Having already posted so much on the evolving problem of consciousness it is time to let another voice speak. Here we have Gary Vey and his recent essay. He gives us an exposition on the work of Jaynes.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Consciousness with Gary Vey
Having already posted so much on the evolving problem of consciousness it is time to let another voice speak. Here we have Gary Vey and his recent essay. He gives us an exposition on the work of Jaynes.
This gets us much deeper into the nature of consciousness and i make a lot of notes. there will be more material later from Gary.
This is very good. It really puts the problem of our physical brain's influence in working with our consciousness. It looks more and more like an inconvenience and we are all operating through a sophisticated work around. Yet this brain still modulates our working language with which we share information. Something unusual is going on here when consciousness chooses to present itself in the physical world. We have how, when and where figured out, but we are missing out on why?
First, let me introduce myself. I'm Gary Vey and I own and have written most of the stories on this website, viewzone.com.
I started the site back in 1996 and I've covered lots of ground in the research of this world and our inner life. In retrospect, it seems that the topics I was interested in have been part of a larger quest to understand the nature of this personal reality that we seem to share in this thing we call "life".
This quest is something that motivates many people. It's the reason I chose psychology as a profession when I was younger and why I have been interested in various religions and explanations for what I see in this world.
As a writer, I try to reveal some of the hidden ideas and theories so that you, the reader, can consider them and incorporate them into your own world view. The reason I mention this is because I've come upon just such a hidden theory that, for me, provides a new way of looking at myself and the world that is quite obviously true and earth shattering.
I'm going to be telling you, in my own words, about a discovery that was made back in the 70s by a man called Julian Jaynes. This man and the story of his discovery could be the subject of a good film.
But here I am only going to focus on the theory itself. I'll be often giving tasty bits from Jaynes' paper, The Origin of Consciousness In the Breakup of the Bicameral Mind.
Before I get going with this theory I should comment on the image of the keyboard and the bud. I'll feel more comfortable if you know this up front. I have an affliction called neuropathy that is the result of many years of undiagnosed diabetes. It's a special kind of pain that results from the death of nerves and it doesn't respond to the usual pain relievers. It does respond to cannabis.
Taking medical marijuana doesn't mean that I don't get stoned. On the contrary, it means that I am usually in a haze 24/7. But since this has become my default reality I have learned to adjust my life to a pain-free and functional state. Hey, good for me. Otherwise I couldn't sit here and type this.
The story I am going to tell you will take quite a few pages and some effort to write up. But I think this is something vital for you to know. I will be explaining each step so that you can personally experience what I am writing about through the experiments you can carry out in your own mind.
There is no better teacher than yourself.
So let me get this posted. This first page will be the beginning of a journey that I promise you will change who you are and what you think this crazy world is all about.
But right now, I need some medicine.
As promised, I am going to try and explain, in my own words, what Julian Jaynes, a Princeton professor, took almost five hundred pages to do. Here's a link to download the book (pdf) should you want to follow along with me.
What I am going to explain should blow your mind in two phases. First, you will not believe what I am saying until you try some mental exercises yourself. Then, with some effort, you will understand yourself and the world in a different way. That's the first phase of this story.
The second phase comes when you try to integrate your new perspective to familiar realities, like what this life is really all about. It changes just about everything, yet you will likely manifest no outward changes in your behavior. It's all inside.
I'll tell you what I am going to tell you
Perhaps you won't understand this now, but here is a preview:
Your (our) consciousness is just a mental fabrication that is the result of our language having developed the ability to give a verbal narrative to reality. What's more, consciousness is a fairly recent development of the human mind, although unsuccessful attempts may have occurred in the remote past.
[ two very interesting assertions here at the least. These are conjectures, but also extremely important. Both deserve investigation and testing in depth. - arclein ]
How recent is the evolution of our consciousness? Jaynes provides pretty convincing evidence that this mental upgrade happened just about 3000 years ago! I know... it is hard to believe. But wait for the supporting evidence before you trash this story. Once you consider this fact to be a possibility, you soon begin to unravel the ancient mystery cults, ancient myths and legends, the oracles, shaman and, yes, hypnotism, psychedelics and circumcision. It all falls in place once you make it over this first impasse.
