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Does Self-Awareness Require a Complex Brain?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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(Image by David R. Ingham, via Wikimedia Commons)

The computer, smartphone or other electronic device on which you are reading this article has a rudimentary brain—kind of.* It has highly organized electrical circuits that store information and behave in specific, predictable ways, just like the interconnected cells in your brain. On the most fundamental level, electrical circuits and neurons are made of the same stuff—atoms and their constituent elementary particles—but whereas the human brain is conscious, manmade gadgets do not know they exist. Consciousness, most scientists argue, is not a universal property of all matter in the universe. Rather, consciousness is restricted to a subset of animals with relatively complex brains. The more scientists study animal behavior and brain anatomy, however, the more universal consciousness seems to be. A brain as complex as the human brain is definitely not necessary for consciousness. On July 7 this year, a group of neuroscientists convening at Cambridge University signed a document officially declaring that non-human animals, “including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses” are conscious.

Humans are more than just conscious—they are also self-aware. Scientists differ on the difference between consciousness and self-awareness, but here is one common explanation: Consciousness is awareness of one’s body and one’s environment; self-awareness is recognition of that consciousness—not only understanding that one exists, but further understanding that one is aware of one’s existence. Another way of thinking about it: To be conscious is to think; to be self-aware is to realize that you are a thinking being and to think about your thoughts. Presumably, human infants are conscious—they perceive and respond to people and things around them—but they are not yet self-aware. In their first years of life, infants develop a sense of self, learn to recognize themselves in the mirror and to distinguish their own point of view from other people’s perspectives.

Numerous neuroimaging studies have suggested that thinking about ourselves, recognizing images of ourselves and reflecting on our thoughts and feelings—that is, different forms self-awareness—all involve the cerebral cortex, the outermost, intricately wrinkled part of the brain. The fact that humans have a particularly large and wrinkly cerebral cortex relative to body size supposedly explains why we seem to be more self-aware than most other animals.

The structure of the human brain (Image courtesy of the National Institute for Aging, via Wikimedia Commons)

One would expect, then, that a man missing huge portions of his cerebral cortex would lose at least some of his self-awareness. Patient R, also known as Roger, defies that expectation. Roger is a 57-year-old man who suffered extensive brain damage in 1980 after a severe bout of herpes simplex encephalitis—inflammation of the brain caused by the herpes virus. The disease destroyed most of Roger’s insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), all brain regions thought to be essential for self-awareness. About 10 percent of his insula remains and only one percent of his ACC.

Roger cannot remember much of what happened to him between 1970 and 1980 and he has great difficulty forming new memories. He cannot taste or smell either. But he still knows who he is—he has a sense of self. He recognizes himself in the mirror and in photographs. To most people, Roger seems like a relatively typical man who does not act out of the ordinary.

Carissa Philippi and David Rudrauf of the University of Iowa and their colleagues investigated the extent of Roger’s self-awareness in a series of tests. In a mirror recognition task, for example, a researcher pretended to brush something off of Roger’s nose with a tissue that concealed black eye shadow. 15 minutes later, the researcher asked Roger to look at himself in the mirror. Roger immediately rubbed away the black smudge on his nose and wondered aloud how it got there in the first place.

Philippi and Rudrauf also showed Roger photographs of himself, of people he knew and of strangers. He almost always recognized himself and never mistook someone else for himself, but he sometimes had difficulty recognizing a photo of his face when it appeared by itself on a black background, absent of hair and clothing.

Roger also distinguished the sensation of tickling himself from the feeling of someone else tickling him and consistently found the latter more stimulating. When one researcher asked for permission to tickler Roger’s armpits, he replied, “Got a towel?” As Philippi and Rudrauf note, Roger’s quick wit indicates that in addition to maintaining a sense of self, he adopts the perspective of others—a talent known as theory of mind. He anticipated that the researcher would notice his sweaty armpits and used humor to preempt any awkwardness.

In another task, Roger had to use a computer mouse to drag a blue box from the center of a computer screen towards a green box in one of the corners of the screen. In some cases, the program gave him complete control over the blue box; in other cases, the program restricted his control. Roger easily discriminated between sessions in which he had full control and times when some other force was at work. In other words, he understood when he was and was not responsible for certain actions. The results appear online August 22 in PLOS One.

