We are two on the inside. If you really stop, and pay attention to the make-up of your consciousness, you will sense a self and a
object. But which one are you? The observer, or witness on the inside, looking out upon objects, is anterior to, and thus more "real" then,
the objects it interfaces with.
In the brain, this relationship is mapped in the neocortex and the activations in subcortical nuclei (groups of neurons genetically programmed to
automatize our relationship to the world around us; for instance, when people see a long stick on the ground, sort of looking like a snake, they
instinctively jump. The reaction is being instigated by something "other" then your attentional awareness.This teaches us how evolution has been an
automatic process of organism-environmental couplings, or matchings, between groups of neurons and the environmental niche - which, for humans, was
the presence of other humans, their emotional states, intentional states, and ways of organizing meaning between each other. Our bodily shape and
physiological development has largely been under the control of natural environmental conditions - we were once monkey like creatures who
"colonized" the trees, swinging from branch to branch. Brachiation (tree swinging) was a pre-adaptation for tool use - which put us on the road to
digging up tubers, and later on, using fire to cook our meat, and thus freeing up our cerebral cortex to develop to 1400 cc's, the largest brain-body
index in the animal kingdom).
The neocortex, glowing on a fMRI scanner whenever we use complex, higher-order reflection, allows us to relate to the world with a sense of "I"
ness. It isn't just the prefrontal cortex, or the parietal-temporal junction. The neocortex - a 6 layered nuclear-complex that covers the outside of
our brains - relates to the information coming from "below" it as a perturbation to general "awareness". The neocortex really gives consciousness
a sense of direction, purpose, intentionality, focus, and many other complex emotions. In the brain just behind our eyes, emotion is given a conscious
"conduction". The orbital-frontal cortex allows humans to emotionally adjust what is experientially experienced. The neurons from this 6 layered
cortex project all the way down to the vagus nerve, just behind our necks. Via this pathway, consciousness procures a conscious mechanism for
adjusting its own bodily, experiential state, essentially making it "king" of its own castle.
The dorsolateral cortex, the top and side parts of this 6 layered neural blanket, allow us to inhibit certain mental states by adjusting our
attentional awareness. The power to focus, or not focus, to switch from one thought to another thought, is housed in this portion of our brain.
Further back, around the crown of our head, gives us the sense of being 'situated' - physically, as well as psychologically - in a particular
'space', physical, or mental.
The point being, our sense of being an "I", courses back to this evolutionary adaptation we call the neocortex. The personal identity, which we all
so strongly feel, is a construction that took place over a 400,000 period, at a time when human beings formed larger groups (100-150 persons) so that
the amount of information needed to coherently navigate increasingly complex social situations forced the evolution of a particular neurological
situation, an "adding" to the brain, not merely in grey matter (neurons), but also white matter (the glia/myelin/fat that supports and facilitates
neuronal communication). The brain passed a "threshold", and BANG! an ontological shift occurs: the world, as so many solemnly believe, was created
6,000 years ago. Such myths arose much later, but they speak to a phenomenon that truly amazes us: we feel we are the real beings and actors of
creation, and that everything else is 'just a background' to our lived existence. Such an "illusion" initially set us on a path of unconscious,
then a conscious sense of relatedness to the world around us. The world, or our evolution-in-the-world, passed different paths on the way to creating
our minds out of reciprocal, highly cued, signaled, forms of communication. We were once rat like creatures before we evolved into monkey like
creatures. And with each state, some primitive drives were retained. The amygdala, at the core of the temporal lobes, determines a) what is
threatening b) what is advantageous. This part of the brain is a "relevance" detector - determining what is good or bad for the life of the organism
in its relationship the environment.
What is odd, is how something like the amygdala, which began it's "life" as a group of neurons focused on motion patterns in the external
environment, has become a detector for a "scary" thought, responding to the life of our inner environment as if it were an external environment. The
observer, or the person that you are, has become a 'thing' to itself. A thing forced to feel, to know, and to sense meaning in the experienced
reality it encounters.
I do not think this observer is a fraud. I do not agree with "epi-phenomenonalists", that consciousness is a mere-happenstance of neuronal activity.
Existent, yes (that they would even question this is an absurdity!), but not causal in any way. This, however, just does not jibe with my personal
experience. Consciousness, although "tugged" by 'perception-action' cycles (what is called "system 1" activity, or automatic, reflexive
responses to the world) can liberate itself and relate far more consciously within its internal 'environment'. Yes, the things to be thought about
are largely things that have been experienced in the past (i.e. the storehouse of knowledge/memories in the brain). But WHAT, or HOW, or WHEN, or WHY,
is a determination that seems to come from 'without'. What I'm trying to point to is the managing of neuronal states, how they're moved, and from
what sort of ontological place their force projects from. Meanings - and only meanings - of significance to an organism like ourselves, compel
behaviors. But how they're attended to and the way processed psychologically necessitates us - the conscious actors - as the only means of making,
and being, the type of creature that we are. The reduction of our observerhood to the neocortex simply ignores the nature of the actual experience.
What is the experience? The sense of consciousness, as experienced as a state of mindfulness, seems to be fundamentally 'connected' with the
experience of love, or compassion. Any person who experiences a mindful state knows this experience I feel, and from which we then speak from. It
reaches "back", in our conscious minds, when we were battling negative emotions, like fear, anger, or desire. We stop ourselves by "increasing our
awareness", which has a sense of being activated, again, and again, in a self-generated action-perception cycle, with the relevant neocortical areas
increasing their neural output. Obviously, the next question should be, from where does the state, organized by a meaningful set of relations, push
itself - and it's biological material - forward into greater activity like this? A reductionist materialist attitude ignores the fact that
consciousness, qualia, value, determine the way of organization. The awareness "organized" as this type of awareness, is paradoxically aware of it -
as I am doing right now - of being organized and re-organized, moment by moment, blindly, like all the organisms