Minds in the 21st century.

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Arthur C. Clarke's 1 law.

At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved - if it can be achieved at all - within the next few hundred years.

Arthur C. Clarke, 1983.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Seeing Red - a study in consciousness

In Nicholas Humphreys research with rhesus monkeys, he has showed that they have strong and consistent emotional responses to colored light. When, for example, a monkey is put in a chamber bathed in red light, it becomes anxious and fidgety. When the chamber is bathed in blue,it becomes relatively calm. So, given the chance, rhesus monkeys strongly prefer a blue chamber to a red one.

Most humans have similar preferences, but not exactly. In a study of peoples preferences for colored cards, 70 percent cionsistently preferred blue/green hues to yellow/red hues. But a signicant subgroup of 20 percent preferred yellow/red to blue/green.

Seeing Red

But onwards to the seeing red thing. Whenever there is a subjective experience, obviously there has to be a subject. It seems absurd to us that a pain, a mood, a wish should rove around in the world without a bearer. The inner world presupposes the person whose inner world it is?

But the situation can also be understood the other way around. That is to say, it is our experience of the inner world that confirms the existence of a person! Certainly sensations are important to us humans, as is being conscious. We even like consciousness in other people. Certainly, the last thing we want is to be conscious in a world where everybody else are zombies.


What sensation does is to track the subjects personal interaction with the external world - creating the sense each person has of being present and engaged, lending a hereness, a nowness, a me-nessto the experience of the present moment [p 70].

By putting sensation on the production side of the mind rather than the reception side, we get a degree of central control of what it is like. Sensation are therefore affected by changes in mood, by mind-altering drugs etc. Indeed, mood changes,such as depression, might actually change sensation, just as mescaline or LSD can alter the qualityof sensory experience. Furthermore, it should be noted that it is possible to have sensations that are entirely selfgenerated (visions, dreams).

To Humphrey and others the special quality of consciousness lies with ''re-entrant circuits'' in the brain, neural activity that loops back on itself, so as to create self-resonance. That is to say, the command signals for sensory responses could begin to interact with the very input to which they are response. So as to become almost self-creating and self sustaining. Sure they take cues from the body, but they are also becoming signals about themselves. According to Humphrey: The moment of conscious sensation is not blending past, present and future -put taking a moment and holding on to it! Experiencing it longer than it actually happened!?

Why then, would sensory response circuits have evolved to the point of supporting sustained feedback? What is the payoff - the functional biological payoff - of feedback that brings about this thickening time of consciousness? According to Humphrey, the payoff that it gives the subject is a new sense of self: It lifts the subjectout of zombiedom. It changes ''I have such and such experiences therefore I am'' to ''I am because I have such and such experiencess''.

So, what is then required of an experience, if it is to be something a subject can proudly be the subject of? According to Humphrey: The substantiality that goes with existing in thick time is key.A self that has this as it center will be a self to be reckoned with. Natural selection will then need only a little more work, to shape it up a bit more, so that it becomes the organizing principle for each individuals mental life.

With a self - a human being has a life worth pursuing. Something to build a rich subjective life around. A huge advantages compared to the zombie state of not being there. The more important the self, the greater the boost to human self-confidence and self-importance. The greater the value of own and others life.



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