• Count Timothy von Icarus
    211
    I tried writing this post about a month ago and ended up losing the text. It's something I've been kicking around for awhile.

    Blind Brain Theory, BBT, is a theory developed by novelist, and ABD philosophy PhD from Vanderbilt, R. Scott Bakker. The original paper can be found here.

    To summarize a summary someone else already did:

    This is the Blind Brain Theory (BBT). Very briefly, the theory rests on the observation that from the torrent of information processed by the brain, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself. We have virtually no idea of the massive and complex processes churning away in all the unconscious functions that really make things work and the result is that consciousness is not at all what it seems to be. In fact we must draw the interesting distinction between what consciousness is and what it seems to be...

    Bakker points out that the brain is capable of a throughput of 38 trillion calculations per second, 38 petraflops. Forget the Nvidia 3090, you should be able to run Cyberpunk at 9,000K off your own hardware without breaking a sweat. However, of this information, it's estimated that 3-50 bits make it to consciousness (admittedly, these are extremely rough estimates). Consciousness is very bad at multitasking and if you've ever zoned out on the highway and couldn't remember the last 20 miles, you have probably experienced the constriction of data into consciousness first hand.

    The brain, in turn, has a number of "magic tricks," slights of hand to paper over how little information makes it into consciousness. For example, your visual field has a blind spot where the optic nerve enters the eye, however, your perception of vision has this spot filled in. This is done in the visual cortex of the brain, extrapolating from sensory data rather than reflecting it. Your peripheral vision is also very poor, and does not include color, but the brain fills in these holes on the way to conscious access, and makes us experience a much wider field.

    For a spookier example, tests show that the sense of voluntary movement (i.e. I decide to move my hand now) actually comes after the movement has already started. Furthermore, people with damage to their occipital lobe lose the ability to process sight. Their eyes may be fine, but they no longer experience sight, even in their dreams (a person with destroyed eyes and a working visual cortex can dream of vision). However, the eyes also make direct connections to the motor cortex (probably for quicker reaction times) and so these people with no conscious qualia of sight can still successfully navigate a room full of furniture or even catch a ball thrown at them.

    But we also need to take account of the recursively self-referential nature of consciousness. Scott takes the view (others have taken a similar line), that consciousness is the product of a special kind of recursion which allows the brain to take into account its own operations and contents as well as the external world. Instead of simply providing an output action for a given stimulus, it can throw its own responses into the mix and generate output actions which are more complex, more detached, and in terms of survival, more effective. Ultimately only recursively integrated information reaches consciousness.

    The limits to that information are expressed as information horizons or strangely invisible boundaries; like the edge of the visual field the contents of conscious awareness have asymptotic limits – borders with only one side. The information always appears to be complete even though it may be radically impoverished in fact. This has various consequences, one of which is that because we can’t see the gaps, the various sensory domains appear spuriously united.

    This is all good and interesting, but people have been positing similar views of the mind for millennia. With Hume, and long before him Buddhist thinkers, we have an empirical self examination of consciousness, and what it finds is not a unified self, directing and reflecting, but a steady stream of different desires, drives, and sensations, given only lose unity. Even worse, this unity seems to fall into blind allies and disappear at inconvenient times.

    My interest here is what this massive information asymmetry (38 trillion calculations per second versus consciousness straining to do simple multiplication of whole numbers), means for how we consider the unconscious.

    The unconscious was the center of early-contemporary psychology. It was the main actor for Freud, the main wellspring of the human soul for Jung. Over time, these thinkers have been replaced with a more mechanical explanation of the mind. We still point to the unconscious as an actor in some cases. We talk about vague constructs like "stress" having a long term impact on cognition and physiological health. We still talk about repressed desires. However, the general view of the unconscious is as a dumb animal. It's our lizard brain acting behind the scenes, while all higher activity occurs within the realm of consciousness.

    This doesn't really follow from the findings in the field. What makes it to consciousness at any one time is highly constricted. The same systems that let you understand Kant or do calculus aren't always making it into consciousness, but that in no way means they are "asleep."

    Think about geniuses' great moments of breakthrough. Einstein figured out special relativity not while sitting hyper focused on the problem, but while day dreaming and looking at two painters up on a scaffold. That is, great, highly complex insights can come from the unconscious because the connections that represent knowledge and high level processing don't disappear or go silent when they aren't in the recursive system.

    This might be part of the reasons artists are so attracted to writers like Jung, who scientists have drifted away from. The focus on symbols, on affecting cognition through the unconscious, opens up more material to work with. The paintings of impressionists, or the impressionist writing of people like T.S. Eliot are not designed specifically for the conscious mind with the slow, serial analysis it specializes in, but rather at the whole system, which can recognize symbols at a faster rate.

