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Think Your Conscious Brain Directs Your Actions? Think Again

Think your deliberate, guiding, conscious thoughts are in charge of your actions?

Think again.

In a provocative new paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a team led by Dr. Ezequiel Morsella at San Francisco State University came to a startling conclusion: Consciousness is no more than a passive machine running one simple algorithm — to serve up what’s already been decided, and take credit for the decision.

conscious-decision-making-dethroned-2Rather than a stage conductor, it’s just a tiny part of what happens in the brain that makes us “aware.”

All the real work goes on under the hood — in our unconscious minds.

The Passive Frame Theory, as Morsella calls it, is based on decades of experimental data observing how people perceive and generate motor responses to odors.

It’s not about perception (“I smell a skunk”), but about response (running from a skunk).

The key to cracking what consciousness does in the brain is to work backwards from an observable physical action, explains Morsella in his paper.

If this isn’t your idea of “consciousness,” you’re not alone.

Traditionally, theorists tried to tackle the enigmatic beast by looking at higher levels of human consciousness, for example, self-consciousness — the knowledge that you exist — or theory of mind — that you and others have differing beliefs, intents, desires and perspectives.

While fascinating on a philosophical level, this approach is far too complex to explain on a fundamental level what consciousness is for.

Instead, Morsella believes that studying basic consciousness ­— the awareness of a color, an urge, a sharp pain — is what will lead to a breakthrough.

If a creature has an experience of any kind — something it is like to be that creature ­ — then it has this form of consciousness,” Morsella said in an email to Singularity Hub. It doesn’t have to be high-level, and “ it’s unlikely to be unique to humans.”

The Passive Frame Theory goes like this:

 Nearly all the decisions and thoughts that need to be made throughout the day are performed by many parts of the unconscious brain, well below our level of awareness. (The associative autonomous sub-branches of the hierarchy in our nervous system?)

conscious-decision-making-dethroned-8When the time comes to physically act on a decision, various unconscious processes deliver their opinions to a central “hub,” like voters congregating at town hall.

The hub listens in on the conversation, but doesn’t participate; all it does is provide a venue for differing opinions to integrate and decide on a final outcome. (Integrative behaviour seek the higher levels in the hierarchy for holistic resolutions)

Once the unconscious makes a final decision on how to physically act (or react), the hub — consciousness — executes that work and then congratulates itself for figuring out a tough problem.

In a way, the unconscious mind is like a group of talented ghostwriters working on a movie script for a celebrated screenwriter.

If all goes smoothly, they bypass the screenwriter and deliver the final product straight to the next level.

If, on the other hand, conflict arises — say the ghostwriters differ in their ideas on how the story should unfold — their argument may reach the ears of that famous screenwriter, who becomes aware of the problem, but nevertheless sits and waits for the writers to figure it all out. Once that happens, the screenwriter hands off the script, and gets all the credit.

Similar to the screenwriter, consciousness doesn’t debate or solve conflict in our heads; consciousness needs to be “on” in order to relay the final outcome — so it is essential — but it doesn’t participate in the nitty-gritty of decision-making.

Why did consciousness emerge in this way? Morsella thinks the answer is evolution.

Like all animals, humans try to conserve mental energy and automate our biological processes.

Most of the time we run on instincts, reflexes and minute-to-minute immediate thoughts. Take breathing as an example — it’s completely automated, to the point that consciously trying to maintain a steady rhythm is surprisingly hard. In this case, conscious thought just bogs the process down.

Unlike most animals, however, humans gradually evolved into complex social beings capable of cultivating our intelligence for language and other higher faculties.

Faced with increasingly difficult decisions on how to act, we suddenly needed a middleman to slow our unconscious mind down. (The nurturing process that got ingrained into our genes?)

conscious-decision-making-dethroned-4 Say you find yourself underwater; your instinct is to breathe, but better judgment — delivered by an unconscious cry of alarm (“don’t breathe!”) — tells you that you would drown. Your unconscious mind orders your consciousness to activate the muscles that will allow you to hold your breath and keep you alive. Consciousness triggers an adaptive motion.

The power of our unconscious mind doesn’t stop at basic bodily functions.

In the paper, Morsella cites language — a high-level, complex and perhaps distinctively human faculty — as another product of the unconscious mind.

When you speak, you’re only consciously aware of a few words at a time, and that is only so you can direct the muscles around your mouth and tongue to form those words. What you’re saying is prescribed under the hood; your conscious mind is simply following a script.

Morsella acknowledges that his theory is unconventional and difficult to accept.

“The number one reason it’s taken so long to reach this conclusion is because people confuse what consciousness is for with what they think they use it for,” Morsella said in a press release accompanying his paper.

But none of this theory takes away our treasured qualities as sentient human beings — our imagination, our language, our sense of self and others — it just points to the unconscious mind as the main player on our brainy fields.

In fact, Morsella hopes his theory could lead to new ideas about intrusive thoughts or obsessions that often occur in mental disorders.

“The passivity of consciousness explains why we are aware of urges and thoughts that are maladaptive,” Morsella said to Singularity Hub, because it doesn’t know that it shouldn’t be thinking about these thoughts.