Given the evidence of Roger’s largely intact self-awareness despite his ravaged brain, Philippi, Rudrauf and their colleagues argue that the insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) cannot by themselves account for conscious recognition of oneself as a thinking being. Instead, they propose that self-awareness is a far more diffuse cognitive process, relying on many parts of the brain, including regions not located in the cerebral cortex.

MRI images of a child with hydranencephaly (Image via Behavioral and Brain Sciences via American College of Radiology)

In their new study, Philippi and Rudrauf point to a fascinating review of children with hydranencephaly—a rare disorder in which fluid-filled sacs replace the brain’s cerebral hemispheres. Children with hydranencphaly are essentially missing every part of their brain except the brainstem and cerebellum and a few other structures. Holding a light near such a child’s head illuminates the skull like a jack-o-lantern. Although many children with hydranencephaly appear relatively normal at birth, they often quickly develop growth problems, seizures and impaired vision. Most die within their first year of life. In some cases, however, children with hydranencephaly live for years or even decades. Such children lack a cerebral cortex—the part of the brain thought to be most important for consciousness and self-awareness—but, as the review paper makes clear, at least some hydranencephalic children give every appearance of genuine consciousness. They respond to people and things in their environment. When someone calls, they perk up. The children smile, laugh and cry. They know the difference between familiar people and strangers. They move themselves towards objects they desire. And they prefer some kinds of music over others. If some children with hydranencephaly are conscious, then the brain does not require an intact cerebral cortex to produce consciousness.

Whether such children are truly self-aware, however, is more difficult to answer, especially as they cannot communicate with language. In D. Alan Shewmon‘s review, one child showed intense fascination with his reflection in a mirror, but it’s not clear whether he recognized his reflection as his own.  Still, research on hydranencephaly and Roger’s case study indicate that self-awareness—this ostensibly sophisticated and unique cognitive process layered upon consciousness—might be more universal than we realized.

*If you printed out this article, kudos and thanks for reading!

References

Merker B (2007) Consciousness without a cerebral cortex: A challenge for neuroscience and medicine. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30: 63-81.

Philippi C., Feinstein J.S., Khalsa S.S., Damasio A., Tranel D., Landini G., Williford K.5, Rudrauf D. Preserved self-awareness following extensive bilateral brain damage to the insula, anterior cingulate, and medial prefrontal cortices. PLOS ONE. Aug 22.

Shewmon DA, Holmes GL, Byrne PA. Consciousness in congenitally decorticate children: developmental vegetative state as self-fulfilling prophecy. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1999 Jun;41(6):364-74.

About the Author: Ferris Jabr is an associate editor focusing on neuroscience and psychology. Follow on Twitter @ferrisjabr.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Forsythkid 6:07 pm 08/22/2012

    After watching members of Congress for decades, I can say with some certainty that awareness and learning how to screw others of the same species requires not very much awareness at all..

    Link to this
  2. 2. Steve3 6:31 pm 08/22/2012

    “If you printed out this article, kudos …” Why?

    Link to this
  3. 3. Mythusmage 6:50 pm 08/22/2012

    Three points to make here…

    1. A computer, even a multiprocess computer is more like neuron than it is a brain. A brain is a network of networks, an organic internet or sorts, that helps keep things running.

    2. A neuron and a computer don’t even use the same mechanism for handling data, with the neuron being more analog than the computer.

    3. Consciousness (which is sentience, btw) requires a complex brain. Just how complex is not yet known.

    …3A. Dogs get bored and seek things to entertain them. As far as I can see, that indicates sentience and dogs have fairly complex brains. Do mice get bored and seed things to do?

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  4. 4. blindboy 8:52 pm 08/22/2012

    All of which raises that uncomfortable question of our treatment of animals. It also, sadly, is a condemnation of the generations of scientists and philosophers, who against all the evidence, have continued to believe in human exceptionalism; the belief that the differences between humans and other animals are more important than the similarities.

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  5. 5. way2ec 12:19 am 08/23/2012

    We “know” that we are self-aware but as yet we don’t know how we know. We “know” that many other living beings are at least conscious but we don’t know just how aware they are. What level of inter-species communication will be required for us to “grant” them the status of being conscious and far more profoundly, that they are aware of themselves, and of us. As we search for extra terrestrial life forms, shouldn’t we be much further along in this? Is Buddhism the only religion/philosophy that deems other life forms to be sentient and worthy? Then I stop and reflect on how recently “we” have granted full human rights to all human beings (even if we don’t actually treat all humans equally) and doubt we will make much progress anytime soon. Would self-awareness in a species give us additional reason or motivation to protect it from extinction?

