Home | Search Serendip
Serendip
Topics in NBS Forum

Topics in NBS Forum


What is Consciousness?

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

Consciousness
Name: Rebecca Ro
Date: //2001-09-16 14:28:57 :
Link to this Comment: 165

Our conception of consciousness is related to how we think about consciousness. ‘Conscious’ mean to come together with knowing. Is self- cognition really the main point of consciousness? When I think about consciousness I think about awareness, knowledge, and wakefulness. When we are awake, we are responsive to sensory input and therefore conscious. However, there are aspects of our concepts and other representational structures to which we have no conscious access to. Aren’t there separate mental states and conscious states? In my philosophy class we learned that consciousness can be knowledge, introspection and phenomenal experience. We also discussed different philosophers’ viewpoint on the complex state of consciousness. Philosophers have analyzed the relationship between consciousness, self, and self-consciousness.
I think we can try to explore consciousness scientifically. Hasn’t neurophysiological and neuroimaging research shown our activities being linked to specific brain activities in prefrontal cortex? By studying disorders of the self we would be able to learn more about consciousness and expand our knowledge of the mind. We can also look at cognitive models and executive systems in understanding the phenomena of consciousness itself.


Consciousness
Name: Huma Q. Ra
Date: //2001-09-16 20:25:51 :
Link to this Comment: 168

The idea of consciousness has befuddled the scientific community for centuries. In fact, the answers have been so elusive that the problem of consciousness has long been left to philosophers. It seems as though the scientific community is finally ready to try to tackle the consciousness problem. Many scientists believe behavior is a manifestation of what is occurring in one?s brain or more simply put that brain equals behavior. Therefore consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

For me, consciousness is generally a complex and confusing idea. However, some thoughts that I associate it with are awareness of self and of others. It also includes thinking, learning, and perception. I believe that there are different levels of consciousness that exist within a definite hierarchy or scale of consciousness. For example, children differ from adults in consciousness and people in general differ from one another. Furthermore, since these different levels exist, consciousness must be measurable.

Within the scientific realm, the study of consciousness must be divided up. Consciousness is a large-encompassing idea and must be studied by more than one type of scientist. Recent studies on consciousness require the input of several disciplines: philosophy for conceptual foundations such as free will; neuroscience for neural correlates of consciousness; cognitive psychology for the study of implicit processes, memory and language; and physical and biological sciences for it?s relationship to space, time, evolution, and medicine.

I believe that it is possible to determine the brain processes of consciousness and to find it?s neural correlates. This would be most effectively done by studying failures in consciousness. For example, the study of schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorders could tell us about the mechanism of human self-consciousness. Furthermore, developments in PET, MRI and other brain-scanning technology enable scientists
to pinpoint the neural correlates of conscious experience. One example of this type of work is the recent research which found that engaging in prayer stimulates unique regions of the brain that are not utilized during activities that make up prayer (such as reading, thinking, reciting, or remembering).

Advances in technology may soon resolve the conundrum of consciousness. No longer will consciousness be an unanswerable problem to be dealt with by philosophers, but instead will help us to demystify the mind.


"what consciousness means to me"
Name: jimmy stei
Date: //2001-09-17 10:27:30 :
Link to this Comment: 179

To be conscious means to be aware and awake. You have to be aware of yourself. You have to understand that you exist in the world. I have heard that when a deer walks by a dead deer on the side of the road it does not understand that it too will die someday. I believe that a conscious being will understand this and be sad upon seeing its buddy dead on the ground. You also have to be aware of the environment you are in. I don't think this includes just reacting to stimuli in the environment; there is something more to consciousness than just instinctive actions responding to environmental cues. Perhaps this something more is formal operational thinking... but that would mean that young children are not conscious and i do not think i want to assert that... I think the difference lies somewhere in reasoning as opposed to instincts. There is a component of being a rational being in order to be conscious I suppose. Moreover, you must understand that your actions in this environment are going to affect different things in different ways. This relationship is understood when you are conscious at least to some degree.

This could be studied scientifically provided a more clear, precise, straightfoward definition was delivered. The definition as I have given it is too vague to be looked at efficiently or productively. However, if we understand consciousness as a product of the brain we can study it by looking at neural activity. We have plenty of technology to examine specific areas of the brain to look at many different questions. We can also look at consciousness from a development point of view. For instance, are adults who understand the cause and effect relationship between their actions and the their envioronment more conscious than children who lack a mature understanding of this relationship? Another good method for looking at cdonsciousness is to study disordered people who lack all (or some?) consciousness. Of course a specific definition is necessary in such a study because we must know what they must lack in order to determine that they lack consciousness. We could learn about consciousness by examining the differences in their behavior with the behavior of conscious people. There are many ways to look at consciousness and i think it just depends what you want to know about consciousness when you are deciding which methods to use.


many 'microconsciousnesses?'
Name: Liz Olson
Date: //2001-09-17 22:38:52 :
Link to this Comment: 194

As many people seem to have already suggested in this forum, consciousness is a huge topic that might be better studied by breaking it down into much smaller areas of interest. In a class that I took last semester, we discussed a study (Moutoussis and Zeki 1997) that I think is very interesting and relevant to this topic. In their experiment, human subjects were presented with visual fields of dots that varied along two dimensions: color and direction of movement. At any one time, all of the dots in the field were one color (either green or red) and were moving together in one direction (either up or down). The phase of the color change was manipulated relative to the motion change; the changes could occur simultaneously or one could occur in advance of the other. The subjects had to press a button to indicate which pairings they perceived; for example, which direction the dots were moving when they were green, or which color the dots were when they were moving up. The results of this experiment were surprising: the change in color and motion appeared synchronous when the motion change occured 80 ms before the color change. This suggests that the brain 'binds together attributes that are perceived simultaneously, rather than attributes that occur simultaneously in real time' (Moutoussis and Zeki 1997). Zeki and Bartels (1998) used this data to argue that the brain consists not of one unified consciousness, but of a series of independent microconsciousnesses responsible for the processing of different features of a stimulus. These microconsciounesses apparently operate according to different temporal patterns and there is no later compensation for this.
I found this to be a very intriguing idea. I think that this is generally referred to as the 'binding problem:' how does information processed by different parts of the brain get put together to form our representation of the world, our 'consciousness?' What this research suggests to me is that it is possible that our different 'microconsciousnesses' may operate relatively independently and that we might not have one unified 'consciousness' after all. Interesting to think about, anyway...
(Some information from this posting was taken from a paper ('How can we investigate the neural basis of conscious experience?') that I wrote for a class in Spring 2001).