[ i hesitate also, but because 3000 years ago the Atlantean collapse wiped out a substancial and clearly evolving higher civilization. It is my conjecture that the mental change took place 45,000 years ago and we have since had several cycles of substancial social evolution since then - arclein ]
This isn't all that I could tell you right now, but it is the hardest part to digest and we can proceed no further until this is understood. Jaynes devoted the first part of his book to describing consciousness -- what it is and what it isn't. And with his guidance we can use our own minds to validate these claims. Then we can proceed on solid ground. OK, ready?
We use the word to mean a variety of things. Here is the dictionary definition:
*the state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings : she failed to regain consciousness.
*the awareness or perception of something by a person : she is consciousness of Mike's presence.
*the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world : consciousness emerges from the brain.
Most of us usually think of our consciousness as being who we are. I am aware that I am aware... as you are also. This function seems unique to humans and apparently necessary for us to have dominated lesser life forms which have no consciousness, such as plants and animals.
OK. Before you start thinking I am dissing plants or animals, saying they don't have consciousness, we need to focus more on what we precisely mean by this word. Is your pet dog in possession of self-awareness? How about those experiments (Baxter et. al) where it was demonstrated that plants have feelings?
That's not exactly what we are talking about here.
If I asked you to make a list of things that require consciousness you might just answer "everything", but here are a few specific items that might come to your mind:
speaking (writing, reading and listening)
making judgements and decisions
simple thinking and problem solving
So let's use our own minds as a laboratory and examine these mental abilities. I have outlined some of Jaynes' arguments. Take each one separately and use your own experience to see if you agree with what he proposes:
Consciousness in not needed for Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening
Right now you are reading this text. You probably have a little voice in your mind that is reading the words, as if the story were being read for you. You are aware of your eyes tracking the words, moving from left to right... and every now and then perhaps a visual image, stimulated by the text, will flash in your inner cinema...
But let's look at what is really happening. Your eyes are constantly moving, much more than you know. Your body movements and the coordination of your eye's muscles create lots of jitters to the image forming on your retina. You don't notice this because a kind of program adjusts for these movements and provides you with a stabilized picture.
Next, the image of the page is interpreted by the firing of rods and cones that send signals to your visual cortex where it is recognized as text. Each letter or word is recognized and its meaning is understood in the context of other words and phrases. Subtle things like humor, the choice of words etc., add your reaction to the meaning.
Only then does this reach your consciousness as a verbal narrative, paired with reports on the status of your other systems (emotions, hormones etc.). This forms your reality.
The point I want to make is that the hardest parts of reading and listening are done in the background. Our consciousness is just the final recipient of a kind of summary from a host of unconscious and largely automatic processing functions.
As far as writing and speaking, even more miraculous things happen in the background. We form ideas based on previous input, these ideas are put into logical statements, translated into words, corrected according to linguistic rules in memory and executed precisely with the correct tonality and the appropriate delivery for the imagined audience.
As I write this text I am experiencing the process. The words are coming into my consciousness from somewhere behind that curtain. I watch in amazement as my fingers find the right keys. The correct choice and order of words streams out. I feel a kind of invigoration when I know the words are expressing my general idea correctly. "I" (my consciousness) am a kind of witness and quality control to what is happening!
Consciousness does not take an active part in creativity, it mostly just witnesses it. [ well yes and no. It is very much an editor and works to perfect suggested text. - arclein ]
Musicians tell of songs coming to their consciousness from "somewhere", usually all finished and ready to record! Some of the greatest discoveries in science and philosophy have been brought into consciousness suddenly and usually when the person involved was not thinking about the problem (Archimedes' Eureka moment, Farnsworth, Einstein, Tesla...).
