Ron Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design

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Can a map of the Brain really explain the complexities of consciousness?

We have been making extraordinary advances in mapping the brain and at the same time drawing conclusions about consciousness, the ways in which we think and consequently, the ways in which we act as humans.
I consider this approach to be simplistic and reductive. I am worried that we are building "behavioural maps" that cannot account for the complexity of human thought and action. Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious, that part of our brains that cannot be explained by any reference to its parts.

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    Nov 18 2011: I am about to become a Cognitive / Computational Neuroscientist and I believe that everything is built on mathematical principles. Mapping the brain allows an oversight into the features of the brain, the "departments" of neural activity and how they are linked to what we call behavior. I am a big believer in biotechnology and what we will do in the future. With that said I am as certain as a religious person in god, that when we invent new tech for going on an even deeper level than Nano, we will see the underlying structures of consciousness. I came to this conclusion from reading about the principles of programming in computer science. Its fascinating how simplistic something actually is, and yet so complex when viewed holistically. I bet there is single connection from point A to point B in the brain, for the smallest unit of every computation made by the brain. Its really logical when you think about. Why would consciousness lie on a more mysteries platform than everything else? Just because we can't understand it today, doesn't mean it can't be resolved tomorrow!
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      Nov 18 2011: Henrik....certainly, you are right that we may understand much more as the years progress. But, we are also building the foundations for the future right now and the problem is that neither the computer as model, nor mathematics as method have been able to account for distributed processes that are as complex as consciousness.
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        Nov 18 2011: I think Integrated Information Theory (IIT) explains it quite well actually. The brain is not a single processor, it is many billions of very weak micro-processors all functioning at the same time. The power of the brain is not it's ability to compute accurately, but it's ability to integrate portions of many streams of information into a single "picture" which is an instant of consciousness.
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          Nov 18 2011: Well put!!! Thanks
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          Nov 19 2011: I am worried that researchers are making the mistake of pursuing consc. on current given assumptions. That mistake has been made in psychology of personality the last 50 years (my own opinion when I studied it). Its important to remember that since we have a vague understanding what consc. is and if there is such a thing as consc. We might discovery something entirely new about the area that leave us in awe. As long as researchers keep in mind that they might not comprehend fully what they are set out to pursue at first glance. Its a matter of saving time and money. Through history we have seen repeated mistakes of this too many times. The complexity of consc. as you put so clear to us, should be looked at with fresh eyes and to be broken down into many parts for further understanding.

          Just as you mentioned about the brain not being just a single processing unit, its a multi-simultanesly-instant computational "device". So what mistake should we avoid? Assuming that we comprehend the principles of bio-mechanics from what we have built in computers. Instant-multi-simult computation might be natures simple and brilliant way of computing "nature" and we humans will no understand this until we open up and take a look at the mechanics of the brain. (I just got this idea from what you said Arne, thanks!)
  • Nov 19 2011: A map of the brain is, at least, a start at explaining the complexities of consciousness. I don't see the point of worrying about not accounting for the "complexity of human thought and action" and the unconscious. After all, we don't learn about something by insisting on understanding it all at once. If mapping the brain is some kind of dead end, it will become apparent eventually. Every conclusion will be challenged. Exactly what kind of approach would you like researchers to take?
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      Nov 19 2011: Viola, the foundations for future research are being put in place through the methodologies we are using at present. Our discussion has been about trying enrich those foundations In an effort to avoid errors in the future.
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    Nov 18 2011: Great topic Ron! As a cell biologist I'm pretty tempted to take the reductionist side. I think that there are a lot of similarities between the breakthrough of the last century: inherited information and what will hopefully be the breakthrough of the next century: consciousness. Both are essential for understanding what it means to be human and are necessary stepping stones towards technological advances in improving human health and well being. Whereas the search for inherited material was for a long time a debate between protein or DNA, we don't really even have a good guess for the structural basis of consciousness!

    Most studies of the brain have mapped physical areas of brain activity to function. And we have discovered that the physical body is in fact mapped quite physically in the brain. However less primitive, human traits like consciousness are not as clearly laid out. The problem from my perspective is that there isn't very much difference from one neuron to the next: what could be the molecule or structure that carries the information? If there is one lesson to be learned from the discovery of DNA it is to think simple: for a long time people argued that protein must encode genes because there are 20 amino acids and only 4 nucleic acid bases and we are so complex that the more complicated structure is a more likely candidate.

    I could have this wrong, but as another example computers run on an on/off (2 options) system? When it comes to information storage, it seems like having a simple code is the most efficient. I would assume that we're making things too complicated and when we figure consciousness out its going to be really obvious. Maybe it will be as simple as neurons being excited or unexcited in different patterns?
    • Nov 18 2011: Leticia
      I am glad you chimed in. My only problem is when you are studying cellular structure, are you studying the cell or the self? Now you can argue that the self is the sum total of the cell, but do you really feel that. Note I didn't say think that. Do you really get the sense about yourself, and the others around you, that by studying even how cells interact, you are studying the self that is actually the complex, dynamic interaction of all those cells? I am certainly not against mapping or understanding cellular dynamics. What I am saying is step back from your work, look at the being as a whole, and ask yourself if that being is really defined by his cellular structure or by something else.

      I think what may be needed is to separate simple/complicated from complexity itself. Sure, there may be on/off switches, but I think I am glad that the bijillion going off at the same time and the complex dance they do in me, makes me unique.

      Mapping is good, but I would compare it to the work of the mathematician Edward Lorenz (see his book "The Essence of Chaos" It contains his original article on the subject.) trying to create a model for weather production. We had weather maps, but they didn't of course model anything. They showed snapshots. What he came up with finally was the famous strange attractor and the beautiful butterfly diagram. It was his famous statement "When a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon there is a tornado in Dallas." Complexity and chaos come closer to describing the self than a simple neuron synapse. I think I am more satisfied with that.
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      Nov 18 2011: Letitia....many thanks for your wonderful insights here. I think Michael has captured a question that we need to think about. Is the cell, the self? You reference the encoding process. Keep in mind that much of what we discuss around information comes from early research (1950's) in Cybernetics. We are still dependant on Shannon and Weiner, both of whom thought that information was not content and that the most challenging aspects of information transfer were the maintenance of fidelity across complex systems. In the same way, we tend to assume that cell, synaptic and neuronal activities in the brain are exchanging information. But what is information in that context?
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        Nov 19 2011: I agree with you Ron that information is not content. I actually think that we have a pretty good grasp on content: the whole field of psychology has figured out what we do with consciousness. In my opinion, the only part that remains unsolved is where consciousness comes from, and I think that the more complex and dynamic the possibilities, the more simple the code needs to be in order to generate such a range of possible ideas, feelings, memories, identities etc. It seems to me that once we use a reductionist approach to locate the source of consciousness in the brain, we can build from the ground up, a more holistic understanding of our consciousness in the context of our body and of the society we share ideas with. But perhaps I misunderstood your debate and you meant that our understanding of psychology also, is reductionist? Is that what you meant by our building "behavioral maps"? I can't disagree, but psychology seems so artistic to me as a cell biologist that the possibility slipped my notice ;) Thanks for starting this debate and for your comments Michael, because it is good to be reminded to think outside the box once in a while!
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          Nov 19 2011: Thanks Letitia....psychology and psychoanalysis have never struck me as reductionist. The challenge will be to frame our research to better understand how processes that holistic can be carefully segmented so that we can understand how they function. I am still not sure that we are talking about cellular activities....but certainly appreciate what you are saying about code.
    • Nov 19 2011: It is very likely to be neurons being excited in different patterns.

      There is however a need to avoid the temptation to say that is just what it is. I do not think that was your intent but that is where the problem of the debate lies. The different patterns give rise to the phenomenon of consciousness but many will still not be able to reconcile the physical observations with the conscious experience.
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        Nov 19 2011: I completely agree Richard. However I think that knowing where to start thinking about what consciousness is in the physical sense will help us to understand it better. For example, Western societies tend to consider the mind and body as separate entities. Cartesian dualism came about as we started to explore the mysteries of the human body and understand how it works. The mind has been the exception, leading many to associate the mind with the soul. This can be seen by the prevalence of whole body ascension into heaven in religious literature before, but not after this split. It also correlates with our acceptance of "brain-death" which is a recent and Western concept that isn't accepted by many other cultures. I think that understanding that consciousness depends on our bodies (some part of the brain presumably), will bring us back to a more holistic understanding of ourselves and our connection to our bodies.

        (I hope that that is less reductionist, and more in keeping with the theme of the debate anyway)
        • Nov 19 2011: There is nothing simplistic about breaking down a complexity into its simple components to understand them individually in order to then understand the integrated whole. I am all for reductionism and I do not see any critic of it contributing anything constructive by way of an explanation or a different productive approach.

          My understanding is that Cartesian dualism was all about separation of mind and body. Anyway there are all kinds of dualisms and I think they are both complementary and necessary. The thing to understand about them all is that they are different perspectives of the same thing rather than the separation of different things. There is every reason to believe that applies to consciousness and physical existence. There is no good reason to believe in such a thing as a disembodied consciousness.

          If there was a mirror which could reflect consciousness, metaphorically speaking, I would expect the consciousness to ‘see’ a brain. The consciousness would have to ‘perform’ on first encounter with the mirror to determine that the mirror produced a reflection of itself. The reductionist approach is consciousness applying itself to the physical in order to make a better version of such a mirror.

          In other words, I agree with you.
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      Nov 19 2011: Letitia, you talk about the structural base of consciousness.
      Could it not be that consciousness is the base of any structure?

      As the hypothetical first cell was formed a membrane enclosed and separated the activity inside from the outside. Inside there was a “knowing” of which chemicals had to be found or disposed of through the capsule. It developed strategies to pursue those places where nutrients or energy could be found. And to make a big jump, in the end different specialized cells bonded to cooperate and join their expertise. An organism was born.