Ah....
Name: Nirupama K
Date: //2001-09-17 23:14:50 :
Link to this Comment: 197


I always seem to be puzzling over questions about the nature of consciousness. Personally, I still do not think that I have come close to grasping the answer. I do know that self-awareness is a big part of consciousness. The ability of an individual to say, I think therefore I am, to himself indicates this aspect of consciousness--but only to himself. How, then, can we know if judge if someone else is conscious? Couldn't they part of the Matrix? Who knows...things like free will may not exist at all if our universe is strictly determined. May-be not. There are some basic clues that seem to work: spontaneous action, self recognition and awareness, reaction and sensitivity to stimuli. In a physical sense consciousness is hard to define.


How do the vast neural networks in our cortex produce rational thought? They clearly have a method of communication, memory and coding for sensory information. I think that the nature of these connections can be effectively examined to provide great clues to consciousness.


Exploring computer models of artificial intelligence may help provide clues and definitions for consciousness. From a purely biological standpoint, an understanding of simpler organisms neural connections help to understand human consciousness and to explore the boundaries of consciousness. Also, brain imaging provides direct clues about the human brain's activity centers, and pathways. I'm sure there is much more out there and this is off-base, but I gave it my best shot (though it was very much off the top of my head).


my Jung reflex
Name: in/grid
Date: //2001-09-17 23:17:38 :
Link to this Comment: 198

I was going to go through some resources I am familiar with in order to become more articulate as to what I have already decided what 'consciousness' is. At first I was going to go the Jungian route, if only because that's a way I'm relatively familiar with, but I wanted to look up some of his vocabulary. I stumbled upon this neat link that showed me a couple different routes to my definition: http://bubl.ac.uk/link/c/consciousness.htm . However, then I realized that since it was stressed that I should write this before reading the article, that maybe the colloquial was what we were looking for. The way I talk about consciousness, not about the way other people help me explain myself. So here we go.

Consciousness most certainly has to deal with being 'aware'. I wouldn't say 'awake' has anything to do with it, if only because a dog is awake, but not necessarily 'conscious' about things like the way we are. I think that 'consciousness' comes from the neocortex. It has to do with being able to categorize ideas (names, names of objects, verbs, adjectives, nouns-- AKA titles and groups that define as well as combine ideas together on a level other than proximity. (ie, combine by use, implication, thought-linkd phenomenon's)). Consciousness to me implies the thinking being. However, I suppose it depends on when and where you are using the term. Because the 'unconscious' the way the Jungians term it, may be able to do these categorizing and applying techniques. But just that the 'consciousness' doesn't know about it. So I suppose this would add another level, that the consciousness must be aware it is doing what it is doing. I think that's as specific and as general as I'm willing to be right now.

Physiologically speaking, there must be activity in the portion of the brain that allows for these categorizing techniques in order for these activities to occur. And when the brain works in this way, then the person is said to be conscious. However, if we take this to mean active and fluctuating brain waves, then is dreaming consciousness? Some people would say yes. What if we're conscious there but just don't remember. I'm not sure if I'm prepared to go into that just yet. But I think this is as far and as safe as I feel to go into this topic. Now to read the article.


Consciousness
Name: Mary
Date: //2001-09-17 23:27:28 :
Link to this Comment: 199

I think that consciousness is the state of being aware (of people, places, things, events, etc.) Consciousness can be described as thought or contemplation about what one has observed. It involves not only knowing what is occurring around you, but also interpreting those occurrences (e.g. not just seeing a red ball, but perceiving it as a red ball and not a blue basket or some other thing). Therefore, in order to be conscious of what is happening, one must use their senses to take in information and then use their mind to interpret the meaning of the information. The mind is an essential part of consciousness, for without it one would not be able to interpret what one’s senses observed. This leads to the inevitable questions of what is the mind, and are the mind and consciousness one and the same? I think that they are not identical, because one can have elements stored in their mind that are not necessarily present on a conscious level.
Consciousness can be productively explored scientifically, but in order to do so one must give it an operational definition. In other words, the researchers studying consciousness need to agree upon what consciousness is and how they can measure it prior to running their experiments. One way to study consciousness is to ask people what they are aware of while they are in some experimental or naturalistic condition. Researchers could ask their participants questions during the actual experiment or they could ask them at the conclusion of the experiment. However, regardless of which of these methods is employed, asking people to describe their experiences could pose a problem in the experiment since the participants might be reevaluating their experience a second time, and thus may have a different level of consciousness about the experience and report this new, but incorrect, level to the experimenter. It might also be possible to study consciousness through the use of brain scans while a person is aware and thinking. In addition, I think that it is possible to study consciousness indirectly by studying what happens when a person is unconscious. This could then allow you to determine what is not happening during consciousness, and then derive speculations about what does occur when someone is conscious and test these hypotheses accordingly. While I am not certain about the best way to study consciousness, and while the methods I listed are problematic in some ways, I would guess that with improvements in technology we will some day be able to study consciousness through more effective methods.



Name: Caitlin Co
Date: //2001-09-18 01:49:32 :
Link to this Comment: 201

I agree with many of those who think consciousness involves being aware of oneself and the environment and the relationship between the two. And if we want to examine consciousness as a function of brain activity, then we need to adopt a definition, or perhaps a threshold, of what separates consciousness from unconsciousness. Perhaps this threshold is a minimum level of neural activity, or the presence of activity in certain areas...I really don't know enough about neural activity to say what these might be.

