A New Explanation for Consciousness?

“I did that!” consciousness declares loudly. Is reality just one giant self-deception?

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“We knew that conscious processes were simply too slow to be actively involved in music, sports, and other activities where split-second reflexes are required. But if consciousness is not involved in such processes, then a better explanation of what consciousness does was needed,”

Andrew Budson, MD, professor of neurology, Boston University

Under this new theory, supported by recent studies, choices are made unconsciously and then we are made conscious of the choices after the fact. This tosses a spanner in the works of some proponents of free will. Some may still claim that it was uniquely ‘you’ who made this choice—conscious or otherwise—, but others may not be so fanciful.

“According to the researchers, this theory is important because it explains that all our decisions and actions are actually made unconsciously, although we fool ourselves into believing that we consciously made them.”

“What is completely new about this theory is that it suggests we don’t perceive the world, make decisions, or perform actions directly. Instead, we do all these things unconsciously and then—about half a second later—consciously remember doing them.”

Andrew Budson, MD, professor of neurology, Boston University

And here we are again with more evidence that we are not consciously responsible for our choices, and yet the conscience has such a fragile ego, it needs to think it does.

The Matter with Things

Index and table of contents

People outside of this space have been suggesting that I read Iain McGilchrist. I started by watching his YouTube content, but I was put off by two things. But first, let me say that I really enjoy listening to Iain speak. He’s an Oxford psychiatrist and just a font of information—full of knowledge to retrieve and synthesise on a whim.

So what’s the problem? First, McGilchrist is a Panpsychist. And although Galen Strawson, whom I adore, is also a Panpsychist, I just don’t relate to the notion that everything has consciousness. I might be able to get there through semantic acrobatics, but that’s just a cheap parlour trick. I don’t mind engaging in idealists, as I am partial to Analytic Idealism, and I don’t mind saying there is a consciousness that we are all part of—though admittedly, I feel that this is just another parlour trick I am somehow more apt to forgive. I believe there is material and this material is what we can measure and try to measure, but ostensibly it’s merely a poor reflection of the larger reality that may be described alternatively as consciousness or information depending on which theory you support.

I said there are two problems. The second is less fundamental and more practical. His latest book release, The Matter with Things, is a two-volume set that costs around £70 in Britain but is twice that in the US at around $150. Oh. And it’s almost 3,000 pages.

As it turns out, I’ve read the first two chapters. Some Preliminaries and Attention. So far, it’s been some setup and ground setting with some narratives about persons with split and damaged hemispheres in order to establish the relative function of each side of the human brain.

I am familiar with some of these case studies from other neuroscience literature I’ve read, but he has a nice way of expanding the narratives. Plus, he’s got some new ones.

I don’t expect that I’ll be documenting a play-by-play here, but I wanted to share what I am doing. I expect that the first volume will be more of the same. Perhaps the second volume will delve more into the metaphysical arena. Time will tell.

Psychology As Pseudoscience

Psychology is to neuroscience
as astrology is to astronomy
and alchemy is to chemistry

I’ve been referring to psychology as pseudoscience for years. I’ve even written about it. This evening, the leading pull quote came to me, so I Googled it and was not disappointed. Confirmation bias? Indeed.

I’m glad others have already broken ground here. It saves me from getting lost down another unpopular rabbit hole.

Neuropath book cover and passage by E. Scott Bakker, MacMillan, 2009

Why should I even care?

On one hand, it disturbs me that this discipline not only gets elevated well above its station, it also affects lives because, as astrology before it, but it also affects people’s lives whether they believe it or not. Psychology creates arbitrary categories, asserts specious definitions, and the weak-minded accept it as gospel. Sadly, intelligent people haven’t yet seen behind the curtain in a manner reminiscent of the countless hours Issac Newton wasted on alchemy or Descartes spent trying to prove God.

It feels that most people have finally abandoned alchemy, though I don’t dare look. But many people still believe in astrology, zodiac, and horoscopes.

The core of psychology is based on metaphysical claims of the mind. The physical aspects lie in the realm of neuroscience.

Not so fast

To be fair, neuroscience is still in its infancy, and there are still more things they don’t know than they do. Where astronomy is able to look at the universe through the James Webb Space Telescope, neurology is peering through binoculars—or perhaps only the hollow core of a paper towel roll.

Although fMRIs and such look to us as advanced as, say, the Janes Webb Space telescope as seen in the image below.

James Webb Space Telescope as metaphor for possibilities

The fidelity might be better conveyed by this star-gazing implement.

Peering through paper towel roll as analogue to available neuroscience implements

Moreover, the base understanding of processes and mechanisms is lacking.

Even so, it beats this analogy to psychology.

Reading Tea Leaves analogue to psychology

This image of Carina Nebula’s so-called Cosmic Cliffs demonstrated the resolution and clarity we might expect from neuroscience in future.


This image represents where neuroscience is today.

NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

So now I’ve said it. I feel better.

Cover Image Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI

The Colour of Justice

Sort of interesting topic, but I’ve been too busy to post much or respond lately.

Think about the concepts of “red” and “justice” and you’ll notice a key difference. If you’re sighted, you’ll associate “red” most strongly with the sensory experience, which relates to signals from cone cells in your eyes. “Justice”, in contrast, doesn’t have any associated sensory qualities – as an abstract concept, you’ll think about its meaning, which you learnt via language, understanding it to be related to other abstract concepts like “fairness” or “accountability”, perhaps. But what about blind people – how do they think about “red”?

A brain-imaging study of 12 people who had been blind from birth, and 14 sighted people, published recently in Nature Communications, shows that while for sighted people, sensory and abstract concepts like “red” and “justice” are represented in different brain regions, for blind people, they’re represented in the same “abstract concept” region.