Every so often, Bad Religion will post an email letter that was sent to them and Greg Graffin will run through it, insert his comment, thoughts and/or reactions to the letter and then post the letter on their official website. Here is the most recect edition that was just recently posted on badreligion.com
Letter of the Week!
Here is this week's letter of the week. Greg G's comments are in CAPS.
--- Trish wrote: Hello, my name is Trish. Not sure if you remember me, but you recommended this book for me to read. You also asked me to try and find you at your next show, which was at the Warped Tour in Calgary, Alberta. I did try to reach you so we could talk, but you're a pretty hard guy to get a hold of. I am having a hard time getting through the book because I personally think that 'consciousness' is a bit of a hoax.
A definition of 'consciousness' has been sought after since the times of Plato, and one that could be agreed upon has not yet been established. EDELMAN AND TONONI HAVE IMPROVED ON THIS ACTUALLY. So it is hard for me to swallow anyone's ideas of the processes that encompass it. How can we attribute processes to it if we don't even know what it is?
YOU DON'T HAVE TO ACCEPT THEIR DEFINITION IF YOU DON'T WANT TO, BUT THERE IS NONE BETTER OUT THERE, AND THEIRS IS A GOOD THEORY.
The authors describe all kinds of sensory, motor, and cognitive processes with an emphasis on reentry as being responsible for 'consciousness'. But really, they are just sensory, motor, and cognitive processes.
NO, THEY ARE A SPECIAL TYPE OF PROCESS CALLED REENTRY... NOT "JUST" SENSORY, MOTOR, AND COGNITIVE PROCESSES... NOT ALL ANIMALS HAVE THIS REENTRY...
Reentry is just a form of feedback communication in order to fine tune outputs and modify sensitivity of a system to input.
AGAIN USING THE WORD "JUST" IS YOUR WAY OF UNDERMINING ITS IMPORTANCE, BUT WHAT YOU ARE FAILING TO ACCEPT IS THAT THESE ARE THE RUDIMENTS, THE RAW MATERIALS OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
It happens all over the nervous system to maintain stability and execute the most adaptive responses to whatever is happening.
TRUE, BUT WHEN IT HAPPENS IN THE THALAMOCORTICAL FIBERS SOMETHING SPECIAL IS GOING ON ... (I DON'T KNOW YOUR EXPERTISE SO EXCUSE ME IF I AM USING ANATOMICAL TERMS YOU AREN'T FAMILIAR WITH.. BUT AS THE BOOK POINTS OUT THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR INFLUENCING CONSCIOUSNESS IS... NEUROANATOMY, SO IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE BRAIN ANATOMY WELL!). THALAMOCORTICAL REENTRY IS SOMETHING THAT IS NOT FOUND IN OTHER PARTS OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM AND IT IS RARELY FOUND IN OTHER ANIMAL SPECIES.
So, wouldn't all of those things be processes whose output we happen to be aware of while we are conscious? And is there not evidence that some levels of sensory perception, motor activity, and cognition occur when we are not conscious?
NO... WHEN YOURE NOT CONSCIOUS THERE IS NO SENSORY PERCEPTION, AND NO COGNITION... (MAYBE THERE IS MOTOR ACTIVITY WHEN YOU DREAM, BUT I WILL HAVE TO LOOK INTO THIS... IT HAS BEEN A WHILE SINCE I READ THIS BOOK BY THE WAY SO I AM RESPONDING FROM MEMORY)
Motor anticipation has been shown in monkeys with a study where they were trained to move a handle in one of 8 directions in accordance with light-emitting diodes (Georgopoulos et al., 1982). We know that on a sensory and motor level, they are quite similar to us. Their cognitive > skills are not as profound, but still exist. So do they just have a lesser 'consciousness' or just smaller brains with a less developed cortex, especially frontal lobe, leaving fewer neurons to participate in processing?
