[ExI] Pain and anesthesia was Re: Possible seat of consciousness found

Stuart LaForge avant at sollegro.com
Thu Feb 27 19:42:57 UTC 2020

Quoting Henrik Ohrstrom:

> Seems like the discussion is back at :
> https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie
> Again........

Indeed. Philosophical zombies seem to only exist in philosophy and not  
in reality. I think the reason is that in philosophy, something is  
either conscious or its not. In science, however, consciousness is a  
gradient with no sharp boundaries. Even a simple analog thermostat  
could be thought of as having a single "mote" of conscious awareness  
devoted entirely to monitoring the temperature of its environment. It  
seems fair to say that AlphaZero is aware of everything that  
transpires on its virtual game boards.

However, the mechanism by which an integrated self or ego arises out  
of a large and disparate, but coherent set of such motes of awareness  
still eludes me.

In any case, P-zombies are upon reflection a truly repugnant  
philosophical idea. The notion that a being that by every objective  
measure was intelligent and aware of its environment could be denied  
the dignity, rights, and consideration afforded to all conscious  
beings because of an arbitrary label that by definition is supposed to  
be assigned against evidence to the contrary is the premise of much  
dystopian and apocalyptic science fiction.

> My personal take on this is that consciousness is variable and subject to
> conditions surrounding the person/subject.
> When I am stressed enough, tired enough or in other ways impaired (not
> drunk since university) I do not think that I am properly conscious.
> At the same time I do know that I can exhibit a behaviour that my
> surroundings interpretate as intelligent.

I think everybody has days where they feel less conscious than others.  
It does lend evidence to the notion of a gradient of consciousness.

> (How is that I know such things?
> As an senior anesthetist, I do get to experience that level of stress more
> often than I enjoy.)

I had forgotten you were an expert on anesthesia. Your insights into  
anesthesia actually helped make the results of the Neuron paper by  
Redinbaugh et al a bit less strange to me.

> Anyway if in an situation where your physical incarnation ( what is the
> term for everything you that is not the conscious part ?)  needs to act
> fast and follow a more or less automated program, then your consciousness
> is a hindrance and if it interferes with proceedings you loose time and
> effectiveness.

What you are describing here is popularly referred to as a flow state,  
immersion, or being "in the zone". I think it is a specialized state  
of focused consciousness rather than a lack of consciousness per se.  
You are focused on a task or your environment rather than on your ego  

As far as a term for everything but the slow deliberate executive  
function of ego consciousness, I am unaware of any term of art more  
descriptive than the subconscious brain and body? Perhaps substrate?

> So when writing a lecture my consciousness is up front, when my RN has
> fumbled an intubation, or in the trauma room,  I most certainly am not
> leading with conscious thought.
> The rest of the day my conscious is dealing with logistics and some other
> part of me is handling the hands on stuff.

Have you never achieved a full immersion flow state while writing a  
lecture? How about when delivering one? I think I have in both writing  
and speaking as well as during driving or other manual tasks.

> Can a subject with disputable consciousness feel the qualia of pain?
> This is in the same category as tree fall forest sound stuff. If we block
> the expression of pain in a sedated body (is there an consciousness? I
> don't know) is there pain if there's no one to feel it?
> Seems like there's not. When we quit sedation and allow whatever level of
> consciousness to return, the patient do not express any signs of problems
> related to the pain.

This actually makes a lot of sense to me. If the pain signals can't be  
integrated into overall consciousness, then they cannot be remembered.  
So without integration, there is nobody home to feel and remember the  
pain. We become a bunch of separate sensory "thermostats" instead of a  
unified conscious self.

> IE perform surgery on a patient who is treated with propofol ( hypnotic
> agent with dubious pain effectiveness) block sympathetic response to pain
> with ultrafast beta-blocker ( that is surgery without pain medication) and
> both surgeon and patient are happy afterwards.
> This always make me feel qualia-schmalia.......

The monkeys in the Neuron paper were treated with propofol, yet when  
their thalamus was stimulated with an electrical current, they could  
reach for objects in their visual field and feel pain in response to  
toe-pinching. This suggests that the thalamus is responsible for the  
binding of nerve impulses into qualia that are perceived by conscious  
awareness. So the perception of qualia arise from disparate nervous  
signals in the same fashion (and perhaps using the same mechanism)  
that a perceived unified self arises from a billions of separate  
neurons all doing their own thing. That is amazing.

Stuart LaForge

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