Consciousness
This essay tackles what is probably the hardest subject in our study of the known natural world:
understanding the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is so unusual and remarkable that it is also
remarkable how few science and biology texts even have a single page dedicated to the subject. Like
sleep, a related phenomenon, it is surprisingly overlooked. Perhaps many just deem it too difficult, others
have even denied the existence of consciousness (!). I tackle it here as best as I can. I shall draw on
science, my own forte, but also on philosophy, though only to an extent I feel confident with, as this is not
my expertise and philosophy trips many a scientist! I make no claims and pose no opinions as facts, but
simply debate the various aspects as openly as possible. Where there is speculation, I label it as such.
Thus, although you may object to many of the ideas, you ought not object to the author!

What is consciousness?

Consciousness can be defined as the awareness of external stimuli and one's own mental activity.

Defining consciousness has divided thinkers, and so it is clearly not a simple thing to define. Already, our
standard definition includes two phenomena: awareness of external stimuli, or perception, and awareness
of internal mental activity, or thought or cognition.

Perception is distinct from, though connected to, sensation. Sensation is the physical process by which
the sensors in the body detect stimuli, encode those stimuli into electrochemical signals and then relay
them to the brain which processes them. Perception is the act of being aware of these sensations. A
useful analogy is the theater view, in which the consciousness is an observer in a theatre, the play being
enacted being the various sensations being presented. This involves memory and emotions too, as what
we perceive is invariably placed into context.

This multifaceted definition I personally find unsatisfactory and it seems to be the cause of a rift between
the views of some neuroscientists, on the one hand, who believe that good progress has been made
toward explaining consciousness and the view, held by many philosophers and some scientists, that
consciousness can never be understood by science. When some neuroscientists say that good progress
has been made toward understanding or explaining consciousness, they really mean that scientific models
exist for the processes of sensation, memory and the internal neurochemical processes involved in
emotions and how these interact. A scientific model is one that takes available data from observations,
combined with a theory of the scientific principles or laws that  govern the system, to produce meaningful
predictions that can be tested and are found to be more-or-less accurate. It is possible, for example, to
produce a model of how certain stimuli, being sensed are then filtered, decoded and processed by neural
pathways in the brain and relevant data stored as memories. However, despite being trained in
neuroscience myself, I do not consider such and related scientific models to be models of consciousness,
as is often claimed.

To obtain another definition of what consciousness is, the following mental exercise is useful (adapted
from The Elements of the Qabalah by Will Parfitt). The reverse of the process at the end is important to
prevent disorientation that may occur for some people.
Sit upright, relaxed but attentive and pay attention to your breathing without
altering it or forcing it in any way. Spend a few minutes watching how the air flows
in and out of your body in a natural, easy way.

Be aware of what is going on inside your body. Be as fully aware of your body as
you are able to be.

Ask yourself: Who is aware of my breathing? Who is aware of my body? Who is
aware?

Now imagine a sphere around this body awareness and that you step back out of
it. Vividly imagine in front of you a sphere that contains your body awareness.

Consider your feelings. Are you feeling happy, sad, or what? Spend some time
looking at your feelings.

How do you feel? Be aware of how your feelings change all teh time. For instance,
you may be sad one minute, happy the next. Be as fully aware of your feelings as
you are able. Ask yourself: Who is aware of my feelings?

Now imagine a sphere around this feeling awareness and that you step back out
of it. Vividly imagine in front of you a sphere that contains your awareness of
feelings.

Consider your thoughts. What are you thinking right now? You are probably
thinking about this exercise, but what other thoughts are coming in and out of
your awareness? Watch the flow of these thoughts for a while without getting
caught up in them.

Your thoughts come and go almost as if they are independent of you. Be as fully
aware of your thought processes as you are able. Ask yourself: Who has these
thoughts?

Now imagine a sphere around your thoughts and that you step back out of it.
Vividly imagine in front of you a sphere that contains your awareness of thoughts.

Focus on these three spheres of awareness, your sensations, feelings and
thoughts. Who is focusing on these spheres?

Ask yourself: Who am I? Who is it that experiences all these sensations, feelings
and thoughts but is more than any or all of them. This is solar consciousness.

Be aware of yourself as a unique being with pure self awareness.

You can chose to be separate or non-attached to the contents of your
personality. You can chose to go into any of these spheres of awareness when it
is appropriate for you to do so. Choose now to re-enter your personality and take
some time to bring yourself hack into everyday consciousness. You can do this
through concretely expressing your connection to your solar consciousness. What
do you wish to do to express clearly your connection to your heart?
OK, clearly it is impossible to stop sensations, feelings and thoughts and remain conscious! However,
what this exercise demonstrates is that it is possible to detach from them to quite a degree and still
maintain a sense of self. You may find, as I did, that this exercise gives you a clear sense that
consciousness is that singular entity that is aware. At the very least we could define consciousness as
simply:
awareness. At the most we could define it as that which is aware, in the sense of that which is
doing the viewing as a separate entity. In any case, it seems clear to me that consciousness is a gestalt,
that is it is
greater than the sum of its parts.

The measurement problem and levels of consciousness

Can a scientific model of component processes reproduce a phenomenon that is greater than the sum of
its parts? Generally, yes it can. Such a property is called an
emergent property. For example, the
modelling of communications within cells by computer results in simulated behaviour that could not
otherwise be deduced, as it is dependent on how the component parts interact. Such emergent
properties are generally too complex to be deduced by simple logic or intuition alone. However, emergent
behaviour in a complex information system is one thing, but consciousness is unlike any other known
physical process. Consciousness can not be measured. There is no scientific device which measures the
degree of consciousness a thing possesses, in some unit of say consciometres, in the way that we can
measure length in say centimetres. We can assess self-awareness by observing whether or not an animal
recognises itself in a mirror. A human being can do this by about two years of age, monkeys can't
generally do this, but chimpanzees and dolphins can. However, this is an inference, that does suggest
that such animals have a high degree of consciousness, but makes no direct measurement. It would
seem odd to argue that a one-year old human baby has no consciousness at all. It might, then again it
might not. Since memory is not well-formed at such an early age people generally have very few or no
memories of their first year of life.

It seems reasonable to assume that animals have differing degrees or levels of consciousness. Few
people would doubt that a cat is more conscious than an insect or a goldfish. However, what we are really
talking about are the peripheral processes of consciousness, such as sensation, motor responses and
intelligence. Recent experiments have found that some patients (though not all) described as being in a
vegetative state do have some consciousness. Monitoring brain activity associated with known thought
patterns has allowed experimenters to communicate with these patients, by asking them a question and
then instructing them to answer by imagining certain situations. If the brain persistently responds
appropriately then these people have some level of consciousness, even though they appear unaware of
the external surroundings and to all intents and purposes unconscious, though their bodies follow a
sleep-wake cycle. Again, this is an inference rather than a direct measurement, but communication is as
close as we seem able to come to measuring consciousness.