      All this “knowing” of what’s needed and what’s available and how to get it can be called consciousness in that sense that an inner process developed and sustained it’s perpetuation independent from the conditions outside. This being within the locality of a membrane or skin is the same being as everything else yet as a separate part communicating and within that duality self conscious.

      As being is universal then consciousness is but from the one point perspective of an organism viewed from within. Consciousness isn’t that what is seen but that what sees.

      As a complex nervous system not only exchanges minerals, light, heat, sound and touch but also interpret those impressions as meaningful and collect it as shape, color, sound and all else beneficial for that organism to move around and provide for all it can use to survive it wakes up. In this wake it identifies its being with all those characteristics seen, heard and felt and expresses this as being aware to be in a separate world as an independent being. This is what humans call conscious but as he dreams and in all kinds of other ways the body is fully conscious yet unnoticed from our waking modes that depends on a high level of brain activity to generate our world and consumes a lot of energy.

      It is easy to prove that the whole body is conscious but in general we aren't aware of it. Within the greater picture where all is put together we are all.
      • Nov 20 2011: "Could it not be that consciousness is the base of any structure?"

        It could not because consciousness is temporal and only exists in the present.
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          Jah Sun

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          Nov 20 2011: Says who?

          Nearly every mystical tradition describes conscious experience of timelessness and multi-dimensionality.

          Have you never had a dream that took place within a matter of seconds which contained hours, days... or even lifetimes worth of experiences?
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    Nov 15 2011: I think the clearest, most obvious example pointing to the failure of the connectome model to explain behavior can be summed up in two words: synaptic plasticity.

    EDIT: To make my point a bit clearer, what I mean to say is that we do not understand how neurons integrate information at the cellular level, never mind how small circuits communicate. Furthermore the brain is not static; these activity patterns (which we cannot predict, remember), can have profound physiological and morphological impacts on the strength and wiring patterns of the brain. And it is because of this (among other things) that we cannot predict exact behavior of an animal with a completely mapped connectome, like C. elegans.

    So if we can't even predict behavior, something that seems to be the rudimentary output of nervous system processing, then why do we think we can understand even more complex "output" like thought and memory?
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        Nov 15 2011: That is a wonderful way of putting it. We get into a endlessly regressive process which of course is precisely what makes language so interesting and qualifies anything that we can say about the brain.
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        Nov 15 2011: QUOTE: "re "So if we can't even predict behavior, "

        We can predict behaviour. How accurate our predictions are is another matter but they are not simple guesses. If they were, there would be much fewer of us present every time a light changed from green to red.

        QUOTE: " ....can we "think of who created thought"??"

        Yes.

        ---

        There is a place for Rumi, and for Gerald Edelman. The question is: Which place?

        It's as if we (humans) have a bowl and we can only put one thing in it at a time, and we therefore assume that which is in our bowl, is valid; and that which is not in our bowl, is not.

        What is in the bowl is (probably) as valid (or invalid) as what is not in the bowl - depending on many things; not the least of which is context.
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      Nov 15 2011: Ken...I agree that the brain is not static, far from it! This poses enormous challenges for scientists. I don't think we will be able to create predictive models for the mind let alone the brain. I am still hopeful however that we will learn enough to understand some of the foundations for thought processes.
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        Nov 15 2011: Of course, I am hopeful of this as well. However, I am also pessimistic. I suspect (without much solid evidence, mostly a gut feeling I'm afraid) that the key to understanding the neural correlates of thought processes will involve both short- and long-term plasticity on a large scale. This is why I am driven to understand synaptic physiology, because it seems so fundamental to the flexibility of behavior that makes the brain so unique. One might say I am intimidated into studying it!
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          Nov 15 2011: Ken, thank-you for this post. I agree that synaptic physiology holds the key and I look forward to your research bearing fruit.This TED conversation is about the worries and scepticism that many of us have that the research may lead to assumptions about human thought that will not account for its complexity. This in no way means that we should stop the research!!!
  • Nov 20 2011: Wonderful conversation. The human body is a whole made of its individual parts. It has reached its present state through the workings of evolution. Its fundamental purpose is to survive. It does this through sexual reproduction which ensures DNA with the blueprint for humans continues to exist. While the human organism would like to survive indefinitely, evolutionary effects have only insured the survival of the species.

    For me, the question that arises is how does consciousness fit into this scenario? What function does it serve, how did it arise, and is it continuing to evolve or is it a dead end?

    Consider the senses. Each developed for evolutionary reasons. Each enabled individual cells and, then, organisms to survive, if not permanently, at least in the short term. Consciousness in this context can be considered to be a sense. So--what is it sensing? What is it used for? One of the Ted talks tells us every brain function evolved to facilitate movement of the body. Is this true?

    There is no reason to believe that evolution of the human organism has ended. That leads to the question: What are the senses we still need to develop in order for our species to survive in a universe that we experience only through our currently evolved senses?

    Some believe consciousness to have three components: the id, the ego, and the superego, which could be viewed as cell consciousness, individual consciousness, and pan-species consciousness. As with our other senses, we use them without fully understanding where they came from, how they work, and what their limitations are. The brain, having reached a size within the human body that can no longer enlarge itself through evolution because it would kill any woman giving birth to it, has cast about and found other ways to increase its usefulness. Ted talks and the internet are quite likely one of those ways that individual's brains are linked to (perhaps) form a greater brain.
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      Nov 20 2011: Viola...thanks for your contribution...this has been a great conversation and at the same time, it has drifted around a bit as we have tried to grapple with the complex issues of mind and body. If you look at the entire conversation, you will notice that it mirrors post-enlightenment debates, moving between the spiritual, material and the mechanistic. You and others have captured an important point, however. That is, humans are still evolving and the models we are building today may be changing at a fast enough rate that will make them obsolete well before we can agree on their efficacy or truth. Dynamic systems are truly more complex than the models we are generating at the moment and certainly more complex than the maps of the brain that are providing us with some information about its functioning. However, evolution is also very slow and because of that we are likely to find out a great deal more about our brains than we have in the past. Thanks again for participating.
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    Jah Sun

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    Nov 20 2011: @ michael johnson

    "People often make unfounded accusations and fact skewing analogies out of desperation, when they feel their ideas are being threatened by others."

    Sure, and many of them are defending their materialistic views.

    Fact is, that materialism has offered no explanation of consciousness thusfar. None.

    Considering the fact that all we can truly be sure exists is our own consciousness, even Occam's famous razor indicates that consciousness based models of reality are simpler than the whole "it is just a random accident of matter" concept which is entirely un-empirical speculation.

    Maybe your exploration of Yoga may one day present some transpersonal experiences for you to ponder...

    Namaste.
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      Nov 20 2011: Jah Sun, talk about straw man arguments! Science and dogma are mutually exclusive...one requires empirical evidence, the other insists on believing in mere testimony (which you appear to be fond of.) Natural selection is far from "just random accident of matter." Perhaps you should study scientific materialism more before you criticize it, while using the technology that has come from it.

      I do not consider it a fact, that all we can be truly sure exists is our own consciousness. Nor, have I found any evidence for your idea of consciousness, although I have spent many years looking for it. If you can provide any evidence to support your views, then I would be delighted to listen.

      Here is an article from Susan Blackmore, who also had deep mystical experiences, yet spent nearly 30 years looking for scientific evidence to support it: http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Chapters/Kurtz.htm

      I am willing to change my views when I find that they are contrary to the facts. Are you?
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    Nov 19 2011: No. mapping the brain may account for where we store certain types of information, however it is the unique information stored and how you interface that information with other bits of information that comes together to demonstrate consciousness. A piece of your brain might store numbers, but the difference between that number being a 2 or 4 is the decisive factor in consciousness. However if a large group of "4" type people are studied, you might be able to draw certain conclusions about how that type of person might react in a given situation.
  • Nov 19 2011: This is indeed a very interesting question. The simple answer is NO. I believe brain mapping will answer many questions and lead to many solutions for problems and fantasies but will not explain consciousness. Cures for certain diseases and disorders may be on the horizon from this research and that is a good thing. I also believe this is one of the first steps to things like we see in Science Fiction like holodecks of Star Trek or The Matrix, being able to enter a virtual world for our own pleasure.

    Consciousness to me is better explained with religion than Science. I believe it is the very essence of individual thought and that we are nowhere near understanding it. I do believe it is some form of energy and call it a soul or consciousness it lives on forever and is the core to who we are. Our bodies are just a very complex machine to house our conscious and when the machine is dead our conscious lives on in another existence that we have accepted.
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      Nov 18 2011: Thank you Kathy K for expressing what you mean by consciousness. I applaud your courage and straight forwardness.
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      Nov 19 2011: What I've learned from a brainstudy after consciousness is that it isn't so much an area of the brain that is active but that the activity has to rise over a fixed level of electric charge. All activityy beneath that level one isn't aware of.
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      Nov 19 2011: Kathy, Great distinction!!! I wonder if we could deepen what you mean by "processor of consciousness."
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    Nov 15 2011: we still know very little about the brain. a recent study found that attention and awareness actually occur in diffrent places in the brain, where it was percieved to be a accumlation of an whole.
    • Nov 15 2011: Nice addition Tim. Very interesting comment.
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      Nov 15 2011: Tim...this is a great addition to the debate. Funny that we continue to talk about the brain through geographical metaphors!!!
    • Nov 15 2011: Hence attention and awareness are very different things, which we have perceived/known all along? Surely? But all this about discrete parts of the brain doing this and that is over-stretched anyway - mostly, (and sadly, perhaps, for researchers) several areas are involved in each ´manifestation´ of our brain´s abilities (manifestation is a dreadful word, and wrong here, but can´t find the right one!)
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        Nov 15 2011: QUOTE: "(manifestation is a dreadful word, and wrong here, but can´t find the right one!)"

