Now take this all with a grain of salt, but we’re onto something big as species and you may hear a lot of people talking the way I’m talking someday soon – at least if we don’t blow ourselves up.
Consciousness, according to UCLA Interpersonal Neurobiology researcher Dan Siegel, is the regulation of the energy and information flow in and around our bodies. Especially in survival situations, this allows us to make efficient and dramatic changes to our behavioral patterns, but also lets us physically do creative things or even heal (since neurons are what signal endorphin and hormone release, etc.). These behavioral patterns, the muscle movements, the facial tensions, the words we use and the thoughts we have, all only exist because the complexity of our bodies enables them. You cannot make words without a tongue so-to-speak, but also not without connected neurons to control the muscles.
According to Dan Siegel – who’s been at this for more than 25 years – one of the best predictors of human health (especially mental) and autonomy is the interconnectedness in individual’s lives as well as in their physical brains. When we use empathy to calm our fears, for instance, it’s been observed that the frontal lobe (our empathy center) grows strong neural connections to the amygdala (our fight-or-flight center) which soothe it. There are very real translations between our visible conduct and our internal structuring, something we’ve only just been able to observe. So how do you link the function with the structure without magic?
Even Freud, a neuroscientist before inventing psychoanalysis, lamented at the lack of technology available in his age to make brain observations (which uses electrical signals as they understood at the time) – and instead opted for a more literary and conversational method that became psychoanalysis. Modern psychoanalysis is now being integrated with neurobiology as a very key component in treatment (including neuropsychoanalysis and interpersonal neurobiology to name two independent methods).
Bottom line is, it seems this connection thing and how we make those connections are our one stake in this universe as living conscious beings, and that controlling that is what makes up conscious processes. You can think of it like who you choose to be friends with or how ideas come together in your head. You can also think of it as mathematical and chemical transformations if you’re so inclined. When trying to relate all these different discourses, you run into huge problems of how it all fits together in a way that makes sense.
Well, the above video makes sense. A Boston University professor I once spoke to was also researching brain topology and made vague hand-wavey motions toward a concept similar to the one in this video. I’ve learned from high level mathematics and neural networking that “topology” or using gradients and multi-dimensional spaces for analysis is a fairly universal and efficient problem solving and visualization method, thus why you can have self driving cars and drones and medical/biological analyzers all running on the same machine and in parallel.
You can create computational layers where only certain dimensions are in play, meaning some dimensions (independent variables) don’t interact with the other layers except by their influence on inter-dependent variables. Information moves in this way. Think of blockchain technology in this sense. Also think of a memory (especially trauma) that comes up when you hear certain words or see certain images. Think of how you’re the only one who can see it but it might affect how you act or communicate in that situation, thus having influence on the world around you in a way. Ideologies can work in a similar way, disguised or unseen, and much like that disordered brain activity you can only see the surface effects of when observing people.
This gets at something deeper – what is the language of the universe itself? It’s quantum, it’s thermodynamic, it’s informational, it’s tensors, it’s psychological, it’s biological, it’s genetic, whatever names we try to give to it. It’s all the same thing from certain computational perspectives, and that’s very spectacular and revealing.
Another wild idea:
These perspectives are having massive success in building tools and inventing new analytical methods that could, say, diagnose cancer 10 years before a tumor even appeared – since the physical body has to deteriorate or go wrong in some way to produce those tumors, whether due to genetics or even life stress. They could rewrite global economies or protect people from misinformation, not just give us fancy toys. This math is also what allows computers to imagine entirely new 3D spaces and 2D images from the input we give it, even whole scenes from written sentences or transferring art styles (like applying a Van Gogh to a photo). Think also of instantaneous communication via quantum computing. All of these fields are related.
Imagine for a moment that we really do understand the way consciousness works and how to use it, and that perhaps a small number of people understood for millennia in some form or other which has been transmitted through the ages through scholarship. Now think that perhaps it’s only been our ability to do anything with that understanding that’s had to evolve, from ancient mystic sages and shaman to Greek philosophers and tragedians to modern physicians and information technology. It’s also been difficult not just because of evolutionary and scientific processes being slow but because most nation-states are focused on conflict and resource gain rather than a conscious pursuit of a better life for each other – and I argue being compassionate is more our natural state than the state of fear and violence and frankly pettiness that so many of us on the globe are in now.
I would like to point out an important historical perspective called Hermeticism. It developed parallel to Christianity and was based on the previous several thousand years of the study of life from Egyptian through Greek and Gnostic scholarship. It speaks heavily of layers and “spheres” of influence that all interplay with each other yet act independently. It speaks of the pursuit of truth and that we can only make better and better approximations or functions. Hermeticism and Hermetic alchemy (the root of European and Islamic alchemy) continue to inspire psychology and science in the modern day, notably Carl Jung. Isaac Newton translated a portion of the Corpus Hermeticum himself, which he was seen carrying around at all times during the time he discovered classical mechanics and gravity. That should ring some curiosity bells in your head and give you something to look into.
That’s all I have to say for now. You owe it to yourself to check out those links.
// Written June 17, ’17.
// Edited June 24, ’17.
// Edited June 28, ’17.
// Edited June 7, ’17.