Friday, September 8, 2017

671: The Mystery of Consciousness

Before we jump on the self, we first might ask the question, where our self comes from. What is it in us that experiences this self or generates it?
The answer seems quite obvious. It is our mind that does the trick, that generates the faculty to look at itself. 
And, of course, that mind or consciousness is generated by the brain. Seems all quite clear.
“ We find consciousness obvious, says the well known neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (2010), because it is so available,
so easy to use , so stylish in its appearing and disappearing and yet we face a mystery, when we think about it. What is consciousness made of? ”
The most important problem in the biological sciences is one that until quite recently many scientists did not regard consciousness as a suitable subject for scientific investigation at all. 
It is this, according to John Searle (1997): How exactly do neurobiological processes in the brain cause consciousness? 
The enormous variety of stimuli that affect us, for example, when we taste wine, look at the sky, smell a rose, listen to a concert,
trigger sequences of neurobiological processes that eventually cause unified, well-ordered, coherent, inner, subjective states of awareness or sentience. 
Now what exactly happens between the assault of the stimuli on our receptors and the experience of consciousness, 
and how exactly do the intermediate processes cause the conscious states?  
But this is not only about perceptual cases. Also feelings, worries, itches and experiences of ecstasy are caused by brain processes.
As far as we know the relevant processes take place at the microlevels of synapses, neurons, neuron columns, and cell assemblies. 
All of our conscious life is caused by these lower-level processes, but we have only the foggiest idea of how it all works.
But this is said to be caused by the brain only. That is a material object full of biochemistry. So, you might ask, 
why don't the relevant specialists get on with it and figure out how it works? Why should it be any harder than finding out the causes of cancer?
There are some difficulties here. By current estimate, the human brain has over 100 billion neurons
and each neuron has synaptic connections with other neurons ranging in number from a few hundred to many tens of thousands. 
All of this enormously complex structure is massed together in a space smaller than a soccer ball. 
Furthermore, it is hard to work on the micro-elements in the brain without damaging them or killing the organism.
These are, you could say, just practical problems, which can be solved in some future. I assume that this will be the case indeed.
fMRI scanners are very crude instruments, if you compare them with an electron microscope. Maybe whole new instruments have to be developed to look deep into the brain.
In addition to the practical difficulties, there are several philosophical and theoretical obstacles and confusions that make it hard to pose and answer the right questions. 
For example, the common-sense way in which I have just pose the question, "How do brain processes cause consciousness?" is already philosophically loaded.   
We’ll look into that next Tuesday….Thank you for your attention ^_^

