Consciousness: thoughts from a scientist (General)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 19:27 (9 days ago) @ David Turell

He believes in a form of an intelligent information theory. The whole article is worth reading as it has excellent explanations of how the brain seems to work:

".. we hope to get closer to solving the more fundamental problem.
We seek, in particular, the neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC), defined as the minimal neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any specific conscious experience.


"Or consider the cerebellum, the “little brain” underneath the back of the brain. One of the most ancient brain circuits in evolutionary terms, it is involved in motor control, posture and gait and in the fluid execution of complex sequences of motor movements. Playing the piano, typing, ice dancing or climbing a rock wall—all these activities involve the cerebellum. It has the brain’s most glorious neurons, called Purkinje cells, which possess tendrils that spread like a sea fan coral and harbor complex electrical dynamics. It also has by far the most neurons, about 69 billion (most of which are the star-shaped cerebellar granule cells), four times more than in the rest of the brain combined.

"What happens to consciousness if parts of the cerebellum are lost to a stroke or to the surgeon’s knife? Very little!

"One important lesson from the spinal cord and the cerebellum is that the genie of consciousness does not just appear when any neural tissue is excited. More is needed. This additional factor is found in the gray matter making up the celebrated cerebral cortex, the outer surface of the brain. It is a laminated sheet of intricately interconnected nervous tissue, Two of these sheets, highly folded, along with their hundreds of millions of wires—the white matter—are crammed into the skull. All available evidence implicates neocortical tissue in generating feelings.


"Surgeons sometimes had to excise a large belt of prefrontal cortex to remove tumors or to ameliorate epileptic seizures. The loss of a portion of the frontal lobe did have certain deleterious effects: the patients developed a lack of inhibition of inappropriate emotions or actions, motor deficits, or uncontrollable repetition of specific action or words. Following the operation, however, their personality and IQ improved, and they went on to live for many more years, with no evidence that the drastic removal of frontal tissue significantly affected their conscious experience. Conversely, removal of even small regions of the posterior cortex, where the hot zone resides, can lead to a loss of entire classes of conscious content: patients are unable to recognize faces or to see motion, color or space.

"So it appears that the sights, sounds and other sensations of life as we experience it are generated by regions within the posterior cortex. As far as we can tell, almost all conscious experiences have their origin there.


"Fierce debates have arisen around the two most popular theories of consciousness. One is the global neuronal workspace (GNW) by psychologist Bernard J. Baars and neuroscientists Stanislas Dehaene and Jean-Pierre Changeux. The theory begins with the observation that when you are conscious of something, many different parts of your brain have access to that information. If, on the other hand, you act unconsciously, that information is localized to the specific sensory motor system involved.


"According to GNW, consciousness emerges when incoming sensory information, inscribed onto such a blackboard, is broadcast globally to multiple cognitive systems—which process these data to speak, store or call up a memory or execute an action.

"Because the blackboard has limited space, we can only be aware of a little information at any given instant. The network of neurons that broadcast these messages is hypothesized to be located in the frontal and parietal lobes. Once these sparse data are broadcast on this network and are globally available, the information becomes conscious.

"Integrated information theory (IIT), developed by Tononi and his collaborators, including me, has a very different starting point: experience itself. Each experience has certain essential properties. It is intrinsic, existing only for the subject as its “owner”; it is structured... and it is specific—distinct from any other conscious experience, such as a particular frame in a movie.


"IIT theory also derives, from the complexity of the underlying interconnected structure, a single nonnegative number Φ (pronounced “fy”) that quantifies this consciousness. If Φ is zero, the system does not feel like anything to be itself. Conversely, the bigger this number, the more intrinsic causal power the system possesses and the more conscious it is. The brain, which has enormous and highly specific connectivity, possesses very high Φ, which implies a high level of consciousness.

"IIT also predicts that a sophisticated simulation of a human brain running on a digital computer cannot be conscious.... Consciousness cannot be computed: it must be built into the structure of the system. "

Comment: All thinking is in the prefrontal region. Most implementation involves the cerebellum. Most human brain enlargement is prefrontal. No answers but lots of information.

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