        How about "expression of"?
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        Nov 16 2011: Susan...the brain may well have so many discrete parts that the word "parts" may have no descriptive value and that is one of the challenges of this type of research. Is there a discursive form that can adequately describe the complexity of brain functions?
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          Nov 16 2011: Ron,

          I suspect you may be conflating "brain functions" with "cognitive functions" or, as your question states, with "consciousness" and perhaps also with the concept of "self."

          Brain functions are not really THAT complex (no more so than, say, digestion.)

          And, as to "parts:" They serve heuristic and practical purposes whether we are discussing a neurone, synapse, or the rostral anterior cingulate cortex; or affiliation, perception, recognition, or gaze tinnitus.

          ---

          When a reporter asked the famous biologist J. B. S. Haldane what his biological studies had taught him about God, Haldane replied, “The creator, if he exists, must have an inordinate fondness for beetles,” since there are more species of beetles than any other group of living creatures. By the same token, a neurologist might conclude that God is a cartographer. He must have an inordinate fondness for maps, for everywhere you look in the brain maps abound. For example, there are over thirty different maps concerned with vision alone. – V. S. Ramachandran
  • Nov 15 2011: Hi my name is joel I'm really only doing this so I can get extra credit for my class.But I do like debates and talking about different things.I thought this was a really great question and so I choose this debate.Ok well I think that a map of the brain can help us have a good idea about how that brain works and the amazing things that it does.But in other hand a map can't tell us what the brain is.Some people can't or don't understand the brain.People don't know the complexity of the brain.The brain is one of the most important part in the body and one of the most unknown in the body.So yes it can help but there's a point when the map will stop and you wont understand it.It's one of those this that we might not never know.Thank you for reading if you did.
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      Nov 15 2011: Joel....all comments are read!! You right that this is a complex issue, but part of the reason for starting this debate is to broaden our perspectives on the discussion. Thank you for contributing.
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    Nov 13 2011: We make maps to know, understand, refrence, and to help us. Making a map of the brain is no different, we make it to learn about how the brain works, why it works, and to refrence different activites to the different parts of the brain. So, just like any map, I believe it helps. It may be so that these maps can not account for the complexity of the human brain, but if it helps at all, if it makes people interested in learning about the brain, if it is the missing connection to a scientific discovery, even if it only makes diagrams about the brain, it still works towards our understanding of our most complicated organ. Of course it does little to understand the complexity of thought, action, emotion, and dreams.
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      Nov 14 2011: Jake, I basically agree with you. However, the danger is that the conclusions are being drawn from research that is in its infancy, conclusions which often superficially link human behaviour with human action and interaction.
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        Nov 16 2011: That is a sad but completely true statement. I believe that mapping things is a good way to organize information and to prehaps make connections, but if one does not have scientific evidence, they should not release a scientific conclusion.
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          Nov 16 2011: Yes....this is particularly the case with respect to brain plasticity which is being discussed at the popular level as if we understand it....
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  • Nov 19 2011: Here is another view of consciousness - vis-a-vis matter and essence (sic) - which has raised many howls of protest from those people who are not religious (although you do not have to be religious to be a mystic):

    E=mc², Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Love, Grace, Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.
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    Nov 19 2011: Part 1/3
    Wat bewustzijn is dat is gelijk voor mij als voor jou maar ieder vult het elk moment met een eigen en unieke inhoud.
    Bewustzijn bestaat eigenlijk uit drie lagen. Eerst het bewustzijn van alles en daarbinnen het bewuste deel dat is gelokaliseerd door de activiteit van een organisme en daaromheen een flinterdun laagje waarvan een organisme kennis kan nemen door hierop de aandacht te richten. In het dagelijks spraakgebruik wordt alleen dit laatste als bewustzijn betiteld. Aandacht werkt dan eigenlijk net als een zaklantaarn dat in het duister alleen het stukje oplicht waar het op is gericht en voor de tijd dat dit duurt.
    Bewustzijn dat is alles wat is. Het “is” door bewust te zijn want anders was het er niet. Mensen zijn zich dit niet meer bewust doordat zij zich exclusief zijn gaan identificeren met alles wat de zintuigen aan indrukken oproepen. De innerlijke beleving van bewust te zijn wordt hierdoor overstraald. Zo worden we geheel beheerst door wat de hersenen genereren als reactie op wat de zintuigen doorgeven.
    Al deze zintuiglijke indrukken bestaan uit vormen, kleuren, texturen, geuren en geluiden en schijnen van buiten te komen. Op al deze indrukken reageert ons lichaam evenals planten en dieren reageren op indrukken uit hun omgeving. Al dit leven evenals een baby is bewust in de wereld maar zij worden vaak als onbewuste wezens gezien omdat deze wezens zichzelf niet of nauwelijks onderscheiden uit deze zee van indrukken.
    De functie denken wat een opgroeiend kind ontwikkeld, functioneert op de vaststelling dat het kennis heeft van alle indrukken door hieruit betekenis af te leiden en dit te benoemen om dit dan naar willekeur op te kunnen roepen. Door dit kennen kan men elke nieuwe indruk herkennen en daaruit ook zichzelf onderscheiden en herkennen als het wezen dat kennis heeft van zichzelf en de wereld.
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    Nov 19 2011: Part 2/3
    Ook een dier of een baby is zich bewust van zichzelf. Anders kon het niet reageren vanuit de eigen behoefte maar het is pas als men dit bewuste zijn overbrengt naar het denkvermogen dat de mensen ditzelfde bewustzijn noemen. Dit denken maakt dat we over al dat ons leven op een moment roert kunnen nadenken. We kunnen het oproepen en beschouwen en in onze gedachte ordenen en indelen naar de betekenis die het voor ons heeft.
    Nu is het opmerken van dat waarmee onze zintuigen ons verbinden beperkt door de energie van onze aandacht.
    Hersenwetenschappers hebben gemeten dat enige hersenactiviteit boven een bepaalde energiegrens moet stijgen voordat iemand kan aangeven zich van iets bewust te zijn. Van alle activiteit die in de hersenen afloopt is een mens zich maar bewust van enkele pieken in het totale energieverloop. Meer dan 90% van alle hersenactiviteit komt niet beschikbaar voor de mentale functie en blijven volgens het gangbare spraakgebruik dus onbewust.
    In de frontaal kwab hebben onderzoekers ook zogenaamde spiegelneuronen ontdekt. Deze neuronen zijn beter ontwikkeld naarmate dieren in een hechter sociaal verband leven. De functie van deze spiegelneuronen is voornamelijk het overnemen van het handelen van anderen door afkijken en zijn noodzakelijk voor leerprocessen via andere leden van de groep. Door deze neuronen kan in de eigen hersenen de handeling van een ander worden geactiveerd tijdens het waarnemen daarvan zodat men dit daarna zelf uit kan voeren als met deze hersenactiviteit het eigen lichaam wordt aangestuurd.
    Deze neuronen konden pas worden aangelegd nadat men zich als individu kon onderscheiden door de wereld met daarin zichzelf als geheel in kaart te brengen.
    Andere proeven hebben aangetoond dat het bewustzijn dat zich met een lichaam heeft geïdentificeerd zich zonder moeite met een ander lichaam kan identificeren wanneer het d.m.v. allerhande techniek gefopt wordt.
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    Nov 19 2011: Part 3/3
    Andere vormen van bewustzijn kennen we als dromen en tijdens zogenaamde bewusteloosheid bij ongevallen en medische operaties. In werkelijkheid gaat het bewustzijn dan gewoon door maar is dan tijdelijk ontkoppeld van de zintuigen.
    Over dit alles is nog heel veel meer te zeggen maar voor even is het bovenstaande wel genoeg voer om de ratio tot enig begrip te brengen over wat bewustzijn IS.
    Een voortdurend worden dus van een bewust zijn dat zich toont in een almaar veranderde uitdrukking die op het lichaam werkt als een eindeloze reeks indrukken die verwerkt worden en weer uitgedrukt om zo het bestaan te continueren. De wereld die men ziet dat is men zelf en dat is het bewustzijn waarvan voor het verstand maar een minimale fractie zichtbaar wordt.
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    Nov 19 2011: mapping the brain is like mapping the universe its infinitly expanding and evolving faster than we could ever get valid and conclusive diagrams of it.
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      Nov 19 2011: Great metaphor and may be the most precise one yet in this conversation to describe what is happening in the brain.
  • Nov 19 2011: I completely agree with your statement regarding "behavioural maps" not quite cutting it. I notice more and more everyday the vast effect of the unconsciousness on our lives. There is a great picture I recently saw of a small man riding a large elephant where the man believes that he is in control of where the elephant may take him, this picture is supposed to be symbolizing the man as our conscious mind and the elephant as the unconscious driving force that is truly in control. I am currently in school and looking to go into sport psychology, I really believe that the best way to affect change in our world, and especially within peoples' behaviours, is to acquire a better understanding of the unconscious. I would love to keep hearing where you go with this topic....
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      Nov 19 2011: Thanks Sean. The debate about the unconscious has been raging for quite a while especially since Freud developed his interpretation of dreams and hysteria. I would suggest that you take a look at the work Antonio Damaso.
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    Nov 18 2011: Watched this today and although it is not exactly on topic I thought some of you might enjoy it.
    The conscious self: (Damasio)

    http://youtu.be/Q_25uUpippE

    Emotions and consciousness by Dr. Antonio Damasio a major researcher in neuroscience.

    http://youtu.be/Aw2yaozi0Gg
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    Nov 18 2011: So far in this debate, I have yet to read a definition of consciousness. Perhaps if we all make an attempt to define it, for example: self awareness, intelligence, the ability to choose between competing models of the world, etc., then we all might have a better idea of what each person means by the word consciousness, its complexities and whether or not maps of the brain can explain it.