“The system is less all-knowing and purposeful than we thought.”

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This sick animal among all animal species”: Mankind confronting unnatural tensions

Mankind is in a constant tension between what nature requires and what the spirit imposes on him: A situation between the beast and the angel.

The Will is but acting on a doubt, otherwise we are mostly  not ready to confront truth and the essence of the world.

Schopenhauer wrote:

“The domain of the Self is this obscure and impenetrable part of our personality. The little we know of the Self we had acquired by studying and reflecting on our dreams and the formation of the symptoms in the neurotic people.

The Self has two openings to the influences of the physical body and to the impulses (pulsion) of the psychic needs and desires.  These impulses fill the person with chaotic energy and cannot get rid of these impulses by adopting any wholesome willing process.

The person has to satisfy the impulses. No logical procedure is at work.

For example, this principle of non-contradiction has no effect on the tumultuous internal influences that seem Not to eliminate one another or weaken any of the impulses.”

The unconscious mind refutes the set of value judgment, morality, the good and evil dichotomy, or even the influence of time in the succession of events in the realm of the conscious mind.

C.G. Jung stated:

It is more convincing and more natural to look at how events come to me rather than observing how I have produced these events

Sciences has done No discoveries that philosophy didn’t authorize to do, or guided the conduct of the research.

Has the world ever been transformed without the mind acting on a doubt?

It is the animal nature in mankind that provided and projected all the necessary data to formulate valid hypothesis.

We have got to reach a level of confidence that the subject and the object form one entity. This is the fundamental point that links mankind to his created God in any religion.

Otherwise, we remain totally confused and in disarray.

Most of us lead our life according to a typical formal biography: the destiny of a  caste, an economic  class, a profession, the color of our skin, family condition, the immediate environment we live in…

We can talk of a typical “lived life” as of a living myth.

The interest in myths is inherent in our psychoanalyse, which is linked to the poetic creation: Totem and Tabou

If in our maturity we fail to discover what is eternally valid in the deep mystic in us, we are doomed to spiritual misery: We have got to agree that what we did and the events we submitted to had sources in the deepest level of our psychic and that they are all legitimate activities and thinking.

It is this continuity in the living history, the typicality we adhere to, that allow us to function and move.

In antiquity, it was natural to incarnate a mythical entity, a God, a semi-God…and emulate their behaviour and adopt their line of thought: The past was necessary for the present.

Full Consciousness, unconscious mind, subconscious brain, Night Dreaming…

First we need to define among the various levels of consciousness:

The Unconscious Mind is the constant stream of thoughts that crosses our mind haphazardly, which we have no control over the process. Basically, the unconscious mind recalls the past, think of the future and prevent us from focusing on the present moment. It is the main terrifying constraint in our inability to refrain our brain from venting out all the thoughts that crowd the brain networks.

The Subconscious Brain is what govern and take control of our current activities. Without the subconscious brain, or automatic activation of our inner brains, accidents will be the norm instead of avoiding risks and calamities.

It captures millions of observations and events per minute while the conscious brain may observe only 40 events and objects. The subconscious is way far ahead of what we think we actually have “seen”: We are seeing the mental image of objects before we recognize the actual object.

For example, in a city crowded with bike riders, very few bike accidents are recorded: The subconscious brain was “trained” to memorize the whole environment and possible risks and engages to take full control of our biking activities while our mind is wandering, and our unconscious mind spreading all kinds of thoughts that are not relevant to the current activities.

Another example, as we land in a foreign city, we quickly feel exhausted: We rely on our senses to capture the environment and our senses are overloaded. It takes a few days for our subconscious brain and memory to assimilate the environment, take control and relieve our senses from tending to the details.

Full Consciousness is the power acquired by training to “disobey” a few of the thousands of orders our unconscious bombard us with every minutes.

For example, “Open your eyes, scratch your nose, what time do you have…”

The main problem is that we are not conscious of our mental agitations that make us confuse reality with thoughts

The difficulty is not the content of the haphazard thoughts, but the links that we attach to them.

Training our consciousness help us to identify the thoughts as just thoughts, transitory mental phenomena, and Not as durable certitudes.

Training our consciousness to Full Consciousness help us to observe the multitude of orders that the unconscious is bombarding us with and to learn to counter a few of the orders and delay the responses at least.

 Full Consciousness says “I am Not simply what I think!”

For example, the following two sentences are not the same:

“My life is sad” and “I am in the mood of thinking that my life is sad”

 Full Consciousness is tantamount of observing the flow of our thoughts, to keep a distance from the flow, observe our thoughts pass by.

There are no way to control our brain from thinking of all kinds of thoughts. As Paul Valery observed “We think that the conscious mind rules, but for sure it cannot governs”

When we reflect, we are not producing any new thought: We are simply engaging in rearranging, cataloguing, and trying to focus on a few thought that are out of our control.

We can take conscious of the tumultuous crowding of our thoughts, take a deep breath and learn to observe the haphazard flow of our thoughts.

Note: Night dreaming re-organizes the unconscious thoughts into a story book that the subconscious brain “memorizes” for later usage.


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adonis49

adonis49

November 2020
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