    I had an inkling of this listening to lectures on Hegel as I drove across country the last few days. The lecturer is making complex connections between the ideas of Plato and Kant and the Phenomenology. I have the sensation of realization, seeing how Hegel blends these concepts in a book of his I've read, and yet, my conscious mind doesn't have the ability to hold these complex concepts, in anything near their entirety, all at once, or even in quick succession. Writing out the connections in an orderly way would take hours, but nonetheless, the connections are made and exist in my mind, at a partly, maybe mostly, subconscious level, and yet could be retrieved later and written into a detailed, serial analysis.

    My final point would be that the conscious mind is demonstrably a terrible multitasker, and yet high level thought requires multitasking and summarization on the fly. That means that complex works of synthesis using higher order thinking, simultaneously using symbolic stand-ins to combine complex theories in a form of mental short hand, seemingly HAS to take place at a mostly unconscious level since so little crystalized thought can reach consciousness at the a time. Internal monologue is slow and ponderous, far too slow to be the main actor in synthetic thought.

    Or to summarize, the unconscious is doing a lot more, at a much higher level then we often give it credit for and key aspects of our minds that we generally think of as conscious functions (i.e. most higher level thought) also appear to be able to run in the background, without making it to the recursive system.
  • frank
    7.4k
    My interest here is what this massive information asymmetry (38 trillion calculations per second versus consciousness straining to do simple multiplication of whole numbers), means for how we consider the unconscious.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I was amazed to learn that everyone moves their eyes back and forth all the time, but you can't see your own eyes doing this in a mirror because it's edited out of the visual field.

    Live stream editing. That's where at least some of the calculating power is going.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    211
    I'll add that, unfortunately, a lot of this has to be supposition since science is not able to pin point the origin of individual ideas in the brains. Indeed, one can find groups of neurons that seem to track with a given concrete concept (e.g. the smell of apples) but the actual neurons involved and network of connections changed pretty rapidly over time. The memory of a smell can seemingly migrate to totally new cells, involving none of the old ones over time. So good luck finding Plato's forms in a brain scan anytime soon.
  • frank
    7.4k

    Neural plasticity, yep. Another challenge to making a theory of consciousness.
  • Jack Cummins
    2.9k

    I know that you see this theory as being probably as an alternative to the psychoanalysts, especially Jung. But, I don't really see it as being opposed to it. The theory which you are speaking about is just looking at the mechanical way of explaining the nature of the subliminal levels of perception. I am not sure that Jung thought of the personal or collective unconscious as being unconnected completely from the brain. We could see the idea of the blind brain as showing how the spectrum from consciousness to unconscious is vast, rather like fields of a perceptual nature. Even interconnections between other minds, the past and present could be involved too, and, really, I think that this could be used to support some of the psychoanalytic theories of the subconscious, although this theory is not really demonstratable at this stage anyway.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    211


    I may have accidentally given that impression. I actually think these findings and BBT gives more room for theories like Jung. Archetypes could be the result of genetic predisposition for the ideas arising themselves although my guess is that they arise as a sort of convergent social evolution. That is, because humans of different groups are still very similar, their myths and symbols tend to converge on the same forms.

    Jung's analysis for what these symbols mean to the psyche can still follow.

    Anyhow as evidence of the convergence theory, rather than purely innate archetypes, I'd point to the similarities of Egyptian and Chinese culture. There are some pretty suprising similarities and this is less suprising when you consider that both societies relied on centralized agriculture that required greater than normal levels of cohesion. Meanwhile, people growing wheat or herding had less incentive for cooperation and more incentive for individual risk taking. This seems like an example of convergent cultural evolution based on climate, and who knows, there might be some convergent genetic evolution too considering how dependant humans became on their symbiotic relationships with agricultural plants and livestock. Certainly we left a very deep genetic mark on them, so it wouldn't be suprising if the traits of traditional staple crops shaped human evolution in turn.
  • Joshs
    1.5k


    There are limits to the computer metaphor for modeling brain processes. It sounds like you’re summarizing the representational computational view of brain functioning, which is consistent with neo-Kantian philosophy. I prefer approaches which jettison computationalism in favor of relational embodied ideas. These draw their inspiration from phenomenology.

