Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Rock Art and Pareidolia

Academic journal article Rock Art Research

Rock Art and Pareidolia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Consciousness, which is the subjective experience of humans based on sensory input and stored ontogenic experience, can be defined as a transparent representation of the world from a privileged egocentric perspective (Trehub 2009). Despite having been subjected to much philosophical attention over the centuries, it remains very little understood scientifically. Whereas self-awareness focuses on the self, processing both private and 'public' information about selfhood (Gallup 1998; Gallup and Platek 2002; Carver 2002), consciousness is thought to focus attention on processing incoming external stimuli of the organism's environment (Dennett 1991; Farthing 1992), but in effect it is heavily influenced by previous experience. This is noted by Schrödinger (1964: 19; emphasis added) who alludes to the self-referentiality of consciousness when he states 'the reasoning is part of the overall phenomenon to be explained, not a tool for any genuine explanation'. Wittgenstein (1982: 42) sees consciousness and perceived reality as equivalent. The aetiology of this self-referential awareness, however, remains fundamentally unknown (Bednarik 2016a). The quest to explain the ability of experiencing reality consciously is one of the hardest tasks of science, precisely because of its self-referentiality. Hofstadter (2007) compares it to finding a self-consistent set of axioms for deducing all of mathematics: as shown by Gödel (1932) this is impossible. For any recursive axiomatic system powerful enough to describe the arithmetic of natural numbers there are true propositions that cannot be proved. Much the same seems to apply to consciousness, and yet most humans are perfectly unaware that the reality they experience is merely an imagined world made real (Plotkin 2002).

The great efforts made to explain the central fact of existence have indeed yielded precious little so far. It seems safe to assume that the brain is the organ hosting consciousness, because consciousness vanishes when the brain is switched off (by whatever agency). More specifically, the cerebral cortex (Goldberg et al. 2006; Frässle et al. 2014) and possibly the claustrum (Crick and Koch 2005; Koubeissi et al. 2014) are involved in consciousness. Although the cerebellum is made up by just over 80% of the brain's 86 billion nerve cells (Herculano-Houzel 2012) and is just as complicated as the cerebral cortex, it is not involved in consciousness. It appears that subcortical white matter, brainstem and thalamus are implicated in it (Fernández-Espejo et al. 2011), while the cortical brain is assumed to be involved in unconsciousness (Velly et al. 2007), and the thalamus is not believed to actually drive consciousness. Human consciousness is also thought to involve gamma activity (Engel and Singer 2001; Imas et al. 2005) and a frontal P300, as during dreaming sleep (Cote et al. 2001; Takahara et al. 2002). The P300 wave is absent in some brain-damaged patients able to communicate (King et al. 2013), and a similar but weaker wave has been detected in small infants (Kouider et al. 2013).

Solutions to the 'hard problems of consciousness' (Chalmers 1995) remain elusive, however. In the global workspace theory (Baars 1997, 2002), a workspace is imagined in the brain where sensory events may compete with each other for consciousness (Robinson 2009). The theory does, however, at best provide an account of cognitive function; it remains mute on the nature of consciousness (see also objections by Blackmore 2005). The alternative integrated information theory (Tononi 2008; Barrett and Seth 2011; Oizumi et al. 2014) begins with five phenomenological axioms: intrinsic existence, composition, information, integration and exclusion. It 'provides a principled account of both the quantity and the quality of an individual experience (a quale), and a calculus to evaluate whether or not a particular physical system is conscious and of what' (Tononi and Koch 2015). But it does not tell us how the brain forms consciousness, or the central fact of our existence. …

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