Who needs self-awareness?

by on April 19, 2006 at 5:29 pm in Science | Permalink

Self-awareness, regarded as a key element of being human, is
switched off when the brain needs to concentrate hard on a tricky task,
found the neurobiologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Rehovot, Israel.

team conducted a series of experiments to pinpoint the brain activity
associated with introspection and that linked to sensory function. They
found that the brain assumes a robotic functionality when it has to
concentrate all its efforts on a difficult, timed task – only becoming
"human" again when it has the luxury of time.    

Here is the full story.

1 Gyan April 19, 2006 at 5:45 pm

The researchers seem to have muddled their concepts. The abstract says, “A common theme in theories of subjective awareness poses a self-related “observer† function, or a homunculus, as a critical element without which awareness can not emerge. Here, we examined this question using fMRI.

They have confused the ‘observer’ aspect with “introspection”. An elementary error.

They go on to say, “In our study, we compared brain activity patterns produced by a demanding sensory categorization paradigm to those engaged during self-reflective introspection, using similar sensory stimuli.

Our results show a complete segregation between the two patterns of activity. Furthermore, regions that showed enhanced activity during introspection underwent a robust inhibition during the demanding perceptual task. The results support the notion that self-related processes are not necessarily engaged during sensory perception and can be actually suppressed.

Even ignoring the muddling, they have yet to show that due to our elastic brain architecture, the self-awareness function isn’t subsumed by different regions, as per context.

2 Paul N April 19, 2006 at 8:41 pm

Combine this research result with previous research that says that self awareness leads to depression. Now you can explain why people spend hours in front of their computer playing Solitaire, or delving bizarrely into sports statistics. My strategy: Wikipedia.

3 A Tykhyy April 20, 2006 at 2:22 am

fMRI researchers as a group remind me of the Leeuwenhoek microscopists, pointing their high-tech glass at anything from petals to horse feces with equal fascination and describing what they saw. This bit is interesting, though.

4 Blar April 20, 2006 at 2:41 am

Well that looks like some lousy science reporting. This post from Mixing Memory, about a previous example of bad reporting about neuroscience research, gives you a good sense of why that is. I don’t know how much of the problem is in the study itself, and how much is just in the write-up, but it’s pretty bad.

For starters, I have no clue why they use the phrase “robotic functionality” (other than because it sounds cool) – the study showed nothing of the sort. Does anyone seriously want to claim that it is just the superfrontal gyrus that separates us from robots? Setting the metaphors aside and looking at the technical finding, it also can’t be true that “there was no activity in the superfrontal gyrus”. fMRI studies usually use the “subtraction method”, which means that they compare the activity in some part of the brain in one condition with the activity in that part of the brain in another condition. In other words, they are looking at changes in activity. I haven’t looked at the paper, but I’m guessing that what they found was something like a decrease in activity there compared to some other condition. They couldn’t have found that there was nothing at all going on in the superfrontal gyrus, because the brain just doesn’t work that way and that’s not what neuroscience studies look for.

Finally, when the article is being careful they say that neuroscientists have found that the superfrontal gyrus is “the brain region associated with self-awareness-related function.” That indirect way of indicating a relationship between that part of the brain and self-awareness should clue you in to the fact that they don’t really understand how self-awareness is related to brain activity, and that the relationship may be a complex one (and even there, they should be saying “a brain region” not “the brain region”). Note that they don’t even say what they mean by “self-awareness” here – surely there are lots of definitions that you could give, some more philosophically interesting than others. Saying that the superfrontal gyrus is the “self-awareness” part of the brain, or that a drop in activity there means that “self-awareness” is being switched off, involves a large, unwarranted leap.

5 Rob Roy February 1, 2007 at 10:28 am

My apologies folks, I received an email which stated I should post my recently published and protected writing. I have copy and pasted it below and here is a link as well, should anyone be interested.
I am excited with all the interest and thrilled that some think it will help folks.
My sincerest best thoughts and good energy for health, happiness and harmony to you and yours.


Sapere aude!


The Individualistic Journey of Consciousness

By Robert Roy

Let me first start off by apologizing for the delay. After writing parts I and II a series of horrific events led to my losing what I thought were the only two things left that mattered to me, my son and my building where I operate my business. Normally I have no trouble when it comes to keeping bad energy at bay if not away. Unfortunately, when it comes to family court, money, lies and lawyering can pummel the truth when it is poor and not represented.