    From a paper I wrote:

    “psychological processes unavailable to explicit consciousness are nevertheless implied by and belong to it (and vice-versa), not in the sense of a content that arbitrarily contributes to awareness in the manner of interactions between independent regions, but as an integral bodily background intrinsic to, but not directly articulated in, each moment of awareness. In this view, the ‘hidden hand' of the unconscious conditions awareness not as a separate outside, but rather exceeds conscious control from within each experienced event, as the hidden hand of integral background context (intra-noetic rather than pre-noetic). Gendlin(2000) puts it this way;

    “The puzzle about the body knowing our decisions before we consciously know them might make us miss the fact that there is an inwardly experienced body, and that the reflective and bodily-sentient person is much wider than conscious control”(p.110).

    It’s not a question of conscious vs unconscious but explicit vs implicit consciousness. What is implicit isn’t
    hidden from consciousness but unarticulated background , which is why even though we are not paying attention to all our body movements or perceptions of the vehicle when driving ( except as a beginner) , such implicit awareness can come immediately to the fore if a problem with the car arises.
  • TheMadFool
    10k
    It's something I've been kicking around for awhile.Count Timothy von Icarus

    On behalf of that which you've been kicking around, even if it's only an idea, OUCH! OUCH! AND one more OUCH! just to give me a sense of closure.

    lizard brainCount Timothy von Icarus

    I don't get this impression we have of lizard brains being primitive. We are the lizards that survived the extinction level event 65 million years ago. Over millions of years, we've lost our memories of being...er...lizards. :joke:
    You might wanna look at this :point: Reptilian Conspiracy Theory. Ever wonder why fat people die earlier than thin ones? Not in all cases of course but there definitely is a pattern there and we...er...fatten pigs for the slaughter. :chin:

    unconsciousCount Timothy von Icarus

    You mean subconscious, right?
  • 180 Proof
    4k
    :up: Good topic. I've mentioned BBT, etc a few times recently but so far have had no takers.
    My educated guess – Like the eye that is necessarily absent from its own visual field, the brain, lacking internal sensory organs, is functionally brain-blind, and therefore cannot immediately perceive any source – mechanisms – of its own thoughts even as it is thinking so that the cognitive illusion of an "I-self" floating free and "essentially" disembodied persists and variations of a "soul"-of-the-gaps (or more sophisticated gap-of-the-gaps aka "nonduality") are psychologically (& culturally) confabulated to (transcendentally) tether down our "thoughts".180 Proof
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/520927 (see "Bakker" link in the post)
  • frank
    7.4k
    psychological processes unavailable to explicit consciousness are nevertheless implied by and belong to it (and vice-versa), not in the sense of a content that arbitrarily contributes to awareness in the manner of interactions between independent regions, but as an integral bodily backgroundJoshs

    The stuff you can't do without isn't sensory innervated.

    A fair amount of the stuff that is sensory innervated can be lost without any significant change in consciousness.

    I guess I'm just suspicious that you guys like saying "embodied" because it sounds annoyingly inexplicit.
  • Joshs
    1.5k
    The stuff you can't do without isn't sensory innervated.

    A fair amount of the stuff that is sensory innervated can be lost without any significant change in consciousness.
    frank

    And underlying ‘sensory innervation’ is what sort of set of pre-suppositions? That the brain constructs representations out of raw sense data that come from an outside existing entirely independently of the subject, but can never be directly accessed as what it is in itself?

    “ In advance, as though this were obviously correct, one misinterprets conscious life as a complex of data of "external' and (at best) "internal sensuousness"; then one lets form-qualities take care of combining such data into wholes. To get rid of "atomism", one adds the theory that the forms or configurations are founded on these data necessarily and the wholes are therefore prior in themselves to the parts. But, when descriptive theory of consciousness begins radically, it has before it no such data and wholes, except perhaps as prejudices."

    “Certainly the world that is in being for me, the world about which I have always had ideas and spoken about meaningfully, has meaning and is accepted as valid by me because of my own apperceptive performances because of these experiences that run their course and are combined precisely in those performances—as well as other functions of consciousness, such as thinking. But is it not a piece of foolishness to suppose that world has being because of some performance of mine? Clearly, I must make my formulation more precise. In my Ego there is formed, from out of the proper sources of transcendental passivity and activity, my “representation of the world, ” my “picture of the world, ” whereas outside of me, naturally enough, there is the world itself. But is this really a good way of putting it? Does this talk about outer and inner, if it makes any sense at all, receive its meaning from anywhere else than from my formation and my preservation of meaning? Should I forget that the totality of everything that I can ever think of as in being resides within the universal realm of consciousness, within my realm, that of the Ego, and indeed within what is for me real or possible?” (Husserl, Phenomenology and Anthropology)
  • frank
    7.4k
    And underlying ‘sensory innervation’ is what sort of set of pre-suppositions?Joshs

    It's not any sort of presupposition. It's anatomy.

