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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Continuation of 'Theories of Consciousness' thread.

Continuation of 'Theories of Consciousness' thread.

Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 2

I am at a loss to account for why no-one examines the following situation; when the brain has two very similar thoughts present in two places at the same time.

For several reasons I believe it is a highly probable occurrence. And it is a situation which opens up a rational arrangement of aspects of cognition.

These are the reasons why this might be an ordinary occurrence.
The scale of brain capacity practically that similar or identical ideas are stored in the brain, even though they may not be fully reconciled. Before they are tied together, they must co-incubate in the brain for some time.
The neo-cortex is a parallel processing system, which is perfectly suited to the above co-incubation.
Bi-lateral symmetry is ubiquitous in zoology. Humans have two ears, two eyes and two halves of the neo-cortex. The visual system by its very structure creates two very similar images of one perceptual object, which the brain then subsequently re-joins.
Dennett’s ‘fame in the brain’ hypothesis proposes something akin to a multiple sourcing for a single thought of concept.
We already have and frequently use similar conceptions in the consideration of self-awareness or self-reference.
The simple process of encountering and taking stock of a perceptual object is most plausibly envisioned in a process of first taking in the perception and then comparing it to a stored version of the same object, where both objects are present and subject to comparison and contrast. The perceptual object and the stored object are two thoughts which are very similar, perhaps identical. It is not only easy to conceive, it is required that they both be present in the brain at the same time.

Why is this situation amenable to rational speculation ?
Because we can couch this situation within plausible circumstances and imperatives. We can make several uncontroversial assumptions about brain function, and from these assumptions, we can then follow with a rational consideration to the above situation.
1. The brain is one organ in the body. It has a role. I suggest it’s role is to organize information in the service of the whole organism. Within the brain, the neo-cortex starts out life as function neutral; it’s role is to discover and maintain coherence in the information that comes its way.
2. The non-performance of that role leads very quickly to issues of life and death for the whole organism. The pressure on the brain is high.
3. Efficient, effective and useful organization of information is a constant concern of neo-cortical function.

What are the consequences of these circumstances for the rational consideration of the above situation ?
Within these circumstances and imperatives, the apprehension of two very similar or identical thoughts has immediate consequences. The situation becomes a matter of urgency, concern and interest.
It is urgent because the brain and the organism needs to know if it hallucinating and losing it’s mind; this is an immediate survival issue.
If the organism is assured that it is not hallucinating, it is still concerned to establish the source of these two thoughts. ( For illustrative purposes lets imagine that the two thoughts are as follows. Thought 1 is the visual image of a man. Thought 2 is the memory of a similar looking man, namely the father of the subject who has been away for five years. ) The organism wants to establish competence in the management of these two thoughts quickly.
Having established what the visual image is, the organism is then very interested in how the new version of the thought compares with the old memorized version of the thought, and with the many ramifications this new information has for many, many other thoughts and memories.

If I have made a case that the above situation is plausible and fits within a rational consideration of cognition, then I suggest that it is worth further examination.
Consider this: When two very similar, very large complex thoughts are present to the brain, at the same time, the circumstances of large scale self-reference are created. In this situation, how could the brain not be aware of its own content ? How could the brain ignore this phenomenon ? How could this situation not command the brain’s attention and focus ? How could the brain not be self-aware ?

I may be missing something. I may be making a mountain out of a dust bunny. If anyone can throw cold water on this speculation, you would be doing me a favor. Have at it, and liberate me from my personal non-halting cognition problem!

I also mentioned that interpolating the above situation led to the idea that the base state of the neo-cortex might be a state of disorganization. The way this proposed state connects with the above is as follows: I suggest that the neo-cortex in infancy is a place of chaos. This is a stressful situation. It contributes nothing to the whole organism, and it consumes a lot of energy. It is possible that the stress of disorganization may provide the impulse to the neo-cortex to organize its information content.
I will mark out the steps.
Disorganization generates stress. Stress creates the need for relief. Relief can be achieved by organizing the information. Organization thus reduces the stress. Some disorganized information is converted into organized information. ( If anyone knows of a theory that posits any motive causes for the cortex’s negentropic activity, please post it. )
I believe disorganization is the base state of the neo-cortex because I do not see how disorganization can ever be eradicated or regimented out of the mind, and because the world, being infinitely varied, is resistant to total organization.
To finish the connection with the opening topic of this post: Disorganization is stressful. Organization is relief-giving. The co-incidence of two very similar complex thoughts is an instance of instant high level organization which provide high level relief from the background stress of constant disorganization. This amounts to a additional incentive to seek relief in the created island of calm made by two reciprocally validating complex thoughts, and to elevate complex thoughts to the forefront of awareness.

user 36314792
Seattle, WA
Post #: 6
Hi Mark,

I cannot reply to your whole entry, but a few quick things.