    I am a yoga teacher, specializing in helping people move, breathe and think in ways that increase their experience of well-being. I am now leaning toward the material realist view of consciousness being the dynamic activity of a brain, within a body, within a culture and so on. I have believed for many years in the idea that consciousness is primary and material reality is a byproduct, until I saw the many debates between Deepak Chopra and Michael Shermer, including this one with Leonard Milodinow, Stuart Hammerof and more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WA76VTq3O8

    Although some of us may be attached to beliefs in an afterlife or an inflated sense of importance in the universe that seems to hinge on consciousness remaining unexplained, and therefore feel threatened, I am impressed at the level of politeness demonstrated here. I am vehemently interested in this conversation. Thank you all for participating!
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      Nov 18 2011: Thank-you for your generous comments Michael. I wish it were possible to "define" consciousness or even to find some shared sense of what consciousness means! I am struck by the hunger many of us feel to understand the complexities of our minds and this goes, I think, to the heart of the debate. We are trying in a sense to grasp hold of processes that make it possible for us to think, feel and live. We are really talking about mind and body, about the wonderful and rich manner in which we can explore what motivates us. We are inside and outside what we are trying to describe which is both exciting and frustrating. At a minimum, if we can avoid overly reductionist approaches to these challenges, perhaps we will understand more. At least I hope so....
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        Nov 18 2011: If a definition of consciousness is truly impossible, as you seem to be implying, then what are we debating? I think it is possible to for each person to define what they mean by consciousness without being overly reductionist. However, I think there may be a hunger to avoid doing so, if it looks like the outcome will fail to confirm our prejudices.
        • Nov 18 2011: "If a definition of consciousness is truly impossible, as you seem to be implying, then what are we debating?" Quite. Some people just want to maintain mystery. The phenomenon of consciousness is related to physical processes and both are real. Consciousness is composed of the sensations of being and not that difficult to understand, unless perhaps, in a state of confusion. The whole point is to understand the relationship by making the association of experiences with physical processes.
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        Nov 18 2011: I wonder if people posting here are aware of how well the simple idea of evolution by natural selection can explain the complexity of living beings, their brains and their behavior without ever needing to invoke any sort of intelligent design.
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          Nov 19 2011: What I think is truly interesting is how little debate is inspired over a definition of consciousness! Everyone seems to believe in its existence and even agree on its definition in the absence of a clear biological basis.
        • Nov 19 2011: Looking at the same thing in a different way, the intelligence is inbuilt and evolving without a blue print.
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          Nov 20 2011: Ed, consciousness with other animals isn't different they just don't talk about it.
          Duality: speaking to yourself?
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      Nov 19 2011: HI Michael, with 7 years of education under my belt on these issues I do not think I can even now give a very good definition of consciousness. Do you have one?

      The closest I can come to it is an analogy. Yesterday I watched a video of the earth from outer space which was posted by fellow TED commenter Lynn Eschbach. In time lapse photography it shows our planet from the international space station. I was fascinated by the existence of the fragile atmosphere around the planet. It seemed as fragile as the breath in a human being and yet it supports and makes possible the existence of everything on earth. Without it the planet is just another rock in space. This is what consciousness is to me. The magical halo that turns the physical matter of brain into human thought and being. Brain mapping is like a road map. It is not actually consciousness any more than the road map is the actual terrain through which we travel.
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        Nov 19 2011: Thanks for this, Debra. I agree with your last two sentences......!!!!
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        Nov 19 2011: Hi Debra, I think the magical halo that has turned physical matter into human thought is been the incredibly long process of evolution by natural selection. It has produced every form of life on this planet, from random chemical reactions that formed the first replicators over three thousand million years ago to the diversity of species we can see in rainforests today. I do not see human consciousness as an exception to this extraordinary phenomenon, nor does it seem to have been the goal.

        As far as a definition for consciousness, here is the first one from Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary:

        con·scious·ness noun -nəs
        1: a : the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.

        This one seems straight forward enough. This particular definition will likely be explained by mechanical processes in the brain if it hasn't been already.

        I also agree that the road map is not the same as the actual terrain, but this does not mean that a map cannot give a satisfactory explanation of the actual terrain. I like Stephen Hawking and Leonard Milodinow's argument for Model Dependent Realism in their book The Grand Design, which basically states that our entire view of reality is nothing more than a collection of mental maps...visual, audio, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, etc. Any view of reality is a reductionist mental model at best and never equivalent to the actual terrain.
        • Nov 19 2011: What if consciousness can't be defined, it can only be experienced, like Time :

          " What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. "
          Saint Augustin

          But the definition you've presented here /which does not define anything :)/ sounds pretty close, "being aware especially of something within oneself.", at least it works for me .

          Thanks, Michael !
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          Nov 19 2011: @Michael: I agree with you that human consciousness is probably no exception to the process of natural selection, and it is only a matter of time until a structural basis is discovered, but you have to admit that we haven't got one yet! Without a biological basis I don't know that we can rule out other possibilities. Have you heard of meme theory? Its the idea that the "software" (consciousness, behavior, ideas, language etc) that we run using our "hardware" (brain) is not under the pressures of natural selection anymore since these "memes" are transmitted through culture, not sexual reproduction. (The model is similar to bacterial horizontal gene transfer which is also independent of sexual reproduction and occurs withing the lifespan of an individual). According to this model (I heard it proposed by Daniel Dennet) the predisposition for consciousness would have evolved and be structural, but the actual things that make up our sense of self and culture would not actually be located necessarily anywhere in the physical body.

          @natasha: unlike time, our high level of consciousness appears to be a uniquely human feature, suggesting that there is an origin of consciousness somewhere in our evolutionary history. Time on the other hand may be a philosophical concept, but seems to affect (or not affect) everything in our physical world equally.
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          Nov 19 2011: Quote: "Perhaps I am still misunderstanding what you mean by 'know'. I know (by your definition) that there are more than a billion stars in this galaxy, although I have never been outside this galaxy."

          Michael you did understand it well but you take what you know for reality. Reality, the content of the mind is in itself a map, not of Arizona but of your knowledge. Knowing galaxies is seeing by means of extensions to our senses yet not different a part of the map of knowledge. Knowledge is what we made out of reality like that picture. A frozen moment that we can review and think about but reality is consciousness that produced that instant of the picture that was taken and is looking back on it through the mind that wonders about it.
          As you stated thus we travel by our map of knowledge and think it is real. The only thing real is consciousness that produces infinite instances in infinite appearances from which we derive knowledge. Within that knowledge we see our actions and think that's us, we are but that's just a current in the big stream.
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        Nov 19 2011: QUOTE: "...with 7 years of education under my belt on these issues I do not think I can even now give a very good definition of consciousness. Do you have one?"

        Providing a definition of something, and knowing something, are two different things. To know consciousness, we must know consciousness. [And it is that simple.]

        Once we know consciousness (assuming it is possible) then we can offer a description of the experience of knowing (not of consciousness.)

        So the question is not, "Can we define consciousness?"; the question is, "Can we know it?"

        What do you think?
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          Nov 19 2011: To know anything Thomas is to put it in the mind, to have a grip on it.
          This isn't possible with consciousness because it's a stream of awareness that sees into the mind.
          To know something is like taking a picture and look on it over and over again while the moment and the world fleets on in the yet unknown. Consciousness in that comparison is you looking at that picture that isn't you but a picture.
          Our mind is unequipped to know consciousness.
          As I explain in my reply on Letitia it is possible to get an idea about it. At least I hope that I succeeded to give such an idea.
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          Nov 19 2011: Hi Thomas,

          "To know consciousness, we must know consciousness. [And it is that simple.] Once we know consciousness (assuming it is possible) then we can offer a description of the experience of knowing (not of consciousness.)"

          I could be wrong, but this kind of logic appears to dismiss realism in general, not to mention the scientific method. In science, based on realism, we start by asking a question about reality, do some research on it, construct a hypothesis or definition of what we think it is or how it works, design and run an experiment to test our hypothesis, analyze the results to see whether or not the evidence confirms our hypothesis and so on. The scientific method is not simply describing our experience of reality which is limited, but reality itself, which does not appear to share our limitations.

          Hi Frans, thank you for offering a definition of what it is to know something..."to put it in the mind, to have a grip on it." Perhaps I am still misunderstanding what you mean by 'know'. I know (by your definition) that there are more than a billion stars in this galaxy, although I have never been outside this galaxy. I think when we look at a map of Arizona, we can use it to know Arizona well enough to get to where we need to go, without ever confusing the map for the actual terrain. So, I contend that we can know consciousness, even though we are unable to step outside of it.
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        Nov 19 2011: What an interesting analogy! :)
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          Nov 19 2011: Hi Griffin, cool video! For a view of reality to be something more than a reductionist model of the actual terrain, it would have to be the same size, with all the dimensions of the actual terrain which would be impossible to say the least and incredibly costly to run on top of that. The bottom line is, we only see mental maps, not the actual terrain. Daniel Dennet makes a pretty convincing case for it with change blindness experiments in his talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on_our_consciousness.html

          Hi Natasha, I can't imagine a definition of consciousness that everyone will agree with, given that so many religious and spiritual beliefs hinge upon consciousness existing in supernatural ways that are unlikely to be true. For example, Rolling Stone Magazine voted Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as the greatest song of all time, with "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones at number two. Although they are both great songs, it does not appear that Rolling Stone Magazine was free of bias when making their choices, nor is it likely that everyone will agree that they are the best two songs of all time. With all of that said, I still contend that consciousness is definable and making attempts to do so (however unpopular they may be) will get us a lot closer to understanding the experience, than insisting it will always remain a mystery.

