Consciousness and Why It is Difficult

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In this essay, I will mainly be focusing on consciousness and why it is difficult to suppress a thought, and neurological disorders that may affect one’s conscious, along with personal experiences that I’ve encountered or have heard; I will also briefly mention a little bit about phantom limbs and treatments that could help with those that suffer from these phantom limb phenomena. Consciousness may be defined as “the awareness of our environment and our perceptions, images, and feeling.” I don’t think the definition of consciousness is well-defined because everyone seems to have a different opinion on the definition of consciousness itself. For instance, John Locke definition of consciousness is “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind,” (Locke 19) whereas Samuel Johnson believes it to be “the opinion or internal feeling that we ourselves have from what we do.” But regardless of how one defines consciousness, it is somewhat related to awareness, experiences, and/or attention.

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Being told to let go on a negative thought can be seen as impossible, but it isn’t impossible. An article called “Thoughts on Suppression” indicates that “there is currently a general acceptance of the view that thought suppression does not work as a strategy for controlling one’s mind, and if anything makes one more susceptible to unwanted intrusive thoughts,” (Erskine & Georgiou) in which I completely agree with because while I was feeling angry or sad, friends or family members have told me to just let it go or to stop thinking about what was bothering me, but instead of the thought going away, I actually thought about it even more. In general, the more I tried to stop a thought or behavior, the more it seem that I am opposed of what’s may be best for me. Another article I’ve read upon, called “The Things We Do: Why Thought Suppression Doesn’t Work,” written by Roxanne Bauer, talks about the rebound effects when it comes to substance craving, faux pas, yips, expression of bias, and falling asleep. I am able to name a few incidents in which these cases were true; for yips, I remember back in high school when I was playing volleyball, whenever I got frustrated at myself for messing up, I would end up doing even worse. Or whenever I needed to sleep and I kept trying to sleep, I would end up tossing and turning for longer than planned. But there are strategies to suppress these maladaptive thoughts, such that to “recommended an acceptance-based model of treatment to nagging thoughts and others that promote psychological therapies that avoid thought suppression and focus on distraction and acceptance (Beevers et al., 1999),” (Bauer). Other strategies beside finding a distractor includes postponing the thought, exposure, or meditation and mindfulness. I agree with this because whenever a negative thought occur, I distract myself with something else and it no longer bothers me which has been said that it’s easier to replace the thought rather than trying to not think of it at all. I’ve always assumed that the reason why people can’t suppress a negative thought was due to a rebellious tendency because I tend want to do the opposite of what I’m being told to do.

With consciousness, there are a few neurological disorder relating to consciousness (and some also relating to perception); a disorder called prosopagnosia is the inability of recognizing familiar faces but is able to see motion, and other agnosia correlates with the subtraction of consciousness. According to lecture slide, split brain is “a condition in which two hemispheres of the brain are isolated by severing the connecting fibers between them,” and because of Roger Sperry’s split brain experiments, we were able to know that we have two hemisphere (left and right hemisphere) which are joined by the corpus callosum that work independent of each other and that the body is contralaterally wired. Sperry examined epilepsy patients who had severed their corpus callosum and found out that everything to the right of the fixation point goes to the left hemisphere which is dominant hemisphere for language and speech but anything that is shown of the left of a fixation point, that information is then sent to the dislocated right hemisphere. Patients were unable to name what they saw but can easily draw it with their left hand, this has to do with our unconscious behaviors. Blindsight is the ability to respond to visual stimuli without consciously perceiving them, and caused by damage to the visual cortex (pathway from LGN to retina). Patients that has blindsight will claim that they are blind but will guess correctly ninety percent of the time (force respond task). Visual neglect syndrome is to ignore information on the left side of the visual field; this is not due to a lack of sensation but the result is commonly from strokes and damages to the right parietal area. When asked to draw a house, patients that have neglect syndrome will only draw the right half of the house, and leaves the left half blank. Treatment for this includes constrained movement therapy (CMT), this allows the patient to be aware of the side that is being neglected. I remember meeting someone that had neglect syndrome, and she would tell me that she use to not put makeup on the left side of her face because she simply didn’t notice it. She was recommended to use a sling on the good side to force herself to use the side she was neglecting. Another treatment is a prism glass, which is like VS Ramachandran’s Mirror Box therapy; this is mainly used for phantom limb patients. I attended a Cognitive Science Conference a few months back, and was able to see Dr. Ramachandran as a keynote speaker. Doctor Ramachandran started off his talk by talking about phantom limbs, which is pain that is constructed in the mind. During his research, the map of the patient’s hand (the one that was amputated) was on their face and above the amputation itself, meaning that if you were to pour water on their face, they would feel it on their “phantom limb.” They used the pennfield map to understand the correlation for why the patient was feeling it in the missing limb whenever they touched certain parts of his face.

In conclusion, regardless of how we choose to define consciousness, it’ll always lead back to some sort of attention, awareness, and/or experiences. Accepting or trying a new strategy, such as picking something else to focus on can help with suppressing that specific thought or behavior. Damages to certain parts of the brain, like the visual cortex could potentially lead to blindsight resulting in lack of awareness that they’re capable of guessing correctly. But beside blindsight, there are other neurological disorders that are associated with consciousness.

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