Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Consciousness crumpled?

Stuart Hameroff builds up a case that dethrones consciousness from its pedestal. His exposition starts with a reference of how evoked potentials are triggered. As I could understand evoked potentials are the way sensory information is conveyed in the brain. But these potentials are too late, they occur 150 to 500 milli-sec after the stimulus. Whereas the actions that are the responses to the sensory information in the environment have either, already been initiated or even completed, namely within 100 milli-sec.
That tells me one thing, and one thing only. I do not need to think to go on living in this world. As most of these stimuli and their associated responses are what determine the course of our lives. In some cases they even determine whether we die or live. In other cases again determine between failure or success in our lives. So despite all these, we are drawn to a conclusion that denies our most cherished quality as human beings, to consciously determine the course of our lives. The pinnacle of our personalities that we built, the pride we take in asserting responsibility for our actions, for the choices we make and for the decisions we take, all crumple right before our very eyes.
Whatever subjective feeling we have, that we consciously control these behaviours is an illusion, they are merely nonconscious reflexive responses.
Accordingly, consciousness is epiphenomenal (a secondary phenomenon, a consequence or side-effect of the primary phenomenon) and we are (as T.H. Huxley said) "conscious automata, helpless spectators", (in Stuart Hameroff).
So, if consciousness is not what we use in order to guide our lives then what is? What determines our actions in fight or flight situations? Is there anything that could provide an answer of what has been the factor that determined human responses in their myriad decisive acts in the past?
My own personal experience corroborates the illusion of consciousness. In my younger days there were a few occasions where I found myself under threatening conditions. Conditions which required immediate and decisive action. As, I vividly remember, though might sound as oxymoron in the light of what follows, right at the most decisive moment in these encounters, I experienced a temporary but complete blackout,total loss of consciousness. It lasted mere seconds, but in these seconds adrenalin powered actions resolved (cleansed) the threatening circumstances.
The explanation that I could amass was that the blood flow was diverted towards the parts of my body, where blood was needed most i.e. muscles and away from the regions that they needed blood less. And among these regions, were the regions that conferred towards consciousness. Consciousness being obsolete and therefore temporarily shut off.

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