Thought Experiment / Consciousness & Awareness

Did you read the rest of the post? My point is that it doesn’t make sense to invoke emergency to explain consciousness.

But I can mitigate your conundrum if you want. More than one property can emerge from the same medium. :-).

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I am agreeing with you - it is just not the argument line I would have gone to first.
The “special arrangement of the parts” line seems better to me.

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Yes! I know where you’re coming from, just because an “emergent property” is difficult to predict doesn’t mean it’s synonymous with “magic” or that it’s fundamentally unexplainable.

I think all these models of the fundamental paradox of being cannot be anything other than explanatory fictions because it’s ineffable.

But thinking like a materialist I don’t think it’s entirely off the mark to say, the phenomenon of consciousness may not be explainable materially, but the contents of consciousness seem to have direct correlates to informational structures in the brain. I think that the only way to explain the phenomenon of consciousness from a materialist perspective is to say consciousness is physical interaction for you can’t explain the very phenomenon of it causally (as an emergent property).

If the contents of consciousness are instantiated patterns, be it within any substrate, then we come to the conclusion that there’s no difference in kind between physical structures instantiated inside the brain and those found outside the brain. One recognizes that this way of interpreting the material rationalist observation of correlations between awareness’s contents and physical informational structures leads one necessarily to conclude that all informational structures are conscious. One might begin to wonder why one is aware of the sights and sounds one hears yet, unaware of what it feels like to be the wind, or the pancreas, or the hindbrain for that matter. (Another way to ask this is to say, if physical interaction is the instantiation of informational structures why am I centered in me and not simply aware of the entire universe of structure around me?)

I think there is a material answer to this question. Why am I not aware of lower levels of informational structures inside my brain? I think it has to do with feedback loops. There are lots of feedback loops that instantiate patterns that just were, in the context of what has happened in the past in the brain, and I presume in the prefrontal cortex especially. I think this overlap of recurrent models forms the tip of the mountain upon which our awareness knows it sits. It knows it sits here because it knows it sits here. The wind has many fewer feedback mechanisms. The wind creates little memory of its past, few recursive functions, the wind makes no ego. That is why, I believe, our consciousness stays in our heads and we don’t know what it’s like to be other things: because the shape of our head is a recursive memory structure whereas the shape of the wind is not constantly reminded of what it is - it just is.

This realization - that physical structure is the shape of consciousness - is what invites the material reductionist (as I was) to wonder if panpsychism isn’t part of the answer. Perhaps from that point of view, it is the answer: that awareness is a fundamental property of physical interaction.

I tend to take a slightly different tack. If you must see consciousness from a material reductionist point of view, I think the answer is not to see awareness as a fundamental property of matter, but to see matter as, necessarily, the contents of awareness: matter and the contents of consciousness are two sides of the same coin. Matter cannot exist outside awareness.

But as I said, explanatory fictions, all of these models. The only model that is accurate to what is, is what is. But I think by talking about the same topics from several angles we can gain a better view than any one particular view can by itself, because every view that tries to fully explain the paradox is a lie.

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You jump from some to all without intermediate proof. This is a faulty generalization.

That’s clever. But who says consciousness is a paradox?

Absolutely. But you’re making the same generalization Jeff makes in On Intelligence.

That does not explain what consciousness is. I want to understand what feels like means in that statement. I want to know what sensing means in your statement.

I think all you guys are confusing the mechanics of consciousness with the contents of consciousness. And while the latter is certainly worth while investigating, it does not help to confuse the two.

What it feels like (contents) is the physical act of short term memory (the here-and-now part) of the perception part where you are recalling the best match up bits of your prior experience to the current perception. And the novel bits that don’t match but that you are learning online. This is felt in the episodic portion of the temporal lobe. When I localized this I am putting what is perhaps undue emphasis on this part as the entire brain is engaged in this perception and there numerous mechanisms all engaged at the same time - the the temporal/EC/HC part is what registers the attention focused digested version of your perception as your experience. You feel and form the memory all at the same time. Part of what you are feeling/'remembering is the loop of consciousness that I have described elsewhere in the forum.

This post describes the mechanism that builds this feeling in detail. Note that pure recall (memory) lacks that “reality feel” of the novelty bits as it is not driven by perception. You might describe that perception part in some other way but there is clearly something missing when you remember an episode vs. going through it.

