Wednesday, September 13, 2017

672: The Biology of Consciousness

"How do brain processes cause consciousness?" is philosophically a tricky question. 
Many philosophers and even some scientists think that the relation cannot be causal, because a causal relation between brain and consciousness    
seems to them to imply some version of dualism of brain and consciousness, which they want to reject on other grounds.
We know what a brain is, but do we exactly know what consciousness is? Let’s give a common sense definition of the term:
"consciousness" refers to those states of sentience and awareness that typically begin when we awake from a dreamless sleep 
and continue until we go to sleep again, or fall into a coma or die or otherwise become "unconscious."
By this definition a system is either conscious or it isn't, but within the field of consciousness there are states of intensity ranging from drowsiness to full awareness. 
Consciousness so defined is an inner, first-person, qualitative phenomenon. Humans and higher animals are obviously conscious.
You should not confused consciousness with the special case of self-consciousness. Most conscious states, feeling a pain, for example, do not necessarily involve self-consciousness.
Here comes this special concept of a Self into play. Consciousness as such, however, does not necessarily imply self-consciousness or self-awareness.
Now let’s look at probably the most famous problem with consciousness.
In the seventeenth century Descartes made a sharp distinction between the physical reality described by science 
and the mental reality of the soul, which he considered to be outside the scope of scientific research. 
This dualism of conscious mind and unconscious matter was useful in the scientific research of the time, 
both because it helped to get the religious authorities off scientists' backs and because the physical world was mathematically treatable in a way that the mind did not seem to be.
But this places consciousness outside the realm of the physical world, although it is common knowledge nowadays , that the physical brain causes consciousness.
In my view we have to abandon dualism and start with the assumption that consciousness is an ordinary biological phenomenon comparable with growth or digestion.
However, if brain processes cause consciousness, then it seems to many people that there must be two different things
brain processes as causes and conscious states as effects, and this seems to imply dualism again.
In our official theories of causation we typically suppose that all causal relations must be between discrete events ordered sequentially in time. For example, throwing stones cause broken windows
Certainly, many cause-and-effect relations are like that, but by no means all. Look around you at the objects in your vicinity 
and think of the causal explanation of the fact that the table exerts pressure on the rug. This is explained by the force of gravity, but gravity is not an event
Or think of the solidity of the table. It is explained causally by the behavior of the molecules of which the table is composed. But the solidity of the table is not an extra event; it is just a feature of the table.

Such examples of non-event causation give us appropriate models for understanding the relation between my present state of consciousness and the underlying neurobiological processes that cause it. 
Lower-level processes in the brain cause my present state of consciousness, but that state is not a separate entity from my brain; rather it is just a feature of my brain at the present time.
So, basically the idea is: throw a bunch of molecules together and the resulting substance becomes the cause  of emerging features. That is something like, brain cells are put together and become conscious and even self-conscious.
Thank you for your attention …^_^

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
John Searle: The Mystery of Consciousness (1997)
Antonio Damasio: Self comes to Mind (2010) Bruin/F. Jongepier/ Maargt: IK, Filosofie van het Zelf (2017)

