This is a question that I’ve been pondering from time to time. Consciousness would seem to be a coherent signal that rises above the noise of the other electric phenomena in unmyelinated neuronal areas. But is it more a case of the signal being felt beyond the coherent field, or is it significantly felt internal to the coherent set of electric fields?
What I think is that at the least it tends to be “felt” externally more than internally, while it needn’t be all one or the other. This goes back to what consciousness “is like,” the “knowing together” that the etymology gives us, and also what seems to be such a problem for most “models of consciousness.” Sameness probably tends not to be “felt” by consciousness, and I would guess that a solid field of qualia, like a color, tends to be internally felt largely due to a lack of becoming uniform immediately, and fades out from consciousness when the “field” becomes more uniform (we know that sameness makes the eye cease sending the same signals, but I would not be surprised if consciousness does much the same thing).
The tendency of edges to be more prominent in consciousness (edge signals are accentuated by pre-conscious visual processing, of course, which presumably increases the coherence and difference of the edges in consciousness) would agree with this assessment, I believe. But it simply makes sense that a coherent and strong signal affects the nearby receptive fields in a way that would cause a register of the signal’s force (while sameness would not register with sameness), which likely include especially those which are somehow correlated with the signaling field, either as complement or contrast. These include related fields involving the same sense (vision, sound, etc.), naturally, yet would seem to also involve signals coming from other sensory fields.
This is not an especially important matter in the overall issues of consciousness, I would think, but it does seem worth considering. For although I believe that I have implied most of this in my book and websites, I don’t know that I previously spelled out how I think this particular matter comes out. It may matter in teasing out the relationship of consciousness to the nerves’ electric fields.
With this post, I am addressing issues of more specific consciousness modeling, notably one raised with respect to my model of consciousness. Mainly this is done because of confusion with JohnJoe McFadden’s “electromagnetic theory of consciousness,” which is a non-starter from the beginning. Susan Pockett’s model may suffer from exogenous fields also, but it is hard to say, since her model is hardly one that deals with physical causation to any satisfactory degree.
McFadden’s “model,” as I understand it (be warned, I have not studied it in depth, because it has quite evident problems from the start) involves fields which supposedly escape the relative “confinement” of the action-potentials which create them, and then are supposed to generate action-potentials at some rather hazy point. He also intends to model “free will,” and apparently not “weak free will” (which most of us would allow on some level), rather the sort that has no basis in physics, nor evidence to support it.
Because his model involves “fields” which are supposed to interact across macroscopic distances, the problem of exogenous electric fields has been used to criticize his claims. He, in turn, has tried to argue that the brain is shielded (via dialectric materials?) from exogenous electric fields. This could hardly be the case, since electric fields from the brain are detectable outside of the skull. If those relatively low-voltage fields can get out, much stronger electric fields can also enter into the brain–there is no way of getting around that fact.
But it is likely that exogenous electric fields are not even the biggest problem with such a model anyway. The fact is that McFadden’s “electromagnetic consciousness” would have completely unrelated information interacting within the electric fields, which is neither anything that one can imagine could be desirable, nor is it our conscious experience. Adjacent, related (or at least contextual), data appear to interact in consciousness, while unrelated and distant information apparently do not. Furthermore, the slight electric fields attending the action-potentials encoding particular data would be remarkably ineffective at macroscopic distances.
It was primarily because of the limits of electric field strength in its particulars, and the very undesirability of distant interactions between the data in the brain, that I modeled consciousness on fairly short-range interactions. I am not sure of how short-range it would be, but surely an action-potential would not affect those existing beyond a few adjacent nerve cells in any one direction (partly because other cells of the brain also take up space).
I should just add that I have not modeled conscious electric field interactions to induce action-potentials (it may happen very occasionally, of course), but only to affect the timing of them (by affecting voltage-gated channels with electric fields). In this way both similar and dissimilar encoded information could interact in order to both blend and to contrast information, and thus to coordinate the flow of data in the nerves.
I had not worried much about exogenous electric fields, largely because I knew that interactions between close action-potentials would be hard to disrupt. The exogenous fields tend to be fairly uniform by contrast with close-by fields attending action-potentials, but it is also true that the voltage of the exogenous fields could in fact be rather larger than the voltages involved in interactions between close action-potentials, and still would cause little disruption to close-range interactions between the fields of action-potentials. This is true because an electric field from, for instance, a power line, will tend to affect all fields with a similar charge virtually the same–although this would not be nearly so true of fields in the front and back of the brain of a powerline worker that is close to a live high-voltage current (again, this is why short-range interactions are not a problem, while large-range interactions would be).
And, of course, action-potentials tend to have the same charge overall, with a positive peak driving the action-potential along. There are also negative charges, and a variety of positive voltages, in the action-potential, meaning that interactions with exogenous electric fields will be complex. Overall, though, nearby positive peaks should continue to repel each other (also continuing to slightly alter the speed of opening of the voltage-gated channels on nearby nerves, affecting timing) regardless of exogenous electric fields, just like two close repelling magnets (of high coercivity) will continue to repel each other even though a very strong magnetic field is close by. It would not matter to the magnets if the exogenous magnetic field was stronger than the magnetic fields interacting between the two magnets, because they are held close together and the exogenous field is affecting each magnet nearly the same as the other one.
