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Atlantic: Phantom limbs explain consciousness

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From Michael Graziano at Atlantic:

This is called the attention schema theory, a theory that my lab has been developing and testing experimentally for the past five years. It’s a theory of why we insist with such certainty that we have subjective experience. Attention is fundamental. It’s present in almost all animals. To help control it, the brain evolved an attention schema. Because of the quirky information contained in the attention schema, the brain-machine claims to have a conscious experience of things. Consciousness is phantom attention. Without resorting to magic, mysticism, hard problems, or spooky soul energy, the theory explains the behavior of us humans who claim—who swear up and down and get testy when challenged—that we have a ghost in the machine.

Lord Nelson may have been right when he said that a phantom arm is made of the same stuff as the soul. It’s all information in the brain.More.

And the origin of the information is what, exactly?

Why do so many theories of consciousness need to start by assuming that it is an illusion? Most of us don’t get nasty about such theories; we just wonder why they consume so much time and attention and funding.

Surely it is a sign of weakness in a science fied when a complex phenomenon is supposed to be “explained” by a simple quirk. Apart from the need to generate BS to keep the pot boiling, sometimes it is just plain better not to have an answer, so as to conserve time, energy, resources, and attention for better prospects

See also: (Theory, join the club… )

Consciousness like a self-driving car with no will or intent?

Consciousness: No hard problem! (also Graziano)

How did consciousness become a problem

Consciousness is not a neural phenomenon

Leading theory of consciousness under fire

or else:

Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

and

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

But especially

See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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24 Replies to “Atlantic: Phantom limbs explain consciousness

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    More BS from brain-dead materialists.

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    And the origin of the information is what, exactly?

    I think I shall stop swearing up and down that I have a brain.

  3. 3
    mike1962 says:

    Without resorting to magic, mysticism, hard problems, or spooky soul energy, the theory explains the behavior of us humans who claim—who swear up and down and get testy when challenged—that we have a ghost in the machine.

    IOW, wave the problem away.

    How cute!

  4. 4
    vjtorley says:

    Hi News,

    There may be turn out to be some truth to Graziano’s theory that consciousness arises from the act of monitoring the level of attention that one is paying to an object, but it certainly doesn’t explain away the mystery of subjectivity. One could build a computer that monitored its own levels of attention, but it wouldn’t necessarily be conscious. Indeed, I wouldn’t be inclined to call it conscious at all.

  5. 5
    Querius says:

    If consciousness is an illusion of the brain, then what does that imply about any experimental evidence? Is it a dream within an illusion or an illusion within a dream?

    -Q

  6. 6
    gpuccio says:

    And I had always believed that attention means a focused consciousness. What a fool I am.

    Well, I see that Wikipedia has already sanctioned the ambiguity:

    “Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. Attention has also been referred to as the allocation of limited processing resources.[1]”

    (emphasis mine)

    Nothing better than changing the meaning of words, to create a new theory.

    OK, dictionary,com is better:

    noun
    1. the act or faculty of attending, especially by directing the mind to an object.
    2. Psychology.
    – a concentration of the mind on a single object or thought, especially one preferentially selected from a complex, with a view to limiting or clarifying receptivity by narrowing the range of stimuli.
    – a state of consciousness characterized by such concentration.
    – a capacity to maintain selective or sustained concentration.
    3. observant care; consideration:
    Individual attention is given to each child.
    4. civility or courtesy:
    attention to a guest.
    5. notice or awareness:
    His deliberate cough caught the waiter’s attention.
    6.attentions, acts of courtesy or devotion indicating affection, as in courtship.
    7. Military. an erect position with eyes to the front, arms to the sides, and heels together (often used as a command).

    Point 7 and maybe 6 are rather objective. All the others seem to imply consciousness.

  7. 7
    mw says:

    Phantom limb indicates a spirit lives the body. Matter cannot give life to matter. Only life gives life. The Spirit is Life.
    Mind is the space/realm of spirit.

  8. 8
    Mapou says:

    From my AI research over the years:

    Cortical memory is organized hierarchically, like a tree. Attention simply means that only one branch of the tree is active (awake) at any one time. Furthermore, a branch can only stay active for up to about 12.6 seconds. There is a mechanism in the brain that forces attention to shift to another branch periodically. To stay focused on a subject, we must make a continual effort to return our attention to the subject we are interested in.