[ Except the mind must also be prepared. Reading the equivalent of a book a day for over fifty years and perfecting the rules of rational thinking allows me to tackle a wide range of subject matter at a reasonable level of comfort. - arclein ]
Jaynes jokes about the three greatest environments of intellectual discovery as the three B's: bath, bed, bus. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's consider that it is possible to listen, speak, read and write without the consciousness actively participating. All of the hard thinking is done unconsciously and the consciousness just experiences the narrative.
[ Amazingly i disagree with that. Most thinking consists of recognizing the obvious and that is a pretty easy trick. It is when it is necessary to translate a fresh insight or alien idea into usuable language that you will find yourself working and consciously working as if you are up a creek without a paddle. - arclein ]
If you're not convinced, hang in there. Next we will look at learning. Surely this requires consciousness?
Consciousness is not necessary for Learning
You might think that consciousness is necessary for learning. I did too. I don't mean the way that worms in a petri dish "learn" to avoid a shock by swimming to a safe zone. I mean real learning, like when you crammed your brains for an oral exam the next day or studied for your driver's license.
Repeated studies have shown that you are more likely to learn and retain more facts if you got a good night's sleep than if you stayed up doing an all-nighter. Presumably this is because it is in the unconscious where the interconnections of ideas take place. The new information becomes integrated with the old. This is where learning happens.
According to current psychology:
"...either conscious or unconscious learning is primarily a combination of mental processes, referred to as a knowledge acquisition process, bringing memories into the mind, forming associations, retaining, and using them. A permanent change in mental associations, in long-term memory, or a potential change in human behavior is considered to be learning."
So consciousness in this case is a kind of input terminal where we await the reaction of unconscious associations and interpretations and then incorporate this new association in our narrative of reality.
We say it (i.e. the consciousness acknowledges the new association as valid) and make it so (it becomes part of the new reality narrative).
OK. Maybe I lost you. Psychologists call it implicit learning and some excellent examples are given here. I'll quote one for you.
"An example comes from the work of Arthur Reber, who studied implicit learning over a period of decades. In a 1967 experiment, Reber showed subjects a set of letter strings (such as TSXS, TSSXXVPS, and PVV) generated using a hidden rule. Soon the subjects were able to judge whether new letter strings fit the rule or not. They could do this despite being unable to specify the rule. This is what people commonly call intuition, or knowledge from an unknown source. The subjects "knew" whether a new letter string fit the rule, but they did not know how they knew. Reber carried out many such demonstrations. He used different procedures to rule out alternative explanations. In the end, he concluded that learning typically begins with unconscious processes. Brain-scanning research bears this out. For example, the anterior cingulate gyrus, an area crucial to executive control ("willpower") and planned activity, shows different responses to wins and losses in gambling before a person is conscious of them (Gehring & Wiloughby, 2002).
Reber (1993) argued that each individual act of learning mimics our species history. "Consciousness is a late arrival on the evolutionary scene," he pointed out. "Sophisticated unconscious perceptual and cognitive functions preceded its emergence by a considerable margin." Similarly, in the individual act of learning, consciousness is a late arrival, following unconscious perceptual and cognitive functions that first detect a pattern. [emphasis mine]
A different kind of learning happens when an athlete performs or a pianist executes a long and complex piece. During the actual performance, the performer is best not to consciously think about the multiple mental processes going on. They all happen behind the curtain of unconsciousness and the consciousness of the artist or athlete becomes the witness.
A more common example is driving a car. Remember how when you first got behind the wheel every twist in the road required conscious attention and perhaps the "voice" of your instructor (real or imagined) to keep you safe? Now you can likely drive automatically (unconsciously) and text while worrying about something else.
OK. Enough for learning. It's also behind the unconscious curtain and it functions pretty well without consciousness being involved. I don't need to remind you that brainwashing, mind control and hypnosis utilize this unconscious learning process to change behavior.
Judgements and Decisions do not require consciousness
Does our consciousness actively participate in the decisions and judgements we make? Our morality and personality can be thought of as our pattern of reaction to certain situations. These judgements and decisions can be life threatening (should I walk across that dilapidated bridge?) or moral (no ne is around, should I steal this piece of cheese?).
