++CONSCIOUSNESS AND ATTENTION

CONSCIOUSNESS AND ATTENTION

3/31/2007

ATTENTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS

“…in recent years both theorists and experimentalsts have begun to regard attention and consciousness as different levels of the same brain activity.  In the newest view, our brains are always in “ready mode,” always tuned in to the never-ending incoming stream of perceptions.  Then an event takes place that causes the brain to deliberately pay attention to a stimulus – to put a spotlight on it.  (Ratey/ug/111)”

“Attention and consciousness are inexorably intertwined, and some scientists now believe that they are actually the same thing.  …consciousness, we still don’t know how to define it, or what brain activity gives rise to it.  ….without consciousness little else that the brain can do would matter.  (Ratey/ug/111)”

“Understanding consciousness is fundamental to understanding ourselves, and it is fundamental to diagnosing patients with any type of psychological, psychiatric, or neurological problem.  It is not enough to assess a person based on the question “How do you feel?”  The key questions are “How do you perceive and comprehend the world?  How do you attend to it and become conscious of it?  How do you know?”  (Ratey/ug/111)”

“Attention and consciousness are the foundations on which we create an understanding of the world.  Together they form the ground upon which we build a sense of who we are, as we define ourselves in relation to the myriad physical and social worlds we inhabit.  They also are the basic functions that give rise to “the mind” – a real kettle of fish.  (Ratey/ug/111)”

“If neurons are always communicating and acting in the background, we begin to see a physical system that is always in a ready state.  It does not sit idle, waiting to respond….  This state of activity, itself, may be consciousness.  (Ratey/ug/112)”

If the brain were simply reflexive, it would never be able to plan a future action.  The brain is a powerful prediction machine, continuously making elaborate mental maps of the world that are reliable enough to enable us to predict what lies ahead, both in space and in time.  All animals that move must have some predictive power – at the (Ratey/ug/112) very least a simple image of what they are moving into and a sense of how they are moving into it.  Building these navigational aids forms the basis for ongoing activity in the brain.  As time passes and the body moves, this conscious brain – or mind – experiences the world, adding new information and updating and revising its maps.  (Ratey/ug/113)”

“…physical nature of the brain’s consciousness…..Your brain keeps mental maps of nearby objects…. Ratey/ug/113)”

“…the brain draws maps based on past experiences and memories, too.  (Ratey/ug/113)”

“…experiences and memories of hundreds of other trajectories you’ve witnessed in your life let you predict what will happen.  (Ratey/ug/114)”

WHAT IS CONSCIOUSNESS?

“Whether if functions smoothly or not, the ultimate purpose of our attention system is to help our brains tune in to the world, including our own minds.  (Ratey/ug/129)”

“…we don’t know what it is or how it works….  (Ratey/ug/129)”

ATTENTION, MEMORY AND CONSCIOUSNESS

“…most humans can easily manipulate their own focus of attention.  In a simplistic sense, when we turn our attentional beam onto something, we are conscious of it.  Objects outside the periphery lose their distinguishing features, falling out of our consciousness.  (Ratey/ug/130)”

“Whether we continue to pay attention to and thus remain conscious of our surroundings from one minute to the next also depends on working memory, which keeps our attention advancing forward.  Attention, memory, and consciousness build upon one another to give us higher-order cognition.  An impaired attention span, the culprit in ADHD, can make life seem incomprehensible, indistinct.  Indeed, many ADHD patients describe their conscious experience as a blur, or as filled with static.  (Ratey/ug/130)”  [I just had a blank most of the time, certainly not the ability to self-reflect]

“But how do we swing our attentional spotlight from one object or thought to the next?  Paul Churchland, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at San Diego, suggests that this ability is driven by the relationship between working memory and long-term memory.  Working memory is a significant part of the executive functioning of the prefrontal cortex.  The systems that handle working memory are located in the frontal lobe, right in front of the areas con- (Ratey/ug/130) cerned with motion and process.  They hold data, motivations, and ideas all in mind for a bit, and then count on the long-term memory system to encode the information in the hippocampus and other parts of the cortex.  (Ratey/ug/131)” cc related files

working memory is in prefrontal file

“Both working and long-term memory are necessary for consciousness.  (Ratey/ug/131)”

