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DeverLite


Joined: 09 Jan 2005
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Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

01-09-05, 09:26 pm
PostPost subject: Damasio's Theory of Consciousness. What do you think? Reply with quote

Hawkins mentions that he feels concious ness is a sort of nothing word. There's nothing magical about what our brain does, and conciousness just IS what our brain does.

I think this misses an important point, which is that we aren't aware of everything that goes on in our head... quite the contrary, we are aware of very little, and I think asking the question "Why are we concious of anything at all, why bother making us aware of what we're thinking, and why only part of it?" is an important thing. In this context I would be very interested to know what Hawkins would have to say about Antonio Damasio's theory of conciousness. His ideas are quite elaborite, but I think the simplist way to describe them is to say that he posits conciousness as I kind of higher order attention, or rather, a spectrum of order's of attetion, which seems to fit well with Hawkins idea of a heirarchy, if not the other parts of his theory.

In particular, according to Damasio, without the building blocks of our attentional systems we could not be self aware. Furthermore, in his book Descarts Error, Damasio posits that emotion provides a fundamental basis for reasoning. His argument, stripped to its barrest bones, is that without the motivational direction, and preference forming nature of emotions we could not make a rational or intelligent decision, becuase we would lack the motivation to care about the right things. This would seem to suggest a far tighter coupling between lower brain functions and the neo-cortex than On Intelligence would have me believe.

Both Hawkins an Damasio, to me, seem to posit very plausable systems, but they are somewhat incogruent with each other. Or maybe I'm reading too much into Hawkins books. He does mention that he is leaving out much, and simplfying things... perhaps the part he left out was that these system Damasio mentions do play a crucial part.... or maybe I missed it on my first reading.

Has anyone else read Damasio? What do you guys think about the compatability of these theories. Are the lower functions of the brain important elements in our ability to be intelligent? (that is...in some way beyond the fact that they keep us alive so that we are able to think in the first place!)[/img]
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DavidOlmsted


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01-11-05, 11:54 am
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

One wag once suggested that reasoning is just another form of rationalization. I tend to agree that all reasoning is biased by emotions since emotions give the risk-reward component to any evaluation of pattern matching. In fact, decision theory attempts to incorporate value into probabilistic analysis so it is nothing really new.

One form of mental illness is obsessive behavior in which all observations are interpreted in terms of some emotional component. I even suspect that the liberal - conservative political spectrum is based upon ones inherent emotional bias. Liberals tend to think everything is their fault (or their group's fault) while conservatives think nothing is their fault (or their group's fault).

So, yes Jeff does not go very deeply into the characteristics of pattern matching evaluation or what biases expectations in the direction of species survival in the first place. And those considerations require connections to the lower emotional centers.

As for consciousness we seem to have two camps. Those who think it is some sort of emergent brain phenomena fully existing within our universe and others (the dualists) who think something else must be at work external to our universe. I lean more towards the later since I can't imagine any physical process to accomplish conscious perception.

Something to think about is that electrical stimulations of the brain show that conscious perceptions originate in the primary sensory cortex areas and the lower emotional centers (amygdala and septum) of the brain. So conscious perception cannot be an artifact of intelligence.
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Eric Wallace


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01-11-05, 03:01 pm
PostPost subject: Damasio's books Reply with quote

I've read a couple of Damasio's books, and found I had similar thoughts as you did while reading Hawkins. But while I think that Hawkins' and Damasio's views on consciousness are at odds, I don't actually think that Damasio's view and the memory-prediction framework are incompatible; in fact I think they might mesh quite well (and anyway Hawkins' book really isn't about the nature of consciousness).

I'll try to summarize Damasio's theory for those who haven't read his books (though it's been a while, so I may not get it quite right). As DeverLite mentions, Damasio first defines a spectrum of conscious states, ranging from simply being awake all the way through being awake, reactive, and capable of forming short and long term memories. Normal people will be in these different states at different times, and people with neurological disorders may find themselves stuck somewhere short of the highest level.

To achieve a basic level of consciousness, Damasio posits a number of requirements:

(1) The construction of a "proto-self" from sensory input including touch, musculoskeletal, visceral (e.g., gut, heart, etc.), and even chemical (blood oxygen, ionic concentrations, etc.). All of this input about the body is collected in subcortical regions and then sent to the cortex much like any other sensory input. If this input degrades, consciousness may degrade. If it is absent, consciousness collapses.

