Seeing Red
   - A study in consciousness.

      by Nicholas Humphrey.

      Amazon Review. June 21st 2010 by Simon Laub.

Amazon review: 5 stars out of 5.

In Nicholas Humphreys [1] research with rhesus monkeys [2], he has showed that they have strong
and consistent emotional responses to colored light. When, for example, a monkey is put in a
chamber bathed in red light, it becomes anxious and fidgety. When the chamber is bathed in blue,
it becomes relatively calm. So, given the chance, rhesus monkeys strongly prefer a blue chamber to a
red one.
However, this preference completely disappeared when there were interesting things on the screen to look at. In the first situation, the monkeys had nothing to attend to, but their own sensations. But in the second situation, where their attention was drawn out to the external world and away from their own responses, they had no preferences. Still, that the monkeys all preferred blue to red strongly suggest
a genetic basis for it.

Most humans have similar preferences, but not exactly. In a study of peoples preferences for
colored cards, 70 percent consistently preferred blue/green hues to yellow/red hues. But a
signicant subgroup of 20 percent preferred yellow/red to blue/green.

Seeing Red

But onwards to the seeing red thing. Whenever there is a subjective experience, obviously
there has to be a subject. It seems absurd to us that a pain, a mood, a wish should rove around in
the world without a bearer. The inner world presupposes the person whose inner world it is?
But the situation can also be understood the other way around. That is to say, it is our experience of the inner world that confirms the existence of a person!
Certainly sensations are important to us humans, as is being conscious. We even like consciousness in other people. Certainly, the last thing we want is to be conscious in a world where everybody else are zombies.

Imagine if we didnt have conscious vision. If we werent conscious about seeing red. According to Humphrey: It turns out that in order to see, you must believe that you can see. If you dont believe it - you cant see [p. 45]. You must take part in the construction and sensation of what to see. Otherwise it becomes a reality like blindsight - where a patient believed he was blind, and reported having no visual sensation, and yet he could still guess the shape and positions of objects (later it turned out that he could also accurately guess colors).

About web pages and color themes:

So, with both rhesus monkeys and humans in favor it shouldn't be to difficult to pick a background color theme for a homepage... :-)
Even easier considering the symbolic values: Where blue ([3], [4]) is the color of the heavens
(dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness).
And where red ([5],[6]) is the color of the ground (at least in Africa). Symbolicly representing anger, war, sin, guilt, pain, passion and blood.

Guess what color theme I chose for my homepage .... :-)

So, blindsight is proof that perception doesnt necessarily have to involve sensation.
According to Humphrey: The evidence does suggest that sensation and perception, although they are
triggered by the same event, are essentially independent tales on the event.
The perception and its corresponding sensation are produced at the same time. In our experience we
never find them disjoined. Hence we are led to consider them one thing, to give them one name, and to
confound their different attributes.

Sensation close-up

What sensation does is to track the subjects personal interaction with the external world - creating
the sense each person has of being present and engaged, lending a hereness, a nowness, a me-ness
to the experience of the present moment [p 70].

Which lead us to the five defining characteristics of the experience of a sensation (It could be
the creation of a red sensation in the eyes or a pain in a toe):
Ownership: Sensations always belongs to a subject.
Bodily location: Sensations are always indexical and invoke a particular part of the
subjects body.
Presentness: Sensations are always present tense, ongoing and imperfect. The experience
did not exist before and will stop existing after the subject stops feeling it.
Qualitative modality: Sensations always belong to a distinct modality. A red sensation,
belongs to visual sensations. Whereas pain belongs to somatic sensations etc.
Phenomenal immediacy: Sensation for the subject is always immediate. And the subject is
immediately aware of what kind of sensation it is, as the subject is the author, who makes
these facts.

By putting sensation on the production side of the mind rather than the reception side, we get
a degree of central control of what it is like.
Sensation are therefore affected by changes in mood, by mind-altering drugs etc. Indeed, mood changes,
such as depression, might actually change sensation, just as mescaline or LSD can alter the quality
of sensory experience. Furthermore, it should be noted that it is possible to have sensations that are entirely
selfgenerated (Visions, dreams).

Sensations and the Now

The ''physical present'' is a mathematical abstraction of infinite short duration. By contrast the ''subjective present''
is the carrier and container of conscious life. Everything that happens to the subject, happens here.

To Humphrey and others the special quality of consciousness lies with ''re-entrant circuits'' in the brain,
neural activity that loops back on itself, so as to create self-resonance.
That is to say, the command signals for sensory responses could begin to interact with the very input to
which they are response. So as to become almost self-creating and self sustaining.

Sure, they take cues from the body, but they are also becoming signals about themselves.
According to Humphrey: The moment of conscious sensation is not blending past, present and future -
But taking a moment and holding on to it! Experiencing it longer than it actually happened!?
(For more about feedback loops and core consciousness/attention see my article about
HAL and Damasios theory of core consciousness: HAL)

Why then, would sensory response circuits have evolved to the point of supporting sustained feedback? What is
the payoff - the functional biological payoff - of feedback that brings about this thickening time of consciousness?
According to Humphrey, the payoff that it gives the subject is a new sense of self: It lifts the subject
out of zombiedom
. It changes ''I have such and such experiences therefore I am'' to ''I am because I
have such and such experiencess
So, what is then required of an experience, if it is to be something a subject can proudly be the subject of?
According to Humphrey: The substantiality that goes with existing in thick time is key.
A self that has this as it center will be a self to be reckoned with. Natural selection will then need only
a little more work, to shape it up a bit more, so that it becomes the organizing principle for each individuals
mental life.

With a self - a human being has a life worth pursuing. Something to build a rich subjective life around.
A huge advantages compared to the zombie state of not being there. The more important the self, the greater
the boost to human self-confidence and self-importance. The greater the value of own and others life.


Simon Laub

Amazon: [7] Blogspot: [8].

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