The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Selectional Mind

The US neurophysiologist Michael Gazzaniga extended Jerne's ideas to prove that a selection process also governs higher mental functions such as language and reasoning.

Gazzaniga agrees with Edelman that, during growth, selection processes determine how a brain is wired for adult functioning. Brains are born with a vast number of pre-wired circuits, which nonetheless offer many alternative options for development; and experience determines which of these pre-existing brain circuits are used. Many possible connections can be made, but only some are selected by experience.

The mind is shaped by the environment; but the environment can only shape it as far as genetically-fixed parameters allow. It is more appropriate to say that the environment "selects" from the possible outcomes.

Neurons exist because it was written in the genetic code. They perform their function no matter what. It is the interaction with the environment that will prefer some neurons over others. But, ultimately, the neurons were already there.

Gazzaniga differs from Edelman in emphasizing the importance of innate structures. Learning consists in discovering already built-in capabilities. The phenomenal rate of learning in children can be explained by admitting that children already "know". What they are learning is what is selected through interaction with the environment. Noam Chomsky's universal grammar is an example.

Children quickly learn a language because linguistic knowledge is present in their brain at birth and all their brains have to do is pick what is consistent with the specific language spoken around them.

All humans are equipped from birth  with some general features that allow for intelligent behavior in our world. Experience (i.e., interaction with the environment) will decide how that behavior will materialize.

 


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