The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Free Will of the Brain

The traditional view of the brain is that, fundamentally, it serves the purpose of “reacting” to what happens in the environment. As the body encounters new situations, the brain decides what the body must do to cope with them. The traditional view is that the brain is activated by the sensorial data and in turns activates the external organs of the body to generate movement.

This view was challenged by the Colombian neurologist Rodolfo Llinas.

First of all, Llinas does not believe that the neuron is simply a switch: Llinas ascribes a personality to each single neuron. They don’t simply react to stimuli, they are active all the time, generating patterns of behavior all the time.

Second, Llinas considers the brain a “prediction machine”. Organisms that need to move also need to represent the world and make predictions on what is going to happen. Therefore they need a brain. However, his opinion is that, once endowed with a brain, an organism has only limited control of it.

Neurons are always active, even when there are no inputs from the external world. Neurons operate at their own pace, regardless of the pace of information coming in from the outside. A sort of rhythmic system controls their work. They produce a repertory of possible actions. The circumstances “select” which specific action is enacted. For example, the motion of cerebellum neurons results in body movements if the conditions are appropriate (the cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls movement). But, in a sense, the neurons are telling the body to move even when the body is not moving and before the body started moving. Movement is not reactive: it is active and automatic. The environment, in a sense, selects which movement the body will actually perform, but at that point in time the brain may have been ready to perform many other movements.

"I" am a consequence of my brain thinking. My brain is thinking and the environment is deciding what it is thinking, and "I" only exist after the fact (my mental life only exists after the fact, my conscious I, my illusion of being a being, only exists after the fact). I don't think, I simply have the illusion of thinking. In reality the brain is thinking independently from my will, its thoughts shaped by experience, and then, after they have been thought and selected by the environment, I can experience them. Ultimately, the environment is thinking my thoughts!


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