A few months back, I was reading about consciousness (see here and here). This article on “brain tubules” caught my attention, although I admit to considerable skepticism as to how applicable, or even correct, this research will turn out to be. The material seems exciting–quantum vibrations in the brain!–because of the possibilities inherent in a synthesis of chemistry, biology, and physics and how such synthesis could lead to a theory of human consciousness.
The earliest article I could find on this theory dates to 1998 (an abstract is here). I suppose I should now break down and tackle Werner Loewenstein’s Physics in Mind: A Quantum View of the Brain. But I have a huge to-read list at present and no time or concentration to get to those books. Besides, at the moment I find myself more concerned with the less empirical side of consciousness theory. I mean: belief, attitude, faith. Those non-provable abstracts that nevertheless seem so much a part of most human beings’ operating systems…the things that psychology and neurology do not seem able to answer and that keep philosophers continually at work (the only true knowledge being the knowledge that one knows nothing).
And maybe, as Daniel Dennett suggests, the very idea of consciousness is an illusion–the brain evolving to fool us through perception.
Do our brains fool us through our perceptions of emotion, too?
And how does this affect how we understand, say, literature, or art? Poetry, for example: Is it possible to deconstruct the pleasure I take from a poem into quantum vibrations in connective synapses as a result of the evolutionary process and, if so, where does the knowledge get me?
Would I still love the poem? (I think I would.) Would I consciously love the poem, consciously find pleasure and surprise in it, once I understand fully the process and development of consciousness? (Why not?) Would such knowledge flatten my emotional or aesthetic attraction to the poem? (I doubt it.)
If loving my perception of art, my relationship with it or attachment to it, is “merely” an evolutionary development, that does not cheapen or devalue the way I feel.
What brain studies and consciousness studies have to say about faith may perhaps set up more antagonism between science and consciousness-as-non-biological/i.e. religion, spirituality, etc. By faith I mean not necessarily religious faith but any non-provable conjecture, some of which are imaginative and potentially marvelous, not to mention potentially true. Some statements can be disproven but not proven…and there is the apagogical argument…and then there is the definition of faith (or belief) as Wikipedia defines it: “Faith is subjective confidence or trust in a person, thing, deity, or in the doctrines or teachings of a religion, or view (e.g. having strong political faith) without empirical evidence, or as confidence based upon a degree of evidential warrant (as in a Biblical sense).”
That empirical evidence thing is the perpetual stumbling-block, yet–paradoxically–it’s also what makes faith so appealingly…human. Yes, maybe we are fooling ourselves. And maybe that’s what is so marvelously cognitively neurologically fruitful and imaginative about the whole human endeavor.
yes! how wonderful this brain juice of ours is. it even allows us to contemplate our own contemplation! I’m sure they’ll figure out exactly how exactly it all works. And like you, I don’t think this new knowledge will diminish our pleasure in contemplation one iota. In the meantime, we can continue looking, drooling, wondering.
I am trying to remember a cartoon I saw recently that, for me, seems to illustrate Dennett’s point about consciousness being an illusion. I believe the line under the drawing of a brick wall was something to the effect of “why find your way around a wall when the wall itself is an illusion?” It loses something in the retelling but at least once a day I tell myself, “it [life] is all an experience.” That said, the article on “brain tubules” is an interesting one. Not sure what I think about it but suspect that I remain less concerned with the empirical– always find that curious, however–and more concerned with belief and faith, both of which seem a preoccupation of mine. Another fine post, Ann.
Why, thank you!
When I mis-remember, I really get it mixed up, and in the case of the “cartoon,” I combined two, different sources. I think the Rumi quote fits best:
Why struggle to open a door between us
when the whole wall is an illusion?
Next time, I will check and not rely on memory.
ah, memory…it is an illusion… 🙂