Since time immemorial mankind has always wondered what is consciousness and where is it located in the brain. Some recent scientific discoveries may provide a possible answer.
There are various definition of consciousness but the most accepted definition is “awareness”. When a being becomes aware of itself and its surroundings then it is a sign of consciousness.
Awareness is an outcome of thought. It is the thinking brain that makes us aware of our existence and externalities. If we can understand what is thought and where it “resides” in the brain then we may shed some light on the mystery of consciousness.
It is an accepted fact that thought is produced when brain neurons fire. There are close to 100 billion neurons in the brain (the exact figure is not known). For simple thought like what is the colour of flower, open the door etc. small portions of neurons fire but in deep Samadhi which produces Sanyam (combination of concentration and contemplation on a single subject or object) almost all the neurons fire to produce a deep thought.
Activation of neural pathways trigger firing of neurons. This activation is triggered either by signals from sense organs or stimulation of certain memory space in the brain. Neural pathways help neurons to communicate with each other. During this communication electrical signal from a neuron is converted into chemicals (neurotransmitters) and transmitted across the synaptic cleft (small space between neurons ~ 20 nanometers) to another neuron where it is again converted to electrical signal for onward journey.
Scientists have shown that the conversion of electrical signal to chemicals and then again to electrical signal produces weak photons – possibly in synaptic cleft. I conjecture that these photons from large number of neural pathways synchronize to form a three dimensional hologram which we can call a thought. In nature a similar thing takes place when fireflies synchronize their glowing spontaneously to create a signal pattern.
These signals (firing of neurons or fireflies glowing) synchronize spontaneously since they are influenced by each other via a positive feedback-type mechanism. For example in case of fireflies this feedback is through their light signals where they adjust their phases so that they synchronize. In a similar way it is possible that the weak photons produced during firing of neurons synchronize and form a thought-hologram. This is the genesis of consciousness and internal awareness.
The synchronization of weak photons is guided by an entity called ‘I’ (ego, will, etc.) which acts like a symphony director and helps provide the necessary energy and focus to maintain a given thought for a longer time. Ego “I” also compares this thought constantly with signals from outside to provide us a sense of reality. This is the genesis of surrounding awareness.
We still do not understand completely how “I” can influence this process, but just like the music conductor who determines which part of the orchestra plays for how long, ‘I’ decides how long a particular thought will remain in the “vision” field. This process is called concentration and seems to also exist in animals.
The production of weak photons for thought formation could also be the reason why many Yogis have experienced seeing white light during intense meditation. Similarly the observation of white light by persons during near death experience (NDE) could be an outcome of nearly all the brain neurons firing during the final exit.
Since the firing of neurons for a single thought is from different parts of brain there is no single place where we can say the thought originates. Thus consciousness exists but one is not sure where in brain it is. This is just like music which one can never say where it is but when played by musicians exists!
©Anil K Rajvanshi. October 2020