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 Dream of Consciousness

Scientists who studied dreams, such as Jonathan Winson and Allan Hobson, ended up believing that dreams hold the secret to consciousness, and that consciousness may simply be a consequence or manifestation of the same process that creates dreams.

Winson believes that the "subconscious" is an ancient mechanism involving REM sleep, according to which memories and strategies were formed.  Dreams were helping us survive a long time before our mind was capable of providing any help at all. The mind could then be but an evolution of dreaming. First the brain started dreaming, then dreams took over the brain and became the mind. Maybe the mind is simply one long, continuous dream of the universe.

This account of how the mind came to be is similar to the hypothesis that the mind was created by memes. Dreams and memes share the property of "invading" the mind, although one is private while the other is public (as Joseph Campbell's aphorism goes, “a myth is a public dream, a dream is a private myth”).

Hobson's theory of dreams focused on identifying the two chemical systems inside the brain that regulate the waking and the dreaming experience (the "aminergic" and the "cholinergic" systems).  Hobson came to believe that the interplay of these chemical processes is responsible for all of consciousness.

Conscious states fluctuate continuously between waking and dreaming.  Even at the extremes, both chemical systems are active.  Between the extremes there is a continuum of states which explains phenomena such as hypnosis, fantasy, concentration, etc. The three fundamental states of consciousness are waking, sleeping and dreaming. Hobson's model of AIM (Activation/ Information/ Mode) attempts to identify the quantities that regulate the transition from one state to another.

According to Hobson, mind is more than consciousness (parts of it are unconscious) and dreams are part of consciousness.

Consciousness is a graded characteristic.

“Mind” is all the information in the brain. Consciousness is the brain's awareness of some of that information.

Ultimately, consciousness is the brain's representation of the world, the body and the self. Consciousness is a representation by the brain of the representation by the brain of the world, the body and the self. Adult humans possess the brain circuitry to achieve this "representation of a representation".  That circuitry constitutes a "secondary" network within the brain that is responsible for "meta-representational" functions.

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