The Discussion

[13:18] herman Bergson: You may relax now :-)
[13:18] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): :)
[13:18] herman Bergson: BAsic idea is that brain and consciousness are not two seperate things
[13:18] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): one thing causes the other
[13:19] herman Bergson: consciousness is the result of the configuration of our braincells
[13:19] CB Axel: I noticed that both you, Herman, and Dr. Damasio speak of regaining consciousness after a dreamless sleep. Does that mean that when we are dreaming, that's considered conscious?
[13:19] herman Bergson: a special kind of..yes
[13:19] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): it is like a computer where the hardware is the brain and the consciousness is the currently running software at the moment
[13:20] CB Axel: I think my software needs an update.
[13:20] CB Axel: Maybe the hardware, too.
[13:20] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): right
[13:20] herman Bergson: We'll get to that later Bejiita, but this computer analogy is questionable
[13:20] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): brain cells are thrown together
[13:20] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): likes that part
[13:21] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): for example my computer is now "conscious" of second life but not of Unity for example cause while it is on the drive i have it not running on the cpu and in memory at the moment
[13:21] herman Bergson: We love to compare a brain with a computer......but it is a questionable analogy
[13:21] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): just like you can have stuff in the brain you are not concious of at the moment until you come to think of it
[13:21] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): remembering stuff
[13:22] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): they are indeed different but it is pretty close
[13:22] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): strange that braincells in a jar can never be concious
[13:22] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): although they are braincells
[13:22] herman Bergson: We'll discuss The Chinese Room argument of John Searle next time'll love it ^_^
[13:22] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): however the term electronic brain is not really a good name for a computer, this is what they were known as at the time of Eniac and other of the very first machines like this
[13:23] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): aa ok
[13:23] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i think they all need the body to work together beertje
[13:23] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes Beertje, but that is just a technical matter....
[13:23] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): computer means literarily calculator which is how a computer does all its work
[13:23] herman Bergson: We have discovered why H2O molecules become rigid stuff due to below zero temperatures
[13:23] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): al is math
[13:24] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): all
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): forget the computer bej
[13:24] herman Bergson: we can cause it....predict it, explain it, reproduce it...
[13:24] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed, everything have properties
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): we have been doing all this for centuries
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bck to the neanderthal
[13:25] herman Bergson: we do not know so much in detail about brain cells, but it is thinkable that one day we do....
[13:25] herman Bergson: and maybe then the cells in your jar will say Hello to you Beertje ^_^
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): amazing stuff
[13:25] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed
[13:25] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): maybe they will do that:)
[13:26] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): there are a lot we dont know yet but hopefully we will soon
[13:26] herman Bergson: The idea to treat consciousness as a biological feature of the brain is an idea of John Searle
[13:26] herman Bergson: We still have a long long way to go however...
[13:27] herman Bergson: our neurobiological knowledge is limited still
[13:27] CB Axel: So consciousness is a function of the brain the way excreting insulin is a function of the pancreas?
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): oh goodness
[13:27] herman Bergson: In a way, yes CB
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): interesting
[13:28] herman Bergson: That is a way science looks at it at the present
[13:28] herman Bergson: but there still are dualists
[13:29] herman Bergson: Among scientists and philosophers...
[13:29] herman Bergson: Eccles, Penrose, Chamler (if I spell that last name correctly)
[13:30] herman Bergson: But I find the biological approach most promising
[13:30] Athwale: Chalmer
[13:31] herman Bergson: Ahh thnx Athwale....Chalmer....
[13:31] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): why promising?
[13:31] herman Bergson: Because it opens the gates to testable hypotheses....
[13:32] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): real science
[13:32] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): ah¨
[13:32] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: like we can find out why molecules stop moving due to temperature, we may find out how the electricity of the braincells create consciousness
[13:33] herman Bergson: consciousness is just that our sensory machines are turned on...
[13:33] herman Bergson: when asleep they are turned off :-)
[13:34] CB Axel: Not always during sleep.
[13:34] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): That is interesting ... when mountain climbers talk about loosing abilities to think well when they are high up and cold
[13:34] herman Bergson: no...
[13:34] CB Axel: I often have dreams that are influenced by sounds around me.
[13:34] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): indeed it can depend
[13:35] CB Axel: That's right, Gemma. Brain cells need to have warmth to work well.
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes CB....somehow sounds can be registered…even under anaesthesia....or what do you call that condition
[13:35] CB Axel: And the right nutrients and pH.
[13:35] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): another strange thing that can be a bit scary if you dont know what it is is being awake and not being able to move, sleep paralysis i think it is called, it is some form of protective muscle shut down and basically the brain have not turned on the muscles yet at the moment you awake
[13:36] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): first time it feels really strange but it only lasts a very short time
[13:36] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): and not very common
[13:36] CB Axel: I've had that happen, Bejiita.
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i don’t see any scientist on top of mount Everest to study that fo ra while
[13:38] herman Bergson: Any questions or remarks left? :-)
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): thinking too hard
[13:38] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): I have to think about this subject
[13:38] herman Bergson: Then, next time we might discuss why the brain is NOT a computer ^_^
[13:38] CB Axel: I need to read the Damasio book I have.
[13:38] herman Bergson: If it were only to tease Bejiita ^_^
[13:38] CB Axel: LOL
[13:38] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): oh let us know cb
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): haha
[13:39] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate) GIGGLES!!
[13:39] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ...LOL...
[13:39] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): if you make it all the way
[13:39] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): :)
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): well a computer can not feel
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): but we can
[13:39] herman Bergson: Which one CB?
[13:39] CB Axel: I have to start sleeping better before I can tackle it.
[13:39] CB Axel: I can't concentrate well.
[13:39] herman Bergson: Self comes to Mind?
[13:39] CB Axel: Yes. That's the one.
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): me as well, been a LOT of stuff today, more then first planned
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): but all went well
[13:39] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): really tired now though
[13:40] CB Axel: See. I couldn't even concentrate on the title let alone the content. °͜°
[13:40] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:40] herman Bergson: Take your time CB, books are patient friends
[13:40] CB Axel: Yes, they are! °͜°
[13:40] CB Axel: And I have a ton of books I haven't read yet.
[13:41] CB Axel: And I hear of more and more I'd like to read.
[13:41] herman Bergson: They'll wait for you
[13:41] CB Axel: I think I'll go to one of our city parks and read there for awhile.
[13:41] herman Bergson: I spend more time on reading  myself these days.....
[13:42] CB Axel: That's one of my favorite things to do.
[13:42] herman Bergson: Books in stead of screens
[13:42] CB Axel: I read my books on a screen. My Kindle. °͜°
[13:42] herman Bergson: Kind of rediscovering the experience :-)
[13:42] CB Axel: I have such a short attention span that I like to be able to switch from book to book.
[13:43] CB Axel: If I carried around all the books I'm reading now, I'd injure myself. LOL
[13:43] herman Bergson: I am reading in at least 4 books at this time...:-)
[13:43] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i used to have two or three books going at a time
[13:43] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): hehe
[13:43] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): you can borrow my forklift cb
[13:43] herman Bergson: Damasio, Dennet and two Dutch authors
[13:43] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:43] CB Axel: LOL. Thank you, bejiita.
[13:44] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): i don't have much time to read with a toddler in the house:)
[13:44] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): speaking of that i need to take some time rearange the storage area at work tomorrow cause even its alm at moment the place is a mess and have no idea how to rearrange everything
[13:44] CB Axel: Read to the toddler. °͜°
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): true
[13:44] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): at least i have plenty of time to do it
[13:45] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): read anything to the toddler
[13:45] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): yes i do that:) Woezel and Pip
[13:45] herman Bergson: Very nice and exciting Beertje :-))
[13:45] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): smiles
[13:45] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako):
[13:46] herman Bergson: Let me thank you all again for your participation and see you nexr Thursday.....^_^
[13:46] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:46] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-)
[13:46] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): aaa cu then
[13:47] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): hope to make it on time Thursday
[13:47] CB Axel: Thank you, Herman. See you all on Thursday.
[13:47] Athwale: thank you Herman
[13:47] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bye for now
[13:47] Particle Physicist Bejiita (bejiita.imako): bye for now
[13:47] herman Bergson: I'll keep my fingers crossed Gemma :-)