Monday, January 5, 2015

Waking, Being, Dreaming, chapter two

Continuing from this post:

While the Upanishads are unequivocal that consciousness is the infinite ground of being, (some) Buddhists contest this with the notion that consciousness is contingent and dependent on conditions. And yet it also has its own causal influence on conditions in an interdependent relationship of experience. But this seems to only explore human consciousness as one side of this experience, not the non-conscious experience of non-human (re)actants. According to object-oriented ontology even a non-living object still has some response-mechanism/experience to/of other objects, though that could hardly be called consciousness is the sense herein described. I sense a correlationism here that privileges human consciousness as a necessary prerequisite to experience.

Binocular rivalry is where two different images are presented to each eye. One will see each whole image one at a time alternatively. Studies of this phenomenon have shown that different levels of brain processing are involved, from basic sensory apparatus to higher areas that distinguish object categories. However the entire process is distributed, so that “visual awareness cannot be thought of as a end product of such an hierarchical series of processing stages” (28). Which of course reminds me of some of Luhman's research on the different interdependent aspects of a human being, that our bodies, emotions and mind have their own autonomy that indeed structurally couple with each other in our assemblage, yet there is no hierarchical transcend and subsume in this distributed network.

And yet Thompson asks if there isn't something that coordinates the different brain areas in visual perception. When one become conscious of one image or the other, there is brain oscillation gamma wave synchrony of the various areas. And yet simultaneously there are also slower brain waves that function to shape gamma wave synchrony within discrete, momentary and successive fluctuations. In short, the synchrony focuses on the content and the discretion on the context.

Thompson brings in Abhidharma to describe this phenomenon philosophically. Which consciousness appears to be in a continuous stream, it is in fact broken into discontinuous, discrete moments, each of which is conditioned on a variety of contextual factors. Hence there is no unfettered bare awareness per se, since each momentary experience is so conditioned. That is, consciousness is always awareness of something. There is a primary awareness but it arises with the conditioned mental factors. The process proceeds in 5 phases: contact, feeling, perception, intention, attention. Some call these phases the 'aggregates.' (See this previous discussion and related links therein. Note that the aggregates are again discrete, autonomous, and interdependent in our networked assemblage, not hierarchically subsumed.)

Thompson wonders if we can measure the gaps between these discrete, phasic moments. He notes that Abhidharma did so observationally, but it was caught up in metaphysical considerations of timeless and dimensionless gaps that colored the results. So we move on to neuroscientific study of the phenomenon.

It's a long, detailed chapter; to be continued.

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