Anyway, afterwards, I was so devastated that I rattled off a very shallow Part III and sent it off to the editor, just glad to be done with it, no longer concerned with it. My concerns had been thrust back to survival, with room for little else. Fortunately, he sort of saw what I had done, and not knowing why, called me on it, thankfully. He is a wonderful and brilliant gentleman, and I can’t thank him enough. I explained to him a little and told him I would re-do Part III only when I could give it its due, and that I would send it to him. That was some time ago.

I have learned and grown much since then. Turns out I had a few more lessons to learn, and I am grateful. Not only am I almost back to my old self, but I expect to be even better, and feel it. I am already stronger, more in balance, more in control internally and externally of the good energies and bad that are in, around or go through me, and even more aware of the truth, internally and externally. Perhaps sufferings, paying for each and every speck of bad energy you have ever put out, whether intentional or mistakenly, are like going to school if you apply yourself, and eventually you graduate. I certainly feel that way. I am so much better, almost wonderful every day. I couldn’t explain it if I tried. Before this, I knew where I was headed, all was well and I was, what I thought was at that point, “very good† at being my awesome and wonderful self instead of my fragile bag of shit self, and that I put out quite a bit of good energy. I was quite happy with myself. Now I look back at that person like a child, if that makes any sense? I feel almost completely different, yet somewhat the same because I know I am still the same human.

The only reason I bother to ramble here with what I have told you is because it all came down to the most basic of self awareness even now for me, which ties right in to Part III, and for some strange reason it is even easier for me to explain now than when I first thought to. Go figure.

So if I remember long ago, and I hope folks kept their back issues of Telicom, I wrote about separating the consciousness from the container, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle, looking up the definition of human and then sitting down with ourselves for a little interview so to speak, to find out who we are and what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. Which brings us to ta-da, what I have been doing my whole life, asking why. Why, why, why, and not why me either. Why do I think this, why do I think that, why do I feel or not feel this way or that, why do I want or not want this or that, why do I need or not need this or that, why do I like or dislike this or that. If you want to get real good you can ask why you sit the way you sit or stand the way you stand or walk the way you walk. It goes on and on. Let me repeat. Why, why, why. It is really that easy.

It starts with truth. No matter how many times you have to ask yourself a question, keep asking it until you get past the fragile bag of shit self and tell the truth to yourself. Start with simple questions at first to sort of “get the hang of yourself†, to get a feel for when you know you need to ask the question again. Remember, you don’t have to “like† the answer, and many times you won’t, but with an understanding that you are being completely observational and “interviewing yourself† so to speak, having separated the consciousness from the container, with practice it will get easier. Perhaps the difficulty folks have with being honest with themselves is why so many turn to professionals. Then again I know of some who go just to convince themselves falsely. They feed bad info to the professional to get the results “they† wanted to convince themselves. Without the truth, whether to themselves or a professional if they go that route, any efforts are certainly fruitless.

Once you start with simple questions and get a feel for it you will really get going. You will find yourself telling folks things like, “I realized why I do this or that, why I hate this or that, or why I am this way or not this way, why I like or dislike this or that.† All sorts of self awareness at it’s simplest level and in a variety of areas about one’s self, both public, like why I like brown shoes or hate meatloaf, to private, like why I stole from my father or why I secretly watch a certain program. They are sure signs of what I call the first stages of self awareness of one’s self.

From my own experience, folks at this stage are like kids in the candy store, running around, excited to be learning so much about themselves and the world around them. Who they really are and what makes them tick, as long as they stick with the easy questions and like everything they see, is very exciting for them and it shows. They also seem to start paying attention more to the world around them. Perhaps because paying attention more internally leads naturally to paying more attention externally, who knows? That’s another discussion. Anyway, there is plenty of fun and adventure for these folks as they learn and grow internally with their new found “powers† and as they see how the work they are doing internally affects their external world. It seems the more they know about themselves the more they are able to apply what they know to their world. Paying attention has great rewards all by itself. You see these folks “amazed† that they notice something that they thought others should have noticed and that they think they “never would have noticed before.† Many of them quite quickly learn that paying attention and knowing basics about humans sometimes gives one an opportunity to take unfair advantage of some situations or people. These are the folks who know just enough to be dangerous as I like to say, and they are everywhere.

