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Starting with Neurosciences
Here is where the mainstream research is focused. Neurobiology assumes that consciousness is determined by activity at neuronal level and not at the molecular level, but chemically speaking, the hormone of awareness is acetylcholine and their cholinergic pathways are related to wakefulness and REM sleep. Also, diseases which have a selective loss of cholinergic neurons (Alzheimer, Parkinson and other forms of dementia) also have symptoms like consciousness disturbance.
The work of Giulio Tononi is one of the most interesting, he made the theory known as the Information Integration Theory of Consciousness. It claims that a physical system can generate consciousness to the extent that it can integrate information, and the human brain is highly informative, meaning that can discard a lot of possibilities in what is about to happen, keeping the attention span in a coherent focus. This can elucidate basically any of the easy problems with enough research, but might not be able to explain the whole picture. Tononi’s theory also has another attractive item, an unit of consciousness, called phi, which allows the measurement of awareness.
Again we turn to Francis Crick, now alongside Koch, and their concept known as Neural Correlates of Consciousness, which are defined as the minimal neural mechanism of anyone conscious percept. There has been lots of progress determining which are the neural pathways that carry small pieces of information that will be integrated later in the cerebral cortex, like the pathway of the red color when looking at a red balloon, the red color is just a part of the whole balloon. This area is getting a lot of progress.
Crick and Koch also had great insights in the study of zombie behaviors. In 2001 determined differences between zombie behaviors vs the slower all-purpose conscious mode (in other words, where we focus our attention). This all-purpose mode puts the pieces of the previously selected sensory input (or a reflection) and takes time to decide appropriate thoughts and responses. Alongside this theory, Milner and Goodale in 1995 determined that many actions in response to sensory inputs are rapid, transient, stereotyped, and unconscious.
But the thing here is that all these theories interpret consciousness as a very complex computer model with millions of pathways. As a matter of controversy, some scientists agree that at certain point the model gets so complex that a consciousness emerges from it. This concept is called Emergence, and also causes division. There are scientists who agree and others who disagree about it.
And now it’s the turn of Michael Gazzaniga. He has become an expert in split brain patients, curiously detecting that consciousness also splits in two. Gazzaniga has also published many aspects about the very persuasive role of the Interpreter. I will very briefly explain one of his experiments: subjects are being shown separate objects to each eye, the subjects duty is to choose the objects that are related to one same topic, the study was designed to trick the subject’s hemispheres in order to make a nonsense choice of pictures. And now comes the interesting part: afterwards the subjects choice, when asked to explain the reason of their actions, they always come up with a story that fits as common sense. This aspect of ourselves is known as the Interpreter. It’s job is to analyze our responses to what we encounter in our environment. And, remembering what Tononi stated, we have so very developed systems that they discard lots of possibilities of about what is to happen, and this integration of information keeps us in a logical world to ourselves . But, still there are lots of things we don’t understand or foresee, so we use the Interpreter quite a lot, we use its huge imagination in order to sustain a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. The interpreter is the glue that keeps our story unified and creates our sense of being a coherent, rational agent, it brings theories about our life.
This mechanism is clearly subtle and sneaky, it makes one wonder how often we are victims of false emotional and cognitive interpretations. The left hemisphere’s capacity for continual interpretation may mean that it is always looking for order and reason, even where there is none.
But even Mr. Gazzaniga believes that a mechanistic understanding of the process of consciousness wouldn’t be a fulfilling explanation to ourselves.
Now comes the turn of Mr. Donald Hoffman, he is a top-level scientist that also agrees on the need to reformulate the current models of object perception. As he says: “wave function are compendia of subjective probabilities” (we will analyze wave function afterwards, this statement just implies that the subject or observer sets an spectrum of probabilites of what can happen according to its reality). And he has created the Interface Theory of Perception. A really interesting theory that also states that we do not see and experience all reality as it is, because it wouldn’t be useful in evolutionary terms. We are merely adapted to detect what is beneficial and what is dangerous to ourselves, and this falls into symbols. A snake or a spider symbolized death to the caveman, and we still have imprinted those alarms, that’s why we still have exaggerated fear towards them.