“Working memory and long-term memory allows us to prioritize certain stimuli over others by keeping the less important issues circulating in the background, though at the ready to be called upon.  (Ratey/ug/131)”

“Rather than describe individuals under anesthesia as unconscious, it might be better to say they are in an altered brain state…..  Attention, memory, and consciousness collaborate to create different states.  (Ratey/ug/131)”

AROUSE, ORIENT, DETECT, EXECUTE

Before we can be conscious of something…we have to pay attention to it.  (Ratey/ug/114)”

“Attention is much more than simply taking note of incoming stimuli.  It involves a number of distinct processes, from filtering our perceptions, to balancing multiple perceptions, to attaching emotional significance to them.  (Ratey/ug/114)”

“The intensity with which you attend to such stimuli is determined by your own level of interest, alertness, and anxiety.  The cognitive process of assigning an emotional weight to perceptions affects attention as well…..the brain continually decides when to stop paying attention to something…the brain also has to attend to stimuli coming from within itself, such as memories and thoughts, as well as from the body.  Attention is a complex system.  (Ratey/ug/114 – 115)”

“Scientists have identified four distinct components within the attention system, which together create the brain’s overall ability to monitor the environment:

arousal,

motor orientation,

novelty detection and reward,

and executive organization.  (Ratey/ug/115)”

“At the lowest level of monitoring, the brainstem maintains our vigilance – our general degree of arousal.  At the next level, the brain’s motor centers allow us to physically reorient our bodies so that we can immediately redirect our senses to possible new villains or food sources.  Then, the limbic system accomplishes both novelty detection and reward.  Finally, the cortex – especially the frontal lobes – commands action and reaction and integrates our attention with short- and long-term goals.  (Ratey/ug/115)”

“Arousal is the ability to suddenly increase alertness, inherited from the days when sleep left one vulnerable to predators.  Nowadays, fear is still a good arouser, though it may stem more from missed deadlines than from almost being eaten.  As Homo sapiens learned to think with greater abstraction, novelty from within the forum of his own thoughts also began to excite arousal.  (Ratey/ug/115)”

“Arousal is controlled by the reticular activating system, which connects the frontal lobes, limbic system, brainstem, and sense organs.  Incoming information from the sense, or thoughts, can arouse us, and depending on the startle value it alerts the rest of the arousal circuit.  The hippocampus – a key player in long-term memory – also communicates with the reticular activating system.  With its store of knowledge, the hippocampus is the way station to our memories, able to compare the present with the past and thus monitor events as either novel or ordinary.  That way, if the reticular activating system startles over something harmless, the hippocampus works as a protective filter to conserve the brain’s energy by inhibiting the system.  (Ratey/ug/115)”

cc to reticular activating system, frontal lobes, limbic system, brainstem, hippocampus

“In the story of survival, the obvious second step after startling is to orient the body – and specifically the body’s sense organs – toward the novel object in question.  This allows us to process the new information in as short a time as possible, which increases our chances for safety.  Like the arousal system, motor orientation is basically involuntary.  We do not need to think before we perk up our ears, turn our heads, focus on the approaching pit bull, or lean over the enticing salsas for a better whiff.  We do it without effort or awareness.  (Ratey/ug/115)”

MOTOR ORIENTATION:

3 steps disengage-move-engage

“First the posterior parietal cortex helps us disengage from a stimulus….  Now your brain can prepare your motor pathways to do something new.  Next, the basal ganglia and the frontal parietal attention circuits shifts the focus of attention to the new stimulus….  Finally, a group of neurons in the thalamus engages attention by focusing the brain on the new stimulus and inhibiting other noise and therefore distraction….  (Ratey/ug/116)” cc to related files

rest is with nucleus accumbens file

++++

disinhibition is a link between reward deficiency syndromes and motivation deficit

