Consciousness & Mind

An Experiment to Discover the Transition to Consiousness

Within a week, my wonderful wife, Michelle, will deliver our second child. Our little boy, Andrew, will be a lump of cells working in amazing synchrony to survive in a wild and scary universe. All of the actions are the result of a profoundly self-organized system that can successfully respond to its environment and maintain its internal cycles and processes in order to allow it to continue to develop and evolve as a living creature.

However, it is my understanding and hypothesis that the neuron network composing his infant brain is not yet entirely developed into what we would consider a fully-functioning conscious system. My son will certainly be a human being, and will have already been one for quite some time while growing in Mommy’s tummy, but there is still something missing… that “something” behind his eyes that allows him to be self-aware and fully able to make decisions to guide his body’s behavior, no matter how remedial the decisions might still be.

Our first child, Elizabeth Noelle, is nearly three years old now, and she, too–like all of us conscious beings–began as this glob of organized, interacting cells. And I noticed one day with her that something changed… it wasn’t entirely clear… but, it seemed to me that one day when I looked into her eyes there was something more. Something was working at a higher level inside her head… my cute little human being that I helped create had developed into something more… a self-aware, conscious human being.

Unfortunately, my observations were mostly an afterthought and not documented in any way other than personal reflections. So, with our second child I intend to conduct a more thorough observational experiment and create a more scientific record here on Neuron News of his development from a human being into a conscious human being. Although I anticipate this transition to be quite fluid and difficult to pinpoint, I hope that something might be taken from the considerations that could provide at least a slight glimmer of understanding into the nature of the consciousness of my son.

Each of my observations will be recorded here under the Topical Category “Raising Consciousness.” I am also very much interested in your responses, ideas, and feedback… and even observational guidance as we begin what I expect to be an exciting and interesting journey into what is the fundamental nature of human consciousness.

A New … and Different … Idea on the Brain

Avoiding the notion of an “homunculus” in the brain … or any single, overlord power that controls the function and decisions of the brain has been a deeply embedded faux pas in the neuroscience and neurophilosophy circles for many decades.

After years of trying to be accepted into a peer-reviewed journal, Prof. Asim Roy of Arizona State University will have his day in the sun. Using established ideas from the “connectionist” model of the brain–where information and control processing is considered to be distributed and non-local–he actually claims to proves that a hierarchical system exists in brain function.

One potential realization of this hypothesis (because we cannot call any idea related to brain function a theory, yet!) is that if Prof. Roy’s ideas are correct, then the brain may in fact work more like conventional computer artificial intelligence systems of today, which have countless rules pre-programmed in the code to provide the resulting behavior of the AI software or machine. If this is the case, then we may only need a sufficiently large enough processor chip to emulate true human brain behavior and the Singularity Event might come sooner than expected.

Although Neuron News carries a strong bias against the notion that the human brain is locally-controlled (even though it feels like we have a conscious single controller sitting in our heads), these alternative ideas are still important to progress with advances in understanding brain function. Are we at a road-block? We need to somehow break-through our limited ability to grasp the essentially higher-dimensionality of complex networks, and it’s going to take one exciting “ah-ha!” moment to get there… so let us know if you have one.

“Professor Finally Publishes Controversial Brain Theory” :: PhysOrg.com :: November 19, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Connectionism, Controllers, and a Brain Theory” :: Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part A, IEEE Transactions on :: November 2008, Volume: 38, Issue: 6, Pages: 1434-1441 :: [ READ THE ABSTRACT ]

Preparing to Witness a New Consciousness Soon

Neuron News has been on a bit of break since mid-September, and we will be trying to roll out more activity in the near future as best as possible. This break was initially due to a brief return to the theater with a role in a local production of Glenngary Glenn Ross by David Mamet at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois.

Now, our family is getting very close to welcoming in our latest addition, Andrew, who will be due anytime from now until early December. So, we are quite busy taking care of the “nest” and making sure Mommy is taken care of as best as possible.

