Research done in past indicates that study of mind by ancient psychologists was related to study of consciousness. In the late nineteenth century, William Wundt carried out a study where the subjects were mandated to report conditions of consciousness under different situations like sleeping, standing, and walking (Morin, 2007).
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Similarly, Sigmund Freud (Drori, 2003), advanced the theory that wants, wishes and influence form part of the conscious mind. He stated further that the degree varies among individuals. In the recent past, the concept of consciousness has become elusive leading to advancement of various positions by scientists. This has attracted more attention to it hence an unprecedented increase in studies related to it.
The issue of consciousness is ranked among the top areas of study in subjects relating to psychology, philosophy and to some extent neuroscience due to its multidisciplinary applicability. In equal measure, it elicits controversy among scholars across the science divisions. Hosts of dynamics have been advanced to explain this buzz with consciousness. The use of methods of human neuropsychology, functional imaging, and to some extent psychology shows characteristics of knowledge of consciousness.
This has been given props up by identification of unconscious conditions which have a direct influence on one’s activities. This has acted to provide a leeway to differentiate neural substrates of the unconscious and conscious actions in the mind of a person. It is thus necessary to look at the advancements and forward steps made in the study of consciousness in an attempt to explain its ambiguity.
Meaning of consciousness
Consciousness is commonly known as awareness of the immediate environment. It is being aware of different sensations, memories and thoughts at a particular time such as making a school timetable, feeling pain or getting angry because of a bad day at the office. It may be argued that consciousness is also a state of mind but this does not include the unconscious mind. In fact consciousness entails the brain being aware of the presence of awareness
Forms of consciousness
Consciousness as the waking state
In entirely all neurological studies, awareness referred to as consciousness is deemed to be same as the waking state. This is considered together with capacity to recognize, associate and interact with the surrounding in the state of being awake. This state of consciousness varies from waking up from sleep to going into a coma. To achieve this form of consciousness, one has to be awake, attentive and observant. It refers to the time when a person is awake.
Consciousness as an experience
This is the first logic of how we express or show our state of being awake. There is a wider agreement that it has features such as being personal, interacting for few seconds though variation occurs over a period of time.
According to Nagel (Emmett, 1978), consciousness in this sense is based on occurrence that is witnessed from time to time. The sense of uniqueness to be an individual is more inborn than the consciousness of the waking state. Most theories prefer using the term ‘qualia’ to explain the personal feel of experience as a sense of consciousness.
Consciousness as the mind
It has been argued that what is in the mind is the exact reflection of what is going on in the brain. This attests to the fact that any state of mentality is considered to be conscious, any form of belief, faith, intention and many others. It is common knowledge that the body becomes useless without the mind. This is further reinforced by psychologists who agree that mental activity is dependent on the brain.
Sleep as a state of consciousness
This is a natural altered state of consciousness. It is characterized by four different stages. Stage one refers to the period between waking up and sleeping; stage two is more intense than stage one as it entails being more asleep.
Step three refers to sleep that has more regular brainwaves and is more than step two. Step four refers to that stage where sleep is most intense and deepest, and it is unresponsive to any outside stimuli. Stage one is where rapid eye movement is experienced coupled with increased heart beats and rate of breathing. In some cases, erection occurs in men.
Multiple theories and philosophies have been advanced to give meaning to dreams in our sleep. One of such theories was advanced by Sigmund Freud (Drori, 2003). He argues that any dream a person gets, shows wishes that are not satisfied or fulfilled. He wrote that needs, desires, and influences are part of the conscious and people have different levels of consciousness. He further says that dreams have some hidden power that determines them in the long run (LaBerge, 1990).
Sleep as a state of consciousness is controlled by the body. This is supported by the fact that after spending sleepless night on some duty, one will eventually feel tired as the body cannot take anymore lack of sleep hence the need for rest by going to sleep. This is occasioned by biorhythms which control the activities of the body. Such activities include body temperature, heartbeat and many more, though time needed for adequate sleep varies from one person to the other. Hobson (2007) refers to sleep as a state of ‘turned off’ consciousness.
