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Where does conscience come from? The neurology of conscience

 Conscience is a complex and difficult to define psychological phenomenon. It is often defined philosophically, but is clearly a neurologica...

 Conscience is a complex and difficult to define psychological phenomenon. It is often defined philosophically, but is clearly a neurological process.

According to the encyclopedia, conscience is a personal sense of the moral content of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character with regard to a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. Conscience, usually informed by acculturation and instruction, is thus generally understood to give intuitively authoritative judgments regarding the moral quality of single actions.

According to Wikipedia, conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual's moral philosophy or value system.

Conscience is the ability by which we make moral judgments about our own actions and our whole moral being. Conscience is that part of the human psyche which, when we violate our value system by our actions, thoughts or words, causes mental anguish - guilt, remorse - and when we act in accordance with our value system, it gives us a sense of well-being and satisfaction.

Conscience depends on our current moral judgment. If we do not consider something immoral, we cannot have a conscience about it. Conscience is a faculty, an innate, genetic, evolutionary property of a person. However, conscience depends on historical development, individual upbringing, living conditions, environment and the spirit of the times, both in terms of its content and its strength.

Conscience, according to the philosophical approach, is a property related to morality. According to the religious approach, conscience is the voice of the existent God within us, which speaks out, answering yes or no whenever we are faced with a moral dilemma. According to this view, conscience is a person's God-given capacity for self-examination. According to the evolutionary approach, conscience is a property of our nature, created by selection. Its presence confers a selective advantage and has adaptive significance: those who have a conscience feel an inner compulsion to follow the rules of the group, and do not need to be forced to follow rules by external influence.

Conscience is therefore the judgment and qualification of our actions, thoughts and intentions within ourselves. It is an innate capacity, shaped and modified by experience.

Conscience is obviously a psychological phenomenon, its function is crucially linked to brain, to neurological processes. This connection is also clearly visible in the effects of certain brain injuries on conscience as a function influencing behavior. Numerous case studies of brain damage have shown that damage to areas of the brain results in the reduction or elimination of inhibitions, with a corresponding radical change in behavior. A classic example of the behaviour-consciousness-brain link is the case of Phineas Gage. Gage's extensive brain injury induced behavioral changes, which can be explained by the behavioral effects of the change in conscience caused by the injury.

What is the physical origin of conscience? What is the neural process in the brain that results in conscience?

A closer approach to a neurological understanding of conscience is to consider that the emotional and behavioral regulating function of conscience can be triggered not only by our own actions, but also by the behavior of others. For example, the emotional background of giving help to a person in distress or need is similar to the function of conscience. If, for example, we see someone being robbed on the street, we rush to their aid guided by our conscience.

However, we do know about the neurological background of this kind of behavior. Scientific experiments suggest that this type of behavior is determined by the presence and function of mirror neurons in the brain. The perception of events with others triggers the activity of mirror neurons, which generates an effect, a sensation, an emotional state as if the event had happened to us. As a result, experiencing the situation of the other person, behavioral mechanisms are induced, similar to how we would behave if the event had happened to us. The consequence of this state of mind is the helpful, supportive behavior that is required in that situation. However, this type of behavior can also be formulated as being guided by our conscience to help the other person.

In this way, by analogy, conscience - its philosophical concept, its emotional-psychological process - can be traced back to a specific neural process, the neurological activity of mirror neurons. On this basis, conscience as a phenomenon can be defined as a concrete neurological activity.

The phenomenon of conscience is the activity of brain mirror neurons triggered by our own actions, or even intentions, which induces the brain (emotional) state that would exist if the behavior in question were self-initiated. Conscience is therefore a neurological process, a feedback of our own behavior through the activation of mirror neurons. Conscience is the effect of our actual or even intended actions on ourselves, simulated by the mirror neurons, the feedback-like action of the mirror neurons.

This understands and explains why conscience is an innate property: the activity of the presence of mirror neurons, created by genetics and developed by evolution. If this hypothesis can be experimentally proven, then the abnormal functioning of conscience in some individuals could be due to the absence or malfunctioning of mirror neurons, and could therefore be explained by neurological, physiological, genetic causes. This would also explain the subjective nature of conscience. It is obvious that only neurological emotional states that have been formed depending on the historical development of a person, individual nurture, living conditions, environment, and the influence of the social environment can be activated by the feedback function of the mirror neurons present. These states are related to the subjective history of the individual.

Thus, on the basis of the mechanism outlined, conscience is not a philosophical concept, not a supernatural phenomenon, but a concrete neurological process that can be suitably and adequately explained.

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