One rather interesting experience I enjoyed with our first child, Elizabeth, was watching her brain develop from the first cry in the hospital room to my first observation of an inkling of a consciousness. This observation was certainly un-scientific, but there was just something… something noticeable in the way her eyes became a little more focused; there was something behind those eyes that didn’t seem to be there yesterday.

I hope to document these observations with Andrew–which I’m sure will be quite subjective–with his development from little living blob of cells to something more; something with a brain that has developed beyond simply pumping blood and expanding and contracting lungs. I do believe that a baby is born without a sophisticated “consciousness,” whatever that might really mean as we still have no scientific understanding of our notion of sentient beings. But, there is a transition. A transition from non-thinking to thinking; from basic biological mechanics to … something more.

It is a profound and amazing process, and I can’t wait to witness this transition once again.

How the Mind works According to Books

No one understands how our brains work.

But, there are certainly a lot of people trying to figure it out, and this author at Neuron News is certainly swimming in this ocean of many fish.

Here we reference a new list of published books that take another stab a cracking the code of the miraculous human mind. Brief reviews are written for each book, and Neuron News is neither subscribing to nor endorsing any particular approach… however, nearly any viewpoint on the brain is worth a look-see when one has no honest clue about what is really going on (and no one can honestly say that they have a fundamental grasp of brain function… we are just not there, yet.)

In the near future, Neuron News will likely plan on picking up a copy of A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination by Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi, so we will certainly let you know what we think. But, in the mean time please feel free to browse the collection and reviews, and let Neuron News know what you think by posting comments here in the journal.

“How the Mind Works: Revelations” :: The New York Review of Books :: Volume 55, Number 11 :: June 26, 2008 :: [ READ REVIEW ]

Find God in Your Head

So, the science we are looking at here is a little “iffy” — to be polite about it — but, since we don’t know everything about the brain quite yet, we really do have to keep our minds open to new ways of approaching ridiculously complicated problems. (To impart a bit of experienced wisdom, if I may: even if a method of thinking is crazy and entirely incorrect, it can certainly still lead to new and original brainstorms into potentially correct paths of inquiry!)

Slate Magazine covered a brain science “year in review” in 2007, and one interesting feature looked at neurotheology. (Yes, this is a little bit of old news now, but we’re still catching up!) No matter what you believe, human beings of all faiths and background really do have some sort of “spiritual” experience that is real in the sense that we can personally feel it happening if and when it does happen. This “feeling” certainly doesn’t prove that a Caucasian older gentleman with a long white beard sits up in a puffy white cloud watching over our every thought and motion, but it also doesn’t mean there isn’t something, evening if it’s not supernatural. It might be an illusion, but it is still something to understand.

So why not directly measure brain activity of those of us homo sapiens who have excessive spiritual feelings and see if there is anything different from those of us who don’t have similar experiences–or, those of us who inadvertently repress. It’s all in our heads… the complex neural network in our brain is everything, and maybe it’s also god… or maybe it’s the most amazing connection to the “real” god that is still beyond our comprehension. Even if the science is a little loosy-goosy at this point, religion is certainly an experience of human beings, which means it is a direct experience of our brains, which means our neurons have a whole lot to do with religion.

“God Is in the Dendrites” :: Slate April 26, 2007
Read the Article ]

The Politics of Consciousness

There is an important connection between neurotechnology and human consciousness, which is why Neuron News dedicates an entire category to the subject. The neurons in our brain somehow make us feel aware of ourselves and conscious. Neurotechnological devices will either integrate new neurons into our brain or alter the function of existing neurons in some way.

So, if these brain-chips are tinkering around with our neurons, it might be important to understand how that will affect our brain function on the whole, in particular our consciousness.

Christof Koch, at CalTech, and Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and whose name is famously tagged with the double helix structure of DNA, have been working on the problem of how brain cells make us conscious for many years. This article briefly outlines their current set of ideas on the issue of the “neural correlate of consciousness” and suggests that we have cut-throat politicking going on up in our heads.

Read the article from Billings Gazette ]

[ Visit the Koch Lab ]

Last updated October 26, 2021