The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Friday, July 22, 2011
Brain / Mind ...

It’s been a rough year weather-wise for the USA as a whole, but my corner of suburban New Jersey has missed the worst of it thus far. Thank goodness, no tornadoes, no floods, more snow than I would have liked, but even that gave way by late February. However, the nasty heat wave that has been parching the heartland has finally invaded the east coast, and we’re getting fried with the best of them. The ocean breezes cool things off near the shore, but crap out just a few miles inland. Thus, I am enjoying that unique combination of 100+ heat and Jersey-style humidity. The air outside is something like a chocolate fudge volcano cake just out of the oven — but without any of the sweetness.

In this weather, I still think about big questions; but I don’t get too far in pursuing the answers. For tonight then, I’m just going to ask the questions and leave them unanswered. For now, and probably for a long, long time, as these questions are about the human mind. Ah yes, the mind and consciousness, that mysterious middle-ground between the physical brain, and what we would imagine as “the soul” (perhaps rightly so, despite all the disdain by the scientists and Buddhists). Philosophers, psychologists, doctors, biologists and computer specialists have been arguing for decades and centuries about this topic. So, I guess that I’m not going to solve it all on a hot summer night in Jersey.

Nonetheless, here are my questions about mind and consciousness.

1.) Does consciousness evolve and emerge from the workings of a human mind when and because such a mind can attain a certain level of information integration, as per neuroscientist-psychologist Giulio Tontoni?

2.) Does the mind sometimes operate in complicated ways that yet do not integrate enough information as to “light up” the light bulb of consciousness? (E.g. when driving a car to work along a familiar route — you are conscious of other things, and drive as if “on autopilot”, not noticing the normal scenery; or when you “sub-consciously” form impressions and feelings regarding your relationships).

3.) If so, then can the mind occasionally go “completely on autopilot”? I.e., the mind has no consciousness at all. Information is not integrating sufficiently into a “unification of conscious awareness”; and yet the lungs keep breathing, the heart keeps beating, perhaps the body will even move arms and legs as in Phase 4 deep sleep or coma states? Perhaps an all-autopilot state can extend to moving around and doing things, such as in “sleepwalking”? And what about Kenneth Parks in Toronto, Canada, a kind and responsible young man who woke up to find that he had murdered his mother-in-law during a sleepwalking incident? The jury found him not guilty, deciding that he did not act from conscious free will.

4.) Is there something essential that must be included within the “information integration” before consciousness lights up? Perhaps that something is emotional awareness. I.e. the information circuits must include the limbic system, where emotions are largely driven from. (And perhaps that is why a gentle family-oriented person like Mr. Parks can commit a murder while in a sleepwalking state — as he was not tied to his emotional facilities and could not “feel” what he was seeing and doing.)

Oops, that’s supposed to be a question, not a suggestion.

5.) Sleepwalkers generally don’t express themselves emotionally. Perhaps a sleepwalker could commit a cold-blooded murder; but could a sleepwalker write poetry? (Ditto for a “zombie”, the child of thought experiments from philosophers like David Chalmers; according to Chalmers, a zombie has a human body and a computer-like brain that does most everything we conscious beings can, but just doesn’t experience any sort of consciousness.)

6.) How does consciousness and information integration relate to dreaming? Dreaming is generally recognized as a legitimate form of consciousness. But dreams are ‘all over the place’ in terms of what the dreamer experiences. Some dreams are very meaningful and realistic, the stuff that Freud made a career out of; others are just random image collages that don’t make much sense (the kinds of dreams that I mostly have). They don’t trigger any emotions and are quickly forgotten. Is it a question of degree of information integration plus EMOTIONAL integration that separates the dreamer with deeply meaningful and realistic dreams, from the sleeper who just passes quickly from one “blip” image to another without any emotional narrative to it?

7.) And thus, is it more likely that the “light dreamer” passes into spells of non-consciousness during the night, as her or his “integration levels” are fairly low? And the “heavy dreamer” hardly ever loses complete consciousness, due to a more active limbic / cortical integration process within the mind?

