The 1/29/07 issue of Time Magazine is captioned “Mind & Body Special Issue”, and starts out with a discussion of the brain’s geography, an endeavor well studied and categorized by now, but which is far overshadowed by the mystery of ‘consciousness’, often tagged as the ‘ghost within the neural machine’. Steven Pinker writes the centerpiece article, “The mystery of consciousness”, and indeed, consciousness is the centerpiece of the mystery regarding life itself.
In a cited case of a woman involved in an accident who had severe brain damage, and using a new and improved MRI technique, she nonetheless showed unexpected neural activity when certain words were spoken, and in the areas where that activity would normally occur. She displayed no outward cognizance, however, raising new questions concerning the Terry Schiavo case.
Within the emerging field of ‘cognitive neuroscience’ the study of brain functions have been characterized by Pinker as easy areas, like defining areas that do this or that, to the intrinsically hard problem of trying to figure out what consciousness is. The article cites a major precept that prevails today as well as in years past, the materialist view that:
“Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain.” (emphasis mine)
The article cites Swiss neuroscientists reporting that they were able to turn out-of-body experiences on and off through stimulation. A Google search using ‘out-of-body’, ‘neuroscience’ and ‘swiss’ produces conflicting reports, the scientists claiming that the effects were illusionary, but others feeling that the OBE experiences were genuine. Time will tell.
The article goes on to posit that much of what we perceive cognitively is illusional, and gives examples. One they cite, but that I take exception to, is that visual perception is faulted by seeing cognitively only a small central part of the visual field, and how by flitting from place to place, the brain thinks it’s seeing the whole field of vision, while it’s really only seeing parts of it. Although stated as a dilemma, the article later actually answers its own question by stating:
” Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ decision circuits inside the brain would be swamped if every curlicue and muscle twitch that was registered somewhere in the brain were constantly being delivered to them Ã¢â‚¬Â¦”
Exactly, and in my view, this kind of data handling points to a kind of ‘specified’ or ‘engineered’ data handling, although scientists will state that it was merely due to beneficial mutations that improved survival.
Pinker also gets into philosophical areas like “How you could ever know whether you see colors the same way that I do”, and “What if I’m the only entity, and everyone else is only an illusion”. But the real question as to whether consciousness is external to the body, the brain being more of an interface device to body functions, and perhaps a shaper of earthly personality and a filter to earthly perceptions remains unanswered for now. Most researchers believe that consciousness is merely a function of neural activity. Sorry, but I have to disagree.