One line of philosophical thought argues that only you are conscious and all else is an illusion, perhaps a
figment of your imagination, or that other people are not really conscious at all. Maybe people are like
robots, responding in programmed ways but lacking in true self-awareness. We usually give other people
the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are conscious, at least some of the time, like ourselves!
Nevertheless, you can not prove this. You maybe alone, perhaps the mind of a god who is dreaming a
dream to end their loneliness. You see, consciousness can be inferred, but not directly measured. We
can ask people about their experiences and , assuming most of them to answer truthfully, draw
conclusions about their conscious state.

What about an insect? People are often tempted to imagine that every animal thinks like themselves -
extending their inference about other people to other animals. A dog rolls onto its back waiting for its belly
to be stroked, and so people imagine the dog is wanting affection. However, to a dog this is a sign of
submission that performs an important social function that assists their behaviour. However, possibly they
still enjoy it and this motivates them to submit. Certainly with an animal like a dog, it is easy to see how its
behaviour can be driven by the motive of seeking pleasure. Pleasure is nature's way of rewarding animals
for executing useful behaviour, such as mating or suckling their young. However, a robot could be
programmed to do these things too. Pleasure and pain are necessary to force a conscious mind to do
certain things, especially in important or vital situations. Some people are born with no or little physical
sensation of pain. These people die young. Consciousness can not be trusted by use of reason alone to
do what is best, for the organism's survival, all the time.

However, consciousness seems less important, biologically, when an organism has fewer behaviour
patterns that may be more hard-wired, so it has fewer choices to make. The behaviour of an insect can,
in at least most situations, be described in terms of more-or-less simple hard-wired behavioural
responses called reflexes. Pick up a locust and blow on its face and it will start to fly since sensors in the
feet and face trigger this response automatically. An insect body may continue to perform functions for a
long time after the head is removed. Indeed, in the preying mantis removal of the male's head increases
copulation behaviour by removing the inhibitive brain! Clearly, the notion of copulating for a pleasurable
reward seems absent here (unless we assume that other ganglia in the nervous system have their own
consciousness separate from that in the head).

We ought not think of an insect as just like a human with similar feelings. For example, feeling sorry for
oneself is a characteristic of social animals, a dog, ape or human will seek comfort or help from its peers if
it needs it. A dog, like a human, will clearly display pain. However, a bullock castrated without anaesthetic
appears unaffected, but will in fact sit alone in the middle of a field, perhaps for several days, resting to
heal its damaged body. Clearly the bullock is responding to pain, but its response is not an emotional
response we would relate to. Emotions serve biological functions that assist survival (when working
correctly) and so must be tailored to the different needs of different animals. Insects respond to damaging
and potentially damaging stimuli. If touched suddenly or wounded, then they will hurry away in an escape
response. However, they show no prolonged symptoms of ongoing pain. A wounded beetle will, once out
of danger, continue mating and feeding as normal (so long as it is physically able) even though it may die
a day later from its trauma. All our observations suggest that insect behaviour is automated. A
single-celled organism, like an amoeba, responds similarly to a pin-prick, crawling rapidly away from the
noxious stimulus. However, this does not demonstrate that it feels pain, indeed the mechanism of this
response appears purely electrochemical and mechanical, as if the cell was an automaton. Does each
cell in your body have its own consciousness? We can never rule out the possibility that each cell has
consciousness, but it seems likely to possess much less than a whole human being with a healthy and
functioning brain!

However, the most intelligent insects, the social insects have specially-well developed brains with large
so-called 'mushroom bodies'. These mushroom bodies receive inputs from different regions of the brain,
from centres that process visual information and from centres that process olfactory information, and
combines these data streams in some useful way. These are the closest the insect brain has to higher
centres that calculate more complex or more intelligent behaviours. Perhaps these social insects have
higher levels of consciousness than their solitary cousins. Some people are tempted to think of animals
as possessing love and caring for their young, for example, out of love. Love may be a reward for some,
but is not reasonable to assume that love is universal to all animals, or that it occurs in each in an equal
amount. If the maternal behaviour of an insect is automated (and their is ample scientific evidence to
suggests that it is) then no reward is necessary. A robot could be programmed to protect and nourish
babies.

It certainly seems plausible that consciousness can occur in different quantities, that is that there are
different levels of consciousness. We have all experienced being sleepy or drowsy, and in this state our
consciousness seems reduced. (Or is it just the ability of our consciousness to interface with the body
that is reduced?). To state at which point consciousness begins and ends seems impossible, however.
When we sleep we dream each night, but measurements of brain activity suggest that we do not sleep the
whole time. It would seem that, just as when we are anaesthetised, our consciousness ceases for some of
the time we are asleep. However, how many people remember falling asleep one day in the past and
thinking, 'My consciousness ends here'? It seems that it slips away imperceptibly, whether gradually or
suddenly. Certainly, we have no memories to inform us otherwise, but then we don't remember many of
our dreams.

Is there any theoretical way of measuring consciousness? This depends on whether or not
consciousness is a physical phenomenon. Every form of energy generates a gravitational field (according
to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity) be it matter, light, heat, pressure, or gravity itself. If a brain
scanner could measure known forms of energy, such as metabolic heat production and electrical activity,
then it might be possible, at least in principle, to measure consciousness as any anomolous energy that
can not otherwise be accounted for, especially if this anomoly disappeared in an unconscious brain. Such
sensitive gravity detectors are not yet available.

Is consciousness an entity or a process?

One natural question is to ask, 'Where in the body is consciousness situated?' At one time it was thought
to reside in the heart and head, then in the brain, now many consider it to be situated in a certain region
of the brain. However, no amount of dissection ever reveals a structure we can pinpoint as
'consciousness'. Some consider it to be the result of integrated nervous processes occurring in different
regions of the brain. Certainly, we get the impression that our consciousness resides in our heads, as this
is the meeting place for the various sensory inputs we perceive. It seems a reasonable assumption that it
is situated in the brain. It may be an emergent property of all those complex calculations occurring in the
brain. Indeed, one popular hypothesis is that once a computer becomes complex or sophisticated enough
then it will become conscious. This seems plausible, although what kind of sophistication is required and
at what level can not be determined (emergent properties are not easily predicted remember!). It also
seems reasonable to assume that it may emerge in stages, with some animals (or computers) having
more consciousness than others. Likewise it seems that when humans fall asleep, or when the brain gets
damaged, that consciousness can be subtracted to varying degrees, lowering the level of consciousness.
Generally, level of consciousness is taken to be the same as quantity of consciousness. Certainly, if we
define consciousness as awareness, then seems correct, but what if consciousness is a separate
something that is aware. Is consciousness reduced in these cases, or rather its ability to interface with the
external world through the brain? This brings us to the
mind-body problem. Historically, the official
position of western philosophers was to consider the physical world and consciousness to be separate
entities. The body and the mind were deemed to be separate entities. The mind itself was generally
considered to be a single-entity with a dual nature - the 'feminine' or emotional mind and the 'masculine'
or rational mind. (A balance of the two was deemed essential for optimum health). Such a theory is an
example of
dualism: mind and body, masculine and feminine, and soul and spirit.

The dual nature of mind and body, or perhaps more generally of consciousness and the non-conscious
physical world around us has validity. The physical world is the objective 'reality' that we experience and
interact with, whilst consciousness is subjective. As Descartes stated: 'cogito, ergo sum" or 'I think
therefore I am', meaning that the only thing we can ever be sure of is our own consciousness. We can not
be certain that any other being possesses consciousness - consciousness is personal, it can not be
externally measured!

