The title of this posting is a bit overreaching, I admit, but if you will be patient and have been following along here, I think I can point the conversation in that direction, even if it takes a few additional postings to get through it.
My friend and fellow blogger, Marc Schuster, passed along a link to an article in the “Atlantic Monthly,” called “Awakening,” regarding the problem of patients in surgery who, though sedated, apparently wake up or are otherwise aware of what is transpiring while in surgery, and the story addresses the steps that have been taken to eliminate this terrible situation, by developing ways of monitoring a person’s level of conscious awareness. Although the percentages of such incidents are small compared to the number of surgeries which take place in the world, imagine how you might react if you woke up or became aware during a major surgery!
Here is the link to the article:
Anesthetics is a fascinating subject, and it clearly does beg some questions of the nature of consciousness to be sure. I was particularly intrigued by this notion by Chamoun, which described consciousness:
“…as a spectrum of discrete phases that flowed one into the next, each marked by a different electrical fingerprint.”
Since our experiential awareness–what is referred to in the article as the “subjectivity of conscious experience,”–is not so easily quantified or measured, precisely because of its subjective nature, it seems that nearly every scientist involved in the subject tries to narrow the focus of a theory of consciousness into a phenomenon that is generated by brain physiology, which clearly can be measured.
A good example of this is Tonini’s “integrated-information theory,” which posits that:
“First, consciousness is informative. Every waking moment of your life provides a nearly infinite reservoir of possible experiences, each one different from the next. Second, consciousness is integrated: you can’t process this information in parts. When you see a red ball, you can’t experience the color red separately from the shape of the ball. When you hear a word, you can’t experience the sound of it separately from its meaning.”
No matter how we dance around it, what Tonini and others are discussing are the “mechanisms–the physical substrates” which demonstrate the consequences of possessing our distinct version of human consciousness–the one which permits the subjective awareness of “what it’s like” to experience our existence, and to be able to contemplate it, ponder it, and express our experience of it. It is, perhaps, most evident in our attempts to describe consciousness, to articulate the process, to measure it and theorize about it, that we realize it cannot be reduced to physiology alone.
It doesn’t help much that our ability to acknowledge and contemplate the nature of consciousness REQUIRES our physiology to be precisely what it is–a cognitive apparatus attached to a central nervous system and an array of sensory inputs supported by heart, lungs, and nutritional systems to sustain it. This essential apparatus, which merely FACILITATES the expression of what Kant called “transcendental consciousness,” is inseparable from our ability to possess our subjective awareness, but it does NOT define the foundational and transcendent principle which makes our cognitive apparatus most useful–as a conduit for consciousness. There is a huge gap between “being conscious” and “having access to a transcendental consciousness.”
Without even considering the many spiritual paths which emphasize the transcendent aspects of our existence, for me, one need only look within themselves, to quiet the mind, and open themselves to the infinite realm of possibilities, in order to begin to apprehend a quality or character to our existence which cannot be quantified or measured in the way these guys are attempting. I know it’s not very scientific, but not everything can be reduced to temporal measurements. I’m not suggesting I know any more than anyone else about what may account for our subjective experience, but I am certain that it will take more than just our understanding of the science of the brain to unravel it.
Without consciousness there could be no awareness of existence, and without a temporal existence, we could not gain access to a subjective awareness of consciousness. If our existence is a manifestation of a transcendent consciousness (Kant) then the two are inseparable and intimately intertwined.
…..more to come….