Thursday, May 24, 2012

The illusion of consciousness

The illusion of consciousness

We normally believe that we become conscious of events as they occur. And we believe that when we wish for something to happen we bring it into our conscious. So if I want a coffee, I might look at my watch, check my diary, decide I have the time to nip up the road and buy my coffee.

We know that the brain requires neuronal adequacy before it’s able to function, i.e. respond to a stimuli or a sensation that is being received. Neuronal adequacy is usually achieved over a brief period of time (estimated to be just over a quarter of a second) before dealing with the stimuli.

The interesting thing is though that if I were to touch my very hot cup of coffee, it wouldn’t take me nearly as long as a quarter of a second before I move my hand away. I would move my hand away almost instantly. So we have a situation that I do what I do (pull my hand away from the hot cup of coffee) before my brain even knows about it. That is I become aware but my brain isn’t aware. What’s causing me not to be aware or to be aware when I'm not aware?

Consider this. Let’s say we anesthetize the relevant part of my brain dealing with this response so that I don’t even know I've touched the hot cup of coffee. So we have a condition where I can respond to the hot cup of coffee before my brain has had the required time to integrate all the information (interestingly) and I can not respond if later after my brain has been anesthetized in some way so that I don’t respond.

The seemingly paradoxical situation arises where my brain responds instantly and then a quarter of a second later something happens to my brain so I don’t respond instantly a quarter of a second earlier. So in a way, how my brain responds depends on what is happening in the future.

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