Understanding a phenomenon from its ‘opposite’


Understanding a phenomenon from its ‘opposite’ is a perfectly valid method. Science is working on models that take the course of tracking events backwards. The Big Bang model is being tested the similar way.

In reply to a comment on my original post “Of consciousness and confusion” I asked, what will happen if we hypothetically removed consciousness from human beings. Will they cease to exist as human beings in absence of consciousness? Of course, all my doubts and reservations on the subject remain while this ‘removal of consciousness’ cropped up as a vague idea.

My friend Herbert Peters seems to have independently given this idea a serious thought and come up with a caption as above. However, I’d stick to word ‘opposites’ leaving out ‘antonyms’ that sounds too literal.

Herbert has cited ‘Fainting’ and ‘Death’ as two examples of the processes involving temporary and permanent loss of consciousness. I’d like to take on the permanent part as it somehow appears to be approximately in consonance with my vague idea of removal of consciousness.

Death is more than a mere permanent loss of consciousness, I think. To understand death we take the help of its ‘opposite’ – life. Life starts with Germ-plasm (that abiogenetic jelly like globule of protoplasm called cell of life) but as we go up the evolutionary ladder from simple to complex, life starts developing somatic cells which carry the element of death in them. Somatic cells die but the germ (plasma) cells don’t. Death, therefore, is a failure of one or more of the organs having somatic genesis. Then a brain dead person is technically alive and so is the one in terminally deep coma. However, consciousness in both the cases is absent implying that permanent loss of consciousness is possible even without being dead.

Attention is another grey area in this matter. Herbert’s statement – it looks like that during unconsciousness, attention is disabled – appears to be true but its opposite is also true. Consider children quarrelling in your back room while you are busy with something else. Unless you are told about their fighting you may not even notice them shouting and crying. This implies that attention could be disabled even you are fully conscious. The ticking of the table clock by my bed side is noticed only during night when no other sound draws my attention. I’ll struggle to explain what I had for breakfast and that too only when you asked me about that, else that thing doesn’t appear to be in my consciousness.

Does this mean; a) something is not happening if I am not aware of that (children quarrelling). Where is my consciousness then in the first place which pops up suddenly when I am made aware of an event happening within my audible range? And, b) Am I doing many things automatically without being conscious of them (ref: Libet’s free will experimentation) like going through routines like having breakfast?

My idea is not semantics. What I am interested to know is how consciousness came into being and whether it directs human brain to do things in a particular way or this is purely a function of brain like cognition, perception, attention etc are.
To continue…..