Saturday, 22 June 2013

Out of Nowhere - 2

Some time ago I posted here about my strange memory of being conscious before I was born - in fact, a memory of the very start of my self-awareness.   Now you either believe that what I have detailed might be true, or you have me classified along with those who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  Well fine, each to his own, but it for me, forms the axiomatic basis of some my beliefs regarding consciousness.

I might add that I have (fragmented) memories that extend from this point into early childhood.  I can remember being bored before I was born, and, one time, moving about a lot to try to make something happen, until I ran out of energy.   I remember waking up during the birth process, aware that there was a lot of "fuss" going on, and that I was physically constrained in a way that I had never been before.  I remember my fight for life afterwards, the pain, the flight from pain, the view through death's door and the fear that resulted (no more me), the adrenaline rush that I held on to to stay alive.  Then, what I thought was my final surrender (to sleep, I guess) and the surprise on waking again.

I remember being in a cot, and trying to work out the repeats in the tartan pattern.  I remember my father bouncing me on his knee asking "why don"t you talk?"  (Because I don't have to).  And a short time later (A few days, a week?) surprising my mother with my first words (Bored out of my skull, in some kind of baby bouncer suspended in the kitchen doorway while she cooked, "I want some food" or something like that, in response to which she stopped what she was doing and came and asked "What did you say?")  I remember the concentration it took to form words and how if I didn't bother and made baby noises instead, I was being "silly".

I can remember not being able to crawl, but rolling myself to my objective, noting that since I was tapered I had to aim a short way off to compensate for the curve.  I can remember the frustration of my arms giving out as I crawled.  The way the bricks I stacked didn't conform to the image in my mind's eye, but were all higgledy-piggledy and how the last one I put on caused the pile to spray sideways because I lacked fine motor control; and telling myself to be patient.

Perhaps it is these experiences that have led me to be fascinated by the idea of consciousness, the idea of "I", and also the ideas that other people have on the subject.  One of the researchers in this area, and also an author of some books on the subject is Douglas Hofstadter, who comes across to me as a man of fierce intelligence and boundless curiosity.  His book "Gödel, Escher, Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid" discusses the idea of emergent behaviour in self-referencing systems, in a playful, interesting and accessible style.  I am currently reading his book "I Am A Strange Loop" that discusses consciousness as an emergent behaviour more explicitly.  I would thoroughly recommend these two books to anyone with an enquiring mind and (at least) an 'A' level scientific background.

There are some conclusions that I can draw from my experiences that are at odds with a small subset of what he says.  My very first awareness of "I" arose from my being aware that I had been conscious before, several times, fleetingly, and that I could remember having been so.  My "I" self was the memory-based connection through time of these moments or periods of consciousness.  These didn't need any external stimulus in order to happen, as far as I am aware, and emerged (I think) solely in response to the functioning of my brain.  "I" needed three things: awareness, memory and the idea of time. (The idea of memory is of course intimately linked with that of time).  I deduce therefore that consciousness is an emergent behaviour of a functioning brain imbued with some axiomatic programming, and is therefore coded genetically in DNA.  Perhaps it occurs when the loops within the brain are finally "tight" or "strong" enough, a bit like when a laser suddenly fires when the light energy produced/light energy lost moves from 0.999 to 1.001

So, in his book "I Am A Strange Loop", under the sub-heading "Baby Feedback Loops and Baby "I"s" much of what Mr Hofstadter states is, at least in my experience-based view, wrong, including "the building-up of a self-symbol is still far in the future for a baby".  No it's not, it's right there, from day 1 - in fact, from before Day 1.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I prefer your theory. When my youngest son, Tom, was born I was convinced that right from the very outset he was already "in there" personality-wise, just waiting to come out...

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