What is Consciousness?
If the mind is the whole-body neuro-control system out of which evolved dual consciousness, we can then ask: What is consciousness? A possible answer to this question is that consciousness is a sense , just as vision and hearing are senses. The eyes and ears are portals for vision and hearing, therefore there must be a portal for consciousness, and it must be related to navigation.
If the brain/nervous system was designed for navigation using an elaborate muscular system, then a logical question to ask is this: What internal sensory systems monitor muscles? The answer is that there is a set of internal senses that track movement, posture, balance, and oscillation using neuro-feedback systems from sets of muscles. The sum of all internal sensory systems—the mechanism charged with monitoring muscular status—is called proprioception. Proprioception is probably the portal for consciousness, and the sense that is being measured/perceived by consciousness is the sense of being alive—of being an animated creature .
Two Kinds of Consciousness
Just as there are two minds, there are two kinds of consciousness, egocentric and allocentric. Every sense has a duality, being partly allocentric and partly egocentric. This means that proprioception—the portal for sensing animation—must have an allocentric system that works with movement, and an egocentric system that operates during stabilization (no movement). That is, indeed, what we do find.
The Hippocampus (The HC-EC network)
We can get a quick look at what the navigational mind routinely does when we explore the hippocampus. In this area of the limbic region are found very specific control systems for navigation. Indeed, if we track the flow of brain activity, we find that information is processed in such a way that final assemblage of dual-input occurs in the hippocampus—via connection with the neocortex. Here we find cells that only fire under exact conditions:
· Straight-ahead cells only fire when the body is flowing forward;
· Boundary cells set up a perimeter that defines the extent of momentary awareness—we shrink or expand awareness to define a space (a room, or a pathway for example) using these boundary cells;
· Place cells only fire when we stand still in an exact location—every region of a space receives a uniquely coded designation;
· Grid cells fire to establish GPS-like relationships between neural networks. They fire during movement.
Place cells have a field and a threshold; therefore, we can speculate that the egoic sense of being the center of the universe might derive from processing that occurs within place cells. Grid cells also have animated (flowing, relational) fields and thresholds; therefore, we can speculate that allocentric processing might derive from the grid cell system.
Since the grid-cell network is based on relationships, grid-processing could represent different types of information (not just spatial). A single grid cell is surrounded by six other grid cells in a hexagonal confirmation. Neuroscientist György Buzsáki said that “What the grid-cell captures is the dynamic instantiation of the most stable solution of physics, the hexagon .” Perhaps nature arrived at just such a solution to enable the brain to represent, using grid cells, any relationship. In other words, processes like memory, and the emergence of thoughts could be spatially organized and represented by hexagonal grids.
The place cells have been called time-cells and the grid cells space-cells. This corresponds perfectly with the egocentric/allocentric operation of the navigational-mind—according to navigational-mind theory, egocentric processing enables time, while allocentric processing enables space.
Personality is a Set of Animations
Given all that we have puzzled out above, we can now suggest that personality is a set of animations. Body posture, facial expression, habitual movement patterns, the sum total of our individual animation characteristics, constitute our unique personality. We got these animation-algorithms both innately and from experience. Mirror-neuron systems allow us to watch the animation patterns of others (parents, teachers, and friends) and mimic them—incorporate them into our own body maps; in this way, we become like those we admire. We are impacted by the loving-kindness of a good teacher or we are damaged by the actions of a mentally ill caregiver. The luck of the draw can model our animation. Comedians are especially gifted with the ability to use their mirror neurons to replicate the animations of others.
The movement patterns that make up our habitual personalities are both beneficial—a quick way to interact in the world and establish a baseline of dependable behaviors—but they can also be harmful. We get stuck in our animation routines and these habits affect our ability to relate, create, innovate, and communicate. In a way, our body-animation freezes us at a level of consciousness. If consciousness is the sense of being alive, then how conscious we are can be read by others—as we also serve as a model for those less evolved.
The reason that gurus, monks, and self-help practitioners use different (unusual) movement patterns to teach is because our habitual personalities, our movement habits, our level of consciousness can only evolve if we breakdown the old postural/animation habits so that something new can be built in its place. This is why yoga has unusual postures, why Gurdjieff and Steiner had unusual movement routines (odd dance patterns), why the Dervishes whirl, and why sitting in a chair listening to lectures—frozen and unanimated—is the worst possible way to educate.
The Inner Voice is Proprioceptive Memory of Actual Speech
Our inner voice is often who we think we are. Inner dialogue led to an inner sense of essence and to what is called self-awareness and the ego—we can feel that we are this voice. The inner voice is proprioceptive memory of actual speech. Proprioception is directly linked to our sense of egoic consciousness.
