consciousness

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Abstract

What follows is a critical overview of key articles from 2001 – 2011 that investigate the intersection of consciousness and neuroscience.  While analysis of many of the articles will be addressed from a perspective of humanistic psychology, some articles will not necessarily lend themselves to this approach, and a general critical approach will be employed.  The articles range from psychiatric medical aspects of neuroscience to behavioral neuroscience to humanistic psychology.  Throughout, the author utilizes a humanistic and intersectional viewpoint that it is possible to unify sections of competing and opposing philosophies that may have more in common than researchers and practitioners may realize.

 

Introduction

While a high number of academic papers and articles on consciousness (referred to meditation in some contexts) have been written since the 1950s (Lutz, et al, 2006), most of them utilize research that is restrictively reduced to a particular methodology or field of thought, whether sociology, medical science, non-humanistic psychology, or another school of thought without considering research or ideas from disparate, but often, related fields, fields that impact the brain’s functions or personal fulfillment. In the spirit of the intersectionality of all things, this article is an attempt to critically review disparate literature and find commonalities.

The purpose of this first section is to unite the various definitions of consciousness from the articles and determine a common theme.  While a humanistic psychological perspective will dominate, other perspectives will not be considered invalid, due to the fact that consciousness does not have one primary meaning across disciplines, or even in all cultures. Even Buddhist perspectives on consciousness are fluid, with no commonly accepted viewpoint (Encyclopedia of Buddhism, p 175), though like science there are some points of intersection.

While Thompson and Varela (2001) restrict their research to the neuroscience of consciousness from the perspective of cognitive science within an “enactive” viewpoint (especially where consciousness intersects the brain-body world  rather than just being centered in the head), their approach to the research provides a new perspective that can provide an opportunity for intersectional understanding to a humanistic psychological approach of consciousness as much as any research included in this overview.  Dietrich (2004) unites creative action with consciousness in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, equating consciousness with awareness.  Lutz, et al (2006) explore the initial findings of neuroscientific research upon meditation. Chiao, et al (2008) dissect visual perception to self-consciousness and its implications on cultural neuroscience.  Graziano and Kastner (2011) look at the adaptive nature of consciousness within social neuroscience that individuals access to understand another’s behaviors.  Each view of consciousness is valid but it reduces each aspect of it to a part, not a whole.  What each misses is what an intersection of the whole becomes:  a complex analysis of consciousness in body, mind, and perhaps spirit.

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Existentially and in every other way, I see everything as connected. But philosophically? Yes. Since my immersion into the social sciences a few years ago, I have noticed that the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) divide themselves into several divisions each. Even with major philosophical differences, I can still see points of agreement as I look at both of these worlds and their myriad divisions. While there is some need for subdivisions, their separation also perpetuates the bureaucracy of corporations and government. I’d like to get away from that.

While not everyone is interested in clinical psychology as a profession (including me), there is value in reading and applying ideas from a variety of disciplines that can help each of us in some way. Hoffman & Trash (2010) explore this division in miniature with the neuropsychology and existential APA divisions and their several commonalities, including cognition and emotion, and the intersection of the interpersonal and intrapersonal that can certainly benefit clients in the clinical space. While not every division can meet and join with another, certainly we would all benefit from more of this exploration, resulting in a more socially and emotionally healthy society.

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I propose, as I have in many of my academic writings and conversations that within all of us is a vital need to create, even within the most anti-creative of us. My father may be a perfect example of this when he eschews all creative activity because it distracts from “more important things” in life, like making money, making babies and raising a family, and a myriad of other activities that he does not view as creative, viewed through the lens of his Italian family culture. Yet, my father can take a broken down bicycle and lawnmower and make them sing. And he sculpts, but not in a traditional “artistic” sense. He can take a piece of animal flesh and carve it into shapes that no other meat cutter I have ever met can do. I call my father the anti-creative artist. And then there is me with the need to write, a need for music and making music mixes, and a need to draw that out of others. Perspective is everything for all of us.

Krippner (2011) explore creativity from a waking consciousness and a variety of alternative states, primarily the latter, but it is more of an overview. While important and valuable, overviews of such complex topics don’t include everything and they always compel me to dig deeper into the sources that are referenced. This is no different. However, I did find it intriguing, but not surprising that early researchers equated schizophrenic psychotic states with altered consciousness states stimulated by a variety of natural and manufactured drugs. Interestingly, I have read recent accounts in a few journals where researchers are experimenting with LSD to help minimize psychotic states in schizophrenics.

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Charet’s encyclopedia entry serves as an entry point, a definition, of consciousness. As such, it is aa general introduction, but given the work done by others in this area, including the Buddhists, Jung, and others, this definition barely cover the territory. I concentrated the majority of my analysis on the other two articles.

While Early’s The social evolution of consciousness (2002) makes many valid points, he misses others. His emphasis on reflexive consciousness is key, his emphasis on the suppression of participatory consciousness (community and communal – usually matriarchal – is ignored) is particularly one-sided and biased from a Western viewpoint (i.e. not Asia, part East of Africa and Africa which he rarely takes into account contemporarily or historically) with its emphasis upon the mindset of a white Western Patriarchy, though he does not make a note of that.  Especially when he states, “Participatory consciousness (emphasis author’s) is characterized by a sense of aliveness and belonging to the world. In this mode, people relate to the world primarily through intuition, emotion, the body, and the immediate present.”  These are particularly if stereotypically maternal characteristics that are typical of matriarchal and communal societies in Africa and Asia).
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