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Ask Mark – Week 3 responses

Prof Mark Solms responds to four questions posed by participants in Week 3 of What is a mind?

Thank you to everyone who posted questions last week. I have recorded a response to four of the many interesting questions you had posed in Step 3.10 of Week 3. My video responses are on YouTube with links below.

Question 1: When I take time out and sit quietly and observe my thoughts, they appear to be just happening without my instigating them. I seem like the observer of my thoughts or my brain’s activity. This brings me to believe that “I” (the observer) am not my brain or thoughts entirely, but that the “I” or “me” is separate to my physical body/brain/nervous system. It seems to function without my (the “me” or “I”) doing anything. I can interfere with it but not control it fully. So, who and what am “I”, that observed the thoughts in my brain?

Question 2: You state that emotions are the perceptions of internal states of the body. In that respect I was wondering the following: say you see a snake and you get the emotion PANIC. You don’t feel very nice and your conscious reaction is to move away. But what about the order of things? First you have to “see” the snake, which is a conscious thing. Then your body raises the heart rate so you will be able to run faster away. This higher heart rate is “perceived” via the emotion PANIC (as I’ve given in this example). But is this emotion a consequence of the already existing body-state (i.e. heart rate) or does the emotion control the body state. So my question is: which comes first?
Question 3: Why does it seem so much harder to unlearn something than it is to learn in the first place? When faced with something you might, and I hesitate to use the word, ‘instinctively’ approach it a certain way only to be told the correct way, which then feels odd and difficult at first. Or you might learn an unhealthy way of thinking and no matter how you try to learn a new way, you keep reverting to the old, more familiar way? Is it simply that those pathways have been lain down earlier and so are more reinforced than the new ones? Or is it to do with the way the conscious mind operates compared to the unconscious?
Question 4: Is it known with absolute certainty that the reticular activating system can generate consciousness all by itself, as opposed to being a necessary, but not sufficient system for consciousness? I know the studies of children born without a cortex suggest otherwise, but are we absolutely certain in those cases that the apparent emotions aren’t simply the mechanical aspects of the emotion and learning behavior, while the actual subjective affect isn’t being felt?

I look forward to your questions for this week – you can post them in Step 4.8 of Week 4

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What is a Mind?

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