UNDERSTANDING CONSCIOUSNESS

Since human beings had history written and were aware of their existence, people believed that inside their bodies, there was something, although invisible, controlling all their activities, from thinking to acting. They named that invisible thing the Mind, the Soul, or the Spirit (Neil, 2008). Furthermore, after discovering the functions of all parts of human being’ body like muscles, cells, and nervous system, scientists began to do researches on the work of the Mind, or the Soul, or the Spirit and tried to find the relationship between their nervous system with the Mind. The work to find the answer for the mind-body question was hard. Generally speaking, until now, philosophers and psychologists are still arguing about the real functions and the existence of the Mind. There are two ways of thinking about the Mind. The Dualism believes that Mind and Body are two separate matters. Although they work together but the Body was made of ordinary matters while the Mind was not. The Monism thinks differently. The scientists who believe in Monism state that the Mind is a phenomenon produced by the nervous system when it works (Neil, 2008). In order to understand more about the Mind and the Body, it is necessary to discuss briefly about the Consciousness and Physiological Psychology.

The term Consciousness refers to the act of acknowledging. People are aware of what they do such as thinking, understanding, accepting, forgiving, sharing, and all other reactions that people do, visibly or invisibly. People are conscious about everything, from buttoning their buttons to making a judgment on things not related to them. Usually, it takes a while to consider.  Depending on each individual’s experience, people make judgment fast or slowly. Before giving something to anyone, people may turn the matter up side down for long, try to find the meaning of their acts before making a decision to give or not to give. Like Hamlet, a character in a Shakespeare’ play, who always questioned himself “To Be or Not To Be”, for many centuries, psychologists discussed a great number of times about the source of the Mind, and gradually, they come up to the most acceptable acknowledgement: The Monistic position, “the world consists of matter and energy and that nonmaterial entities such as minds are not a part of the universe.” (Neil, 2008. p.9). There, the new aspect of psychology – a new approach that studies about the human being’s consciousness takes place. Wilhelm Wundt, in the late nineteenth century named it “Physiological Psychology.” (Neil, 2008).

Physiological psychologists have done many researches related with the changes of emotions, feelings, behaviors that rely on the working conditions of the nervous system. Diamond and her colleagues even wrote an article on the topic “Every time you go away: Changes in affect, behavior, and physiology associated with travel-related separations from romantic partners.”(Diamond et al., 2008). Diamond investigated the daily diaries and measures of salivary cortisol that were collected from 42 couples over a 21-day period. In the middle of the 21-day term, the couples were separate from 4 to 7 days. The researchers found that there were significant changes from pre-separation to separation and from separation to reunion in the quality of partners' feelings, emotions, and reactions. That meant, the thinking of people directed all movements and reaction skills as well as the change of some mechanics inside the body.

Blandon and his colleagues did research on individual differences in trajectories of emotion regulation processes. They studied 269 children from 4 to 7 year of ages using hierarchical linear modeling. The result showed that the children’s development of emotion had relationships with the depression of their mothers. Based on the changes of the emotions, the children’s behavior changed. When the behavior changed, the development of the bodies of the children changed accordingly. Thus, the physiological psychology can prove that there is a close relationship between the Mind and the Body. The perception of human beings controls all their reactions.

Usually, the scientists apply either Generalization form or Reduction process to study Physiological Psychology. Generalization refers to the explanation of the reactions based on general laws and on the experiences that a man has. Reduction refers to the explanation complex phenomena in terms of simpler ones. (Neil, 2008). Many decades ago,  Reneů Descartes, did research on the “soul” (today, we call “the mind”) and explained that all interactions took place in the pineal body, a small, grayish organ located on top of the brain stem, buried beneath the cerebral hemispheres. (Neil, 2008). According to Jaynes (1970) in Neil, Descartes was impressed by the movement of the moving statues in the grottoes of the Royal Garden, west of Paris. There was some mechanisms that controlled all the movements of the statues including the bronze statues of Diana and Neptune. When a visitor approached Diana, she would flee and hide behind a rose bush. If the visitor followed her, Neptune would rise up and stop the pursuer.

Being impressed by the movements of the statues, Descartes proposed a theory which stated that, in the brain, there were hollowed chambers (the ventricles) that contained a kind of fluid that ran from the chambers to the all the nerves. The fluid was always under a pressure. When the mind wanted to take an action, there is a pressure that caused the fluid to flow from the chambers to the appropriate set of nerves and from there, a reaction was performed.

At first, Descartes’s proposed explanation seemed meaningful, if there was no opposite theory from Luigi Galvani, a seventeenth-century Italian physiologist. Luigi did a research on a frog’s nerve. He caused an electrical stimulation to the nerve of the frog whose muscles were contracted after the electrical shock ran to the brain of the frog. The contraction was seen on all muscles of the frog, not only a special portion of the experimental animal. This experiment showed that Descartes’s theory was totally wrong. There was no inflation inside the pipes of the nerve system. The pineal body in the brain did not work as a pump. The nerve system did not control any “pipe”, therefore, there was no fluid either.  Human being’s nerve system was not that simple. It needed to be studied harder and more elaborately.

          In nineteenth century, a French physiologist named Pierre Flourens, tried a different method to observe the behavior of an animal. Applying the principle of deduction, Flourens removed some part of the brain of an animal then found out what reactions that the animal could no longer do. The physiologists then made a connection between the missing part of the brain and the behavior of the animal and inferred the function of the missing portion of the brain. This method of experiment was called Experimental ablation. The elaborated experiment helped Flourens discover some parts of the brain that controlled certain work of the body such as heart rate, breathing, visual and auditory reflexes and purposeful movements. (Neil, 2008).

          Practically, Flourens’s experiment was still at the base of true discovery of the working conditions of the mind, and still lacked of a complete and thorough explanation on the complex system of the brain. The nerve system of a person was not that simple. To have a reaction performed; several part of a body had to participate. For example, to immediately withdraw a hand from a flame, the eye must see, dendrites must sense, axons must carry the information to the terminal buttons, bypassing the soma of bipolar neutron. At the terminal buttons, a chemical called neurotransmitter is secreted. Then the certain portions of  the brain must decide which action to be taken. (Neil, 208). In case there are several parts of the body are touched, the brain must decide which reaction will be performed prior to the others. For instance, if a person was bitten at the toes, cut at two fingers, and hit at the neck simultaneously, depending on the person’s experiences and education, a movement will be done differently from individual to individual. In such situation, some people will die while others will be safe.

Indeed, Flourens’s experiment opened a new road for other physiologist to follow. Although other scientists attempted to work on different methods to find out the relationships between the mind and the body, they all try to separate the functions of portions of the brain. Nowadays, physiologists are still working hard to have a complete roadmap of the brain where the perceptions of human beings are produced. Based on their discoveries, many illnesses are treated well. Scientists now can perform surgeries on patients’ brains while the patients are put to short sleeps. People’s lives are not at stake as decades ago. With the studies and researches are on-going, in a future, lives of human beings will be extended much longer and the number of people who live out of 100 years will be added more and more worldwide.

                                      References:

Blandon, Alysia Y.; Calkins, Susan D.; Keane, Susan P.; O'Brien, Marion; Developmental Psychology, Vol 44(4), Jul 2008. pp. 1110-1123. [Journal Article]

Diamond, Lisa M.; Hicks, Angela M.; Otter-Henderson, Kimberly D.; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 95(2), Aug 2008. pp. 385-403.

Neil R. Carlson, Physiology of Behavior. 2008. Ninth Edition. Allyn and Bacon. Pearson Education, Inc.