LivingWhat is consciousness? What does science say?

What is consciousness? What does science say?

We are always told that conscience is the little voice inside our head or Jiminy Cricket that tells us to do the right thing and prevents us from doing anything wrong. We often find ourselves searching for this inner voice in the hope that it will guide us to make the right decision .

That said, what is that magical “inner voice”? Is it the angel and devil resting on your shoulders, as depicted in pop culture? It could be that or it could be something very real, made up of nerve cells and transmitters that regulate how you feel about something.

What are consciousness and consciousness?

According to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), the terms “awareness” and “awareness” are not interchangeable in all contexts. When we speak of conscience we are referring to the moral sense, that is, the person’s ability to distinguish between good and evil. On the other hand, when we use the term consciousness , we refer to the person’s ability, or inability, to recognize reality and relate to it.

Something curious is that, despite the fact that consciousness and consciousness are not used to express the same thing, consciousness does not have an adjective and consciousness does not have a verb , so in these forms they are used interchangeably. Therefore, there is neither conscious , nor unconscious , nor awareness .

The adjective conscious , if accompanied by the verb “to be”, comes to mean that consciousness has not been lost ( “despite the blow, he is conscious and oriented” ), but if it is accompanied by the verb “to be”, it means to know something and be aware of it ( “is aware of its limitations” ). As for the verb to raise awareness , it means to make someone aware of something ( “in schools children are made aware of drugs and tobacco” ).

Although, once the terms have been explained, it is no longer very difficult for us to distinguish between the two concepts, understanding them in depth is already big words.

Yes, it is true that consciousness has been thoroughly studied in various fields , such as philosophy, psychology, neurophysiology, etc., but consciousness has not been so lucky, and despite being a fundamental component of human existence , remains a great unknown , almost like something mystical. It has not been studied as thoroughly, and is still considered terra incognita in terms of neurophysiology, brain geography, and other factors.

What role does conscience play?

The conscience performs two functions: helping the person decide what is right and how he decides it . These two concepts are called ethical awareness and ethical decision making. Ethical awareness refers to our ability to recognize ethical principles and values. Our conscience, according to the medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, arose from the synderesis (natural ability to do the right thing) or “spark of conscience”. It implies the capacity of the human mind to understand the world in moral terms. This speaks to how conscientious an individual is about their moral views.

It refers to our ability to make practical judgments based on ethical ideas and values . Aristotle refers to this process as Phronesis , the quality of practical reason in his writings. It is the ability to assess a situation in order to act righteously under those conditions. A well-formed and informed conscience (aware of facts, evidence, etc.) allows us to understand ourselves and our environment, and to behave appropriately.

Consciousness from the point of view of science

There is a school of thought in evolutionary biology that argues that moral argument has a social function, that it binds societies together no matter what the issues are or what is right. Furthermore, many of our moral principles , such as the belief that we should not betray our friends or abandon our children, have been sculpted by natural selection to maximize our ability to survive as a group. Other laws, such as the correctness of reciprocity, are similar: we instinctively know that if someone gives us something, we must reciprocate at some later time.

It is known that our consciousness comes from a social stimulus , from our community. When someone lies, the community disapproves, and telling the truth is rewarded. This is believed to be internalized and accepted as part of the culture. It has also been observed that, in primates, the shared bond between a mother and child gradually extended to their mating partners, and later to the next of kin and the child. This has been passed down through the generations, along with the moral obligation to behave and do what is right for themselves or their environment.

Studies in neurobiology have revealed concrete evidence to suggest that there may be certain locations in the brain that cater to moral reasoning or obligation. When they analyzed a lot of data and brain scans, they revealed that if certain areas of the brain were damaged, they could cause reduced reactions or inhibitions. This indicates that if particular nerves are damaged, their moral reaction or stimuli may be reduced and limited, so that this person might “be less conscientious.” It has also been studied that these damages, if they occur in children, could cause a permanent loss of the ability to have moral terms .

The concept of free will may also be intertwined with consciousness. There are those who defend that, with the exception of neutral actions, free will can only have two results (according to who interprets it): doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing. When a person does the right thing, he feels peace of mind, a sense of relaxation, etc. But if the person chooses to do the wrong thing, they have a feeling of uneasiness, they can be labeled and they lose their peace of mind. This has a measurable result, that is, consciousness can be measured or calculated. However, scientists have not been very successful in pinpointing the exact points in the brain that can help measure a “conscious” decision .

All these factors could try to make us understand what consciousness is, although we still have a long way to go.

References:

Christakis, N. A. (2019, 30 de Mayo). The neurobiology of conscience. Nature, 569, 627–628. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-01658-w
“Conscience” vs. “Conscious”: Let Us Be Your Guide. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/usage-of-conscience-vs-conscious
Ethics Explainer: Conscience (2017, 17 de Noviembre). The Ethics Centre. https://ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-conscience/
Real Academia Española, RAE. (s.f.). Conciencia. Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, RAE – ASALE. https://www.rae.es/dpd/conciencia
Vithoulkas, G., & Muresanu, D. F. (2014). Conscience and consciousness: a definition. Journal of medicine and life7(1), 104–108. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956087/
 

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