Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Many Thanks to Conscious Entities

Many thanks to Peter, at Conscious Entities (one of my favorite philosophy and science blogs), for linking to my "T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness" paper here at the Hermeneutics Blog. His open-handedness may even have convinced me to return to blogging -- if just a little bit now and then.

I intend to compose an "About" page soon for the Hermeneutics Blog that will explain its aims and origins. I will also hope to post links from time to time to interesting material on the web. I hope those interested in philosophy will stop in from time to time in order to see what's new.

I'd be delighted to receive comments -- good, bad or indifferent -- on the "T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness" paper. Comments are enabled only on page 12 (the final page) in order to keep them gathered together.

Salute omni amans philosophiae!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 12)

lifetime of the individual and of the collective. I suspect — and certain readings of history and pre-history strongly support the idea — that widely varying manifestations of Consciousness emerged and dissipated in pre-historical humans until stability could be progressively enhanced by the transmission of stabilizing arrangements of language and built world: that this is the solution the Consciousness designed to the problem of its own inherent instability. This is how Consciousness became continuous and stable individually from person to person and collectively from generation to generation as we generally and erroneously assume it has always been.

Beggs, John M. and Plenz, Dietmar (2003). Neuronal Avalanches in Neocortical Circuits. J. Neurosci, 23(35), 11167-11177.

Kitzbichler MG, Smith ML, Christensen SR, Bullmore E. (2009). Broadband Criticality of Human Brain Network Synchronization. PLoS Comput Biol 5(3): e1000314. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000314

Libet, B., Wright, E. W., & Gleason, C. A. (1983). Preparation- or intention-to-act, in relation to pre-event potentials recorded at the vertex. Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology, 56(4), 367-72.

Maclean, Paul D. The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. Springer Publishing, 1990.

Maclean, Paul D. A triune concept of the brain and behaviour. University of Toronto, 1970.

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The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 11)

alternately, the neo-cortex, to a non-physical boundary shared with an epiphenomenon (emergent property). This seems to me a far more elegant explanation of the nature of the mind, and solution to the persistent problem of mind-body duality, than any presented to this point, and one which accounts for all observed phenomena.

Our definition of Consciousness, accordingly, amounts to the first step of a Complexity Theory of Consciousness. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain which manifests at a threshold complexity-level provided to the brain by the addition of the neo-cortex.

So now, let us state our final definition in the clearest and most succinct terms possible. Consciousness is an emergent property of the grey matter of the neo-cortex where the neuronal processes per unit volume are vastly denser and better organized. It contains no inherent emotions, volition, senses or unified sense of self (all of which are local to the subconscious —paleo-mammalian — portion of the brain) the which are only modified or mediated by the Consciousness. The Consciousness is entirely reactive to the processes of the subconscious, modifying those processes through the medium of complex neuronal algorithms. It is an area of neuronal processes particularly and solely fitted for problem solving. It has no inherent biological biases except to solve problems and no emotional biases at all. It is evolutionarily selected for because of the sensory and behavioral problems it succeeds in solving, through mediation, thus enhancing the survival of its host population.

Epilogue: The Consciousness at t=t’

At a time long before t=t’, the frontal lobes began extending their problem solving beyond the host organism in itself to the enhanced survival of the group. This required that Consciousness expand into the shared physical world of a group, small at first, but growing as the external component of Consciousness could accommodate the greater numbers and accomplish the concomitant survival enhancements for the host organisms of the collective and individual components of Consciousness. Rather than communication and coordination via intra-cranial neurotransmitters alone, Consciousness utilized a new style of transmission across its external regions: we call that transmitter “language”.

If we skip past all the myriad developments between the inception of language and the present, we find an entire built world and further enhanced external transmission via radio waves and a Consciousness profoundly altered by them. The implications are enormous and beyond the scope of this paper. For the present, it must suffice to say that from the inception of language to t=t’ the Consciousness has left behind every sign that it continues to develop, that it has jumped outside of the neo-cortex in order to expand its modification of the subconscious mind and to pass along that expanded capability to the individual Consciousnesses that its built world patterns by the processes of internalization and that, in turn, pattern the built world by the processes of externalization.