(2) An "object", meaning sensory input for something in the external environment.

(3) A "second order" cortical area (association cortex) where these first two patterns meet, leading to the ability to determine how the "object" impacts the "self".

Thus, in Damasio's view, consciousness is a continuous stream of changes to "self" via the environment.

It seems to me that Hawkins' memory-prediction framework could capture the neocortical part of this process reasonably well. The "proto-self" pattern is just another pattern that can be predicted, and, at the lowest level, it should be good at finding changes in this pattern. Putting this together with information about what's going on in the environment should be a natural consequence of the cortical heirarchy coming together.

Regarding Descartes' Error and the role of emotion in reasoning, I bet there are some insights there as well. I notice that Jeff doesn't venture far into motivation, goal setting, and decision making in his framework. After reading Descartes' Error, I was pretty well convinced that building a self-motivated machine (like a car that drives itself) would require a system that has analogues to our subcortical emotional circuits. That doesn't mean it would need emotions, per se, but that it would likely need some primitive pattern of "self" together with "self-more-satisfied" and "self-less-satisfied", in order to drive decision making. Such a system is probably not necessary for devices that aren't self-motivated, like some system to recognize objects in a static picture. The latter may also be considered intelligent, in some sense, but to make something that acts on its own will likely require us to imagine it like a whole organism.
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diogenes


Joined: 20 Nov 2004
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01-24-05, 04:26 pm
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

I'm inclined to think of emotion and consciousness as functioning at two different levels of abstraction, with emotion, perhaps, being an older, and lower method. Early work was done by Nina Bull in the late 1940's on what became known as "the attitude theory of emotion" relating motor attitudes to various "emotions". The emotions served as motivation to insure survival oriented behavior gets carried out. Consciousness, on the other hand, seems to operate on a higher level, in that it involves awareness of being aware. Our "conscious self" can see when we are having an emotional reactions, and sometimes even temper it, but less developed individuals seem unable to do so, and some animals exhibit what appears to be emotional behavior. For some discussion see <url:http://xenodochy.org/gs/tfka.html#ENDBACK3> . The "survival value" of emotions is that they are a mechanism for insuring that behavior gets carried out. Anger is functional in maintaining dominance, fear is functional in surviving predators and dominant individuals, elation is functional in learning, "love" is functional in mating and raising young.

I would tend to see the emotional motivational structures as more reactive while "consciousness" enables anticipatory planning. We still need the emotions to move us, but consciousness allows us to do much more.
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ralphclark


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02-25-05, 06:53 pm
PostPost subject: Emergence and Abstraction Reply with quote

I'm addressing this reply to David Olmsted who earlier said he couldn't see consciousness being explicable completely within the framework of the physical universe because he "can't imagne any physical process to accomplish conscious perception."

I think the above poster diogenes partly nailed the question of what kind of thing consciousness is, when he mentioned abstraction levels.

This is if I am not mistaken what has long been called "The Hard Problem" in cognitive neuroscience: i.e., what are the physical brain correlates of consciousness?

It's a question that can't be answered as long as you keep thinking of consciousness as something physically real. However, note that:

1) There is as yet no physical objective evidence that anybody is "conscious" in the way most people mean the term (and I don't believe there ever will be);

2) Behaviourist psychology, which completely ignores the question of consciousness, is just as able to predict all objectively observable consequences of our brain states as any other approach.

I contend that "consciousness" as the sense of self that you directly apprehend inside your own head doesn't physically exist as an object. It exists only as an abstract object, at a higher level of abstraction than most people realize.

Part of the problem is that people tend to compare the brain to a conventional computer. I don't think this is bogus *per se* because they are structured similarly in an ontological way, but not quite how most people imagine. Most people then leap to the conclusion that the mind is analogous with "software". I don't think this is appropriate. The physical brain more closely resembles the combination of hardware and software, because an unprogrammed computer is pretty dumb. In that case, the "mind" must equate to an instantiated program, i.e. a "process" which is executing.

So what about consciousness? Well what do we know about it? Just to take a couple of things it comprises self knowledge and self awareness. These would have to equate to internal aspects of the executing process' functioning. They could be partly represented by the changing contents of certain program variables, however this doesn't include the dynamic mechanism of consciousness itself but only snapshots of its states. The mechanism of consciousness that maintains these states needs to be represented at a yet higher level of abstraction that groups together the subprocesses, threads and function calls that maintain these variables and views this functionality cluster as a separate subsystem.