In the contemporary world, there is a new theory known as ‘dreams-for-survival’ which says dreams play a vital role in transmitting information essential for our survival to be reconsidered and eventually reprocessed. While the activation-synthesis theory by Alan Hobson., suggests that the brain has some electrical energy which it releases when one is asleep so as to stimulate release of memory lodged in certain parts of the brain.
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This refers to an altered state of consciousness. A person in this state is not in control and acts in a trancelike manner due to susceptibility to suggestions put forward by other individuals. The mythical nature of hypnosis fascinates a lot. This attracted believers in hypnosis and non believers. It is suggested that those under hypnosis neither get destructive nor antisocial; they can tell lies while not revealing truths.
The state of hypnosis has been used and employed in multiple disciplines such as hospitals to treat psychology disorders, pain control and smoking therapy. It has helped reduce crime rate as it is used in law enforcement; while sports such as athletics have employed it as a performance enhancer. It is always carried out by an individual who induces sleep into a person, then goes on to control the ‘sleeping’ person.
This is also an altered state of consciousness. It is a practice that one has to master through learning and be able to refocus the mind. It is mostly used by people who undergo depression and it is suggested that it helps in relieving depression, leaving them more rejuvenated than before. It is a way of thinking about your own thinking.
Drug related and induced state
Millions of people get addicted to drugs, while thousands others die from drug overdoses. Psychoactive drugs can cause a person to go into an altered state of consciousness due to their ability to influence ones thoughts and memory. Some of the psychoactive drugs include beer and coffee. Addictive drugs are the most dangerous form since they produce a psychological and in some cases biological dependence on them by the user.
Irresistibility occurs in cases where one tries to withdraw from the use of the drugs. This occurs in cases where the body has developed physical dependency on the drug and will fail to function properly without it. The stimulants are responsible for causing a rise in the heart rate due to the fact that they affect the nervous system of the body. Caffeine and nicotine are classical examples of stimulants.
Some people take drugs thinking that it will bring them into lower levels of consciousness. Depressants, on the other hand, represent a complete and stark contrast of stimulants; they slow the nervous system and do not speed it up due to intoxication. Alcohol is the most common type of depressant.
Other drugs are used to increase relaxation while relieving pain and anxiety; such drugs are known as narcotics. They give a person a good feeling and later some form of peacefulness. Heroin and morphine are the greatest and most dominant narcotics. Increased uptake ultimately leads to eventual addiction leading to a dangerous precedence. A change in mentality can be caused by someone experiencing hallucinations which result from taking hallucinogen drugs. They drugs, for example marijuana, create an air of euphoria.
Functions of consciousness
The four major functions are as follows
Simplification and Selection of information
The level of processing that is carried out in the mind is a lot due to the amount of information present at a time in the mind. The mind has to make a decision and it is consciousness that ultimately guides it.
Guiding and overseeing actions
It is consciousness that enables the body and brain to collaboratively decipher what is occurring outside the body. They plan what has to be done in order to rhyme with the environment in terms of walking, speaking, sleeping and even drinking.
Setting priorities for action
Consciousness controls and determines what is too prioritized over the other in order for survival to occur. If this does not happen, crowding can result leading to chaos.
Detecting and resolving discrepancies
It streamlines issues that occur from changes in the external and internal worlds due to the fact that the information received in the consciousness comes from these two worlds.
Theories of consciousness
The rebirth of experimental studies on consciousness has inspired the advancement of more theories to give an overview on it. A few have tried to divulge the neurological modalities of consciousness. Focus has also been directed at computational duties that may be undertaken by conscious procedures, mostly training their focus on behavioral control. Another bunch of theories attempt to look into roles and origins of consciousness.
These types of theories dwell on two rules or beliefs which are based on research carried out in the past century. They are hinged on the works of Donald Hebb which is based on the neural correlate of consciousness.
