The brain is an organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals. One of the primary functions of a brain is to extract biologically relevant information from sensory inputs. Physiologically, the function of the brain is to exert centralized control over the other organs of the body.
You have five sense organs that detects information about the external world.
All this information is processed in the brain.
The brain works as an information processor. It has the ability to detect change in information from the environment. With a huge neural pathway system it combines this information together and gives the organism the ability to perceive the environment it receives signals from.
The correlation between input (stimuli) and output (response) is then stored as memories in the brain. The brain becomes a tool with which we can pull memories together and reflect on them, to plan for the future.
Instead of learning through many thousand years of evolution, we can now learn with a small amount of repetition.
The learning process creates something we call knowledge. When reactions that helped us deal with the environment are learned, they become a part of our reaction pattern. These reactions do not require the same amount of awareness, and become a part of our subconscious. In the same way as our instincts are inherited subconscious knowledge, our childhood experiences are stored as subconscious knowledge as well. Your perception of the world right now is basically a result of millions of years with experience and knowledge. In a process of awakening the universe is now trying to understand itself.
Example: The phyllotaxis illusion
Can you see the phyllotaxis spirals emerging from this photo?
With inherited knowledge of one of nature’s most important mathematical pattern, your brain is calculating the lowest energy configurations of repulsive particles in cylindrical geometries, and filling them in between the lines.
Self-awareness is a type of knowledge only a few other animals have. It is the knowledge that you are separate from you environment.
We test this ability with a simple experiment. You put the object in front of a mirror with a red spot on their face. If the object touches itself to remove the spot, it has the knowledge that what it sees in the mirror is itself.
We believe that it is the neuron mirror system that is responsible for this ability. From an evolutionary view-point this self-awareness developed as an advantage for the individual to understand others. We use our own experiences in order to predict the behavior of others. We know ourselves through others, and others through ourselves.
Organisms want to ensure their own survival, and therefore learns by experience to avoid pain and death. When we learn that other people die, we suddenly realize we will too. This realization can cause the experience of immediate threat. For the first time the organism can inflict it’s own stress response without a real environmental threat, but just by thinking about a future threat.
This fear can cause psychological distress, and sometimes it becomes a subconscious fear that drives an individual to constantly ensure it’s own survival. Fear of loss, or that others have more than yourself, can cause the individual to act selfish at the expense of others.
In our brain, mirror neurons fire both when a person performs a certain action, and also when it observes the same action being done by another person.
This system gives us the ability to have empathy with each other as we can literarily feel others pain and love.
Even though some animals have self-awareness, humans are the only ones known to have achieved conscious awareness – the awareness of being conscious. Before this, negative reaction patterns for the organism was eliminated through death. But as humans have developed conscious awareness, we can change these patterns by becoming aware of our subconscious responses. We can let go of parts of ourselves, to get rid of harmful reaction patterns. But psychological death also involves pain, and is why we usually avoid it.
We know our self-awareness is instrictically connected to the awareness of others. Essentially we see others as we see ourselves, and with conscious-awareness, we can now be aware of this self-awareness.
From an evolutionary view point, our capacity for empathy provides us with an advantage. By caring for others as we care for ourselves this ability ensures both individual survival, and the survival of the species.
Through the eyes of compassion we can see that egoism does not have to exclude altruism.