Intelligence vs Consciousness


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:


From what I can see Bitking played it safe by only describing the very basics of human cognition. Internal=Interoceptive, External=Exteroceptive, and an episodic memory to replay what was earlier experienced including sensations like “goosebumps” where hairs “stand on end” while sweat glands start pumping all over again. Gross interoceptive thoughts or exteroceptive stimuli can make our stomach so upset it “vomits”. Cognition is a process that involves motor and associated sensory systems located throughout the body.

From: Cognitive Origin of the Scientific Method

I expect a HTM based model of a human would ultimately do the exact same things as we would. Whether it is conscious or not does not matter. The question may interest others but this Numenta policy saves countless hours arguing over things that really only take away from study and programming time:

It’s important to focus on what first needs to be modeled, intelligence. Those who jump ahead into consciousness are at best speculating, and lack a working model for both.


Yeah, it’s quite possible we can build machines that are intelligent on neocortical principles. I anticipate and hope this is true. That is definitely the most important goal of Numenta no doubt.

But, for the sake of argument and to try and get at the heart of this issue, imagine the machine is conscious. Do you think its own conscious experiences will be the same as that of humans? If you show the machine a physical object such as an apple, do you think it will perceive the exact same object as us? I personally do not think so, unless we recreate every cortical region involved in visual perception. And even then, I couldn’t be sure.

I used to feel this way about this topic too, until I heard of this Perception As User Interface theory, which theorizes that human perception didn’t evolve to provide us with knowledge about the causal mechanisms behind anything. That theory does include a rigorous mathematical model of consciousness from which he starts deriving quantum physics such as the wave function. So I wouldn’t really claim the lack of a model, but it’s really beyond my own understanding in that field. I can definitely sympathize with your view here, and yes I understand why Numenta doesn’t spend any research time into it.


That’s certainly one of the more serious theories. The jewel beetle example was excellent!

I do not though agree that the human eye is (philosophically speaking) a bad design. Relatively recently it was found that Muller cells funnel light energy straight into the well blood supplied tiny photosensors that can respond to one or a few photons, which is better than photoreceptors placed in front of a mirror like a cat’s or the giant directly lit receptors of an octopus. That finding more or less ended the “human eye is a bad design” belief that I once believed too. As it turned out Jerry Bergman and Joseph Calkins scored a point for the “creationist” side of that argument by publishing an article that quickly sums up all the information needed to model different kinds of eyes, which until then was nowhere on the internet and I very much needed it.

What most bothers me in regards to consciousness related theories are those that in turn attempt to make it appear there is some type of “supernatural” connection with a creator therefore we are wasting our time by trying to model how the brain works, and we should instead be seeking answers in religion. The claims about “scientists” having conspired together and signed a pact with the devil in order to get rich from “science” and lure people away from church and “the truth” are totally out of touch with reality. Attempting to equate “religious psychosis” that has led to parents killing their own children in response to what a voice in their mind commanded them to do as a “spiritual awakening” is a public mental health issue.

I’m mostly OK with theories that use intelligence and consciousness somewhat interchangeably. But worry about this forum being muddled by what I have seen in others. Before long you’re overwhelmed by trolls. A constructive discussion is then almost impossible. The Numenta policy that makes that sort of thing off topic was certainly a relief for me to see. Unfortunately schools and the general public are bombarded with scientific looking misinformation that was designed to discredit neuroscience and other areas of science. It can to some look like a scientific theory but there is no “working model” at all to demonstrate the said process(es).

HTM theory is making excellent progress towards a full working model for human intelligence, therefore is way more credible than other theories that often do not even have enough information to model anything at all from. The last sentence in my reply might seem cold and I was tempted to delete it, but felt it was best to end that way. If were not true then there would no longer be a need for HTM theory, or its working computational model that’s under construction. I sure don’t want to give that impression.

Regardless of which way they want this to go: if someone wants to be helpful then they should be supporting the work of Numenta and other serious researchers. Whether the working model of a human brain is conscious in the same way we are (or is maybe saying so because of not fully understanding the difference) is something to worry about later. At that point the model might be able to figure out how to provide reliable evidence that it is, or is not conscious. Until then we can all only speculate. It’s something we discover when we get there, finally have a working model for human intelligence.

In my opinion you greatly added to this discussion. I see it as something that at some point needs to be discussed. Otherwise we including forum readers will not going forward be on the same page in regards to Numenta policy for this topic, and why none of us have to first answer to consciousness related questions that may also be used to bully by using the tactic that goes “They don’t even know [insert diversionary topic] so how can they honestly claim to know anything about [insert actual topic]?”