          Hi Letitia, thank you for mentioning meme theory! I just recently heard Daniel Dennet's memetic theory of consciousness mentioned in Steven Pinker's book "How The Mind Works." Fascinating stuff! My understanding is that memes are also under the pressure of natural selection, although they do not sexually reproduce. There is only so much brain space for them to occupy, so they evolve. Although its true we do not have a complete understanding of the brain or individual 'connectomes', what seems to be the biological basis for our consciousness, it seems uber unlikely to be something else.
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        Nov 19 2011: QUOTE: "To know anything Thomas is to put it in the mind, to have a grip on it."

        Well, that is one way of knowing.

        Another way of knowing something is to put your mind into it (say through practice or repetition.)

        And some things can be known somatically, through the body - a jellyfish does not even have a brain, yet it "knows" its food.

        I have coined a word for the state of knowing: "gnovidya."

        [In the (deduced) Proto-Indo-European language the word “gno” means, “to know.” In Sanskrit, the word “vidya” means “knowledge,” “learning,” and “science.”]
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          Nov 19 2011: I go for "gnovidya". Looks like Gnosis, does it not?
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          Nov 20 2011: I remember, even body parts can know.
          For long times I worked on a machine and once my hand got stuck and almost pressed off.
          By miracle force it went out right but after that I couldn't move my hand to that spot.
          Even if I tried the hand would refuse beyond my control. It took months before this hand got any trust again.
          That way of learning is also called conditioning.
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          Nov 20 2011: Gnovidya is as good a word as any. It is somewhat different than Gnosis or the broader term Sophia.

          The transcendental states achievable in such activities as deep meditation, lucid dreaming, and various ecstatic altered states can certainly give an experience of knowing the ground of knowing.

          There already exist many Sanskrit and Pali terms for the variations on what can be known as you probably are already aware of... but your term seems to be more focused on the aspect of knowing knowledge and stops short of such terms as satori, samadhi and nirvana.
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      Nov 19 2011: I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. – Max Planck

      One does not need to know what Consciousness is in order to know that it is, any more than Faraday needed to know what electricity is in order to find out what it will do. – Elmer R. Gates

      The scientific description is not the experience. Of course, the description of consciousness helps us to understand our experience in a way that physics alone could not do. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the priority of experience in giving rise to the descriptions that illuminate the bases of the experience itself. – Gerald M. Edelman

      The evolution of consciousness will involve remembering who we are. ... On the one hand, we need to learn to use our intellectual capacity to find ways around the hazards of our still primitive brains. On the other, we need to deepen our appreciation of our interconnection and learn better how to listen and to love. These two directions are actually one and the same, because expanding our mindfulness will involve those around us who remind us to stay on task, correct our misconceptions, and offer alternative perspectives to ours. In this way, human relationships serve as external neural circuits that feed information back to us in comprehensible ways and deepen our awareness of the organism called the human species. – Louis Cozolino

      Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature, for in the final analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve. – Max Planck
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        Nov 19 2011: Thanks for sharing these quotes!
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          Nov 19 2011: QUOTE: "Thanks for sharing these quotes!"

          You're welcome.
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        Jah Sun

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        Nov 20 2011: I always find it funny that the people who become enamored of science and scientific materialism are usually far more fundamentalist and dogmatic than the people who are/ were at the forefront of it.

        Your quotes (and dozens more like them) show that the greatest minds in scientific exploration like Planck did not believe what many of the rank amateurs who idolize them always trumpet in their name.

        If I had a dollar for everyone who has demanded vociferously that their rather limited conception of reality is sufficient to explain all phenomenon (including consciousness)... I could pay off the national debt and still be in the 1%.
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          Nov 20 2011: QUOTE: "If I had a dollar for everyone who has demanded vociferously that their rather limited conception of reality is sufficient to explain all phenomenon (including consciousness)... I could pay off the national debt and still be in the 1%."

          Well - as you'll see I do not "take sides" - if I had a dollar for every time someone exuberantly, exclaimed that a metaphysical explanation of all phenomena (including consciousness) was in someway superior to a scientific materialistic explanation, I'd have about 38 dollars (which I presume is about how much you would really have too ... it's just that I'm not a fan of hyperbole.)

          Any explanation, is an explanation.

          We tend to get lost in our stories.

          They just make so ... much ... sense.
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      Nov 19 2011: Hi Frans,

      Yes, there is a similarity between gnosis and gnovidya but the distinction (for me) is "gnosis" is to know (something) "gnovidya" is the state of knowing (knowing that you know.)
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        Nov 20 2011: What is there to know?
        We can recollect past experience, that we know but the moment we live is experience.
        Gnosis is to know from experience of expanded cosciousness or to be conscious of comprised experience. (As if a life time is seen at one glance, a book read without time, the universe seen at the same time from within as from without, if you look at once into all thoughts ever thought.)
        If time starts again we know but can't speak of it.
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          Nov 20 2011: Frans, you seem to be subscribing to some kind of monistic idealism, where consciousness is all that is real, if you accept that there is any reality at all. Either way, i do not agree with your earlier accusation of confusing the map with the terrain, especially if you claim there is no terrain! Thank you for your time...wish you well on your journey!
        • Nov 20 2011: Hi, Frans !!!!
          WOW !!!
          "One moment holds eternity" Actually,any language, by it's nature is a manifestation of Time, it is based on sequence.
          "We still are all we once were. And perhaps we already are all we ever shall be ."
          It's the insight that came trough the linguistic barrier .
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        Nov 20 2011: I will reply here to your comments that were too deep in the thread to reply further...

        Perhaps you would only have 38 dollars... I would have quite a bit more, but I have engaged in conversations on this topic for decades and many of my best friends are hard core materialists.

        Hyperbole... sure. But in a playful way and not as the basis of any kind of point of debate.

        Hyperbolic statements can be good fun as long as we do not use them as the foundation (or any kind of proof) for a logical argument.

        As for getting lost in our stories... that is also a pleasurable activity. However, we should differentiate between our stories and our actual experiences. To deny one's experiences in favor of an argument presented by another (no mater how well argued) amounts to a denial of tangible reality in favor of abstract reasoning.

        If, for example, I was able to regularly leave my body and discover information I could not know otherwise and then prove the truth of that information, I would be a fool to deny this in favor of someone's theories about whether such activity is possible or not.

        There are people who do not believe that automobiles exist and have no way of coming in contact with one... but their lack of experience with automobiles in no way affects my daily experience of driving one.
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          Nov 20 2011: Thirty-eight dollars is a lot of money in some places.

          As I am sure you are aware, in the realm of "knowing" anything that can be experienced and described would be classified as "maya."

          And anything that required experience in order to validate (prove) it would, similarly, be classified as an illusion.

          One might say there is maya, and there is mahamaya. They are both maya ... one is simply more compelling than the other.

          Now, if there were "a place" where maya and mahamaya both "collapsed" that could be an interesting place. Of course, nothing that could experience and describe such a place could "reach" it. The entry and exit requirements would be too stringent, don't you think?
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          Nov 20 2011: People often make unfounded accusations and fact skewing analogies out of desperation, when they feel their ideas are being threatened by others.
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          Nov 20 2011: "Although some of us might be attached to a belief in an afterlife or an inflated sense of importance in the universe that seems to hinge on consciousness remaining unexplained, and therefore feel threatened, I am impressed at the level of politeness demonstrated here. I am vehemently interested in this conversation. Thank you all for participating! "

          Michael, I loved the way you started out but am not as impressed by your last post above. Are you sticking tothe level of politeness you yourself admired?

          If it was my analogy you were disappointed with let me know and I will attempt to engage you on whatever basis you wish.
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      Nov 20 2011: Hello Michael,

      It seems that if your primacy of consciousness model of reality was shaken so fundamentally by a series of debates by a few smart guys... or even an entire shelf of books... it wasn't very solid to begin with.

      You may have leaned towards a mystical view of consciousness, and your interest in Yoga shows an openness to esoteric ideas and teachings, but if you had EXPERIENCED the depths mystical experiences firsthand, you would not be speaking in such terms. If you had attained samadhi, been able to leave your body, had contact with discorporate entities, or something along those lines... and been able to verify such experiences empirically for yourself... it wouldn't matter what some other people said about it, regardless of how well they debate.

      Scientific materialists always feel the need to convince others that their faith in materialism is justified. They love to try and debunk spiritualism and mystical experiences, and are rarely ever satisfied unless they can get spiritual people to renounce their own experiences... to admit that they are wrong & that their experiences are the result of a deranged or malfunctioning mind. It is all rather defensive & mean-spirited.

      The fact is, by and large, that people who have experienced the transpersonal and have direct experiences of the so-called supernatural, are generally completely uninterested in convincing anyone. What does a mystic who can astral project care if you believe in it or not?

      There is this common logical fallacy of shifting the burden of proof (onus probandi) coupled with the typical red herring fallacies of appeal to authority (learned scientists said this) and appeal to probability (it is possible that we will figure it out, so we will act as if it is inevitable)... and so on... that fuels much of this type of debate. The materialist demands that the mystic prove themselves by materialist terms and forums without even thinking to do the reverse.

      The debate is one-sided.
      cont.>
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      Jah Sun

      • +1
      Nov 20 2011: The materialists act like the mystics are making claims or presenting a scientific proof when they are typically only reluctantly sharing their subjective experiences. The materialists then proceed to set the rules of a debate to be completely within the boundaries of their system of thought and proceed to debate someone who usually has little or no interest in convincing anyone of what they know to be true for themselves.

