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Post What/Where is Consciousness? And a Personal Update
Created by John Eipper on 09/20/21 10:01 AM

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What/Where is Consciousness? And a Personal Update (John Hesley, USA, 09/20/21 10:01 am)

John E asked me off-Forum for an update.

I've been working on quite a lot for the past few years. When I retired four years ago, I was already into in-depth study of neuroscience focusing on the "hard" question of how the thing we call "mind" interfaces the thing we call "brain" to produce what we call "consciousness." As a clinical psychologist, I'd had little time for such speculation. But in doing psychological evaluations, I'd noticed strange gaps between IQ and the many skills we use in ordinary circumstances. One guy in particular scored below 70 full-scale IQ, which the pre-PC era would have placed him in the "retarded" range. (Intellectually challenged now.) Yet the same guy managed a boot shop and was pretty successful--led his workers effectively, made well over $100K annually. Theory would have said he'd have trouble tying his shoelaces. How did he do it? I hadn't a clue.

(But for one possibility, watch the first season of the HBO series, Westworld.)

So after doing a one-year medical school online neuroscience course at Duke, I read those who look into questions like mine. The philosopher and polymath Daniel Dennett was my lead tutor. It's been pretty rough sledding but well worth the effort. In the process, I did several years in Zen Buddhism (because they know as much or more about consciousness as anybody), I read the current literature on psychedelics (masquerading as therapeutics but much more ambitious), and I read theories of whether or not human beings in the time of, say, The Iliad, had what we moderns consider consciousness. (I do not think they did.)

When and how did consciousness arise? Some neuroscientists say when the brain reached a certain complexity, but for various reasons this is unlikely. The controversial Julian Jaynes of Princeton maintained that before consciousness arose, in times of stress or facing a novel situation, people heard voices that they called gods telling them what to do. Jaynes says this was right brain communicating with left brain primarily via the corpus callosum, which may actually be the case. (Schizophrenics apparently do that now. That's been documented in research studies.)

Artists have tapped into what is likely right-brain activity for eons. Yet they cannot say how they get their inspiration. (It's sometimes drug-induced.) Nor can scientists explain extraordinary "discoveries." Nor can Zen Buddhists explain how they "discover" answers to the mysterious koans (puzzles). But the "discoveries" of painters, musicians, poets, Zen practitioners--anybody who gets an Aha! experience that does not follow a logical thread, these all appear to be coming out of nowhere. But they definitely come from somewhere and it's definitely in the brain). That "somewhere" is not a god. Most likely it is right brain functioning in its tricky nonverbal way. Of some sort.

So this is why I haven't posted much on WAIS of late. The Forum posts are interesting to follow, but they're not in my current ball park. I might venture to share more, but the problem is, I am a student, certainly not an expert. So to attempt an explanation is to get most things wrong and everything confusing. Even people to whom I write occasionally have a hard time understanding, and it's my fault. I don't know enough to make it intelligible.

"And now for something completely different": How about the half million transplants to Texas in the past year? A NYT article yesterday described how some of them (most are from California) are waking up in a crazy state. But contrary to popular belief, some of them moved here to escape the liberal world of California. They're happy with the gun laws, no state taxes, the restrictions on voting, and the movement toward no-abortions. What a world this is! Best things in Texas: barbecue, few fires, and no hurricanes for people smart enough not to live in Houston.

JE comments:  John, this topic offers much room for discussion, and I hope it will (lead to discussion).  Given what WAIS is all about, I'm particularly interested in how consciousness changes over history and across cultures.  What do we mean when we say that Homer's contemporaries had no consciousness--at least in the modern sense?  Is there a connection to a claim I read years ago about the Middle Ages--that atheism didn't exist, because it could not be imagined?  Can we understand today's Clash of Civilizations in terms of a Clash of Consciousness(es)?

And to shift gears, let's talk about transplanted Californians in Texas.  John, can you give us a sense of how they are received?  With open arms?  Suspicion?  Both?

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  • Voice of God: Mozart, McCartney (Timothy Ashby, -Spain 10/01/21 7:46 AM)
    John Hesley wrote back on September 20th:

    "Artists have tapped into what is likely right-brain activity for eons."

    Remember that moving scene in the film Amadeus where Salieri leafs through Mozart's scores (while we hear snatches of the music) and says, "This is the very voice of God"? There is some historical basis for this Hollywood dialogue, as Mozart himself didn't think about the origin of his music, seeming to accept that it simply "flowed." His contemporary, Goethe, wrote that Mozart was "the human incarnation of a divine force of creation."

    Paul McCartney (who I had the pleasure a spending a day and delightful evening with nearly fifty years ago), said that the melody of his most famous song, "Yesterday," came to him in a dream. He awoke and quickly played it on a piano in his bedroom (Paul couldn't read or write music at that time) until he had memorised it, then went back to sleep. The lyrics came later (the original title was "Scrambled Eggs" as a placeholder).

    JE comments:  "Scrambled eggs, they taste great with cheese and chicken legs..."  Good thing McCartney came up with better lyrics.

    Tim, I won't let you off the hook with just a passing reference to your day with Sir Paul.  Tell us more, pretty please.

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