    That the brain constructs representations out of raw sense data that come from an outside existing entirely independently of the subject, but can never be directly accessed as what it is in itself?Joshs

    No, that is not implied by the existence of sensory innervation, unless you're asking if the brain can feel itself. It can't because it's not sensory innervated, ironically.


    When you say "embodied" what part of the body are you talking about?
  • Joshs
    1.5k


    It's not any sort of presupposition. It's anatomy.frank

    What is the anatomy of a sensation, a perception, a memory, an affect? What are the anatomical
    boundaries of the body? Does the body end with the skin, the hair? Or does it extend into the environment? Is the air part of the lungs?


    When you say "embodied" what part of the body are you talking about?frank

    Admittedly, embodiment is an amorphous concept, and has been used in a wide variety of often incommensurable ways by different writers. The approaches that I am most interested in argue that we cannot treat the brain as though it exists in a vat. That is what the original information processing approaches to cognition do. They take the brain as a symbolic computation device modeled after the computer. Affectivity is treated as separate and secondary from cognition and perception, and perception is treated independently of the subject’s movements and physical interaction with objects. In opposition to this thinking , enactivist perspectives do not split the brain off from the body and the environment. All three are iinseparably entangled in each other. Affect, the body and interactive movement are considered as intrinsic to perception and cognition. In this way the brain is ‘embodied’ in a body and embedded in its environment.
    In short , we have a single brain-body-world system which functions as an integrated whole. Focusing on anatomy apart from function or isolating ‘sensation’ from perceptual interpretation is artificial and an attempt to separate what is inseparable.
  • T Clark
    5.4k
    Or to summarize, the unconscious is doing a lot more, at a much higher level then we often give it credit for and key aspects of our minds that we generally think of as conscious functions (i.e. most higher level thought) also appear to be able to run in the background, without making it to the recursive system.Count Timothy von Icarus

    To start, it would make sense to make sure you and I are talking about the same thing when we say "consciousness." The word has lots of different meanings. Misunderstandings about those meanings gums up the works on almost all the discussions about consciousness here on the forum. What I mean, and what I think you mean by "consciousness" in this context is awareness of the self experiencing. The experience of experience. Self-awareness. Generally, I think of this being mediated by words - either talking to others or myself or writing.

    Given that, I don't have much to offer related to the philosophical and scientific issues you've raised, but I can speak for my personal experience of the workings of my mind. Very little of what I do is mediated by my consciousness. I'm not just talking about the pumping of my heart or even dreaming. I'm talking about complex, cognitively detailed actions taking place over an extended period of time. For example - writing this post. There is nobody in the control booth translating my unconsciousness thoughts and then directing me what to write. What I'm writing comes out whole, complete. It is very common for me to be surprised by what I've written. It's as if it came from nowhere. Consciousness comes into play when I come back and edit what I've written.

    Taoists have a phrase "wu wei." Acting without acting. Acting in accordance with one's true self. We wei arises spontaneously without reflection or intention. It is the ideal form of action.
  • frank
    7.4k
    What is the anatomy of a sensation, a perception, a memory, an affect? What are the anatomical
    boundaries of the body? Does the body end with the skin, the hair? Or does it extend into the environment? Is the air part of the lungs?
    Joshs

    Me up at does

    out of the floor
    quietly Stare

    a poisoned mouse

    still who alive

    is asking What
    have i done that

    You wouldn’t have?

    -- EE Cummings

    Meanwhile, you'll find you can't feel things that aren't sensory innervated, like your brain or stars. That's just the way it is. The things that are clearly innervated, like your mouth (there are three big fat nerves keeping watch there), don't appear to be necessary for consciousness. You don't need a mouth to enjoy Beethoven. You don't need your digestive track. We can put the right chemicals straight into your blood.

    You don't need a heart or lungs. We can bypass those with machinery and you can remain wide awake. Kidneys: dialysis. Ultimately what's left that you have to have? I don't think there's a good alternative to blood yet. Still, we could probably keep your brain alive for a while with blood substitutes. The reason we don't do this is purely ethical, not practical.

    So it's just hard for me to make sense of this:

    In short , we have a single brain-body-world system which functions as an integrated whole. Focusing on anatomy apart from function or isolating ‘sensation’ from perceptual interpretation is artificial and an attempt to separate what is inseparable.Joshs

    There may be some important point in there somewhere, I'm not getting it, though.
  • InPitzotl
    560
    For a spookier example, tests show that the sense of voluntary movement (i.e. I decide to move my hand now) actually comes after the movement has already started.Count Timothy von Icarus
    Just to pick this apart... there's an unfortunate common assumption that "the I" equates to "what I am aware of when I self reflect"; as if these are indivisible entities. But I've never quite understood how this is really supposed to work anyway... if I decide to move my hand now, how can that sensibly be the same as my awareness of my deciding to move my hand now? (I suppose the model is supposed to work like I first consciously deliberate, then I decide, then it happens; but that quite simply doesn't fit my experience of how most of the voluntary actions I perform feels like).