When you can answer whether or not my conscious experience is the same as yours, I am looking forward to the analysis on blind, deaf, and feral non-verbal humans.

Then we can move on to other living creatures.

When we have that all sorted we can move on to non-living critters.


I cannot add a lot to the discussion other than my own short speculation above in this thread. However, I strongly assume one thing; consciousness is not binary. Some discussions tend to imply that which reduces a lot from it (ex: Is it conscious?). I am on the same boat with @Bitking here.


Is this in response to my question about the comparison of a machine’s conscious experience to ours? I only brought that up earlier to kind of question the idea that HTM based machines will behave like humans, “do the exact same things as we would”. There are many reasons why I don’t think they will, strong differences in perception being one. Maybe I missed the point @Gary_Gaulin was making? My apologies if so.

I don’t think the conscious experience within species is exactly the same, for reasons you listed. It seems self-evident that different species differ even further. I don’t see anything special about humans or mammals in general that would endow them with conscious experience, but exclude those organisms from which they descended. I just see mammals with an evolutionary advantage in environments where they and their ancestors might co-exist.

The point, though, is that conscious experience and perception of all conscious agents are evolutionary survival tools, designed by natural selection in so many different ways for some reason. The question is, what reason? Our scientific endeavors might only be the result of selection pressure on our neural evolution, and not at all providing our species with insight into the actual causes behind our perception, conscious experiences, intelligence, etc. fMRI, neuronal recordings , etc. could be mere correlations to our experience, not an insight into the actual cause behind it that we should actually be modelling in our theory of intelligence. I’m no evolutionary biologist, but the logic and reasoning is sound to me.

I feel like I’m having a hard time articulating these ideas. It’s such a radical change to how we think about the world that it feels unnatural to even consider it with any veracity. I think @Gary_Gaulin made a great point above,

I think this is the best approach. I hope no one thinks I’m advocating that our research should be abandoned! That would contradict what I spend a lot of my free time doing. :slight_smile: I am thankful the community has indulged me in this discussion.


The evolutionary advantage is clear: a blackboard to evaluate the environment a critter finds itself it with all the relevant information in a single place.

The neural plumbing puts the “highest level” of internal evaluation in the temporal lobe with short direct links to the evaluation/planning/selection portions of the forebrain.

Adding episodic memory so that this access can extend to the recent past (up to about 1 day in humans) extends the information available for this evaluation and planning.

The loop from early planning section of the forebrain back to the sensory feed inputs into this personal memory allows selection of this memory portion for recall. This is the “thinking” and “introspection” part of consciousness.

In humans the range and connections of this feedback loop is extended to include portions of the motor drive for vocalization and perception of sounds to the extent that we can form speech. I am certain that in non-verbal mammals there is still some level of thinking and introspection.


Natural selection only tests/challenges designs that already exist on their own accord. All designing takes place in the living things themselves, while they conduct their “arms race” to control each other.

A “fitness function” is only for applications where the virtual critters are not intelligent and on their own compete against each other to woo the hearts of potential mates, or whatever. Instead of starting with a desired outcome there is (unless code was already run to see what happens) no ahead of time knowing what will ultimately develop.

I found it best to completely avoid the fuzzy “evo-devo” line by going with “devo” all the way, by being more specific as to whether it was the development of a zygote, egg, feature, phenotype, genotype, species, phylum, etc… It can otherwise turn into a messy argument with evolutionary biologists over whether enough change has occurred to call it “evolved” and if not then what to call it.

Our base behavior seems to simply be in the systematics of how any trial and error learning system works. It’s a movement control system with a body that in turn controls all it can in its environment. Bugs belong outside a home where people often try not to hurt them and let them be, but when they enter our controlled territory it’s suddenly OK to just squash them.

When we are on navigational autopilot we are no longer conscious of the task being performed. Yet having made a long (unconscious of) drive without the vehicle having any noticeable dents in it and passengers not in a state of panic indicates to us that there was no detectable loss of driving ability. A self driving system (that actually works as well as hoped for) similarly does not seem to have to be conscious of the drive either. It’s best for a self driving car to not even have the ability to “daydream”.

My instincts are strongly indicating that whether an intelligent system is conscious or not has no influence at all upon the resulting behavior.

You’re asking excellent questions, and I’m loving the challenge. It’s an area where I have some experience. Regardless of outcome the exchange should be of service to the community.

