Anna's Blog / Students Blogs

Who are you? By Anna

What’s your name? What’s the date? Where are you?

Imagine you can hear and understand these questions, yet don’t have the ability to respond. Christian Schwarzbauer, Daniel Bor and Martin Farrell asked and gave possibilities for answers to these questions, recognising ways in which consciousness can be measured, ethical implications along with this and the history behind the thoughts of consciousness. 

Questions raised in this talk include when do people become conscious? In the womb? If consciousness  can be measured and is shown to develop/not develop in the foetal state, this would surely change views of abortion. 

Do animals have consciences? We consume on average twice our weight in meat a year. If we could show if animals do or do not have consciences, this, again, would change many opinions. 

The implications if being able to measure this entity are enormous. 

The Oxford dictionary defines consciousness as the state of being aware and responsive to ones surroundings. This may be true for animals however many people believe that there is something more in human consciousness. Nevertheless, it’s a starting point which can be used to measure consciousness. 

Christian Schwarzbauer explains how brain scanning images can be used to identify that a level of consciousness can be measured. When unable to move a part of the body, say a hand, if one is asked to think about playing tennis, activity is seen in the part of the motor cortex responsible for moving the hand. As different parts of the brain are activated in different demands (let’s compare playing tennis to imagining walking around your house, which would activate navigational regions of the brain) its possible to communicate with paralysed patients. 

I found this idea huge. A patient with locked in syndrome, who can hear and understand but cannot move, can communicate in this manner. Questions such as ‘if your dads name is Micheal, think of playing tennis. If it isn’t, think of walking around your house’ can show that patients understand  and can respond! So, should we ask if they want life support or not? 

Is consciousness independent of the physical world and brain? Brain activity decreases as levels on unconsciousness increase, for example from taking aspirin to being under general anaesthetic, so maybe not. 

But are there further levels of consciousness that cannot be measured? 

These are a few of the questions the talkers posed and considered and I found myself asking these questions throughout the rest of the day, after purchasing numerous psychology books! 

I haven’t gone into detail about Martin Farrells work, explaining Descartes doubt hypothesis and theories, Cartesian dualism and reasons why this is and isn’t believed. This is for two reasons; I don’t feel I have the depth of knowledge to explain this as well as it rightfully should be explained, and if I started talking about it I probably wouldn’t stop!

Until next time, 

Anna

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