Savant Syndrome is Key to Understanding the Navigational-Mind
Savants are a further key to understanding how the navigational mind works. Savants are both severely mentally disabled, with often catastrophic damage to the brain, and yet they have superhuman capabilities, especially extraordinary memory skills. How can a person have no self-care skills and yet remember every word of an encyclopedia after looking only once at every page? How can a person be socially inept and yet play the most complex piano pieces ever composed with no musical training?
How can a savant know something they have never learned? This ability of savants to know things that have never been taught or practiced reminds me of the difference between the egocentric mind and the allocentric mind as defined in Navigational-Mind Theory. The allocentric mind knows things (is aware of and can mirror the world proprioceptively) that have never been learned by the egocentric mind.
Apparently, we are all born with an innate potentiality to use biological algorithms that can be used to create complex musical compositions, works of artistic genius, and complex mathematical formulations. We come factory-equipped with the hardware and software to do these complex tasks. These innate potentialities have been called various names, including Jung’s collective unconscious, ancestral memory, and genetic memory—a kind of epigenetic phenomenon. All of these relate to allocentric consciousness but not to egocentric consciousness.
Our understanding of everyday reality is shaken to the core when we look at savants. Savants are hard evidence that the human mind is far more capable than we fathom. We cannot ignore what savant syndrome insists must be true: The human mind can be hit by lightning or undergo a catastrophic epileptic seizure and immediately be able to perform superhuman feats of genius where no such abilities existed prior to the catastrophe. It as if we all have superhuman ability, but it is masked, filtered, hidden away, or operating below egoic radar. How could a mind go from boorishly normal to intellectually and creatively astounding—essentially instantly? How can you suddenly play a musical instrument like a world class professional would without ever having played music? How could you suddenly compose symphonies when a moment before you were hit by lightning you couldn’t read a note of music? People are alive today who have undergone these transformations.
When physicist Russell Targ tells us that psychic abilities are real, we cannot dismiss his research—we know that the human mind is far more weird and amazing than hard science and skeptical reasoning can account for. When Jacques Lusseyran insists that totally blind people can use inner vision to actually see the surroundings, his observations cannot be rejected out-of-hand. When Zoltan Torey insists that practicing constant visualization can result in visual perception that has practical utility for the totally blind, we cannot reject his observations as fanciful and wishful thinking. When Helen Keller suggests that out-of-body journeys can actually occur—trips that move the astral body through space and time fluidly—we cannot reject her perspective simply because our own savant abilities remain hidden away. When Daniel Kish—who is totally blind—navigates effortlessly through the environment using active echolocation, we cannot rule out that he is using unknown savant-like perception to aid his extraordinary skills.
Science might find it hard to accept many claims of the “fringe-set,” but science also has brought us the evidence of savant syndrome and synesthesia—the scientific method has unearthed some otherworldly evidence that cannot be ignored.
The neocortex has a redundant architecture. This implies that a similar algorithm is being used to process the world. Why would this have evolved? Why did evolution use this design plan to create the neocortex? I suggest that this design plan works because the world is itself highly redundant. I came to know this from my experience teaching blind students to independently travel.
The navigational-brain provides individuals with a somewhat invariant set of mental templates. If I ask you to draw a scene, you will have a set of assumptions that you can use to build any scene. Another human will have the same set of assumptions so they will be able to interpret the scene. These redundancies include:
- All movement of sentient creatures is straight-ahead and there is assumed purpose to the movement—movement is directed toward a destination.
- Bilateral balance is an assumed invariant. The world will contain mirror images—there is symmetry—there are rare exceptions to all the “invariants,” but the unusual variations are not the first assumptions that occur to the mind.
Up and down will be assumed. Everything has a ground (earth, floor, surface). There are things above the ground and things below, but always there is a framework with a ground and a horizon.
- There is an assumed invariant relationship between objects—the stars are not underground, flowers do not grow downward, building are not constructed using wavy and leaning walls—there is invariant logic in groupings. The findings of Gestalt psychologists hold across all domains.
- Details within invariant structures can be infinitely complex, but the number of available forms (patterns) is quite limited. Domains that humans perceive will always contain the same kinds of invariants: plants, animals, rectangular or domed buildings, pathways like streets and sidewalks, mountains and trails, valleys, clouds, stars, blue skies and wind—invariants like these are known to all potential viewers.
- Invariants are true across time lines. Image-invariants were true during the caveman days, in the 1400s, in the present moment, and they will continue to be invariant in the future.
