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G.Edelman on Consciousness & Complexity

Report of an exciting 'Science' magazine article

Published by Robert Schleip in the FELDigest 12-17-98 (an e-mail forum for FeldenkraisĀ® -Practitioners)

Can doing 'Awareness through Movement' help me become a more aware and more conscious person in my everyday life?

For those of us interested in the question of how our brains organize consciousness/awareness, there's some news from the research front: the latest issue of 'Science' has an article titled "Consciousness and Complexity" by Gerald Edelman and his associate G.Tononi in which they present their new "dynamic core hypothesis" as an explanation of how some elements of our perceptions are organized into a conscious experience. (As some of you know, Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman has already published several other models about the self-regulatory dynamics of our brain, which inspired not only the author Oliver Sacks but also several of our Feldenkrais trainers).

While Damasio, Penrose, Povinelli and many others have come up with similar or different explanatory models about consciousness, Edelman & Tononi's model seems to be the first one which has been accepted by one of the top international science journals; and because of its clear (even mathematical) character this model might actually have a chance to become an important cornerstone towards a generally accepted model in this field.

This reminds me of the nice quote which Eric James inserted into the FELDigest two issues ago: "That there are so many ((systems to develop awareness)) shows you that none of them know really what the problem is and haven't got the methods of solving it. Otherwise, there would be a science of awareness as there's only one science of physics. There`s only one science of biology, physiology, architecture. For the things that we know truly, we don`t have fifteen systems" (Moshe Feldenkrais in 'The Master Moves'). Who knows, maybe in 5 or 15 years we might in fact have such a science of awareness, which might then enrich our Feldenkrais work significantly.

According to this article, conscious experience as a dynamic neural process rests on two combined properties: 1) INTEGRATION (each conscious experience is organized into one unified scene; which is for example different in split brain patients), and 2) COMPLEXITY (or differentiation; within a short time a huge number of different conscious experiences are possible). Conscious experience therefore "is a process that is unified and private, that is extremely differentiated, and that evolves on a time scale of hundreds of milliseconds.". And now it gets really interesting: they predict "that neural processes underlying automatic behaviors, no matter how sophisticated, should have lower complexity than neural processes underlying consciously controlled behaviors." Or even more exciting for me "a systematic increase in the complexity of coherent processes is expected to accompany cognitive development."

Hmmm. That sounds like the way how we usually orchestrate Feldenkrais lessons fits quite well to this model. Taking this even a bit further, we could maybe improve the effectiveness of some of our lessons by applying more succinctly those two organizational principles:

    • raising the level of differentiation of our movements/perceptions with in a lesson (complexity principle),
    • making sure to connect everything into one unified scene.(integration principle, e.g. as in a final movement sequence at the end of a lesson which combines all previously explored details into one organic & functional movement).

The article appeared in the Dec.4 issue and can be ordered for $7 at: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/order