    If you drop the assumption that these two aspects are identical things, then the fact that the awareness follows the initiation isn't surprising at all; it would almost be surprising if it weren't true.

    I gather this is supposed to be surprising, as that is what's supposed to be "spooky" about it.
  • Joshs
    1.5k
    The things that are clearly innervated, like your mouth (there are three big fat nerves keeping watch there), don't appear to be necessary for consciousness. You don't need a mouth to enjoy Beethoven. You don't need your digestive track. We can put the right chemicals straight into your blood.

    You don't need a heart or lungs. We can bypass those with machinery and you can remain wide awake.
    frank

    You may be missing the point. It’s not a question of what’s necessary for the very existence of consciousness, but of how feedback from nerves in the mouth or the other organs contribute to the particular way in which consciousness functions. You can keep a heart alive outside of the body , but not without changing its functioning significantly. The heart will never function exactly the same way it did when it was part of the body, no matter how many apparatuses you hook it up to, and especially if you transplant it into a different body. What if we transplanted a brain to it a new body? Would this profoundly alter conscious experience : what we think and how we think and feel? It would certainly have an effect , but a minor one , because the brain is essentially most of what the body is in terms of functional complexity, not just in terms of number of neurons but what the neurons do, how intricately they interact with each other.

    The functioning body , and consciousness itself , is not the result of a a concatenation of essential and inessential anatomical parts. The lungs, heart and all other organs make no sense understood in isolation from the functioning of the organism as a whole to which they contribute. Certainly you can eliminate subprocesses or individual organs. Depending on their contribution to the total functioning of the body-mind-environment system their absence will have a minor or or major effect on the whole functioning , including consciousness. We can remove a lung or a kidney with only minor impact, but not both without replacing their function somehow. We can destroy individual neurons with imperceptible effect, but with enough destruction eventually the impact will be significant. Notice that when damage to any organ is severe enough, the effects on the body are systematic, potentially affecting metabolism, concentration, appetite , balance, etc, since these are intercorrelated. That’s because the function of every organ system takes into account every other aspect of the organism’s functioning, and is designed for the sake of the whole.
    . In theory , a biologist could deduce all of the functional properties of an organism from just its heart or liver, such as the size of the animal, it’s environment , diet, form of mobility, etc. But the part would only tell you all this if you already knew the relationship between it and all of these other aspects of an animal’s body-environment functioning, that it is a functioning whole that we can artificially separate into parts ina second step , rather than it being an assembly of parts that exist as parts first and only later belong to the totality. We can treat machines this way , like an auto engine , but even here, we didn’t begin with isolated parts later brought together. The original conception began from a functional whole and derived the parts from
    the whole.



    I’m not arguing that the organism is an undifferentiated whole. Of course there are differentiated subsystems. The brain cannot pump the blood , the lungs cant think, the liver cannot hear. But alterations to any of these processes ( circulatory blockage, liver toxicity , renal failure, copd, Alzheimer’s) changes the functioning of all the other processes in some fashion, including consciousness.
    As far as the brain not being able to feel itself , the sensations from the receptors cannot be consciously felt in isolation from other brain contributions no matter how healthy they are , because conscious feeling is not simply receptor stimulation but a complex
    , differentiated process of perception, most of which takes place far away from the sensory source. This is also the reason for phantom limb syndrome , the real feeling of sensation arising from an amputated limb. The receptors are no longer three , but the brain processes of sensory perception are still active.

    In sum, we can’t treat organ systems and other subprocesses of the body as interchangeable , but neither can we understand what they are in themselves without understanding what they do, and we cannot understand what they do without knowing how they interact in reciprocal fashion with all other systems of the body for the sake of a total functionally unified system. And this total body system cannot be understood without knowing how it forms a body-environment process. You remove the environment for which it was designed and is continually being shaped and you fail to understand the body.
  • frank
    7.4k
    You may be missing the point. It’s not a question of what’s necessary for the very existence of consciousness,Joshs

    Then I misunderstood our topic. That is the question a scientific theory of consciousness would be looking to answer.

    but of how feedback from nerves in the mouth or the other organs contribute to the particular way in which consciousness functions.Joshs

    If we imagine your consciousness is like a symphony, the presence of your mouth will influence the music from time to time. Sometimes it will just be part of the bass, other times it will eclipse everything else, and much of the time, it won't feature at all in the music.