We like to think that our ability to make moral judgements and important life decisions (or really any decision) is in the realm of our consciousness. After all, that's what we mean when we imply that we have free will. But psychologists and neurologists have recently come to realize that this appears to be contradicted by fact.
Jaynes (circa the mid-70s) referenced a good study that is often quoted. In this experiment, subjects were asked to solve a word problem that required them to make a judgement and then report their answer. The experimenters divided the experiment into four parts: 1:the introduction of the rules (when I say a word, you say something that is made from it); 2: reciting the target word ("tree"); 3: the processing of the judgement (thinking of things made from trees); and 4: the subject would report the answer ("a door").
What happened is that subjects reported they had the answer as soon as they heard the target word. There was no #3 (H. J. Watt). The decisions and judgements were made almost instantaneously in the unconscious with no effort of consciousness. But I have come across an even more current version of the experiment.
[ The take home is important. The consciousness sees no rerson to involve the language processing component of the brain which is part of our physical presence. - arclein ]
Recent studies with minute changes in pupil size have linked these changes to the degree of mental effort being carried out by our brain. It's a kind of meter that tells you the CPU activity of your brain.
I write all about it here.
The important fact here is that when subjects were given a decision to make, their pupils dilated to indicate that their unconscious was thinking hard about it. But then the pupils would suddenly narrow which indicated that a decision had been made. The problem was that this happened well before (well, in seconds anyway) the subject was consciously aware of it. Often the subject did not know ahead of time how they would decide. Typically, the decision would suddenly arrive into consciousness followed by a kind of verbal logic to explain the position (instead of the other way around).
So decisions and judgements are conducted in the unconscious realm and reported to consciousness.
[ Thus it is always best to accept your first hunch and run with it until new information throws it out - arclein ]
In this same study it was noted that if the decision conflicted with the long held beliefs of the subject, the pupil would vacillate in size slightly if they were asked to recite their decision, indicating that the unconscious was still busy trying to form new associations and accommodate the new narrative.
This is nothing new. Carl Jung developed the word association test back in the mid-20th Century to detect hidden thinking that was going on in the unconscious. By giving a specific word from a carefully designed list, Jung would ask patients with mental problems to say the first word that came into their consciousness. It was not so much the response that issued from the patient as the length of time that it took to reply that was significant.
Jung theorized that the unconscious mind had made an association almost instantly but, because the unconscious was afraid to reveal its true motives and thought processes relevant to the mental problem, an alternate word would be substituted, requiring a delay in the response. The patient would be unaware of this process and would respond as soon as the word came to their consciousness. Words showing a longer response time became a literal clue to the underlying problem affecting the patient.
The point here is that it all takes place under our consciousness and the results of unconscious decisions, judgements, problem solving and other mental functions are revealed to us after the thinking has taken place.
As Jaynes put it, "One does one's thinking before one knows what one is to think about."
But what about moral judgements? Certainly they are part of consciousness and free-will... well, have a look at this study: Magnets Muck Up Your Brain's Moral Compass in which the moral judgements of subjects were dramatically changed (for the worse) by disabling a part of the brain with a strong magnet! [please take note this was the Right Temporal area... which will be more significant later in this story.]
It's a bit off topic but I wonder what is the affect of electromagnetic waves from cellphones, whose antennae are held against this part of the brain? Is this modifying our moral judgement? Just wondering...
Whew! Are you starting to see where this is going? Next:
Consciousness is not necessary for Problem Solving
(later... it is raining and my neuropathy always seems more painful. Some more medicine and I will be back in the chair at the keyboard. Thanks for some encouraging e-mails. Glad to know I have some readers with excellent minds and curiosity. Please comment when you can. Thanks.)
Consciousness is not necessary for Solving Problems
Let's say I ask you to multiply 23 by it self three times. If you're like me you will need to find a piece of paper and perform the individual steps of multiplication. Whatever talents I learned when I was young, math was not one of them.
But some people do have this ability. Some can give you answers to mathematical equations with accuracy to a hundredth decimal place! A perfect example is Daniel Tammet - The Boy With The Incredible Brain who appears in this YouTube video reciting the long version of pi. In the video it's clear that these incredibly complex calculations are not conscious work but the results are known to Daniel instantaneously. What's even more significant is that his answers are always correct.
