Susan said: There is no singular center for consciousness
I moved her cortex slice image to my neuroscience page at www.kinberg.net/wordpress/stellan/neuroscience/#brainbasics
We think that an adult can be more or less conscious and that an adult normally is more conscious than a child and a child is more conscious than a fetus.
We also think that a human is more conscious than a chimp that is more conscious than a dog that is more conscious than a rat etc.
Consciousness is like a dimmer switch
Neuroscience is searching for a process where Consciousness is a variable.
They think that large scale groups of neurons (>10 million) (assembly of neurons) that are not defined by anatomical brain regions/systems could be a candidate for such a process.
They have studied how stimuli engage in different assemblies. She compares this with a stone (stimuli) thrown in the water and the number of waves that are produced (the assembly activated)
The assemblies engaged after stimuli depends on several factors: neurotransmitters and other activities going on (like distractions or dreams that may not allow a clock alarm to wake you up.)
These are the main neurotransmitters in the brain. They go everywhere in the brain but acetylcholine seems to work as a modulator. As a modulator, it makes a cell more or less sensitive to a response opening or closing K+ channels according to this picture:
- 8minNeuroepinephrine (upper left)
- Serotonin, Dopamine
Pain is correlated with the size of Neuron assembly (56:32)
Modulators fluctuate on diurnal bases., so we have diurnal pain thresholds. (min 56:24)
Less is known how they work.
possible (min: 59:29 )
Here are the possible relations between neuronal activity and physiology
(min: 59:37 )
So meditation could have a very distracting/reducing effect on pain?
The power of the mind
I think this video is interesting.
The images in this section are taken from the RI video with Eleanore Maguire RI seminar 2014 )
(Source: Eleanore MAguire RI seminar 2014 )
Behind the Amygdala and above the parahippocampal gyrus. The hippocampus was damaged in Henry Molaison when operated 1957 to help him get rid of Epilepsia.
Hippocampus memory function is confirmed by functional studies with mri (FMRI). “Place cells” in the hippocampus embody memories for particular place memories.
Hippocampus is engaged in these functions:
Said during an interview at the end of the seminar:
- People with hippocampus damages can not visualize stories in books.
The hippocampus talks to the frontal cortex in autobiographical memories but the frontal cortex is more active in creating a sense of self.
Issue 2 -biocentrism
I wrote about biocentrism January 2018 in www.kinberg.net/wordpress/stellan/2018/01/21/biocentrism-shoot-yourself/
I think that Biocentrism and what it says is interesting for the issue of consciousness.
The seven principles of biocentrism are:
- The first principle of biocentrism is based on the premise that what we observe is dependent on the observer, and says that what we perceive as reality is “a process that involves our consciousness.”
- The second and third principles state that “our external and internal perceptions are intertwined”
- and that the behavior of particles “is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer,” respectively.
- The fourth principle suggests that consciousness must exist and that without it “matter dwells in an undetermined state of probability
- The fifth principle points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life.
- Finally, the sixth and seventh principles state that space
- and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding.
Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.”
Biocentrism does not answer what consciousness is but emphasizes the limits of our consciousness.
- We know that about 99.9% of all material, in reality, is not material but empty space.
- With the help of Einstein, we also know that space is curved by gravitation.
- and that light from our sun distant stars takes time, 8 min up to billions of years to reach our eyes.
Our brain or “predicting machine” as Helmholtz called it, is not able to see this emptiness as our eyes are not able to see it with the retina sensitivity we have.
We are neither able to see the slight curvature of space on Earth so what we believe is a straight line is in reality curved.
Because of the time, it takes for light to reach earth from distant stars and galaxies, these stars like our sun are not where they seem to be.
But to conclude that the things we see are an illusion or image created by our brain is to go too far. That’s the reason I write in my biocentrism page “Do not shoot yourself”.
In other words “when someone throws stones on you, do not think that stones don’t exist as it is an image of your brain.
the consciousness of chimps
philosopher view of consciousness
A philosopher who thought about consciousness is René Descartes. He wrote in his Cartesian ontology about:
- Res Extensa (“extended and unthinking thing”) is one of the two substances described by (often referred to as “radical dualism”), alongside res cogitans “a thinking and unextended thing”
- Res cogitans is also referred to as the soul “
He thought that: “Res Extensa and res cogitans are mutually exclusive and this makes it possible to conceptualize the complete intellectual independence from the body. ( Source: Wiki )
Translating Descartes “Cogito, ergo sum” with modern neurology conclusions we could say “I predict myself, therefore I am”
Daniel Bennett gives a philosophical view that integrates modern neuroscience. in his youtube lecture “What is consciousness?” he said a definition that I liked
“Consciousness is the brain’s interface for itself (ed. not for us). It’s the simplification that is most useful for the control of the body. My consciousness is … your user interface to my mind. If you want to know my mind, ask me. I can talk to you about it, what sensation I have. It is a fractional edited summary of every human going on in my brain.”
