Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting, Friday, 16 March 2018

It was such a pleasure to see everyone at a psychology group meeting after what seems to have been a long period of instability. The Computer Group had returned to The Owl on the Tuesday before and changes to the venue did not seem to impact on us at all and we agreed to meet there again. This was not the case, however, on a busy Friday afternoon where we were meeting in what is now the “pub” section of the hotel which became very noisy and at the demand of drinkers the background music was turned up to a level we had not experienced before. This made watching video material and engaging in quiet conversation very difficult. I’ve spoken to Dennis since who voiced his own disquiet on these issues and we agreed that given the changes at The Owl it has proved to be unsuitable as a venue for our Friday afternoon meetings and that unfortunately we need to look again for a suitable venue. Sue Ferguson has circulated a list of possible alternative venues and Dennis kindly printed out a copy for me. I’ll look into these sites and get back to members with some suggestions as soon as possible.

Our topic for the meeting was consciousness and when researching the subject, as other members found, that what initially seems to be a straightforward idea is in fact a far more complicated concept that requires careful thought and thorough investigation, such is psychology I’m afraid. After finding an acceptable definition we discussed consciousness in the wider living world and as a product of evolution. This was followed by looking at ideas of how the brain generates consciousness, whether this is an all or none phenomenon and is it ever really switched off, as for instance when we are asleep.

We then moved on to ask some questions which may seem to have obvious answers but are in fact more complex. Questions such as what is the functions of consciousness and how can solutions simply “pop into our head”, without any complex thought. Furthermore is our human level of consciousness a vital survival mechanism adapting social behaviour or just the by-product of a very complex brain?

I managed to find a couple of relevant video clips on You Tube which we then attempted to watch though with the difficulties mentioned above. The first clip basically summarised with the help of visual illustration many of the points we had raised. The second clip showed an interview with the eminent American physicist Prof. Machio Kaku who raised the hypothesis that whilst species such as apes demonstrate conscious self-awareness humans have taken consciousness to a uniquely and qualitatively higher level. He describes this level as involving the abilities to generate symbolic thought and to use this to generate advanced planning which they communicate linguistically or symbolically. Unfortunately we had to abandon this clip midway through but what we managed to see and hear provided rich food for thought.

At this point we had run out of time so weren’t able to discuss the important modern topic of how to safely control and when necessary, as for instance in major surgery, to eliminate consciousness through the use of anaesthesia. This we will have to save for discussion at our next meeting.

Once I can confirm the venue, date and time of our next meeting I’ll communicate this to all members as soon as possible. I look forward to seeing everyone again then.

Best wishes

John Moore – Group Leader
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