This does suggest an answer to one of the larger questions which arises from the theory that the Consciousness is an emergent property. As those who are familiar with emergent properties are likely aware, the properties tend to be stable for more or less short periods of time. The Consciousness as we presently know it, however, tends to be remarkably stable throughout the

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The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 10)

with all things in the Consciousness, the “I” is the manifestation of a solution to a problem, the solution successful inasmuch as it increases the likelihood of the survival of its host population.

As is the case for all processes of our Consciousness, the executive function is located entirely in the grey matter of the neo-cortex. As in all processes of our Consciousness, the executive function is laid over the more archaic white matter brain region that once far less successfully sought to fulfill the same function. The interconnections between the neo-cortex of the frontal lobes and other brain regions, conscious and subconscious, consist almost entirely of the white matter neurons that initially interconnected the more archaic versions of those regions. White matter neurons are better adapted to this function than grey because they are encased in bulky myelin sheaths which maintain signal integrity over the comparatively long distances between regions.

As is the case for all processes of our Consciousness, the neo-cortex of the frontal lobes receives no direct sensory inputs and has no will of its own. It’s only purpose is to solve problems such that the survival of its host organism is enhanced. It can only assess and modify the will of the subconscious such that archaic processes are thwarted or redirected based upon experience ― can only form complex neuronal algorithms which assess the brains greatly expanded and enhanced, distributed memory and modify actions based upon the most favorable previous outcomes for similar contexts.

The frontal lobes can also provide one or more levels of meta-consciousness. They can evaluate their own executive function, and evaluate their evaluation of their own executive function, as part of their problem solving, something impossible on any level in the archaic paleo-mammalian brain.

“How,” it has often been asked, even by neurologists and philosophers, “can any amount of circuitry, no matter how well organized, arrive at something as numinous as Consciousness?” The answer to this is: “How, in scientific or philosophical terms, can anything else be the case?” Postivist/Reductionist approaches to the study of the brain historically reply that the numinous quality of Consciousness is beyond our understanding only because we are, as of yet, no where near mapping the total functionality of the brain. When this is done, it is assumed, the total of the neurons involved in brain function will add up to all phenomena properly associated with the brain (including those numinous qualities some assign to “mind”).

It seems unlikely, however, at this juncture, that any additive sum of neurons or neuronal networks can arrive at a change-of-state such as that apparently inherent in the Consciousness unless it does so by having exceeded a threshold population that invokes the special dynamics observed upon entering the realm of Complexity Theory. Furthermore, the Consciousness exhibits many of the qualities associated with Complex Systems. It is ordered and founded upon distributed independent localized processing. It is accomplished by a combination of local and system wide networks. It incorporates strong feedback loops. It exhibits self-organized criticality (i.e. operates at the edge of a chaos state) [Kitzbichler, 2009][Beggs, 2003] and accommodates system disequilibrium within overall stable states.

To put the matter in other terms which might highlight how this alters the nature of a philosophical question central to the understanding of Consciousness, this shifts the locus of mind-body duality from some impossible physical boundary near the human brain stem, or,

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The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 9)

other words, the conscious decision to perform an act comes after the brain has already registered the beginning of the act.

As shocking as this is to someone who wishes to think of his or her conscious actions as actually being conscious, we submit that the result merely verifies a fact about Consciousness already stated here. As we have said, above, all unmediated sensory input and emotion resides entirely in the subconscious. The Consciousness can do nothing but mediate those sensory data, modify those emotions and the primitive actions they provoke and otherwise solve abstract problems. The source of all will is in the emotions. That is to say, the subconscious does, in fact, decide to initiate all action. The modification of will (of primitive action), in order to prevent adverse consequences, is, at base, a complex problem to be solved in order to enhance survival. That is to say, the function resides in the Consciousness. The Consciousness is entirely reactive. It only decides whether to allow an action proposed by the subconscious or whether to oppose or modify the action.

