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Amelia's picture

Memory not a part of consciousness

In addressing one of Natsu’s questions, I don’t think we have to remember an event at all once we leave the situation to say that we were conscious. Consciousness, to me, is always in the present. You can be conscious from minute to minute and (like a person with amnesia) while not remembering anything. It seems to be that in class we wanted to tie memory and consciousness together, but it seems that memory of a conscious experience is different from the experience itself. We should not say that someone was not conscious of something when in fact they were at the time, they simply can’t remember it any more. Trauma seems to serve as a good example. I have seen people who during a traumatic event are certainly conscious of what is going on around them, what is happening, and their internal state during the event, and yet do not remember the event at a later time. They are certainly conscious of both the experience (physical pain) and the repercussions of the event, but they do not remember it actually happening. While I would say they do not have a conscious memory of the event, at the same time were conscious at the time and are certainly conscious of the results of such an event. Perhaps part of the consciousness of trauma is to erase the memory…

Also, what does this mean for people who are from some sort of brain injury unable to recall events? While people like HM (I think that was who we were talking about…) are unable to consciously remember anything from one minute to the next, in that one minute they are completely conscious. He has no conscious memory, but that does not mean he is unconscious.

I wanted to bring up again the study I mentioned in class. This study found that when researchers gave some people in comas fMRIs (I might have said EEGs in class), these people showed simply brain activation to people without comas (as well as in comparison to their own ‘baseline’ state) for all sorts of specific thought tasks (such as imagine yourself playing tennis). I find this remarkable, and difficult to deal with since we think of people in comas as unconscious. While not everyone in comas responded the same way in this imaging study, from our perspective they all were the same. How are we to tell if people are really unconscious in comas? Maybe this experiment could be used to determine if people are conscious…I’m not sure. It offers evidence, however, for more careful determination of coma status. Perhaps comas could be thought of on different levels instead of a general unconscious state. While we like to think of people with their eyes closed and not moving as being unconscious since we think of them as sleeping, we need to reevaluate this idea and understand that maybe that some of the people in comas may be just like us sitting still with our eyes closed---we might not be able to see, but we’re conscious of what’s going on.

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