This western philosophic view is often criticised by eastern philosophy, which holds that matter and
consciousness are not separate entities at all, hence dissecting matter will never reveal consciousness.
Even the dualists admitted to the invisibility of consciousness. However, many western philosophers,
including many intellectual members of the Christian clergy, held a different view for a number of
centuries. They believed, just like eastern philosophers, that matter and spirit were actually a single
'substance' in different states, with spirit condensing into matter, and all things being simply projections of
the universal spirit, which was likened to a cosmic 'water' or 'light', essentially the Tao of eastern
philosophy, though with different names.
"You can find this Coahyl everywhere, and you may not give gold or silver for it because
the world does not know it, and therefore it has no name and you will find no sign other
than that it has no name.

It is dew and one does not call it dew; it is frost, and it is not called as such; it is snow,
but it is not called snow; it is rain and its name is not rain; it is water and will not be
called water; it is salt, but it is not called as such because one does not know it; it is gold
and silver and it is not called either gold or silver; it is antimony coahyl, and its name will
not say so; it is everything, and yet it is not called anything, and if someone wanted to
call it something it would have to be: the salt of the earth which comes from heaven or
the salt which is in the earth and from heaven". [Hyle and Coahyl, 1722].


"Before the universe was born there was something in the chaos of the heavens. It
stands alone and empty, solitary and unchanging. It is ever present and secure. It may
be regarded as the Mother of the universe. Because I do not know its name, I call it the
Tao. If forced to give it a name, I would call it 'Great'." [Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu.]
Such beliefs were an integral part of the alchemy or cabala of medieval Europe. The alchemists drew their
inspiration from ancient and contemporary sources from all around the world, from pagan, Muslim, Jewish
and Christian scholars. The key ideas of this esoteric (though openly written about) philosophy were
shared by sages across the world. Part of this belief-system was that the physical world of objective matter
was some kind of illusion. It was a movement that seemed to end in the west around 1800, either because
of indoctrination of state ideals and/or the advent of science which rejected much of the old philosophy,
which did have its problems, though is still of some considerable historic, philosophic and artistic value.

Interestingly, science has come to a similar point of view by adopting
materialism, the belief that
consciousness is produced by matter. Something of a reversal of the ancient idea, that the universal spirit
created matter. Some scientists have even argued that matter is real and consciousness an illusion!
Considering the unquestionable truth of the statement, 'cogito, ergo sum', such a point of view seems
absurd to me. Consciousness is not simply a pattern of behaviour, it is awareness. However, put more
subtly it has some merit. An analogy that has been given is that '
electrical current in a wire is not caused
by moving electrons; it is moving electrons. Genes are not caused by chunks of base pairs in DNA; they
are chunks of base pairs
.' In other words, the argument goes 'consciousness is not caused by a pattern
neural activity; it is a pattern of neural activity.' I do not personally agree with this reduction of
consciousness to a mere question of semantical viewpoint. First of all, a gene is more than base pairs, it is
a meaningful combination of base pairs, it is information. According to quantum physics, electrical current
can not accurately be described as the flow of electrons, since electrons do not follow definite trajectories
(not unless we except the idea of hidden variables) and, furthermore, nobody can say what an electron is,
any more than we can say what a photon is; rather we describe and predict their behaviour with the help
of mathematical equations that are more-or-less reliable. Again, the electrical current reduces to
information!

I would not go so far as to say that a tree makes no sound when it falls if there is nobody to hear it, or
indeed that it does not exist if nobody can perceive it, but all (objective) physical phenomena seem to
reduce to patterns of vibrations, and hence to information. Can that which makes self-perceived 'meaning'
of information be merely information itself?

Some have suggested that consciousness is simply a property of matter, like mass or length, and as such
can not be understood in any simpler terms. Like electrical current, it can only be observed and described.
The most a physicist can achieve is to describe the behaviour of matter with equations that make accurate
predictions about that behaviour. However, such
observables are measurable as they are objective. Until
such a device for measuring consciousness is developed (and I doubt it ever will be) consciousness
remains subjective and is, therefore, precisely unlike mass and length! We can all measure the length of a
table top and agree on the result to within a margin of error, however, we can only infer that a being is
conscious, we can not measure it in any direct or definite way.

Is mass aware that it has mass? It has been argued that consciousness is universal, a substance which,
like the Tao (or which is the Tao) permeates everything. None, either or both the ideas that consciousness
is a property of matter and contained in all matter,  may or may not be true, but consciousness is unlike all
known physical phenomena, precisely because it is subjective! If it is an emergent property, then it is one
that does not emerge from any known laws of physics or the simulations thereof. How can neuroscientists
understand consciousness in terms of physical neurons passing electrochemical signals, when there is no
trace of consciousness in the laws of physics? If consciousness equates to unknown physics, then
physicists have a long way to go before it can be understood in terms of physical phenomena!

i agree with those who would sooner we explore consciousness, instead of denying its existence! Clearly it
does exist, we just don't know what it is, or perhaps more relevantly, its hypothetical mechanism and how it
comes about.

Temporal continuity of consciousness and quantum theories of consciousness

If, as science suggests, we do not dream the whole time that we sleep, then consciousness naturally
switches on and off. Furthermore, only 0.2% of
anaesthetised patients recall being conscious during
surgery (this is of course higher than we would want, but it suggests again that for most consciousness
has genuinely ceased during anaesthesis, although we can not rule out that only awareness of external
events has ceased and that dreams are forgotten, though brain patterns are very different during
anesthesia and dream-sleep). Despite this when one awakes, one perceives oneself as the same
consciousness; but is one? We think we are the same person based on accessing our memories. If you
awoke inside another brain, would you not believe that you were that person, considering that memories
(at least some if not all) are stored physically in the brain?

Memory and identity. Damage to the brain may result in memory loss. It may result in anterograde
amnesia
, in which the ability to form new memories is lost. In this case people may lose sense of time, and
need to be constantly reminded of the current year, believing instead that the year is the year it was
before their accident, even decades later. They are still able to learn new skills, however, and may learn
new words, but they will have no recollection of having learned these new information - their brains can still
process and store memories, but they appear unable to access new memories consciously.

Are you the same person today as yesterday? If your consciousness switched off in sleep, then are you
really the same person each day, or is your memories and feelings that you make believe that you are the
same? When you came into being, your consciousness apparently came from nothing. At least it seems
that way as your new born brain was
tabula rasa (a 'blank slate') with no memories that you were
consciously aware of. Is a man of, say, 40-something the same person he was at age 5? Chances are that
his conscious memories retained from his first few years of life are few. More memories may exist in the
preconscious, after all often someone can joke your memory of a distant event you had long forgotten.
Freud suggested that certain memories may get pushed down into the unconscious, or repressed. He
postulated that these repressed memories affected our personalities more than we imagined. Although
many of Freud's ideas have been criticised since, some validity in at least some of his ideas remain. (Yes
some of his ideas seem outrageous, and may have been dependent on the culture of his clients, but I do
think that his treatment in recent times is somewhat unfair, with a tendency to throw out the baby with the
bath-water). We can imagine past moments, but how much detail can we really reconstruct? If our
memories were changed would we know any better? Indeed, regression under hypnosis is known to
sometimes plant fictitious memories in a person's mind, such as memories of a previous life, or childhood
abuse, or alien abduction. I am not suggesting that such memories are always fake, only that it is
well-established they can be. The brain can fill in gaps in its records by inventing stories. After al, as
dreams reveal, the brain is very inventive on an unconscious/preconscious level.