Anyway, from there, what I think is the next step, is when you start to find answers that you don’t like. When folks start running out of the easy questions to ask themselves, the fun and games is usually over. It could be things about yourself that hurt yourself or others in one way or another. It could be things that put out bad energy one way or another. It could be any number of things that we do, have done, or think, or feel, or even anything that we are a certain way about that we “know† is not right and true. It could be any number of “mistakes† we have made in our lives. It could be almost anything. This is where folks seem to stall and plateau. The moment that they can’t accept who they are. For most it is a breaking point. They will retreat from that point, some never to return. Others will make weak attempts throughout their life to regain that point with the vow to continue from there. This usually occurs during or after what they perceive to be “major screw-ups or mistakes† in their lives, and normally are short lived and futile efforts, little to no real progress. This sounds like quite a bit of what some call “the masses.† Not that most folks aren’t good people and aren’t trying to be good people, they just can’t accept internally whatever it is they can’t accept. They could all go on from there by either working through what they can’t accept or refuse to deal with internally or by working with someone that they can trust. With a little remedial work and some time they could get right back to where they were and go forward, continuing, and another hurdle, whether big or small, overcome.

That’s part of the problem. Folks think because of the fun and games at first and the excitement, the newness, the feelings of empowerment, the advantages they think they feel over others “not as aware† as them, that it will always be that way. Then when the road starts to get a little rough, when they should be headed for the deep end and out of the wading pool, they can’t handle it, and despite all the good and all the knowledge and awareness they have accumulated, learning and growing, even the “empowerment†, most what I like to say “skittle† back to the wading pool. There, most will distract themselves, hiding from their fear and ignorance, their rejection of where they know they were and could have gone made easier by the effects on them and their lives of the blurry and distorted decision making capabilities they have basically signed up for. Volunteered for it seems. Although sometimes it is their inability to apply their new selves to the world around them without what they perceive to be serious catastrophic consequences, whether real or imagined that causes them to retreat and give up, that is the rare and not the norm. Most choose. That darn free will.

As for making sense of asking myself why until I was blue in the face and finally told myself the truth and recommending it as a simple and effective self awareness / consciousness self improvement technique, the reasoning I have found behind it is like this, it gives you control, it makes you the programmer of yourself and your destiny so to speak.

Pretend you are a calculator, and every time someone presses 2+2, you give them an answer of 5. At first, you don’t even know it is wrong, and are merrily answering 5 proudly every time, unaware of your mistake. Now let’s say you found out you were giving the wrong answer. What can you do? Nothing, and even though you now know it is wrong and know that the answer is 4 and want to give the answer of 4, and would if you could, you can’t, and keep on, now very unhappily giving the wrong answer of 5 whenever 2+2 is pressed. You would feel like you had no control. You would feel like you would do anything not to give that darn wrong answer now that you are “aware† it is wrong. What you would find is that knowing that you are giving that wrong answer and thinking there was nothing you could do about it would have major implications on your ability to be the best calculator you could be. You would sit and think of ways to avoid having 2+2 pressed just so you didn’t give that darn wrong answer again, and you would hate it every time 2+2 was pressed. Even despise anyone who in your mind forced you to give a wrong answer, even if they didn’t know you would give the wrong answer if they pressed 2+2. It is easy to see things escalating here.

Now, let’s say you could open yourself up and go in there and find out why you give the answer of 5 when 2+2 is pressed. You certainly would if you could, one would think. Once you find out WHY, the magic question, then you can make the proper adjustment so that when 2+2 is pressed you will give the answer of 4. Trust me; you will be very happy to be able to give the right answer of 4 instead of 5 afterwards. So who wouldn’t want to find out why they answer 5 when 2+2 is pressed? Who wouldn’t want to be their own programmer of themselves and their destiny?