    Without a mouth, you'd still have a symphony. It just wouldn't have much of an oral aspect. In that sense, having a mouth affects content, not functionality.

    I’m not arguing that the organism is an undifferentiated whole. Of course there are differentiated subsystems. The brain cannot pump the blood , the lungs cant think, the liver cannot hear. But alterations to any of these processes ( circulatory blockage, liver toxicity , renal failure, copd, Alzheimer’s) changes the functioning of all the other processes in some fashion, including consciousness.Joshs

    There are baseline requirements for functioning consciousness, yes. Again, this is about the character of content, not about consciousness itself.

    As far as the brain not being able to feel itself , the sensations from the receptors cannot be consciously felt no matter how healthy they are , because conscious feeling is not simply receptor stimulation but a complex
    , differentiated process of perception, most of which takes place far away from the sensory source. This is also the reason for phantom limb syndrome , the real feeling of sensation arising from an amputated limb. The receptors are no longer three , but the brain processes of sensory perception are still active.
    Joshs

    Sure. But this "place" where perception takes place could be a brain-based system. There's no reason to insist it has to be the whole body (as far as I can see.)

    You had said that some sort of background bodily awareness is essential to consciousness. If you'll change that to "an aspect of" consciousness, I'll agree.

    In sum, we can’t tear organ systems and other as processes of the body as interchangeable , but neither can we understand what they are in themselves without understanding what they do, and we cannot understand what they do without knowing how they interact in reciprocal fashion with all other systems of the body for the sake of a total functionally unified system. And this total body system cannot be understood without knowing how it forms a body-environment process. You remove the environment and you fail to understand the body.Joshs

    Probably. Nevertheless, you don't need most of your body to be conscious. Therefore, embodied consciousness has to do with content. That's an issue far downstream from a basic theory of consciousness.
  • Joshs
    1.5k
    you don't need most of your body to be conscious. Therefore, embodied consciousness has to do with content. That's an issue far downstream from a basic theory of consciousness.frank

    You don’t need most of your brain to be conscious either. But I don’t think your argument has to do with how much of our body is necessary for consciousness but, correct me if I’m wrong , some kind of distinction that’s important to you between what the brain supposedly is and does, and what the body is and does. To you this thing called the brain has special properties that make consciousness possible, and the body doesn’t have these special properties.

    This is where the enactivist argument is important. They follow Piaget in focusing on properties of self-organization in living organisms that link simple creatures without a brain with human consciousness. For them consciousness and cognition are just more complex emergent elaborations of the self-organizing character of all living things. Piaget begins with the organism functioning as a system of exchanges with its environment oriented toward certain goals , where it assimilates material into its processes and accommodates it’s organization to the particularities of those materials. Consciousness and cognition are just internalized symbolic forms of this goal-oriented system
    of material exchanges with an environment.. That’s why Evan Thompson can refer to the behavior of single celled organisms as a form of cognition. In a sense, everything that is interesting about consciousness ; motivation and goal orientedness , integration of information, memory and affect , is already present in the simplest organisms without brains.
    I think this is the real import of the word ‘embodiment’ It doesn’t just refer to anatomical parts outside of the brain, but a way of understanding the organization of cognition and its relation to the organization of living systems in general. I’d go so far as to say that there is no magical point where consciousness emerges from non-consciousness in evolutionary history. There are just different degrees of consciousness. Proto-sensation is present in all living systems.
  • frank
    7.4k
    think this is the real import of the word ‘embodiment’ It doesn’t just refer to anatomical parts outside of the brain, but a way of understanding the organization of cognition and its relation to the organization of living systems in general.Joshs

    I'm sure you've noticed that once you start studying biology, you see the same themes over and over. One night I was studying human reproduction and I noticed how a pregnant woman is just like a giant seed pod. It made me a little woozy. It's the same kinds of structures, and the same basic process.

    Speaking of environment, an endless source of fascination for me is convergent evolution, where the same forms or functions keep appearing independently due to the same kind of environmental factors.

    So it looks kind of stupid when a science fiction movie has aliens that look just like humans with rubber prosthetics, but the history of life in earth suggests that would be expected if a planet had conditions similar to ours. Not that this influence is one way, it's definitely both ways.

    So it's not that I'm not hip to the whole inter-relatedness angle, it's just that I don't see much reason to insist that consciousness couldn't be something that parts of the brain are doing. We don't know that this is true, but I don't think we can rule it out.
  • Wayfarer
    12.6k
    Think about geniuses' great moments of breakthrough.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Look up a book called The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler. It's on just this point, and a great popular history of science to boot.

