Consciousness is defined, in general terms, as the knowledge that a (human) being has of himself and his environment, his own existence, state or acts. Consciousness involves several interrelated cognitive processes, and with them the ability to experience or feel (phenomenal consciousness), and a certain “executive control” of the mind, that we could define as “awareness“, although this is a concept used somewhat different, usually emphasizing the supposed need to increase our degree of contact with ourselves and with everything that surrounds us.
In psychiatry consciousness can be defined as the non-abstract cognitive state that allows interaction, interpretation and association, through the senses, with external stimuli, called reality.
Artificial intelligence has worked with the idea of creating machines, software, bots or robots that are complex enough to have an artificial consciousness. The Turing test proposed in 1950 addresses this problem not surpassed until today. A chatbot baptized as Eugene Goostman in 2014, managed to fool much of a jury of humans that were used for such a test.
- Whether the concept itself is fundamentally coherent
- Whether consciousness can be explained in mechanistic terms
- If there is non-human consciousness
- Whether consciousness can be recognized and how
- How consciousness and language relate
- Whether consciousness can be understood in terms that do not require a dualistic distinction between mental or physical states or properties
States of consciousness
Consciousness begins when we wake up in the morning and continue throughout the day until falling asleep. Consciousness is present when we dream, but we are exiled during deep sleep, anesthesia and coma. And he has gone permanently in death (according to some people …).
A behavioral definition of consciousness is obtained by a checklist of actions or behaviors that certify as conscious any person (or organism) that responds positively to a sufficient part of a checklist, for example, the Glasgow Coma Score.
A “neuronal” definition of consciousness specifies the physiological mechanisms required for any conscious sensation. Doctors know, for example, that if the brain stem is altered, consciousness is drastically reduced and may be absent altogether, leading to a vegetative state. Another necessary condition for any specific conscious sensation is an active and functional cortico-thalamic complex.
Almost all regions of the cerebral cortex receive information from a specific region of the thalamus and send information back to it. Other structures that are grouped with the cortico-thalamic complex -hence the name “complex”- are the hippocampus, amygdala, basal ganglia and claustrum.
About the Consciousness of Being
For most people the more defining feature of consciousness is usually self-consciousness. Being aware of yourself is used as a synonym of sensitivity.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” to a state very aware of what surrounds us, a perfect integration of detection and actuation. All the attention is on the task: the passage of time slows down, and the sense of self disappears. That inner voice, my personal critic who is always ready to remind me of my failures, is silent.
Current science states that brain activity occurs by virtue of oscillatory patterns of a bioelectrical nature, and that these waves have basically four rhythms or different frequencies (brain waves):
- Beta (14-30 Hz)
- Alpha (8-13 Hz)
- Zeta (3-7 Hz)
- Delta (1.5 Hz)
Each can be identified with different levels of consciousness activity. The beta waves are related to the states of danger and with the reactions of fear, anguish, pain or frustration; The alpha have greater relation with the states of pleasure or tranquility accompanied by sensations of relaxation and well-being; The zeta are produced in situations of approach and solution of problems, in efforts of memorization or in any creative impulse to plan a future action, etc .; Finally the low frequency delta waves are related to the state of deep sleep and to that strange activity (rather inactivity) of the consciousness known as samadhi, which has so much occupied Eastern thinkers. (Ballesteros, 1996).
As consciousness in one or other of these brain rhythms operates, the individual feels more or less agitated and, more significantly, has a different experience of time.
Altered states of consciousness (ASC)
We can define an ASC as a mental state that can be subjectively recognized by an individual (or by an “objective” observer of the individual) as different, in psychological functions, from the “normal” state of the individual, alertness and wakefulness.
Sleeping, dreaming, fever, coma, and even hibernation can be considered EAC in relation to the waking state, and may be spontaneous or provoked states. Other altered states can be induced by meditation, hypnosis, anesthesia or other drugs.
There are some changes in these altered states:
- Alteration of thought: experimentation of different degrees of concentration, attention, memory or judgment, coming to confuse reality and fiction, cause and effect, inability to describe things, amnesias, slowing, …
- Loss of the notion of time: Feeling of time detention, slowing or fast forward.
- Loss of control: Sensations of resistance to loss of control, control of loss of control, abandonment versus self-control.
- Changes in the expression of emotions: by excess or default, hilarity, terror, …
- Changes in self-image: feeling out of body, feeling very light or excessively heavy, rejuvenated or aged, etc.
- Perceptual alterations: visions, hallucinations, …
- Changes in meaning or meaning: sensation of discovery, revelation, interest or absolute disinterestedness, hypersufficiency, …
The “fourth state” of consciousness
The authors of the Vedic and upabishadic texts describe the states of consciousness during the time in which we sleep and dream, and when we sleep and do not dream, in addition to the time in which we remain awake. While we sleep and dream consciousness shows a state that bears a perfectly valid universe within its own frame of space and time. While we sleep and do not dream, a very different state of consciousness is revealed; Sensory experiences and mental images lack specific content, the representational activity of the cognitive consciousness is stopped and a kind of peace of the depths characterizes the pure consciousness without knowledge of the particular, but fully conscious in itself.
When consciousness is resumed its activity is unable to remember that state of deep sleep from which it was really absent.
In addition to the three states already mentioned (jagrat, svapna and sushupti), the existence of a “fourth” state (turiya) in which the subject “awakens” from the other three is considered. Assuming that these three states (waking, sleeping with dreams and deep sleep) together formed a long dream, turiya (the fourth) would represent “the awakening” that ends that dream. Therefore, it is said of him that it is deeper than deep sleep, and at the same time more awake than the waking state.
In the West, Socrates, Plato and Plotinus spoke of special states, very elevated, that united the being with the All and the Divinity. Until the last century, these variations were understood as “spiritual states,” “states of the soul,” or “states of love,” and were almost exclusively the patrimony of religion or mysticism. Leibniz was one of the first to advance the idea that there were planes of mental activity distinct from the plane of ordinary consciousness.
Is the consciousness in the brain?
Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, explained his group’s new technique at a 15 February meeting of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative in Bethesda, Maryland. He showed how the team traced three neurons from a small, thin sheet of cells called the claustrum — an area that Koch believes acts as the seat of consciousness in mice and humans
Education of Consciousness
Some consider that the Education of Consciousness, of which States of Consciousness can be considered a content or a relevant construct, is called to be a great pedagogical and didactic framework of the next decades, with capacity to resize and redefine Education until giving To light a new (r) educational evolution, another “New Education” …
If you want to know a little bit more …
Herrán, A. de la (2006) Los estados de conciencia: Análisis de un constructo clave para un enfoque transpersonal de la Didáctica y la formación del profesorado. Tendencias Pedagógicas (11), 103-154.
Ballesteros, Ernesto, 1996, “La filosofía occidental moderna y el Vedânta Advaita de Sri Ramana Maharshi”, Primer Encuentro Español de Indología, Salamanca.
Lahiry, Banamali, 2003, La búsqueda de la verdad, Olañeta, Palma de Mallorca.
Christof Koch, Ch. (2012) Consciousness. Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. The MIT Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England
Reardon, S. (2017) A giant neuron found wrapped around entire mouse brain. 3D reconstructions show a ‘crown of thorns’ shape stemming from a region linked to consciousness. Nature 543, 14–15 (02 March 2017).
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