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  6. 6. vinodkumarsehgal 1:00 am 08/23/2012

    Article at one stage states “Consciousness, most scientists argue, is not a universal property of all matter in the universe.”

    Most scientists state that consciousness is not a universal property of ALL MATTER. Does it mean that consciousness is a property of SOME Matter?

    Actually consciousness is not a property or product of any matter or physical energy. It is in realms over and above the realms of physical matter and physical energy. From those realms, consciousness gets manifested in some matter like brains of human beings and some higher animals. It is not the neuronal activity in brain which creates consciousness BUT it is the consciousness which creates neuronal activity in brain. Similarly, it is not the neuron activity which creates thought process but it is the thought process which creates neuron activity. Neuro-scientists treat neuron activity synonymous with thought process and consciousness. In reality, thought process is originated in astral plane of nature above physical plane of brain.

    There is difference in thought process and consciousness. In deep meditational stage, thought process reduces and subsequently vanishes but consciousness remains intact. Consciousness is the ultimate perceiver of thought process, bodily activities and environment. Consciousness apart from being the ultimate perceiver activates the thought process in astral plane and neuron activity at physical brain level.

    Since consciousness is not a product of matter, therefore, neuro-scientists in their studies are not finding its origin in any or some parts of brain. Nor they will find it in complete brain.

    Nevertheless the above, awareness is one of the most fundamental attribute of consciousness. Even plants express some rudimentary degree of awareness by responding to some environmental stimulus though they have no brain

    Self awareness is higher category attribute of consciousness which gets manifested in human beings and some animals. In human beings also, there are different starta which manifest varying degrees of awareness to environment and self awareness

    Link to this
  7. 7. jbrew13 2:38 pm 08/23/2012

    Mr. Sehgal has written a very lucid perceptive profound piece; other than than starta(sic) I cannot disprove anything he says!

    Link to this
  8. 8. Zexks 3:45 pm 08/23/2012

    Mythusmage:
    3. Consciousness (which is sentience, btw) requires a complex brain. Just how complex is not yet known.

    Citation with evidence showing the complexity needed to attain sentience?

    Link to this
  9. 9. Cognosium 5:00 pm 08/23/2012

    The much-vaunted mirror test indicates merely a particular adaptation of an organisms sensory-neural adaptation to its particular environmental niche.

    And there is certainly no longer any problem regarding the phenomenon of consciousness.

    “What is consciousness” when stripped of the metaphysical baggage generated by introspection, is seen to be entirely accounted for by modern science.

    In fact, it is simply the navigational facility which enables an organism to interact optimally with its environment. An evolutionary necessity! A significant component of a creature’s fitness for its environment that it subject to strong selection pressures.

    The level at which it operates depends upon the degree of interaction with its environment required for optimal function.

    For a bacterium, it is minuscule. For, say, a cat, it it moderate.

    For our species, whose interactions with the environment (as evidenced by the billions of systems and artifacts we have generated) are beyond compare, it is humongous. Awe-inspiring, perhaps, but certainly not mysterious.

    And soon, it is probable that we will have a new cognitive entity on this planet that will better this.

    The construction of a “brain” that will soon equal and then surpass that typical of our species has for long been a work in progress. Not as a result of any deliberate human “design” but rather as the result of an autonomous evolutionary process that can be seen to have run its exponential course since humankind acquired the ability to share imagination, which we know as language.

    Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet.It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly. You may have noticed that we are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the net.

    We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

    Consider this:

    There are at present an estimated 2 Billion internet users. There are an estimated 13 Billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.
    That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the Internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 2 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but can adopt multiple states.

    Without even crunching the numbers, we see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present internet may well be comparable to a human brain in processing power.
    And, of course, the degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks within networks is also growing rapidly.The culmination of this exponential growth corresponds to the event that transhumanists inappropriately call “The Singularity” but is more properly regarded as a phase transition of the on-going “life” process.
    An evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.