I think this - "When two very similar, very large complex thoughts are present to the brain, at the same time, the circumstances of large scale self-reference are created. In this situation, how could the brain not be aware of its own content ?" - is a non sequitur. The circumstances of reference are created/must be present, but not necessarily self-reference.

That said, I do not wish to disavow you of the idea that cognition is a 'non-halting problem', conditioned of course on the brain and the body being alive. (Shades of our/the discussion of Goedel, and now Turing's use of Goedel.) I think there might be something to this.

Finally, I'm sympathetic to your biological and specifically evolutionarily biological orientation. I don't know what you saw of Deacon on YouTube. I've read 'Incomplete Nature' and 'Symbolic Species', but it was the former I was referring you to, because while Deacon has now gotten into thermodynamics and self-organizing systems, he is an evolutionary biologist/neurophysiologist, and thus I thought this might connect with your thoughts. (I do think 'Incomplete Nature' is speculative at best, but it did seem up your alley in terms of the biological self-organization of information, including specifically with respect to brain function.)

Anyway, hopefully we can meet/talk a bit at the Meetup.


user 36314792
Seattle, WA
Post #: 7
Dup Post.
Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 393

I am at a loss to account for why no-one examines the following situation; when the brain has two very similar thoughts present in two places at the same time.

For several reasons I believe it is a highly probable occurrence. And it is a situation which opens up a rational arrangement of aspects of cognition.


Can you give some concrete first person examples, or evidence from the empirical literature? Otherwise it is hard for me to be sure what this refers to.
Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 3
Theo - I do not see the non sequitur. However, we can put that aside and approach the same issue from the other side. We can consider the position contrary to what I propose. Imagining that the situation where the co-existence of two very similar, large complex ideas in parallel processing environment, in contrast to what I suggest, does not command reciprocal awareness from the neo-cortex, I would ask you, given the reasonable conditions I have proposed, what would stop it from happening ?
I have contended that it has to create a form of consciousness; that consciousness is an almost necessary consequence given the parallel environment and the performance pressures. What do you think would impede the promotion of this pair of mutually reinforcing thoughts to the front of awareness in these conditions ? Can you make the case that something would interfere with the consequence I suggest ?

With regards to self-reference, on this topic there are innumerable opportunities for us to talk across each other. So if my response misses the mark, then blame the topic, not me!! Are you saying that a ‘self’ has to be present at the final approval for thought to be conscious, like on a board of examiners, Self has to be on the board ?
If you are saying this, then I would offer that every brain is unique, and that Self is sufficiently constituted by the uniqueness of every brain. Every brain over the course of maturation develops a unique response to the world. When complex thoughts are developed in the brain they develop in a unique way. When complex thoughts are present they are situated in a totally unique environment. I suggest that that unique environment is the Self.
If the Self is some sort of validating function, ( I am not saying that you propose that, but this topic is tricky ) then it is a type of homunculus, and that is apparently a dead end.
Thanks for the response - Mark

Jon C.
Mercer Island, WA
Post #: 155
I tend to agree that it does not automatically follow that an intelligent organism would necessarily be conceptually aware of itself. There have been plenty of reports of people that are not conceptually aware of things even though they are aware of all the sense data needed to form that concept. It stands to reason that the concept of self could be one such thing. One could even imagine that there are situations where the evolutionary pressure is such that awareness and/or concern for the self is so counterproductive to the survival of the group that that concept becomes impossible for the individuals. Such individuals might even perceive that they play a role in the group and that they are not apart from it. That's sort of how we perceive our self as being part of continuous entity even though the person that we are a moment from now or a moment ago is in some sense a different individual.

The question of whether there could be multiple selves in one brain is an open question. There are arguments in both directions. The observation that seems argues against is that there is clearly a tendency for consciousness to integrate into a single phenomenal point of view, which is quite unlike anything in the physical world. To say that the integration would somehow be incomplete and result in multiple selves is quite puzzling, but until we know more about how that integration is performed we really can't say. In split brain patients, it seems that the two halves are both conscious, but what would happen if the two halves are only partially split?
user 36314792
Seattle, WA
Post #: 8
Hi Mark,

I can't respond to your theory. I do think that it is not clear, at least to me, how you are using certain terms, e.g., 'awareness' (in the context of the neo-cortex), 'self-reference' (with respect to ideas in the brain), etc. - these are terms that usually indicate awareness in the sense of cognition yet you are using them in the context of neurons, i.e., presumably non-aware entities, doing things. And then you seem to say ergo, consciousness must result. I just don't see how you get, in your situation posited, from the unaware to the aware, or conscious - that's what I meant by the non sequitur. (I was, and thought you were, using self-reference as referring to the entity referring, not some notion of personhood or awareness of the self qua person.)