As for sensory mediation, there is only space available here for a few key words. The Consciousness mediates sensory input on various levels. Among the more important to our sense of consciousness is vastly improved pattern matching which also provides us with the wondrous variety of sights, sounds, tactile sensations, etc., available to our inner world. Those with blindsight can not see only in the sense that this pattern matching is no longer available to their visual processes. The subconscious can still see, but it is revealed to us that its seeing is impoverished of an the inner world. The deficit can only be described as a loss of our greatest gift: that inner world, the experience of Consciousness.

So then, let us state our definition, at this juncture, in the clearest and most succinct terms possible. Consciousness is located in all or part of the grey matter of the neo-cortex where the neuronal processes per unit volume are vastly denser and better organized. It contains no inherent emotions, volition, senses or unified sense of self. It is entirely reactive to the processes of the subconscious. It is an area of neuronal processes particularly and solely fitted for problem solving. It has no inherent biological biases except to solve problems and no emotional biases at all. It is evolutionarily selected for because of the sensory and behavioral problems it succeeds in solving, through mediation, thus greatly enhancing the survival of its host population.

For all the wonder and complexity of sensory mediation, however, our experience informs us that it is at the service of far higher conscious activities. We do not feel like we are the sum of our mediated sensory inputs, but, rather, feel like those inputs are merely information provided to our Consciousness. This is due to the fact that we almost entirely identify our Consciousness with the processes resident in our frontal lobes, with thinking, with abstract reasoning, with the symphonic whole of our subconscious desires and their mediation.

The frontal lobes solve the single most vital problem: how to transform the senses of self of all our myriad parts, and the archaic pre-conscious sense of a unified self, into a single conscious “I”. How to coordinate successfully the vast amounts of sensory input, emotion and memory such that all the disparate parts of us feel like, and, therefore, work together as, one single organism capable of bringing all of its vast resources to bear on the problems that life presents. That “I,” is called our “executive function”. We necessarily locate all of our emotions, senses, repressions, etc., in our executive function, not because they are actually located in the frontal lobes, but because the only way we can act as a single unitary being is to feel like they are. As

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The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 8)

The paleo-mammalian brain still intact, and the conscious brain having been removed from the equation, the mammal, as it were, takes over the function un-mediated. But there is absolutely no corresponding conscious feeling of sight because there is no Consciousness in the paleo-mammalian brain. The Consciousness has been rendered blind while the subconscious brain has not. Seeing is registered in the Lateral geniculate nuclei, of the thalamus, the superior colliculus, pulvinar area, etc. Mental pictures (which are what we would call “seeing”) reside in the machinery of the Consciousness and are mediated visual representation.

This is a similar mechanism, with some modifications, which creates the widely known effect of a ball-player rapidly performing highly complex feats of coordination “without having to think about them”. The Consciousness steps aside in favor of the sub-conscious mind which, freed of the relatively time consuming step of handing off sensory input for conscious mediation, is much better at performing such tasks at such speeds. Precisely the same mechanism allows trained drivers to drive a car. For, in both cases, a solution designed by the Consciousness is brought to bear: first, repetition is used during a training period to pattern the sub-conscious mind (memory areas, basal ganglia and cerebellum) to be able to perform the task, and, then, the Consciousness retires into the background during actual performance of the task in order to remove the time-costly step of mediation.

As every ball-player and driver is aware, there is a third step to this solution developed by the Consciousness, for the Consciousness does not perfectly retire. If a sensory input is experienced that is unexpected, above a sensory threshold value also established by the Consciousness, the source of the experience is avoided (one ducks, screeches on the brakes, etc.) and mediation of the Consciousness is invoked until the source of the experience is evaluated and the situation considered safe enough again to return to unmediated processing. The Consciousness can also put in a wake-up call which will be invoked if the subconscious mind notes levels of traffic that require more “thoughtful” driving or certain landmarks that precede a tricky stretch of road or a turn-off, etc.