    The broad evolutionary model that supports this contention is outlined very informally in “The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?” , a free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website
    Edit
    Reply

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  10. 10. vinodkumarsehgal 8:38 am 08/25/2012

    To Cognosium

    I would like to point below some radical differences between computers and human brain;

    i) a computer deals and duplicates dominantly that function of human brain which deals with intelligence and mathematical exactitude. Power to computer to deal with such function of brain are also designed and fed into the program of computer by a conscious mind of a human only.

    On the contrary, human mind (brain?) deals with so many functions and in such manner that we can not even enlist all function in any systematic manner. But who feeds the program of a human brain?

    ii) Computer lacks any awareness – self or of environment, lack of total consciousness. Human mind or for that purpose all the living beings indicate consciousness in varying degrees.

    iii)Circuits of a computer are energized by unconscious physical electric power.

    Neurons of brain are energized and activated by conscious force. Brain of a dead corpse is not more than stuff of some dead matter or some sand.

    So mystery lies in –that conscious force which activates stuff of matter to perform innumerable complex and mysterious function and THEN also perceives those functions by having “intrinsic awareness”.

    However, beauty and mystery of brain also can not be discounted which manifest complex mysterious functions on interaction with consciousness. But here also mystery may be on the part of conscious force since without that how a complex and mysterious brain would have originated and evolved. This is the way a computer, however super and complex it may be, could not take birth or evolve without interaction with some conscious intelligent human

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  11. 11. blindboy 10:24 pm 08/25/2012

    The differences between the human brain and the Internet or any other computer based system are profound. For a start the brain is a unified central processor. The Internet is a diffuse system of independent processors with no central processor. Then there is the fact, so conveniently forgotten in many of these discussions, that the brain’s function is as much chemical as electric.
    There is no prospect any time soon of any synthetic system approaching the intelligence or awareness of a mammal.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Optimtech 4:08 pm 08/27/2012

    Self-Awareness require a complex brain, yes it is. It will motivate you to a certain progress in activating an alertness of mind. Does computers, phones and any other useful gadgets is helpful to improve our mind.

    Internal Medicine

    Link to this
  13. 13. ZenBrainDoc 12:59 am 08/28/2012

    I appreciate Mr. Jabr’s effort to delve into a fascinating subject. It’s one I have been studying objectively as a brain researcher/physician and subjectively as an experienced Zen meditator.

    It is crucial when studying any neural phenomenon, and particularly awareness, let alone self-awareness, to define constructs very carefully and adhere to them. Mr. Jabr begins defining “consciousness as awareness of one’s body and external environment.” Of course, consciousness and awareness are synonymous terms, so the definition is a bit of a rhetorical tautology.

    No problem, we’ll fix that. Charles Tart, noted consciousness researcher, simply defines awareness as “knowing what is happening.”

    “Self-awareness” was defined as “…recognition of that consciousness—not only understanding that one exists, but further understanding that one is aware of one’s existence.”

    I agree with parts of that definition. That self-awareness is “recognition of that consciousness” and “one is aware of one’s existence”. I do not agree that that awareness requires thought per se or “understanding” in the sense of a cognitive conceptualization.

    You can know you are sensing something without defining it. You can know you are alive without thinking about it. This is a central issue in the Eastern spiritual lexicon of pure awareness devoid of thinking and a critical notion in the understanding of Awakening or Enlightenment.

    So the definition of self-awareness it is not a trivial academic nuance with implications for esoteric research. The heightened experience of self-awareness has broad implications for humanity’s psychological wellbeing.

    Anyway, I digress. In short, self-awareness is awareness of being aware or knowing that one knows which translates into awareness of one’s existence. It does not require thinking or conceptualization.

    Considering the subject “Roger” who lost critical mass in the anterior cingulum and medial prefrontal cortex, the issue of self-awareness must be subjected to this strict definition. If Roger is able to recognize himself in a mirror, this may reflect stimulus-response recognition skills that were overlearned, i.e. repetitively reinforced. It does not necessarily imply that his reflection is proof of self-awareness. Similarly, rubbing off a smudge to make an image closer to one that is familiar is likely more pattern recognition of a face (prosopagnosia) that is found in many nonhumans and a skill which can be strengthened by conditioning in many nonhuman animals.

