Overcoming the Amygdala Part 73
Imagine that you were working on an experiment to create consciousness.
With what would you begin?
You would have to have enormous resources of knowledge or data or distinct packets of thought with which to start — tons of data, all interconnected, loaded with meaning, but not necessarily ‘conscious’ of itself, an ocean of concepts, infinite in form, splendid and eternal, multidimensional and glorious, but unseen and unappreciated by itself.
To create a conscious entity, you would need to separate off some portion of this vast ocean and establish a viewpoint. From this point of view, some data would suddenly seem close and connected, while other data would abruptly look remote and even alien: from this viewpoint, some things would seem large, near; others would seem small, far away.
Significance — the relative meaning of data — would become important.
Into this viewpoint, you would need to introduce some kind of fixedness, some sort of direction or purpose, otherwise it might quickly melt back into the amorphous body from which it had been drawn.
One purpose you might give it, to assist with your project’s forward motion, might be something resembling an ego: a concept of ‘self’, of uniqueness in comparison to the other data and viewpoints possible around it, both limiting and defining what the viewpoint was — and wasn’t— in relation to everything around it.
Once all this was firmly in place, instead of all data being marvellously equivalent in value and interwoven, some might seem relevant to the self while much might drift into apparent insignificance. The concept of ‘relative data’ would have been invented — data of relative value to the ‘self’, the single viewpoint.
This single viewpoint might progress through a period like childhood, in which the data around it assumed positions relative to the survival, integrity or continuing self-preservation of that viewpoint. Some data might be perceived as being ‘useful’ in terms of preserving or enhancing that ‘self’; other data might be rejected as being ‘harmful’ as it might appear to be ‘anti-self’.
While this nascent point of view might make some kind of forward progress in relation to its surroundings, it might also be haunted by the sense that it always felt ‘incomplete’ — that the data around it, while seeming to be separate and distinct, possessed some kind of relational connection to it upon which it couldn’t quite put its conscious ‘finger’. In other words, the ‘self’ might be vaguely aware of a ‘more-than-self’.
Imagine now that this viewpoint had both an outer view — a perspective through which it observed its environment including all the other visible or comprehensible data within reach — and an inner view, a place out of ‘sight’ into which it placed all thoughts, images, ideas, notions, memories, sensations, dreams and so on which its outward-looking view did not require at any given moment. This inner world would also contain, perhaps, its vague memories of a time or a state when it was not an individual, when it was not a ‘self’, but when it was a small part of an enormous whole.
So we have a result from your imagined experiment: a being who acts and behaves as an individual entity, moving around in an environment which it observes and measures according to its apparent needs, storing away vast resources of material which it considers it doesn’t need at any given moment, but which it is ready to call upon rapidly should any need arise — a ‘conscious’ being, to all intents and purposes possessed of those faculties which we normally associate with consciousness: the potential to observe, interact and engage more or less successfully with a physical world, while also summoning invisible and intangible reserves of remembered or concealed material as necessary.
Imagine that you had created that, in a laboratory somewhere — not quite like a robot, because a robot is a machine with mechanical, pre-programmed responses; much more like a living thing, with an awareness of itself, a purpose to move forward as itself, an ability to place and judge everything around it in relation to itself.
You would probably be quite pleased with yourself.
One of the things you might consider installing into your created organism might be a parasympathetic nervous system, a neural ‘machine’ capable of immediately detecting anything in the organism’s physical or mental vicinity which contained departures from the ideal. In order to make this system effective, you might wire it so that it bypassed any thinking your organism might express and activated physical and emotional reactions instantly. You might do so in the name of helping your organism to quickly respond to harmful factors in its environment so that it could protect its integrity.
Given that the conscious being you would have created has of necessity been made from something — it wasn’t sprung into existence as itself, whole and already functioning, but moulded from a larger clay, you might say — and that the shadows and vague reminisces of that ‘something’ haunt its own inner world, that parasympathetic system might pose a difficulty at some point. Why? Because what it considers a ‘departure’ might not prove quite so simple as a physical external menace appearing in the self’s immediate environment. In effect, the amygdala might eventually start ‘pinging’ due to the self’s own interaction with its surroundings.
The self creates its own departures, in other words.
And there we have the root cause of any lingering or stubborn amygdalic anxiety, fear, panic or otherwise non-optimum reaction.
Consciousness projects its own shadows.