a. Dr. Giorgos Anastasopoulos, Social Scientist, Historical Anthropologist
Topic: “The Era of Consciousness for Humanity and Science”
b. Prof. Thanasis Dinopoulos, School of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Topic: “ Consciousness and Free Will”
How is it possible that consciousness is created by a piece of an almost jelatine mass that lies in the cavity of the brain sculpt? The problem of mind (or soul) and matter is of major importance for thousands of years. Consciousness is in fact the most obvious and at the same time the most mysterious attribute of our mind. Consciousness is an emergent property. A property of a thing (the brain) that consists of parts (the neurons) is emergent when it cannot be attributed to any of its parts. Consciousness is not only resulting from the huge number of individual neurons, but also from the large variety and the particularities of the neural interconnections.
However, it is not as neural interconnections or discharges that we understand the situation of our brain, but as concepts that we vocalise into words. We don’t see our brain as a fusion of neurons, but rather as a tank of believes, senses and ideas. The close interconnection of the three elements, brain, body and environment, defines the shape and texture of the conscious experience. Consciousness is, in the end, the process of creation of self at one level, from non-sensible and non-conscious activities that are merged at another level. The brain doesn’t know that by acting the way it does, it creates us; and yet we exist, emerging from the frenzy activity as by miracle. A tool in action lets its own material (from which it is made of) disappear.
Neither a certain area nor a certain function that create consciousness seem to exist (even though the ascending actuator, the thalamocortical connections and the prefrontal cortex play a special role). Consciousness is probably shaped by various individual functions or characteristics. Perception and memory consist the substrate and the “servant” of consciousness, that composes the Ego, which exists in space and has duration in time. Other basic characteristics of consciousness are the capability of creating concepts, the the ability to focus, bodily Ego, feelings, empathy and language. Traditionally, genes are considered to be the elements that pretell our fate. However, our brain is not just our genes. Our brain is formed significantly by the environment: education, social norms, diseases and luck.
Subsequently, if we must search today for the existence, or not, of free will, we must do this in the brain. Is the brain a deterministic organ or not? If we are predetermined-by-physical-laws creatures, is perhaps the steadfast belief that we are free to decide upon our actions, merely an illusion? We are aware, by various facts, that our brain acts indeed automatically, before we even realise those actions. The brain functions very slowly, and for this reason it must have at its disposal particular responses to the challenges of the environment.
Coordinator: Stavroula Diamanti