According these theories, structures in the upper brainstem play a critical role in arousal, and that thalamic and cortical activity supplies much of the content of consciousness. The quorum on the functionality of neuronal assemblies in the birth of consciousness creates a room for discontenting concerns on multiple vital details.
Information processing theories
In any case that consciousness has a biological role; it will be visible through observing behavior. A lot of the activities we do daily require no or minimal use of conscious. Such related theories are in agreement with the basics of William James who links the level of consciousness with choosy interest advanced by Velmans (Hobson, 2007). While Baars has advanced a model that compares the contents of consciousness with those of ‘global workspace’ that are capable of being transmitted into the nervous system.
A number of fundamental beliefs define these theories. One of them refers to its origin of common information that is shared among individuals. This shows us that consciousness has a social aspect in the society. Another aspect is the distribution of knowledge within oneself while in consciousness, and also doing the same with others trough social contacts, as interdependent.
Philosophy of consciousness
Three intuitions about consciousness
The first perception about consciousness is its strong nature which should be considered rather than being wished away. Several behavioral senses such as hearing of sound and color vision refer to simple forms of consciousness. The second perception of consciousness is linked up with our physical existence. This viewpoint comes before scientific knowledge.
The third perception takes into consideration the fact that consciousness creates a variation (Fodor, 1989). It is not lost on us that a large part of our actions is described by mental activities. Lack of ability to touch or see, would mean no feeling of pain or pleasure. This attests to the ideology that consciousness has the biological capability to develop.
The proposal that there is a relationship between the identities of conscious activities with those of related neural activities provides a materialism way out to the body-mind quandary. Scientists have been able to show that our mental activity has its roots in the brain. This is not very contemporary since it was expounded in pre-historic days by Lucretius and given more impetus in the 17th century by Hobbes (Kokoszka, 2000).
Functionalism had a lot of support drummed up for it. It is heavily linked to Daniel Dennett (King, 1993). Its tenets are based on the argument that the existence of consciousness is hinged upon functions that it provides. In the views of Dennet a certain subset of the transformation of input into output which our nervous system serves (King, 1993). Functionalism gives a lot of credit to the science of artificial intelligence that is continuing to grow.
The beauty of this approach is multiple. It has been allocated a space for consciousness in the ordinary world. The only soft underbelly of functionalism is its vulnerability to similar deep seated objection as the theory of identity.
This analysis on the link between conscious and neural events gives a view of close relation, but very divergent in terms of fundamentals. These theories are mostly advanced by followers of Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, dualistic nature of events. Descartes intuits that despite the separation of the mind and the body, there is still some interaction between them.
Dualism advances the fact that nothing can be in existence without having a corresponding opposite. Such an example is the fact that darkness exists because there is light; good is in existence to provide a balance on evil; while body would not be able to perform various functions in the absence of the mind.
The discipline of wakefulness
A complete natural description of consciousness would determine its operations, origin and structure. The science of wakefulness is educated by a set of two studies in the last century. These are the experimentation of electrical correlates and the breakthrough in determining that the conscious states are regulated by thalamus, basal forebrain and brainstem.
Currently, there are a lot of philosophies that have been brought up to deal with the issue of states of consciousness. Majority of them tend to base their analysis on bio-behavioral. There are also trials to give details of consciousness by elaborating parts of the brain and its functions. Focus has also been centered on states of consciousness such as hypnosis, sleep, meditation and drug related consciousness.
The level and amount of progress that has been achieved towards consciousness in the past century has been tremendous leading to ultimate evolution of our biological knowledge of the states of consciousness and their details. These achievements have led to the determination of electrical correlates of the states of wakefulness, sleep and mind. A number of new prototypes have started to initiate more focused studies on the neurology of experience.
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LaBerge, S. (1990). Lucid dreaming: Psycho physiological studies of consciousness during Rem sleep. Chicago: Frontier.
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