One of the problems we run into, however, when we try to draw a distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness comes from making this the distinction in the first place. By searching for an understanding of consciousness by contrasting it with unconsciousness, we lose another distincion, that between being able to experience consciousness and not having this capacity...the distinction, perhaps, between consciousness and "nonconsciousness." I once heard the capacity for consciousness explained this way: if something is conscious, then there is something that it is like to be that thing. For instance, the question "what is it like to be a rock?" doesn't have an answer, because it isn't like anything to be a rock; the rock is not conscious. But once we leave the mineral class and start regarding the animal kingdom, this "explanation" doesn't get us very far. Although philosophically I think this question gives us a really interesting way to think about consciousness, scientifically it is a pretty difficult theory to investigate, because the subjects don't tell us what, if anything, it is like to be them. If we ask, "what is it like to be an ant?", how do we know if there is an answer, or much less what that answer might be? Is it "like" anything to be an ant? A mouse? a monkey? even a human infant? I've often wondered what it is like to be a baby, and now I wonder if it is really like anything. I'm pretty sure it's not like anything to be an 8-cell embryo (although I could be wrong on that), and I can kind of remember what it is like to be a 3-year-old, so it seems that we must gain the capacity for consciousness somewhere in between. But when? and how? and how can we investigate it through examining neural functioning? Obviously I have no clue. But this question of who or what is conscious has some interesting moral implications, among others issues of animal rights and human rights issues like abortion and euthanasia.


consciousness
Name: Jess
Date: //2001-09-18 10:36:07 :
Link to this Comment: 203

The first question that comes to my mind when I contemplate consciousness is what it means to be unconscious. Unlike Caitlin, I believe a baby is conscious, we unfortunately just don’t remember what it was like to be that age. Evidence for this reasoning can be seen in many of the experiments conducted in developmental psychology such as Ainsworth’s strange situation and Spelke & Kestenbaum’s Object Identity. In both studies babies are aware of changes and react accordingly.


But back to being unconscious, are normal, healthy people ever truly unconscious? It depends on the definition, we may not be totally aware of everything we are doing but that simply means our subconscious mind is at work. I believe there are simply different levels of consciousness at work. For when we are sleeping we are still conscious we are just at the lowest level of the continuum. Yes it is true that there are people who are unconscious but there is something wrong with their brain functioning. I believe because we are able to behave as we do we must be conscious hence the saying “brain equals behavior.” I also believe other animals are conscious maybe just not to the same level that we are. For while they may not be able to reason and think logically they still know how to react- an ant runs at the possibility of being squashed, mother ducks won’t go near their young if they smell humans on them, bears protect their cubs. I’m not quite sure about all of this yet, I hope that by the end of the course it will become a little clearer.


Conscious
Name: julia diep
Date: //2001-09-18 12:10:59 :
Link to this Comment: 204

For humans, at least, consciousness can be equated with awareness. If we are conscious then we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions. Involved in human consciousness there appears to be two levels or two types of consciousness. Consider the one that is more in our psyche that could be contrasted with the subconscious and the other as more of a medical definition of alertness that can be contrasted with unconsciousness. More difficulty comes when thinking about consciousness as it applies to non-human animals. All animals on some level show awareness to their surroundings; they are alert and react to changes or disturbances within it. However, is this type of consciousness different than instinct? Humans and some other animals such as higher level primates are able to demonstrate higher level awareness of feelings and thoughts through communication. However, because other animals aren't able to make known these types of abstract awarenesses, does it mean they don't have them? Is some sort of language a cognitive criterion for having this consciousness of the psyche?
Perceiving consciousness as a whole might be similar to perceiving an element of consciousness- color. There are both biological and learned factors involved in sensing a specific color. Genetics and other biological factors influence receptors in cone cells determining what colors we see. In early childhood we were taught what color perception matches with the arbitrary color words. Who's to say that what I perceive as red is the same as anyone else? Consciousness also has both biological and sociological influences creating individual differences in perception of ourselves and the world around us.


thoughts
Name: caroline r
Date: //2001-09-18 14:29:37 :
Link to this Comment: 206

Consiousness is something we can alter, something we like to believe we can measure, something we claim to understand and persist in using in conversation, and yet I question that we can really define it. Most would draw on a sense of "awareness" of self and surroundings. I presume that I am able to recognize that I am conscious because I am indeed conscious. And here, I think, enters the classic dilemma: mind or matter? physical or psychical? The safe answer might be that both are involved. For many, a definition of consciousness probably depends on individual academic or ideological background. It would be possible to consider consciousness from a strictly electric perspective, basing recognition on brain and body activity. Likewise, it would also be possible to define consciousness in terms of the more intangible qualities associated with being alive or alert, along the lines of the Random House Webster's Concise Dictionary definition #3: "known to oneself." Consciousness is something we typically have without considering, and without considering what we would do if suddenly we didn't have it. Consciousness allows us to be meaningfully impacted by our environment, such that we may synthesize the information we receive and succesfully navigate our surroundings. It would be dangerous, I think, to attach any higher importance to the idea of consciousness. While it is ill-understood on many levels, it is a basic attribute of life in its most fundamental sense. However, the capacity to consider the full extent of consciousness may be unique to humans, and it is additionally possible that consciousness could be differentially defined for different organisms. I think that most of the time that we are conscious we are not aware of it. Currently, as I try to formulate some conception of consciousness, my thoughts are likely influenced by my hyper-awareness of my being in a conscious state and what that might mean for me. For the most part my body and brain communicate at a level below what we might term consciousness. Example: sitting at the chair at my computer, I just crossed my left leg over my right. Most would agree that an action such as that requires consciousness, but it was not something I put thought or planning into carrying out. General proprioceptive knowledge most often goes unnoticed. It is only in reading about brain damaged patients whose right and left sides perform opposing tasks that we consider what it might be like to not be able to control our own actions. The implications of a better understanding of consciousness for the biological and psychological sciences are far-reaching, warranting continued consideration of this topic.


in defense of Searle.
Name: in/grid
Date: //2001-09-19 21:51:48 :
Link to this Comment: 237

Ok, this is going to be a little dense, but at the moment I'm taking a psych course at Upenn, and the extremely dense reading for tomorrow articulates my point better than I could have in class. And to be honest, I agreed with Searle, and the discussion in class made it a little hard to say what I wanted to with the write vocab necessary. So here we go. This is in defense of the idea that the block theory is not capable of explaining consciousness as I imagine we define it. This has to do with the "i" function, in a way. Please forgive typos, I'm in the middle of homework and am not going to proofread this. This is from "Integral Psychology" by Ken Wilber. pp20-22).