In other words to the extent that people think of it at all, they usually think of mind and consciousness interchangeably and assume that they exist at the same level of abstraction. But I don't think they do. I think consciousness is an abstract entity which emerges from the mind. So whereas the mind could be said to be less physically real than the brain, consciousness is still less real than that.

I know you said you have difficulty seeing consciousness as an emergent property completely within our universe, but the proposition might make more sense to you if you look at it again in this way. Because its existence at such a high level of abstraction, its complete decoupling from the real, surely places it well outside the physical universe anyway. It's no more subject to our universe's physical laws than are the objects represented in any computer simulation run inside another simulation. The double level of indirection is not strictly necessary, but it serves to highlight the issue I think.
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DavidOlmsted


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02-27-05, 06:43 am
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

I agree that conscious sensations are not physical but neither are they an abstraction.

Do you think that when we create simulated brains either with special parallel processing hardware or with cluster based computing that the simulated brain will have consciousness? If you answer no then consciousness is not some abstraction but is uniquely triggered by biological activity.

According to live brain stimulation studies in human undergoing brain surgery conscious sensations orginate in certain locations of the brain. Emotion based sensations arise from the circuit between the amygdala, septum, and hypothalamus. Sensory based sensations come from the primary sensory cortices. This argues against consciousness arising from some high level of abstraction.

We must also seperate the emotional value (cost utility) placed on these conscious sensations from the sensations themselves. My college room mate had a tooth drilled under laughing gas and he reported that it "hurt like hell" but that he didn't care. I suspect these emotional values arise from the frontal cortex.
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xhtmlchef


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03-06-05, 05:59 pm
PostPost subject: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain Reply with quote

I just began listening to On Intelligence after reading the brief review in the current issue of Wired Magazine. While I was struck with the importance of Hawkins' ideas - I joined this forum, and will purchase the printed book as well - it is very noticeable that Antonio R. Damasio's ideas seem not to be included. I believe Hawkins says something to the effect that intelligence is localized entirely within the neocortex, with contributions from other systems such as the amygdala, and hypothalamus (the "seat" of emotions).

Damasio wrote another book - Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, 2003 - that might be even more germane. It's thesis is that this mushy stuff we call "feelings" are critical to human intelligence. (Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and many others, considered empathy - the basis of the Voigt-Kampf test in Bladerunner - to be the defining characteristic of human beings.)

In effect, Damasio is saying something very similar to what I understand (from one hour of listening) Hawkins says: That intelligence is the result of, or what is required to, create an internal representation of the world. I think the difference may be that Hawkins considers the currency of our internal models to be neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters, while Damasio includes hormones, and proprioreceptors.
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BCOURTNEY


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03-08-05, 11:07 pm
PostPost subject: conscious vs. intelligence Reply with quote

Could consciousness simply be an object (any physical or conceptual object's) ability to reproduce itself perfectly or in mutated form as reaction to stimulus. Intelligence, could be a measure of the rate at which an object's "processes" allow this reproduction and/or mutation to occur,
to include the construction of "new" consciousness atop what already exists.
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Don


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03-09-05, 07:28 am
PostPost subject: What does it mean to be aware? Reply with quote

It's been a long time since I've read any Damasio (and I haven't read the popular books), so I can't comment specifically on the Damasio theory of consciousness, but I find DeverLite's argument that we "aren't aware of everything that goes on in our brain" interesting. I would counter-argue that we *are* aware of everything that goes on in our brain...we simply can't or don't bother to verbalize everything. Verbalizing something (or expressing it in art or math or music) generates self-feedback. Often, when people speak of "consciousness", they seem to conflate it with this kind of self-reflective feedback. Perversely, verbalization gives humans the capacity to lie to ourselves and create fictions, delusions, neuroses, and pyschoses.
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diogenes


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07-25-05, 01:42 pm
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

Don said:

Quote:
I would counter-argue that we *are* aware of everything that goes on in our brain...


"Everything" is awfully big... The medium is often invisible to its content. Looking through a telescope one does not see the telescope itself, although one can *infer* something about its structure based on what one can see.

We simply cannot be aware of all the processes and activities of the brain, even at the grossest levels. The technique of searching for comets and planets using photographic plates taken at different times and a device that rapidly switches images, allows us to note an apparently moving object while ignoring all the stars that don't move. Things that appear as expected by the brain's memory of inputs coordinated with actions unfolds in the current situation do not climb up the hierarchy to the level of our consciousness unless they differ from expectations.