What is the speed of thought? Thinking takes time. If a thought was instantaneous, then it would be
possible to have any number of thoughts in a single second, which is clearly not possible. Thinking also
takes effort and energy. It seems inconceivable that conscious awareness itself could operate at a limited
speed, but seems dependant on the speed of thought. Sometimes, more basal parts of the nervous
system have to respond more rapidly, and this they do in automated fashion, informing the higher centres
of the brain, and consciousness, after the event. This happens when you withdraw your hand from
something hot in a sudden reflex action. The spinal cord initiates the movement as soon as it receives
signals from the pain and temperature sensors and then sends signals to the brain, By the time the brain
and consciousness are aware of what is happening the reflex movement is already under way. However,
such reflexes can be willfully blocked as the brain can send signals to the spinal cord, in anticipation, to
override its behaviour to some degree. (Again there are limits, suggesting the limitations of free will).
Similarly, when playing a computer game, players may react at speeds faster than conscious perception,
acting by acquired reflex in an unconscious manner.

Mammalian nerve fibres can conduct signals at velocities ranging from 0.2 to 120 m/s, depending on fibre
type. Signals within the brain pass from cell-to-cell and along fibre tracts at similar speeds. Does this set a
limit on the speed of thought and hence awareness? Automated reflexes reflect the limit on how rapidly the
brain can interact with the body, as it takes fractions of a second for signals to travel from sensors to the
brain and back from the brain to the muscles. It also takes time for the brain to process the sensory
information and decide on a course of action - making decisions takes time. It has been argued that for
consciousness to function, however, the different regions of the brain must work in perfect synchrony,
necessitating instantaneous communication between its parts. Since we know that it takes time for
electrochemical signals to travel across the brain, this has lead to the suggestion that another mechanism
may be involved, perhaps a process of
quantum entanglement. In quantum mechanics, two particles
may be described by the same wave-function and the fate of one particle can instantaneously affect the
fate of the other particle, no matter how far apart the particles are. The fates of the particles are said to be
entangles, and this is called 'ghostly-action at a distance'. As the distance between the particles increases
there is an increased risk of disentanglement, so the particles are usually not entangled indefinitely. In
particular, random thermal energy can apparently disrupt the entanglement.

A possible role for quantum mechanics. It has been hypothesised that the cells within the brain, or at least
those responsible for consciousness, are quantum mechanically entangled, or in a so-called
coherent
state
, so that they can be in the same state at the same instant. In cells, the presence of large
macromolecules, such as DNA, membrane lipids and proteins, causes the water in much of the cytoplasm
to have a very high degree of order - the water molecules align along the electromagnetic fields generated
by the macromolecules. In effect, much of the cell's water is in a liquid-crystalline state. Thermal motion
tends to disrupt this ordered array of water molecules, but it is not well understood to what extent water
molecules actually diffuse by random motion inside cells, and such diffusion may be much less than is
generally assumed. This ordering of the water molecules certainly suppresses random thermal motion and
would be expected to increase the time for which proteins and DNA in the cell may exist in a quantum
coherent state, in which they essentially share the same wave-function which determines their common
behaviour in a simultaneous fashion. In particular, it has been suggested that the microtubules, protein
rods that make up a large fraction of the nerve cell skeleton (cytoskeleton), may enter a coherent state
and that the cytoskeletons of neighbouring cells will also enter such a state. It has also been suggested
that coherent light waves (as in laser light) may travel down the core of the microtubules. Certainly the
microtubule-organising centre or centriole of the animal cell seems to play a role in the sensitivity of these
cells to infrared light. One of the key effects of anaesthetics is to disrupt the microtubules (reversibly),
although this would also impact on conventional synaptic activity and stop the neurones of the brain from
communicating with each other whether by electrical pulses or quantum entanglement. It should also be
pointed out that quantum entanglement, though instantaneous, seems to be of no use in transmitting
information faster than light, avoiding problems with causal chains which is predicted by Einstein's Theory
of relativity at supra-luminal velocities. (Relativity predicts that if faster than light communication is
possible, then causes can no longer be said to proceed their effects with any certainty - time becomes
disordered!).

Interestingly, studies have suggested that cells may remain entangled after cell division. The apparent
random movement of cells that have recently divided, may follow mirror-image patterns, in the absence of
disrupting stimuli (that is in a uniform environment) for quite some time after separation. Some studies on
mutations (for example see the pilot study on our bacterial mutations page) have demonstrated what
appears to be entanglement in the DNA of recently divided cells - if a population of cells derived from a
single cell by cell-division in the recent past, are divided in two, and one half subjected to a stressor that
favours certain mutations, then those same mutations also appear to occur more frequently than expected
in the other half which never encountered the stressor! Does the DNA persist in a state of quantum
entanglement for some time after replication and cell division? Certainly large molecules can be generated
in a state of quantum entanglement, as strange as this may seem it is a well-established experimental fact
that under certain conditions even large molecules show bizarre quantum behaviour.

There are also many strange stories about uncannily similar behaviour between identical twins throughout
their lives. This is usually attributed to the identical genes they receive at birth. However, some of the
similarities seem to great to me to be explained by genetics alone. It could be that sharing the same
environment in the womb affected their behaviour in later life. It seems that the foetus can sense its
environment and is capable of learning whilst in the womb. This could account for similar preferences in,
for example, music between identical twins. However, it could also be that their consciousnesses remain
entangled in some odd way. However strange such claims may be, we have to remember that
consciousness itself is about as strange a phenomenon as can be imagined and we know very little indeed
of its physics. If atoms and molecules can behave in strange ways, then why should consciousness be
confined to common logic?

Parapsychologists have conducted a number of studies that relate to consciousness, and there are too
many to review here. However, there is some statistical evidence to suggest that telepathy of a sort can
occur, and is more common between people who are close. Of course, statistical relationships can never
prove anything extraordinary with absolute certainty and such studies remain controversial, but the
evidence can not be comfortably dismissed either. What would be needed would be the demonstration of
a mechanism for telepathy. If consciousness can become entangled, whether in a quantum process or
something similar but as yet unknown, then telepathy might be expected. In one experiment, it was found
that people were unexpectedly good at guessing who was on the phone, whenever the phone rang,
especially when it was someone they knew. Of course the timing of any regular calls must be taken into
consideration, but the evidence is reportedly compelling, though we must maintain some healthy
scepticism. (See for example the review:   ) A good scientists is sceptical, but not cynical, always
maintaining an open and unbiased mind! Indeed, it has been argued that the evidence for telepathy of a
limited degree and premonitions is so strong that if the claims being made more ordinary, then science
would probably accept the conclusions. However, extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary
evidence.

