Name: feyza
Username: fsancar@brynmawr.edu
Subject: what is consciousness???
Date: Sun Jan 23 23:07:48 EST 2000
Comments:

When addressing the issue of consciousness, I guess it is important to first come up with an adequate definition. I have always thought that consciousness meant having knowledge of self and subsequently knowing you are a separate entity from those things and people around you. In this sense, I guess something a kin to 'Theory of Mind' is very important to conscious being since it involves knowing that not everybody sees and thinks the same things that you do. In other words, it would entail the realization of your relationship to the environment as well as your 'separateness' from others. Also, since humans are social animals, I think there is also the facet of social consciousness--which theory of mind contributes. This type of consciousness is what leads humans to analyze and judge others, among other things…This seems particularly a consequence of consciousness since such analyzing is based on your perception of another in relation to your perception of self.

I guess if consciousness involves self- awareness, as well as awareness of ones relationship to others, perhaps there are many different levels or types of consciousness. If there was indeed a hierarchy of 'consciousness levels', the most basic level would seem to be acknowledging ones own existence as an independent entity. Sort of having a center of self-awareness. The type of consciousness that could very well arise from this base of self-awareness is the knowledge of your environment and your relationship to this environment--a sort of social consciousness. This is what would allow one to interact, adapt, and react to those people and things around you.

The trouble with consciousness as a neurological construct is that it seems quite diffuse. I only know of one structure in particular, the reticular activating system, which has been specifically implicated in the mechanism of consciousness. Even given this, it is certain that there must be other structures involved. There is no 'one' center for consciousness that I have heard of (no homunculus). I think this is why it is such a difficult topic to study. What is certain, however, is that consciousness does indeed exist and is important. There are many schools of thought that have chosen to completely disregard consciousness as a scientific concept (such as behaviorism). But I think there are many instances which consciousness can be seen as a very real phenomenon. Sleep walking for instance is an interesting case in which consciousness is seemingly suspended. There is no true sense of self (at lease integrated self) since one normally doesn't even remember having the sleep walking episode once 'awake'. The sleepwalker is an essential zombie, sometimes seemingly void of emotion as well as full awareness of self and those around them. But still, the sleepwalker can actually carry conversations with others. They can speak and act, but there is something fundamental that is missing. It is almost as if reason does not exist with these sleepwalkers…which leads me to another realization: Perhaps reason is a consequence of 'high level' consciousness.

In addition, I think that both emotion and memory play a role in consciousness (more as partial building blocks to consciousness, not a consequence of it like reason). The clinical example of someone lacking memory is one everyone knows, HM. The famous patient with the inability to 'learn' new things (explicit learning) and hence the inability to acquire new explicit memories. I would imagine that it would be difficult to construct an awareness of your environment and your relation to this environment when you forget that an event as occurred shortly after it has taken place. This would also seem to hamper your 'long-term' or 'compiled' sense or knowledge of self since this is so much based on past experience.

One thing that I have always wondered about is whether or not consciousness is an innate entity, or if it takes some time to develop. I can't help but think that if theory of mind relates to some aspect of consciousness that it must also be something which comes with development (and based on developmental age). I would think that an adult would have a better sense of self than a newborn baby would. In addition, this leads me to think that perhaps just as there are levels of consciousness, there are also magnitudes of consciousness. Perhaps some people are 'more' conscious than others are? I wonder if this is in fact a possibility.


Name: Allison R.
Username:
Subject: consciousness
Date: Tue Jan 25 14:07:07 EST 2000
Comments:

I think it is possible for animals, other than humans to have some level of consciousness. But I also think that generalizations are often made and we need to be careful. The neocortex of the brain is where most conscious acts are thought to originate, but we can't just assume that all things with large neo- cortexes have consciousness just because we humans do. We only know what is going on in our own heads and shouldn't make judgements when more scientific proof is needed.