      In effect, it is the materialist who is presenting a case against spirituality and using any convenient spiritualist as a straw man. Often, as you have done here, you then present your belief system as if it were fact and demand that the straw man has the burden of proof or must demonstrate his abilities to your satisfaction.

      Scientific materialists tend to assume that their positions are rational and logical... despite having not studied the science of logic. In philosophy, materialism is not part of the philosophy of rationalism, and is actually directly opposed to it. Furthermore, there is no logical evidence whatsoever that one can use to leap from one's subjective conscious experience to the assumption of an objective material world. NONE. This is why in hundreds of years of trying, no one has ever been able to refute solipsism.

      Your entire material universe and all its apparent laws and reality could conceivably be a dream.

      As for a definition of consciousness...

      I would perhaps sign on to something along the lines of:

      "The field of awareness within which all mental, emotional and perceptional activity takes place. Amounting to the sum total of our experience as ego, id, superego... and including all subconscious and unconscious processes as well."

      In this sense, nothing that we experience, know, or can even conceive of takes place outside of consciousness. Our only awareness of the material is through consciousness... and it is impossible to prove that such matter is not in itself also composed of mindstuff.
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        Nov 20 2011: Thank you for sharing your frustrations and your definition of consciousness. A definition of consciousness that includes "unconscious processes as well," strikes me as incoherent. Although you are welcome to attack my character for not being able to understand why unconsciousness and consciousness are somehow equal. You assume that I have not had deep mystical experiences, but it does not seem that you are interested in reality, so I don't see the point in debating you. Good luck!
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          Nov 20 2011: The Unconscious is a part of consciousness. This is part of its definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscious_mind

          "The unconscious mind might be defined as that part of the mind which gives rise to a collection of mental phenomena that manifest in a person's mind but which the person is not aware of at the time of their occurrence. These phenomena include unconscious feelings, unconscious or automatic skills, unnoticed perceptions, unconscious thoughts, unconscious habits and automatic reactions, complexes, hidden phobias and concealed desires."

          Just because something is incoherent to you does not make it less valuable or potentially true. You are engaging in a variant of the Mind Projection Fallacy.

          I don't care to attack you, and what we are doing here can not be considered a debate. You have taken a dogmatic stance of scientific materialism on this thread and attempt to frame any debate in such a way that all argument must fit into your preconceived boundaries.

          I have no knowledge of your level of mystical experience. It does seem, though, that if you had experienced such things you would not be so inflexible in your assertions of material supremacy.

          Good luck to you as well.
  • Nov 18 2011: To be clear and fair, Allan Jones was not trying to explain consciousness per se.

    To the question, a map of the brain is crucial to understanding what areas of the brain, structures and processes are associated with different aspects of consciousness. Complexities are understood by understanding their simple components.

    “Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious,…” Why not? What unconscious activity do you have in mind that could not be so mapped? “… that part of our brains that cannot be explained by any reference to its parts.” It seems to be pure speculation that there are parts of our brains that cannot be explained by reference to their parts. That kind of speculation is without foundation and contrary to experience that all things can be explained and all things are explained by reference to their parts.

    A map of the brain will go a long way to explaining the complexities of consciousness. The processes need to be understood as well but is anyone seriously suggesting otherwise?

    Is your main concern free will? Is there such a thing or is it an illusion?
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      Nov 18 2011: Ah...Richard...the free will argument!! The difficulty with mapping is that the methods we are using to arrive at the maps are built on static models derived from relatively static processes of visualization. Maps are great and they do tell us some very important things about structure, organization and networks in the brain. Maps cannot account for the speed of dynamic changes within the brain. And, as to free will....I believe it is not a "thing" but is at the heart of the complexity of mind and our ability and desire to see ourselves as autonomous creative beings.
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        Nov 18 2011: I think that perhaps the problem is in the term "map", I think a better term is "model". Certainly any improvement we make to the model will improve our understanding of how the mind arises from grey matter. The question then becomes, will a perfect model perfectly explain how that mechanism operates. My first answer would be that by definition the model would be imperfect without explaining that mechanism. My second answer would be that the sort of map that you seem to be talking about would be far inferior to a perfect model, and therefore would not perfectly explain consciousness.
      • Nov 18 2011: Ah...Ron...I did not introduce the free will as an argument but a question? If that is not your concern then what?

        “Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious,…” Why not? Parts of the brain that control heart rate, body temperature and various hormone releases can be identified can they not? What do you mean? Can you provide an example?
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          Nov 19 2011: Richard...I was just kidding...such a complicated issue and of course at the heart of what has turned into a great discussion. Thanks to TED for what they built into their web site...
      • Nov 19 2011: OK Ron ... but I was not just kidding with my question ... about which you appear to be entirely evasive. I was trying to tease out what you might mean by "Most of all, these maps cannot account for the unconscious, that part of our brains that cannot be explained by any reference to its parts." In my opinion it is just wrong, unless you can clarify what you mean.
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          Nov 19 2011: Richard...sorry...I have been running from meeting to meeting today. No evasion intended. To me the unconscious is not an entity, and cannot be described through conventional approaches or conventional language. Let's assume that the unconscious exists in some form across all parts of the brain and our bodies. If that assumption is correct, then how do we set about mapping dynamic, interrelated processes that may have no "location" because these processes are in constant "motion." In this context, it becomes hard to understand the "parts" if we cannot understand the whole. So, for example, we can map and demonstrate the existence of cellular, neuronal and synaptic connections, linkages and networks. Can the unconscious be included in this mapping? Perhaps. I think that this debate has been about how challenging this research is....and my hope for the future is that we will combine the best of the neurosciences with the best of what the humanities have to offer in the analysis of the complex relations between mind, body and brain.
      • Nov 19 2011: Ron...that does not make sense.

        I have given a few examples where body control is an unconscious function of the brain. It can be identified and mapped and is more typically referred to as the sub conscious, in my experience.

        Without an example of what you term the 'unconscious' there is no basis for assuming that the unconscious exists at all, let alone in some form across all parts of the brain and our bodies, especially if it is not even an entity.

        What you might be alluding to is something I put another way. I suggest everything is conscious. All components of our body contribute to our overall consciousness, even if only to maintain it, but our overall consciousness is not directly conscious of every detail. Our overall consciousness is as much about awareness of world and interacting with it.
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          Nov 19 2011: Actually, I like where you are headed with this. If everything is conscious and we are just dealing with gradations of awareness, then mapping becomes more attractive to me. If there is no unconscious, then the brain may eventually reveal itself to us. Awareness then becomes evidence of the brain and the body's need to bring some of its activities into the foreground which then allows us to more fully exercise control over some facets of thinking. Thanks...I will think about this a bit more...
      • Nov 19 2011: Perhaps the brain may eventually 'reveal itself to us' but I am doubtful and there is always likely to be an issue. Namely, that the observer, consciousness, and the observed, the brain, are two aspects of the same thing. Consciousness cannot see itself for looking (at other things).

        The best objective understanding is obtained by removing as much influence as possible by the observer on the observed. Greater independence in the case of consciousness is gained by someone else making some observations. In that way the brain is being revealed.
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    Nov 16 2011: Even if we had a static map of our complete brain (of one or more individuals), with all connections at one point in time, we would not understand consciousness

    We also need the dynamics of the brain.

    If you add that one (completely understand the dynamics and the complete -adapting- map), then you should in principle be able to understand consciousness... Unless it ends up to be too difficult for a human to understand (which is a real possibility).

    I do agree with most of what Jake Williams and Ken Burke say: a map is a very good tool to improve understanding.

    As for consciousness: most neuro-scientists agree that consciousness is part of the processes of our brain, and that it is completely caused by the central nervous system.
    (When does the talk of Antonio Damasio come online? would help out a lot!)
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      Nov 16 2011: Christophe....I agree...the challenge for the future will be defining dynamic activities, distributed information and the fact that a system undergoing constant change will need completely new forms of modelling...
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    Nov 16 2011: No it can't.
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    Nov 16 2011: Maps are essentially oversimplified graphic representations of things (as are graphs). Maps can focus on different levels of detail.... a street map is a 'zoom-in' which is part of but not the same as a world map. Also, some maps are topographical, others show the locations of buried pipelines, and others are depictions of 'landmarks' like buildings. So too any 'map' of the brain.... Is a map to focus on neural pathways? On functional areas? On anatomical features? In any case, the map(s) are simply graphical images around which we organize (and remember) relationships, sizes or importance, etc. The real issue is not so much "can a map... explain" as much as "which map is appropriate... to visualize".
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      Nov 16 2011: Totally!! The entire issue rests on assumptions surrounding visualization!! How do we apply what we have learned about the brain to ANY extrapolations about human behaviour....
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    Nov 16 2011: Mapping the brain is nowhere near explaining consciousness.

    First of all, it is a logical fallacy to assume that correlation equals causation. Just because certain areas of the brain become active in concert with certain experiences in our minds, this says nothing about whether the thoughts and emotions are causing the bio-electric and bio-chemical reactions, vice versa, or both... or neither.

    Personally, I think these things are a two way street.

    Fear and panic can cause the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline, but if you inject someone relatively calm with these hormones, then that person can experience fear and panic as well.

    Epinephrine (the neurotransmitter and hormone aka adrenaline) is a powerful drug. The fact that the emotions can trigger the production of it, and that its production can trigger the emotions, indicate a more complicated relationship than simple causation.

    IMO, what has been studied in the brain mapping efforts, is not any kind of explanation for consciousness. We can take apart a radio receiver, and learn which circuits control which functions... we can even disable some capacitors and cause interesting and predictable effects in the sound that comes out... but nothing we do with a radio will ever tell us anything about the creation of music, the lives and personalities of the people who made said music, or even anything about the CD's and digital audio tapes being broadcast.
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      Nov 16 2011: Jah, this is a wonderful addition to the debate we are having. I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. The challenge is that models of causation, mechanical models are being used within the context of popular culture to explain the mind. I believe it is the responsibility of scientists to make sure that this does not happen. Your contribution really helps.
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        Nov 16 2011: Thank you Ron for initiating this conversation.