These states of greatly reduced participation of the Consciousness, recall to us something of the feeling of what might be called “earlier forms of consciousness”. Experiences are more immediate, capable of less complexity. The less conscious intervention is involved in decision making, the more subjects see without seeing, hear without hearing, feel without feeling. The less conscious their processing the less fine-grained the sensory and emotional processing and the memory of their experience.

But it would be inappropriate to consider such experiences to be precisely the same as those experienced during the evolutionary stages that the subconscious represents at some distance. Evolution has moved on. The Consciousness has modified the subconscious mind as part of its problem solving. Still, these experiences are highly informative about what some might refer to as “earlier forms of consciousness” and just how much a life limited to them would hardly seem conscious at all.

The second example is the phenomenon arising out of the relationship, discovered by Benjamin Libet [Libet et al, 1983], of readiness potentials to Consciousness. In a now famous experiment, the results of which have since been verified many times, although with widely varying interpretations, Libet discovered that the electrical potential in the brain that always precedes a conscious act begins almost half a second before the conscious decision to perform the act. In

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The T=0 Complexity Theory of Consciousness (p. 7)

subject or subjects. We sought to determine what was Consciousness by observing how it manifest itself in a person or in people.

The most famous of the researchers who proceeded in this fashion can only be Sigmund Freud and it is to Freud’s model of Consciousness that we will turn in order to unwind our term “not-conscious” such that we arrive at a far more expansive and properly descriptive one. In particular, we will henceforth refer to the paleo-mammalian brain as “subconscious” rather than the transitional “not-conscious”. As for the proto-consciousness of the reptilian brain (or r-complex), it clearly equates with Freud’s description of the Id.

The seat of unmediated emotion, volition, senses, qualia, etc., can only be the paleo-mammalian and reptilian brains, both of which compose Freud’s subconscious mind and the latter which is more specifically referred to as the Id. The localization of the unmediated senses, in the physical brain, is entirely in the deep brain at or near the juncture of the paleo-mammalian and reptilian brains. This is also the locus of the unmediated emotions (fight or flight response, mating drives, hunger). Only the most archaic levels of mediation exist within the r-complex the which are enhanced in the white matter of the paleo-mammalian brain. As for emotions, they would hardly be called emotions at all, but instinctual reactions, drives or proto-emotions, until the advent of the paleo-mammalian brain.

To be clear, then, the emotions and the senses express themselves immediately only and entirely in the subconscious. At the t=0 we have posited, the Consciousness exists but all emotion and sensation remain entirely in the subconscious as the Consciousness is only a biological structure. At t=t’ (we will designate “the present” as t’), as we all feel, Consciousness expresses itself as far more than “only a biological structure”.

By t=t’, the Consciousness has long formed stable areas of specialization. These areas are generally located in the neo-cortical area immediately adjacent to the white matter areas assigned the archaic expression of the same function because they depend upon the same long white matter nerve processes to interconnect various brain regions for coordinated function.

Nevertheless, even at t=t’ the Consciousness is the locus of no inherent emotion or sensation. All immediate emotion and sensation are physically localized in the subconscious mind. Many of the profoundly surprising experimental results relating to the brain and Consciousness make these facts clear.

Two examples are widely known and can help us begin to grasp the nature of the relationship of the senses and emotions to the Consciousness and the subconscious mind. The first is the phenomenon of “blindsight”. When the visual center of the neo-cortex (the locus, that is to say, of the mediation of sight by the Consciousness) is damaged in certain areas, the associated field of vision upon which the damage was afflicted becomes blind. Or so it would seem, for it has been discovered that, if the associated visual center, in the subconscious, is intact, the sub-conscious continues to see! Throw a ball at a person thus afflicted, from his or her blind side, and he or she may react to avoid being hit, or to otherwise reduce the impact of it, even though they can not consciously see it. Shown an object in the blinded visual field and they can correctly “guess” details of shape or color.

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