Consciousness is not unique to the brain, and the body can also “call orders”
Have you ever thought about the question: Our consciousness is not exclusive to the brain, but is shaped by the electrical signals from the heart and other organs? More and more studies have found that the signals transmitted by the various organs of the body affect our perception of the world, decisions we make, our feelings about ourselves, and even shape consciousness itself.
If the body plays a vital role in anything related to the mind, does that mean that a machine or robot that cannot integrate signals from the body will never truly have consciousness?
Ten years ago, Sarah Garfunkel did research in Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is located in the United States, and found that people who have had a long-term experience of horror and fear, even if they live in a prosperous and peaceful city, are still full of hearts. A sense of fear. This discovery shocked her and changed her career ever since. Garfunkel was studying brain circuits related to persistent fear in Michigan. But when communicating with patients who have experienced trauma, she realized two very important things. First, a safe environment does not help them reduce their fear; second, their fear is both mental and physical-when fear strikes, they will have a series of physical reactions, such as a faster heartbeat , Dilated pupils, sweaty palms, etc.
“In my opinion, their physical reactions represent a certain meaning, and the research I have done is only to scan their brains.” After discovering these two points, she began to focus on the connection between the body and mind. the study.
Heartbeat and breathing will “control” the brain, and the body and mind are inseparable
The body plays a vital role in anything related to the mind.The organs in the human body transmit feedback signals to the brain, and thus become a key component of consciousness
Garfunkel of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom found that the body’s influence on our thoughts is much greater than people think. “Most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are shaped by the signals sent by all parts of the body. of”.
More than that, she and other researchers even came to a surprising conclusion: the body is also helpful in the generation of our self-awareness, and it is a key component of consciousness.
This finding has practical implications for evaluating patients with few signs of consciousness, because it allows us to reconsider the boundary between life and death and provides a new perspective on how consciousness evolves.
Scientists have long known that the organs in the human body have their own physiological activities. They generate electrical activity and transmit these activity signals to the brain via neurons. Therefore, the slow and regular peristalsis of the heartbeat, respiration, and stomach and intestines are all manifested in the electrical activity of the brain through signals, and the brain regulates the functions of various organs by feeding back these signals. In other words, our body has a complete neural network. In this network, nerve cells transmit information from the organs to the brain, which is then processed by the brain and then transmitted to the various organs.
However, in the past 100 years, neuroscientists seem to have overlooked the important role of the body in consciousness. They simply associate spiritual life with the brain. The “brain in a tank” thinking experiment is a microcosm of this view-in this experiment, a brain that has been separated from the body continues to have a normal conscious experience.
Entering the 21st century, this understanding has begun to change. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California in the United States pioneered “embodiment consciousness”, that is, research in the field of body consciousness.
“I have been defending the view that the body plays a vital role in anything related to the mind.” For many years, in the field of consciousness research, Damasio’s theory has only represented a minority. , But now, some researchers including Garfunkel have also begun to stand on his side and explore the origin of self-awareness in various parts of the body.
The stronger the intuition, the more obvious the illusion, the body intervenes in the brain to decide like this
Using the brain’s response to the heartbeat, scientists have discovered the relationship between internal feelings and the brain’s self-awareness, and body organs help to produce a sense of self-sustainability, which may play an important role in the continuity of self-consciousness
The starting point of “embodiment consciousness” is inner feeling and inner feeling function, a kind of our sixth sense of what happens to our body. A simple way to measure inner feelings is to have a person count the number of heartbeats within a certain fixed time frame and compare the calculated number with the actual value measured by an electrocardiogram (ECG). People’s ability to self-test their heartbeats varies greatly. Those who can most accurately perceive their own heartbeats tend to make better decisions based on intuition and are better at perceiving the emotions of others.
How does inner feeling happen? In order to understand this problem, researchers need to obtain readings of sensations in the brain.
They found that the brain responds to the heartbeat, which is called heartbeat evoked brain potential (HEP). Many studies focus on this because HEP is relatively easy to measure, and the heartbeat is not completely regular, so it can filter HEP from other brain activities. By recording a person’s heartbeat through an electrocardiogram and scanning his brain at the same time, HEP can be found. It is an activity that manifests when the various brain areas of the brain are in a “resting state”. Even if a person is not doing anything consciously, it is also active.
In 2016, scientists finally had clues about how HEP works. At that time, neuroscientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne conducted an experiment: Volunteers put on virtual reality headsets and watched the virtual scene of their back being stroked, just like being stroked in reality. After a while, they described how they felt about themselves, saying that their body positions seemed to be closer to their virtual selves, rather than their actual positions.
The measurement found that the more obvious the HEP, the stronger the illusion. According to the researchers, this is the first neurophysiological evidence that proves the connection between inner feelings and the brain’s self-awareness. “HEP reflects changes in the body’s self-awareness, such as self-identity, and changes to the virtual body.” said Olaf Blanco, head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The research team proved that the body’s sense of self is not passive, it is involved in every decision we make. In fact, the research results of Blanco’s research group are based on the research of American physiologist Benjamin Libet. In 1983, Libet discovered a brain signal that appeared in the brain before a person realized his behavioral intentions. Libet interpreted this discovery as: There is no free will in the world. The Blanco team found that this signal is actually related to a particular physical behavior, such as a certain movement that unconsciously accompanies breathing. Blanco believes that this discovery clearly shows that “free will behavior is subject to a variety of internal physical states.”