Even so, it is true that brains and consciousness are affected by high alternating voltages in powerline workers, which I do not think is at all surprising. The shifting voltages likely affect electrical activity in the brain more than would the same voltages if they were static. Yet I am not certain that conscious electric field interactions would be much affected directly, since it is the differential force between the action-potentials that I model as causing consciousness (it is not the field that is conscious, rather it is the information-rich interactions within the field that is conscious), as forces acting within the larger, overall (combined) electric fields of the brain.
The question some people would ask is, if consciousness is caused by such relatively short-range effective forces, why does consciousness seem to exist in fields which span macroscopic distances in the brain? The point is that electric fields actually do combine via the relatively short-range effects between action-potentials, into much larger fields–without there being any need for the fields to substantially affect each other across macroscopic distances. The short-range fields “stitch together” the larger fields by interacting at short distances across the whole field, the same way that chemical bonds can create massive objects by interacting with only close neighbors (the difference is that electric fields do interact significantly at greater distances than do most chemical bonds).
This is a subject that has tended to bug me, because it was never a problem for my model, and yet I have had to answer it over and over, as if my model has the same flaws as McFadden’s does. That is why I went ahead and discussed it in the second post of this blog.
This is just a general post to start off this blog. One reason I am interested in writing a blog on consciousness is that there is so much pseudoscience in “consciousness studies.”
Quantum consciousness is generally, probably always in fact, magical, either changing quantum theory to fit consciousness, or supposing that consciousness acts like quantum computation, which is not the case at all. Mostly, consciousness is the “knowing together” (as the etymology suggests–and as most definitions continue to imply) of data, in a decidedly deterministic manner. To be sure, everything comes down to quantum mechanics in abstract explanation, but generally we do best to understand consciousness according to classical physics.
Then there are the eliminationists, who are perhaps more annoying than the magic “explainers.” The fact is that some of the brain is conscious, some is not, and during dreaming the latter portion increases vs. waking states. Clearly there is something that is “consciousness,” and it is hardly explained by Dennett and others as “self consciousness,” or by ignoring the issues of consciousness altogether.
Then there are weird non-physical claims, like Hofstaeder’s. Needless to say, “explaining” consciousness without dealing with matter and energy, and neuroscience, will never do at all. Even were we “strange loops,” which remains to be demonstrated, we would need a physical explanation for it.
It is much the same for “connectionism,” which fails to explain the connectedness of consciousness–since nerve impulses are largely distinct events. While connectionism, “general wordspaces,” and cognitive models have their value, they do not actually explain consciousness, but need a “magical” leap to consciousness.
Exactly what this non-exhaustive list of consciousness “explanations” has over the “soul” as explanation, I cannot fathom. Consciousness is a physical phenomenon with physical causes, and no unexplained leaps or vague appeals to quantum entanglement explains anything.
Now I would not fault neuroscience as such at all, for it is a bright spot of science among various heuristic models and the just plain nutty ideas. But for those who pretend that neuroscience need only account for the data encoded in conscious impulses, without explaining why those data are conscious while many data encoded in nerve impulses are evidently unconscious, that particular route fails.
To make consciousness into a subject of science, we need to figure out both the data known in consciousness, and how this becomes connected (as we experience it to be) in consciousness. And the explanation has to agree with physics. Fortunately, science already provides the constraints for explaining consciousness, as there are a rather limited number of forces acting within consciousness.
Unless one can figure out how to make chemistry and its quantum states connect consciousness, we’re virtually bound to stick with electromagnetism for explanation of consciousness. With magnetism being rather weak, the much stronger electric forces should be considered to predominate, although at this point magnetic forces ought not to be considered to have no effect (the fact that magnetic forces and electric forces interact so readily is another good reason not to count out magnetism). Gravity almost certainly could not be the cause of consciousness, especially since it affects brain matter almost uniformly.
In the electric phenomena of the brain there are specific causal mechanisms open to understanding conscious connection and how it may differ between consciousness, and the unconscious brain. Using those causes can make consciousness into an actual science, while speculations about “quantum computation,” ignoring the temporal and spatial ranges of consciousness, and actually bypassing physical explanation of consciousness, go nowhere. Similarly with issues like “free will,” those are non-starters which have no explanation or even reasonable speculations on how they could exist, and they do not merit discussion when explaining consciousness.
Now it is true that I wrote the above while having my own model of consciousness, “electric consciousness,” in mind. But of course it was by using the priciples and rules of science that I arrived at that model, and it is for the same reason that I differ from the various “electromagnetic consciousness” models out there–some of which seek to “explain” fictions like “free will.” Be that as it may, I intend to both discuss science and its relationship to consciousness in the abstract, as well as in relationship to my own model.
This will probably not be a blog in which large numbers of posts are made. I simply hope to post some thoughts on consciousness from time to time, and anyone is, of course, free to respond. I will likely continue to moderate comments, due to the problem of spam, yet, unless someone is simply trolling, I expect that few, if any, comments will be deleted.
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