    Overall, I think you're onto something very important in that OP. I have posted a similar idea here previously under the heading of 'scientific support for idealism'. Why? Because I think it shows the sense in which the brain constructs reality. That expression always ilicits a lot of pushback, because most people cling to the belief that the physical world is the sole reality. Challenge it at your peril!

    this thing we call “the world” isn’t something wholly outside ourselves, something we experience in a detached and objective way. It’s something we create moment by moment in our minds, by piecing together the jumble of unconnected glimpses our senses give us—and we do the piecing according to a plan that’s partly given us by our biology, partly given us by our culture, and partly a function of our individual life experience.

    That point is astonishingly easy to forget. I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve watched distinguished scientists admit with one breath that the things we experience around us aren’t real—they’re just representations constructed by our sense organs and brains, reacting to an unimaginable reality of probability waves in four-dimensional space-time—and then go on with the very next breath to forget all that, and act as though matter, energy, space, time, and physical objects exactly as we perceive them are real in the most pigheadedly literal sort of objective sense, as though the human mind has nothing to do with any of them except as a detached observer. What’s more, many of those same scientists proceed to make sweeping claims about what human beings can and can’t know and do, in blithe disregard of the fact that these very claims depend on the same notion of the objective reality of the world of experience that they’ve just disproved.
    John Michal Greer, The Clenched Fist of Reason

    I hope the connection with Kantian idealism is pretty clear from this. You also mention Buddhist philosophy - I think the strong connection is with the particular school, called Vijñānavāda or Yogācāra Buddhism 'an influential tradition of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing the study of cognition, perception, and consciousness through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices'. The point being that through meditative practices, the aspirant is able to become directly aware of what are usually unconscious processes (which is why yogis are able to regulate their metabolic functions).

    So - you've hit a rich seam. Keep digging!
  • Wayfarer
    12.6k
    Speaking of environment, an endless source of fascination for me is convergent evolution, where the same forms or functions keep appearing independently due to the same kind of environmental factors.frank

    Are you familiar with Simon Conway Morris? That's his speciality.
  • T Clark
    5.4k
    If you drop the assumption that these two aspects are identical things, then the fact that the awareness follows the initiation isn't surprising at all; it would almost be surprising if it weren't true.InPitzotl

    This has always bothered me too. What's the big deal?
  • T Clark
    5.4k
    Are you familiar with Simon Conway Morris? That's his speciality.Wayfarer

    I just checked Wikipedia for Morris. A lot of good stuff about convergence, including a separate website.
  • Wayfarer
    12.6k
    He's an interesting writer. I bought Life's Solution in a rush of enthusiasm about 8 years ago, but it's a very technical biology text, requires a pretty high degree of bioscience to absorb. But, philosophically congenial to my way of thinking.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    211


    That's an interesting way of phrasing it. I think we're in agreement.


    Yes, a definition probably is in order. By conciousness, I mean self awareness. That is, following BBT, information entering the recursive system. I realize now that the word can also mean sleep versus waking, or have other contexts, which is not what I meant.

    I've read a number of his novels and those make the definition explicit on a very relatable level. It's about the difference between what you can analyze in self awareness and what is really going on, which he uses to good effect in crafting psychological horror.



    I suppose it's not spooky if you don't go in assuming that you make a decision first, and then act. However, I certainly experience a sense of choosing in voluntary action. If I hold my fingers out I can snap them at the exact moment I want, or at least it feels like I can. The idea that my fingers begin moving and then I retroactively begin to experience the sensation of choosing seems backwards to me, and given the reaction to the paper, many other people as well. Taken to the extreme, it gives you a picture of yourself as a ghost, somewhere between existing and not, experiencing sensation and volition, but actually not involved in any of your actions.

    I don't think this extreme example is a logical conclusion though. Self awareness could be an accident of evolution, but my strong guess is that it serves a function for long term planning. Certainly it is hard to explain how humans make such long term and complex plans without self reflection and recursive feedback acting to steer things at some level.

    The problem with conciousness is that it's still so poorly defined by current science. I mean, we really don't know how anesthesia works, the best we have is a collection of correlates of conciousness.



    Yeah, it's an interesting framing. I saw you were reading Neuropath, I feel like that was a pretty good way to work it into a plotline. His fantasy series deals with similar issues but is simultaneously less philosophical but much better written. Although, definitely not for everyone because it is fairly violent and dark.



    Thanks, I'll have to check that out. It's definitely a prime interest of mine.

    I've had very similar thoughts to your quote. It is really suprising how well some of Kant's intuitions have been borne out by modern neuroscience, and yet how ready we are to jettison them to hold on to an easier narrative.