I also think that there are different levels of consciouness that can be explored whether we are talking about chimpanzees or young children and babies. Many experiments have been conducted that test levels of self- awareness. When putting a dot on a chimps head and showing them a mirror, the experimenter watches to see if the chimp realizes the image in the mirror is themselves. If they realize it, they will take the dot off their head. If they don't realize the image is themselves, they will try to find the image in the mirror. Higher levels of consciousness also involve not only being aware of ourselves, but also being aware of what others have in their minds. There are many experiments that test this ability in children. At a certain age, they fail the test but as some time passes, they are able to pass the test with no problem. I think this shows us that consciouness is gradually developed and refined as we mature.


Name: ...sarah...
Username: opheliascn@aol.com
Subject: consciousness...
Date: Wed Jan 26 11:09:30 EST 2000
Comments:

My final paper for 202 last year delved into several topics related to the search for consciousness. As much as my memory fails me as to exactly what I wrote I am still somewhat tainted by the concepts and ideas I was introduced to at that time.

One idea I recall finding rather intriguing was looking at consciousness as a social phenomena. It might be that consciousness is not at the level of perception, as for the most part, we all perceive the world quite similarly. However, there would seem a distinct possibility that the way in which we conceive of the world has been formed not only by our own personal past experiences but by the societal experiences, norms and standards within which we have been raised and have developed.

Whether there is a neuronal correlate of consciousness, a diffuse or localized neuronal structure where consciousness might be located, remains a somewhat intriguing idea. The benefits of knowing of or locating such a structure would aid in discovering whether one is born with a sense of self or if it develops over time. As well as if humans exclusively experience this ability to conceive as well as perceive the world around them.

I am anxious to get reading as my own thoughts on the subject are at the moment scattered and vague. Perhaps a few chapters in, my consciousness will organize some thoughts worth sharing.

welcome back everyone…enjoy the snow…see you friday…sarah:)


Name: melissa
Username: mwachter@haverford.edu
Subject: consciousness (surprise!)
Date: Wed Jan 26 23:23:43 EST 2000
Comments:
Hmmm, i have to admit that when the topic of "consciousness" was announced at the end of the last semester, and everyone ooohed and ahhhed, I sat there thinking, "I don't really understand what we are going to study" So I am really looking forward to reading the first chapters of the book to developed a more informed opinion in the subject area. I know that in my primates class with Sid Perloe sophomore year, we spent several class periods talking about the debate as to whether primates other than humans experienced "conscious" thought. There are a number of interesting studies about chimps and perhaps even some other primates (bonobos, apes, etc) that suggest that they can form some basic theory of mind and have a concept of what is themselves vs. other. One notable study had to do with chimps having a sticker placed on their forehead and then they were placed in front of a mirror. I can't remember the details exactly (i'll try to figure it all out before Friday) but I believe the finding was that the chimps would in fact pull the sticker off of their head, rather than trying to pull it off the mirror...this led the researchers to conclude that chimps have a sense of self and self representation since they could understand that the chimp in the mirror was itself and something it could act on. Is that consciousness? I am not sure.

I think that we also have to be aware of our human biases in designing tests that we believe measure consciousness in other animals...i think it is very difficult to know whether our approach to measurement is actually measuring what we think that it is measuring.

I am not sure if this relates directly to the question at hand, but I am thinking about it so I will write it. There is an incredibly controversial philosophy professor at Princeton University who brings up some issues that show how this issue of how we define consciousness can have ethical implications. Basically, he makes the argument that many high order primates have higher levels of consciousness (he may use other words and make other claims) than some human infants suffering from extremely serious birth defects...he questions the way that we assign "personhood"--he thinks that we make arbirtary distinctions, because if it was based in some form of the existence of consciousness than as stated some human infants are less "people" than certain non-human primates...he then goes on to apply this to the realm of bioethics...and this is where he has gotten fierce criticism...he says that parents should be allowed to euthanize children born with the most severe of birth defects that render them unable to attain any level of consciousness...also he questions the ethics of many types of research involving high order primates that demonstrate consciousness--research that would never be done on humans...do we need the