No, I don’t think so. Maybe. But let me clarify.

… then what’s the difference between patterns inside my head and patterns outside my head? Do you see? I’m saying there’s no fundamental difference. Patterns are just patterns. I’m saying the “I” that experiences is the instantiated pattern itself.

So I don’t think it’s a faulty generalization, I’m not generalizing to all patterns, I’m explicitly talking about all patterns from beginning to end. In other words; no, I don’t jump from some to all, I’m talking about all the whole time.

Consciousness can be nothing other than a paradox. But actually I’m not explicitly calling consciousness a paradox here. I’m referring to something I had said earlier; that Being, itsef, is a paradox, indeed, the great paradox.

By association, consciousness is a paradox too, because there is no Being outside of consciousness. but I was actually referring to what I have come to call The Great Paradox of Being here, not consciousness.

Just as a quick explanation: the great paradox of being is actually a restatement, or the other side of a paradox everyone has known about for as long as man has been: the paradox of non-being; such a serious paradox that many ancient cultures avoided or had no concept of zero. Nothing is a non-concept because non-being cannot be. That is the heart of the paradox. Another way to say it in a causal paradigm (philosophers talk about the ‘first cause’, for instance) is: Anything that could cause existence to exist must already exist - a paradox.

This statement smacks of a poorly defined problem space. WIth a touch of circular definition
Therein lies the problem - by limiting the problem space in the definition you exclude the answer.


That’s what my classical theist philosopher friend said (in many more words, of course :wink:). He said that there cannot be any such thing as a REAL paradox. From my perspective though, ultimately, that’s all there can be - a singular ineffable ACTUAL paradox.

Either that or I’ve totally lost it. If you think I’m wrong (which I’d have to be if it’s a paradox), then tell me how to formulate the question better. Maybe you’ll light my path.


Ok, so first of all, sorry for quoting you out of context, and twice at that. I should have read your original posts more carefully.

But you’re taking this a bit far I think. If a pattern is what makes us conscious (something I actually tend to agree with), and you’re saying that everything is part of the same pattern, then why am I not conscious of everything?

Also, if something about the pattern that makes me conscious changes, then I loose my consciousness. Another argument that makes this pattern not so ubiquitous.

As for

I don’t think we understand enough of quantum-physics to make that claim, let alone use it to define consciousness. It’s also one of the last refuges of the theists. You (and they) need a lot more evidence to use that as proof.

But I agree, it’s an interesting train of thought.

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No need to apologize! Nobody ever quotes anybody in perfect context anyway.

The exact question I had, (and still have) when trying to explain the phenomenon of consciousness from a materialist perspective. In my view, any sophisticated “materialist” is probably an “informationalist” deep down because they recognize that matter is just energy and energy, in its particular arrangements is just a certain pattern amongst many. So matter is fundamentally just information if its anything at all.

So my previous formulation that consciousness is matter’s interactions, is to say consciousness is a change in information, which really is to say consciousness is information because information without change is no new information at all. A more flowery way to put it (if you can imagine that :wink:) would be to say, consciousness is information as seen from the inside out. It must be (from a materialist perspective) what it is like to be information.

Now, back to your question at hand; if you’ll allow me to restate it:

if the universe is continuous, then all information in the universe is fundamentally one. Why then do I feel like I’m just me, and not the whole universe? Why don’t I know everything? If I, being information, must be everything, why don’t I feel like I am everything?

Well, as I hinted at earlier, I think it’s because there are feedback, recursive, mechanisms in your head that bring representations of information very close together. That is memory, a record of the past, an echo, a change in structure, a pattern that occurred in the past, returns in some similar form to the present. We construct images of ourselves, we also construct images of others, and images of ourselves through other’s eyes, and we imagine how they think we think they must feel, etc, etc, etc.

The information inside the skull is highly relative to the information inside the skull. Much of the information outside it seems not to have such a recurrent pattern. I used the example of the wind earlier as a structure of mutating information that doesn’t have the kind of recursive structures that our neurons form. Whatever it is like to be just the information that is the wind it’s probably not like what it is like to be a human - it doesn’t know that it is the wind, but the structures in our brains do model, recursively, to an alarming degree what it is like to be a human.

Think of it this way: if you’re a model of the universe you’re not the universe. Where there is a simulation of self there is a boundary between self and other, where there is no model of the self, the self is boundless.

I’ve struggled with this a lot. You’re talking about things like sleep right? When the brain enters sleep, it’s behavior changes - the structure of information changes. I don’t know how it changes in such a way that consciousness is lost. But to me, it seems like only a portion of consciousness is lost, or rather it seems to me that consciousness becomes decoherent, or perhaps another way of thinking about it is, it becomes diffuse, rather than - focused.

I don’t think it completely goes away, I think awareness remains while the contents of consciousness fall away. What’s the difference between an experience you forgot and no experience at all? It seems as though, there must be some kind of primary feedback loop of information that is highly active when awake, but less active when unconscious.

Lately, as I’ve pondered upon the experience of sleep, I’ve seen waking awareness as the occurrence of particular models, useful models, models that predict really well. I’ve begun to wonder if sleep is an “informationally theoretic” necessary (not just something we do because it’s efficient to do in a day-night cycle).

I’ve wondered here if competing, opposite and decoherent models, in the brain, that are much less useful for momentary prediction need to be expressed and have their influence made manifest on the typical models and forms we are in waking life, perhaps in order to maintain some kind of homeostatic mechanism. I really don’t know, but I don’t think a change in our awareness of our own awareness is a necessary negation of the model of consciousness as information. I think an aspect of awareness always remains untrammeled.

This is one reason I (in my personal metaphysics, my person explanatory fiction) attempt to disentangle consciousness (the phenomenon of awareness) from its contents. Interestingly enough, this is something you cannot do if you’re a materialist. If you’re an ‘informationalist’ that views information (or matter) as more primary than the subjective experience of being, itself, then you’re stuck in a causal paradigm where the shape of the information is entirely derived from outside influences.

However, we, as HTM enthusiasts (or experts in your case) are, by virtue of the htm paradigm, intuitively aware that every brain is in a constant feedback loop with its environment. So does the man make his environment or does the environment make the man? It’s the chicken or the egg. They seem to go together, don’t they?

The truth may begin to appear to us that causality is always local, that is, it only makes sense when looking at a specific portion of the whole. When looking at the whole, everything causes everything, and when everything’s special, (when everything’s primary), nothing is.

In this way, I think the materialist assumption, that matter is primary to experience is globally inaccurate. And by the same token, the idealist assumption that experience is primary, or fundamentally a causal force to produce what is experienced is also globally untrue. Perhaps either causal direction could be argued for in any specific situation, but we want to talk about what’s fundamental (and we should recognize that what’s typical isn’t even the same thing as what’s fundamental).

So consciousness isn’t derivative of information, but its contents can be nothing other than information. Information isn’t derived from consciousness, but it can exist nowhere else. What’s left? Well, the middle way, I suppose… whatever that is.

Again, the paradox seems ineffable. But by talking through it, as we do, perhaps we can approach the limit.

To bring this entire conversation back to the original post @CreationTribe, Isn’t that what every cortical column is doing in each of our heads all the time - the same thing we’re doing now? Saying to its neighbors, “What is it? What is this thing we’re experiencing, this thing called existence?” Perhaps what we know of as conscious experience is the expression of that information in transit - communication, models changing.


@jordan.kay and @Falco
You asked what the mechanism of consciousness was and how it that resulted in what it feels like to have a consciousness. You further asked about sleeping and dreaming.

In post 35 and the chained posts on the necessity of sleeping I addressed these issues in detail and it feels like you both blew right past that and continued discussing how many angles can dance on the head of a pin or the sound of one hand clapping. I even think I heard the classic “can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it” in the discussion.

Are you both so eager to make this a deep philosophical issue that more mundane explanations just won’t do? I am more concerned with making a functional AI and I really don’t care if the atoms that make it are actually conscious. As long as those atoms are arranged in a certain functional way it will be conscious.

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Frankly, Bitking, you often have so much detailed knowledge of objective facts that I feel as though I can’t take our all in and make sense of it sometimes. It’s like trying to teach a 4th grader calculus, and you should be that way, but don’t worry if I’m unable to keep up. I’m still trying to comprehend the basics. Without a framework to hang the details on I don’t have much of a choice but to simply store most of what you have to say away for later integration.

