The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 18 No. 7 • November 2015


Originally Published in Our Newsletter of June 2015 (Vol. 18 No. 2):

Revolutionary New View of Consciousness:
Science Fiction Merges With Reality
The Brain As a Community of Interacting Pieces

We were amazed to see that, in the May 2015 Nature Neuroscience, a paper was published (X. Wan et al. Neural encoding of opposing strategy values in anterior and posterior cingulate cortex,” pp. 752-759; commentary on pp. 616-617) that goes a very long way in supporting the notion that the brain is made up of discrete areas that, in decision-making, come to a decision by a consensus process, with competition between the differing areas as to what the areas would prefer as a decision. In other words, the idea that our personalities are not homogeneous, there really may be different characters inside our heads, and there is a continuous process of negotiation going on between these characters to produce a single decision that includes “everybody” in the decision-making process. What was nuts yesterday could be scientifically respectable today!

The way the authors of the commentary put it: “This result speaks to the idea that decisions may be realized via a distributed consensus, a viewpoint that argues that no single brain area is critical in decision-making, but that decisions instead emerge via competitions occurring in many brain regions.”

The process called “automatic writing,” which, since William James’ (Koutstaal, 1992) early writings on the subject (1885-1899), was used to describe how an author of fiction could write a story and just let the words flow—it seems as if the text writes itself—without consciously interceding in the process would be entirely consistent with this viewpoint of distributed consciousness. The flow is where you allow the different brain areas to interact, watching them while they do this rather than directing them via central control. You might have to be a fiction writer to have had the experience of writing this way, with characters seeming to emerge spontaneously from the subconscious.

Reference

  • Koutstaal. Skirting the abyss: a history of experimental explorations of automatic writing in psychology. J Hist Behav Sci. 28:5-27 (1992).

This dissociation of the consciousness into mutually exclusive parts is evidently a phenomenon destined, whenunderstood, to cast a light into the abysses of Psychology.

—William James (Koutstaal, 1992)

Getting to the actual experiments described in Nature Neuroscience (Kolling, 2015): The researchers used a Japanese game called shogi in which the players make decisions concerning moves that have either an offensive or a defensive purpose. The game is well suited to this, it is said, because the moves are so clear as to whether they are defensive or offensive. So while the players are making these decisions/moves, they are followed by fMRI to identify which parts of the brain are interacting. The result was that they found very specific areas worked together when you made a defensive decision and very specific other areas worked together when you made an offensive decision. Posterior cingulate cortex reflected the subjective value of offensive strategies, while rostral anterior cingulate cortex activated as a function of the subjective value of the defensive strategy. These two regions interacted with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is said to be implicated in cognitive control. The commentary’s authors (Wan, 2015) put it this way: “… the functional connectivity results of Wan et al suggest that, in addition to distributed competition, changes in connectivity could be crucial for understanding how flexible choices could be implemented.”

This is a revolutionary view of human consciousness that appears now to have emerged from science fiction to reach a highly reputable scientific journal.

References

  • Kolling and Hunt. Divide and conquer: strategic decision areas. Nat Neurosci. 18(5):616-7 (2015).
  • Wan, Cheng, Tanaka. Neural encoding of opposing strategy values in anterior and posterior cingulate cortex. Nat Neurosci. 18(5):752-9 (2015).

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