- Although spatial locations and time frames vary, experiences repeat . There are only so many kinds of experience; for example: birth, death, chronological growth sequence (aging), stages of cognitive development, weddings, family (group) gatherings, meals, going to the bathroom, navigating from domain to domain, and so on.
- Spatial and temporal scale is important, but there will always be variations in scale—everything in a domain will follow the rules of scale.
Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence
A quick disclaimer: I have just begun the long process of understanding HTM and SDRs. I do not have a hard science background. What I am trying to do below is offer some preliminary (almost off the cuff) intuitive feelings about what I know quite well—Navigational-Mind Theory—and the complex world of AI and computational neuroscience. Please forgive my speculations, especially if they are way off the mark.
The idea that the neocortex combines multiple, overlapping, and simultaneously processed models for every manifest concept, fits with the idea of embodiment. Occupational therapists built an entire profession around the understanding of sensory integration versus dysfunctions of sensory integration. In other words, muscles and senses must always, and simultaneously, work together to create an animated organism interacting within a specific domain. In my own field (blind rehabilitation), the theory of the Navigational-Brain—based on dual-process theory—postulates that the human form (the whole body) uses an on-off fractal (inhibition and excitation) to enable smooth, accurate, and efficient navigation. Synchronicity and oscillation must be embodied at various temporal and spatial scales to enable efficient navigation. Therefore, it is logical to postulate (predict) that the neocortex would be designed in such a way as to ensure embodiment.
The ancient philosophical concept “as above so below,” works at all spatial and temporal scales. If we find a system that we can explain—in the brain, for example—we can logically look for that same pattern at other scales and in other locations in the brain. In other words, finding grid cells all over the brain and body makes sense once they are initially located and described in a specific location (HC/EC neural network).
I suggest that the Thousand Brains Theory (TBT) of Intelligence is a subset of a larger synthesis called the Navigational-Mind. TBT is dealing with egocentric (form and feature) processing but it as yet does not address allocentric (flow, background) processing. The neocortex is not an isolated organ—it is embodied. As such it is involved in the larger job of navigating the whole body through specific domains. It is also constrained by the oscillatory and mutually-exclusive balance between dual-minds simultaneously processing. As a subset of the Navigational-Brain Theory it makes perfect sense that research would discover the neocortex to be involved in location-based processing. According to TBT, every cortical column generates a location signal based on grid cells. When sensory input comes in, the cortical column knows where that sensory information originates within a scene (gestalt).
TBT is a leap forward in understanding brain processing because it embraces embodiment (sensorimotor integration) and is further evidence for the validity of Navigation-Mind Theory. Finding grid-cells in the neocortex and postulating their role in human figure-ground processing is an important advancement for AI and neuroscience.
In the Numenta article “A Framework for Intelligence and Cortical Function Based on Grid Cells in the Neocortex” a list of key take-aways is provided. I will comment on this list below and relate the findings to Navigational-Mind Theory.
- Every cortical column has a location signal that we propose is implemented by grid cells. When the whole brain—in synchrony with the whole neural network of the body—is charged with the task of efficient navigation, we would expect to find location-based processing occurring throughout the brain.
- We propose an extension of grid cells, called “displacement cells”. Displacement cells enable us to learn how objects are composed of other objects, also known as object compositionality . This is an important conceptualization. Ken Wilber postulated decades ago that the structure of the brain had to involve the theory of holons. The Holon Theory first appeared in Arthur Koestler’s book “The Ghost in the Machine.” In terms of Navigational-Mind Theory, displacement cells suggest a cellular substrate for processing “figure and ground.” To locate the biological substrate for figure-ground is a significant breakthrough.
- Learning an object’s behavior is simply learning the sequence of movements tracked by displacement cells. Tracking the “sequence of movements” is what the proprioceptive system does and this process is related to consciousness (the sense of being an animated creature).
- A location-based framework can be applied to concepts and high-level thought in the same way it can to physical objects. In the Navigational-Mind it makes sense that all human mental abilities would be built on the foundation of navigation. The purpose of brains attached to nervous systems—as first designed by evolution a half billion years ago—is efficient navigation. On that navigational scaffolding was built (eventually, through millions of years of evolution): language/communication, socialization, and emotion—all other human attributes and characteristics. We would expect to find that high-level concepts and abstract thought are location-based because their origin derives from navigational processes.
- We discuss how the “what” and “where” pathways of the brain can be thought of as performing the same computations, but modeling different object centered and body centered location spaces. According to Navigational-Mind Theory, the “what pathway” is egocentric processing. The “where pathway” is allocentric processing. Like right/brain—left/brain, the what/where pathways are part of a larger understanding called the Navigational-Mind.