The Challenges of Consciousness Studies : A Review

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In this article I deal with, Consciousness viz. one of the most familiar and the most mysterious aspect of our existence. The Conscious experiences define our lives, but the subjective, private, and qualitative nature of these experiences seems to resist scientific inquiry.

For much of the twentieth century, consciousness research remained the exclusive preserve of philosophy, whose practitioners continue to grapple with the so-called ‘hard problem’ of why physical or physiological processes should give rise to conscious experiences at all. Yet people have wondered about consciousness since they wondered about anything, and advances in our comprehension have been slow in coming viz. due to the challenges posed by various aspects in our lives affecting our study in the mysterious dimension of consciousness.

Sources of Challenges:

A first core challenge is to specify the necessary and sufficient processes that underpin normal human consciousness. Each individual has a different standard of living, hence allowing them a possibility of facing the challenges of consciousness in various other ways. So, an important challenge is to understand the nature of disorders of consciousness, as they affect both state (e.g., coma, the vegetative and minimally consciousness states, and epileptic absence seizures) and content (e.g., psychiatric disorders, focal brain lesions leading to neglect and agnosia, and certain degenerative neurological illnesses)

Psychology: New perspectives are also emerging in psychiatry. For example, schizophrenia has been related to deficiencies in fine-grained predictions of the consequences of self-generated actions, and ‘depersonalization disorder’ – a condition in which the world, and/or the self, loses its phenomenal ‘reality’ – may be associated with deficient integration of exteroceptive(from outside) signals with interoceptive(as the brain perceives), autonomic signals. Quite apart from the obvious clinical significance of this research, disorders of consciousness will provide an increasingly important window onto the neural and cognitive mechanisms of unimpaired consciousness. A related challenge lies in identifying the function (or functions) of consciousness. Setting aside the red herrings of epiphenomenalism (the notion that consciousness has no function) and ‘conscious inessentialism’ (the idea that all cognitive and behavioral functions can in principle be carried out in the absence of consciousness) allows us to consider a range of possible functions for the different components of consciousness.

Challenge of Language: The challenges presented by our current language impede our ability to develop a coherent theory of consciousness.  Language plays a critical function in sharing our ideas with others; as well as our own capacity to think in certain ways.  Currently, language has primarily an “either/or” orientation.  This causes the inner and outer worlds to be exclusively perceived in an “either/or” orientation.

Awareness: This is a most important factor in this field causing hindrance to Consciousness studies. Many people all over the world know about Consciousness and are enthusiastically exploring it. But the mass not knowing about this topic is much more than that of those who know about it. This results in reduction of the number of minds involved in exploring the mysterious dimension causing an hindrance in its development. Another thing that one needs to be aware of is the difference between brain and mind. There is a common belief that both are the same, although it is not the same. Mind is at a higher “state” of consciousness unlike the brain.

Mind involvement: The conscious mind encompasses approx. 5% of the brain and operates very similarly to the left brain. The conscious mind is the portion of the brain that is in control at all times, the command center. The remaining 95% of the mind is still not in total control of the being. We, as conscious beings, have subjective experience of our minds and of the world.

The physical and mental conditions of any individual also majorly effect the conscious condition of the individual. Hence an healthy mind will have a better conscious condition than an unhealthy mind and body (as there is a uniform balance or equilibrium between the mind and the body).So the health of a person also indirectly effects his/her conscious conditions. So, it can be mentioned that the Medical field is having an indirect effect on the conscious conditions; the development of which can lead to a healthy output of the generation involved in the studies of Consciousness.

Also insufficient development in the field of Neuroscience, through which Consciousness has always been linked to, is still under development leading to insufficient amount of sources to explain about consciousness. The development of Artificial Intelligence has also led to too much automation and development causing us to focus on development of technology rather than exploring our own self hence hindering into study of Consciousness.

