Searching for Consciousness in our Evolutionary History

September 20th, 2016

Damasio proposes that we should search for an antecedent for consciousness in our evolutionary past. How did consciousness come into being? For Damasio, consciousness cannot exist without that something that is always present in the mind, that something that observes and is a witness to the proceeding of the mind. It is that which Eliot refers to as “hint half guessed.” We call that something extra, our self or “I.”

Tracing roots of consciousness in our evolutionary history requires Damasio to make certain assumptions. One, is that as our central nervous system progressively developed more complex neural pathways, it gave rise to mental images; Damasio reduces certain brain activity to mental images. Damasio suggests that for millions of years, different organisms were able to possess something equivalent to mind in their brain. But once we developed a self, a protagonist that could notice the events, did consciousness begin.

So to answer the question of how did organism develop consciousness, we have to first answer how did self come into being? Central to the construction of the conscious mind is the body, and more specifically the brain stem region. The brain stem is that part of the body that generates protoself that is foundation for the core self. This protoself generates neural patterns in the brain stem which give rise to primordial feelings. These primordial feelings allow for the development of more sophisticated core self.

Even though Damasio states that he is not reducing mind to brain, I just can’t seem to find any difference between him and Messenger. What does it matter if the core self or the autobiographical self is  developed in several regions of the brain working in concert to create the self? It seems to me as if Damsaio believes that just because we can’t pinpoint one single region of the brain as the originator of the self, we are somehow not reducing the mind to the brain. Damasio states that “no single mechanism explains consciousness in the brain, no single device, no single region… by one musician or even a few” (Damasio, 25). Still I feel that the framework upon which he builds his hypothesis is rather reductive. It just doesn’t account for qualia or allows room for other subjective experiences.

Your Brain is the Universe

September 6th, 2016

Both of Emily Dickinson’s poem seem to suggest that the brain contains the mind, the world that we see and everything in between. The title of the poem “I felt a Funeral in my Brain” implies that the funeral which the speaker is attending is actually a product of what is going on in the speakers’ brain. In the next stanza there is a leap from the brain to the mind. The procession of the funeral –  the beating of the drum, people moving to and fro – is now effecting the mind. And in the next stanza, the speaker dives even deeper, and now we enter another corridor of the mind, which takes us to the soul. So if we were to imagine this in a diagram it would look something like this:

 

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.56.47 PM

 

 

 

 

The brain encompasses both the mind and the soul. The same concept of the brain as being the source of all outward material projection is shown in her poem “The Brain is Wider Than the Sky.” The brain is the place that is vast enough to contain the sky and deep enough as the deepest sea. Emily Dickinson goes as far as to say that the brain is God. And somehow this reminds me of the Buddhist notion of the brain, which is that you are the universe.

In “Brain Implant # 3: Patterns” the epigraph asserts that cognitive function is determined by the firing of neurons in the brain. The poem, however, goes against this idea and shows how there is a complex interplay between thoughts and neuronal firings. And actually it may be the case that our thoughts determine how neurons transmit messages. An excerpt from Wikipedia is added to the poem that suggests that the intrusive thoughts are what produces the emotions like fear, uneasiness and apprehension.

In her poem Professor Hahn quotes Fuller who says, “each individual has a pattern integrity.” What does fuller mean by “pattern integrity?” A pattern can only exist when you have two or more units. An individual can only be understood in relational terms, and how that individual fits in relation to others.

 

A letter from Bats to Humans

September 2nd, 2016

Dear Sir,

This letter is a plea for a little bit of freedom.

For centuries we have been abused by your tyrannical existence. For centuries we have been shunned to caves, our homelands completely destroyed by your nightmarish inventions like pesticides. And now your are attempting to invade our brains. We will raise our fangs for this intrusion.

Allow me to dispel some misnomer that you have come up with over the years. But firstly let me begin by saying that we are of one family. We are both mammals. With this commonality between us, I will be honest with you and give you a slice of our history. In sixteenth century that accursed writer, William Shakespeare, whom you laud till this day, turned us into witch food. He made up this story of Macbeth, and in it the three witches use us as ingredients for their evil curses. Not only do witches don’t exist, but this narrative got so ingrained in the psyche of the humans that till this day some men hunts us down for the sole reason that they don’t want us to be used for magic. How considerate of them to think of our lives, but we can handle ourselves on our own.

Then comes the next century, and our ancestors didn’t fare any better. This time around the farmers had picked up their forks against us. We were eating pests and insects that were on the plants. Some farmer must have seen a bat, and blamed his low yield of crops on the poor soul. So we were driven out and our source of food was taken away from us. Now science comes along and claim that bats are necessary and biological exterminators for pest. Thanks science, but once again a little too late.

Here comes 21st century, and a new phenomenon has been put on our shoulders. Some unknown scientist, and I hope he remains unknown, dispersed this notion that we are prime carriers of ebola virus. And there you go, we are once again established stamped with the face of terror.

But even then we didn’t say anything. But now science has entered our brains. We can’t even think for ourselves. We see just the way as anyone else. Moon is moon is moon and sun is sun is sun. Screech is screech is screech. And owl is owl is owl. Quite simple. The noise that we make when we fly is not because we can’t see, but because, and I will admit that, we are terrible at flying. Evolution didn’t do us any favors there. So the screeches are always to the effect “get the fuck out of my way Jonny.”  We don’t believe in individuality, in case any of the sociologist inquire about it. And we certainly don’t believe in consciousness or self for that matter.

So dear Ban Ki-moon tell your people to stay the fuck out of our brains.

Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Spokeperson for the Bats

 

P.S- Please don’t kill the messenger.

 

 

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