Name: David Mintzer
Username: dmintzer@haverford.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:45:51 EST 2000
Comments:
I think of consciousness phenomelogically as our experience of the world, the sense that we are the center of our perception and can interact with our environment. I'm not sure how helpful this approach is when attempting to study consciousness from a biological perspective because it is impossible to access what is going on in another persons head (to directly quanitify and qualify what they are experiencing). From this perspective consciousness is an entirely distinct phenomena from the electric and chemical activity in the brain. I have difficulty defining consciousness in terms of biological explanations. Aspects of consciousness (memory, perception, etc) may parallel biological activity in the brain, but I don't think this sufficiently explains what is happening.

I like Ann's approach of trying to define consciousness in terms of the absence of consciousness. To further this line of thinking, it would be useful to look at brain damaged patients who lack very particular aspects of consciousness. Also, what is the difference between humans and other animals who lack human consciousness? Or between animals and non-living objects ? Can a computer think? This is where we run into trouble if we define consciousness as certain observable behaviors, or self-report data (a computer can claim to "think" just like a person can, what evidence do we have that it does not? Video cameras and light sensors can "see", how does this differ from the conscious phenomena of vision?) Can we access the inner experience of consciousness in order to determine what distinguishes the human mind from non-conscious entities ?

So I guess consciousness can be defined as an experienced phenomenon or as a set of processes which help a living being function. But the former seems to be an abstraction difficult to study and the latter does not sufficiently define the subject (it cannot distinguish between the human mind and a computer).


Name: adrianne
Username: alord@haverford.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:47:08 EST 2000
Comments:
This is a really intriguing question with numerous suggestions and speculation on what is consciousness. Since we have no definitive answer I would probably explain consciousness in terms of feelings and how the environment interacts with this feeling. Consciousness tends to be described as a "soul" or "sense of being" that is somehow detached from teh human body but is related and interconnected with the functions and processes of the brain and body. I say detached b/c i am thinking of examples of comatose patients who can't elicit an observeable body activity like movement of a limb, etc ( which the observer would note as the person "being" or aware of what's going on in the environment) however, patients whoc recover from a coma sometimes recall conversations that people had with them while in this state. So in this case, conscioussness can be considered something that is a part of a person ( eg. making a conscious effort to do something wiht your body) but detached to some extent from the material part of the person.

With conscioussness as a form of extension from the body (mainly the brain), this would suggest that consciousness might be altered by the environment's interaction with the body. This idea that the brain gives rise to conscioussness through brain activity (i.e. neurons firing, etc.) makes you wonder if conscioussness is located somewhere in the brain....

I haven't really described what conscioussness is but I am sure that even scientific research wouldn't be able to say for certain what it is b/c conscioussness itself seems to be an abstract form that takes shape when someone brings ir to our attention, when we analyze concepts such as personal opinion/feelings or subjectivity.

Discovering the basis for something that is as abstract like conscioussness would probably also mean the discovery of other things such as eprsonal opionion, subjectivity and more simply the "sense of being"......... Hopefully, we will develop a better idea of conscioussness in class...


Name: Libby
Username: eohare@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:48:38 EST 2000
Comments:
Consciousness is exactly what I'm doing right now as I sit at the computer: being, pondering, evaluating, deciding, communicating. It is this and more, dreaming, relating, feeling. I think we are all immediately confronted with the difficulty of talking about consciousness, because talking is being conscious. We will spend the better part of 70-80 years under the influence of something that is so pervasive in our behavior, but something that, paradoxically, we can't define. Sure there is a definition in the dictionary,"knowledge of one's own exsistence, sensations, cognitions etc.", but what does knowledge mean? (disclaimer: I'm not trying to be hopelessly philosophical, but I think on this topic it's unavoidable).