Hoffman declares that we need this hacks and tricks in order to thrive. That is why to us humans, the green color is the one that we perceive most hues of, because to the caveman this green color discernment could mean detecting a menace between the trees and bushes, therefore it means survival. So, to Hoffman, reality is a three-dimensional computer interface that shows icons (or symbols) representing our environment, which is nothing more than our interpretation of things. Just like our computer screen, but three-dimensional.
OK, as you can see, Neurosciences have a lot to say about this subject, but maybe something else is missing, and here is when some other fields entangle.
Since modern medicine appeared, the brain has been the only organ in control of consciousness, but this is not entirely true. The heart has its own nervous system. Being independent and at the same time communicating actively to the brain but most importantly to the whole body. The Institute of Heart Math is making great developments in this area.
Also, the enteric nervous system consists of 500 million neurons. This isn’t much compared to the brain, but is 5 times more than the spinal cord. It begins in the esophagus and extends down the anus. Nowadays is accepted as separate from the autonomic nervous system, since it has its own independent reflex activity, and is commonly given the nickname of “second brain”. More than 90% of the body’s serotonin lies in the gut, as well as about 50% of the body’s dopamine. The hunches and gut feelings are clearly related and in need of further study. And most amazingly, why our hunches and intuitions are NEVER wrong? Who is that part of ourselves that perceives something too subtle to us?
Energy fields will be specifically reviewed in the forecoming posts, there is way too much information to settle here. Anyway, it is great news the ascending focus and research towards subtle energies, electromagnetic properties of the heart and the human body, and even Earth’s fields, all of which might play an important role into the process of consciousness. Raúl Valverde referred of consciousness as an electromagnetic energy field, he also proposes that the brain is a machine of low frequencies, similar to the frequencies of a radio transmitter-receiver.
The Global Consciousness Project is so far the best attempt to measure the emotional magnitude of a massive -national or worldwide- event. Their work is based on Random Number Generators (RNG’s) and the supposed human capacity to change the randomness, either willingly or emotionally. Despite their amazing results, or more specifically, the interpretation of those results, which are literally awesome, the only problem is that there is still lack of consensus on their validity. Critics focus on the way of interpreting the result, a lot of them implying the need of statistical adjustments.
Even though, this is a great experiment. Imagine RNG’s dispersed around the most important cities in the world, collecting data, trying to unlock the waves or patterns that human collective consciousness might produce. The simple idea is beautiful, if its valid or not will be known in the years to come, but the GCP is the first serious scientific global attempt to the physical hunt of Jung’s Collective Unconscious and also adds the paradigm shift of understanding consciousness as an intra and also extracorporal type of field, energy or maybe even frequency range. A field extremely dynamic and interactive, but intimately tied to a physical body, giving us the ilusion of living into this Role Playing Game of Creation.
A very extensive review of studies involving RNG written by Jahn and colleagues, was outcasted from publication by several editorials, even without a technical review. But finally was published intact by the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 1997 – its database compromises more than 1500 experimental series generated over a period of 12 years, concluding among other things that there are strong statistical correlations between the means of the output distribution and the intentions of the operators. In other words: intention does affect the randomness.
And at last but not least, comes the craziest and awesomest of theories. Now it gets Quantum.
Though it is still discovering itself, Quantum Theory is the result of the collective work of the greatest minds of last century. Einstein made us understand the Universe, but Quantum Theory explains the subatomic realm. Quantum Theory can explain the relation between tiny particles and electromagnetic radiation. So it might give insight about the energy fields of the human body. One of its most shocking and amazing experiments is the famous Double Slit Experiment, it basically tells us that reality is affected by the presence of an observer.
When lacking an observer, electrons behave like waves, so, when just ONE electron is shot, not one, but TWO waves go through the slits, creating an interference pattern. In the image below we can see a simulation of this particle wave function, meaning that just one electron particle literally behaves as a wave and goes through both slits (Author: G. Mikaberidze).
