Archive for the ‘Consciousness’ Category
One of the striking developments of modern times is an appreciation of how unbounded things are. Social networks have transformed our understanding of the nature of the individual. Phones allow another person to be present to us even when they are miles away, destroying the illusion of boundaries.
I travel and I can access my latest work documents, my deepest, most intimate thoughts on the cloud, so where are my most deepest, most significant thoughts? Where am I working? Where am I located? We ourselves are distributed dynamically, extended beings who are always becoming through our action. That is a very profound, new way of thinking about what we are. But sadly so often in the sciences of mind, this new way of thinking about ourselves is overlooked as a possibility. Too many cognitive scientists, not all, but the majority tend to take really a 17th century conception of the person as an individual island trapped inside his or her head. We need to break free of that.
Now, the only way to move forward is through an integrated, contextualized neuroscience of consciousness.
What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. This engaging book–part scientific overview, part memoir, part futurist speculation–describes Koch’s search for an empirical explanation for consciousness. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science of consciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest–his instinctual (if “romantic”) belief that life is meaningful.
Koch describes his own groundbreaking work with Francis Crick in the 1990s and 2000s and the gradual emergence of consciousness (once considered a “fringy” subject) as a legitimate topic for scientific investigation. Present at this paradigm shift were Koch and a handful of colleagues, including Ned Block, David Chalmers, Stanislas Dehaene, Giulio Tononi, Wolf Singer, and others. Aiding and abetting it were new techniques to listen in on the activity of individual nerve cells, clinical studies, and brain-imaging technologies that allowed safe and noninvasive study of the human brain in action.
What potential exists for improvements in the functioning of consciousness? The paper addresses this issue using global workspace theory. According to this model, the prime function of consciousness is to develop novel adaptive responses. Consciousness does this by putting together new combinations of knowledge, skills and other disparate resources that are recruited from throughout the brain. The paper’s search for potential improvements in the functioning of consciousness draws on studies of the shift during human development from the use of implicit knowledge to the use of explicit (declarative) knowledge. These studies show that the ability of consciousness to adapt a particular domain improves significantly as the transition to the use of declarative knowledge occurs in that domain. However, this potential for consciousness to enhance adaptability has not yet been realised to any extent in relation to consciousness itself. The paper assesses the potential for adaptability to be improved by the conscious adaptation of key processes that constitute consciousness. A number of sources (including the practices of religious and contemplative traditions) are drawn on to investigate how this potential might be realised.
Theories of consciousness are challenged by recent research into the impact of brain function on the sense of self.
There may be no single answer to what consciousness is, but we may still be able to find ways to explain what is going on in the brain. This would help resolve why our conscious experience takes the shape and form it does, and elucidate what happens to consciousness when one of the interacting systems that make possible the self-knowing mind breaks down. These phenomena provide vital clues about the neural correlates of consciousness and are a step on the road to understanding why things work as they do.
Getting at the elusive nature of our own experience and freeing ourselves from faulty interpretations is a tricky business. Many disciplines are needed if we are to make a real breakthrough.
Read also: Neural correlates of consciousness
Written by two leading experts in the field, this book takes a unique thematic approach to introduce concepts of cognitive neurosciences, guiding students along a clear path to understand the latest findings whether or not they have a background in neuroscience. New to this edition are Frontiers in Cognitive Neuroscience text boxes; each one focuses on a leading researcher and their topic of expertise. There is a new chapter on Genes and Molecules of Cognition, and all other chapters have been thoroughly revised, based on the most recent discoveries. New edition of a very successful textbook completely revised to reflect new advances, and feedback from adopters and students. A textbook with an easy-to-understand thematic approach: in a way that is clear for students from a variety of academic backgrounds, the text introduces concepts such as working memory, selective attention, and social cognition. A step-by-step guide for introducing students to brain anatomy: color graphics have been carefully selected to illustrate all points and the research explained. Beautifully clear artist’s drawings are used to ‘build a brain‘ from top to bottom, simplifying the layout of the brain. For students: An easy-to-read, complete introduction to mind-brain science: all chapters begin from mind-brain functions and build a coherent picture of their brain basis. A single, widely accepted functional framework is used to capture the major phenomena. Learning Aids include a student support site with study guides and exercises, a new Mini-Atlas of the Brain and a full Glossary of technical terms and their definitions. Richly illustrated with hundreds of carefully selected color graphics to enhance understanding.
But our inability to grasp the immaterial means we’re stuck making inferences, free-associating, if we want any insight into the unknown. Which is why we talk obscurely and metaphorically about “pinning down” perception and “hunting for dark matter” (possibly a sort of primordial black hole). The existence of black holes was first hypothesized a decade after Einstein laid the theoretical groundwork for them in the theory of relativity, and the phrase “black hole” was not coined until 1968.
Likewise, consciousness is still such an elusive concept that, in spite of the recent invention of functional imaging – which has allowed scientists to visualize the different areas of the brain – we may not understand it any better now than we ever have before. “We approach [consciousness] now perhaps differently than we have in the past with our new tools,” says neuroscientist Joy Hirsch.