Now I have to hope no one thinks I’m advocating anti-science or saying Darwinian “evolution by natural selection” theory can be thrown out of science, it’s just a right tool for the job sort of thing. Welding the two together only makes both harder to use. For that reason Darwinian variables and concepts like “conscious agents are evolutionary survival tools” do not exist in the models or theory I write from them, and should not need to be included in HTM models or theory.

What is learned from modeling how our brain works should in turn apply to the mostly outside the nucleus brains of our cells with their own motors and sensory that even includes hairlike insect antennae for sensing its motion through the environment. In turn the model applies to the mostly inside the nucleus genetic brain and their territory rich molecular networks. It all stands on its own scientific merit. And after drawing it all out the choice of pointer does not much matter so I hope you don’t mind what I chose to use for this one:

For at least myself something like the above is way more science fun to experiment towards. Numenta only has to stay focused on their part, while those who like to explain the origin of species can try to apply the same basics to genetic systems. The result is such a change from the Darwinian view it’s like an ID dream come true, for those who are OK with something that does not leave an intelligent cause up to their imagination. Better that than nothing at all to show there was at least some truth in what the movement was saying. Numenta is in this way not working on something against the premise of the ID movement or promotes “Darwinism” it’s more like a new era of science. Dream remained, and a new world will begin.


it is beginning to appear that there are 3 areas in the brain which form a network responsible for consciousness. So ----
final answer - specific brain structures working in concert are required.


I think David Chalmers defines (hard) consciousness fairly effectively. It is the sensations, such as colors, smells, and sounds that we experience when we are awake. There are many open questions as far as how to explain, detect, quantify, and localize it, but Chalmers has managed to at least partition it off from other peripheral concepts.

Ted Talk

Intelligence, on the other hand, is a very nebulous term that can mean very different things to different people.

We can program computers to perform tasks such as mathematical calculations or playing chess that most would consider human intellectual capabilities, although I seriously doubt that a mechanical adding machine or a chess program experiences consciousness. In fact, you could create a game-playing program that is purely lookup-based (whenever you see this board position, make that move) that I am fairly certain would not experience consciousness, but that might appear to behave intelligently.

Anyone who has watched the occasional motions of a sleeping dog or cat would be inclined to believe that they are dreaming, and that, consequently, they probably also experience consciousness, even though they probably would not qualify for MENSA.

Despite significant continuing progress, we are still very far away from a fairly comprehensive understanding of how the human brain functions, and even further away from how those signal processing functions give rise to consciousness and thought. And due to the nested manner that the brain has evolved, I suspect that the physical reality of human consciousness is probably quite complex.

My best guess is that there could be a certain inherent level of consciousness in any system, animal or machine, IF it constructs an internal representation of itself and it’s surrounding environment, provided that it can remember selected parts of that model (attention) for future recall and analysis. Other parts of the world model that may be immediately acted upon, but are not remembered, might be analogous to what we call the subconscious.

One compelling reason why I believe that machines could be conscious is the hypothetical Gedankenexperiment mentioned by Murry Shanahan where your entire brain is very carefully removed, sliced up, and scanned so that an accurate and comprehensive model of all your neurons can be constructed and simulated on a computer. If you carefully interface this software process to cameras and microphones and ask it if it is conscious, it would insist that it is. It would be able to recall vividly your past experiences. If you showed it a red apple, and asked it what color it was experiencing, it would say that it is the exact same red that it experienced in the past. To it, conscious experience halted when your brain was removed, and resumed when the simulation process began running.


Now we have the problem of there being more than one way to define conscious and consciousness. From the article:

The research might still be useful for determining what is most needed to bring a model “to life” in the sense of being noticeably aware of itself in its environment, has no problem getting around and keeping itself fed. Where that is used as the metric the simple ID Lab critter I made a video for would qualify. In that case digital traveling waves are providing the necessary spatial intuition to wait behind the shock zone for food to be in the clear, not artificial math equations and instructions for what to do at a given time. HTM theory can eventually add cortical areas that I for now bypass by using program variables for the needed position readings. Whether electronic models like this can be conscious in the same way we would be where given an equal amount of sensory information and cortical columns would still be unanswered, but it’s a great start towards explaining how our (traveling waves involved) spatial intelligence might work.

At least there are plenty of good reasons for being thankful that consciousness in not a Numenta research topic, and is just something that’s for what it’s worth being discussed in its forum.