You might think you know yourself, but you’re wrong. Scientists who study how the brain shapes identity and behavior say that we are actually quite unaware of who we really are. Much of what drives our actions and shapes our personality is unconscious.
The nature of consciousness has long baffled psychologists and cognitive scientists, but recent research is bolstering a consensus, said Ezequiel Morsella, a psychologist at
If you think of the brain as a set of different computers, each of which performs different complicated tasks and proceduress, consciousness is like the Wi-Fi network that integrates the computers’ activities so that they can work together, Morsella explained.
For example, if you are carrying a hot plate of food to the table, one of your brain’s “computers” will tell you to drop the plate because it’s burning your skin, whereas another will tell you to hold on so the food doesn’t end up on the floor. The brain requires the “Wi-Fi network” of consciousness so that the different computers can interact, hash things out and determine what you do. It’s “a physical state that integrates systems in the brain that would otherwise not be integrated,” Morsella said in a telephone interview.
Given the limited role that conscious thought plays in shaping behavior and personality, and the complexity of all the other systems that influence us, it’s not easy to understand how we become the people we become.
Most brain research today focuses on how individual systems work, but perhaps science needs to approach the brain in a different way—by designing experiments to tease out the activity of multiple systems at once, said LeDoux.
We need to understand how information processed by many systems, both conscious and unconscious, simultaneously determines how we think, act and feel, and more generally, how we are who we are.
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)