Monday, March 14, 2005


(Viewpoint of the impossibly enlightened observer.)

Several times in a continuum, quite close by, there was an accident. Indeed accidents, an ignorance of the facts as they stood, was a commonly used term to describe events beyond the questioning ability of the relevant questioner. (This circularity is what you get when a language designed to describe crop rotation and mass violence is used for more abstract concepts like personality, god and sunsets; it quite brutalises and hence oversimplifies everything.) Of these accidents, the majority proved to involve intelligences that felt themselves qualified to judge what an accident was, and hence most accidents involved them. A curious subset of these accidents injured the cogitating, judging faculty itself, by penetrating its hard protective shell and separating minor millions of the billions of the organic connections that made up the entity that claimed to judge. These injuries took many forms; the most relevant to the conception of the judging faculty is, perhaps, blindsight.

Blindsight is an injury to the visual part of the brain that afflicts individuals in different ways, because of the way cerebral lesions are sustained; however the patient often appears to all immediately discernible results blind.

Paul is a blindsight patient. We are fortunate to know Paul, because Paul suffered a motorcycle accident that thrust a length of piping (formerly the handlebars of his bike) into his brain in such a way that only his perceptual apparatus was damaged. Paul is otherwise in fine shape, but blind.

Or at least he appears blind. He cannot see a shape in front of him; lights flashed in his eyes produce reflex responses, the circular iris muscles tightening as in love, but he reported no perceptual stimulus nor, indeed, feelings of love. Show a colour to Paul's blind side, say ginger, and he sees nothing; he cannot judge the colour, he doesn't know what it is, he has no idea of the shape.


Give Paul two choices of what the colour is - say, ginger and maroon - and tell him to guess; and Paul will, over 80% of the time, pick the exact colour being waved in front of his blind eyes. He has no conscious perception of the colour, doesn't know if he's right or wrong, thinks he's just guessing. His mind, a Schrodinger box, doesn't appear to have any input; but how to be sure?

Well, doing MRI scans of his brain while he's perceiving colour show that his perceptual apparati aren't working; indeed, they're not there, carved out by careless driving personified by the wonderfully collapsible handlebars of his BSM.

What is stimulated, curiously, is an alternate route. Paul has no conception of what he is seeing; but what you Freudians will want to call the id, the unconscious, knows and acts and hints to the conscious mind.

Of course, this is fascinating. What else does the unconscious mind hint to the conscious; pheromonal activity?

Can the mind be trained to make this conscious, as with other unconscious activity?

More importantly, how much of the iceberg is beneath the waterline? How much of the behaviour of the human animal in society is down to this inscrutable black box? What exactly does this secondary mind want, what motivates it? (Dawkin's selfish genes? A search for god? Societal survival?); are we just masks worn by this cunning homunculus?

(What if the little being dreams of the godlike stimulus of oxygen deprivation before the thinking organism succumbs? What a motive, a true death-wish, your ignorant unconscious trying to kill off its parasitic personality, the removal of that veneer that we want to call humanity, like a cat scratching a flea collar.)