I previously mentioned some famous scientists and thinkers whose inventions and discoveries were made in this unconscious manner. These are also examples of problem solving of a more conceptual nature not involving mathematical calculations. Essentially, all problem solving takes place in the unconscious.
The best known example of a savant phenomenon is the character portrayed in Rain Man by actor Dustin Hoffman. These extreme cases of apparently genius abilities, carried out in the unconscious, are rare (only about 50 world wide) and usually follow some childhood trauma to the Left Hemisphere. I felt it fair to include them. This type of deep thinking unconscious might also be found in Asperger's Syndrome and Autism Spectral Disorders.
Some have suggested that the dysfunctional aspects associated with these syndromes is inability of the unconscious to express itself (report) to the conscious in a language that can be used as a narrative of reality. This will make more sense later on in this story.
I think I have made the point here. Consciousness is NOT necessary for speaking, listening, reading, writing, learning, remembering, making judgements and decisions, solving problems or reasoning. If you have your doubts, please then just consider that it might be possible. Then continue reading.
We all do amazing things every day in our unconscious processors that are hardly ever appreciated by our consciousness. We estimate the timing of vehicles when we cross a busy street, we can predict the emotional state of a friend to tell the best time to ask a favor... we can plan an alternate route in a traffic jam... our brains are very capable of doing these and many more things in the background.
Jaynes said, "Our minds work much faster than our consciousness can keep up with."
What, then, is consciousness?
This is a good time to remind you that Jaynes theory proposed that consciousness is a recent mental acquisition, perhaps only 3000 years old. There's a lot of history and civilization prior to 1000 BCE so how can this be possible?
We've already considered that so many of the mental activities we think are endemic in human consciousness are, in fact, automatic. Without consciousness people can do all of the things that make life possible. They can farm, raise animals, live in villages and towns, have leaders and, most importantly, they can have a system of belief. I don't necessarily mean a religion or a belief in a deity. It could be belief in an idol, a king, a tribal leader or even an esteemed family member.
To see what these pre-consciousness people might have been like, we should first review what consciousness encompasses. So here are the essentials of consciousness as defined by Jaynes:
1. Consciousness is a process and not an object
It doesn't exist anywhere specific in the brain. In fact, it can sometimes be demonstrated to be outside the brain... If I ask you to remember the last time you were walking in a garden or on the beach, you will undoubtedly recall a memory that views yourself from an outside perspective - looking at yourself instead of recalling the experience through your own eyes. 2. Consciousness operates by way of analogy
Things become real to us if they can be associated with previously experienced things. There is nothing that is in consciousness that was not an analog for something that was in behavior (experience) first.
3. Consciousness constructs an analog space (environment) with an analog "I" that can observe the space and move about in it.
If I ask you which way the door to your room opens, you will likely run a virtual image of your room in your consciousness and imagine yourself examining or opening the door. The ability to imagine environments that mirror the real outside world AND to place the perspective from our own view is what is being described here.
Consciousness creates and uses a virtual world based on language and metaphors. It creates an avatar for us ("I am") to interact with it and allows us to project future outcomes based on memory and the continuous internal narrative that is the script for what we call reality.
But the main thing to remember is that CONSCIOUSNESS = IDEA OF SELF (The "I").
Implicit in this is also the development of what is called Theory of Mind where the "I" recognizes that other people also have an "I" and that each individual perceives the world from their own perspective. This is something that develops in humans at about age 5. We'll talk more about Theory of Mind later.
If Jaynes' theory that consciousness is 3000 years old is valid, we ought to be able to look at human expression -- such things as literature, mythology, legends and art -- to see evidence of this momentous transition from an unconscious, reactive civilization to one full of emotion and ego.
And this is where it gets very interesting.
(Ouch... later ;-)
At the Crossroads
I used to write stories that I thought would appeal to lots of people. Then, once I became ill, I stopped writing altogether. Thanks to the cannabis I can now have enough pain-free time every day to write -- but for whom?
