Feeling conscious

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Neuropsychology could have easily been my first profession. My fascination for the brain and appreciation for how little and much we know of it has always captivated my logical and imaginative thought.

I just finished the book, Wider Than The Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness, where Gerald Edelman, M.D., Ph. D. covers an impressive amount of information refuting that consciousness is solely metaphysical. While anyone can argue there is mystery to the brain, Edelman’s work is persuasive – there are neurological constructs which give rise to consciousness.

Quale (IPA [ ˈkwɑːle]) is the way something feels, an experienced conscious moment. The definition’s subtly fails to describe the complex recipe that comprises a feeling –

sensory input, consequences of motor activity, imagery, emotions, fleeting memories, bodily sensations and a peripheral fringe. (p. 61)

Our experience, being conscious of being conscious naturally contains all of these things all of the time. It would be trivializing to say it is like a movie where only audio and visual aspects are perceived. Qualia consider the past, the current and the possible future, all at the same moment, all the time, becoming part of the categorized catalog of discriminated conscious states influencing future qualia.

In order to fully understand the data set that is flowing throughout the brain, we would actually need to be that body, that brain. The information outside of that context can only be imagined. An example used was, “what would it be like to be a bat?” illustrating the complexity – it would actually be easier to understand what it would be like to be another human, but is quite literally, impossible.

Recently on CBS Sunday Morning, Mo Rocca questioned if as we live longer and medical technology continues to deliver higher quality transplant and artificial replacement, will you still be you? Assuming that the replacement of an organ is successful, the brain would read the new organ as part of new quale. What happens to the qualia associated with the failed organ? Does the brain simply treat those discriminations as part of a phantom part of a quale – similar to the sensation some people experience when losing a limb, or, is some of the data lost forever? Does the new organ have the ability to read the data stream as part of the body and brain? Does the replacement organ, know something that the failing organ did not?

So, Mo, I think the answer is yes, probably, you will still be you, but a different you.