Wednesday, May 19, 2010

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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