Heathcliff and the catillac cats
A little more than five years ago I published a post, as part of a series on "The Nature of Things", titled "The catillac cats" which argued that a scientific study of consciousness (cognitive psychology) was, in fact, a kind of parapsychology. The gist of my argument was that the study of human consciousness was, or at least could be made to seem, as much about things that are not in the head as about what are in the head.
My thinking about the matter has evolved since then, with new evidence pointing in all sorts of different directions. One of the things that was most apparent to me from the beginning was that, for many scientists, the study of consciousness — and how it works in particular brain states — was viewed as something that could best be understood as a kind of parapsychology. That, to me, was, at least, a very peculiar conclusion to be drawn from a study that deals with a scientific subject.
So I've come back to the subject of consciousness, and am going to do something I've not done for a while, by publishing an original piece of research. The aim is to try to get a little closer to my original argument.
I've chosen to look at the recent work of a pair of scientists, who have discovered that certain kinds of brain activity, that are sometimes associated with consciousness, are the result of nothing that is directly in the head. I'm going to look at the evidence for a hypothesis that consciousness itself can be explained by processes outside the head. I will not be talking about consciousness per se, though that might emerge from the material, or I might be led to talk about it in another of my posts.
Today I'm going to introduce the concept of what the French call un rôle du monde extérieur en psychologie cérébrale, or as the English sometimes call it, an extracranial role in brain science.
The reason I want to talk about it is because, if this is the case, it means that there is nothing in the brain that makes it conscious. This concept is not a new one. The Russian physicist Nikolai J. Lukyanov (one of the fathers of what is now the field of quantum physics) thought that there could be a role for consciousness, outside the brain. That is, he did not deny that the brain was the origin of consciousness. What he argued was that consciousness itself could be the result of something else, and that this could be measured by an experiment.
The problem with Lukyanov's argument is that, from what I understand of the experimental work, it is very hard to tell whether you are talking about consciousness at all. It is very hard to tell whether you are just talking about changes in brain function that could possibly be associated with consciousness. I will come back to that point later.
To explain what I mean by "external role" in brain science, I need to make an important point about the way we think about the way our brains work. That is, although scientists can work out how the neurons in the brain are wired, they cannot say for sure what that wiring means. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, the cells themselves are too small to tell you what their functions are. In fact, you need very powerful electron microscopes to work out what they do. And what is far more difficult, the connections between neurons are not visible in anything like the resolution that an electron microscope can offer. So, it's not possible to say with any certainty how the neurons are wired together. In fact, all you can say is that they must be wired together somehow.
Secondly, it is only in a very crude way that the brain cells know what to do. We have no idea how this happens. The brain is very simple by comparison with modern computers. It has only about 100 billion brain cells compared with the trillions of switches and transistors in a computer. Most of these brain cells work in the same way. They switch something off or on. And all these brain cells work in a totally unexpected, random way.
Yet, our brains are amazingly clever. How on earth do they work so differently from all the other machines that we build? What gives our brains their special power? The answer is, we simply don't know.
The brain works in very strange ways. In fact, the only known part of it that works any way at all is the brain stem. And it works in a very simple way. It reacts by doing one of two things, depending on what is going on at that moment. It can either release or block a chemical, which in turn activates a motor nerve to move an arm, or leg, or tongue. We are almost completely ignorant of the functions of the brain stem. And it may well be that we know the function of one part of the brain stem, but very little else.
But here are two problems for the evolutionists. These problems are so serious that the evolutionists are completely powerless to answer them. And the reason is, if you admit that the human brain comes out of nothing, it follows that it must also be possible to build a brain. So it would have been possible for a natural process to develop a brain, in a totally unexpected, random way. But that means that brain cells could have been evolved, over the billions of years since life first appeared on earth. So it follows that it is possible to construct a brain and all the mechanisms that go with it, which are needed to support it.
The first problem, we know that the human brain is too much bigger than it needs to be. It has four million times the volume of the brain stem, which is why it weighs so much more than a brain that is the size of a brain stem. It has millions of times the capacity of the nerve cell of a brain stem. That is why the human brain has no more brain stem than is absolutely necessary. What is the explanation for all of this?
The brain is bigger than it needs to be for one simple reason, and that is because we cannot survive without it. The brain evolved in order to allow us to do things to improve our survival, and to make our lives more comfortable. But as soon as the brain began to develop, it discovered that if it had developed in another way, the survival of the whole organism would be guaranteed. So the brain was designed in such a way as to ensure that it would be of no benefit to us, so as to prevent us from developing it.
The brain is programmed by God to be the way it is. All the scientists agree that the brain has the potential to evolve into something else.
If the human brain was designed to make our lives more comfortable, then why is it that in the first stages of development it becomes a hindrance to survival?
If we compare ourselves to a rat, who lives in a nest with four different compartments, we know that in the first period of development, each of the babies develops into a single-minded creature, each with his own life that is only in relationship with that life. As soon as they are capable of survival, they are separated from the group.
Then each one of these different individual brains is born with a certain potential. Each brain has the potential to grow into an animal with four eyes, four ears and four limbs.
Each one of the individual brains has the potential to develop into a four-footed animal, and each brain has a very special way of developing into an insect, a reptile, a fish, a bird, a mammal.
We live in the same way. We all have a brain