Normally, our conscious experiences follow well-defined temporal sequences - we experience a train of
thoughts, emotions and perceptions, one after the other. Of course, if external events are confined by
causality then we should perceive cause as proceeding effect. If consciousness, however, is an
instantaneous communication within the brain, then let us consider the possibility time to become
disordered in conscious experience. This is a purely hypothetical conjecture. However, so many people
experience premonitions of future events that it is hard to dismiss the possibility without further
investigation. Many psychologists have argued that people simply match events, as they occur, to dreams
of feelings they had - in other words they form matches that are not really there, but are mere
coincidences. In the worst case, it can not be ruled out that premonition is purely imaginary. However, they
may be accompanied by feelings so strong that the foretold event may convince the seer that they are an
imminent certainty. Perhaps the seer then waits to match the best fit event in the future to what they saw,
as such visions are often symbolic and not exact. However, sometimes these events may be improbable
and of a dual nature - either occurring or not, with no ambiguity, such as a strong feeling that one is about
to win the next prize in a lottery and then finding, that against the odds, your name is indeed pulled out
next and that you are ready to stand as you knew it would happen with a certainty that never occurs for
events that fail to happen. Such premonitions are hard to dismiss as imaginary. They also defy physics as
currently understood, but then so does consciousness!

In its typical mode of operation, however, one thing we can say about consciousness is that it is a temporal
phenomenon - it takes a finite time and occurs in the correct order, from past to present. Whether this is
due to the physics of sensation, in which signals sensed from the environment, such as sound, heat and
light, occur with definite cause and effect, as standard physical phenomena, or whether this is a
fundamental property of awareness itself (assuming there is even a difference) is hard to say. It is
tempting to conclude that the
arrow of time is a physical constraint on consciousness.

Brain waves. Another explanation for the synchronisation of centres in the brain is less remarkable than
quantum entanglement. A computer programmer writing a computer game synchronises the many events,
making it look as if the serial processor of the computer has done many things in parallel (even on a single
thread), by using a game clock. Sometimes, a set pause of a few milliseconds may be used to allow the
computer to calculate the new screen display in an off-screen buffer, before then updating the display
device, such as a monitor. These pauses are too slow to be perceived, but allow a lot of computations to
be carried it, one after the other, to prepare the next video image. Similarly, old cathode-ray tube
television sets refresh their screen about 50 times each second (the exact rate depends on country and
power supply). Thus a series of still pictures are presented, but too close together for the human eye to
perceive any pause or flicker (though flies could detect the flicker with ease). In both systems what
appears to be a continuous process, or a series of continuous and parallel processes, is actually a
discontinuous and serial process.

The brain has its own
biological clocks. Since it takes a finite time for the brain to process an image from
the retina, or any other stimulus, then a clock may be used to update or refresh the 'display' offered to our
consciousness. Perception occurs when we acknowledge such an image placed before us, rather like
watching the theatre again. We perceive a continuous process, in which many things happen
simultaneously, but these could be processed in series (or as seems to be the case by several serial
processors working in parallel) and perceived in series. As part of its clock, the brain produces
brain-waves of various frequencies and amplitudes, but consciousness is thought to be linked with 40 Hz
brain waves (i.e. occurring in cycles 40 times each second). This 40 Hz would certainly agree with the
maximum refresh rate of our 'visual display' and so may function much like our game clock, creating
synchrony.

The serial nature of consciousness

The theatre theory, which sees consciousness as the observer of the perceptions put before it, describes
consciousness as a serial process. How many thoughts can you have at the same time? How many
feelings or sensations can you focus on in an instant? Generally we can only focus on one thought,
feeling or perception at any one instant, or perhaps a few at most. More generally, we attend to several
cognitive events at once by rapidly switching our focus between them, rather like the way a single
processor in a computer switches its activities among several threads to create the illusion of parallel
processing, when in fact only one instruction is processed at any count of the clock. Other theories,
however, draw attention to the parallel processing capacities of the brain, the
parallel distributed
processing theory (PDP)
shows how the brain can process sensory inputs simultaneously, with different
regions of the brain processing each input at the same time (concurrently, in parallel). The brain is like a
multi-core processor, one region processes colour, another movement, another the pitch of a sound, etc.
Indeed other regions of the brain may access memory and process emotional data all at the same time.
Whilst this parallel processing undoubtedly occurs, and is a forte of organic brains, conscious awareness
seems peculiarly
serial, processing perception one by one, in series. The various streams processed in
parallel within the brain seem to converge into a serial consciousness. The consciousness can apparently
chose which input to focus on at any one moment, though this also depends on the strength of the
attention grabbing mechanisms of these different neural processors - a sudden loud sound will probably
get our attention, whether we consciously chose to attend to it or not!

Spatial continuity of consciousness: Visions and Revelations

In our efforts to discover what little we know about consciousness, we must not overlook the obvious.
Where in the brain is consciousness located? Nobody knows for sure. It has been said that western
philosophers considered the soul to be inside the heart, or within the head, but upon dissecting the body
no such soul could be seen. Whilst obvious to us now, this is an important discovery, which suggests that
perhaps consciousness is a fundamental property of matter, or that it is an invisible thing that interfaces
with the body through the brain. Perhaps to gain a better understanding of consciousness, which can not
measured by objective physical means, we need to examine it with the subjective mind itself, for
consciousness is known by no other essence.

We must now explore some history behind the idea of consciousness as a universal property of matter.
This might cause offence to the religious and atheist alike, so read on at your own peril! On Cronodon we
are not political, we do not strive to offend or destroy ideas, only to find the truth. I draw from
religion/mythology/philosophy purely as an academic enquiry, make of what I write what you will. Both
theories, that the soul is contained within the body and that spirit is a fundamental property of matter, have
been maintained historically - the former by many early philosophic groups, including early Christianity and
the modern day Occult movements, the latter by modern religious groups. Medieval alchemists typically
drew ideas from myths and religions from around the world, considering them to be philosophies. In
particular their idea of consciousness was to envisage a Cosmic Consciousness permeating all of space
and expressing itself through the myriad of living forms. Many considered the Cosmos to be created in the
image of the Divine (not just Man himself). They considered religious scripture to contain a core
philosophy (disguised by being embedded in lesser dross that was, they believed, intended to hide the
truth from the uninitiated) and considered the Bible, for example, to be symbolic, containing hidden
meanings. (Many were Christians, at least nominally, but they drew unreservedly from Oriental and Pagan
sources too.) This idea, of hidden truths, is also made clear repeatedly in the Gospels, for example
referring to parables, of not throwing one's best pearls before pigs, and of having ears but not being able
to hear, etc. Clearly much of the text was never meant to be taken literally. The Alchemists considered
these works the works of philosophers and poets, at least in part, as did the poet/mystic William Blake.

