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

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