    In terms of his recognition of control vs. limited control, again I would argue that such recognition does not necessarily require self-awareness or awareness of one’s existence. It is a distinction of levels of control or effort.

    There have been many articles and books written on the surprising extent to which humans can function without awareness. This includes autopilot driving, simple reasoning, mathematics, complex sensory tasks, etc. (See Julian Jaynes “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” for a good review to the date of its publishing.)

    As far as hydraencephalic children are concerned, it is also well-known that individuals who are in a comatose condition can turn their head in response to a click or sound. Many families have had their hopes falsely raised projecting onto these biologically-wired, stimulus-response behaviors.

    Similarly, the litany of behaviors attributed to consciousness and/or heaven-forbid self-awareness is also a list of behaviors that can and likely do occur at the level of subcortical processing. The so-called “reptilian” mesencephalon- the midbrain part of the human brain – is capable of most of not all such behaviors, i.e. responding to people and things in their environment; perking up when someone calls; smiling, laughing and crying; recognizing familiar and unfamiliar people, moving towards objects of “desire” and preferring various kinds of music over others.

    It is conceivable that cortical areas are involved in some of these behavioral repertoires and that the decorticate condition of their brain leaves puzzling questions about redundancy. However, it is a stretch to speculate about the neural circuitry of consciousness or even self-awareness by the example of either hydraencephalic children or Roger.

    Once operational definitions are established, I believe research into awareness and self-awareness will progress very rapidly. Thanks again for this fascinating topic. It has more relevance to personal growth and happiness than one may realize at first glance. You can see the zenbraindoc website for more information.

    Link to this
  14. 14. vinodkumarsehgal 4:46 am 08/29/2012

    To ZENBRAINODDOC

    I have read with interest your elaborate views on many aspects of consciousness. However, on one aspect namely origin of consciousness, you have not indicated any thing.

    In my view, it may be a simplistic to treat consciousness and awareness as synonymous. But a query arises : Are awareness and consciousness really same? You are a Zen meditator. I deep meditation, some times, one may not be aware of any thing — any external or internal stimuli yet one may be fully conscious. On the contrary,in such stages consciousness may be in highetened state.

    Various examples of autopilots, mathematical reasoning, complex sensory tasks as quoted by you from the book ” Origin of consciousness ….” by Julion Jeyens indicate that that is possible to perform these functions without having awareness. But these examples per se do not establish the absence of consciousness while in the state of having no awareness. These functions may emerge as a result of long and repeated conditioning of body and mind. Sometimes, we speak something to other without having awareness of self or awwre of what has been said to others

    I think awareness is a functional aspect of mind in conjunction with consciousness. When consciousness gets linkage with mind, it is the mind which creates awareness. In case of linkage of mind with external stimuli, external awareness is created and in case linkage with mind is internalized, self awareness emerges out.

    Eastern mystical and spiritual thought process ( especially Hindu spiritualism about which I know more than others) treats awareness as the FIRST and most fundamental cognitive function as
    appearing in mind due to activation from consciousness. Further, in many traditions of Eastern spiritualism , consciousness, mind and body (brain) have been treated as distinct entities with consciousness being most fundamental. The height of enlightenment is considered as the most heightened state of consciousness with the conscious awareness emerging that consciousness is neither mind nor body.

    Nevertheless the above, since you are in both brain medical research and Zen Practice, I shall like to listen your views on the origin of consciousness, awareness and mind from both perspective – brain as well as Zen

    Link to this
  15. 15. jimfromcanada 7:52 pm 08/29/2012

    Possibly the part of Roger’s brain that survived retains the responses o stimuli that were learned when his brain was complete. That does not mean that the part of his brain that remains could learn responses now.

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  16. 16. Michael M 11:02 am 08/30/2012

    Since we are a social animal which appears to have evolved circuitry allowing evaluation of deception, fairness, and interpretation of symbols (verbal language is symbolic), at least two points must be made:

    1, Neither consciousness nor verbal language is linked exclusively to either verbal language or a complex social interaction. Considerable study has been made of meditative disciplines, and there appears to be relationship with nonverbal motor and sensory areas of the cortex (although of course, there is internal communication available with areas specifically active when processing language). Since any human hunter or victim is quite aware of both self and environment, consciousness would not appear to be involved with verbalization (Jaynes insufficiently considered such awareness in creating his flawed hypotheses).

