What is the limit to self-awareness?

We can hook up sensors to our bodies to learn for example that while riding a bike uphill, we are not fully using particular muscles. This can help us learn how to use those muscles to use our bodies more fully.

We have a fairly good understanding of how muscles work - electrical signals cause the muscles to contract which causes joints to flex or extend, which results in some motion. The more muscles we apply to that contraction, the more forceful the motion. And we have created many simulations of this, like robots, and even solved the reverse problem of determining how the robot should engage its motors in order to produce a desired motion.

But what about our brains? Do we know how neurons - billions of them - can collectively provide the services of our brains? How they store and recall memories? How they recognize a friend we haven't seen in years? How we recognize that a species of dog we've never seen before is also a dog? And so on.

Interestingly enough, we have created models of brains - most famously digital computers, but also neural networks designed to simulate networks of brain cells. But I don't know if we (humankind) knows how this process works - how does the complex behavior emerge from the simple behavior of its components?

And if we had some control over the behavior of its components, could we produce particular behaviors? I assume we're a long way off from injecting Matrix-like consciousness into a brain or Total Recall-like false memories.

So my question is whether our own brains are even capable of figuring this out. I think this understanding is part of a sequence or continuum of self-awareness.

For example, the first stage is to realize that anything exists. In a way, a light sensor is at this stage since it reacts to the external world.

The next stage is to realize that one is separate from the rest of the world. Then to realize that one has a body. Then to know that one has a brain. Then to know that it is the brain that is responsible for knowing that. [1]

Then to know what are the components of that brain - its structure. And continuing, to know how that structure works, and next to know how to modify that structure in order to modify how it works.

Perhaps we will one day be able to detect that a particular area or structure of our brains is not working effectively and through that feedback will be able to improve it, directly modifying our thoughts and behaviors.

[1] Emo Phillips - http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/39852.html

changed December 5, 2010