Burch on Consciousness & Memory

[from Gary Cziko 960503.0218 GMT] responding to:

John Burch (960502.1430)

When I experience my sense of self, some part of me is aware
of my awareness of the world. But not in an infinite
regression of homunculii in space, but a single loop in
time. And that requires memory. Short term memory. But not
ordinary short term memory but an uncounscious memory that
only operates over the last 100 millisecs or less. The
memory of what I just thought, what I just felt. . . .

If you haven't seen it already, you would be interested in Gerard Edelman's
book _The Remembered Present: A Biological Theory of Consciousness_ (Basic
Books, 1989). Although I (and many others, I am told) find much of
Edelman's writing quite difficult to understand, I think you will find some
support and discussion of your general position in this book.

If we could erase your 50 millisec memory loop just once,
you would be reset. You would look around like a tabla rosa
with no sense of who you are. Sure, you could remember
events from the past - if you had a reason to, but you
probably would not have any reason to remember until larger
events in the environment restored your connection to those
older events.

When I got to this point, I immediately thought of the times I have (too
often) lost consciousness via trauma (I now wear a helmet while riding my
bike). So I was intrigued to see you continue:

Has anybody ever been hit over the head so
that when you came to, you didn't know who you were, where
you were or anything else for a few moments? You were reset
- newly conscious and possessing a sense of self but lacking
the normal data that would fill out that sense of self.

I have found this "coming to" to be both a fascinating and terrifying
experience. Those initial moments after the "reset" are unlike anything I
have ever experienced. At first just a feeling of existence, a certain
sense of self, but not of Gary Cziko. Then gradually memories start coming
back, first of the immediately preceding events, and then of who I am and
what my life has been about. I have described this to others as a feeling
of being reborn, like coming into existence for the first time and then
going through 40-odd years of cognitive development in 15 seconds or so.

Also of interest is that my experience of awakening from sleep is not like
this at all. If I am away from home it may take me few second to remember
where I am, but as soon as I awake I know exactly who I am what's on my
agenda for the day.

Consciously yours,