This interference pattern implies a lot of possibilities at the same time, the behaving of a wave makes it probable to be anywhere.
Now, the same process but adding an observer (in this subatomic case, a tiny sensor or a camera) creates a two-band pattern, which is a deterministic pattern. This is a characteristic behavior of matter, of a tiny particle, not of a wave. So, this wave-collapsing function appears when there exists an observer, the observer is the one interacting with the environment and mutually determining it. Studying this wave-collapsing function is one of the main focus of Quantum research.
Another important weirdo contribution of Quantum Theory is the so called Entanglement, that one which Einstein once called “spooky action at a distance”. Quantum entanglement is an area of extremely active research by the physics community, and its effects have been demonstrated experimentally with photons, electrons, molecules the size of buckyballs, and even small diamonds. Research is also focused on the utilization of entanglement effects in communication and computation. But its also interesting the insights that Entanglement might say about Long-Distance Therapies, telepathy, collective consciousness and connections with our loved ones when they are far away.
It’s time to present one of my personal favorite scientists. Mr. Dean Radin is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He could be described as a psi-researcher, having a lot of curiosity for things like precognition, presentiment, response, telepathy, clairvoyance.
Former violinist, he is author and co-author of over 250 scientific and popular articles, his experience on the field is huge, and of course, has many detractors from all areas of society, and also from scientists like him. But we know how science and humanity sometimes don’t like a different reality, it’s happened to Galileo among many many others. Luckily nowadays its safer to be a paradigm shifter.
I wont be explaining any experiment done by him, I would rather put this video link here so you can watch it on any free time you have so you hear him detailing his work, which, by the way, was recently awarded with the 2015 Innovative Research Prize by Nascent Systems Inc.
Dean Radin seems to know better than his critics that not all psychic phenomena are real, on his lectures he explains that just a 5% of all cases are worth studying, the rest of them being caused by coincidence, confabulation, fraud and also selective memory.
A 5% is a small number, but its existence is just enough to wonder what are we really capable of.
So, the plain presence of a person on a room can create a subtle wave collapsing function. But observation of an object creates a bigger collapse. Radin and others are investigating when does the wave function collapses. What has to happen? Through the years they have found that meditators are better at collapsing the wave function than non-meditators, as it is a task that involves focus and attention. Also, the more a person concentrates (no need to be a monk here), the bigger the wave collapsing. And it wouldn’t be surprising telling the fact that the open mind to psychic phenomena multiplies the ability to experience them.
Finally, to close this essay, we will review the most controversial of all the theories so far, and also a new perspective on consciousness.
Dr. Stuart Hameroff, former anesthesiologist, founder of an annual interdisciplinary congress on Consciousness, also is the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. He teamed up with mathemathical physicist Roger Penrose in order to elaborate the Orch-OR Theory (Orchestrated Objective Reduction). This theory determines that neural microtubules can increase or decrease the quantum resonance, thereby modulating consciousness. Basically it implies that consciousness is modulated inside neurons, more specifically, it flows along the microtubules.
Hammeroff and Penrose interpret all the microtubules in neurons as quantum processors, at perhaps deeper levels of space-time geometry. This fits with the knowledge that the more asymmetrical the cell is, the more microtubules it needs to maintain balance and structure. Curiosly, the most asymmetrical cells in the body are the neurons. It interestingly implies that information of quantum nature is being processed at the intraneuronal microtubules. Some other features of this theory involve that consciousness is not inside the brain (but is modulated along the microtubules), that it can go back and forth in time, and that quantum events are key components of consciousness.
Microtubules specifically, and the whole connective tissue generally, are having an uprising prominence in the scientific research. The forecoming posts will explore this subjects more profoundly.
Well, I hope you liked this post, please comment, share and like, I will strongly appreciate it.
Until the next time!
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- Tyler CW. (2015). The emergent dualism view of quantum physics and consciousness. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol 1, no. 2.
- Valverde R. (2015) Neurotechnology as a Tool for Inducing and Measuring Altered States of Consciousness in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. NeuroQuantology. December 2015. Volume 13. Issue 4.
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