Intelligence vs Consciousness


I have a hypothesis about consciousness. I came to these ideas while studying the Basal Ganglia (BG) and Reinforcement Learning (RL), so I will first describe how I think the BG & RL works. I’m going to assume you all know how RL works.

Basal Ganglia
The BG is thought to perform RL. The BG is composed of two primary structures: the Striatum and the Globus Pallidus (GP). Every area of the cortex sends axons to a corresponding area of the Striatum. The Striatum sends axons to the GP, which in turn sends axons to the Thalamus.

  • The purpose of the Striatum is to find valuable things.
  • The purpose of the GP is to weight the valuable things which the Striatum found and determine the net Expected Value.
  • The purpose of the Thalamus is to modulate the brain in such a way as to maximize this expected value.


  1. You see a tasty apple with a small bruise on it. The Cortex outputs an SDR representation of this visual scene.
  2. Your striatum transforms the visual SDR into an SDR which encodes just the apple and the bruise on it.
  3. Your GP has associated a (positive) weight with the apple and a (negative) weight with the bruise on it. Your GP outputs the net result.
  4. Your thalamus directs you to either eat the apple or not.

The Striatum gives feed forward input to the Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC).

Assuming this is true, then the PFC is an HTM which is analysing all of the good and bad things in your world.

While the sensory cortexes see the world as it physically exists, the PFC sees the world as it matters to the animal. The PFC uses as feed-forward input the things which RL has deemed important (this RL process happens in the Striatum).

This seems like a useful capability for any animal to have.

Continuing the Example: When you see an apple, your visual cortex sees a round red object while your PFC sees tasty food.

Other Thoughts
I’m not sure how this hypothesis leads to “consciousness” but I can see how this would allow you to be more aware of your emotions. Without this you can only see what phyically exists. With this you can see things which don’t physically exist, but which are still important. Things like abstract ideas.

I’m not aware of any single task which can’t be done without a PFC connected like this. The reason is that given enough trys RL should figure out most problems, even if the RL is using only the sensory information in the rear half of the brain.

It stands to reason that there exists an area of the PFC which receives feed forward input from the Striatum and is also valued by that same area of the Striatum. I wonder what’s happening in this area of the brain… In order for this area to reach a stead state of activations, it would need to form a stable feedback loop between the PFC’s analysis of the world and the estimated value of this analysis.


Larkum 2013 & A State of Attention

Or consciousness maybe experiencing exactly those as an illusion such that what goes on is realized just after it happens and it feels like we are doing those instead of just realizing we already did those.


Let’s see if Ms. Blackmore can rearrange some of the furniture in your mind!

See her in motion:


Very interesting talk about the OP:

Is a Turing test for Intelligence equivalent to a Turing test for conciousness?

Christof Koch, Allan Institute for Brain Research

“Intelligence is becoming, conciousness is being”
“Conciousness arises from heterogenity and integration”


This seems like the perfect place to bring up something that I’ve been trying to understand recently. Maybe someone in here can help me resolve an issue I seem to have.

I’ve been watching lectures given by Don Hoffman, because I find his ideas and theories very interesting. He is so incredibly precise and educated. Obviously, I cannot articulate his theory nearly as well as he or probably others can, so keep in mind that I am likely missing crucial detail for presenting these ideas. So, hopefully we have some folks familiar with his work.

Most scientists, probably including everyone at Numenta or in this community, hold a view of reality Hoffman calls “hybrid realism”. Hybrid realists believe that some perceptions, such as colors, taste, and smells, are not actually a “veridical” aspect of objective reality. We experience them, and we can communicate when we experience them, but they do not exist outside our perception. However, they believe that other perceptions, such as objects, motion, and time, are indeed veridical aspects of objective reality. For instance, he quotes Galileo as saying “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we locate them are concerned, and that they reside in consciousness. Hence, if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated.” So, most scientists go with the idea that, even though certain aspects of our experience don’t actually exist outside our brain’s own construction, we can still perform scientific experiments and trust our senses to give us insight into the veridical structure of reality because space-time and objects exist beyond and independent of perception. Therefore, the human species can develop scientific theories about a material world that roughly reflect objective reality.

Now, according to Hoffman’s theory, called interface theory, NONE of our perceptions are “veridical”, or true, about the nature of reality! Space-time and physical objects do not exist in the “real world”. He utilizes the logic behind the theory of evolution of species to arrive at the conclusion that our perception evolved by effectively hiding the mathematical structure and algorithms of objective reality in order to more efficiently allow us to make decisions based on the fitness value behind the objects of our perceptions.

So, he states that human perception evolved just like every other living organism, not because we see the world as it really is, but only because our ancestors survived and reproduced. He has mathematical equations and computational experiments (evolutionary game theory and genetic algorithms) that support the idea that organisms with perceptual systems “tuned to fitness” always outcompete organisms “tuned to truth”, causing the latter to inevitably goes extinct. So if both scenarios are plausible, truth will always lose to fitness. That does make sense to me.