First of all, the Western psychological study of cognitive develpment sill involves the study of some sort of consciousness, however narrow and restricted on occasion. Thus, what Piaget studied as formal operational thought-- which was conceived as a mathematical structure (the INRC groupings)-- is one legitamate way to slice the stream of consciousness at that point, but hardly exhausts the snapshots we can take of consciousness at that particular bend in the River. Numerous other and equally valid perspectives exist for defining consciousness at that stage, from role taking to epistemlogical styles to worldviews to moral drives. But in focusing on cognitive develppment, Piaget was at least highlighting the central importance oc consciousness development, even if in a sometimes narrow way.


That importance is underscored by the fact that, when specific developmental lines are studied-- such as moral development, self development, and role-taking decelopment00 it has always been found that cognitive development is necessary (but not sufficient) for these other developments. In other words, before you can develop morals, or self-perspective, or some idea of the good life, you have to be able to consciously register those various elements in the first place. Consciousness is thus necessary, but not sufficient, for these other developments.


And that is exactly the claim of teh Great Nest theorists. The levels of the Great Nest (the basic structures of consciousness) are the levels through which the various developmental lines will proceed, and without the basic waves, there is nothing for the various boats to float on. This is why the basic structures (whther conceived as the sheaths in ...[examples that dont matter]) are the backbone, the crucial skeleton, on which most other systems hang.


Thus, although they can by no means be equated, cognitive development (as studied by Western psychologists) is perhaps the closes thing we have to the Great Chain or the spectrum of consciousness (at least up to the levels of the formal mind; beyond that most Western researchers recognize no forms of cognition at all). For this reason -- while keeping firmly in mind the many qualifications and limitations -- I sometimes use cognitive terms to describe some of the basic structures


Still, because cognitive development does have a very specific and narrow meaning in Western psychology, I also treat it as a seperate developmental line apart from teh basic structures (so that we can preserve the ontological richness of the basic holons, and not reduce them to Western cognitive categories).


One of the most interesting items on [charts he has] is the number of Western psychologists who, based on extensive empicical phenomenological data, have detected several stages of postformal development -- that is, stages of cognitive development beyond linear rationality (ie beyond formal operational thinkjing of formal operational). Although "postformal" can refer to any and all stages beyon formop, it usually applies only to mental and personal, not supramental and transpersonal, stages. IN OTHER WORDS, for most Western researchers, "postformal" refers to the first major stage beyond formop, which I call 'vision-logic'. As shown, most researchers have found two to four stages of post formal (vision-logic) cognition. Thesae postformal stages generally move beyond the formal/mechanistic phases (of early formop) into various stages of relativity, pluralistic systems, and contextualism (early vison-logic), and from there into stages of metasystematic, integrated, unified, dialectical, and holistic thinking (middle to late vision-logic). This gives us a picture of the highest mental domains as being dynamic, developmental, dialectical, integrated.


Few of those researchers, however move into transmental domains (of psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual occasions --transrational nd transpersonal), although many of them increasingly acknowlege these higher levesl. For the contours of these levels we must often rely, once again, on the great sages and contemplatives, as several of the charts make clear.


In this regard, a hotly disputed topic is whether the spiritual/transpersonal stages themselves can be conceived as higher levels of cognitive development. The answer, I have suggested, depends on what you mean by 'cognitive'. If you mean that most Western psychologists mean-- which is a mental conceptual knowledge of exterior objects-- then no, higher or spiritual stages are NOT mental cognition, because they are often supramental, transconceptual and nonexterior. If by "cognitive" you mean "consciousness in general," including superconscious states, then much higher speiritual experience is indeed cogntive. But spiritual and transpersonal states also have many other aspects -- such as higher affects, morals, and self-sense -- so that, even with an expanded definition of cognitive, they are not Merely cognitive. Nontheless, "cognition" in the broadest sense means "cosciousness," and thus cognitive developments of various sorts are an important part of the entire spectrum of being and knowing.


addendum
Name: ingrid
Date: //2001-09-19 23:12:28 :
Link to this Comment: 239

-- Typed that up in the library. But I wanted to clarify that basically what he's saying is that the building blocks theory of simple cogntive psychology as we test it empirically in research, is not able to go beyond objectivity to subjectivity--to the "consciousness" we mean to be personality, morality and self-awareness. Self-actualism (etc.) goes beyond that which we recieve as input in the Western idea of 'cognitive psychology' and shows us states that we can not measure in labs. This is the "I-Function". Which is the thing that IS conscious. Which is the thing THAT percieves. The Me that Saw the visual input and put it into a category of "oh, that's my husband". The thing that feels 'careing' and emotions to the visual stimulus that I have recognized As my husband. Etc. I hope that cleared something up.


thoughts
Name: caroline
Date: //2001-10-02 13:20:37 :
Link to this Comment: 360

I was intrigued by Humphrey's comments on the need to determine the relationship between perception and sensation, and his emphasis on the senses as the vehicle through which the outside world reaches our consciousness, but I was somewhat dissatisfied with his insistence that vision be the primary sense. I think we have come to rely on it as such, but I think in some ways it does less to inform us of the entirety of our surroundings than do the remaining senses. Our visual cues come from a very limited source. For instance, if looking off in one direction it is not until a person coming up behind you is heard or felt or smelled that you become aware of his or her presence. When the acuity of the visual system is compromised, the strength of the other intact senses comes to be relied upon much more. I think Humphrey's extension of the importance of sight with the eyes to sight with the skin undermines the importance of touch as its own unique sense. It seems to me that Humphrey's proposal that blind people could successfully navigate a room down to the last detail using "skin vision" leaves out the component of more basic sensory and muscle memory. I would draw a correlation to trying to get through a pitch black room, the layout of which I am familiar with. I would argue that I can be aware of where and where not to step to avoid running into things without having to explicitly see them, be it with my eyes or my skin. On the other hand, it is an interesting concept - how and of what are we really aware/conscious? Without getting into much too uncharted territory, what about the existence of some additional sense? And I am not trying to suggest specifically ESP or any of that stuff, but a more general notion of consciousness as a broader schema, integrating all that we know about our environments into a more sophisticated understanding. Maybe that is what consciousness is, aside from definitions based on a vague understanding of awareness or brain activity. But now I really am just making this up as I go along. I actually read the Humphrey chapters about a week and a half ago, so I hope the points I raised are relevant given I am mostly working from memory here. What are other thoughts people have?


history of mind part I
Name: jimmy stei
Date: //2001-10-02 14:05:02 :
Link to this Comment: 361

Humphrey talks about animals and even cells as if they had opinions about whether or not they exist. He seems to be saying that they have minds just because of his simple use of anthropomorphism. I do not think that cells are any more conscious of mechanisms such as needing to stay hydrated anymore than a puddle is. It merely has mechanisms that function to monitor the hydration state and then other functions to regulate it. It doesn't think to itsself, "I need some water" It is just preprogrammed to get the water in the right amounts. Cells do not like water and dislike poisons. They are just following blueprints of how to behave. Those blueprints accept some materials and work against other materials. But the cell does not consciously work towards its own preferences.