    2. Some obfuscation has long existed within an animal exhibiting numerous psychological biases: humans tend to draw conclusions even from apparently well-controlled studies, which support their prejudiced beliefs. Thus symbolic interpretation has led consistently to fallacies concerning a self-centered bias, for instance (that can be another criticism of Jaynes, whose work is quite unscientific as a result of either ignorance or discount of these and other issues).

    Because our olfactory system is somewhat degenerate (as it is in other primates) we are more prone to social deception in certain ways, and consistently create symbolic representations through which we can deceive ourselves; arrogative descriptions of consciousness are more related to “special creation” and symbolic religions than to scientific inquiry.

    The consciousness of other animals is, of course, involved in what is useful for them – this can be a meaning of the word meaningful.

    Let’s look at a social animal which is not as bound by symbolism and associated deception, the largest canid. The wolf is a cursorial predator, requiring a strong evaluative capacity, for social and food-gathering reasons. While its brain is relatively smaller, and due to environmental constraints (diet – large,dangerous coevolved prey, parasites, and other pressures) the species is significantly more r-selected than us. Domestic hybridization has not created traits, but rather usurped and emphasized some, sometimes at the expense of clear evaluative ability.
    The wolf clearly and accurately evaluates the age and physical capacities of both prey and conspecifics, measuring these against itself (some of this is learned behavior). That would be self-consciousness in action.

    They can make molecular assessment of specific diseases (domestics can essentially smell cancer, for instance) and psychological states ( domestics are trained to respond to the distress of PTSD sufferers and narcoleptic episode onset – however they must bond to those so afflicted, as is so with other “service dogs”. These are not specific breeds, but require mutual bonding to enhance such social sensitivities). They either do, or can be trained to, make specific useful response.

    Without getting too lengthy, that species and ours diverged from a common ancestor over 55 million to 65 million years ago. Because of paleontological findings, we assume the high level of sociality resulted in somewhat convergent cognition. We recognize it due to mutual usefulness.

    One difference now has to do with sensory evaluation: our brains must detect more deception than animals not using as much symbolic communication.
    Some other animals process complex aural social information – their brains tend to be larger in cortical ratio. Complex and possibly conflicting interpretation may have to do with such a requirement.

    However, study of brain structure shows that amygdalae/hippocampal areas exist in amphibians through mammals. Since observation and experiment increasingly show learning/memory to be mediated through neurohormonal and what we self-identify as emotional response, we may yet be defining consciousness in a self-serving way.
    Or, since some salient useful information must be learned, however evolved a species is to detect useful information, emotional content is clearly a strong signal for learning. In handling frogs, I feel utterly incapable of understanding what emotions they are experiencing, but it’s not to their advantage (as far as I can see) to exhibit these toward me!

    I hope several points are implicit in all this:
    Consciousness becomes conflated when we attempt to tie too many specific attributes or behaviors, like grooming smudges off noses, to our definition.

    Consciousness is perhaps the most efficient way to enable variable response to stimuli. The scientific study of consciousness therefore is involved with more concise definition, and not necessarily discovery of the attribute in other organisms, which, if they were verbal, would probably when observing humans reluctantly abandoning arrogative illusions, would characterize us and our grasping at special creation or special uniqueness, with the comment “d’oh.”

    The Buddha mind is the everyday mind, dudes; and failure to include is failure to understand: awareness is at least the attribute of neuronal connection. A chemical ability to distinguish protein shapes does not make a cell less useful to itself than would thinking.

    Is consciousness study then moralization? D’oh.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Wilhelmus de Wilde 11:07 am 08/30/2012

    Just a simple thought : The double slit experiment : when an aware observer is observing the incoming photon(s) they act as particle, if the observer is non intelligent it is wave, so very easy to control. (only the results of the tests cannot be interpreted by humans because then the result will always be particle !, however it seems to me an interesting thought and actual experiment)
    for those who want to know more read : “THE CONSCIOUSNESS CONNECTION” on http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1370
    you can leave your comments on the thread and eventually rate it. Thanks and Think Free.
    Wilhelmus

    Link to this
  18. 18. hastigo 12:01 pm 08/30/2012

    Nice article…thank YOU.