Now for the issue I’m having, if interface theory is true (the argument makes sense to me), this would mean that our perceptions don’t provide any means of knowing the causes behind them, such as how we, as conscious agents, make decisions and perceive what we perceive. Thus, when neuroscientists study a brain, for example, and they notice things like sparse neuronal activity, laminar structure, dendritic trees, etc., these can only be correlated to mental activity. They are not actually causing intelligence or consciousness to exist. As Hoffman would say, these are only “icons/symbols” in our evolved perceptual interface. Something ontologically different, not neurons, is causing intelligent behavior to occur.

Assuming I even actually understand Hoffman’s interface theory, I feel like it conflicts completely with our scientific endeavor to reverse engineer the brain for principles of intelligence and conscious experience, right? Therefore, it seems like we must hope it’s not true. I’m still trying to reconcile these two things myself.

Maybe someone in the community could help.

If you want a good presentation of his theory, see this video:


I have a working theory that many of the “mind-boggling” theories are put forward in such a way as to sound more profound than they really are.

This comes up a lot in philosophy, social sciences, quantum mechanics, psychology, cosmology, and art.

I have been unable to determine if this is to impress the coeds or to get tenure or to gain notoriety or some combination of these goals.

I am perfectly comfortable with describing all three of Marr’s levels of description and applying them to a variety of system.

This applies equally to silicon computers or wetware.

When we veer into “hard problems” - well - see my opening statement.


What do we need, in your opinion, to have consciousness besides intelligence?

My intuition says consciousness is present in all structure.

First comes consciousness then everything else.

It’s like this:

0 + 1 = 1

0 + 2 = 2

0 + v = v

The 0 is consciousness.


At the most basic level - consciousness is awareness and memory.
We humans have this awareness of both internal and external events.


I don’t find definitions like this helpful. How does memory and awareness actually create the conscious experience of something like color, smell, depth, clouds, rain, or anything? Your visual system encounters some sensory input, it activates some cell populations, you perceive the white cloud in a blue sky, and you think blue or white really exists in reality? Take the next step, you think those neurons really exist? How exactly do you explain how this works?


quite plainly, yes ?
(although I guess first concepts would lean towards cloud and sky rather white and blue)


The awareness part varies by the experiencing agent but for humans an extensive WHAT and WHERE stream decomposes the sensations into a representation that can be remembered in synapses associated with neurons.
This WHAT and WHERE stream is itself charged with remembering some aspects of the structure of the sensation.
The system is complicated enough that there are many details that are not captured in this simple overview. I outlined a more detailed version above but even that version was glossing over the highlights.
The essential features of awareness and memory are distributed through this system.


Color perception is completely created by the retinal and visual system. Colors are useful for survival when differentiating predator from prey, or day from night, etc. but according to physics light only has wavelength, not color. I believe vision scientists have also studied metamerism to show color is not an aspect of the pre-existing structure of reality. So how can someone claim that white clouds actually exist in objective reality?


Wait, are you asking what we believe is ‘reality’, or what we believe our brains believe is reality ?


This is about whether or not our perceptions actually reflect the same structure as “objective reality”, what actually exists. If not, then the implication is that science in general, and neuroscience in particular are not discovering the causal mechanisms of things like consciousness or how we perceive anything.

Something causes you to perceive a white cloud, but is it really a white cloud? Or is that concept only in your evolved perceptual interface to reality?


Barring ‘only’, I would say yes.

Our perceptions actually reflect the same structure as “what we experienced was understandable structure in the world”. I can think as much. Going full loop to what reality really is and whether or not the scientific method has a value… well, right now I’m not really willing to discuss it.
Sorry for my intrusion here.


No apology needed man. I think I agree with what you stated.


The physical structures and properties exist with or without our perception of them.
Other creatures perceive colors that we can’t, sounds we can’t hear, and so forth. To claim that they don’t exist because we can’t perceive them is just silly.
The fact that certain cells in some people’s eyes reliably signal certain wavelengths of light that captures some aspects of useful information such as the ripeness of fruit does not alter reality.
If you are not a trichromatic does that change what exists compared to someone who is?
Does a colorblind person live in a world that does not posses the physics of the associated wavelengths? Does the electromagnetic spectrum in the real world stop existing for a blind person?
Clearly a high temperature black body radiating object makes all these wavelengths whether the perceiving agent has the senses to measure the wavelengths so I reject any argument that implies that reality only exists if perceived.


You might find the Free Energy Principle an interesting counter argument. Essentially the idea is that any system which doesn’t dissipate must garner and model information about reality in order to resist entropy. If this is true, then the model must reflect the relevant aspects of reality.


Very interesting @Paul_Lamb. Thanks for the reference. I will take a look.


Consciousness is Memory: