Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cognitive science and the real world; ism's and isn'ts

In a recent monograph (2014) and conference proceedings (2014, in press)I outlined a radically new version of cog sci in its relation to the world. It is well-covered in this interview but I will reparse it below;

We start with an individual thinking, alone, the root of far too much research in our field. I call this “solipsistic”; in can alternatively change into a pathological autistic mode or reach objectivity (as this blog is hopefully doing). In rder to maintain self-mastery, if for no other reason, it is necessary to enter the intersubjective world; that of people, work, norms. All this is is my original (1995, 2003) “search for Mind” (1995)

In the intersubjective world, our solipsism is broken by what I call the “exigent”. This may be rules imposed normatively, forcing one to construe oneself as an object, as a target of these laws. The spiritual path has often involved sending neophytes out into “the world” in order to find this out there rather than sullying the monastery. This world also involves self-transcendence, if experienced by most in banalities like football chants.

Now back to cog sci. The goal is reduction of this type of experience to science. For a variety of reasons, this is impossible. Certainly, the current psychologism – reducing language to metaphor and metaphor to fmri – is sheerest nonsense. In fact, the appropriate debate here is Einstein versus weyl; should we restrict terms like “simultaneous” to their meaning in physics, as Einstein argued, and rebuild the entire edifice of science from here?

That is no more than what Buddhism historically attempted; a third-person description of reality, including the human skandas, as atoms. I prefer to rescue a properly responsible and free individual, and believe that quantum mechanics realistically allows this. That puts us back into a liberal democracy, with a properly-attested science aiding us to know ourselves.


One Magisterium (Cambridge scholars publishing, 2014)

Foundations of Mind: cognition and consciousness. Proceedings of the 2014 conference at UC Berkeley” Volume 1 )2014)t Cosmos and History Vol 2, in press, CSP

"The Search for Mind" (Ablex, 1995; 2nd ed Intellect, 2002; Third edition
Intellect, 2003;

Monday, December 29, 2014

Consciousness, attention, intentionality, will and self

The brain has many competing imperatives; among the most paradoxical is -  on the one hand - to maintain parallel processing which is the MO most suited to biologically-based intelligence and  - on the other – to maintain at least one strictly serial system that can act effectively in the real world, which often demands  yes/no binaries. Attention is often defined as the seizing by the mind of one stream in the myriad such in the brain, and decreasing the response variability on this stream, and is the necessary interface with the real world. In a previous paper (2013) I argued that what distinguishes human from animal cognition is our ability voluntarily to direct attention through “downward causation” ie will. Such direction may involve placing cognitive streams in a a quantum superposition.

Consciousness is perhaps best defined as global broadcast throughout the nervous system, and the notion that it involves gamma waves at maximal amplitude and (phase) synchrony has yet to be seriously challenged. It is indeed possible to be conscious of one item, while another is the focus of attention. Yet in the waking state this tension  will not last long and attention will normally promote its object to a locus of maximum broadcast. When this occurs, and the information is relatively familiar, a consonant sense of self, best looked at as a healthy cognitive immune reaction, will background one's phenomenology. Indeed, as described by Pribram, we may get intentionality, reaching out to the world, if the dendritic microprocesses accompanying consciousness come into synchrony with physical or other consensually-validated objects

Yet there are pathologies that prove the rule. In a dissociative state, it seems to be the case that resources are assigned to processes in a semi-stochastic manner. The self will not be stable; it is rather like different immune systems occupying the same organism. The extreme of this pathology is “multiple personalities”. These can be reintegrated through “self”-observation and will.

While not a pathology, sleep demonstrates what happens when the link between cortex and musculo-skeletal system is cut off. It seems to be the case that creativity and settling of concepts can flourish as attention becomes labile. Again, the pathology associated with this was discovered by Hebb and exploited at gitmo; deprive the prisoner of sensorimotor loops and breakdown of the self-system will ensue. It is in the recoherence of the self that the will again enters.