    As soon as the new branch wakes up, we are no longer conscious of the previous one because the previous branch falls asleep. Magicians are very adept at exploiting this phenomenon. It takes about 35 milliseconds for the brain to shift its attention from one thing to another. During that brief span of time, we are 100% unconscious. During sleep, the entire cortex is inactive unless we are experiencing so-called REM sleep. During REM sleep, there is a mechanism in the brain that scans memory and gets rid of bad connections that may have accumulated during the day. This is what dreams are made of. Without this cleanup mechanism, we would gradually become insane. Dreaming is a very good thing indeed. If you don’t dream, something is wrong with you physically and you should consult a doctor.

    Does this mean that attention is consciousness? Of course not. Consider the cerebellum, a “little brain” at the bottom of the cranium above the brainstem. It functions as an automaton and takes care of routine tasks for us, such as maintaining posture, balancing, walking, etc. It contains more neurons and synapses than the entire rest of the brain. It is always active during waking hours and we could not function properly without it. And yet, it is never conscious.

    There is something in the memory cortex (the tree of knowledge that comprises the cortical columns) that our spirit can latch onto. This is what gives us consciousness. One day soon, we will discover what that something is. In the meantime, materialists are out to lunch.

  9. 9
    mw says:

    Do amputees dream in colour of phantom limbs, and if not, what is the significance between those amputees who may dream in black and white: inferior consciousness, an inferior spirit; I would not like to think so.
    As for discovering the spirit in us, it is beyond the limit of physical scientific instruments, but not of human understanding.

  10. 10
    Mapou says:

    A phantom limb is just a branch in our cortical tree of knowledge that is assigned to a part of the body. The limb may no longer exist but the branch remains. When it wakes up, we become conscious of it. There is no great mystery and it certainly does not explain consciousness, IMO.

  11. 11
    mw says:

    Hi Mapou
    “A phantom limb is just a branch in our cortical tree of knowledge that is assigned to a part of the body.”

    Maybe, but there maybe better explanations. Phantom limb is also, somehow, a process of our spirit. Why it should maintain an intact image, or for how long the phantom image should remain conscious, I do not know. That is why its called a “phantom,” we cannot really and truthfully grasp it. And consciousness does not necessarily mean spirit, but possibly a process of it, depending on the state of the development we are at or in.

    Dreams are not subject to total physicality, they allow exchanges with the Spirit and other realms, and humans are, I believe, generated in that Image; though not vegetables or animals.
    Do amputees dream they have their amputated limbs intact or not? And what of the interpretation thereof? At death our initial image or pattern of the uncreated Spirit must prevail. For that Image is indestructible and immortal. As for a true definition of our spirit, other than the higher part of the soul that gives life to the body, I do not pretend to know. But if it is patterned on Intelligence, it may also include a supernatural intelligence relative to our state. That such is not self evident, is another matter.

  12. 12
    Querius says:

    Have you all seen the Ted Talk presentation by Vilayanur Ramachandran on how he used a mirror box to cure cases of phantom limb?

    -Q

  13. 13
    Robert Byers says:

    Phantom limbs to me are a simple manifestation of how we only observe our memory for any senses.
    Its just about memory. We simply remember the limb being there and often pain with that.
    It is something to cure. I think one must replace the memory aggresively. So possibly the mirror trick.

    We have never felt anything in our lives. We only observe the memory which has recorded the feeling of anything.
    So its easily a option for a phantom limb to occur and stay.
    Its just a stuck memory.
    It proves we only have memories of our bodies and no actual connection to them .
    We are souls and its impossible for our soul to touch the material world without a middleman. That is the memory or what is called the mind and so the brain.
    These phantoms reveal this truth.

  14. 14
    Me_Think says:

    There is no spirit lurking anywhere. It is just unchanged neuroplasticity. You can easily make a rubber hand feel like your own by nueroplasticity Here’s the BBC version of rubber hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxwn1w7MJvk

  15. 15
    mw says:

    Of course amputees will want to seek a cure for phantom limb; its painful. That does not mean we have proved there is no spirit initially taking that form. To say there is no spirit is to ignore patterns of evidence. Many, in terms of reacting to never seen before phenomena were either totally deceived; or totally convinced what they reported as truthful, is truthful, and to the extent that horrendous methods of killing, scoffing and ridicule could not shut them up.