Through these experiments, Blanco et al. proposed that the signals from the organs, together with the signals from the outside world, transmit the body’s self-awareness information to the brain—including self-identity and self-positioning, just like the illusion of the body. They also believe that body organs contribute to a sense of self-sustainability during the passage of time, which may play an important role in the continuity of self-awareness.
Form an independent and subjective “I”, body signals establish a frame of reference for the brain
The heartbeat is like an additional visual information, it can even react differently to “I” and “me”.Researchers believe that consciousness should be an attribute produced by the brain after integrating all the information from the organism.
As for the role of the body in self-awareness, Catherine Tallon Baudry, a neuroscientist at the Ecole de Paris in France, has a different view.
She believes that the brain is constantly bombarded by signals from inside and outside the body, which is the result of the brain’s own cognitive process. These signals are processed by different brain circuits. The rhythmic signals from the organs set up a unified frame of reference for the brain. This allows us to perceive all information from the perspective of an independent and subjective “I”. “I believe that consciousness is an attribute produced by the brain after integrating all the information from an organism.” This view is supported by a series of experiments.
In 2014, Talon Baudry and others began to explore how HEP affects our conscious experience of things. They asked the subjects to focus on a certain central point, and then asked them if they could see a faint halo around that point. Before actually showing the halo, the larger the HEP, the more likely it is to see it.
“The heartbeat is like an extra visual information,” Talon Baudry said. It also provides the inner “mental state” of conscious experience. “I see something” is the inner reaction of “I”. We should not ignore the element of’I’ in perception.” She said.
Blanco believes that this study is an excellent proof of the threshold of consciousness, but he believes that there is no need to conclude that there is self-involvement. To solve this problem, Talon Baudry and her team designed another study.
This time, they focused on the difference between the nominative “I” (I) and the accusative “I” (me). Talon Baudry believes that “I” captures the most basic aspect of the self-the aspect before thoughts are produced, and is a unified entity for thinking. It is fundamentally different from the reflection on “me”, which means the monitoring of different body functions without a sense of unity.
In order to verify whether the brain processes these concepts differently, Talon Baudry’s team asked volunteers undergoing brain scans to focus on thinking about something, and then let their brains “wander freely.” During this process, people would interrupt the subjects from time to time, asking them whether they thought of “I” or “me” in their brains at that moment. Of course, these people were trained in advance to recognize the two. Based on which “I” they reported and where HEP occurs in the brain, the researchers determined for the first time that the brain can indeed distinguish these two concepts.
In a study, Talon Baudry’s research team also explained how the body affects our decisions about personal preferences, and personal preferences determine our position in the eyes of others in many ways.
In the experiment, the researchers let the volunteers see 200 famous movie posters and asked them to rate these movies. The next day, the researchers asked them to choose their favorite poster while tracking their HEP. Like the usual experience, people’s reactions are not exactly the same, but the answers given by the highest HEP are the most consistent with their initial ratings. Because when their brains are most closely related to listening to their inner voices, their choices are also the most real.
The body state is projected into the brain, and evolution condenses life’s reflection on nature
Four billion years ago, primitive creatures began to monitor the signals released by changes in sensations such as hunger, thirst, and pain. In the subsequent evolution of life, these states are projected into the brain, eventually forming a unified “I” of consciousness and experience.
Blanco’s concept of physical self-consciousness may not be far from Talon Baudry’s concept of physical consciousness. But is Garfunkel’s research consistent with their views?
Garfunkel explored two related concepts: signals from the body affect emotions; emotions shape self-awareness through memory and learning.
Through cooperation with autistic patients, she has come to the conclusion that the root of their communication difficulties is that their brains are filled with too much information input from themselves and others from instinctive emotions.
Garfunkel’s research based on the overactive body-brain axis has returned to the fear and emotional distress that plagued those with psychological trauma. In her recent research, she adopted a classic psychology paradigm called “fear conditioning” to allow volunteers to learn to associate neutral stimuli with negative consequences.
After measuring people’s heartbeat and skin conductivity, Garfunkel found that when people feel fear, the skin conductivity increases; when volunteers are stimulated, the heart shows more contraction than when it relaxes. Fear, “signals from the heart really cause a conditioned fear response.”
Garfunkel does not like to talk about consciousness, she thinks it is a very vague concept. “Consciousness works on so many levels.” But she believes that she, like Blanco and Talon Baudry, is trying to solve the same problems. From an evolutionary perspective, the views of these scientists are not contradictory.
4 billion years ago, primitive creatures began to monitor changes in their physical state, including signals released by sensory changes such as hunger, thirst, and pain, and began to develop feedback mechanisms to maintain balance. The remains of these primitive mechanisms are our autonomic nervous system, which controls some of the body’s functions, such as heartbeat and digestion. For these neural activities, we are basically unconscious.
About 500 million years ago, the central nervous system characterized by the brain evolved. “This is a reflection of nature.” Damasio said that changes in the body state are projected into the brain and reflected in the form of emotions or desire impulses, such as feeling fearful or wanting to eat Desire. Later, evolution once again moved in the direction of subjectivity. This change was related to the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system evolved into the physical framework of the central nervous system. At the same time, it also provided a stable frame of reference—the unified “I” of conscious experience. “.
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