While broadcasting by  consciousness, the brain will keep some other cognitive processes running in the background. We can model this  with computational formalisms like dynamic load-balancing. It seems to be the case that these background processes line up their own expectations of the world, and the deeper self-system seems to signal to us that even issue as abstract as liberal democracy are being infringed upon; famously, George Soros gets a backache when something is awry in finance.

What we propose to do them is to map all this with adaptive resonance theory.
In a book I edited in 1997, the nrt (nuclei reticularis thalami) were identified as the gating location for which items enter focal consciousness; roughly speaking, which items enter endogenous attention, attention that is subject to will/voluntary effort. As it happens, the nrt are gap junctions, not chemical synapses. This means that quantum effects are more likely exactly where we might expect them to be in my 2013 article; choosing from a quantum superposition which items to focus on.


Seán Ó Nualláin,et al  (1997) “Two Sciences of Mind: Readings in cognitive science and consciousness “

Ó Nualláin  Seán  (2013)“Neural Oscillations & Consciousness: Attention as a Litmus Test for the Quantum Mind Hypothesis” Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research| July 2013 | Volume 4 | Issue 7 | pp. 697-713

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The origin of the university

The origin of the university in western culture, starting around the second millennium of the common era, is a community of scholars in a committed search for truth. That has been increasingly obscured in the third millennium of the common era with disciplinary monomania, abuse of power by “teachers” over “students” and corruption causing a crisis in replicability of results so profound that even the corporations parasitic on the taxpayers' money used for their “research” at these “ universities” have begun to fund their own replication studies.

The rampant abuse of power reflects the greater society in which blanket warrantless surveillance is combined with the threat of torture and the militarization of police to create a society even less free than the founders of Cambridge fled from in Oxford. At great risk to themselves, a group of young activists have taken to the streets in the USA to protest the open murder by police of people of colour. One of their meeting places, the Omni building at Shattuck and 49th on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, has also become the location of an educational experiment.

We are trying to see what happens if all the paraphenalia and technologies of power that have grown up around the “ university “ can be dispensed with. In short, no teachers, no students; simply seminars with participants fact-checking on the internet, with one participant also a moderator. No grades, no capacity to enforce silence, no fees, no compulsion of any sort.

Yet the courses will in general be a selection taught for credit at universities considered top-rate. It is hoped that the many gaps in the hugely expensive current PI (Principal investigator) model will become evident as new discoveries are made in cognitive science and biology. We have good reason to be optimistic, as our early seminars have indicated brilliantly intelligent use of web resources to allow participants to “teach” each other things new under the sun.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I tried to stay at the Koch talk today. I had read his piece for the talk with a care probably greater than that with which it was written, and intended to ask him the questions below. What I heard was the beginning of one of the worst talks I have ever heard at Cal. This is the abstract;


 Within 15 minutes, he had made sufficient basic errors  to convince me that cycling home 5 miles in the rain was going to be infinitely less painful  than sitting through any more. For example, Descartes did not say anything resembling “I am conscious, therefore I am”; what he said is that an evil spirit could not stop him from at least construing himself as something.

My questions were based partly on some empirical tests we did of this theory in 2010. We published these in FOM 1;

and in a peer-reviewed Springer journal in 2011;


 Let’s look at my questions on the article. In the first place, however, there is  a problem with the work “phenomenological” that he uses. It can imply “phenomenology” in the Husserlian sense; it can also imply the exact opposite, a phenomenalist approach to science. Koch/Tononi clearly do not know this; a phenomenalist approach to consciousness would indeed be a breakthrough

This apparent casuistry could be passed over, were it not for the fact that Koch goes on with a similar queen of Tarts (words mean what I want them to)  approach to information. His “informational” model is not about information in the Shannon sense, but an undefined conceptual mush. That changes when he talks about compression of the EEG signal or, as Tononi put it in  the 2010 NY Times, measuring  consciousness in bits.

T also claimed that epilepsy would show a minimally entropic signal; this is plain wrong. So what, I ask Christof in this forum, would constitute a refutation of this theory?  Popper famously argued that Freudianism was unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific…….