I want to mention something that has stuck with me over the 2 years since I took neurobio with Paul. He was making the point that our ability to dream and consequently, the ability to represent ourself outside of a "conscious waking state" is an example of consciousness. I suggested that since dogs dream (Hopefully we have all seen a sleeping dog. Dogs move, twitch their eyes and facial muscles, and sometimes growl, all while sound asleep.) they must be conscious too. But are they? I think dogs, and probably some other animals can do most of the things I described above. That is, I think they are capable of evaluating, deciding, and communicating. But I don't think it's widely accepted that any animal other than the human being is capable of consciousness. However, on this point I'm not sure and hopefully we'll talk about it during the semester.

Finally, say that we are able to define consciousness. The next question is how does the brain represent consciousness? What are the physiological processes that keep us pondering, dreaming, and aware? A good bet for the possible location of these processes are the frontal lobes. This brain region has been implicated in mediating personality, and since that concept is closely tied to the idea of being...

Anyways, I'm looking forward to some interesting discussions this semester. See you all in class.


Name: Ruchi
Username: rrohatgi@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:49:55 EST 2000
Comments:
Consciousness..... What is it? Well, after pondering the issue for a while, I would have to agree with Ann's assessment that it is a kind of awareness of the individual. I would say that awareness in a broad sense is knowing, reacting to and experiencing both external and internal worlds- that is what comes to my mind when trying to answer the question of what consciousness is. Ann also brings up interesting points such as why we do certain things such as breaking curfew when we know that it may worry parents, or that people will commit suicide even though they will experience physical and emotional pain- but i think that has more to do with another sub-issue of consciousness (awareness): doing what is right or wrong, morals, values, etc.. Actually, I would say that there is probably an array of these little sub-sections that make up the seemingly abstract consciousness issue-including the mind, emotions, imaginations, dreams, morals, knowledge... I'm not sure just how to tie them together in the category of consciousness. I think that consciousness really has a lot to do with how we reconcile the external world with our internal world. What I mean by the internal state is mainly how we feel and react to certain things (maybe emotions come into play here). Anyway, here are some of my thoughts. They are kind of all over the place- I'm looking forward to others' comments and reading the book.
Name: Ann Mitchell
Username: amitchel@haverford.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:51:45 EST 2000
Comments:
Hey guys-here are my thoughts on consciousness...they are a little rambly. Also Iíd like to add the disclaimer that I have yet to take Neurobio and Behavior, which to me means that I havenít had as much experience/time thinking about consciousness as some other people in the class. So, hereís my stab in the dark...(which I assume will change soon)

What is consciousness? I guess when I think about consciousness I think about what it means to be unconscious. When one is unconscious one is unaware of oneís actions or behavior. Obviously unconscious could be defined as a medical condition as well, but that only applies here in the sense that one is not thinking about oneís actions or the state of oneís body or mind when one is unconscious. Therefore, not having read the Damasio book or having taken Neurobio and behavior, a synonym I would use for consciousness is awareness. What does it mean to be aware? Awareness to me means that one understands the consequences of oneís actions, behavior, and how these things interact within a particular environment. You are using your brain to analyze the thought processes of your brain. Unfortunately, we do not always use this awareness wisely. For instance, people are aware that coming home after curfew will upset and worry parents, but they do it anyway. I donít know if this is a good example, but Iím trying to think of scenarios where behavior does not make sense with the level of awareness of the individual. Bi-co students know the dangers of binge drinking, yet they engage in this behavior regardless.

I do not view consciousness as separate from the brain or the mind. We all have conscious selves from which we derive our sense of self, and there are individual differences in the way each of experiences consciousness just as there are individual differences in each of our brainís. Consciousness to me refers to the collective awareness of an individual. I think it is plausible that someone can experience more than one awareness at a time, and that these two awarenessí can be conflicting, thus behavior then becomes governed by which ever awareness is more salient. For example, a young woman committing suicide is aware that that slitting her wrists will kill her, yet at the same time she is also aware of the emotional pain she experiences and suffers from. At some point, awareness of the pain must overcome or be more salient than the awareness that she will no longer live, and thus induces the young woman to commit suicide. A term I might use to be synonymous with ìis aware thatî is ìknows thatî, implying that this person has knowledge about the consequences of their actions and behavior. In this sense ìis aware thatî and ìknows thatî might also mean ìremembers thatî, so consciousness would then therefore also have to include memory.