Humphrey spends some time discussing how colors can affect us without our awareness. This is interesting with respect to consciousness because it is occurring outside of our consciousness. It is merely a phisiological response. When we or when a more primitive organism is excited by red light it isn't because we are thinking that this is excitement. Instead our bodies are just reacting more or less outside of our control. It's not our like or dislike of the color that is adding to our physiological changes. Although an organism may live more comfortably in light of a certain color that does not mean that that organism has preference for it based on its own volition. Instead that preference is based on physical mechanisms.

Speaking of color, I was under the impression that vision was in fact a serial process. The photoreceptors are impinged upon and the message gets sent (eventually) to the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe, but it isnt given meaning till the message is sent to the visual association cortex (where perception takes place). Perception follows sensation. If those important sensory receptors were cut off from the brain you would not be able to have perceptions except through imagination and dreaming.


Humprey 1-10
Name: Liz Olson
Date: //2001-10-02 15:35:48 :
Link to this Comment: 363

I definitely agree with the lsat paragraph in Jimmy's post, about how, at least with vision, I have always been taught that the perception follows the sensation. Thinking back over it, I don't remember Humphrey giving many persuasive pieces of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. He instead provides many examples of situations where it is possible to attend only to the perception or only to the sensation (for example, with the monkeys watching the red Mickey Mouse cartoons). However, it seems to me that the fact that we are able to selectively attend to only one or the other does not necessarily imply that they occur simultaneously and without one being caused by the other.



Name: Caitlin Co
Date: //2001-10-02 18:03:37 :
Link to this Comment: 364

In regards to the relationship between sensation and perception, I wasn't entirely convinced of Humphrey's quick dismissal of monism, the idea that "subjective feelings are actually identical to particular physical brain processes," because it allows for consciousness only in carbon-based life. I really dont find the idea of monism that discriminatory though...just because it's not carbon-based doesn't mean there can't be brain processes that can lead to (be equal to) subjective feelings in an analagous fashion to how it happens in us. Now, it might a different sort of subjective feeling than what we experience, but it could be consciousness nonetheless (and how would we ever know if what it "is like" to be an alien is different from what it "is like" to be human?)

Anyway...as to the more relevant (to us earthlings) aspects of monism...
not that I buy into the whole William James "i feel sad because i am crying" thing, but there are those studies that have shown that people feel happier if they smile, and sometimes if my eyes are watering I catch myself feeling sad. However, our many emotional experiences lead us to believe that it has to be more complicated than sensation=perception. But what about in the 5-senses kinds of perceptions? Can we say that perception precedes, or even causes, sensation? There are all those exceptions, for example phenomena like phantom pain in amputees. Is this perception without sensation? If this can happen in the tactile modality, it seems that it should be possible with vision as well. I'm kind of contradicting myself here...I guess I just feel unresolved about the directionality/causality of perception and sensation.


Humphrey
Name: Mary
Date: //2001-10-02 19:11:25 :
Link to this Comment: 365

I agree with several of the posts here in regards to visual perception and sensation. I thought that visual perception was the interpretation of sensation, and thus the two would be related in the serial manner, not the parallel as Humphrey argues. I don’t think that I am very willing to change my view of sensation and perception as serially related either, especially given the fact that the text and class discussions for our Human Cognition class also suggested that this was indeed the case.


Another interesting issue I found in Humphrey was his chapter on color. One of his main points was that red has been shown to be a color that evokes negative emotions in people, such as anger and depression, whereas colors such as blue or green evoked more positive feelings, such as quietness and calmness. Humphrey stated that he believes these reactions are not learned, but I wonder about that statement. My first reaction to his claims was that red is a color often associated with love, and thus would make people feel warm and happy inside, not mad and angry. In addition, blue is often seen as a color representative of sadness and gloominess. I wonder if there are other studies that contradict the findings that Humphrey has used to support his argument – although I suppose even if this were the case his main point that colors arouse us (in some way) would still be supported. I also find it interesting that the examples Humphrey used all seemed to be ones were people were not consciously told to attend to the colors specifically – the color happened to be the paint on the wall or the color of a movie prop. I wonder if the physiological reactions of these people would have been different if they were consciously aware of their surroundings (and thus thought about red symbolizing love and blue symbolizing sadness)...


random thoughts
Name: jess
Date: //2001-10-02 19:22:16 :
Link to this Comment: 366

When Humphrey talked about language in chapter two it seemed totally random. I mean yes it's often hard to say exactly what one means, but he didn't need to write a whole chapter on that. In the part about how the french utilize the same word for both an animal and the meat of an animal and how in our language we do both, and how if the same could be said for consciousness we might come up with that word sometime in the future. . . I am not so sure. This is because often times newly developed words come up for a reason, either slang or some new technology is created, but how can the same be said for conciousness unless someone came up with a radically new way of thinking that no one has thought of in the history of human beings.
on a totally different not the way he talked about the big bang theory and how even if there were volcanos, duststorms, waterfalls, etc before living organism arrived if no one was there to percieve them they didn't really count as what they were this reminds me of the old "if a tree falls in the woods" problem/


History of the Mind
Name: Rebecca Ro
Date: //2001-10-02 21:33:28 :
Link to this Comment: 369

Here is an interesting site: http://www.humphrey.org.uk/. If you go to this site and click on papers available online you will see some journals on consciousness by Humphrey.