“Individuals suffering from reward deficiency syndromes have difficulty inhibiting interest in irrelevant actions that reward immediately but interfere with their long-term goals [assuming a person even has any]….ADHD distractibility is like the addict’s lack of motivation to abstain.  Indeed,

addiction,

which is the sum of motivation deficit and disinhibition,

may be the common factor behind all the reward deficiency syndromes.  Even the earliest studies seem to support addiction as a problem of inhibition.  [why we can’t get out of relationships….].  For the same reason, the disinhibited ADHD individual or addict is insufficiently motivated to abstain from counterproductive activity.  (Ratey/ug/128)”

++

“ADHD individuals are susceptible to distracting novelty, especially thrill-seeking, immediately gratifying activities that tend to waste time that might be spent reaching for the greater benefits of a long-term goal.  The ruly valuable tasks…are often ignored simply because the reward can’t beheld in mind long enough.  (Ratey/ug/129)”

++++

“…our brains register each sensory input (such as smell, sight, or sound) separately, while internal inputs such as thoughts come from everywhere in the brain.  The question is, then, Where in the brain do all these data meet to create a meaningful story of an event?  That is, where in the brain does sensory input go to become conscious experience?  (Ratey/ug/134)”

“The answer is, nowhere and everywhere, but the intralaminar nuclei [see thalamus and under noise in the ug file] are a crucial part of the system.  The myriad inputs are the sounds of the orchestra musicians tuning their instruments.  The noise is a cacophony until the conductor gives the beat and the inputs synchronize.  They subsequently stay together as long as the conductor provides the beat they are to follow, which is the 40 Hz oscillation set up by the intralaminar nuclei.  It is only when the conductor can synchronize the brain’s neural networks that we become conscious.  When this happens with enough networks, the oscillations become ordered.  They then spread their influence, coopting more networks to join them, and consciousness arises and widens.  (Ratey/ug/135)”  cc to thalamus

“One of the most appealing explanations of consciousness is the proposal that the recurrent network set up between the thalamus and the cortex is the neurology of consciousness.  The thalamus is connected to the cortex by the intralaminar nuclei, which project long axons to all areas of the cerebral hemispheres.  These areas in turn send back projections to the same intralaminar nuclei, and when this circuit is humming with a steady oscillating, consciousness may result.  (Ratey/ug/135)”  cc to thalamus and cerebral cortex –

++++

Complex level where physical and mental attention meet

The fringe – activities there are not commanding our direct attention

“…examples of fringe awareness include background emotions, feelings of knowing, feel- (Ratey/ug/136) ings of being on the right track, and having a name on the tip of your tongue.  It may be that the fringe is where we evaluate the relationship of what is in our spotlight to our current goals and interests.  (Ratey/ug/137)”

“Both the spotlight and the fringe aspects of attention and consciousness are crucial to our experiences.  (Ratey/ug/137)”

“For most of us, conscious and unconscious systems are inextricably tied…Unconscious abilities may be what keep us aware of things happening in the fringe.  (Ratey/ug/137)”

“How the conscious and unconscious abilities of the brain work together is not known.  Some researchers think it is due to processing between the brain’s two hemispheres.  Evidence for this comes from patients whose corpus callosum, the bundle of nerves that carries traffic between the hemispheres, has been cut to treat severe epilepsy.  They often have dissociative experiences after their operations.  As the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa, incoming sensory information has lost its bridge between the two.  Neither side of the body can know what the other is experiencing.  This problem is compounded because, in most people, language is a tool of mainly the left hemisphere, and so information entering the right hemisphere from the left side of the body is left inexpressible through language.  (Ratey/ug/137)”  cc to corpus callosum

“…the validity of claiming dual consciousness [to the separate hemispheres] is controversial.  (Ratey/ug/137)”

