Being Human: Non-Conscious Brain
A Purely Animal Existence
We do not start our lives as fully formed human beings. Our lives start as pure potential at the moment sperm and ovum meet and the resulting cell starts to subdivide. The early years both inside and outside the womb are largely unconscious until the physical development of the individual reaches the level of complexity necessary for the emergence of consciousness. Our animal side develops long before the spiritual kicks in.
The baseline for all further development is this non-consciousness purely animal existence. All subsequent progress is the result of the improvement of this "fleshy" existence, at least until the upper transcendental level starts to take over as the control mediator--and even then it is in contrast with this worldly involvement.
While a considerable amount of attention is paid to the functions of the brain--speech centers, etc.--very little has been paid to the intentions around which these functions are arranged. In terms of these non-conscious "intentions" we consider three emergent levels of achievement. The first of these is the ability of the individual to maintain itself over a wide variety of external and internal conditions: homeostasis. The second coordinates the sensory input with the control of various muscles in order for the individual to make a change in its environment: motor control. The third and perhaps the most complex of the three is the non-conscious creation of a mediated world constructed by identifying and labeling significant recurring patterns from a flood of incoming sensory signals: the identifying, classifying and indexing system (ICIS).
Base Recurring Schemes of Operations: Homeostasis
Whether we like it or not, our primary concern is to keep alive in a variety of circumstances. Since we are a highly mobile species, at least in two dimensions, and warm-blooded, maintaining capabilities over a wide variety of temperatures, we are sensitive to boundary conditions as well as internal regulatory demands for self-maintenance.
Human beings go through a cycle of physical development, maturity, and old age--not to mention the physical changes brought about through pregnancy. Throughout all these personal changes, the entity must retain a personal integrity that can continue to operate as the environment changes.
Such adaptions mean that we live in a world where change is a lived reality, some for the better and some for the worse. At first the need for warmth, shelter, food, and water predominates. This gives rise to the experienced reality of scarcity, loss, want, and need in a world where at first everything seems conditional. At times threat recognition takes priority over everything else, in which case personal well-being is superseded by the sheer need for survival at any cost. This is the origin of a self constructed around the need to dominate and control, where the most important feature is the individual's own wishes, wants, desires, and needs over that of any other person. Young children are the most perfect of all egotists.
Scarcity, want, loss, death are thus linked with the need to dominate, to control. Upon these "realities" human existence in a finite world is constructed. It is our normal foundational stance, our primary form of orientation within whatever unique time-and-space-specific world we are born and live out our lives. It applies to any human anywhere, any when. It is our very human common sense baseline.
Emergent Recurring Schemes of Operations: Motor Control
Homeostasis depends in part on accurate and reliable motor control. This requires the ability to coordinate a number of subsystems involving among other things eyes, ears, mouth, hands, legs, and feet. Without such fine motor control, the entity would blunder about in his or her world, bumping into things, dropping things, bruising hands and fists as mistakes and errors are made.
Such control extends the individual in both time and space in a series of ever receding zones that establish the individual's operating environment. Eyes can pick out details at a distance of miles as well as immediate surrounds, making it the dominate sensory input where eye/hand coordination is absolutely necessary. They provide an early warning system, though one that requires a focused attention as they are essential depth of field instruments rather than a 360 degree sensor system. Ears also provide a warning system via a stereo imaging system that establishes the presence of bodies otherwise not perceived by the eyes, direction and a crude sense of depth via loudness. Smell is more defused in terms of direction, but is an intermediate zone of attention that extends beyond touch. Touch is a complex sensory form, involving the sensing of temperature, breezes on the hairs of the skin, direct pressure from objects in direct contact with the entity, and even the detection of chemical via specialized taste buds. In all cases, there is an overload indicator that sends emergency signals that damage to one or more of the systems is taking place.
Motor control dominates a fight or flight reflex for the simple reason that a sessile entity with no possibility of such control does not require such a reflex; only a creature capable of intentional response to a threat requires the ability to immediately act at an automatic level. This means that the basic human animal has an inbuilt scheme of operations dedicated to probing the surround for potential dangers that threaten the entity's well-being or existence. In other worlds, human like all animals probe their environment for rewards and threats, an elementary classification that involves assessments of good/bad, strong/week, active/passive attributes. Also, this pre-sorting brings the reality of scarcity, of lack, of limitations, of non-existence, and of death into the human experience.
Emergent Processing Schemes of Operation
Homeostasis and motor control meaning nothing if there is not a way to codify the flood of incoming electro-chemical signals to the brain. The third intentional recurring schemes of operation have to do with detecting, codifying, and storing significant patterns from the thousands if not millions of incoming signals impacting the brain. This takes place in two states that rapidly oscillate between each other: raw input and data organizing.
The first task involves identifying and tagging significant bodies. In its early stages this is little more than being able to recognize a mother's smile or the presence of a nipple, but over time this processing skills develops as the physical capacity of the brain improves. When mature, this system can identify unique individuals from a crowd of thousands if not millions based upon a body of stored tokens that stand for the various objects and their properties. For one of the significant features of this recurring scheme is the ability to distinguish an inner form from a variety of "superficial" characteristics. So the object/token "chair" is still identified as a chair even though it may be made of different materials and take a different shape.
The second task involves creating a scene that combines a wide variety of object/tokens into a non-conscious field that places each object within a broad context. Such fields of coverage provide a pre-conscious conceptual map of the individual and his or her surroundings such that each individual "animal" knows where and when it exists, a psychological present that incorporates both time and space into a single unity. This requires an ability to relate bodies and events to each other, something that depends on the creation of an indexing system that breaks down into four primary patterns of experience:
The third task involves a memory storage system that breaks down into two primary forms: the immediate psychological presence and long-term "behind the scenes" storage for later immediate retrieval should circumstance call for it. The brain calls up--brings to non-conscious attention--the necessary object/tokens and fields to enable the entity to locate themselves in both time and space. These can be arranged in sequences that define an event that itself can be treated as an object/token. So there are patterns of anticipation and prediction that are inbuilt into the signal-processing skills of the brain. All this requires a store-house of already recognized individual and composite object/tokens that we know as long-term memory. Much of human experience involves the creation and every more refined and differentiated objects and operations that provide depth and texture to human life.
There are two criterions at play: an accurate and reliable correspondence with sense reality, and an internal consistency that reduces confusion and disorientation. Correspondence is a necessity, for any discrepancy between the internal non-conscious "map" and the affirmed sensate world leaves the entity exposed to unexpected dangers that threaten the individual's survival. While there will always be a difference between the "map" and the real affirmed world, the task of these recurring schemes is to recognize when there is a discrepancy and take steps to redraw the internal field. The same goes for maintaining an internal consistency, for any areas of conflict within the field or long-term storage only reflects a conflict in the original object/token creation. If the sensate world did not have an innate consistency, than the universe would be a chaotic place where no meaningful field or map could ever come into existence. This is the origin of the possibility if not probability of both myth and magic in human affairs.
Once the physical network of nerves and nerve connections grow by some power of ten, the neural system reaches a take-off point that can support a conscious self-referral indexing of tokens and token frames we know as consciousness.
© Russell C. Baker, 2017
Entering Lonergan's Novum Organon