Archives - Consciousness: Page 2
Author: paul carson (Sat May 12, 2007 12:52 pm)
Title: Consciousness and Damasio
Much of the reason we know so little about consciousness in comparison to other biological phenomena is that it is an intensely private event. Damasio admits that we cannot directly observe consciousness at work. However, his approach is to use the strong correlation between consciousness and behavior to glean insights into the biological foundation of consciousness. With our current scientific knowledge, the best way to examine how a particular section of the brain affects consciousness is to observe the behavioral defects that people with damage to that section of the brain suffer. This is why Damasio spends a large portion of his book discussing the unfortunate plights of his patients. Simply put, the mysteries of the specialized human brain force us to work backwards: only when a particular part of the brain ceases to work can we learn its biological purpose.
However, an even larger problem arises when we discover how particular types of brain damage result in behavioral and memory defects: what exactly does the vague term of consciousness refer to? This is where Damasio brings his original interpretations to the forefront. Deviating from the traditional views of Daniel Dennett and others, Damasio offers a much more inclusive definition of consciousness that goes beyond the view that only includes normal humans. Damasio breaks down the concept of consciousness � the relationship of an organism to the objects in its environment � into what he calls "core consciousness" and "extended consciousness." Core consciousness consists of the level of the individual�s alertness in interactions of the here and now. Damasio explains that this type of awareness about the environment is present in infants and nearly all nonhuman primates. By examining consciousness in this new light, Damasio has made the radical claim that animals are conscious beings, a view that has traditionally received little support. . By contrast, extended consciousness, the type of awareness we normally attribute to humans, requires both memory of the past and anticipation of the future. Thus, according to Damasio, extended consciousness is the result of continued core consciousness and cannot exist without it. Damasio�s studies have shown that whereas core consciousness requires very little of the brain, full-blown extended consciousness employs a majority of the brain.
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