The images we see are sent from retina flipped upside- down.As I remember from physiology University courses about the retina, the retina sends also information about lines and movement of these, as photoreceptor cells in the retina are interconnected in different cell lines.A preprocessing of visual information is made in the retina.
consciousness is real magic
Daniel has read “Net of magic” written by an Indian magician and philosopher Lee Siegel he uses to explain the magic of Conscience he means
is out of and beyond the limit of scientific study.
Lee Siegel said:
“Real magic in other words, refers to the magic that’s not real,
while the magic that is real that can actually be done is not real magic.“
Daniel Bennet says then “the same thing is true for consciousness”
Real consciousness is impossible to explain.
Consciousness defies explanation because consciousness is real magic.
The American flag illusion
Dan asks to stare at the cross in the flag. When the flag disappears red stripes appear.
As I remember from courses about the eye retina, it is the retina that creates these red stripe signals. The green light photoreceptors become inactivated a few seconds after having been stimulated. The red photoreceptors, having not been stimulated, continue to send signals, creating the image of red stripes. Maybe I have misinterpreted the lesson I attended or Dan does not know about the retina preprocessing work.
He goes into a much more complicated explanation.
How to address and circumvent this problem
Maximal bland computationalism and diffusive computation
the brain is a computational system consisting of trillions of registers in a 3d parallel array, registers where you can store a value, a magnitude of something. In this image, the green dots represent trillions of registers in our brains.
The values in each register can changes as a function of another register if connected with axons. The registers can include:
- subcellular activity
- neuro modular activity
The brain is a control system
You see what you expect to see.
If a brain gets a suggestion of something in a picture, the brain forms a set of expectations by seemingly painting a picture for itself to look at. How the brain does that is not understood. An example of this is the illusion of a cube in this picture. You can see the cube in four ways (ed. As I see it),
- from the top,
- from under,
- through black holes,
- with black circles behind. (min 34:50)
One of these phenomena/views is called modal completion
Get rid of the Cartesian theater
Consciousness is just machinery like in a factory where nobody is home.
“The clothes have no emperor” (As Voorhees describes Bennetts theory, 2000). To have a theory of consciousness you must get rid of the emperor. Bennetts’s theory is counterintuitive.
The tuned deck made by Ralph Hull explained
The trick lies in the “the”
Daniel Bennetts conclusion that I have difficulties to understand is
“the magic of consciousness, like stage magic, defies explanation only so long we take it at face value. Once we appreciate all the non-mysterious ways in which the brain can create benign user illusions “we can begin to imagine how the brain creates consciousness.”
I wonder if AI research will help us. They could maybe develop a robot that has the same problem as we have, understanding their own consciousness and code.
Can a robot ever be able to understand its programmer’s code and algorithms?
What importance has quantum physics to make this happen? This question will maybe answer my question “Has our consciousness something to do with Quantum physics phenomena.
Daniela Lucangeli holds a degree in Philosophy from Padua University and a Ph.D. in Developmental Sciences from Leiden University. She is a tenured professor at the Education, Psychology and Medicine department of Padua University.
Daniela Lucangeli talks about this issue in TedXMilano
I listened to psychologist Tart, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California and his colleague about Gurdjieff’s theory about how to become more conscious. Tart says among others:
“Gurdjieff shared a method on how to become more aware or awake.
The essence of the method is that ordinarily our attention gets totally absorbed in whatever we are perceiving. So if I were listening or talking to you, I would be totally absorbed by what you are saying. But Gurdjieff said that you have to split your attention so you also pay attention back to how you are reacting and what you are doing, as well as taking in from outside.”
If you have been with a therapist you may for sure have been asked “What are you feeling now?”
Know more by listening to this youtube:
- what is going on around me and
- I can tell me about my own feelings,
- what I am thinking, and believing.
that happens when I am conscious about my self and my surrounding. I have an inner voice and inner view. I use my inner view or visual memory when I am seeking a visual model of something or I am trying to draw something.