Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fundamentals of Consciousness

In conversations with our young grandchildren we sometimes observe some surprisingly deep thinking. Several years ago our almost three year old granddaughter, in response to one of our questions replied, “I haven’t thought about that yet.” At her tender age she was already aware of the thought process as an outgrowth of her human existence. Her grandfather occasionally points to the foreheads of his grandchildren with the news that their brain is located inside their heads: “That’s where you think.”

Young children are aware of their subjective experience. They see and hear. They experience joy and cheer and happily express delight. Sometimes they encounter pain or become sad, impatient, bored, or angry. They express their subjective feelings without hesitation. We might characterize them as masters of subjective experience. Consciousness is a subjective experience having many dimensions. Children are masters of their own consciousness.  

A few years down the road I may further explain to my grandchildren that the brain is home to billions of cells—neurons which carry trillions of electrical pulses in a network of millions of neural pathways within the organ known as their brain—a convoluted three pound mass of grey and white matter identified by neuroscientists as the seat of conscious thought. Such wonders are not visible in graphic diagrams or photographs of the physical brain. Through powerful microscopes neuroscientists have now instructed us concerning astonishing wonders of the sub-visible world of the brain. Going beyond the visual, scientists have described a superabundance of incredible events occurring within the brain.

Perhaps after several years our grandkids will become more objective and less subjective. Objective scientific explanations will increasingly dominate their conscious thought. With increasing intellectual maturity they will become interested in their body’s biological systems, including what happens in their brain. If they understand the basic objective truth that all matter is composed of atoms they will recall that atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Two of these three particles, the proton and electron, possess electrical charges. One statement charged with truth is, “All matter is electrical in nature.” Translation: Without electricity pulsing through their brains there is no conscious brain function.

The body’s other biological functions are also interconnected with the brain’s system of neurons. Scientists have an easier task explaining the processes of electrical communication between ten other body systems and the brain. Causes and effects are easier to identify. For example, when an event happens such as body overheating or overcooling, the brain signals the body to respond to the changes in remarkable, multiple ways.

Brain function is considerably more difficult to grasp. Many scientists propose that the brain is the seat of human consciousness. Some dispute the truth of this statement, perhaps because the subject of consciousness is so poorly understood. David Chalmers calls consciousness “the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.” It is possible to study correlations between events occurring in our environment and brain activity as well as correlations between events occurring only within our brain. So far as these events correlate with consciousness, we become less certain of causes and effects.

What conclusion do we make about the mysterious subject of human consciousness? Was my granddaughter’s comment concerning not having “thought about that yet” an early expression of her knowledge of consciousness? Our recent post discussions do not begin to answer the deepest mysteries of consciousness. Many contemporary experts in the subject look forward to a rich harvest of discovery in future years. At present, the topic is known fully only in the infinite mind of God.