    I find this in moral philosophy even more. There doesn't seem to be enough consideration that moral issues don't come to us in a vacuum, but are instead filtered through a system of perception, including an inherited moral sense, that was shaped by natural selection and is contingent on the way those systems work.
  • Bitter Crank
    9.4k
    I don't get this impression we have of lizard brains being primitive. We are the lizards that survived the extinction level event 65 million years ago.TheMadFool

    The survivors of the Yucatan Impact are birds, not humans, We descend from mammals that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs and survived the catastrophe.

    We do have a "reptile brain", so called because it is similar to the brain of reptiles. It's the cerebellum and brain stem. It's a vital control center of physical functions like breathing. It is in control of our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species.

    You might like to know that your inner ear structures are an adaptation of the back part of the fish jaw that shrank in size and somehow (don't ask me) was used to fashion your inner ear as we developed into a different group within the larger phylum of vertebrates--chordata (animals with backbones). Chordata is divided into five common classes: fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. To read more about this (and related matters) see YOUR INNER FISH by Neil Shubin. Fun read, I thought.
  • Bitter Crank
    9.4k
    the theory rests on the observation that from the torrent of information processed by the brain, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself.

    For which we can be exceedingly grateful. Imagine being aware of everything the CNS was doing. You'd have no time to look at porn! Or consider the 'enteric nervous system' the CNS sub-system that runs the digestive tract. Would you really want to be cognizant of the flow of data from your bowels? Mercifully, the enteric nervous system operates without regularly updating the conscious , or even the unconscious mind, of what it is doing down there. When it does send a news flash to the conscious brain, it's almost always bad news, like your bowels are about to explode; get ready.
  • T Clark
    5.4k
    He's an interesting writer. I bought Life's Solution in a rush of enthusiasm about 8 years ago, but it's a very technical biology text, requires a pretty high degree of bioscience to absorb. But, philosophically congenial to my way of thinking.Wayfarer

    I read Stephen Jay Gould's book about the Burgess Shales, which Morris studied. I enjoyed it, although it is not as easy to read as much of Gould's writing. Apparently Morris disagreed with much of what Gould wrote. A central theme of Gould's evolutionary writing was contingency. As he wrote, if we rewound the tape of evolution and started over, we would get a very different world. Morris, with his interest in convergence, apparently thinks evolutionary outcomes are predictable, at least in a general sense.
  • T Clark
    5.4k
    The idea that my fingers begin moving and then I retroactively begin to experience the sensation of choosing seems backwards to me, and given the reaction to the paper, many other people as well.Count Timothy von Icarus

    As I wrote in my previous post, in my personal experience, my volition arises in a part of my mind that is not directly accessible to my self-awareness. When I act on that motivation, it is just as much me acting as it would be if I became aware before I acted. I am just as responsible for my actions as I would be otherwise. Part of what I call "me" is hidden the way the innards of my computer are hidden.

    Many people do not experience their minds this way. They see consciousness as the guy driving the bus. I would say that represents a lack of awareness of what is going on inside themselves. They would disagree.

    I suppose it's not spooky if you don't go in assuming that you make a decision first, and then act.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Yes. This is what I was writing about above.

    Self awareness could be an accident of evolution, but my strong guess is that it serves a function for long term planning. Certainly it is hard to explain how humans make such long term and complex plans without self reflection and recursive feedback acting to steer things at some level.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I think it's reasonable to think that self-awareness could arise through natural selection for the reasons you've described. It may even be likely. On the other hand, it could have evolved as a byproduct of some other structure in an incredibly complex brain and mind. I often skeptical of interpretations where there is a one to one correspondence between a structure or capacity and natural selection.
  • TheMadFool
    10k
    The survivors of the Yucatan Impact are birds, not humans, We descend from mammals that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs and survived the catastrophe.

    We do have a "reptile brain", so called because it is similar to the brain of reptiles. It's the cerebellum and brain stem. It's a vital control center of physical functions like breathing. It is in control of our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species.

    You might like to know that your inner ear structures are an adaptation of the back part of the fish jaw that shrank in size and somehow (don't ask me) was used to fashion your inner ear as we developed into a different group within the larger phylum of vertebrates--chordata (animals with backbones). Chordata is divided into five common classes: fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. To read more about this (and related matters) see YOUR INNER FISH by Neil Shubin. Fun read, I thought.
    Bitter Crank

    You're right, assuming of course mainstream views in paleontology and evolutionary biology are. However, I'm sure there are fringe theories in both these subjects and others that posit a view similar to mine; I haven't encountered them as of yet.
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