When I was a kid delivering papers, my route became so familiar, that I could not remember having delivered papers on any given day for any particular customer except when something out of the ordinary happened. When I got done with my route, and I had an extra paper left over, I could not, for the life of me, recall the morning's path for the majority of customers. It all blended into one low level of "standard" experience that got no conscious recall after the route was done. More than once I had to retrace the route backwards, checking each customer, and even that memory, with the emotional frustration and "fear" of missing a customer still did not provide enough additional stimulation to permit remembering the details of even the retrace of the route.

I find the suggestion that we are aware of *everything* that goes on "in our brain" completely untenable.
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Spydre


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07-27-05, 08:04 am
PostPost subject: Re: conscious vs. intelligence Reply with quote

BCOURTNEY wrote:
Could consciousness simply be an object (any physical or conceptual object's) ability to reproduce itself perfectly or in mutated form as reaction to stimulus. Intelligence, could be a measure of the rate at which an object's "processes" allow this reproduction and/or mutation to occur,
to include the construction of "new" consciousness atop what already exists.


Might it not be even one of many side-functions of the brain and not a primary one at all. In fact, unless whetting ones proverbial edge against the stone of another conscious being's existence, say for example a being that one is in direct competition with, consciousness to a very high degree of self-awareness would not seem necessary for human survival.

While some degree of self-awareness would seem to aid in the type of pattern prediction necessary for guessing where to find the next fruiting tree in a tropical environment where there is no one overall harvest season, or as a tool for prediction of prey reaction when hunting, and even as a very necessary aid for group social interaction (predicting your neighbor's or alpha-leader's moods and behaviors), but outside of those arenas, what is it very much good for? Most animals seem to get along fine without hyper-awareness of the self's state. In fact it isn't exactly clear that the level of abstract self-awareness seen in modern homo sapiens might not even be potentially lethal for the long-term survival of the species.

Might it only seem very important because it is the only brain function that we can be aware of? Could the development of self-awareness as we understand it today be a relatively recent brain activity pushed into overdrive with the development of large non-migratory human groups settling in fertile river valleys, where the drive to be more self-aware was forced by direct competion with the only other self-aware, hunter/gatherer, social pack animals with highly developed intellects...i.e. man vs. man?
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Orion


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07-27-05, 10:49 am
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

RalphClark:

"There is as yet no physical objective evidence that anybody is "conscious" in the way most people mean the term (and I don't believe there ever will be)"

I don't agree with this basic statement. I can tell that people around me are conscious (or not, if it's too early in the morning) quite easily. I tell by how they react to {1} their environment, {2} other people (empathy), and occasionally (but importantly) {3} themselves. If anyone can't make the same observation about their fellow human beings, then they must mean something different by "conscious".

DavidOlmstead:

"According to live brain stimulation studies in human undergoing brain surgery conscious sensations orginate in certain locations of the brain [...] This argues against consciousness arising from some high level of abstraction."

How so? I mean, to me, it's merely obvious that we would be conscious of direct stimulation to our sensory areas. As Ralph Clark said, as levels of abstraction go, first it's "brain" (the areas you speak of stimulating), then "mind" (the ideas represented in the neural circutry, particularly neural columns), and then "consciousness" (the emergent behavior of these ideas when they interact and even observe eachother and their overall behavior).

Don:

"I would counter-argue that we *are* aware of everything that goes on in our brain...we simply can't or don't bother to verbalize everything."

I agree with Doigenes here. If we were aware of everything, we would also be aware of the process which made us aware of everything and reacted to those things, and the process which allowed us to be aware of that, and the process which allowed us to be aware of that.... an infinite regress. Undoubtedly, we have the capability to be aware of many mental processes, but mostly we let almost everything slip through the cracks.
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DavidOlmsted


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07-31-05, 03:20 am
PostPost subject: Reply with quote

Only electrical stimulation of the primary sensory areas in the cortex produce conscious sensations. Stimulation of the higher association areas do not. Likewise stimulation of the sub-cortical septum, amygdala, and their connections to the hypothalamus produce the conscious sensations of fear and pleasure.

This implies that conscious sensations did not arise or emerge late in evolution because of advanced intelligence and a more complex brain.

So I suspect animals have some sort of conscious sensation as well.
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