  16. 16
    mw says:

    Further; phantom limb pain as a result of limb loss, in terms of the spirit of the body, may well include an interactive physical component of memory, which seems also a construct of mind; realm of the spirit.
    Oh that we could cure memory loss and the mental anguish that results, as in dementia, with an elastic band or a mirror.

  17. 17
    snelldl says:

    “To help control it, the brain evolved an attention schema.” The brain did that? All by it’s little lonesome? How smart of the brain to realize it needed to control something!

  18. 18
    mw says:

    Does the spirit control the brain, body or phantom limb? Perhaps the spirit has mainly a passive affect? Which however, some believe, seems to be carried over into the next life for later embodiment.

    Of course, original phantom brain or head syndrome, could occur if a head transplant was possible in humans. I’m sure it’s been tried on animals.

    However, some say the spirit resides in the heart, intertwined to the breath or does not really reside in the body but is the over self.

    Irrespective, the spirit seems better described as an “it.” Still, what holds the world together in human terms is mind or thought: right or wrong with essential free will to choose a basic but an essentially important theme, patterned by the Mind that does not err, if such a mind exists.

    In the beginning (of evolution theory) the concept of fitness was essentially a chance made selection/concept by a somewhat nebulous theoretical evolutionary process. A phantom concept in terms of never seen conclusive common descent: in those terms, phantom limb may be an imaginary phantom of fitness, like Darwin’s imaginary whale-bear.

  19. 19
    Querius says:

    mw @ 15,

    You might want to watch this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc3CmS8_vUI

    It’s only 2:22 minutes long.

    -Q

  20. 20
    Robert Byers says:

    mw
    I agree. I say phantom limbs is proof that all feeling is only US observing a memory of what is called feeling.
    We never felt anything in real life but only its recording in the memory.
    So it can fake us out by a lingering memory or a memory of what there should be in the way of pain. likewise many people suffer from feeling nothing and no pain and so must be careful about hurting themselves.
    i forget the medical word.
    Yet both simply reflect the same equation.

  21. 21
    mw says:

    Hi Querius,
    “even pain can be a construct of the mind;” the commentator of that short video summarises. From working as a physical occupational therapist, the mirror box is certainly a way of treating phantom pain.

    But, as head in acute psychiatry for a short while, the mind is not so easy to treat, let alone grasp. Yes, surgeons could trepan the brain to remove some debilitating experiences. But trepan the spirit or consciousness?

    Still, does the mirror box mean we have cured the spirit, or just remoulded its passivity, if its seat is the brain?
    Thank you Robert Byers for your comments.

  22. 22
  23. 23
    Me_Think says:

    mw
    What according to you is spirit? Is it a radiation, an energy or a force field ?

  24. 24
    mw says:

    Hi Me_Think,
    First we must define (believe, may be the better word) the Spirit. But even if I answer, ‘what is spirit,’ it will never be complete. I can only go off the belief, or the experiences of those professing to have observed and recorded truthfully some results of the Spirit.

    In terms of the phenomena of Jesus reportedly being able to go through walls, that would be one measure of the property of spirit. Another example of the Spirit, is its is multidimensional; it can transverse eternal time and space with physical material space, as witnessed when he ascended into eternal time.
    Is our spirit a measurable essence in human terms, I would say not, and as our understanding is no longer totally fit.

    An eternal absolute Spirit needs no evolving. Hence, our spirit needs no evolving. Though it is vulnerable. Such are properties of our spirit. A higher level form of energy, it may be. Even the theoretical unfalsifiable big bang needs a prior energy to create the ‘big spot’ of matter in no space (other than the multiverse cop out).

    However, our ability to measure all aspects of life is not complete, and if we could measure it, would we believe it was an essence of Spirit. No, we possibly would make every scientific excuse not to believe, and reinterpret the finding.
    What then the teaching of Jesus: better to go into hell minus limbs? What, even with phantom pain, after amputation, and if such a dreadful place exists? Yes even that. He wasn’t telling us to disfigure ourselves. Hence he would have been teaching a profound spiritual truth; many believe. The Spirit is personal, and Personally gave the Ten Commandments.

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