Mind-Brain and Consciousness

“Brains are amazing. Our lab demonstrates that single human layer 2/3 neurons can compute the XOR operation. Never seen before in any neuron in any other species…” The tweet from Humboldt University of Berlin Research Fellow and Neuroscientist Jaan Aru (source)

The more I read about recent accomplishments of (not only neuro)science and the more I discuss mind, brain, or consciousness with people of various worldviews, the more it becomes obvious that, notwithstanding the plethora of different approaches and understandings, there is one, common underlying trend: despite being conscious, human beings in general actually do not know (what is) consciousness.

There is this unequivocal agreement even among individuals with mutually exclusive interpretations that results in conflation of consciousness with mind and awareness — a misunderstanding that leads to skewed deductions and consequently to further faulty assumptions on a surprisingly large spectrum.

I suppose, you all know what a computer is.

Utterly simplified and in layman’s terms, standard silicon-based computer hardware executes what is traditionally called software like this: processor contains billions of on-off switches (and other state-specific circuitry) that encode its state — this is what we know as machine code (in other words instructions); this state then influences further operation of processor but also other parts of hardware; the same principle of on-off switches is also used in memory mediums (RAM, hard disk, etc.) where the data is encoded into offs and ons (zeroes and ones) and kept either to advance the state of processor or as a means to preserve the data itself (for further use).

Thus, as you can see, what we call software and digital data are at all times merely states of the underlying hardware. You cannot separate one from the other, and there’s no distinct boundary where one starts and the other ends.

Now — surprise, surprise — your mind-brain is a sort of computer too.

Again very, very simplified, here’s my favorite example I use a lot, that is, the way of how mammalian vision works: light hits retina; signals travel through sensory relays (thalamus) to primary visual cortex which is responsible for creation of primary visual map (one can say it’s a “virtual eye” in the brain — btw. mice have also what seems as “virtual whiskers” in their primary somatosensory cortex); impulses then further spread into visual association area where the complete functional map of the visual world is constructed; in the end, signals propagate to the rest of the brain to finalize the visual perception that gets cognized as recognizable patterns.

The pattern processing itself is something which exists equally in humans as it exists in e.g. birds or lower mammals. Humans, in addition to this “lower level” pattern processing, seem to also posses a “superior pattern processing” which some researchers hypothesize to be “the fundamental basis of most, if not all, unique features of the human brain including intelligence, language, imagination, invention, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts and gods.”

Please note that these are plain facts that are up for discussion only in terms of functional details, not principles, and that they clearly demonstrate that (human) brain is a sort of biochemical computation device from which mind cannot be separated because it is its function.

However, try the following little experiment.

While meditating (or high), simply observe yourself. Your body-mind and everything that goes with it. Obviously, anything you are able to observe is not the observer. Next, try to point your attention to the observer by asking the question, “Who am I?” Eventually you should realize that you cannot turn the attention directly at yourself, that you are the observer or that-which-experiences, i.e. consciousness, and that all your attributes without fail (including awareness and also that part which asks) is what is observed. At that point it should be also obvious to you that the mind-bending paradox of consciousness, that hard problem which resembles the problem of an eye attempting to observe itself directly, is migraine-inducing only if one tries to solve the conundrum from the vantage point of (observable!) mind-brain.

Given that consciousness is empirically without attributes, and that it is what cognizes the patterns generated by brain (which must by definition work the same way at least in the case of all mammals and birds), two immediate questions arise (even if we are merely promissory materialists):

  • Considering the morphological and physiological similarities between mind-brains of mammals and other animals, what is the minimal necessary neural complexity to generate consciousness?
  • Considering all of the above, how can trillions of unique mind-brains of various species produce something which is (quite obviously) identical to a T?

Then again, no matter the actual answers, there is still that blatantly ignored problem of the origin of our Universe/Multiverse. So yeah, give me one miracle.

Anyway.

If we are, as opposed to a materialist, a person on the other side of the metaphysical fence which separates idealism from materialism, we cannot ignore the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence and subsequently patent contradictions and inconsistencies that go with traditional explanations of karma, reincarnation, OBE, prophecy, and other “psychic and paranormal phenomena” that we have to address whether we like it or not.

At least that would be the desirable case.

In reality, the things are rather different. Neither the materialist nor the idealist realize what is consciousness, and both of them are unaware of the implications that go with it. Thus, in an equally reductionist way, they come to their respective, nevertheless contradictory but also faulty, conclusions. The materialist reduces everything to matter, makes the consciousness, which he equates with mind, die with brain, and proclaims all anomalous subjective experiences as delusions that have no connection to material reality. The idealist, on the other hand, because he equates the consciousness with mind too, twists himself into pretzels while inventing spiritual and supernatural realms just to accomplish the impossible feat of mind surviving the physical death only to make sense of all anomalous subjective experiences without discarding them.

This in itself would be just a funny observation inducing hysterical laughing and facepalming were it not for the grave consequences.

Materialism as described produces mindless consumerists in all walks of life, arrogant scientists who cannot see past their ignorance, nihilistic misanthropic philosophers who try to convince everyone that suffering and condescending disgust is the only highest virtue, as well as tortured artists who love to publicly wallow in their suffering and see compassion only as a kind of we-are-all-in-this-sucking-world-together-with-no-way-out fellowship. Likewise, idealism as it exists produces fundamentalists, pseudo-scientists, conspiracy nuts, and so on and so forth.

Again, this would be something to safely ignore were it not for the fact that such worldviews (which basically involve 99.999% of all people on Earth) have palpable material consequences, because worldviews, as we know, inform our actions. The state of our world speaks volumes in this regard as it is not the doing of the powerful few, but a collective effort of the whole human race.

And yet, the solution is so simple.

Let everyone, but especially academics (researchers and teachers) as well as all modern-day shamans (there’s no hope for priests and preachers), know their absolute nature. Then they would know how to ask relevant questions. Then they would understand why don’t ignoring what does not seem to fit into our current understanding no mater if it’s subjective experience or scientific evidence is the way to go.

Frankly, vast majority of self-professed shamans cannot even fathom how this Universe is even more mind-boggling and mysterious than what they imagine. Not in some supernatural manner, but in a very palpable and concrete way, with our literal skin in the game, quite in the thick of this whole interconnected existence no matter what we mean by matter. And similarly, all materialist have not even a slightest clue what they are actually missing.

But whatever …

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