Science

Scientists Have Developed a New Explanation for Consciousness

Thoughts Consciousness Brain Fog

A recent study offers a new theory for consciousness.

According to a new theory, choices are formed unconsciously and become conscious around half a second later.

Consciousness is your awareness of yourself and your surroundings. This awareness is unique to you and subjective.

A new theory of consciousness has been developed by a researcher at Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, describing why it evolved, what it is useful for, which disorders influence it, and why it is so difficult to diet and resist other urges.

“In a nutshell, our theory is that consciousness developed as a memory system that is used by our unconscious brain to help us flexibly and creatively imagine the future and plan accordingly,” explained corresponding author Andrew Budson, MD, professor of neurology. “What is completely new about this theory is that it suggests we don’t perceive the world, make decisions, or perform actions directly. Instead, we do all these things unconsciously and then—about half a second later—consciously remember doing them.”

In order to explain a number of phenomena that could not be readily explained by earlier theories of consciousness, Budson explained that he and his co-authors, psychologist Elizabeth Kensinger, Ph.D., from Boston College, and philosopher Kenneth Richman, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, developed this theory.

“We knew that conscious processes were simply too slow to be actively involved in music, sports, and other activities where split-second reflexes are required. But if consciousness is not involved in such processes, then a better explanation of what consciousness does was needed,” said Budson, who also is Chief of Cognitive & Behavioral Neurology, Associate Chief of Staff for Education, and Director of the Center for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System.

This theory, according to the researchers, is important because it clarifies how all of our choices and actions—which we mistakenly believe were made consciously—are actually made unconsciously. Therefore, since our conscious mind is not in charge of our actions, we may tell ourselves that we are just going to have one scoop of ice cream and then, the next thing we know, the container is empty.

“Even our thoughts are not generally under our conscious control. This lack of control is why we may have difficulty stopping a stream of thoughts running through our head as we’re trying to go to sleep, and also why mindfulness is hard,” adds Budson.

Budson and his coauthors consider a number of neurologic, psychiatric, and developmental disorders to be disorders of consciousness including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, delirium, migraine, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, certain types of autism, and more.

Lastly, their paper provides a roadmap as to how clinicians, educators, and individuals can best improve behavior and gain knowledge, by using clinical and teaching methods that can be effective in shaping both the conscious mind and the unconscious brain. With further exploration, this work may allow patients to improve problem behaviors such as overeating, help us understand the ways in which brain structures support memory, and even provide insight into philosophical issues around free will and moral responsibility.

Reference: “Consciousness as a Memory System” by  Andrew E. Budson, MD, Kenneth A. Richman, Ph.D., Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Ph.D., 3 October 2022, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.
DOI: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000319

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. 

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  • I've explained this idea many times in my life, and telling people that their free agency is an illusion makes them upset. It makes me feel better, but makes 99.9% of people feel worse.

  • So what is the subconscious process that gives rise to the process that produces consciousness ?... let me guess... is it subsubconsciousness ?
    Does not explain anything except how to get a psychology research grant.

  • I suspect that consciousness is something that communicates with the brain but, it isn't completely dependent ON the brain... In effect, I believe our brain is a receiver/transmitter with respect to our consciousness...
    and that our consciousness can continue to exist even after our brain is dead...

  • Everything old is new again:
    The term is shortened from mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of "no-mindness". That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. It is translated by D.T. Suzuki as "being free from mind-attachment"

    • I’m an SGI-USA Buddhist and chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I began 48 years ago I felt like my “minds eye opened. People acted differently to me, but I quickly learned that I began to like them even with their quirks as before I criticized everyone.
      Science is catching on now to the Lotus Sutra, Sakymuni Buddhas Enlightenment

  • Conscious is not yet can be explained by science. There by billions of human are still praying,for the hope that their consciousness or spirit may continously be exsist better after life.

  • Consciousness is the awareness of what's going on, of there being anything at all. But me thinking that I exist is a string of thoughts based entirely on a system of logic that was made up as part of what's going on. Thus there is no thinker of thoughts. There is no me to be conscious. There is consciousness, and all that happens (like me thinking this) is as much part of the going-ons as is a faint sound of cars passing. I was conscious when I was born, yet I did not exist as a me. I wasn't thinking hey, this is me. I was nothing but awareness. And now I am still nothing but awareness, except my mind has been filled with concepts and logic which are now spiraling into endless strings of conclusions that we call the ego. Which is not me, but rather I am aware of it happening. Me still being the awareness I was when I was born. And none of what I wrote is me. It's all just conclusions being voiced. The thought of me being is no different to the thought of there being nothing. Yet we identify with some thoughts, and discard others as "not us". We develop logic, identify with some of it, string together thoughts 24/7 and call ourselves the thinker of thoughts. Which is itself just a thought. We're running in circles

    • I'm taking this excerpt you wrote here for a paper of mine I hope you don't mind you can reach me at...

    • Notice how many times you refer to yourself as "I" whilst trying to argue that you don't exist.Its incoherent.

      You're essentially saying the equivalent of "There is no such thing as a forest; there are only trees". Saying "I'm just awareness" and "I'm just like when I was born except my mind is filled with concepts" is really just a way of describing yourself, but you are irrationally interpreting it as a compelling argument against the existence of the self.

      This is a particular type of incoherent confusion that is quite common amongst naive people that fetishize 'mindfulness".

      Here's a 'mindfulness' exercise for you; re-read your post and try to become 'mindful' of how many times you contradict yourself

    • Please elaborate on what you mean by the statement below.

      "I was conscious when I was born, yet I did not exist as a me."

      If someone did/could exist as "me", what would have to be different from your perspective?

  • What is designated as the Unconscious is Consciousness and what is designated as consciousness is awareness.

  • Your subconscious mind exists in your body. Body memory. This is why your body prefers routine because it knows what to expect. Our body tends to send fear signals to our brain when we are experiencing something new. This means that the moments we are actually most presentis when we are doing something for the first time. We can use our subconscious mind in helpful ways like asking it to alert us to specific things in our environment or times. :)

  • Holy s**t Nicholas. That just blew my mind reading your comment. I can't even wrap my head around that because I'm are an edible tonight. I'm a very feel thinker so I'm going to let that when not high. And probably should Madison. That had already expanded my consciousness by reading it. It will definitely expand when I read it while microdosing which I am emailing on soon to treat major depressive disorder. I will be did go go back and read that soon again after consumption. That will no doubt be mind blowing so I've Samson and maybe my understand if it will be heightened. So knows?

By
Boston University School of Medicine

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