The Logos (often translated as 'Word') was an Ancient Greek philosophical concept, not easily defined, of
the inner voice of reason and compassion, the fundamental truth itself, wisdom, the 'Divine Light', revealed
in revelation to humanity in stages as human understanding grows (an idea taken further by St. Paul). The
Logos was more than this, however, it was also the 'hidden light in all things' and essentially another name
for the Tao. The alchemists gave it many names of their own. They likened it to a 'water which does not
wet' or a 'fire that does not burn' or to an 'invisible light'. This is similar to the idea of the Holy Spirit, aka
the 'Spirit of Truth' which inspired philosophers in moments of revelation, when things would suddenly
become clear to them. Thus, the Holy Spirit is said to be no person and no physical thing, and is the
'helper' which when found removes any further need for prophets and scripture, for then truth can be
received direct from the source. This idea was continued by alchemists and learned Christian circles
throughout history. It is spoken of by St. Paul (or at least in writings attributed to him) when he talks about
revelation being complete, and about putting away childish toys as one grows wiser. Sadly it is an idea that
modern religion seems to have lost.

These ideas are also similar in many ways to the ancient Hermetic tradition, which alchemists also drew
upon. Ironically, the ideas of the alchemists have found recent support with the discovery of the Gospel of
Thomas, although non-canonical it does illustrate the mode of thinking in one early branch of Christianity.
The Gospel of Thomas contains many of the sayings found in the canonical Gospels, and a few more. It
states clearly that these sayings have hidden meanings, requiring wisdom to decipher, rather like Zen
Buddhist parables. It depicts Christ as a spirit (appearing suddenly in the midst of the disciples, for
example) rather than as a specific human body, in line with an early branch of Christianity. It goes on to
ask, 'What is Jesus' and replies, 'He is the hidden light that is in all things'. Now, I am not religious (nor
atheist for that matter), and I am not saying that what is written in any texts must be true. What I am saying
is showing that the ancient world had a rather global philosophy, understood by a learned few, which was
essentially what we know today as Taoism, but was originally more universal and known by different
names. I could say much more on these matters, but I do not wish to cause too much offense to religious,
or indeed to atheist, readers and so, like the alchemists, I keep much of what I am thinking secret, or
allude to it indirectly!
More Revelations: The Unity of Consciousness

Where did the ancients derive these notions of unity of the Divine and of consciousness stemming from a
common source? Although some of these ideas are natural philosophical developments, there was
another input that is often overlooked by those who do not know what to look for - the mystics. By 'mystic'
I mean somebody who has had a mystical experience. The mystical experience is an altered state of
consciousness with certain characteristics that can never be put exactly into words and so can not be
understood by somebody who has never had the experience. It can occur in the religious or atheist alike
and although spiritual it may or may not be in a specific religious context. It is characterised by an
overwhelming sense that all is one, that all is as it should be, that each mind is connected to a cosmic
consciousness of which it is a part, be it perceived as God, Mother Nature, the Force, the Tao, or a
cosmic consciousness. Most importantly, it is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of unconditional
love, that love is supreme and that love will overcome all ills, even if we can not see how. It is a perception
of a 'hidden light in all things'. It is the mystical experience that likely inspired much that is behind the
ancient Mystery Cults, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, the Occult ('occult' means hidden and I use the term in
an esoteric mystical sense, rather than a spiritualistic or sense) and likely concepts of the Tao, Alchemy
and the Logos, and traces of it often form what is best in modern religions (though frequently
misinterpreted by the non-mystic).

To some, our individual consciousnesses are but sparks of the single Divine or Cosmic Consciousness,
like eddies that come and go in a greater stream; like light reflected in a myriad of silvered shards when a
mirror is shattered - there is but one source of the light, but many distorted reflections, all giving a
different image. This conjures in my mind an analogy with quantum mechanics: electrons trapped in
energy force fields, such as the potential energy well of a single atom, have different vibrational energy
levels, moving up the well as they jump to a higher level. Eventually, if given enough energy the electron
leaves the well of the atom and joins the continuum of free electrons, merging with other free electrons
with which it merges, becoming indistinguishable. Is consciousness a single stream, as Taoists see it,
transiently filling wells that represent individual people, creating the illusion of isolation, before leaving
and rejoining the continuum? The Taoists observed how Nature recycles matter, and assumed
consciousness to follow similar cycles. (Making consciousness eternal, but in the sense of a unique
reincarnating ego).

Gnosis or oneness with the Divine was a key goal of the Gnostics, but is also alluded to in the Christian
canonical Gospels, in which Christ refers to himself and his disciples as becoming one with God. The
ancient sages (in a variety of cultures) frequently imagined every soul to be but one branch of the
universal Tree of Life. Trees are central to ancient traditions, the Oak being sacred to the Druids and to
the cult of Jove. The pagan Vikings believed in a sacred cosmic Tree of Life. Trees featured heavily in
Medieval Alchemy, symbolising the harmonious balance of the four elements and of the heavens and the
earth, bridging the heavens above to the earth below, requiring a balance of fire (light), air, earth and
water for growth. This old idea was adopted by the Medieval and post-Medieval Qabalists. Odin hung
from a tree, pierced by his own spear, in order to acquire wisdom, Osiris was slain and entombed in a tree
(wooden column) before coming back to life as chief judge of the afterlife, and the cross of Christ was
often referred to as the Tree of Life.

Many ancient writings left the idea that the consciousness of all was in fact unified implied, though seldom
explicitly stated, in their mystical writings. The mystical experience is characterised by such a sense of
'oneness'. This has led to numerous accounts of 'cosmic consciousness'. To some our individuality is
illusory, to others it is transient, like raindrops falling back into the ocean. The raindrops may cease to
exist but their basic substance does not. At the very least was the notion that every individual
consciousness arose from the same source, a fountain or spring of life, or divine breath.

Certainly, many scientists and philosophers have argued the unity of consciousness in the individual at
least. They argue that a single mechanism, a
serial mechanism in which events are put before us one
after the other in a 'stream of consciousness'. Is it possible to be consciously aware of two or more events
simultaneously? Do these multiple components merge into a single vent? Can we have a single conscious
event with multiple ingredients? This leads us to the '
binding problem'. It is hypothesised that various
ingredients, such as different sensory modalities, are combined into a single unit of experience. You may
be aware of red robin singing, but the red colour is associated with the robin as is the sound it makes.
However, O'Brien and Opie (1998) argued that such a unity of experience can not be a unity of parts, that
it has a structure Do we really have a single conscious experience that vaguely consists of a number of
components? If we experienced two conscious events simultaneously then would we not have two
consciousnesses? There is an odd contradiction here.

Do we really experience multiple components simultaneously? Alternatively the brain might be cycling fast
through a serial sequence of attributes, much as single computer processor apparently does several
tasks simultaneously by switching rapidly between different threads. Perhaps we perceive the red one
moment, followed by robin followed by some emotion. Can we tell whether these things occur
simultaneously or not? Even thinking about this possibly takes more time than the perception of the robin
itself. Certainly it is hard to focus on a background sound and a visual input simultaneously although we
seem vaguely aware of both occurring simultaneously, perhaps by this rapid switching from one to
another. If you hear a car moving outside then even realising it is s car may be a separate event, maybe
the memory of it sound and the view out of your window creates this apparent simultaneity. Since
processing takes a finite amount of time, everything we perceive is in truth of past events and so some
form of neural memory trace. In any case, when forming the memory the brain needs to know that the
sensory inputs were simultaneous so they can be combined in forming the memory.

