Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Inside Your Skull: More Than One Mind?

Consciousness is such a strange thing. We all know we have it, but what is it? It has been suggested that there is no objective way to measure consciousness, in that consciousness is an entirely subjective experience. I know what it is like to be me, but I have no idea what it is like to be you. I can only assume that you are conscious, based on certain similarities in your behavior to mine, but I you may only be acting as if you were conscious.

Another strange thought: It has also been suggested that other things may be conscious of which we are completely unaware, again because consciousness is such a personal, subjective thing, for all we know it could be going on within our own spinal cords and we have no access to it. Which leads me to this final paragraph from an article in today's New York Times:

Yet the new research on priming makes it clear that we are not alone in our own consciousness. We have company, an invisible partner who has strong reactions about the world that don’t always agree with our own, but whose instincts, these studies clearly show, are at least as likely to be helpful, and attentive to others, as they are to be disruptive.

The article is referring to the human subconscious, a consciousness to which we have no access. According to the author, the consciousness we know and love is often the last one to know when the rest of our brain has weighed its options and come to a decision.

The results suggest a “bottom-up” decision-making process, in which the ventral pallidum is part of a circuit that first weighs the reward and decides, then interacts with the higher-level, conscious regions later, if at all, Dr. Frith said.

Scientists have spent years trying to pinpoint the exact neural regions that support conscious awareness, so far in vain. But there’s little doubt it involves the prefrontal cortex, the thin outer layer of brain tissue behind the forehead, and experiments like this one show that it can be one of the last neural areas to know when a decision is made.

What will be discovered when the uploading of our minds begins? Is there someone else in there with us? Perhaps we shall soon find out.

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JEmerson said...

What I find most interesting in this scenario isn't simply that a decision is made unconsciously, but that at least sometimes we've experimentally verified that unconscious actions will be introduced into consciousness as a "thought out, reasoned, decision". And that this occurs after the actual event. So our unconscious is actually able to rewrite the stream of consciousness to include an illusion of having thought about and decided to do something.

Barry Mahfood said...

I agree with you, that is very interesting. I'm starting to think someone else is in control and I'm just along for the ride.