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Cognitivism as a Theory of Consciousness and the Brain


COGNITIVISM AS A THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS








Cognitivism as a Theory of Consciousness and the Brain
Jacob B. Donley
Grand Canyon University
5/25/2012


Cognitivsm:  A Theory of Consciousness
             Cognitivism is a rising theory of consciousness. Its popularity is growing in the psychological community. Cognitivism is, “the belief that much of human behavior can be understood in terms of how people think,” (Sternberg, 2009, p. 10). In essence, cognitivism is broken down into the structures of thought and the experiences and thoughts of the individual as representative of reality. The individual must interpret what he or she experiences through the person’s own perception. This perception is also influenced by the society in which that person exists, providing ideology and structures of generalized fundamental knowledge that aids in the internalized processing within the mind (Sampson, 1981). Sampson describes this as ‘I Think’ versus ‘We Think’ (Sampson, 1981). The society, in which a person lives, outside of the internalized consciousness, is pivotal in the processing of information and therefore comes before the ‘I Think.’ The generalized knowledge is learned, first, from others within society. A person uses this knowledge to process what he or she experiences. Cognitivism is based on the way in which a person thinks, thus affecting their behavior through mental processes, not through a purely instinctual and passive consciousness as behaviorism portrays. Society and culture are just as important to the individual’s consciousness as his or her own awareness of existence.
            Cognitivism is a blend of Gestalt psychology and many other earlier schools of thought, including behaviorism and its method of research. The reflective method is a way to research through introspection. Descartes used this method and many other philosophers continue to use this method today to formulate theories and other progress in the field (Sampson, 1981). The reflective method is a way to understand the inner workings of a person’s mind or the topic that interests them through self-reflection and patient thought. Many Empiricists counter this method because of its lack of experimentally measurable results. Empiricists use methods that have measurable results such as experiments, studies, and lab work.
            Criticism of cognitivism revolves around where the emphasis of action and reaction should lie. Opposition comes from the role of culture in consciousness. Some believe that the internal emphasis of conscious is essential and is separate from anything external. After all, the consciousness’ separation from the outside world is essentially a barrier that cannot be breached, to retrieve information from. The experiences are that of the individual. The experiences come from interaction with the environment, but without interaction, the individual’s self-awareness would still exist, proving that the environment is not essential in the theory of consciousness.
An example of the type of questions that have arisen in the field is, what is changed, the person who views the world, or the world that is viewed by the person? This question deals with this same conflict of environment as a dual construct to consciousness and awareness. How much does the environment truly affect our view of our own identity within our consciousness?
 Does the reality of every individual differ or is it vastly similar from person to person? Is consciousness the same experience for everyone who is self-aware? Descriptions of people’s own thoughts and ideas and their method to coming up with them often follows similar paths, as does the descriptions of inner thought and sometimes monologue. This could possible lead researchers or observers to formulate that the general state of consciousness is vastly similar amongst humans.
             Does the consciousness exist only in the brain, or does its vessel lie somewhere intangible in nature? The latter question here is extremely cross disciplined, as it crossed into both physics and religion. In religion, the underlying question then becomes, is the consciousness the soul or at least a portion of it? The view of the soul among religions differs as much as the notion of consciousness does in the sciences. The common belief among a large number of religions is that the soul resides in the body, the physical vessel of the soul while on Earth. The question of whether the consciousness and the soul are one and the same is widely debated. In other fields, such as metaphysics, and cosmology, the consciousness can be related to a plane of reality that exists both in and apart from the physical world.
            Cognitivism is a blend of Gestalt psychology and many other earlier schools of thought, including behaviorism and its method of research. The reflective method is a way to research through introspection. Descartes used this method and many other philosophers continue to use this method today to formulate theories and other progress in the field (Sampson, 1981). The reflective method is a way to understand the inner workings of a person’s mind or the topic that interests them through self-reflection and patient thought. Many Empiricists counter this method because of its lack of experimentally measurable results. Empiricists use methods that have measurable results such as experiments, studies, and lab work.
            Criticism of cognitivism revolves around where the emphasis of action and reaction should lie. Opposition comes from the role of culture in consciousness. Some believe that the internal emphasis of conscious is essential and is separate from anything external. After all, the consciousness’ separation from the outside world is essentially a barrier that cannot be breached, to retrieve information from. The experiences are that of the individual. The experiences come from interaction with the environment, but without interaction, the individual’s self-awareness would still exist, proving that the environment is not essential in the theory of consciousness.
An example of the type of questions that have arisen in the field is, what is changed, the person who views the world, or the world that is viewed by the person? This question deals with this same conflict of environment as a dual construct to consciousness and awareness. How much does the environment truly affect our view of our own identity within our consciousness?
 Does the reality of every individual differ or is it vastly similar from person to person? Is consciousness the same experience for everyone who is self-aware? Descriptions of people’s own thoughts and ideas and their method to creating them often follows similar paths, as does the descriptions of inner thought and sometimes monologue. This could possible lead researchers or observers to formulate that the general state of consciousness is vastly similar amongst humans.
Does the consciousness exist only in the brain, or does its vessel lie somewhere intangible in nature? The latter question here is extremely cross disciplined, as it crossed into both physics and religion. In religion, the underlying question then becomes, is the consciousness the soul or at least a portion of it? The view of the soul among religions differs as much as the notion of consciousness does in the sciences. The common belief among a large number of religions is that the soul resides in the body, the physical vessel of the soul while on Earth. The question of whether the consciousness and the soul are one and the same is widely debated. In other fields, such as metaphysics, and cosmology, the consciousness can be related to a plane of reality that exists both in and apart from the physical world.

Where Does the Consciousness Arise in the Brain?
            The consciousness is a complex process that has baffled scientists and philosophers alike for hundreds of years. The exact brain systems that make up consciousness in its entirety are currently unknown. Though some researchers believe that the cerebellum in conjunction with firing neurons and synapses across the cortex is responsible for consciousness, there is no proof that concludes this to be fact. Some researchers even believe that the true source of consciousness is possible through quantum mechanics via a “sub manifest field” that is beneath all observable events in the universe (Stokes, 1999). This is a highly controversial point though. Critics to the quantum theory of the brain state that the systems involved are too large for a quantum system to perform accurately and would break down; the current classical systems already in place are more logically suitable to perform the actions necessary for consciousness, thus quantum mechanics is not needed to explain consciousness (Hepp & Koch, 2006).
Conclusion
            Cognitivism is one of many theories of consciousness. It deals with the relationship between the internal awareness and thought process and the culture and environment that the individual interacts with. Another major function of cognitivism is the way that it is researched through both introspection and empiricism.
            Though source of consciousness in the brain is largely unknown, research is being conducted that may help to answer many questions in the future. Everything from the cerebellum, neural clusters, synapse firing, and quantum mechanics have been noted as contributors to the functioning consciousness and self-awareness. However, before an answer can be found, much more research must be conducted. The research will hopefully one day help contribute to our understanding of the consciousness as well as many brain disorders.


References

Hepp, K., & Koch, C. (2006). Quantum Mechanics in the Brain. Nature, 611.
Sampson, E. E. (1981). Cognitive Psychology as Ideology. American Psychologist, 730-743.
Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive Psychology Fifth Edition. Ohio: Cengage Learning.
Stokes, D. M. (1999). About the Origin of Consciousness: A New Multidisciplinary Perspective on the Relationship Between Mind and Brain. The Journal of Parapsychology, 89-93.


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