    Link to this
  19. 19. Mark Pine 1:21 pm 08/31/2012

    “At least some hydranencephalic children give every appearance of genuine consciousness,” Ferris Jabr explains. It’s a counterintuitive assertion, since most educated people, including physicians, psychologists, and other scientists, probably believe that consciousness resides in the cerebral cortex.

    But how simple can a brain or other signal processing network be and still generate consciousness? Jabr doesn’t say precisely, although he confidently asserts that computers, tablets and smartphones are not like the human brain in that respect. One wonders how he knows, since when was the last time he experienced the world as a smartphone? Nevertheless, Jabr writes, “Consciousness, most scientists argue, is not a universal property of all matter/energy in the universe. Rather, consciousness is restricted to a subset of animals with relatively complex brains.”

    I think the opposite is the case, that consciousness is a fundamental and universal property of matter/energy.

    Thinking about the brain using a process of addition, one would ask, How much of the brain would have to be in place and functioning to produce conscious awareness? Although the question is presently unanswerable, it inevitably leads another: What could it mean for consciousness to be absent in one partial brain, and then, with the addition of one more synapsing neuron or one more mote of nervous tissue, suddenly consciousness would appear and turn on like a light bulb?

    In my view that way of thinking about consciousness doesn’t make sense. Consciousness has to be present, to some degree, in the matter of the brain, at all scales and all levels of complexity. Consciousness, indeed, has to exist in a rudimentary form in all particles of matter. To put it another way, particles of matter must be a form of consciousness.

    What we humans experience as our conscious minds is the result of a very complex arrangement and processing network of particles. Atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, nuclei, networks, etc., comprise levels of increasing complexity up to that of the brain itself. Human consciousness, therefore, is an extremely complex form of consciousness. The brain, however, does generate consciousness itself. The type of consciousness experienced by a human being — or an animal — or a plant, for that matter — is precisely as complex as the signal processing network that the human or other entity possesses.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Mark Pine 1:32 pm 08/31/2012

    Note: By mistake, I quoted Jabr as using the term “matter/energy.” He wrote “matter”, and I used the phrase “matter/energy”. In this context of this discussion, I think, the compound term opens up the concept in a way that makes sense.

    Link to this
  21. 21. vinodkumarsehgal 5:49 am 09/4/2012

    To Mark Pine
    You stated as following :
    “Consciousness, indeed, has to exist in a rudimentary form in all particles of matter. To put it another way, particles of matter must be a form of consciousness.”

    I agree with you that consciousness resides in all matter and force particles in some rudimentary form. In human brain, same consciousness may appear in advanced evolved and complex form. But this leads to a nos. of questions :

    i) Is consciousness a product of matter and energy as known to Physicists? If one may say yes, a BIG question arises, how matter can lead to creation of consciousness. Power to produce motion, knowledge and awareness are the implicit attributes of consciousness. Before finalizing a view regarding creation of consciousness from matter atoms, one should be clear as to how matter atoms can produce these attributes of consciousness. When there is no scientific clear understanding on the concept of consciousness per se, hoe we can explain its emergence from matter particles?

    ii) Is matter a product of consciousness? Though some of the Eastern mystical and spiritual schools of thought opine that all the matter, physical energy, space and time are the product of a higher level fundamental consciousness but there is no scientific understanding and clarity on this issue. Science has no knowledge of an independent fundamental consciousness, as such, it is not possible to describe creation of matter from consciousness

    iii) Neither consciousness is produced from matter nor matter is produced from consciousness. Both matter and consciousness have their independent existence, however, consciousness being more fundamental than matter. Consciousness manifests in different layers of matter in varying degrees depending upon evolution of matter in the form of brain.

    What the current neuro science describes in brain is not the consciousness per se but it is the manifestation of the impact of consciousness from some higher plain

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  22. 22. basudeba 11:48 pm 09/10/2012

    It is interesting to note that a group of neuroscientists convening at Cambridge University signed a document officially declaring that non-human animals, “including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses” are conscious. It is not a path breaking discovery, but telling the obvious. We wonder why they left out plants. They also function similarly and respond to touch (hand or sun-light or musical sound). True, because of their rigid cell structure, they do not have locomotion, but in all other aspects they are as conscious as human beings.

    The basic division between plants, all other living beings except humans, and humans is in the flow pattern of food and energy in their systems. The flow in plants is directed “upwards” – from root to tip. In the animals etc, it is sideways. Only in humans, it is top-down. Human beings are the only living beings that can copulate in their normal posture facing each other. All others have to bend.