Perception and sensation, according to Humphrey, do involve different kinds of attention or different attitudes of the mind. However, pereption is in the interpretation of sensory input to yield a meaningful description or understanding. Sensation is the faculty to perceive. I see perception and sensation as overlapping. To sense something, don't we need to perceive it?


guest lecturer
Name: jess
Date: //2001-10-23 13:47:11 :
Link to this Comment: 496

I am chosing to focus on the guest lecturer that came the Tuesday before break.
I disagreed with a great deal of what he said and it made me quite angry. At first he seemed to be saying that the biological model of psychology has no basis and it he practically denied the existence of neurons. Later he easied up on his position saying that the biology of psychopathologywas somewhat useful but not too important. He talked about how medicine isn't really as useful as we are led to believe, fact that I disagree with vehemently.

It also upset me because if a psychoanalsyt discredits the medical model of psychology as much as he did it is damaging because the only reason psychotherapy and drug therapy for mental health problems began to be covered by many insurance companies was that it was finally acknowlegded to have biological and not just social causes. I believe more in the biopsychosocial model. I beleive he is doing the whole medical and psychological community a disservice by promoting his views.


Humphrey
Name: Liz Olson
Date: //2001-10-23 13:57:37 :
Link to this Comment: 497

(Hmm, I hope I'm doing this in the right space on this forum...)
As I understand it, we're supposed to give some sort of summary on our thoughts on 'A History of the Mind.' First, I'd like to state that Humphrey's writing style was possibly the most irritating I have ever encountered. Examples and analogies have an important role to play in writing, but they become completely useless when your entire book becomes a random series of 'clever' anecdotes and quotations that have absolutely nothing to do with each other nor with the subject matter at hand.
In terms of content... It took the man ten chapters to say, essentially, that perception and sensation, as far as he is concerned, are independent processes. For reasons that are probably obvious, I actually did enjoy the part of the book when Humphrey first introduces his thoughts about consciousness. Page 116 is better than most other pages, in that there are no analogies, no quotations, and some potentially original ideas. Humphrey's idea that consciousness without any kind of sensory relationship would not be possible resonates well with me; this is basically a written articulation of the point I was making in class about that brain that spent its whole life in the sensory deprivation chamber... The problem is that after posing this somewhat provocative and interesting definition of consciousness, Humphrey then goes on a one hundred page long speculative romp in which he makes claims, both bizarre and/or overly obvious, without any attempt to connect them to any type of scientific data/ brain region/ etc. Quotes from Lewis Carroll can only get you so far, in my book.
In particular, Humphrey seems to have completely missed the boat in his discussion of the mechanism of consciousness. He makes an incredibly big deal over his assertion that there must be a physical map of the body inside the brain such that stimulation of a particular spot on this map is sensorily identical to stimulation at the corresponding part of the body's surface. It seems to be that this is a fact that I learned in psych 101 and that it does not do as much work towards solving the problem of consciousness as Humphrey would like. Humphrey repeatedly claims that consciousness involves our being the 'authors' of our sensations. The major problem that he fails to address is: where is the 'author'? What produces the 'cerebral sentiments' involved in the reverberating feedback loop of which he is so fond? It seems to me that this is the question that needs to be addressed in order for us to understand consciousness, and that Humphrey's failure to account for this is probably the largest non-stylistic problem with the book.


Humphrey
Name: Huma
Date: //2001-10-23 14:49:13 :
Link to this Comment: 498

I think Nicholas Humphrey is absolutely obnoxious. I felt that his book had little ?meat? to it, yet his writing style was arrogant. Seriously, are statement like, ?So let me now take a breath, and say what I really think about it in the next chapter,? really necessary? Who needs a breath after two-pages? His thought experiments were so plentiful that they became annoying; I wish he had cited experimental data in his book instead of quoting literary greats and using anecdotes. Much of what he said could be learned the first few days of any cognitive psych class. He uses well-known theories of human cognition and explains them in a vague and unclear manner such as his references to working memory, the echo/icon, and levels of processing. Humphrey had few if any original ideas and I was highly unimpressed. This makes me wonder whom this book was written for. I can?t imagine anyone in the scientific community or any psychologists actually enjoying it or learning from it.


Having a discussion on Tuesday night?s lecture would be more interesting than spending more time on Humphrey.


Humphrey
Name: Rebecca Ro
Date: //2001-10-23 15:57:48 :
Link to this Comment: 499

I find Humphrey's writing style very annoying. He was very wordy and could have said what he had to say in about two chapters. He gave far too many ridiculous sentences that pertained to absoultely nothing. For instance, how often did he have to use the 'pain in the toe' example? Half of the stuff he said was unnecessary, for instance, "The time has come to make a series of quick moves". However, that chapter was not bad, (Chapter 15) because it was short and concise. The aim of his book seemed to try to impress us with his background knowledge and use of examples instead of getting to the real issue. The main issues of the book were discussed within the last chapters. However, I found it hard to follow due to his wordy writing style I guess one has to give him credit for trying to take on a difficult issue.


History of the Mind
Name: Julia Diep
Date: //2001-10-23 17:34:17 :
Link to this Comment: 509

The Guardian's comments on Humphrey's book, A History of the Mind include, "Exceptionally readable, and packed with fascinating psychological information and ingenious speculation…. Humphrey writes with an unusual style of verve, lucidity and charm." For Humphrey's sake, I wish I could say the same. I found the book to be quite unreadable. His flowery prose, full of self-praise and irrelevant analogies, was almost painful to get through and combined with the running thought process, hides the very theory of consciousness he attempts to present. The thought experiments and analogies he uses as examples are creative yet unconvincing. One instance he even invents a conversation with a little girl and presents the dialogue as factual until admitting to making it up after multiple pages are read. This is not a great way to gain trust with the readers he is trying to convince of his theories. Instead of being packed with "fascinating psychological information" its packed with ridiculous imaginative thought examples flimsy to scientists who prefer experimental data.


TCH!
Name: in/grid
Date: //2001-10-23 17:39:13 :
Link to this Comment: 510

I'm going to toss in two segments of comments right now. On the first half and the second half of the book.

First off. Even when Humphrey tries to be scientific, he fails. The whole point of Being scientific in his examples (like all the vision stuff) is because otherwise, he's more often ambiguous. However, what help is it if he's ambiguous While he's scientific? Exactly, there isn't any.

