Jabir Al Fatah

The birth of mind and consciousness has always been remained a key puzzle to the humankind. We have been aware of the problem of consciousness almost since consciousness began. Although the mind and consciousness may be emergent properties of the brain, how the brain constructs the mind or consciousness is not well understood yet [1]. However, there have been a good amount of pioneering research in this area over the past century and we gained better understanding about the emergence of consciousness more than ever. So, what does it mean to be conscious?
"On a base level, consciousness is the fact of being awake and processing information. Doctors judge people conscious or not depending on their wakefulness and how they respond to external stimuli. But being conscious is also a neurological phenomenon, and it is part of what allows us to exist and understand ourselves in the world [2]."
So, we can call a being conscious when it has sensory awareness of the body. Moreover, the being must be aware of “itself” and the external world to be conscious. An unborn baby, namely fetus, is considered as it is aware of the body, for example by receiving pain. It reacts to touch, smell, and sound, and shows facial expressions responding to external stimuli [3]. Although a fetus can show its reaction to the exterior world, researchers have explained this a pre-programmed due to subcortical nonconscious origin. Furthermore, the fetus is almost continuously asleep and unconscious partially due to endogenous sedation. On the other hand, a newly born baby can be awake, exhibit sensory awareness, and process memorized mental representations [3]. Therefore, this is obvious that a development process of consciousness takes place through the entire growth time till its birth.

However, conventional and institutional neuroscientists have always been believing that brain alone produces consciousness and it is the by-product or side effect of a brain function. This is a currently accepted view, and this is called materialist perspective. According to this assumption, anything we do and perceive is simply derived from the brain, and the consciousness vanishes once we die (or brain stops functioning). On the contrary, there is a new movement of scientists called post materialists who has not agreed that brain creates consciousness. A group of internationally known researchers including Gary E. Schwartz has denied that traditional materialist view and proposed an alternative scientific perspective that argues that brain is simply the receiver of consciousness, not the producer [4,5]. That is consciousness survives even after death and it continues to exist.

Emergence of consciousness
The brain is one of the most immensely sophisticated organ in human body, composed of nearly 100 billion interconnected cells. The cells are known as nerve cells or neurons and they are connected by synapsis with each other. In the very beginning of body formation (i.e. embryonic stage), the neurons grow very rapidly, beginning with a just a few cells at a conception to 200 billon cells form in a few months, although merely 50 percent of them can survive [1]. Twenty weeks after conception, the brain is organized into forty different physical maps governing activities such as vision, muscle movement, and hearing.

After 20 weeks of conception, the brain gets divided into 40 different physicals maps organizing varieties activities (e.g. hearing, responding to external stimuli, vision, muscle movement), and because of that the basis of personality, language, thinking is in place [1].
Thus, the basic architecture of the human brain has been constructed. During the prenatal stage of a human child, a process called myelination begins in which some white substance (i.e. fatty) generates surrounding the axons of nervous cells. This fatty is essential in order for a proper functioning of nervous cell. The myelination process is not completed until the third decade (i.e. age 20-29) in the frontal cortex where the highest executive functions and conscious thoughts take place [3]. At approximately 12-16 weeks of gestation thalamic afferents to the cortex develop, and after 24 week, thalamocortical axons grow into the somatosensory, auditory, visual, and frontal cortices and the pathways mediating pain perception become functional around the 29–30 week [3].
Well-defined sleep states begin at approximately 32 gestational weeks in the human fetus [3].
During the week of 35, instinctive electrical activity transients become synchronous across hemispheres as callosal connections develop [7]. After 28 week, facial expressions like adults experiencing pain can be noticed in preterm infants[8]. Painful stimulations caused by venepuncture or heel lances of preterm infants of 25–45 week produced an increase in hemodynamic response in the somatosensory cortex revealed by real-time near infrared spectroscopy [9,10] either bilaterally and/or over the contralateral areas.

Because the epithelial plugs blocking the nostrils disappear during the week of 20, the fetus gain ability to response to smell, and this behavioural response become stronger from the week of 29th of gestation. Visual acuity in the full-term new born infants is only 1/40 visual acuity in the adult but new born can process complex visual stimuli, recognize faces, and imitate [3]. Infants at birth prefer images of attractive faces, are sensitive to the presence of eyes in a face, and have a preference to look at faces that enjoy them in eye contact [3].