The Discussion

[13:25] .:    
[13:26] Ciska Riverstone: thank you herman
[13:26] Ciska Riverstone: I feel the need to quote doug adams
[13:26] Ciska Riverstone: shall i?
[13:26] herman Bergson: plz do
[13:26] Ciska Riverstone: “If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.” ― Douglas Adams
[13:27] CB Axel nods
[13:27] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i guess that would be the case indeed
[13:27] Ciska Riverstone: that came to mind during your last part ...
[13:27] Ciska Riverstone: I strongly doubt that we will be able to really understand whats going on
[13:28] CB Axel: Also, it's hard to study our own brains using the brains we have.
[13:28] Ciska Riverstone: because when we take things apart - something else does happen with the material
[13:28] Ciska Riverstone: yes cb
[13:28] herman Bergson: That is an interesting remark Ciska...for there is no real argument to support that view
[13:29] Ciska Riverstone: no?
[13:29] Ciska Riverstone: for example
[13:29] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): so they have to study the brain material without taking it apart
[13:29] Ciska Riverstone: when you make brain scans
[13:29] herman Bergson: I would say no indeed :-))
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: well there is this example with the guys who are scanned while using a race simulator
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: their neurons fire but they do fire differently strong
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: when using it on different people
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: people who like racing
[13:30] Ciska Riverstone: have different response then people who do not
[13:31] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): ok
[13:31] herman Bergson: yes..I understand...
[13:31] CB Axel: Kind of like how musicians brains work differently than non-musicians.
[13:31] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i guess they get more excited
[13:31] Ciska Riverstone: so the component which is different is the experience: I dislike or like something of the input I get
[13:31] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): the ones liking it
[13:31] herman Bergson: But that is not the issue...
[13:31] Ciska Riverstone: well it is
[13:31] Ciska Riverstone: because the firing of the neurons depends on it
[13:31] herman Bergson: that is just based on the tools and insights we have today...
[13:32] Ciska Riverstone: well if we have different tools
[13:32] Ciska Riverstone: the neurons will still fire more or less
[13:32] Ciska Riverstone: that does not depend on the tools
[13:32] herman Bergson: we discover higgs
[13:32] Ciska Riverstone: well- so what?
[13:32] herman Bergson: in theory they were predicted...but we hadnt the tools to discover them
[13:33] herman Bergson: now we have....
[13:33] CB Axel: So you think that some day we will have tools that will help us find our selves?
[13:33] Ciska Riverstone: yes  - we can see small things but we cannot see experiences...
[13:33] Ciska Riverstone: thats my argument.
[13:33] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): aa
[13:33] herman Bergson: We didn’t know a thing about bacteria or viruses until we had the microscope
[13:33] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i guess
[13:34] herman Bergson: ahh....
[13:34] herman Bergson: That is a good point indeed Ciska....
[13:35] Ciska Riverstone: then .. the other thing I wonder is
[13:35] herman Bergson: Your argument is based on the dichotomy of what we use to cal "physical" and "mental"
[13:35] Ciska Riverstone: and maybe time?
[13:35] CB Axel: But if our experiences add up to how our neurons interact with one another, we may be able to watch that interaction.
[13:35] herman Bergson: you can see physical things....but mental things you can not see
[13:35] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): true
[13:36] Ciska Riverstone: yes cb - there are some basic explainations of how the neuronal bridgebuilding works...
[13:36] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): same basically as electricity in a wire you can not see even if you xray it and thats all it is, electrical impulses going through us
[13:36] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): the only way to see electricity is to create a spark
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes Bejiita....good example
[13:37] herman Bergson: but there is more....
[13:37] herman Bergson: maybe we have to revise our terminology....
[13:38] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): but you can on the other hand measure electricity with for ex a multimeter and the same goes for brain waves
[13:38] herman Bergson: the dichotomy mental/physical is not an ontological fact  but a theoretical o construct
[13:38] CB Axel: Hi, Gemma.
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): so I'm Sorry!
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): I sorry..
[13:38] Ciska Riverstone: hiya gemma
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): hi
[13:39] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): was sure i would be home on time but no
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): there is a game i have tried a few times called brainball where you put a helmet in and it can feel how relaed you are and the most relaxed person then makes the machine move a ball into the other more tense and focised persons goal
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): focused
[13:39] herman Bergson: I know it...
[13:39] CB Axel: Sounds like biofeedback, Bejiita.
[13:40] herman Bergson: Isn’t it based on alpha waves, Bejiita?
[13:40] herman Bergson: Was something like that CB
[13:40] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): have to be something like an ordinary EEG scanner i think
[13:40] herman Bergson: yes
[13:41] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): thats like a multimeter, you can measure but not physically see
[13:42] herman Bergson: As you see...not an easy subject to deal with...guess we are conscious of that :-))
[13:42] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed
[13:42] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i guess so
[13:42] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): yes
[13:43] Ciska Riverstone: hehehe
[13:43] herman Bergson: BUt dont worry....we still have time for new lectures...
[13:43] CB Axel: We are conscious of the fact that consciousness is a difficult subject to study.
[13:43] herman Bergson: Besides that...
[13:43] herman Bergson: to put you in the middle of the debate...
[13:44] herman Bergson: just start here...
[13:44] herman Bergson:
[13:44] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): ah a TED talk
[13:44] herman Bergson: Damasio himself :-)
[13:44] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): oki
[13:44] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bookmarked
[13:44] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): i like TEDs
[13:45] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): yes they are very interesting
[13:45] Ciska Riverstone: me too - just the right length for me ;)
[13:45] herman Bergson: Interesting analysis of the self
[13:45] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): ah¨
[13:45] herman Bergson: yes you should take the 18 minutes to listen to him :-)
[13:46] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): will do
[13:46] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): bookmarked it
[13:46] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): me too
[13:46] herman Bergson:'ve got your
[13:46] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:46] Ciska Riverstone: heheh
[13:46] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ok
[13:46] herman Bergson: Class dismissed..^_^
[13:46] CB Axel: I'm looking forward to watching that.
[13:46] Ciska Riverstone: thank you herman
[13:46] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): yes
[13:46] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): lo really fast
[13:46] herman Bergson: And thank you all again :-))
[13:46] CB Axel: Thank you, Herman.
[13:46] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:47] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): and cu next time
[13:47] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): Dankjewel Herman:)
[13:47] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): hope to be here Tuesday but not sure
[13:47] herman Bergson: Wonder where you came from Gemma ? :-))
[13:47] Ciska Riverstone: have a great day/night everyone
[13:47] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bye for now
[13:47] Ciska Riverstone: welterusten Beertje
[13:47] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): welterusten Ciska"))
[13:47] CB Axel: Good night, everyone. See you Tuesday.
[13:48] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): Have a goodnight :)

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