3/16/11

looking for consciousness beyond the brain

my impression of human consciousness (drawn from what I've read and heard) is that a genetically human brain cannot become conscious on its own. it needs 1) a personal history 2) inside a body in 3) a rich physical/perceptual environmental and 4) to be steeped in interaction with other brains. this interaction means that the brain is 5) absorbed into the medium of cultural information. the brain, in other words, comes to exist in a sea of memes (quanta of cultural or semiological information) as a tight "island" of memes; as a dense cluster of connections between bits of cultural/semiological information. the conscious self is a node in a cultural network.  the brain is constructed into a roughly discrete pattern in a rich and tangled network of culturally-transmitted patterns and processes

crucially, the functional architecture of the brain is organized such that it can 6) operate in a language (e.g. Zulu, Hindi, Icelandic). language turns out to be what fundamentally enables certain global or semi-global habits of thought, these habits or organizing principles of the brain being essential to consciousness, such as 7) making analogies or isomorphic mappings, 8) categorizing all elements of perception (and hence, the world) into concepts based on these analogies, 9) subsuming lower-level concepts/categories into higher-level ones, and 10) abstracting away essential information from situations, ignoring swathes of noise and redundancy in the process. analogical categorization transforms perception into experience. abstracting the essences of experiences transforms them into something more abstract: situations. as human beings, the situation is the dominant genre of our conscious experiences. the world is not just categorized into concepts but into interactive narratives with actors, atmospheres, themes, tensions, dilemmas, goals, outcomes, triumphs, and frustrations. consciousness is a kind of perpetual motion machine: the aforementioned narratives go into the ontogenesis of an increasingly fluid and agile I. as I blossoms, it generates increasingly more (and more elaborate) narratives that feed right back into its growth. this is the self-fueling engine that powers our inner light

language creates some analogue of an internal map of the brain's information, with each word or phrase acting as a "landmark" so that the information can be located and "called up" at any time. words also serve as a way to organize information, similar to how a colour-coding system might work if it used thousands of shades. as a third function, words mobilize information, recruiting chunks of it for use in thinking. a brain cultivated by culture and language into a mind becomes capable of 11) organizing mental events/experiences in a pseudo-serial fashion and 12) to "perceive" itself or obtain information about its own state, such that it can reflect on what it is doing (internally or as a body in motion). to become conscious, a brain needs to 13) reflect on its own reflections, reflect on those meta-reflections, and in this way build enormous towers of self-inquiry that perpetually grow in an endless string of self-stimulations. focusing on how a brain manages to analogize, categorize, serialize, and meta-meta-meta...reflect, we can begin to see how it comes to author a story of self