Saturday, March 7, 2015

Consciousness


Science is essentially objective while consciousness is essentially subjective. So far they just don't seem fit together comfortably. In the past couple of decades neuroscience has made considerable progress in describing the constituent parts of the brain and which parts control or are related to various physical, and emotional behaviors. But actually remarkably little has been learned about what consciousness really is.

Two scenarios have been put forth as to the nature of consciousness. Panpsychism is the view that all things have a mind or a mind-like quality. Panpsychism, taken literally, is the doctrine that everything has a mind:  plants, bacteria, even stones. This is an ancient philosophical doctrine.

There is another, emerging idea that consciousness is an essential  part of the universe, like space, time, mass, and energy. So it is something like electricity that automatically exists but is not yet explained.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that 95% of the contents of the cosmos are invisible to our current methods of direct detection. Yet something is holding galaxies and galaxy clusters together, and something else is causing space to fly apart. Dark matter and dark energy are the most eagerly studied subjects in astronomy and particle physics today. So 5% or less of the universe is regular matter, which if Einstein was right, it is composes of over 99.999999% empty space. Physicist Hans-Peter Durr,  recently stated that "Matter is not made of matter...and exists only in the mind."

In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. The phenomenon so riled Albert Einstein that he called it "spooky action at a distance."

Our view of reality has changed in just the last decade so that we are apparently seeing the beginning of an important new chapter in human history. This is the result of significant discoveries, the combined effect of which appears to be ushering in a whole new paradigm of human understanding. We no longer see the world as solid and mechanical. We seem to be entering a new era where consciousness is fundamental, and the universe seems to be a giant hologram.

This new paradigm appears to be replacing the old one which was the result of a philosophical belief that every event is the inevitable result of antecedent causes. Applied to ethics and psychology, it amounted to the denial of free will. For every event, including human action, there was supposed to exist conditions that could cause no other event. Karl Popper and Stephen Hawking have called this scientific determinism. The idea of Determinism in philosophy, was a theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes.

In Psychology, genetic predisposition has been the term describing the tendency for a physical or mental condition or disorder to be able to be inherited by the next generation. Peer groups were even supposed to be the result of. genetic influences. This proved to be a monster of great complexities, in which genes trump environment. There was a wide-spread victim mentality, an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard him or herself as not good enough, a victim of the negative actions of others, and to think, speak and act as if that were the case — even in the absence of clear evidence.

A few hundred years ago the clergy could decide not just what was right and wrong, but what was true and false. Their power was absolute and intolerable - comply or die. And indeed scientists have died when they began to show that the church was not infallible. The earth was not flat, and not the center of the physical universe, etc.

But the tables turned. Scientists decided that anything non-physical is mere superstition and not real.  Everything has been quantified and commodified. The invention of machines delivered power into the hands of the wealthy and the greedy. Their exploitations yielded a terrible new tyranny that became ever more unsustainable and intolerable. Science dogma has become detached from reality and detached from  humanity. Even consciousness itself has been relegated to be just another part of the body. In effect, the baby was thrown out with the bath.

Determinism is the old philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event. Environmental Determinism is the assumption that the physical environment predisposes human social development towards particular trajectories. Combined with behaviorism this described life in a world that became grimmer each day.

Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of "stimulus-response,"  and behavior was thought to be caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). This belief was that all behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, which would increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again. This led to arbitrary  values and oppressive behavior, unjust severity, tyrannical parenting, and oppressive laws.  It seems that we have been drifting towards full scale genetic and medical tyranny.

 Our brain receives a lot more data than we can process, so we have become quite good at filtering out what we expect or need to see. Selective vision is the act of seeing things as you choose - creating your own reality within your mind and overlooking things outside their focus of interest.

A person can be keenly observant about one thing, and totally oblivious to something going on right next to them. Selective perception is the tendency to not notice, or quickly forget stimuli that causes emotional discomfort and contradicts our prior beliefs. And selective hearing is also very real, and necessary. In a crowded room we can filter out everything except a single conversation. A lover only sees the beloved. So we are prone to tunnel vision often we don't see stuff that's right in front of us.

But the idea that consciousness is produced by the brain belongs to old Newtonian Physics. The very formulation of the newer Quantum Physics requires an independent consciousness. The new paradigm is a happier, more productive and much more compassionate, wise, creative, and graceful place, where at any age your brain has the ability to change, learn, grow and be enhanced.  And you can learn how to focus your attention on the internal world of the mind in a way that will literally change the wiring and architecture of their brain.

