KINDS OF CONTEMPORARY CONSCIOUSNESS RESEARCH
Historically people have been eager to understand how they “are,” who they “are,” in terms of awareness. Then came Freud with his ideas about the conscious versus the unconscious or subconscious. Then came the computer with the challenge that the computer might have a “consciousness” like humans. Where is the line? And if we must draw a line between ourselves and machines, where is the other line between ourselves and animals? Can a brain be separated from a body and still be conscious? These issues have made consciousness research both dynamic and surprising.
ORGANIC (FROM OUTSIDE INVESTIGATION)
It is confidently known that certain little bits of the brain have assigned tasks, though not exactly what they are or how they work or interact. A good reference is: http://www.brainwaves.com/brain_diagram.html
This technique rests on “hemodynamics,” the idea that brains use oxygen and increase blood flow to the parts of the brain that are operating. This can be captured by MRI images and since they are “dynamic” the images are more like video than still photos. http://www.fmri.org/fmri.htm is a little technical but seems reliable.
http://www.brainresearch2010.com/ is a report from a conference. This field is pressed by the anguish of non-functional or differently-abled people. So far no real answers have emerged, but many strategies for maximizing progress have developed. Whether it is chemical, neurological, a matter of development, genetic mutation, environmental debits or something else entirely is still not known.
ORGANIC: TRAUMATIC DAMAGE
Since closed skull injury is the “marker trauma” for the wars conducted with hidden explosive devices, which are the most recent US combats, we have many cases to explore. http://www.allabouttbi.com/closed-head-injury/ There also major questions about sports injuries, car crashes, strokes. People may seem quite “normal” but have major deficits in self-management or even maintaining consciousness. I am classifying tumors with trauma.
ORGANIC: CELL LEVEL
Some of the most esoteric study is about quantum “tunneling” or “processing tubules.” This is suddenly intensely interesting because it turned out that the stain used for studying cells was dissolving its inner structures, which led to the belief that there was nothing there. Also, now we have the equipment to work at the atomic level. The senses of smell and vision are being studied in a startling way.
ORGANIC: WHOLE BODY
It has become clear that the body “thinks” with every part, not just with nerves and brain. There are co-existing networks like the enteric net embedded in the walls of the gut, the limbic system, molecular flows that carry information, and sensors in crucial places.
ORGANIC: BRAIN WAVES
Electrochemical action in the brain creates wave patterns that have acquired names and accompany known moods and functions, like sleep. Disturbances can cause seizures, trances, out-of-body experience and so on.
FUNCTIONAL (FROM BEHAVIOR)
FUNCTIONAL: INTERNAL REFLECTION
Reflecting on one’s own thoughts and perceptions IS a behavior. What one can learn from it varies considerably, depending on the sensitivity and eloquence of the person. This in turn can be misunderstood or ignored by the listener.
Pain can be perceived even if it is not reported and even if there is no outer sign. Pain is a real phenomenon, which the brain can interpret different ways, denying, intensifying, transforming, claiming even in the absence of pain (ghost pain in missing limbs).
The most “pop” example would be hypnosis, but this is also the term assigned to any “different” or alienated consciousness. Multiple personalities are sometimes assigned here.
Any behavior that seems to other people to be irrational, unjustified, possibly too violent or non-reactive, can be assigned to “madness.” Actual “dementia” (de- mental) is usually organic in origin. A person can feel as though they’re going mad while other people deny that there’s any difference in them.
FUNCTIONAL: MOLECULAR INTERVENTION: DRUGS
Two kinds: mood-altering on purpose, sometimes for ceremonial purposes, usually with a long folk history. Pharmaceutical meds may be prescribed for almost any reason with mental and emotional effects either as the deliberate purpose or as a side-effect. Sometimes one is pressed to surrender comfort in order to stay alive.
The theories of flow are the clearest interface between individual consciousness and the uses of group consciousness. This list from Mihali Csikszentmihali is both suggestive and practical.
1. goals are clear
2. feedback is immediate
3. a balance between opportunity and capacity
4. concentration deepens
5. the present is what matters
6. control is no problem
7. the sense of time is altered
8. the loss of ego
FUNCTIONAL: BRAIN INTERPRETATION (MEMORY, CLOSURE, IDENTITY)
Time perception is one example of a demonstrable brain function that can’t be seen, but that is reported subjectively. Most of us have known time that dragged, time that flashed past -- those expansions and contractions. It appears that there are many small “programs” like this. One is closure: the tendency to invent an ending where one is expected. Another might be identity: one’s sense of who one is changing in response to environment, esp. social environment.
The material below from http://edge.org was very helpful in devising this “inventory in progress.” I haven’t worked through it yet. Each thinker is coming from a different discipline with different assumptions, but they are all useful in some way or other.
In July, Edge held its annual Master Class in Napa, California on the theme: "The Science of Human Nature". In the six week period that began September 12th, we are publishing the complete video, audio, and texts:
Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman on the marvels and the flaws of intuitive thinking;
Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak on the evolution of cooperation;
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker on the history of violence;
UC-Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides on the architecture of motivation;
UC-Santa Barbara neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga on neuroscience and the law;
and Princeton religious historian Elaine Pagels on The Book of Revelations.