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Consciousness: Brain as information processing machine?

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From neuroscientist Michael Graziano at The Atlantic:

Here’s how we can construct theories that do a better job of explaining, even if they appeal less to our biases and intuitions. The brain is an information-processing machine. It takes in data, transforms it, and uses it to help guide behavior. When that machine ups and says, “Hey, I have a conscious experience of myself and the things around me,” that assertion is based on data computed in the brain. As scientists we can ask a series of basic questions. How did the machine arrive at that self-description? What’s the specific, adaptive use of that self-description? What networks in the brain compute that type of information? These are all scientifically approachable questions. And we are beginning to see specific, testable theories that can answer them. The theories that show the most promise are sometimes called metacognitive theories. They are theories of how the brain computes information about itself and its own processes.

The brain constructs packets of information, virtual models, that describe things in the world. Anything useful to monitor and predict, the brain can construct a model of it. These simulations change continuously as new information comes in, and they’re used to guide ongoing behavior. For example, the visual system constructs rich, detailed models of the objects in the visual world—a desk, a car, another person. But the brain doesn’t just model concrete objects in the external world. It also models its own internal processes. It constructs simulations of its own cognition.

And those simulations are never accurate. They contain incomplete, sometimes surreal information. The brain constructs a distorted, cartoon sketch of itself and its world. And this is why we’re so certain that we have a kind of magic feeling inside us. More.

Apparently computers can learn to do it too. This isn’t a better theory; it is just a theory that appeals more to nerds.

See also: More scientists doubt materialism explains consciousness

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

and

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

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27 Replies to “Consciousness: Brain as information processing machine?

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    The magic of consciousness is this:

    1. How does the brain, a purely mechanical system, conjure up an amazing 3-D vista just from the electrical firing of a bunch of cells?

    2. How does a purely mechanical system conjure up a specific color from the electrical firing of a cell and an altogether different color from the electrical firing of another identical cell?

    Unless and until materialists and other magicians can properly answer these questions, any explanation they come up with is just voodoo magic.

  2. 2
    GaryGaulin says:

    The Attractor Network used in the ID Lab 5 uses neuronal oscillations to provide the spatial reasoning abilities described in the article. Although it cannot be ruled out I doubt that the virtually critter is consciously aware, but it still has a confidence/hedonic system that in us we are able to consciously feel.

  3. 3
    Fair Witness says:

    Mapou:
    So magic occurs every time there are questions you don’t know the answers to ?

    You must experience ecstasy every time your checkbook doesn’t balance.

  4. 4
    GaryGaulin says:

    Mapou asked:

    1. How does the brain, a purely mechanical system, conjure up an amazing 3-D vista just from the electrical firing of a bunch of cells?

    I already provided a computer model for conjuring up an amazing 3-D vista just from the electrical firing of a bunch of cells.

    Now it’s your turn to explain how it works.

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    When that machine ups and says, “Hey, I have a conscious experience of myself and the things around me,”

    Exactly “who” is talking here? Some section of the brain? Some neurons? Or is the brain as a whole speaking?

    (…) that assertion is based on data computed in the brain.

    So, data is blindly “processed” by a part of the brain — read: some chemical reactions have taken place — and then what? Some other part of the brain starts making assertions?

    As scientists we can ask a series of basic questions. How did the machine arrive at that self-description?

    I like basic questions. Here is one: What is the “self” here, if not brain chemistry? Is the data processing part describing itself? If so, I would expect some description of the chemical reactions that are going on. Or is the part of the brain that outs the ‘processed’ data involved in “self-description”? It seems to me that whatever part of the brain takes on “self-description” it would not produce conscious experience but would produce a description of chemical reactions instead. Again, what is the concept of self here?

    What’s the specific, adaptive use of that self-description?

    You mean: what’s the evolutionary gain?

    What networks in the brain compute that type of information?

    Indeed, what kind of chemicals produce an experience which seems totally utterly divorced from chemistry? And why in the blue blazes would we call that self-description?

    These are all scientifically approachable questions.

    Really? These questions don’t make any sense to me. Terms seem hopelessly confused and totally undefined to me.

    And we are beginning to see specific, testable theories that can answer them.

    May I suggest that you haven’t even began to understand what you are asking?

  6. 6
    GaryGaulin says:

    Hi Origenes.

    The Attractor Network used in the ID Lab 5 uses neuronal oscillations to provide the spatial reasoning abilities described in the article. Although it cannot be ruled out I doubt that the virtually critter is consciously aware, but it still has a confidence/hedonic system that in us we are able to consciously feel.

    Now it’s your turn to explain how it works. Or you can help Mapou figure it out.