Neuroscience research focuses on understanding the structure and function of the brain from molecule to mind. It is the process of examining the basic biological, physiological, and molecular processes that mediate behavior.

Dan Siegel's Mindsight allows you to make positive changes in your brain-and in your life. His groundbreaking book on the healing power of "Mindsight," describes the potent skill that is the basis for both emotional and social intelligence.

Rupert Sheldrake is the modern champion of the Hypothesis of Formative Causation and Morphic Resonance, which in effect proposes that, "Morphic resonance occurs between... rhythmic structures of activity on the basis of similarity, and through this resonance past patterns of activity influence the fields of subsequent similar systems." (P109, Presence of the Past, Sheldrake). An example might be that apparently some genes are passed on from parent to offspring without ever being part of a nuclear chromosome, which amounts to a non-DNA-based inheritance. This morphic resonance is becoming more in vogue as quantum uncertainty principles are studied.

Stuart Hameroff is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona is known for his studies of consciousness. At the very beginning of Hameroff's career, cancer-related research work piqued his interest in the part played by microtubules in cell division, and led him to speculate that they were controlled by some form of computing. It also suggested to him that part of the solution of the problem of consciousness might lie in understanding the operations of microtubules in brain cells, operations at the molecular and supramolecular level.

The operations of these microtubules are remarkably complex and their role pervasive in cellular operations; these facts led to the speculation that computation sufficient for consciousness might somehow be occurring there. These ideas are discussed in Hameroff's first book Ultimate Computing (1987) which dealt with the scope for information processing in biological tissue and  other parts of the cytoskeleton. Hameroff argued that these subneuronal cytoskeleton components could be the basic units of computation rather than the neurons themselves. The book was primarily concerned with information processing, with consciousness being secondary at this stage.

Roger Penrose's first book on consciousness, The Emperor's New Mind argued on the basis of Gödel's incompleteness theorems,  that the brain could perform functions that no computer or system of algorithms could. From this it could follow that consciousness itself might be fundamentally non-algorithmic, and incapable of being modeled as a classical Turing machine type of computer. By contrast, the idea that it could be explained mechanistically was prevalent in the field of Artificial Intelligence at that time.

Penrose saw the principles of quantum theory as providing an alternative process through which consciousness could arise. He further argued that this non-algorithmic process in the brain required a new form of the quantum wave reduction, later given the name objective reduction (OR), which could link the brain to the fundamental spacetime geometry. At this stage, he had no precise ideas as to how such a quantum process might be instantiated in the brain.

Hameroff was inspired by Penrose's book to contact Penrose regarding his own theories about the mechanism of anesthesia, and how it specifically targets consciousness via action on neural microtubules. The two met in 1992, and Hameroff suggested that the microtubules were a good candidate site for a quantum mechanism in the brain. Penrose was interested in the mathematical features of the microtubule lattice, and over the next two years the two collaborated in formulating the orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) model of consciousness. Following this collaboration, Penrose published his second consciousness book, Shadows of the Mind.

Peter Russell proposes that mind is more fundamental than matter. He explores the problems science has in explaining consciousness and argues that consciousness is not created by the brain, but is inherent in all beings. He states that energy, matter, space and time aren't fixed and possibly there is no material, physical world except in our minds. He also states that science is actually in a state of crisis because we have really no idea what matter is or what consciousness is.

The study of consciousness has intensified over the past few years as new technological developments in measurement and computer simulation have enabled the closer investigation of one the most "mysterious" phenomena in nature, namely the subjective experience of awareness. There is a whole new field of noetics that has to do with structures of thought and what it means to be human.

Experts at the very cutting edge of science seem poised to turn our world view upside down. To mention just a few: Gary Schwartz, Dr Bruce Lipton, Dr Amit Goswami, Dr Joe Dispenza, Dr Jude Currivan, Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton, and  Anthony Peake.

The popular media is increasingly concerning itself with New Age mysteries and deep questions. What the Bleep Do We Know!?  is a 2004 film that combines documentary-style interviews, computer-animated graphics, and a narrative that posits a spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness. The Secret (2006) posits that the law of attraction is a natural law which determines the complete order of the universe and of our personal lives through the process of "like attracts like".

Lynne McTaggart is author, researcher and lecturer, and one of the central voices in the new consciousness movement bridging science and spirituality. She is an award-winning, best-selling journalist and author of six books. She has become a leading spokesperson "on consciousness, the new physics, and the practices of conventional and alternative medicine," and what she calls a whole "new science."


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