A few days before the birth of our second child, Andrew Thomas Dearing, I wrote about a little project where I wanted to attempt to identify the onset of his brain’s consciousness… or, at least identify the vague concept that I seem to have of what consciousness really is.
As is clear from my lack of published articles over the past five months, I had decided to take a little break from my writing and reading about the current developments in neurotechnology to focus on the newborn and our first child, Elizabeth Noelle, who is now three years old. I am excited and anxious to work myself back into the great world of neurotechnology, and don’t be surprised if my experiences with my family make their way into future articles.
The original question still remains open, however: At five months old, is Andrew conscious? He is certainly a bright young man, eating well, laughing, reacting, and learning how to move about and function in his environment. He giggles when you play with him and he can’t keep his attention away from his intriguing big sister when she is in the room… even if it is time to eat!
But, is he conscious?
Frankly, I don’t think so … at least in that vague, ill-defined sense that I seem to have of what is consciousness. This sense is so vague I don’t think that I can even put it into words at this moment.
So, how am I supposed to identify something that I apparently don’t even know what it is? My only hope is that I do still recall “sensing” the general onset of consciousness with my daughter. It was not necessarily a particular instant in time, but really just a gut connection that there seemed to be “something more” behind her gaze. It’s this very special “something more” that I am still looking out for in Andrew.
And just because he doesn’t seem to have it yet–at five months old–doesn’t mean he isn’t progressing very well and proving to me every day that is his an awesome kid (hey, I’m a proud Daddy, if that’s OK). I just think that the level of consciousness that we vaguely attribute to the defining characteristic of being human is a threshold experience… a phase transition, of sorts, that the brain completes only after a certain level of complexity has been achieved in a developing brain.
In lieu of my continued speculation on the matter, I will defer to an interesting article that addresses this very issue. Recently published in the Boston Globe, writer Jonah Leher discusses the current ideas on what might be going on inside your baby’s brain. It is surprising, actually, and discusses the notion that the infant brain is incredibly over-active and functions in a sort of hyperconscious way that may provide significant advantages to the seemingly helpless baby–helping it to figure out how to deal with its environment as quickly as possible. And, it also provides us hyperfocused and slow-moving adults an idea toward triggering our sluggish brains to temporarily regress to be more open and creative… just like a baby.
“Inside the baby mind” :: The Boston Globe :: April 26, 2009 [ READ ]