I can't stress how many times, in the margins of my book I write a simple "No!" when it comes to his logics, even when he gets scientific. For example "Since iformation aboutthe particular stimulus was now beign preserved and carried through into the particular action pattern, the action pattern had come to represent-- at least to replicate symbolically-- the stimulus" (p41). No!! More than one stimulus can cause a single response. Particularly in these organisims way back then, who had a limit of responses 'run away, curl up, eat' etc. Harsh chemicals, weird lighting, a solid object in the way, could all make an amoeba move. So No, he can't say that all the responses become immediate representations and make his further points... because something in the animal will discern that the relationship isn't one to one, two to two, but two to one and one to one and three to one and so on.

How about his use of 'my' for amoebas. Doesn't 'my' imply ownership by a Thing? Well, that Thing in this case is the Conscious Thing. AKA.. when he uses it on some occasions, he's putting consciousness in there, which is exactly what he's trying to avoid. (p40)

Almost every last sentence of every last chapter, in my opinion, jumps to too many conclusions. He takes a chapter to explain something thuroughly and then he leaps to some weird, whacky split conclusions (i.e. p44) that he didn't prove yet. That's poor writing.

How about random assumptions or just silly 'facts' 'in almost all circumstances human beings prefer lightness to darkness' (p58). Um. What are you talking about Humphrey? He hasn't explained why it MIGHT be a plausable statement in Some circumstances when light and dark is better defined. People Like to sleep in the dark. What does this have to do with what he later goes to prove? He can't find amazing facts off of a foundation that is so ...ill put and proved.

How about his experiments (chapter 8) saying the monkey 'liked' certain things. How does he know the monkey 'LIKES' these things. That it's just not some other random character that has to do with the thing being presented. Maybe certain shapes are just adverse to monkeys, or colours have been genetically programed as represnting something negative... it just seems weird to put 'like' in such an unquestionable facility in his research.

heh.. in his section on the 'inverted spectrum' (p71) the opposite of blue is Orange, thank you very much Humphrey. [low blow, it felt good though]


Wrapping up Humphrey (and throwing him the lake)
Name: in/grid
Date: //2001-10-23 17:48:39 :
Link to this Comment: 511

Sorry for making everything italics there. The italicized statement should only have been about 5-8 words long.

Anyhow.

on page 85 Humphrey takes us on a short, given-as-fact and Humphrey-accepted inclusion of the paranormal. I thought this to be a little..esoteric if anything. What is that doing in here? Please leave it out.

His examples of the game of Chinese whispers on 103 is COMPLETELY out of context. His point to begin with is vague, and then his example doesn't take care of a million other variables that changed by changing the context. Like passing a solid object around is less hard to just alter than words. (p103)

I think he should have given his top down section a lot more looking at since the 'top' is supposed to be 'consciousness' afterall.

Chapter 15 was Trying to be helpful. However his fourth point confused me..I think there was a leap in it. And his seventh point implies that animals have a consciousness. I guess so if he's reducing consciousness to the criteria of Just being awake. Because that's all you need to Feel sensations. And that means a bug is conscious, because it does feel sensations. I disagree in otherwords. At least I think consciousness should be more narrowed to include only human beings. Otherwise the mystery of it is all gone. Or at least, I don't think it would be As profound.

That talk with the little kid would have Never have happened the way he did it. I think he's getting a little too literary for his own good. And, as he's been doing with the entire book, he's changing everything so it makes his hypothesis (what was it again?) look good. He's good at (or rather, he tries to Often) hide the foundations for all his statements with just little alterations each phase of the game. Well, if you don't catch the little things, you get swept up in his big hypothesis, where all the little diversions and misdirections add up to a Huge problem

And That...is what my major problem was with Mr. Humphrey.



Name:
Date: //2001-10-23 17:49:32 :
Link to this Comment: 512

that should fix the italics?



Name: caitlin co
Date: //2001-10-23 18:01:18 :
Link to this Comment: 513

Okay, yes Humphrey’s style was annoying, and yes he seemed to be trying too hard to, as the Daily Telegraph said on the back of the book, “beat literary folk at their own game.” But buried within the Shakespeare, t.s.eliot and “ingenious speculation” (back of the book again—funny, when professors say that about my papers it is not a compliment) there is some interesting stuff. I think much of the problem is that he is both tackling an incredibly complex issue and trying to make it accessible and engaging to the layperson; however, as something between layperson and scientist, I was both irritated by his condescension and lost by the convolution of his argument, so I guess his meet-you-in-the-middle approach isn’t working.

The argument seemed to pick up toward the end, when he started to discuss the evolutionary development of sensation and consciousness. His explanation here was a lot more grounded because he was drawing from history and example instead of metaphor and analogy. For the sake of making the concept relevant and understandable, going from simple to complex through real life forms makes more sense than relating the mysteries of the mind to Alice and Wonderland and including helpful diagrams of the “inner conductor”/ “I function” with all of his “musical instruments”/”boxes within boxes.” I started to give Humphrey a lot more credit when he finally acknowledged the “phantom limb” issue, which had been such a saliently absent point throughout the book thus far. It still brings up the question, though, of that poor guy cut off from input from all five sensory modalities. Would this person still be consciousness, from the activation of the sensory cortex, like the phantom limb people? Is the sensory dep guy conscious only through memory of sensation? That’s what Humphrey would say, I think--“mental activities other than those involving direct sensations enter consciousness only insofar as they are accompanied by ‘reminders’ of sensation” (p. 116). But I can’t shake the impression that the person would be conscious for a different reason: through his awareness that there was an outside environment and that he had a place in it; in other words, through his perceptions. But according to Humphrey, perception doesn’t make consciousness, sensation does.

And that is perhaps the most trouble I had with his theory of consciousness—the distinction between sensation and perception. I’m not sure I agree that consciousness requires sensation in the form of “affect-laden mental representations of something happening here and now to me” (p. 115). From what we had been discussing earlier, affect really had to do with perception, not sensation. Humphrey talks about seeing a light as red as being a sensation (p. 94), but it seems that the affective part of this experience, the knowing that the light is red, is really a perception. Couldn’t the same sensation—the same light doing the same thing to the brain—produce a completely different experience in someone whose brain was different somehow, such that that person had a green experience or something instead of a red experience? So isn’t the red experience really perception? Also, in terms of early organisms, or in curly bugs or whatever, I doubt there is really affect, but I would still call it sensation. To attribute affect to sensation, and then sensation to consciousness, necessitates a really arbitrary distinction—what separates affect from no affect? And arbitrary distinctions are really not all that helpful. It would make a lot more sense, I think, to separate unconsciousness from consciousness by distinguishing between sensation and perception.