But let's just stipulate there is a biological process that generates human consciousness (this seems self-evident whether it is your theory or otherwise). I'm curious as to why you think this entails consciousness, or the process of consciousness, is to be understood as a Turing 'non-halting problem'? Or generates a 'boundary to rationality'? (I'm not saying I disagree.)

The first question restated, why does Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem necessarily apply to consciousness qua 'non-halting problem' you have identified? (Such that attempting to axiomatize the process of consciousness by one giant axiom as you mention, or otherwise, is impossible, as Hilbert's and Russell's effort was proved by Goedel impossible.)

Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 395
As I will talk about during the meetup, I think there are two basic steps in any serious scientific theory of consciousness. The first is to be very clear what notion of consiousness one is addressing. For example, one could have a theory of self-consciousnessness. Many would say this is not an adequate full theory, in that animals for example, are likely not self-consciousness, but may be phenomenally conscious. But a theory of self-consciousness is fine, as long as that is clearly specified.

The second is that a mechanism for what separates conscious from unconscious states must be specified, and this should take into account the current empirical literature and make testable predictions. This is what makes it a scientific theory.

So with all the recent talk of the implications of Godel's theorem, it would be helpful to be very clear what notion of consiousness, if any, is being addressed, because it seems that intelligence is being addressed instead, which might manifest in completely nonconsious entities. Second, are these metaphysical hypotheses or scientific ones? If they are scientific, what is the current evidence, and if this doesn't exist, what are some possible experiments that might be performed? By identifying how a hypothesis might be tested, this helps elucidate what exactly is being said.
Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 4
Jon - Thanks for the response. You draw from my post several complexities which further complicate the original question. I will respond by restating some of the points that I tried to make. This topic is endlessly complicating, so excuse me while I err on the side of repetition.
I was trying to illustrate a situation whereby information which the mind encounters might be trafficked to the front of awareness. It is a way in which some information is separated out from the background, and becomes in effect a Gestalt Figure on a Gestalt Ground. It is a way that information might step out from the masses of information what we process from moment to moment, and is selected and promoted as a priority of the moment, and which would then be rotated out by a new, different priority.
I make the assumption that the brains role is to organize information in the service of the whole organism, and is under pressure to do so efficiently. ( This assumption is un-radical but it has major consequences. ) I suggest that the brain is obsessed with organizing its content and organizing it well, so that if information is found to be duplicated, then the need to reconcile and consolidate whatever similarities and differences are exhibited in the duplicated thoughts, is pressing. To permit unresolved similarities to remain unexplained and not organized is to go against the organ’s purpose, and admit into its organizational scheme a misfit; like storing meat in a library. To ignore large scale similarities is to invite a fouling of the organizational agenda.
To accept the organizational challenge that the apprehension of two very similar thoughts presents. would entail discovering the scale of similarity and the points of difference, with the aim of improving the minds organization of the information encountered, and being in a better position to respond to a similar episode in the future.
Why would awareness cross the line and become self-awareness, and when does self-reference emerge ? If, on the one hand you have a large complex thought, and on the other hand you have another apparently identical large complex thought, within an organ whose raison d’etre is to organize information, then it must be registered that each thought refers to the other. And especially so in a parallel processing environment. If the mind contains both these thoughts and has actively placed them in the neo-cortex, surely self-reference takes place.

If the original question interests you I would break it down as follows.
1. Is the above cognitive configuration of two simultaneous complex thoughts a noteworthy occurrence ?
2. Given the assumption regarding the brain’s role, do the potential consequences for cognition make sense ?
3. Does the proposed information prioritizing mechanism seem plausible ?
Mark M.
user 36541252
Seattle, WA
Post #: 5
Gene - Thank you for the feedback.

Examples: I offer the example of two thoughts being at the forefront of awareness at the same time in the hypothetical event where a child meets their father after an extended separation. The child has their memory of their father, and the encounter with the living father brings forth old memories to mind. In this instance the brain contains two very similar thoughts at the same time.
I have offered some basic assumptions which in brief are that the brain is in service to the whole organism, and is under pressure to perform that service.
These priorities shape how the pair of similar thoughts could be processed. The speculation I offer proposes a fashion of information management that seems to engage some of the challenges that we face in trying to understand cognition and consciousness.

With regard to evidence from empirical literature; my point was that I have found no speculation on the above situation. In any case, what I offer is a matter of Analytic Philosophy as mush as anything else. It is almost a classic syllogism. I present conditions, circumstances and suggested consequences. My question is does my logic make sense ?
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