Conclusion

 The above described review of mine clearly proves that the various aspects of our life cause a lot of effect either directly or indirectly on the mysterious world of Consciousness. The importance of these cases is that they lead us away from the idea that consciousness is like a switch, either on or off. They guide us toward the possibility that consciousness is nothing more than the brain’s ability to gain information plus the amount of content that information contains. Consciousness, therefore, could be considered at wakefulness and content, with the amount of content defining the level of consciousness. It seems to me that the only way to wiggle your way out of accepting this analogy is to say that force, mass and acceleration are all physical but that consciousness is not physical, hence the need for something extra. But that is dualism and we want to stick to materialism, if we can. The challenge of consciousness rests on a hope that its pursuit is distinguished by combining transformative questions about the human condition with a largely incremental program of experimental and theoretical research. There is every reason to be optimistic and hence after knowing the causes and sources of challenges or hurdles to the development in study of Consciousness, it is our duty to try and obtain a logical, acceptable and feasible solution to it optimistically.

A humble request–As I am new to this field of knowledge,surely there may be a few things about this, that you all maybe knowing better about. So please comment about it, so that it can be shared among all of the readers.Thank You!!

Image credits – soulresearchinstitute.org

2 Responses to The Challenges of Consciousness Studies : A Review

  1. Steve Schneider says:

    I really enjoyed your review and since you asked for comments it allows me to explain why I enjoyed it. First, you took a difficult topic and gave us a jargon-free article. For that, you deserve an award. While you presented interesting ideas about aspects of life and their relationship to Consciousness that is not the same as proving what you said. Before you say it, I’ll admit I can be cynical and anal retentive. However, even a research study shows statistical significance, not proof.

    You deserve recognition for you statement about consciousness not being like a switch. Research in many areas (i.e. hypnosis, biofeedback, etc.) sees consciousness as being on a continuum. Level of consciousness is related to brain wave production (although not 100%). Your conclusion was excellent. It was (again) jargon-free, but very concisely explained the basic state of this area. However, the questions you asked have been studied for quite some time and in many ways (altered states of consciousness as part of the continuum).

    Regardless, you are on the right track. I recommend reading work on hypnosis and consciousness (try to find Milton Erickson’s work). Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  2. Language and Improper Communication a barrier in Scientific Studies

    There are several issues which arise while we study Science and Consciousness. At the normal scale we observe objects and phenomenons and therefore are able to visualize classical situations without any problem. But the concepts which occur at Planck length are only perceived through mathematics therefore people are not able to visualize the situations. Also as a physical observation is not made in such cases i.e. through the five senses, people are not self convinced with the concepts.

    Language is the biggest problem in the study of consciousness. Maximum people are not able to distinguish between Mathematical Situations and Real Situations. Recently it was there in the news that the particle Higgs Boson was discovered by the Scientists. But it is critically important to highlight that the particle was discovered Mathematically by analyzing the information produced during the collisions. The pictures which we see on television and the internet are simulations. Therefore communication to the society should be made clear through simple and easy to understand self explanatory language to avoid chaos and speculation.

    A Simplified approach towards Schrodinger’s Cat

    (This example needs to be understood in context to language)

    1. IF CAT IS DEAD (IN ISOLATION)
    * SCIENTIST PERSPECTIVE (OBSERVER) – Cat is 50% Dead Mathematically
    * CAT PERSPECTIVE – 100% Dead
    2. IF CAT IS ALIVE (IN ISOLATION)
    *SCIENTIST PERSPECTIVE – Cat is 50% Alive Mathematically
    * CAT PERSPECTIVE – 100% Alive

    Relativity plays a major role in the above example. The answers change with the perspectives. Mathematically word needs to be added with every probability assumption as it makes a big confusion in the minds of people. The Schrodinger Cat experiment was a very good thought experiment but the language could be made more clear by adding the word MATHEMATICALLY.

    Therefore we need to develop systematic frameworks for studying the subject of Consciousness

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