Responses to low frequency noise can be recorded from approximately the 16th week in the fetus brain, and the cochlea is probably structurally developed from around the 18th gestational week to provide auditory input [3]. New born infants remember sounds, melodies, and rhythmic poems they have been exposed to during fetal life [3,11]. He can memorize a visual object only for few seconds, that is, even the short-term memory is limited for him. After few days after the birth, babies can discriminate between speech excerpts from language belonging to different rhythmic families, but prefer to listen to their native languages even when it is spoken an unknown person [3]. Just right after the delivery, a new born infant stay awakes for approximately 2 hours. After a couple of hours, the infant usually falls asleep again, being awake the following days, though only for short periods of time [3]. The delivery from the mother’s womb thus causes arousal from a “resting,” sleeping, state in utero [3]. Once a baby is delivered, the hunger for air emerges (also called a primordial emotion), and this first arousal drives the new born to spontaneously explore the world (e.g. search for food in the mother’s breast) [3].

Brain: A Receiver or Producer?
In science, we have always assumed that consciousness yields in the brain, although how its fabricated inside the brain was never explained properly. In honest saying, issues of consciousness and its manifests in our existent has largely been ignored in science. The polite term for this trick is “emergence”. At a certain stage of biological complexity, evolutionary biologists claim, consciousness pops out of the brain like a rabbit from a magician’s hat [12]. Yet this claim rests on no direct evidence whatsoever. As Rutgers University philosopher Jerry A. Fodo states, “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. So much for our philosophy of consciousness [12]”. Because of the lack of evidence, the materialistic view about the brain is barely acceptable to the scientific community. The limitations of this belief are obvious to many scientists. One way of getting around the lack of evidence is simply to declare that what we call consciousness is the brain itself. Considering that view, nothing get produced and the trick of “emergence” is ignored [12]. Astronomer Carl Segan firmly argued that our mind which is the working state of the brain are merely a consequence of anatomy and psychology- nothing more is involved within the process [13]. Novelist Francis Crick agreed, saying only the behaviour of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make up and influence them are responsible for one’s mental activities [14].

However, the debate about the origins and nature of consciousness are central to premonitions. Premonition is a philosophical term which indicates any event that has been anticipated by someone without any conscious reason. If, however, the promissory materialists are correct, and consciousness is indeed identical with the brain– the curtain closes on premonitions [15]. The profound reason behind this fact is that our brain lives within itself, and in the body, and to the present. More so, the brain is a local phenomenon, and it is localized to our physical presence.

If the above facts are considered as true, premonitions cannot happen simply because our brain cannot operate outside the body, whereas consciousness can reside itself beyond the brain and body. Our physical location does not bind the consciousness, and therefore it (consciousness) is not identical with the brain [15]. William James, also known as the father of American psychology, has dismissed the idea of “brain makes consciousness”, and said its irrational. According to him, although any arrested brain development in early childhood can lead to retardation, that strokes or blows to the head can affect memory or consciousness, and that certain chemical can change the quality of thought- is not the proof that brain makes consciousness [12]. To support Jame’s argument, let’s consider a radio, or any device that receives electromagnetic signals and afterwards can modify and amplify the signals into some recognizable sound, picture, or videos. If someone smash the radio with hammer, it surely stops functioning, that does not mean that the origin of the sound was the radio itself. The radio is only responsible for receiving the sound that originated from an external source. The radio broadcasting station does not bother your broken device, it will always keep broadcasting. Just like that the brain can be damaged in many ways, and this will interrupt the quality of consciousness, i.e. trauma, paranormal activity, anger, dementia etc. So it makes good sense that brain does not necessarily have to produce the consciousness. Even though we detach brain from the body or we stop its function, mind or consciousness will always be out in the space in the form of an electromagnetic signal. British philosopher Chris Carter stated that equating mind and brain is irrational, he says as listening to music on a radio, smashing the radio’s receiver, and thereby concluding that the radio was producing the music [12].