“…”normal” consciousness arises only when the two hemispheres work together, and that the proper coordination of conscious and unconscious awareness also depends on this cooperation.  I had a male patient who, upon testing, showed language abilities in both hemispheres.  He showed many signs of slight malfunction of his corpus callosum, and thus had his hemispheres working rather independently.  He was concerned about himself his entire life, because he often observed himself dissociating.  For example, he would utter mean or sexually provocative comments in social settings and feel shame for saying them, but say them anyway.  The language seemed beyond his control.  Sometimes he heard himself saying these things as if he were listening to someone else talking.  At other times, he sensed that he was overhearing himself say these things, when he was not actually speaking.  The split between his conscious and unconscious abilities allowed him to observe himself as an independent person, yet also caused him to believe that he was saying things that he was not.  (Ratey/ug/139)”  and the point being?

++++

“We become conscious of something when we decide to pay attention to something we are already attending to….  For us to be conscious of something, we first have to attend to it, and then we have to keep attending to it from (Ratey/ug/139) one moment to the next.  Working memory is what allows us to continue to attend.  (Ratey/ug/140)”

“In this theory, “the mind” emerges when the consciousness system hooks up with long-term memory.  Once the data being continually tracked in working memory are

compared with

long-term memory of events in the past and with

memory of the future,

thought begins and the mind has suddenly come into existence.  (Ratey/ug/140)”

++++

“…other leading theorists, including Gerald Edelman at the Scripps Institute.  His view is that we are always perceiving things, but when we suddenly relate what we are perceiving to our internal categories of experiences, we become conscious.  We judge stimuli against references of the world we store in our long-term memories.  The act of categorizing, or judging, is what makes us conscious of the perception.  (Ratey/ug/140)”

Well, I guess this describes what I did not do as a child!

++++

“Edelman and his colleagues have been developing such a theory, which he refers to as “neural Darwinsim” or the “theory of neuronal group selection.”  In this model, an organism’s ability to categorize and adapt to the world is the result of processes of selection among neurons in the brain.  It is competition between cells that is responsible for cell growth, death, strength, and weakness.  Consequently, neuronal groups that benefit the organism’s survival thrive and develop strong interconnections while those that are unused die.  This “evolution” continues over a person’s lifetime.  (Ratey/ug/141)”

“In this model there are two types of evolutionary selection:  developmental and experiential.  Developmental selection occurs before birth and is the reason that all organisms, even identical twins, are born with different brains.  Although each organisms is genetically constrained to develop certain features characteristic of the species, these genetic codes cannot dictate the exact destination of each developing neuron.  (Ratey/ug/141)”

“At birth, an individual immediately enters the second stage, experiential selection.  [the mother’s intake and stress level also affects the infant before birth!]  Experiential selection occurs because each person’s experiences and behavior cause a strengthening or weakening of neural connections that alter the primary repertoire, although they do not cause gross changes in anatomy.  [I still have all the parts – they just might look different and interact differently]  Through everyday life, certain (Ratey/ug/141) neuronal groups are selected to thrive while others die owing to lack of use…..In accordance with evolutionary principles, brain areas exercised often are presumably those that are most crucial to survival.  Brain areas that are unused are seen as a waste of fuel, unnecessary to survival.  In this way, experiences and behavior serve to direct nervous system development by organizing the brain into even more intricate “secondary repertoires,” the neuronal groups that have been selected to thrive because they were used most often.  (Ratey/ug/142)”

“It is important to realize that the basic unit of this selective process is not the individual neuron but the neuronal group.  There are perhaps 100 million such groups in the brain, and they range in size from 50 to 10,000 neurons.  Neurons are only effective in groups working toward a single goal….  By virtue of their size, neuronal groups can compensate for individual cell deaths.  Nonetheless, changes in individual synapses will affect the (Ratey/ug/142) entire neuronal group, which may in turn trigger alterations in a larger system.  (Ratey/ug/143)”

