Epilepsy is now being cured by removing half of a brain of the patients. It was seen that later after recovery from the procedure, the patients’ other half recovered their ability to respond as a whole brain would. No function or reactions were altered. These results showed that the other half adapted the functions of the removed part. This discovery has led us to question even further that what if we were to remove half of a brain of an individual and somehow transplant it into another person, would that person develop same reaction thresholds and functional abilities? Would that person have the same consciousness as that of the person it was removed from? This sounds peculiar, doesn’t it? Two persons having same conscious behavior, same perspectives! This is when things get fascinating.
Interpreting the world as it is has led us to discover theories. We know we exist and we reason our existence because our mind forces us to do so. The Big Bang, Evolution, Darwinism, Planetary studies, Studying atoms etc. all these theories are devised because our mind questions its presence and position in the universe. We describe nature as exposed to the method of our questioning.
However, Neuroscientists are still trying to figure out what part of our brain controls our consciousness. The Neocortex is said to be the seat of imagination, empathy and impartial judgments, but deeper and complex areas in the brain seem to be responsible for our deep thoughts.
Past experience is an important contributor to one’s consciousness. Abstract drawings, feeling things that don’t exist and imagining are all part of our consciousness. Scientists say that often our physical response may come first, followed by the reaction of the mind.
“You can’t be nothing if you think you are something, even if something is nothing!”
Going a little deeper and while exploring consciousness, Raymond Joseph Teller, a magician, caught our attention. Teller said that every time you perform a magic trick, you’re engaging in experimental psychology.
What do the tricksters do?
Scientists began to think about saccades, movements of the eye that can precede conscious decisions about where to turn one’s gaze. Saccades are among the fastest movements produced by the human body, which is why a pickpocket has to trick them: The eyes are in fact quicker than the hands. It turns out though, that the pickpocket was onto something. When we see a hand moving in a straight line, we automatically look toward the end point—this is called the pursuit system. A hand moving in a semicircle, however, seems to short-circuit our saccades. The arc doesn’t tell our eyes where the hand is going, so we fixate on the hand itself—and fail to notice the other hand reaching into our pocket. The pickpocket has found a weakness in the way we perceive motion.
This shows that magicians trick our minds in such a way that we miss to see the obvious reason. It is, after all, just art, a game of mind and deception.
Another interesting topic to discuss while talking about consciousness is the case of a neurological disorder called Anosognosia.
Anosognosia is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person with some disability seems unaware of its existence. Anosognosia results from physiological damage to brain structures, typically to the parietal lobe or a diffuse lesion on the fronto-temporal- parietal area in the right hemisphere. When questioned about what seems like an obvious problem to us, the patient may avoid giving a direct answer or may give an explanation that doesn’t make sense. Similarly, patients with Hemi-spatial neglect may also fail to recognize paralyzed parts of their bodies. In other words, there is a partial loss of consciousness.
This shows that self-consciousness and self-awareness are crucial aspects of our daily lives, and how it’s dysfunction can be detrimental in the most fundamental ways of how the brain processes information.
Why are we conscious? How do we know we are conscious? Why did evolution need to develop this ability in us? These are some of the many questions the scientists are still pondering upon and so it still remains a mystery to some extent.
-For more on consciousness read about William James’ ‘The stream of consciousness’.