If consciousness is awareness and unconsciousness in unawareness, than what is subconsciousness? Does it really exist? This category would seem to apply to the situation where we do not use awareness wisely. This issue is troublesome because I would say that it is part of consciousness, but not the same level of awareness. It forces me to admit that not only is there more than one type of awareness, there are certain levels of awareness, and even possibly levels that are not explicit in our everyday thinking. However, this poses the problem-if there are levels of awareness that are so inaudible that we can not recognize them, is that legitimately awareness? Consciousness? Perhaps not. In this particular scenario I think it is attractive to believe that our brain is thinking about things and aware of things that somehow we are not aware of. However, I ëm not so certain thatís possible because this implies then that subconsciousess is not awareness and therefore not consciousness. This is problematic with my definition of unconsciousness above which stated that to be unconscious was not only to be unaware, but also not thinking, yet it seems that in a subconscious state, or on a subconscious level, our brain must somehow still be thinking.


Name: Nicole Stevenson
Username: nstevens@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:53:56 EST 2000
Comments:
Mmmm hmmmm, yes. Here we are at the beginning of yet another circular debate on consciousness. I had to read Ann's posting more than once and I am still not sure where I agree and disagree. Every time I enter into one of these scary discussions I end up abandoning some ideas and considering others. There is so much to the concept of consciousness that can be argued both in favor of or against the whole idea. I think that crazy conversations will contiue to go on as long as we know as little as we do about the brain vs the mind vs the physical being vs the environment. And even then...science has shown, I think, that there is not a finite amount of information, so the definition and ideas about consciousness will forever be challenged and changing. Many times when the whole concept of conscious vs the unconscious arises, my whole body tenses as I brace myself for a maddening, mind-spinning conversation. So I'm going to ponder Ann's ideas for a little while longer, possibly reread her posting and then respond w/ my prebook consciousness thoughts.
Name: Kim
Username: Kimlbube@aol.com
Subject: Above and Beyond
Date: Fri Jan 28 11:01:20 EST 2000
Comments:
The whole idea of consciousness seems to me a heightened awareness of the surroundings, as well as an awareness of one's self. In the way I have always thought of the subject, too, it is a higher level of recognition of what we feel, think, and connect with others around us. I do not believe the definition has to be confined to explainable reactions, and believe it can include the bonds between people such as a mother/child, or that of a couple, where there can be so much said by awareness of self and that other person with whom you are incredibly close.

Obviously, it can be studied on a scientific level in terms of brain function. The neo-cortex and other related parts of the brain can be studied to see how people are aware of themselves and the environment. I do think there are some activities and nuances that are harder to explore in the levels of consciousness. Perhaps by being able to monitor a subject while they are performing natural, non-artificial tasks might show a better trigger of consciousness. To the best of my knowledge, however, we do not have equipment yet to take brain waves in a non-lab setting.

I do not have much else to say as of yet, except that the book is going wonderfully. See you al in class on Friday!

Kim


Name: Rehema
Username: rtrimiew@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Consciousness
Date: Fri Jan 28 12:16:03 EST 2000
Comments:
When learning about consciousness in other classes, I always wondered at the usefullness of it. I thought of examples of people that were not conscious but were behaving as if they were (sleepwalking/talking/etc). So I wondered what the point in having it was. I also wondered how conscious beings would have been selected for over time through evolution. The book seems to give a clearer view of what consciousness is and its function.

The idea of studying consciousness in people that have some sort of brain damage or unusual problem with consciousness seems to be a good way of better getting at what consciousness is. I am not sure if we are all clear on what consciousness is or all agree. Week 1