What Is Consciousness?

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It is the question of the nature of the conscious mind that has beleaguered philosophers, poets, scientists, psychologists and mystics since time immemorial.

As the fields of neuroscience has grown and expanded over the last twenty years we are starting to see that the interrelationship between the brain and the mind is hard to define. We can explain certain functions that the brain undertakes; learning, reasoning and remembering in terms of their neurological and psychological function. Yet when it comes to the question of the guiding intelligence, the psyche, the anima, science is struggling to find an answer; thus the ‘Hard’ problem of consciousness.

It was David Chalmers in 1995 who coined the term ‘Hard problem of consciousness in his paper ‘Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.’ Which you can find here: http://consc.net/papers/facing.html

“What makes the hard problem hard and almost unique is that it goes beyond problems about the performance of functions. To see this, note that even when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioural functions in the vicinity of experience—perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report—there may still remain a further unanswered question:  Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience? “

One of the most puzzling questions of consciousness is how is it that the mind whilst anchored in the brain exists beyond the brain that houses it.

More Than The Sum Of The Parts

It is the Hard problem of what is the experience of consciousness that does not make sense to material science.  When we use reductive science to dissect the problem we only end up with a bunch of functional parts, but as in the old adage, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. We can see all the sections of the brain functioning, but in none of them do we find the seat of consciousness. The brain does not seem to be a set of discrete segments functioning

individually, but seems to be networks of segments functioning in an interrelated fashion. It is the relationship of these discrete segments in the networks they inhabit that is of paramount importance in solving the hard problem of consciousness.

Where this problem becomes even more mysterious is when we begin to consider the neuroscience discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity.  Here we are seeing such exciting discoveries as the minds ability to directly alter the fabric of the brain as shown in the ‘London cabbies research conducted by Professor Eleanor Macguire of the University College London (U.C.L) in 2000. This research clearly demonstrated that the composition of the brain was altered by the ways in which those studied used their minds. {Link to study or my other article}

And it is not just the brain is being altered by the phenomenon of consciousness, our DNA has also been shown to alter under the influence of the mind. Recent research conducted in Canada has shown that the practice of meditation and yoga actually inhibits the degradation of telomeres at the end of DNA strands, inhibiting the aging process and the onset of cancer.

Epigenetics

Epigenetic_mechanismsEpigenetics, the study of how organisms are altered by modification of their genome is beginning to show that our understanding of how genomic expression is far more complex than material science can ever possibly explain. We are moving beyond a Newtonian material and mechanistic view of bio neurological function to a relational model of neurological design. In this we are shown to be an extension of our environment and intimately affected by the foods we ingest, our exposure to toxicity, the exercise we participate in and even to the thoughts that we think.

We are not discrete mechanical units that are largely unaffected by the external world, rather we are co relational beings where the fundamental building blocks of our beings are alterable during the experience of living. Our health and well being which once thought to be predetermined by the codes locked into our genome is in fact alterable. We may have a pre determination to a particular condition, but with knowledge and right thinking we may be able to choose those genomes that express themselves and those that do not.

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