Like a digital electronic computer, the brain appears to synchronise its activity by means of an internal
clock. Brain waves, waves of electrochemical activity, spread across regions of the cerebral cortex. At
least some neural circuits in the brain are known to synchronise their activity to brain waves, such as
theta-gamma oscillators in the hippocampus, which synchronise their activity with theta and gamma waves
(Pernıa-Andrade and Jonas, 2014). According to some models, brain waves in turn are generated by the
thalamus which then sends out synchronous pulses to various regions of the cortex. This synchrony
within the thalamus is thought to be achieved by electrical synapses (Landiaman
et al. 2002).

One useful analogy is a computer game. Every such game uses a game clock to synchronise events
(albeit in a serial manner). With each tick of the game clock, the player avatar may be moved, then the
aliens, then the missiles, and then any collisions are determined to see if a missile hit an alien or the
player. Failure to keep this synchrony may cause a missile to hit an alien only to have the alien move out
of the way before it can be destroyed. Without synchrony, unrealistic events can occur. Similarly, the
timing circuits of the brain might ensure that our conscious experience is an accurate representation of
external reality.

Is consciousness active or passive?

Could it be that consciousness is in truth passive? When it focuses on an element of the 'play' in the
theatre, does it really chose, or is that decision already made for by the brain? Certainly there are parts
of the brain which appear independent of consciousness, though connected to it. If one such centre
processes a strong or potentially important sensation or emotion, then it seems to compete with other
processors for attention, and maybe the strongest input always wins. What is we chose to ignore a strong
stimulus. To some extent we can. We can grit our teeth and endure pain, for example, taking no action to
evade it, but only for as long as our 'will' possesses sufficient strength to counter the input. In any case,
the decision to endure the pain may be made by other centres of the brain, for various reasons, such as
to gain social standing. Does consciousness actually do any active processing or does it simply passively
observe it? If genuine
free will exists then it is evidently limited in force and possibly dependent on
motives computed by centres in the brain. Otherwise, free will may be a simple illusion. The free will
debate is a very complex one which I shall not pursue any further here.  Ancient philosophers could not
decide whether or not we have free will, or whether or not everything was pre-ordained or decided on our
behalf (by 'God' as the ancients saw it, or by natural processes as science sees it). According to tradition,
Pharoah refused to let the Jewish captives go because 'God hardened his heart' - in other words god
forced his will. These concepts certainly make interesting play in story narratives.

It is difficult, even in our own minds to distinguish what we think from the act of perceiving a thought,
though as the exercise near the beginning of the article suggests, it is possible to at least conceive of
such a difference. The question is:
When you have a thought are you actively thinking the thought (as it
seems) or simply passively receiving it
(as also sometimes seems to happen in a moment of revelation or
inspiration)? Does the conscious awareness drive the thought or is it simply informed of thoughts
preformed in parts of the brain?
Dreams would suggest the latter - we usually seem unaware of the
unfolding narrative that seems to come from the unconscious, except when we have especially vivid or
lucid dreams, in which we find that we are able to direct the narrative apparently at will. It would appear
that thoughts can be both formed within the conscious (or directed by it) and also formed by the
unconscious (regions of the brain that seem independent of consciousness). This again suggests the
existence of free will, but a free will that is limited in power.

We assume that consciousness evolved, after all lower animals seems to have less of it, plants and single-
celled organisms very little if any (although they are very sensitive and responsive and so appear aware
of their external surroundings), and hence we assume that consciousness, once discovered by nature,
persisted because it was useful. To be useful it can not simply be passive awareness, but it must be an
active awareness, it must do something, it must compute something, suggesting it to be another
processor in the brain, albeit a special one. The usefulness of consciousness seems to be to help
resolve conflicts that occur between the various centres of the brain, that is it makes a choice based
on the options presented to it by other parts of the brain. In a simpler system, it may be sufficient for the
stronger stimulus to prevail.

For example, a crawling cell 'decides' which direction to travel in according to traction - it moves in the
direction that gains better traction and so pulls the hardest. This traction is, in turn, affected by a number
of factors, such as the strength of stimulation of sensors in the cell membrane - the side that is more
strongly stimulated develops stronger or weaker traction depending whether the stimulus is attractive or
repellent. The development of this traction is a mechanism that is quite well understood.

In a more complex system, however, with more competing stimuli, it may not be so straightforward to
select one that is dominant and the consciousness may be required to make that decision. In other words
it may be a
final comparator that makes the final decisions. However, why does it not simply make those
decisions based on automated computations, like a logic circuit, why must there also be an awareness of
the process? Is this simply an accident, or is consciousness in fact more than neural computations? Can it
add something to the decision-making process which no computations can provide, perhaps an element
of free will? I am not exactly sure what free will is, if it's simply random then why can't this randomness also
be generated by an automatic process? If we can separate awareness from these decision-making
thoughts, then it would appear that consciousness is both, that is a
self-aware process. Whether this is
necessary for the organism's function or accidental we can not say, but in either case it facilitated survival
and so persisted and evolved. Could a non-conscious robot function just as well?

One or many conscious centres?

Of particular interest in studies of consciousness are split-brain studies. In patients with severe epilepsy,
in which seizures originate in one cerebral hemisphere and travel across to the other hemisphere, the
adverse effects of seizures can be reduced by separating the two hemispheres, so that only the
hemisphere in which the seizure originates will be affected. This is done by severing the main bundle of
fibres connecting the two cerebral hemispheres: the
corpus callosum. The corpus callosum contains
about one million nerve fibres connecting the two cerebral hemispheres and acts as an information
superhighway. (These fibres are 'commissural fibres' that is they send signals from one hemisphere to the
other hemisphere). Experiments on these split-brain patients has shown that the two cerebral
hemispheres have a degree of independent self-awareness. These experiments involve the use of a
screen to separate the left and right visual fields so that objects can be presented either to the left eye or
the right eye.

For example, when the left eye of one such subject was shown a spoon, she was unable to name it
correctly or describe it in words, but when the spoon was shown to her right eye she named it correctly
and easily. This is because many fibres in the optic nerves crossover (at the optic chiasma) before
entering the cerebral cortex and language centres are (in most people) on the left side of the brain only.
The right cerebral hemisphere knew what a spoon was but did not have access to the language centres
of the left hemisphere to describe it. When asked to pick out a spoon from a range of objects with her left
hand (which is controlled by the right hemisphere) the subject made the correct selection but identified
the spoon as a 'pencil'. Such subjects may even deny seeing anything at all with their left eye or simply
guess at a name, even though they could still point to the correct object with their left hand. The right
hemisphere does have some crude language ability, however, shown the letters D-O-G it will identify a
dog. It is also worth remembering that two much smaller bundles of fibres also connect the two cerebral
hemispheres - the anterior commissure and the posterior commissure. The anterior commissure contains
less than 10% of the connecting fibres, the corpus callosum containing approximately ten-times as many.
It is involved in pain perception but also seems to be involved in memory, and is possibly involved in
emotional memory, such as those triggered by olfactory cues. The posterior commissure is involved in the
pupillary light-reflex, and another commissure, the hippocampal commissure (commisssure of fornix)
connects the two hippocampi, which are involved in memory formation and spatial navigation.

