Damasio and Dehaene’s Consciousness(Option 1)


A common thread throughout both Damasio’s and Dehaene’s work relate to the concept of dualism which indicate the mind as separate from the material self. One thing that both excites and at the same time perplexes me in Dehaene’s “Consciousness and the Brain”, is the comparison made between the autonomous mind” and the wandering soul that is essentially the “soul bird which delivers psyche to new born babies and takes it away from the dying” (2). Dehaene’s description of, “freedom of the conscious mind” (3), confuses me because consciousness and the mind are inked to the immaterial concept of the soul, which is assumed to be free-flowing. Does this make our consciousness transferable? In other words, can the same way that we experience the world be moved to a new host? I do not believe that this is the case based on Dehaene’s inclusion of the “phenomenal awareness” theory, which promotes the idea of how “unique” and “personal” traits contribute to the way people experience consciousness (9-10). Therefore, I was confused as to the way in which Dehaene depicted the mind as “free-flying”. The graphic novel, Neurocomic by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella closely relates to the concept of dualism through the way in which it primarily focuses on biological functions and mention little about the mind, but rather allude to the mind as being separate from neurological processes. Neurocomic also briefly explores the idea of consciousness by creating disparities between the reader and the characters on page in allowing the characters to realize and vocalize that they are actually fictional characters in a book. This meta element furthers my curiosity because, according to Dehaene’s awareness theory, the fabricated characters are exercising a form of consciousness by knowing that they are not real (just to play with some ideas).

Continuing with the concept of consciousness is Damasio, who explores the “biological knowing of self” (4). Unlike Dehaene, Damasio seeks to understand how neurological patterns influence consciousness. One curious element in Damasio’s “Stepping into the Light”, is the situation described in the subheading, “Absent Without Leave”. This situation made me think of Dehaene’s idea about “genuine consciousness”, which is that, “whatever we decide to focus on, may become conscious” (9). The subject that Damasio was observing focused on various things such as the “flower vase” and “cup of coffee” but was not conscious of it. The problem in this situation was caused by epilepsy which is abnormal brain activity, therefore, is consciousness a product of the brain or is the brain an inhibitor of consciousness?

I was further perplexed by Damasio’s neurological perspective when reading “Self Comes to Mind”, because in this work the author addresses many ideas linked to dualism.  One of the points that the author makes about consciousness, is that, “love would never have been love, just sex” (4). Basically, consciousness has to do with the way we individually experience emotions. This also relates to the ideas of dualism in Plato’s, The Symposium. According to Plato, love is an experience of the mind or intellect which is to be held in higher regard, rather than just a physical attraction and gratification which will eventually fade. Does this then mean, that Damasio also supports the dualistic perspective as well as neurological thought? If not, I am not sure how both love and sex can be defined in the physical realm.


3 thoughts on “Damasio and Dehaene’s Consciousness(Option 1)”

  1. Wow! You really tackled some complex ideas here. First of all, your ideas about the “free-flowing” mind got me thinking. Maybe the free-flowing part is more about what the mind does, or can do? (I’m not sure; I’m just brainstorming.) Maybe the freedom in the mind and soul is like free will, in that we can think and do whatever we want– whether we choose to do good, evil, or otherwise is up to us. I also was really interested in the Absence Without Leave section of Damasio’s piece. Even the heading (or title, one of Harvey’s elements) pulls us in while also informing us what the section is basically about. It takes a common term we may know from other subjects and applies it to a complex neurological idea. Finally, what do you mean when you are confused about love and sex being in the same physical realm? In other words, what do you mean by physical? Yes, love is an experience, but I’m also sure that somehow love can be shown by different parts of the brain interacting. I do get what you mean by distinguishing love and lust, which is something I’m not sure can be distinguished between based on brain activity. So are you arguing that love cannot be as physical/material as sex, or as easily defined? Great work! You really got me thinking.

  2. You could be a theologian, Asheka! In my imaginings, these free-flying minds and free-flowing souls are more like kites than birds. They fly high and far and wide, but are tethered by a string to our conscious (and maybe even UNconscious) Selves. This umbilicus is a necessary part of the equation.
    Some soul believers feel that when the death of the body (and brain) occur, this cord is severed, allowing the kite, or soul, to transcend the surly bonds of earth, becoming an etherial version of its former “Self.”

  3. Hi Asheka! I loved your readings of Dehaene and Damasio. You challenge both ends of the argument, which I think is quite natural. What I enjoyed about both pieces is that they acknowledge (however grudgingly) the merit that the research from each camp has brought to the table. Dehaene references William James, while Damasio states that one shouldn’t discredit the scientific breakthroughs of the other camp. Most of your piece is too complex for my tired mind, but I want to comment on your last statement about love and qualia. To play the devil’s advocate, both love and lust can be accounted for. One may encompass the other (at times), but both might just be chemical reactions in the machine-brain. I obviously agree with you. Gradients and the sheer variation of emotion lead me to believe that the mind must have more to it than neural firings. Thanks for your thought-provoking post!

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