However, the radio analogy above can be misleading, because electromagnetic signal has very different set of properties than consciousness- they do not behave in same manner. We know that the electromagnetic signals become weaker with the increasing distance. Moreover, it is also possible to block the signal by some medium, for example sea water in certain depth can completely block the signals. On the other hand, the effect of consciousness does not attenuate with increasing distance, nor any known substance can block it. For example, in the hundreds of healing experiments that have been done in both humans and animals, healing intentions work equally well from the other side of the earth as at the bedside of the sick individual [12]. In addition, electromagnetic signals require travel time from their source to a receiver, yet thoughts can be perceived simultaneously between individuals across global distances [12]. With having known those fundamental characteristics of electromagnetic signals and consciousness, and differences between them- question arises: what is consciousness then? I will discuss it from physician Larry Dossey’s perspective that strongly supports the argument that consciousness is not generated in the brain, as he defines it as a “nonlocal phenomenon”. As discussed earlier, consciousness is nonlocal (i.e. infinite), not a thing or substance and therefore, it is not localized to specific points in the space, time and present such as brains or bodies. That makes us believe that consciousness can be omnipresent, everywhere at the same time. Nonlocal events are instant, occurring at once; they require no travel time, no energetic signal to “carry” them [15]. This means they are infinite in time as well, present at all moments, past present and future, meaning they are eternal [15].

Human consciousness is a developing process and to reach the maturity of consciousness, human brain takes several decades, when the executive functions becomes fully operated in the frontal cortex. The consciousness keeps continue it development till the birth, and even till a human reach a certain age. For example, the myelination is not fully formed until the third decades. However, the basic consciousness, for instance- pain perception, auditory sense becomes functional in the early development of gestation, and this initial consciousness comes in life because of the thalamocortical axons which grown through the different sensory organs. More intense level of consciousness for example- facial expressions, behavioural response becomes stronger at the week of 29th of gestation. After the birth, the new born infant responds to sensory awareness such as painful stimuli, difference between self and non-self. The infants can also gain full understanding of its body, and can get the sense that its body is separate from the world, as well as exhibiting the emotion to others. So, the journey of continuous exploration of the world begins.
The brain and its relationship with the consciousness has always been remained a controversial topic in scientific community. Many has argued the consciousness as a nonlocal phenomenon, and it is unreasonable to consider the consciousness a product of the brain. However, there are opposed arguments given by many neurobiologists, although there is no direct evidence supporting their hypothesis is valid. Many currently available research papers, and the ongoing research within this area have has suggested the consciousness an infinite phenomenon that is being constantly received by human brain. It has been also said that although a damaged brain (e.g. trauma, destruction of brain cells) can disturb the consciousness, it does not mean the consciousness is produced inside the brain.

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[2] Hirschman, D. c2017. Big Think. [Online]. [10 April 2017]. Available from: http://bigthink.com/going-mental/what-is-consciousness
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[4] Walia, A. 12 Dec 2014. IS CONSCIOUSNESS A PRODUCT OF THE BRAIN OR IS THE BRAIN THE RECEIVER OF CONSCIOUSNESS? [Online]. [15 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/12/12/is-consciousness-a-product-of-the-brain-or-a-receiver-of-it/
[5] Open science. [no date]. Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science. [Online]. [16 April 2017]. Available from: http://opensciences.org/files/pdfs/Manifesto-for-a-Post-Materialist-Science.pdf
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[12] Super conscious. c2011. Why Consciousness is Not the Brain. [Online]. [1 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.superconsciousness.com/topics/science/why-consciousness-not-brain
[13] Sagan, C. [no date]. AZQuotes. [Online]. [3 May 2017]. Available from: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/557712
[14] Amazon s3. c2017. Neuroeconomics : Neuroscience of decision making. [Online]. [5 May 2017]. Available from: https://s3.amazonaws.com/accredible_card_attachments/attachments/58136/original/NeuroEc-Slides01.pdf
[15] dossey, L (4 May 2010). The Science of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Help Us Avoid Danger, Maximize Opportunities, and Create a Better Life . (1st ed.). US State: Plume.

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