“Even with primary and secondary repertoires, however, cognition is still only partially accounted for.  One must still explain how an organism develops categories, as well as synthesizes disparate pieces of data into a unified, meaningful experience.  The key to answering this question concerns Edelman’s most radical and important concept:  that of reentrant signaling.  (Ratey/ug/143)”

“Reentrant signaling is the communication between maps that allows us to construct complex perceptual concepts such as “chair.”  It is necessary because, although we are born with rudimentary abilities such as detecting color and movement, our perception of objects must be actively created…..the perception of a chair or one’s grandmother elies upon reentrant signaling, which combines the activities of several mappings of brain regions devoted to sensory perception.  The different pieces of the concept are transported back and forth between the regions that house them, until they resonate with each other – sustained at the 40 Hz oscillation – and lock in the idea of chair or grandmother.  (Ratey/ug/143)”

“The many maps that are created are inventoried by the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and hippocampus.  These three areas keep track of the maps everywhere else in the brain and order the brain’s output.  Together they form a kind of supermap, which contains multiple local maps.  This creates a system of connections for whole categories of information, as well as patterns of motor activity.  The end result of this complex value system of loop-within-a-loop layers of maps is the infinite variety of each person’s thoughts and behaviors.  Your concept of “chair-hood” or “grandmother-hood” in the brain is a global rather than a localized affair.  Each region of the brain contributes to the recognition of a chair or grandmother, which explains why recognition can be triggered by any number of different sensory elements….  (Ratey/ug/143)”  cc these files

“Overall, Edelman’s biological theory of consciousness seems to succeed where past models have failed.  It both accounts for and coincides with our experience of the world as conscious beings – an experience that is provocatively and irreducibly subjective.  With this theory of mind, we are free of deterministic preprogrammed laws, and instead can embrace a framework of consciousness that revolves around value and meaning in the world.  This is indeed the essence of consciousness:  the feeling we have of owning our actions and being able to develop our self-conceptions through experience over time.  (Ratey/ug/144)”

++++

“The next frontier in the quest to explain consciousness is the hard question of subjective experience.  We all know what a subjective experience is, but it’s hard even to explain what we experience.  (Ratey/ug/145)”

“The most central subjective experience we have is “what it is like to be me from the inside.”  Examining consciousness from the inside reveals a whole new set of “data” to be explained – the qualitative aspects of our experiences, or, for short, qualia.  (Ratey/ug/145)”

“The term qualia is currently in vogue in the field of philosophy of the mind.  Qualia are the phenomenological properties of experience; the “what it is like” of consciousness that are elements that can only be known from one subjective standpoint.  For example, you cannot experience another person’s pain.  You can infer what the other person is going through, but there is no direct transfer of the experience.  Other examples of qualia might be, for instance, déjà vu, a chilling dive into a cold river, or the smell of burnt rubber.  (Ratey/ug/145)”

“Consciousness involves the interaction of the observer and the observed.  (Ratey/ug/145)”

“Unfortunately for us with finite lives, we will never know whether human beings as creatures on this earth are in evolutionary pursuit of more and more consciousness.  That may be what our genes want us to do, and perhaps our distant descendants will find that to be true.  As we attend more and are more conscious about what is going on around us [and within us!], we have more freedom, while at the same time we are more bound to the reality of the world.  We can think of an increasing consciousness as an expanding playground for creativity, where we can learn in new (Ratey/ug/145) ways how the world is put together.  Altruism and consciousness are the steps that we’re walking through that will define us more in the future.  (Ratey/ug/146)”

“Becoming “more” conscious would certainly improve our abilities as social animals.  It would help us focus more on decisions and consequences, on associations, so that we are more keenly aware of our connectedness to others:  where we are, where other people are, and what we are doing with each other.  This is where attention and consciousness come together.  As we gain more attention and consciousness we can better evaluate actions and consequences and be less impulsive than our current selves.  (Ratey/ug/146)”

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