        I have been discussing this very subject with some friends a lot over the past few months, and we tend to get polarized into two camps.

        My dear "scientific materialist" friends are obsessed with trying to find a material basis of consciousness so they can reduce the Universe down to easily quantifiable blocks... they dread any philosophical talk or epistemology. Solipsism is their knee jerk label for anything that hints at consciousness being larger than a mere function of gray matter... that accidentally grew out of random processes. You know, tiny balls smashing together to form molecules and cells and life and then consciousness all in some ridiculously improbably cosmic accident.

        (They don't really understand what solipsism is... even the agnostic and methodological kinds seem to dumbfound them.)

        Anyway. I tend to debate on the side that proposes a potential "primacy of consciousness" model. This is the idea that consciousness might not require matter at all, and could conceivably be the impetus for the creation of matter rather than the other way around. (oooohhhhh... spooky.)

        Descartes famously opened this can of worms with his "Cogito Ergo Sum," and recognized that consciousness is all we can really know to exist. After all, all our neat little analytics and labeling of the material world could, conceivably, take place within a dream. My dreams can be even more realistic than my waking life...

        Anyway, who knows? Certainly not the brain mappers.
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          Nov 16 2011: I really like your speculative approach to consciousness. The challenge is that we have no real vantage points to examine our claims. You cannot be distant from that which is making it possible for you to be distant in the first place. Or can you? The notion that we can "locate" consciousness inside some realm may actually suggest that the term itself is wrong! Fodder for more discussion.
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          Nov 18 2011: If I understood you correctly my analogue to your "and could conceivably be the impetus for the creation of matter rather than the other way around. " would be that we have a brain, that has developed a "bio-tech" signaling unit that picks up "something" from the universe around us. Like we are living radio units walking around, and the signal of consc. is not from us, its accepted by us from the surrounding. That why consc. may not be subject to grey matter oct any part of the brain. What we should be looking for is "radio" unit that picks up this bio-data of consc. experience.

          Anyway, just an idea I got from your text Jah Sun. Its a bit Sci-Fi, but again, it would be really interesting.

          And it opens up to many fascinating features such as the idea of that we are "all on" and "willpower" has a whole ned meaning.
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        Nov 18 2011: Adriaan & Henrik,

        I am with both of you in this, & my personal subjective experience tends to back up these "mystical" models of reality. It is only in acknowledgement of the typical reactions to such notions that arise in my dear die-hard materialist friends that I say "spooky" with a wink & a smile.

        As our host in this conversation Ron has indicated, these things are rather difficult to discuss in any kind of objective manner. It would be rather difficult to design any kind of scientific test that would be able to convince the scientific community at large... there is often a kind of hostile entrenchment there which precludes even entertaining any thoughts which might be considered spiritual.

        Sadly, I am all too familiar with how these discussions tend to run.

        It is very possible (and rather common) for INDIVIDUALS to have transpersonal experiences & glimpse a larger framework for consciousness... for themselves.... but to explain such things to others often proves complicated.

        An individual might have the experience of astral projection (for example), and encounter information unknown to him or her in their consensual, material, conscious reality... they could bring back this knowledge & confirm it with their physical self. While such an event would be sufficient (or many such events) to convince oneself that the transpersonal "spiritual" realms one has experienced are real enough... it would never pass muster in the conception of skeptics. To say nothing of those who are offended by the mere notion of the metaphysical.

        Nonetheless, a consciousness based model of existence is epistemologically tidier than pure materialism. After all, matter can not be perceived or known without consciousness... while it is conceivable to imagine consciousness without any matter whatsoever.

        I do like to think of the brain as a radio tuner. I've even written a number of things on this theme.

        I think we will find our electro-magnetic fields to be of interest in this.
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          Nov 19 2011: Adriaan, while I am not trying to discredit belief in God, I see a striking similarity in your linking consciousness to feeling love "Can we take a medicine to become more loving to our spouse?" and your explanation of the spirit. I often use the feeling of love as an example when I am debating the existence of God from an atheist perspective because we have no proof of either. And our understanding of our identity/soul as well as our understanding of love take a leap of faith. However, if scientific progress uncovers a biological basis for consciousness, will your definition of the spirit change? Will your belief in God? I'm just curious.

          Also I might be misunderstanding you but I disagree with your statement that "there is no body part that can change itself all by itself" as it certainly can. But we may mean different things by "change". I am thinking of things like the development of cancer from normal cells, aging and cellular turnover, secondary sex characteristics at puberty and development itself. All of which are driven by independent cellular mechanisms. What did you mean?
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    Nov 15 2011: QUOTE: "Can a map of the Brain really explain the complexities of consciousness?"

    No.

    No more than a map of Granville Island can explain the complexities of a dark chocolate truffle from La Baguette et L'Echalote*.

    But a map of Granville Island might help one find "La Baguette."

    ----

    * For those who do not get the connection, "La Baguette et L'Echalote" is a bakery and chocolate shop on Granville Island, which is also where Emily Carr university is, which is where Ron Burnett works.
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    Nov 15 2011: Hi Ron
    Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sebastian_seung.html
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    Nov 15 2011: I daresay of course not.
    there really is a lot going on in our very sophiticated and complicated brains. I believe you can take the brain into your consideraton in two quite distinct manners first of which would be biologically. the secind is through the lense of philosiphy which very wonderfully explain the system at work in the act of consciousness. wether it is willful or unintentional, wether it is always directed towards an object or can we be conscious without being conscious of somthing at a given moment...it goes on forever
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      Nov 15 2011: Zahra...thanks. Philosophy is one of the royal roads into how we think and why we make certain choices. A combination of biological, philosophical and neuroscientific research would be very powerful.
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    Nov 15 2011: A map is a map, if I may, like a map of a riverbank. Like the map of a river bank it cannot explain the picnic we had on it. Who's going to be mapping my brain anyway? These words are a map all be it usually fairly confused but it is perhaps. in these word maps, that we begin to understand the complexities of the human consciousness. I expect this map will reveal itself more fully, even perhaps more poetically, over time, as our language increases in size and therefore ability to explain. But i suggest that the key words are already there. With regard to reduction, I love the practice. I love the way we can peel off the layers to get to the juicy bit. or explore the neural networks in their local environment . The brain mapping fascinates me. The unconscious is all there and it can be revealed on a map as well as in our mind. . Dont worry we're not explaining it all away just yet. Perhaps we never will. I suspect we might not ever quite catch up with evolution. I look forward to a time when we beigin to collectively control our minds. I believe world peace is possible when we can do this. When we control the controller. We begin to write our own maps. One of my preferred experiments showed that a man viewing a brain map on a screen could predict the subjects answer to a question 6 seconds faster than the man who's brain was answering the question could verbalise it. Did that make sense? It makes you wonder how much of what is unconscious is under our control and how our consciousness is sometimes, merely a snapshot of those processes. All be it a very memorable one at times. We must not be afraid of our brains as gross and weird as they might look. They are the original Tardis.
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      Nov 15 2011: Phillip...many thanks for this. You are right of course, a map is just that with all of the limitations that a map has. Your key point is about language. How can an experiment that locates brain activity in one or more places take on the explanatory power of language when that is the medium of explanation? We are using the very tools we are examining in what seems like an endless regress where vantage point and positionality get lost. For me, the unconscious is at the heart of brain processes which poses massive problems for analysis. That said, I deeply support the ongoing work you and others are pursuing.
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    Nov 15 2011: I do believe with advancements in technology, there will come a time where a brain can be fully mapped and consciousness explained. Perhaps it's nothing more than a straw man, but I think much of the opposition to this idea comes from the misplaced desire to treat mankind as something special in the universe. Unfortunately, the universe doesn't conform to what we might consider philosophical niceties.

    A lot of people argue that the brain is so convoluted and mysterious that it's impossible to consider technology ever being able to fully understand it. However, I think it's worth noting that the brain has had a bit of a head start on the order of millions of year. The MRI on the other hand was the subject of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. That's only eight years ago.

    103 years ago the Model T was just rolling off the assembly line and about 90 years ago television was still under development. We've gotten to a point in mankind's history where people expect technological advances at lightning speed and discredit ideas as impossible if they can't match that.

    As far as anyone knows, the brain operates under the same physical laws as everything else. As we come to better understand these laws, and better understand their application, we'll make advances in this area of science as well as many others. There is no clear sign to me that the brain is any more unique than any other organ (albeit, much, much more complex).

    If we are able to fully understand the brains of worms and bot flies, I see no reason to think that we will not one day be able to scale up such research in a way that would make it applicable to humans. The only difference between our brains and that of a lesser creature (that I'm aware of) is complexity.

    Give technology a chance to catch up before dismissing it.
    • Nov 15 2011: Josh
      Don't confuse technology with knowledge, understanding, empathy, emotions, and being. Just because we say we know it doesn't mean we do. I am all for the mapping. It could help some serious cerebral problems. But we are so much more than the sum of our parts.
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      Nov 15 2011: Josh...thanks. I agree we have to give the research process a chance. What worries me are the models of enquiry that we are using and the assumptions that are becoming fixed in people's minds. So, for example, we can agree that neural pathways are essential attributes of brain function. But, given the number of interactions that make it possible for the brain to "think" can we find a vantage point to examine "thought?"
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    Nov 15 2011: Tishe, agree that there will never be a map, but some things can be learned along the way, or at least I hope so.
  • Nov 15 2011: Hi Ron, there is no human, that can map a brain. It will not happen. There are smart humans out there, that say they can do this. (is not happening) Humans are too weird. A behavioural map to a human brain? (sweet, can I cash in on this?) :) With Respect to You!
  • Nov 15 2011: It's worth considering Bradley Voytek's point: we've known the layout of the C. elegans worm in high detail for three decades now, and yet we haven't been able to use that information to predict their behaviors or understand their inner experiences. The brain is just too ridiculously complex to explain with a map of any kind, although compared to C. elegans we do have the advantage of inhabiting and being able to report on our brains.