CORRECT... THEY, AND MANY OTHER ANIMAL SPECIES SHOULD BE SEEN AS POSSESSING SOME FORM OF CONSCIOUSNESS... TO WHAT DEGREE REMAINS TO BE SEEN, BUT MOST ANIMAL RESEARCHERS ARE FINE WITH THE SUGGESTION THAT ANIMALS HAVE VARYING DEGREES OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
Or does their smaller brain result in a lesser 'consciousness'? The reticular activating system is the only area of the nervous system that eliminates 'consciousness' when lesioned, yes? And all of the cortical activating systems (serotonergic, adrenergic, cholinergic, etc) basically stem from around there, yes? So if these systems aren't active, could it be that the rest of the brain has a harder time responding to input? The systems could lose their 'primer', if you will. So now, is it sensory, motor, cognitive, etc processes or the overall level of cortical activity? Both? Are they separate things?
SORRY, I HAVE TO REFER TO THE BOOK AGAIN TO ANSWER THIS ONE... I AM NOT FRESH ON THESE ISSUES.
Finally I ask you, if I am a scientist studying, say, the effects of a drug on mood and I pop whatever pill the test subjects are given and then take observations of test and placebo subjects, you would tell me I am a bad scientist. In order for observations to be objective, obviously the observer can't be under the condition. So how the hell does a scientist remove them self from 'consciousness' and make objective observations about 'consciousness' in subjects without any kind of definition as to what they are measuring?
YOU HAVE TO MEASURE THEIR BRAIN ACTIVITY... AND THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT EDELMANN AND TONONI HAVE DONE... IT FORMS THE CORE OF ALL THEIR WORK, BRAIN IMAGING... IT IS OBJECTIVE AND PURE SCIENCE. YOUR QUESTION WAS A POWERFUL ONE IN TIMES BEFORE BRAIN IMAGING EVOLVED... IN FACT IT KEPT BRAIN SCIENCE AT A STANDSTILL, FORCING THE DEBATE INTO A PHILOSOPHICAL FIELD THAT HAD NO CONCLUSIVE ANSWERS. NOW THAT WE CAN MONITOR THE BRAIN WE DON'T NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT "FEELS LIKE TO SEE THE COLOR RED" WE CAN SIMPLY MONITOR WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN A SUBJECT SEES THE COLOR. AT THIS POINT, I AM NOT SURE AT ALL WHAT THE UTILITY IS IN ASKING SOMEONE HOW THE COLOR RED MAKES THEM FEEL... IT IS IMPORTANT IN INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS... BUT NOT VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTANDING HOW CONSCIOUSNESS WORKS. I AM STILL FORMING MY OWN VIEWS OF THIS WHOLE TOPIC, SO IT IS POSSIBLE THAT I MIGHT CHANGE MY MIND AS I LEARN MORE ABOUT IT... BUT THANKS FOR YOUR EMAIL... I AM ON A NEW NEUROSCIENCE BOOK NOW AND CAN'T YET RECOMMEND IT.. "SYNAPTIC SELF" BY LEDOUX. CHECK IT OUT ON YOUR OWN IF YOU LIKE. LET ME KNOW.
I apologize if I'm rambling, but it just makes no sense to me. I think that as humans, we have a need to learn about and define ourselves, especially with regards to our minds. I think that we are aware of everything we perceive and experience on some level via the brain and all of those things have amalgamated into something that we have named 'consciousness'. We can't find a suitable definition for it because it's like a label on a filing cabinet drawer. All the files inside are seemingly less profound processes that we all know about- sensation, movement, learning, memory, planning, language, facial recognition, etc. Experiencing all of those little things simultaneously (via reentry) is what we loosely call 'consciousness'. But isn't it just that, and not something seperate and different?
BY THIS LAST QUESTION YOU MAY HAVE HIT IT ON THE HEAD! WE ARE NOT AS 'SEPARATE' AND 'DIFFERENT' AS YOU MIGHT WISH... THAT WAS CHARLES DARWIN'S GREATEST CONTRIBUTION WHEN HE WROTE HIS MASTERPIECE IN 1859...
WE ARE A PART OF NATURE.. NOT APART FROM IT! GOOD LUCK..
I'm not asking for answers, I just want to know what your opinions are... Even if you think I'm a bad scientist and a bit of a cracker ;)
Play safe. By the way, I had a great time at the show. Sorrow is my favorite song off the new album so I was very happy to hear it live.
Play safe. Trish
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