    Before asserting that: “Consciousness, indeed, has to exist in a rudimentary form in all particles of matter. To put it another way, particles of matter must be a form of consciousness”, you must precisely and scientifically define what is consciousness. In that case, you will notice that the material particles by themselves are inert, plants and other animals exhibit a mixed character and only human beings are conscious. Because only human beings can plan for the future, whereas others respond to situations based on their memory. Memory is not the same as consciousness, because it is about remembering the result of past observation of objects when they come in contact with other similar objects – hence object centric, whereas consciousness is about not only observation of objects, but about the mechanism of observation also even in the absence of objects – hence observation centric. Hence only humans can plan their actions meticulously.

    There are two more differences. The plants have only one sense organ – touch. The birds, etc that are born out of eggs are deficient in one of the sense organs. The others except human beings have five sensory organs, but they are not balanced – some function exceedingly well, whereas others are deficient. Only in humans, they are balanced.

    Voluntary motion differentiates conscious from the inert. Hence the agency of motion classifies the evolutionary state of a living being. The virus and bacteria have numerous projections on their body that act like “legs”. Hence they are at the bottom of the evolutionary cycle. Gradually the centipede, the sixteen legged, the ten, eight, six, four legged evolve. Finally the human beings with two legs evolve. This puts them at the top of the evolutionary table. Monkeys, who generally are four legged, can walk in two legs and use their fore legs as hands. Hence, they came immediately before humans. It is not correct that humans evolved from monkeys, as by this time there would have been no monkeys. In any case, we refuse to accept that our fore fathers were monkeys.

    basudeb.blogspot.com

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  23. 23. basudeba 12:40 am 09/11/2012

    Regarding the experiments related to remembering past experiences and recognizing self, it should be noted that the first is a mental function that acts mechanically. Like the matter particles have inertia, thought is the inertia of mind, as it is generated after the perception of some object that starts the memory of similar perceptions. Like ineria is destroyed due to contact with air, or any other obstruction, thought is destroyed due to pain, knowledge about the object or finding the object. Hence it is an inertia.

    Since inertia including thought are mechanical functions, memory is also a mechanical function. However, consciousness is the “I” content in any perception. In all perceptions, it appears in similar ways, indicating its difference from conscious functions.

    In the experiment, the person with brain damage could not remember past events because the inertia of thought that was based on stored information was damaged due to hardware malfunction. But consciousness or self-awareness is not hardware malfunction. Hence, both are not related.

    basudeba.blogspot.com

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  24. 24. vinodkumarsehgal 5:05 am 09/13/2012

    Memory may not be the consciousness but mental faculty of memory also can not exist and operate without consciousness. In rocks, which have no consciousness and in plants, which have limited consciousness, there is no memory.

    Consciousness may manifest differentially along a very wide spectrum from plants to human beings depending upon the material structures of their bodies especially brain. It is yet not known to Science about the composition and nature of consciousness. Nevertheless. following are the most fundamental attributes of consciousness :

    i) Internal and external Locomation in the material bodies
    ii) Awareness of external environment
    iii) Self awareness

    But it is not necessary that all living beings may exhibit all the the three attributes of consciousness. For example plants exhibit only very limited sensory perceptions as well as some internal locomation within cells , therefore, they are conscious. Most of animals may indicate full internal and external locomation and limited awareness to environment. It is only human beings who apart from exhibiting all the three attributes of consciousness also indicate cognitive abilities in highest degree

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  25. 25. picass0 1:58 pm 04/29/2014

    Hello, by coincidence my name is also Roger. A name that is part of my identity as is my personality and all the things that I’ve done in the past ect.
    I’ve come to realise that I’m more than my ego. I am aware of my self awareness. I know I exist (I prefer that to I think therefore I am). Knowing that I’m self aware is at least proof that there is a potential in the universe for self awareness to manifest, thus there is hope that self awareness can exist without a brain.
    You might think this sound like a brainless idea, but even so I quite like it. The metaphore that we are angle’s eggs. Metamorphosis is scientific. The catapillar that transforms in its cocoon and is reborn as a butterfly. In a similar way perhapes this is what happens to us,and we go off to a higher states of consciousness when we die.

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