    Philosophers call the consciousness/mind-from-body problem "the Hard Problem" for a reason!
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      Nov 15 2011: Jose....totally agree. A close friend of mine is involved in research on worms for the NIH and he had hoped some thirty years ago that he would discover some answers to his questions about the brain. He is still hoping. Of course, we have to keep working on these issues and the research is getting better, we just have to be careful with the claims that everyone is making about the results.
  • Nov 14 2011: Define the term "prove." If you wish for a deductive proof, that is impossible. What I argue for is deduction itself and any deductive proof of deduction would be circular. I can, however, give a probabilistic argument supported by the exponential increase in scientific publications correlated with the exponential increase of humanity's computational ability.
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      Nov 15 2011: Neither an increase in publications nor an increase in computational power suggests that we will understand complex systems in a more profound way.
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        Nov 15 2011: At any time our body has a limited number of elements that can be scanned and mapped if the right technology is available. Having consecutive images of the same process and the available computational power one can foresee the systems next movement/decision. This we have seen we can see by simple observation of any mechanical system, having understanding of what are the full range of laws governing the system. Knowing that apples will fall from trees is a common knowledge that humanity posses long before we were able to have a deeper understanding of the process, and there are still debates about that, BUT that did not stop us to have applications of the observable laws.

        people may be afraid that having their brain mapped will make them predictable, and they should be because that will be true for short time that particular structure of the brain will be stable. But the brain itself is a dynamic system that is changing both as hardware (the food consumed that will become it's physical structure) and software (that are information both conceptual but also sensations experienced).

        the most important question on long term is not how will the brain behave but why has it evolved into the present state and where is going ? any biologist will tell you that the body, the sum of all organs in animals are an extension of the nervous system, it's the nervous system that is triggering change and evolution. What but is the force that creates the brain ? for sure it is a physical force that we have little understanding at this point, that is consciousness and it governs not only individuals but the society as a whole.
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          Nov 15 2011: Hulea...I really appreciate the depth of your thinking here. The history of the evolution of the brain may hold the key as to how we explore it in the present.
      • Nov 15 2011: Absolutely.
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    Nov 14 2011: i don't believe that mapping the brain has anything to do with out figuring out consciousness. All mapping can do is explain memory, reflex, muscle memory, pathology of disease, and other functional actions. Thoughts might be results of synapses and new connections, but the evaluation of our thoughts and rationalizing them, i feel, is something not residing in the structural components of the brain. Some schizophrenics see things and hear things, but they know and understand that they are part of a physiological disease or miswiring. this awareness is something that isn't observed in the form of matter but possibly a non recognized energy.
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      Nov 14 2011: Chandra....thank-you for your thoughts. Your description of the mapping process is accurate. It can inevitably only describe the surface of interactions and not their depth. As to whether there is another form of energy at work in the brain, that is an issue that both cognitive scientists and psychoanalysts have grappled with over the last century.
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        Nov 15 2011: this type of question is what got me so interested in neuroscience at such a young age.
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        Nov 15 2011: I have to agree with you, Ron. Maybe there is some other form of energy or 'anti-matter' at work here.

        For example, in the universe, in more recent years there is more of a consensus that dark matter is more prevalent than actual matter.

        In other words what we can see out there (ie planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies and gases) is in a much smaller percentage than what we can't see (they call it dark matter because they don't really know what it is, just that it's not the other kind of matter).

        Maybe it's the same thing with the brain but they just haven't been able to figure it out yet.

        In the example of dark matter, they were able to see the affect it had on the 'regular' matter, which is one of the ways they were able to tell that it was there in the first place even though it doesn't 'show up' on xray emission photos.

        Perhaps something similar will happen in neuroscience so that we can get a better picture. I keep reading that despite progress the neuroscience field is still in its infancy, so there is still a lot to learn. I'm excited about the prospects.
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          Nov 15 2011: Thanks Estela, a wonderful post and I agree that the neurosciences are very exciting but in their infancy. My problem is with all the claims that are being made even though we still feeling our way in the dark, no pun intended.
  • Nov 14 2011: Ron
    I do so agree with what people have said about maps and what they represent. I agree that the problem is the conclusions being drawn from those "facts. It is the same for genome mapping that suddenly "makes" people a certain way.

    "Ourselves" collectively and individually are so much more complex than a map can provide. Reductionism is alive and well however for many people. It sounds so good, is easy to understand and makes things make sense to them. Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, life is just not like that. I love maps. I am an excellent map reader, but if it doesn't get me to where I want to go or help me see the way more clearly they don't mean much. Life may be messier, but it is a lot more fun.
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      Nov 14 2011: Thanks Michael, completely agree about maps. I love them as well! Your point about messiness is really important. There is a tendency to believe that messiness can be overcome, but that just usually leads to more messiness!! And clarity of direction may not mean depth of understanding....
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    Nov 14 2011: Such MAPS could at best present a picture of a point in time perspective. Given the complex nature and the way in which the human brain connects and works I am not sure if it is possible to capture all this comprehensively in a MAP?
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      Nov 14 2011: Your point is really important! A slice of time indeed....when most of the time the study of the brain is defined by static representations and the key word here is representation. The other side of the argument is that a map of the brain does explain some aspects of its functioning, but again will remain static and not dynamic which is the key to the brain's ability and breadth of operations.
  • Nov 14 2011: Making a map of a brain, even a map of function, no more 'explains' consciousness than making a map of a country 'explains' its commerce and culture, but its a very good place to start and much better than setting up outside it's borders and measuring import and export.

    It's clear that consciousness is an internal activity of the brain, unless we're postulating ESP or PSI or non-physical spirits. It therefore seems appropriate to include this sort of internal investigation in attempts to understand it. The same surely applies to our unconscious or subconscious or any other mental activities: if they're not a function of the parts of the brain then what are they a function of?

    Being reductive and keeping things simple is a fundamental element of starting a scientific investigation and if we don't start we can't make progress on understanding any of the complexity of human thought and action.

    I doubt the purpose of this work is to mechanise art and design, but an improved understanding might help us educate ourselves better and correct disease and dysfunction.

    The artful design of this scientific investigation deserves appreciation too. I think it's a step forward.
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      Nov 14 2011: Thanks Chris...I agree with you and certainly the mapping process provides us with tremendous benefits as well as insights. My main concern is that we will come to 'view' this type of investigation and the methodology that accompanies it as the main entry point for discussions of brain and possibly mind. The challenge is that what we learn from the physical characteristics of the brain may only tell us a small part of the story and as much as need to understand that story, a great deal else is left behind. New MRI imaging technologies are revolutionary, but ironically they provide us with 'mages' and we therefore have to interpret them. The brain works through distributed flows of information that are so complex, we may never be able to map the richness.
  • Nov 14 2011: None of you people seem to understand that the greatest epistemological tools which avail us are mathematics applied to computer science. It is from a computational vantage that the validity of any theory of cognitive, emotional and motivational function by any given philosopher, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist, neurologist, etc. will be refuted or proven.

    Watch this:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/henry_markram_supercomputing_the_brain_s_secrets.html
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      Nov 14 2011: Actually, if you could PROVE what you are saying, there might not be any disagreement.
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      Nov 15 2011: Nicolas wrote: "None of you people seem to understand that the greatest epistemological tools which avail us are mathematics applied to computer science. It is from a computational vantage that the validity of any theory of cognitive, emotional and motivational function by any given philosopher, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist, neurologist, etc. will be refuted or proven."

      But mathematics is unable to explain the concept of time which provides an underlying structure for almost everything we know. Mathematics cannot explain emotion, beauty, creativity, intuition, creativity or love either.

      Edward DeBono distinguishes between rock logic (the solid objectivity of math and science) and water logic (subjective experience that is influenced by conditions and interactions). Mathematics is one way of looking at our world. There are others that are not as consistent but are equally important to understand.
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      Nov 13 2011: Thanks Ed.....I agree
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          Nov 13 2011: I agree, Ed. Jones's approach is classically reductive which is sometimes okay for research purposes but great care has to be taken in drawing any conclusions from that type of project.
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    Nov 13 2011: Hi Ron, I'm glad you are back!
    No, I do not think the maps we are currently able to make of the brain wll account for consciousness. It will. however. give us some clues about it.
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      Nov 13 2011: Thanks Debra,
      I am concerned with the popularization of the mapping process which makes it seem as if the brain and it's functions can be "read." This leads to superficial notions of brain plasticity. Interestingly, it then seems as if the brain can be programmed. I think that the scientific work in this area is brilliant but I am pretty sure that our culture is developing mechanical models of the brain as a substitute for the hard slog of research that will be required to understand mind.
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        Nov 14 2011: Ron, I share your concern.
        I like to make a distinction between mind and consciousness.
        The mind is human while consciousness we share with all that exist.
        Sub consciousness would be that part that can't enter the mind.

        Brain scientists I think, are searching like one is searching in a radio box for the song. All they find is that as they damage anything the song stops or the sound is distorted.
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          Nov 14 2011: Frans, you are right. The interesting thing is that humans are able to talk about consciousness without having to think about the activities in their brains that are making it possible for them to engage in those thoughts. This is one possible definition of "unconscious" but another is that the mind builds knowledge through distributed processes which are so complex that they cannot be quantified.