During an unsuccessful attempt to seize the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the flotilla of Lord Nelson suffered significant casualties, and the British rear admiral lost his right hand. Amputation in 1797 was carried out with a regular knife and without any anesthesia.
Apparently, Lord Nelson courageously survived the misfortune that had happened to him, especially since his hand, in a sense, was not lost, because until the end of his life he constantly felt the invisible presence of an amputated limb. It is also said that the afterlife did not seem to him something unthinkable: since the ghost had its own hand, it means that the whole human essence is capable of such miracles.
In the case of Lord Nelson, this is a well-known example of the existence of a phantom limb. Almost all people who survive an amputation encounter this condition, but usually the effect disappears gradually over the next few days, only some people live with this feeling all their lives.
The reason for the formation of phantoms is both simple and deep. Our brain creates a virtual model that neuroscientists call the body pattern.The scheme of the body is not a detailed display of its structure. It contains absolutely no information about bones, tendons, or biochemical principles of muscle contraction, since the brain does not necessarily have such details to control movement. Instead, he creates a surreal description of interconnected supernatural sites. This is the phantom body.
As the child grows, the body pattern adapts to changes in the body, but this amazing ability has its limits. A phantom limb is a harsh reminder of an error in a body pattern. The truth is that each of us has yet another invisible phantom on top of the real limbs. So Lord Nelson, having lost his hand, kept her ghost.
Studying the body patterns for many years, I wanted to find out how the brain models those parts of the human personality that are not physical, like hands, but psychological.
One of the most important processes taking place in consciousness is attention. The word “attention” has several colloquial meanings, but in neuroscience, attention refers to the selective amplification of some signals compared to other signals.In a sense, attention is comparable to the ability of the brain to recognize and absorb information.
The brain must control attention, just as it controls the body. We will be able to find out how this happens with the help of engineering theory, which is looking for optimal solutions for complex systems, be it an air ventilation system in a building, the organization of urban transport, or the coordination of a robotic arm. In control theory, proper control requires the development of a valid model of the controlled object. The brain also follows this principle when controlling the body, and therefore creates a diagram of the body. Since the brain can best control attention, it almost certainly creates a pattern of its own attention.
But what information is included in the scheme of attention and how can it even describe what is difficult to determine? Presumably, it will transfer abstract properties, not exact details. She can present attention as a kind of ability of quick perception, personal experience, allowing to capture what is happening around and respond to it.Most likely, the circuit will not contain information about neurons and synapses, as it will not describe the actual physical mechanisms of attention. Just as the body pattern remains a surrealistic description of the body, the attention pattern remains a surrealistic description of attention.
But how will the brain behave with a circuit of attention. First of all, he will closely monitor attention. Then, having the ability to transform internal information into words, he could make some strange statements based on the attention pattern. He would not argue that “the cerebral cortex demonstrates an increased concentration of the visual signal on a lying sandwich,” but avoiding incomplete information in the attention pattern, he would say that he “gained a non-physical, subjective experience of observing a sandwich, knew the world around us with the help of consciousness ". This is a schematic depiction of attention, although, of course, this process is not limited to sandwiches. The same logic applies to the awareness of any object, memories or self-awareness.
For the past five years, my lab has been working on the theory of the attention scheme, and we already have some subjective experience. Attention is fundamental.Almost all animals have it. The brain has created a model of attention in order to control it. Consciousness is phantom attention. Without resorting to magic, mysticism, difficult problems of consciousness or the energy of the soul, this theory can explain the behavior of those of us who excitedly prove that their brain has supernatural power.
Lord Nelson may have been right when he said that the phantom hand and soul are made of the same material, and all the information is in the head.
Michael Graziano - Associate Professor of Psychology and Neurology, Princeton University, the author of the book "Consciousness and social intelligence."