If you have come this far into the story thinking it is some New Age idea or a con to get you into some born-again movement -- then here is where you can bail out. Reading beyond this point will perhaps not sit well with you.
I was about to tell you what the mind of man might have been like prior to having consciousness. But before I can do this, I need to review some brain anatomy and tell you some things that may or may not be a surprise to you. It will not be too technical as I will simplify things as best I can. OK. Buckle up.
We Have Two Brains
Surprisingly, not many people realize that we all have two processors in our brain. They are called the Left and Right Hemispheres. I'll post a picture below so you can see what I mean.
Notice that there is a fissure (crack) extending from the front to the back. This fissure goes all the way through, separating the brain into two mirror images of each other. The hemispheres are connected at the base by a thick chord of nerves (kind of like a firewire) called the corpus collosum and share data by this means.
There is also a much smaller connection called the anterior commisure that is kind of like a USB cable. This little link will become more significant later on.
I have written a whole story on the discovery and characteristics of each half of our brain in a previous report HERE. If you are not familiar with the split-brain experiments and the characteristics of each hemisphere it would be good to stop and read this other story, then come back.
Just to review the characteristics of each hemisphere, I am reproducing the chart here:
LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
words and language
present and past
math and science
knows object name
RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
"big picture" oriented
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
knows object function
We all have both male and female traits. This happens because, somehow, each hemisphere agrees to perform specific mental processes while the other hemisphere takes a break and observes. In short: they learn to cooperate with each other, controlling and influencing our thinking and actions. The pattern of response and the assigned duties of each hemisphere combine to make our personality.
Occasionally, the hemispheres can view a certain problem differently. In a given situation, the Left Hemisphere may want to be logical, like Star Trek's Spock, while the Right Hemisphere might want to consider emotional consequences. Left unresolved, we feel a kind of uneasiness in our consciousness as we sense the conflict. This is one theory of mental illness.
The Language Center
If you have grasped this split brain thing, the next thing to know is that there are certain areas of the brain that perform certain tasks. We will only be concerned with one area -- the place where language is understood and created. It's called the Wernicke's Area. For most right-handed people this area is just above and in back of your left ear.
Before they had fMRI and PET scanners, brain scientists knew this area controlled language because it is often the area damaged by strokes. Also, accidents and tumors that damaged this part of the brain resulted in the patient's inability to speak.
Jaynes noticed that almost all of the important areas of the brain are duplicated on the other hemisphere. In some cases, when there was an injury to the dominant side, the other side would actively take over the duties of the injured area. It seems that nature did this to protect our vital abilities for survival.
But what about language?
Jaynes' noticed that the Left Wernicke's Area did NOT have a corresponding language area which would compensate if it were injured. That seemed very odd. In fact, it is known that the Wernicke's Area on the non-dominant hemisphere (Right in right handed people) is empty real estate! It has been cut out for various tumors with no evidence of any deficit.
But, oddly, if it is stimulated by an electrical current the patients report hearing a voice. Not an inner voice but an actual voice, often in a specific location in the room. For some reason, researchers were eliciting audio hallucinations in patients with no history of schizophrenia or other mental disorders.
(Sigh) We're all through with the anatomy stuff. To review, we have two hemispheres which, in normal healthy people. communicate and cooperate with each other in such a way that we do not notice the split in our consciousness. It's there for sure but we only receive one narrative in our consciousness which is the result of these two processors deciding who would do what and when for you.
In each hemisphere we have areas that do certain things. We know this because of modern brain scans that were not available to Jaynes back in the 70s. We know that the Left Wernickes Area is where language resides in most right handed people (about 85% of the population) while the Right Wernicke's Area seems to have no vital function, can be removed with no symptoms, but creates a hallucinated voice in the patient when stimulated.
Now I need some medicine... but we made progress. You are already a couple of hundred pages into Jaynes' huge book. Hang in, there's more to come. Next up I'll describe the pre-conscious man and show you why Jaynes believed it could be proven.