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Researcher: Never mind the “hard problem of consciousness”: The real one is…

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We are “conscious beast-machines.”

(Aw, sit down. We owe this guy a hearing out of politeness. )

From neuroscientist Anil K. Seth at Aeon:

In my work at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex in Brighton, I collaborate with cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, brain imagers, virtual reality wizards and mathematicians – and philosophers too – trying to do just this. And together with other laboratories, we are gaining exciting new insights into consciousness – insights that are making real differences in medicine, and that in turn raise new intellectual and ethical challenges. In my own research, a new picture is taking shape in which conscious experience is seen as deeply grounded in how brains and bodies work together to maintain physiological integrity – to stay alive. In this story, we are conscious ‘beast-machines’, and I hope to show you why.

More recently, in my lab, we’ve been probing the predictive mechanisms of conscious perception in more detail. In several experiments – using variants of the binocular rivalry method mentioned earlier – we’ve found that people consciously see what they expect, rather than what violates their expectations. We’ve also discovered that the brain imposes its perceptual predictions at preferred points (or phases) within the so-called ‘alpha rhythm’, which is an oscillation in the EEG signal at about 10 Hz that is especially prominent over the visual areas of the brain. This is exciting because it gives us a glimpse of how the brain might actually implement something like predictive perception, and because it sheds new light on a well-known phenomenon of brain activity, the alpha rhythm, whose function so far has remained elusive.

Predictive processing can also help us understand unusual forms of visual experience, such as the hallucinations that can accompany psychosis or psychedelic trips. The basic idea is that hallucinations occur when the brain pays too little attention to incoming sensory signals, so that perception becomes unusually dominated by the brain’s prior expectations. Different sorts of hallucination – from simple geometric experiences of lines, patterns and textures to rich hallucinatory narratives full of objects and people – can be explained by the brain’s over-eagerness to confirm its predictions at different levels in the cortical hierarchy. This research has significant clinical promise since it gets at the mechanisms that underlie the symptoms of psychiatric conditions, in much the same way that antibiotics tackle the causes of infection while painkillers do not.

Our experiences of being and having a body are ‘controlled hallucinations’ of a very distinctive kind More.

Aw, take a number and wait. Anyone want to guess how many of these theories of consciousness will get fronted before the money runs out?

Readers, why have they started majoring in consciousness as hallucination and eEvolution bred a sense of reality out of us?

See also: Psychology Today: Latest new theory of consciousness

Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

and

What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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