I have since a very early age known that we are the product of our biological processes, expressions of our genes, manifestations of our neurochemical interactions. We are by no means somehow elevated to a living theory-in-vivo concept of self-consciousness.
Some might profusely deny the postulation and produce arguments for a plethora of esoteric and spiritual/religious dogma as substantiation that humans are somehow wholly superior and should rule the world as per ancient instruction.
An acquaintance mused that she thought that a large part of our brains are involved in fooling us that we have a consciousness and are self-conscious. The statement made me think about how we see ourselves and how we construct our realities. The poststructuralists like Foucault have postulated that language is used to construct our reality and I tend to agree with them. The often chaotic and tongue in cheek self-contradictory nature of Derrida as the ultimate Postmodernist makes for interesting and frustrating reading. The Postmodernists deliberately rejected the Modernist notion of the sublime or ultimate truth.
Rang, H et al. 2003. Pharmacology. 5th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone was my real in depth introduction to pharmacology and physiology as the book is targeted at medical students for first and second year Pharmacology. The emphasis is thus greatly on physiology as pharmacology as a science is rapidly evolving. Today’s miracle breakthrough might be desecrated a year or less later. The substance paracetamol (known in America as acetaminophen) is almost ancient and there is still much debate over its exact mechanism of action. Even the leaflets of most medicines bluntly state that the exact mechanism of action is unknown. Should we be content with that?
After having had a transient friendship of sorts with a psychiatrist and made his little protégé and reading Stahl's Essential Psychopharmacology for fun I knew I needed an introduction first. I was a self-indulgent student with a completely different degree towards which I was studying to but was far more interested in my new pastime. Having read Pharmacology by Rang et al thrice I came to the conclusion that we as a highly evolved species still know so very little about the functioning of the human brain. I could of course cite a superfluity of neurotransmitters, their receptors, its functions, the differentiation of function based on location and the even more convoluted so-called second messenger systems. Would it make this hermeneutic more impressive if I cite the excess of academic journals out there which support my core philosophy?
I have a theory that whenever humans do not comprehend something they tend to manufacture almost mythical and esoteric rationales. Calling it a rationale is actually a contradiction in terms (an oxy-moron paradox?) since there is nothing rational about the esoteric. Descartes might have said his famous “Je pense, donc je suis” but then again he performed vivisection on animals which I see as utterly cruel and disgraceful.
Fight it as you wish but every time you lift a finger or have a fleeting or persistent thought, emotions, reactions, if you speak, do, comprehend — quite a few million neurons polarise, depolarise and repolarise via opening of sodium, potassium and calcium channels, release a multitude of neurochemicals which relay “messages” via a synapse to a receptor which is either voltage gated or G-protein coupled, which in turns signals second messenger systems like cAMP, DAG, IP3 etc which in turn activate various protein kinases and DNA/RNA encryptions which all have negative and positive feedback systems. (Condensed and paraphrased from Rang, H et al. 2003. Pharmacology. 5th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone)
On a lighter note (well less academic-esque) we might think we are the only species that have superior intellectual prowess and have the intellectual property rights to self-consciousness akin to how the taxi drivers in Johannesburg maintain that the routes and roads are their intellectual property and the BRT system infringes on this. I am purposely mentioning the taxi fraternity as an analogy not to derogate them purposefully but to illustrate that I do not care who says what, have they not empirical evidentiary proof it is plain fodder. So do not fool or flatter yourself by thinking that you are a living concept. Your mind/psyche is not separated from your body as some ubiquitously incomprehensible construct which defies every precept of science and rests in mythology alone.
I think of my brother’s ginger cat called Quila (after tequila) and its expressive meows and I cannot but wonder that we see animals as lacking self-consciousness simply because we do not understand them. I wish I could understand Meow — it would make my life easier. I have now to rely on guesstimates to figure out what Quila wants. Often Quila will come fetch me and show me that his bowl is empty or that he wants fresh water. He cannot be that intellectually disadvantaged.
It is time to ditch all those a priori assumptions and do some research and not indulge in charlatan science: par example — avoid “Dr” Paul Cameron et al at all costs.
Rang, HP, Dale, MM, Ritter, JM & Moore, PK. 2003. Pharmacology. 5th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone
Segal, EA & Kilty, KM. 1998. The Resurgence of Biological Determinism. Race, Gender & Class, v5 n3 p61-75 (for substantiation)