Conscious Experience and Brain Activity

extract from Rupert Sheldrake, The Science Delusion

“Many philosophers have speculated about the relationship between the mind and the brain, but the neuroscientist Benjamin Libet and his team in San Francisco investigated it experimentally by measuring changes in the brain and the timing of conscious experiences.

First, Libet’s group stimulated their human subjects either by flashes of light or by a rapid sequence of mild electric pulses applied to the back of the hand. If the stimulus was short, less than about half a second (500 milliseconds), the subjects were unconscious of it, even though the sensory cortex of their brains responded. But if the stimulus went on for more than 500 milliseconds, the subjects became consciously aware of it. So far, so good. The need for a minimum duration of stimulus is not in itself surprising. What is surprising is that the subjects’ conscious awareness of the stimulus began not after 500 milliseconds but when the stimulus started. In other words, it took half a second for the stimulus to be experienced subjectively, but this subjective experience moved backwards to when the stimulus was first applied. ‘There is an automatic subjective referral of the conscious experience backwards in time.. The sensory experience would be “antedated” from the actual delayed time at which the neuronal state becomes adequate to elicit it; and the experience would appear subjectively to occur with no significant delay’.

Second, Libet investigated what happened when people made free conscious choices. Eh measured the electrical activity of their brains by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG), with small electrodes placed on the surface of the head. The subjects sat quietly, and were asked to flex one of their fingers or push a button whenever they felt like doing so. They also noted when they decided or felt the wish to do so. This conscious decision occurred about 200 milliseconds before the finger movement. This seems straightforward – the choice preceded the action. What was remarkable was that electrical changes began in the brain about 300 milliseconds before any conscious decision was made. These changes were called the ‘readiness potential’.

Libet .. suggested that in the time between conscious awareness of the desire to act and the actual movement – a gap of 200 milliseconds – there was an opportunity for the person’s mind to veto the decision. Instead of free will, we have ‘free won’t’. This conscious decision depended on what Libet called a ‘conscious mental field’ (CMF), which emerged from brain activities but was not itself physically determined by them. The CMF acted on the activities of the brain, perhaps by influencing otherwise random or indeterminate events in the nerve cells. This field also helped integrate the activities of different parts of the brain and had the property of ‘referring back’ subjective experiences, and thus worked backwards in time.

Social media imprisons us on the island of I-It

“No man is an island” John Donne. But social media is trying to keep us there. The communion between each of us, real warm messy and vital – has always been the anodyne to our loneliness and insecurity. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. They give the illusion of connection, but not the substance; and they are in it for their profit. Money puts up these barriers, and we follow.

“The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being” Martin Buber. The difference between the isolation of the material existence and the vibrant human living in community is beautifully expressed by the jewish existentialist Martin Buber. He describes the two modes of man’s existence as I-It and I-Thou. If we interact with the world and people as material (It), then our I – our self – is material too. We imprison ourself on an island. If we acknowledge the other as Thou, then we are connected in a true sense. We each are transformed in our communion.

Consider. In the United States children talk to their friends in their break via their mobile phone – with so-called “social” media. Even though their friend may be sitting next to them. In Japan almost half of younger men and women prefer on-line sex and will not contemplate the “horrid” actuality of love-making. Face to face. Human.

Direct interaction is certainly messy and can be frightening. But it’s where joy flies leaping. When communion is real and vital, then we are each present to the other. It is the human condition to be insecure and lonely – inside and apart. We each live on our island with our inadequacy. Life and meaning is in the flow and community between us.

“The development of the function of experiencing and using comes about mostly through decrease of man’s power to enter into relation. How does this same man, who made spirit into a means of enjoyment for himself, behave towards the beings that live round about him?

Taking his stand in the shelter of the primary word of separation, which holds off the I and the It from one another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions and the other of feelings – the province of IT and the province of I.

Institutions are “outside”, where all sorts of aims are pursued, where a man works, negotiates, bears influence, undertakes, concurs, organises, conducts business, officiates, preaches. They are the tolerably well-ordered and to some extent harmonious structure, in which, with the manifold help of men’s brains and hands the process of affairs is fulfilled.

Feelings are “within”, where life is lived and man recovers from institutions. Here the spectrum of the emotions dances before the interested glance. Here a man’s liking and hate and pleasure are indulged, and his pain if it is not too severe…But the separated It of institutions is an animated clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them knows man; institutions know only the specimen, feelings only the “object”; neither knows the person or mutual life. Neither of them knows the present: even the most up-to-date institutions know only the lifeless past that is over and done with, and even the most lasting feelings know only the flitting moment that has not yet come properly into being. Neither of them has access to real life.”

“There is no I taken in itself, but only the I of the primary word I-Thou and the I of the primary word I-It. When a man says I, he refers to one or other of these. .. The primary word I-thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.” Martin Buber, Ich und Du

Strong Brown God

Strong brown God is the river

Reiver of sods and odds thrown

Our brownian drownian motion a-quiver

Deep pooling in currents its own

 

Still life flowering river

Our silver shiver of life

A gurgling-guddling quick’ning sliver

Wrangling-tangle of strife

 

All we be is water-taught

Aught but water our withal

A tumbling jumbling ripple of thought

Pride before a waterfall

 

Day the rose-garden lifetime

Wild thyme and strawberry day

And infinitely nightly tight-coiled our lifeline

Running through death and decay

 

Well the still point of the world

Whirled without end to be well

For waving and curling dimensions unfurled

Love and its ocean-tide swell

 

Monks of St Giles

January meeting preamble and poem

Pre-amble

Our Fathers who part at eleven

Allow me this quatrain

Our income’s come

Our fill be done in mirth

As it is from seven

Live verse this day so gaily read

And forgive us our mess’d verses

As we forgive those press verse against us

And lead us not into prosation

But deliver us from drivel

Though mine is just dinkum

The hour, and the story

As ever. A river..

 

Life is like a River

This life is like a river

A silver shiver this life

A gurgling-guddling quick’ning sliver

Wrangling-tangle of strife

 

All we be is water-taught

Aught but water our withal

Our tumbling jumbling ripple of thought

Pride before a waterfall

 

Strong brown God is the river

Reiver of sods and odds thrown

Our brownian drownian motion a-quiver

Deep pooled in tides of its own

 

Our day is like a lifetime

Wild thyme and strawberry day

But frighteningly nightly tight-coiling the lifeline

Which runs through death and decay

 

Well the still point of the world

Whirled without end to be well

For waving and curling dimensions unfurled

Love which is ocean’s salt swell

Christmas according to TS Elliot

a bit late of course for last year ! But wonderful for all that ..

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,

So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St.Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):

So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.