However, even though the two cerebral hemispheres work independently in split-brain patients, it does
seem as though these patients still consider themselves to be individuals with a single consciousness. (I
am not aware of research which looks closely at this).  This is even the case when the two half of their
brain think differently. For example, one individual found that when out shopping she would reach
correctly for the items she wanted with her right hand but found that her left hand would interfere by
making contradictory actions, as if the left hemisphere had subconsciously arrived at quite a different
decision. Similarly, when dressing, she might find herself wearing a mixture of several different outfits!
Despite this conflict she still perceived herself as a single individual. What does this suggest about the
location of consciousness?

Is her consciousness situated in her left hemisphere (controlling the right hand) which is the dominant
hemisphere in most people? Does consciousness become confined to one hemsiphere after surgically
severing the corpus callosum (corpus callosotomy)? Is the consciousness in fact not located in the
cerebral hemispheres at all, as is often assumed, but in the lower brain centres? Despite corpus
callosotomy, the two cerebral hemispheres both remain connected to the brainstem (the so-called
'reptilian brain') and hence indirectly to one-another. In the latter case, is the consciousness only in
control of the dominant hemisphere? To what extent is this dual decision-making evident in these
patients? Researchers have concluded that each cerebral hemisphere has a 'mind of its own' with its own
private thoughts, ideas, sensations and perceptions. Whatever the case, it would seem that despite the
two disconnected cerebral hemispheres thinking independently and providing separate streams of
sensory inputs to the consciousness, the consciousness apparently remains a unity in these people. This
lends further support to our definition of consciousness which does not confuse thinking, memories and
sensations with that which is aware of these phenomena.

Is this unity of consciousness illusory? Is consciousness really about different computational centres
within the brain competing with the dominant centre becoming 'consciousness' and the suppressed
centres unconscious? Of relevance here is the psychological pathology known as multiple personality
disorder (dissociative identity disorder or 'split personality'). In this condition two or more personalities
compete for control of an individual's mind. Each personality seems to have access to its own memory
store, the rest of the memories being repressed.  Do these people have several different conscious
centres or one conscious centre with restricted memory access?



To be continued ...

Selected References

Landisman, C. E., M. A. Long, M. Beierlein, M. R. Deans, D. L. Paul and B. W. Connors, 2002. Electrical
Synapses in the Thalamic Reticular Nucleus.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 22(3):1002–1009.

O’Brien, G. and J. Opie, 1998. The Disunity of Consciousness.
The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 76:
378-95.

Pernıa-Andrade, A. J. and P. Jonas, 2014. Theta-Gamma-Modulated Synaptic Currents in Hippocampal
Granule Cells In Vivo Define a Mechanism for Network Oscillations.
Neuron 81: 140–152.

Article last updated: 28/7/14
"Trismegistus, in his vision of the creation, did first see a pleasing light, but interminated.
Afterwards appeared a horrible sad darkness, and this moved downwards, descending from
the eye of the light, as if a cloud should come from the sun. This darkness - saith he - was
condensed into a certain water, but not without a mournful, inexpressible voice or sound, as
the vapors of the elements are resolved by thunder. After this - saith that great philosopher -
the Holy Word came out of the light and did get upon the water, and out of the water He
made all things." [Aula Lucis, Thomas Vaughan, 1651.]
So, the idea of cosmic consciousness is an old one, and one which has worked its way into many religions
and philosophies around the World. This idea was said to be impossible to convey in words, and concepts
like the Tao, Logos, or Hyle defy simple and rational explanations. [Note: alchemists often distinguished
two facets of this Cosmic matter - a watery feminine substance and the cosmic light, the mingling of the
two giving rise to all things, though the two were considered to have originally been one substance. This
substance was often called the Philosopher's Stone.] Where then do these notions come from? Jung
considered them to be born from the subconscious. There is some truth in this, the subconscious seems
to think in images, and symbols like mandalas, crosses, trees and other geometric shapes have
impressed upon the human psyche since its beginning. However, the idea that they were entirely
subconscious is also wrong: there was always some rationality attached, or some interpretation attempted.
It is also true that imagery often outlived its understanding. Think of the many images in ancient texts, for
example, they often seem mysterious, but their meanings were probably much clearer to the original
authors, and perhaps the original audience, but as in any tradition, ideas transmute over time and original
meanings may persist in a hidden form. Psychologists have also demonstrated that when stories are taken
out of their context in their original traditions, they are frequently massively misinterpreted. A good
example is the Greek mythological tradition, in which the gods are really personifications of natural forces.
Take Minotaur, whose horns are reminiscent of the Moon, slain by the young sun-god, symbolising the
dawn of day. Even if the meanings are not spelled out, the poetry impresses on the psyche and
contemplation reveals the hidden meanings.

As an aside, many ancient cultures were far less polytheic than is generally believed. The Egyptian Book
of the Dead, for example, states that the gods are but the limbs of Ra. Odin, Zeus and Jove were all
referred to as the 'Father' (Jupiter means 'Father Jove', Jove incidentally was pronounced 'Yoweh') and
considered the Father of gods and human beings, implying they were the source of consciousness, as
when the Jewish God breathes life into Adam, in the story. The more one studies these traditions, the
more one realises they are similar to one-another and that modern traditions descended directly from
them. Learned scholars tended to travel the ancient world at some stage in their lives, in order to acquire
knowledge, and ideas spread and intermingled - the nations of the ancient world were better aware of
their neighbours and far-away countries than is generally supposed, as evidenced by trade links. Is it little
surprise then that traditions evolved in parallel, exchanging ideas and intermingling, and that the
differences between them are often exaggerated for political purposes. The ideas of the ancient world
largely evolved in unison.

It is often said that the ancients saw a duality in the Cosmos: a duality of matter and spirit. However, the
Alchemists were keen to point out that they believed matter itself to be a manifestation of spirit. They saw
how heat could drive light from a substance as it burned. They read in Genesis how the Divine spirit was
said to have created all things: it may have hovered above the Dark Chaotic waters of the Abyss, into
which its shone its light, created its reflection as life and humankind, but they considered that the
darkness itself came from the Spirit, though they could not it seems agree on whether the light or
Darkness came first, they did consider one to have given birth to the other.
"Matter - as I have formerly intimated - is the house of light. Here he dwells and builds for
himself, and, to speak truth, he takes up his lodging in sight of all the world? When he first
enters it, it is a glorious, transparent room, a crystal castle, and he lives like a familiar in
diamonds. He has then the liberty to look out at the windows; his love is all in his sight: I mean
that liquid Venus which lures him in; but this continues not very long? He is busy - as all
lovers are - and labors for a closer union, insinuates and conveys himself into the very
substance of his love, so that his heat and action stir up her moist essences, by whose
means he becomes an absolute prisoner. For at last the earth grows up over him out of the
water, so that he is quite shut up in darkness; and this is the secret of the eternal God, which
he has been pleased to reveal to some of his servants, though mortal man was never worthy
of it?" [Aula lucis, Thomas vaughan, 1651.]
Overview of the human brain