I have to confess a certain degree of annoyance. Yes, you could explain calculus to a 4th grader but that would not convey any real grasp of the concepts or the landscape of understanding that this tool conveys. There is a certain price of admission in terms of investment in picking up the supporting concepts and relationships.

The calculus example you offered is a good one - how long would it take for that 4th grader to see the descriptive power of this tool? And know how to apply it to real world problems? How useful would this tool be without a grasp of the mechanics and structure of these real world problems?

If I tell you that using calculus I can work out planetary motions and go on to show the details of the intersection of astronomy and rocket science using these tools you can imagine my response when further discussion of the problem include references to astrology.

No insult intended but these discussions of the properties of consciousness seem very far removed from the mechanics of what goes on between your ears. Imagine my reaction when I read something to the effect “a pattern is a pattern whether is implemented in the brain or scratched in the beach sand.” That is the difference between a yummy meal and a picture of a yummy meal. Not the same thing at all.

I have followed HInton and his boosting of panpsychism as a tool to explore the continuum of reactive systems and the processing within those systems during the process. I have been amazed as the press and lay people have picked up on this and freighted this with all sorts of semi-mystical interpretations that seem to be some sort of wish fulfillment for everyone’s personal version of folk psychology. The relationship of this approach to the actual neural mechanisms is distant at best; I think it adds more fog and less clarity. But an important man has said it so it must be important - right?

I have spent the time to work though the concepts and feel that I do see the answers to the questions you pose. If you are willing to put in the effort to learn the vocabulary and supporting concepts you can get to the place where you can see the answers for yourself. I am more than willing to help you get there is you are interested. It won’t take 30 years as you could skip the dead ends that I wasted time on.

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Your wealth of knowledge should be prioritized into practical pursuits and solving real-world problems, rather than attempting to explain the unexplainable. That is to say, a knowledge base such as yours isn’t as useful in philosophical discussions of metaphysics as it is in creating solutions to practical problems.

In other words, if I was able to query your brain for understanding I wouldn’t waste my time learning how consciousness is “produced” in neural structures because I can reason about those kinds of metaphysical topics from first principles. Instead, I’d spend your attention finding the answers to questions like the following:

The list just goes on and on. But I’d definitely spend my time with you thinking about practical things because those are the real hard questions, the answers to which create external patterns; technology.

Actually, what I was thinking was to take that overview offered in post 35 and have you go through and restate each paragraph/concept as you see them in your own words, with questions where you are not able to follow what the meaning is.

I would go though and offer some more approachable version and so on. There could be pictures.

This would proceed though the closely linked documents that I have included. This would be an interactive process until you reached the point where it made sense to you. The final version would be posted as a discussion format such as the AI foom document.

What I get out of this is clarifying and exposing what I see as the basic framework for future AI platforms based on what is currently known about the brain. I am in my sixties and there is no telling how much longer I will be able to keep at this. It is time to share some of what I have seen before it is too late to do so.

You are not the only one that would profit from this - there are many seeking to understand what is going on here.

I did read the list you offered and some of these fall away as problems when you see how the brain is doing what it does. (encoders, AGI, math)

Some of them are a bad match for AGI and should be solved using better tools. (math, programming, information theory)


Indirect answer.

What is the smallest unit of time humans can perceive, without any external devices?

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The rest of the forum deals with HTM and intelligence. This section (Other Topics) allows us to think outside the margins.

I personally don’t think @jordan.kay’s idea around consciousness is correct, but it’s interesting. And it’s certainly not worse than my own ideas. None of these can be demonstrated. And if someone else’s theory could be demonstrated, we would be having a totally different conversation.

The reason I didn’t respond to your last posts is because I still don’t agree with what you’re saying, and I don’t want to keep saying I don’t agree. You’re describing elements that very likely are related to consciousness, but in this conversation I am interested in the actual mechanics. The physical laws if you will, that cause a subjective experience.

Having this sort of deep philosophical conversations allows me to come in contact with other ideas. I will not solve this problem. But maybe I might stumble upon someone who knows someone who knows something…


I favor the Stanislas Dehaene model. It explains the most and fits the best with what I have been reading.