To me, I was just like that calculator, only instead of giving wrong answers I might have just not liked the way I did something or felt uncomfortable in certain situations, whatever it was. By finding out why I whatever, truly why, cutting through the bullcrap fragile bag of shit self and its defenses, I was then able to make any necessary adjustments to make the changes I wanted to make, and seeing the resulting changes validated the method to me a very long time ago. Then I saw the method work with others when I shared it. Further validating it and causing me to think I was really onto something that could help folks. Unfortunately, over the years, most of those I shared it with went on to abuse it and linger in the know enough to be dangerous category, stuck on refusing to accept who they were and taking it out on themselves and the world around them. The good old plateau of the masses, the second stage as I like to call it. This caused me to retreat from consulting as I thought I was putting out bad energy, and I resolved to only consult folks who were ready and in a good place to accept such ever again. Needless to say I haven’t run across too many folks actively trying to get out of the wading pool that I was ever in a position to consult in these matters, so I had resigned to hunting and pecking, choosing carefully how and who to help and in what situation. A little here and a little there so to speak, on the sly, with most not even aware of my assistance.

To wrap this up, hopefully you folks can see what I have been trying to relate to you here. I started by separating my consciousness from its current container, a male human. I then researched everything I could find about the male human as well as humans in general, including here, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Triangle with its nice levels and explanations. Then I observationally asked myself a couple of million why questions and refused to allow my fragile bag of shit self to hide any of the true answers whether I liked them or not. Then, as I learned the why of something internally and gained control over it I was able to make the necessary changes I wanted to get the results I wanted instead of the auto pilot ones like the calculator. I became my own programmer, of myself and my destiny. Now if I take that same person and go back and look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs triangle it’s a walk in the park. I know who I am and where I am going. There is no bouncing around, learning and growing, changing who I am after the results of every blurry and distorted decision making capability related choice. Using the truth, and knowing who I truly am, my true good and my true bad, and having the utmost faith in my decisions thanks to them not being blurry and distorted, I am able to choose my own path externally by what feels right because I stay on my true path internally regardless of anything external, and by feels right I really mean it. Not even questionable, I know when anything “feels† right or wrong, nearer or farther from my true self and my true path. My paying attention internally makes me very aware externally so I can pass on anything “feeling† iffy or “feeling† wrong and wait until “feeling† right every time because I know how to ask myself why I “feel† that way and get the true answer. I’ve said I’m like a trained seal. It really is that easy, and why I have always said that I thought anyone could be like me. All I do is pay attention and ask myself why lots more than most folks, nothing difficult, and the control I have internally is as well reflected externally in most situations. I find myself happier, healthier and more harmonious than nearly everyone I ever meet, and I hope I have been able to share this with you in a way that you can understand, even benefit from. I wish everyone would wake up and take control of who they are and be their awesome and wonderful selves sharing their gifts with the world. I certainly wish the best of health, happiness and harmony to everyone and will certainly answer any questions anyone might wish to ask of me related to what I have written. I would also welcome any comments or concerns, good or bad. I’m easy, and don’t expect my perceptions to be agreeable to everyone. I agreed to share my thoughts in this area, and have. I was strange long before you folks found out.

In my own situation, I had carried on the way I mention above for many, many years, until last spring, and was very happy with myself, the world, my journey. I spent as many moments as I could being my awesome and wonderful self and put out plenty of good energy. I became a role model for everyone around me at any time, doing the right thing, and standing up for the truth. I was a good person in every aspect of my understanding of the word. Folks called me a softy, I would help anyone. As I said, I thought I was “good† at “it†, and I was seeing the results externally, everything was fantastic. I was uneducated and came from nothing and worked my way up honestly with hard work to be successful at lots of things by word of mouth and reputation. I was just starting to have serious money and enjoy my wonderful family. Now don’t get me wrong, I made my mistakes as well. Knowing more, you make more mistakes actually, and I use to tell folks that I made more mistakes in one day than most make in years or a lifetime.

But anyway, all that changed now. I had a few more very painful lessons to learn, and I still have some bad energy to deal with as part of that, and may have to find another way to pay the bills soon, but I am in a far better place than I ever was and it’s only getting better even though I can’t explain it yet. I just know paying attention and WHY got me here, and wish it on all of you. Just don’t take the same route on your path that I took on mine. 🙂

My sincerest best thoughts and good energy of health, happiness and harmony to everyone, and again, my apologies for the delay.

Everything is as it should be right now.

Peace, Love and Light

Robert Roy

ISPE Fellow

Dec 2006

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