8.) What happens as we age — do heavy dreamers keep dreaming heavy, and light dreamers keep dreaming lightly and randomly — or are there trends one way or another over the decades (towards more vivid, meaningful dreams or fewer such dreams?)

9.) So people with greater integrative tendencies have more affinity with the extrasensory perception realm? I.e., do they tend to have “psychic” senses and abilities?

10.) And finally, do people with LESSER integrative tendencies have better success with meditation, with “calming the monkey mind” and simplifying their awareness during a meditation practice?

OK, that’s enough. I’m going to do some further reading on this, and perhaps report back at a later date (after it cools down!!). And I will look very carefully for documented examples of zombie or sleepwalker poetry . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:37 pm      

  1. Jim, We’ve had the heat and humidity here for quite a while. I’m going to get to your questions with short answers immediately. Not saying I’m right; maybe I’m just asking more questions behind your questions.

    1) How about it being the other way around—a higher level of consciousness requires a “better” brain?

    2) YES.

    3) Or maybe it’s “levels” of consciousness that one can ascend and descend through. As to Phase 4 and coma states: Perhaps it’s consciousness that remains aware with the body being unable to move; actually, I think that’s more likely the case. As to Mr. Parks and his unfortunate situation, I don’t think anybody has taken the trouble to do any real study about this kind of thing. One thing that *is* known is that there is a mechanism that “turns the body off” during dreaming to keep it from acting out its dreams. Perhaps that mechanism is turned off.

    4) Or perhaps consciousness requires a higher form of brain to operate. More specifically, the higher form of consciousness the higher the kind of brain for needed for its expression.

    5) I would think to answer the question about zombies, one would have to ask a zombie. All else is the highest form of speculation that is only that.

    6) I think you are WAAAAY too scientific here on dreams and dreaming. Since I did a dream study that lasted 24 years I do think I know a little of dreaming. Dreams are *symbolic* and the only real interpretation of the dream can be done by the dreamer. Past this point of explanation one has to start an effort at remember dreams, recording them, studying their symbols that relate to the individual, study what might be called the collective unconscious that relates to dreaming symbols, and then the dreamer would have to work at the interpretation. This is a massive effort that requires intensive and long-term work. Notice I used the word *work* there.

    7) I have no clue as to the answer here as I am not sure how you define “light” dreamer” and “heavy dreamer.” Actually, a short, uncomplicated (if that’s possible) answer might be that we all pass through all stages of dreaming if we get proper sleep. It may be that disruption of the “orderly” (?) dream process is what causes one to feel so terrible when one does not get a good night sleep.

    8) My quick answer would be that as we age probably our dreaming does not change. But what probably *does* change is our *need* to study our dreams. Then too, I tend to think that the closer one gets to death, the closer one may approach in his/her dreams whatever the next life is.

    9) I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean here by “integrative tendencies”. I tend to think that anyone at all can learn dreaming—if the proper amount of study is given it. Right there may be the rub—not many people may have the need or the time in life to give the study time to dreaming.

    I would like to mention something you have not included: How often have “we” heard that we use only something like 10% of our brain? My question is: What is done with the other 90%. OK, some of it is reserved for redundant needs; e.g., if the brain is injured irreparably, another part of the brain can take over the same functions. But that still does not account for the entire 100%, to my way of thinking. Thus, it seems to me that there is probably a large portion of the brain that is available for such “psychic” uses. Whether or not they are operational or not may differ in some people more than in others due to some kind of early environmental development—read here uterine development. But that also leaves for those whose brain may not have such a “gift” (as some cultures might term it) the possibility that everybody and anybody could achieve the same use of those unused faculties, if I may term them that. But, again, not many people want to or are able to devote the time and study to that development. MCS

    P.S. I have never, ever heard of “zombie” or “sleepwalker” poetry. But then again, I don’t’ think you should lump the 2 together. Who what knows level of consciousness somebody like Blake with his strange poetry or, for instance, Picasso with (what seems to me) his strange views of how things look…who knows what level of consciousness they were in when he wrote his poetry and painted his pictures? But, of course, they would think they were seeing reality as it *is* and everybody else was “out of focus”, so to say. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 23, 2011 @ 11:08 am

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