Moving on....I agree that a discussion of Dr. Frattaroli’s lecture would be more productive than spending the class complaining about this book. I was a little put off by his dismissal of the biological components of depression, but I think the really strong placebo effect of antidepressant medications is a significant point. However, I wonder how much of the placebo effect was, as he said, due to participants thinking they were taking a drug that was working, and how much had to do with just being involved in a study on depression. I would think that patients, knowing they were in a depression study, might start thinking about depression in different ways, possibly changing their thought patterns and behavior as a result, and this might have some influence too. It would be interesting to include a group that was not given a pill at all but knew they were in the study, to see if there was any change in them.

I was equally skeptical (and equally kind of offended), but in the opposite direction, of a behavioral neuroscience lecture last week where Prof. Thomas argued for a completely biological (damage to the hypothalamus) explanation of eating disorders. In both these cases, it seems to me that it has to be a neurological predisposition, mediated by sociocultural and other factors, leading to the disorders. But isn’t that always the answer: “it’s a combination; we can’t separate the two,” nature/nurture, chicken/egg, etc.? Maybe Dr. Frattaroli was just trying to take a decisive stand for a change instead of straddling the fence. Anyway, though, I think we could have a lot to discuss about the lecture.


more comments
Name: caroline
Date: //2001-10-23 18:42:37 :
Link to this Comment: 514

So, I generally agree with everyone else that Humphrey's book was largely a waste and did not even maybe live up to the reviews printed on the cover. Things like that always make me wonder what the bad reviews said. My main issue with Humphrey was the overall lack of content. He never really seemed to make any kind of point, though he certainly seemed to believe otherwise. I think he took himself and his book far too seriously and, as a consequence, made it rather unpleasant for his readers. I agree that it would be difficult to have a productive conversation about this book as there was little to critique in terms of actual thought process or original ideas. Having read the book last wednesday, I can't remember enough about it to make any sort of really in depth criticism. Suffice it to say, I found it tedious to get through, a sentiment probably not unfamiliar to the rest of the class. On a different note, I enjoyed the talk last week (well, the last week there were classes), but I don't recall enough of the details of what he said to contribute anything really useful to the discussion. I found the content of the talk to be unique and generally interesting. Sorry I don't have anything any more significant to say tonight, but given that it is less than an hour until class, I doubt anyone else will be reading this anyway. Hopefully class will be a little entertaining.


Humphrey
Name: Mary
Date: //2001-10-23 19:06:26 :
Link to this Comment: 515

I have to say that the second part of Humphrey’s book was just about as dry as the first. Most of his “support” for his arguments seemed to be more like philosophical evidence than scientific support, and while I respect philosophy and its methods, I feel that the task at hand is to explain consciousness in a scientific way, by conducting actual experiments that can provide support or lack thereof for these hypotheses (or philosophical ideas). Secondly, I believe that one should consider all possibilities when trying to answer a question such as what is consciousness, no matter how bizarre or farfetched these ideas might seem at the time. However, at times in his book, Humphrey’s tone was mocking of other theories and the people involved with them. For example, at the end of chapter 16 he takes on a ridiculing attitude towards someone commenting on one of his (Humphrey’s) original theories. I think that no matter how wrong the other person may or may not turn out to be, respect should be given to his point of view and that by mocking him (and other theories) Humphrey is simply dismissing these ideas, perhaps without even considering their importance. The ironic thing is that Humphrey now claims to be in agreement with this person…The lesson here? The other man’s ideas were obviously important, even if they did not seem to be at the time. If you had told people in the 1500s that we would be travelling to the moon one day, they probably would have looked at you like you were crazy – but if everyone had dismissed this possibility, where would we be today? Probably not discussing astronauts and moon rocks… So for this reason I am skeptical about whether Humphrey has adequately examined other theories that compete with his own, unless of course they happen to support it later on.


I still disagree with Humphrey’s definitions of sensation and perception and since these are essential to his main arguments, I find it impossible to agree with him on many of his points. I feel like he just made up these definitions, and that they do not accurately convey the meaning that our society and other scientists have given them. However, if I were to hypothetically accept his definitions for a moment, I can find a few of his points with which I would agree. One such example, given his definition of sensation as “what is happening to me” and perception as “what is happening out there,” is his argument on page 133 that involves someone else’s ability to “perceive the same events at my body surface that I myself am sensing.” However, he goes on to say that people’s perceptions in general should have the same content – but I wonder if that is true. For instance, using Humphrey’s example that if we hear the same music, then our perceptions should have the same content. What about the difference between an experienced composer and a naďve listener? Doesn’t their differing levels of experience with music and its properties determine how they each experience “what is happening out there?” Even if you take out the role of interpretation in this scenario, I would still think that the composer would be much more likely to instinctively perceive a musical in B flat with the woodwinds section than the person with little or no musical background would instinctively perceive. All in all, I think that this book certainly had its flaws, but I hope that there are some useful things that we can gather from it, even if it is just what we think consciousness is not (rather than what it is).



Name: Hiro
Date: //2001-10-23 23:57:37 :
Link to this Comment: 518

Ok, so I guess I'm kinda late posting this comment... Anyway, instead of talking about the book any further, I just wanted to add a little more to the discussion we had tonight about Elio guy. I do disagree with him about the existence of "something else" like soul or spirit. As I mentioned in the class tonight, I believe that disorders, such as depression, is caused by brain, whose chemistry is altered by environmental factors. However, I do agree with him that such disorders can be treated with psychotherapies as well as medications. In a therapy, a patient works together with a doctor to figure out his/her environmental factors that cause the disorder. Once they know the problem and work around it, the environmental stress disappears (or becomes less), and the brain chemistry may go back to normal again. This way, the patient does not have to totally depend on medicines, which may bring out severe side effects. Besides, by figuring out the environmental stress factors and solving them, the patient may improve his social situation, which drugs cannot do. He may also feel that he has control over his own life instead of having the medicines control him. I think Elio was trying to make a point that people should take psychotherapies more seriously and not solely depend on drugs.