How and why does consciousness arise from the jumbled up mass of neurons which exist in my
How? If anyone here could answer that, they'd be up for the Nobel. No one knows. But.. neurons are
not "a jumbled-up mass". Not at all, the brain is extremely well-organized, on both small and large
scales. Consciousness arises from some sort of structural factors, it seems. But we do not know how
or which ones.
Why? Well at least we can take a stab at this one. Consider the "lower" animals, i.e., animals with
smaller brains, down to animals with no nervous systems at all. What do you find, in terms of their
thinking, inasmuch as we can determine that, and in terms of their behavior? You find less and less
flexibility, less ability to adapt and change, less ability to break habits. And when you finally get down
to very low animals and plants, you find none, pretty much, except on evolutionary time-scales (which
isn't what we're talking about here). So then what is the function of consciousness, i.e., why does it
arise? Well, there you are; that seems to be the answer to that one. There's an interesting
breaking-point in behavior; interesting to me, at any rate. Consider the animals who play. What are
the lowest (for lack of a better term) animals who play, when they're young? Well, fish never play (I
don't mean dolphins or whales, etc.; they're animals). Plants never play. Reptiles never play, not as
far as we can tell. I mean, as soon as a fish or reptile hatches, they are adults, basically... small, but
they won't ever change. But take some birds, like crows, or dogs, or cats... etc... when they're young,
and to a certain extent even as adults, they play with things. It's almost symbolic behavior, isn't it... a
bit of cloth or string or whatever becomes something else: not what it really is, as a piece of string.
Well, I think that's the point where we see the first bit of consciousness. Play is a very flexible way of
seeing and manipulating the world, much more than just seeing it as it is. But this is just my own
private hypothesis, with very little to back it up; I'm just giving it here because it relates to your
Steven Ravett Brown
I don't know HOW, but I'm pretty sure IN WHAT WAY.
I guess that somewhere in evolution it became profitable to distinguish yourself from others. Why
attack yourself?, that makes no reason. Imagine yourself sharks biting in their own tail. Of course
there are other ways to prevent that. But in this way by evolution the trait of recognizing your own
body became 'seen' as positive. In the same way recognizing your own thoughts as connected to this
body got useful for humans and some apes. These were the first because these creatures needed
communication to survive. So in their case it was extra useful.
How this was realized is another question.
We first have to prove that it does!! We could reverse the question and ask: How does consciousness
in the form of mind manage to manipulate the neurons in the brain to perform the actions that they
carry out? If I wish to raise my arm the action follows the thought, not the other way around, the
thought does not arise from the action of the neurons. Also, it is difficult to envisage how mechanical
neurons can make decisions: I think that most of us entertain the belief that the neurons carry out the
decisions made by the mind. When we put a probe in the brain does the electrical crackle we hear
follow the thought or precede it? In my experience it seems to be the former, though I concede that
the speed at which the system works makes it very difficult to observe.
Another way to think about it, is that sensory neurons stimulate sensations in the brain/ mind
informing us about our environment. The sensation received when we touch something is not at the
end of the finger but in the sensory cortex of the brain. We can respond to or ignore the message
received, this is a conscious decision from information received. In fact, philosophically, we can say
that our world is in our mind, as this is where all sensory information is received and interpreted.
When we respond to sensory information the decisions we make are carried out by motor neurons
which move the necessary parts of the body, if in danger we run or stand and fight, the choice is
made by the mind and the neurons carry it out. There is one circuit however that informs the
mind/brain after it has carried out the action, this is called a reflex; when we touch something very hot
we jerk the finger away automatically, the feeling of pain arrives in the brain shortly after. Reflexes are
circuits in the neuro-system designed to protect us; in the case of heat, if the message arrived in the
brain first for the mind to make a decision about moving the finger away from the heat, the digit would
be very badly damaged and perhaps lost. Again, in the reflex there is no thoughtarising from the
neuron, it is an automatic mechanical action, the thought comes after when we say: "Ooh!! That hurt!,
and decideto tell the neurons to stick the finger under the cold water tap.
There is obviously much more to say on this, the philosophy of mind is a massive subject within which
philosophers and scientists disagree widely. However, I may have said enough to indicate that your
question is a common presumption and that the neurons seem to be the slaves of the mind rather
than the other way round. Recent advances in neuro-science now indicate that the brain is more like
a large gland, where hormones have a massive influence, rather than just dry electric circuits. This
complicates the issue even more, but whether we consider either dry or wet conditions in the brain,
the mind seems to be the boss, rather than the worker. However as I have indicated, there are many
other points of view.