  7. 7
    Robert Byers says:

    WHO organizes stuff???” The brain!! Then what is the brain?
    These people still skrew it up.
    Its the soul , made in Gods image, that is the thinker. Then info is organized in the memory machine called the brain/mind.
    Simple. Why make it complicated.
    BECAUSE they insist there is no soul. they are attacking Christian doctrines and christiandom which gave them everything in the modern world.
    No healing until they figure this out.

  8. 8
    Mapou says:

    FW:

    Mapou:
    So magic occurs every time there are questions you don’t know the answers to ?

    No. You got it 100% arse-backward. Magic occurs not just because the materialists have no answers to the questions I posed @ 1, but specially because their position makes it impossible for them to ever have any answers without invoking magic.

    As a hard-core, card-carrying dualist, I have no problem with the questions I posed.

  9. 9
    Mapou says:

    GG:

    I already provided a computer model for conjuring up an amazing 3-D vista just from the electrical firing of a bunch of cells.

    No you haven’t. You must provide a mechanism that converts the firing of neurons into a 3D vista. Somehow, the firing of neurons is converted into varying distances in our consciousness. Materialists must give an explanation for this transformation in order for them to have a leg to stand on. They have none. The only thing they have is mouths with which to spew nonsense and make fools of themselves.

  10. 10
    Me_Think says:

    Psychedelic drugs change perception and cognition, even leading to out-of-body experiences. Rape date drugs bring down self-consciousness to such a low level that even sexual assault is not resisted – the event is not even registered in the brain ! Magic Mushroom has been used for ages by religious leaders to hoodwink followers into believing that they are experiencing Godly visions. When chemical can have such a profound effect on brain, there is no reason to believe consciousness is anything more than chemical and electrical phenomenon.

  11. 11
    Origenes says:

    Me_Think @10,

    The fact that psychedelic drugs change perception and cognition is consistent with dualism.

    A dualist-interactionist does not take the soul to operate independently of the brain like a ghost in a machine. Rather, as the Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Sir John Eccles emphasizes, the soul uses the brain as an instrument to think, just as a musician uses a piano as an instrument to make music. If his piano is out of tune or damaged, then the pianist’s ability to produce music will be impaired or even nullified. In the same way, says Eccles, if the soul’s instrument of thought, the brain, is damaged or adversely affected, then the soul’s ability to think will be impaired or nullified.
    (…)
    Does someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in anyway disprove the existence of a soul? No more than a damaged piano disproves the existence of a pianist!
    (…)
    When brain states change, whether due to drugs or natural causes, the functioning of the soul is affected.

    [W.L.Craig]

  12. 12
    Mapou says:

    Origenes @11,

    Thank you for that. But your rebuttal will not change their minds. In my past exchanges with materialists and Darwinists, I have found all of them to be essentially sociopaths.

  13. 13
    Me_Think says:

    Origenes @ 11,

    The fact that psychedelic drugs change perception and cognition is consistent with dualism.

    If his piano is out of tune or damaged, then the pianist’s ability to produce music will be impaired or even nullified. In the same way, says Eccles, if the soul’s instrument of thought, the brain, is damaged or adversely affected, then the soul’s ability to think will be impaired or nullified.

    Interesting that soul has to depend so much on ‘materialism’. Unfortunately, we have no idea what a soul is (force, energy or particle ? ), so we have no model of how it would interact with brain to think. Till someone comes up with a working hypothesis, it would be prudent to just stick to the fact that chemicals change cognition, perception and consciousness, hence consciousness is most likely just a manifestation of chemical and electrical process of brain.

  14. 14
    Axel says:

    Me_Thinks @ 10,

    “Magic Mushroom has been used for ages by religious leaders to hoodwink followers into believing that they are experiencing Godly visions. When chemical can have such a profound effect on brain, there is no reason to believe consciousness is anything more than chemical and electrical phenomenon.”

    There is irrefragable evidence that the mind is not coterminous with a functioning brain. Indeed, it has been posited – the evidence indicating, correctly – that the brain is both a reducing valve for survival in time*, and a radio-type receiver.

    As regards the radio-type receiver, the evidence was obtained under laboratory conditions, specifically, from surgical interventions, while the patients were hooked up to instruments of the most advanced, medical technology :

    http://science-spirituality.bl.....ly-to.html

    http://www.ebenalexander.com/b.....n/praise1/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOSb3G53HsA

  15. 15
    GaryGaulin says:

    Mapou:

    Thank you for that. But your rebuttal will not change their minds. In my past exchanges with materialists and Darwinists, I have found all of them to be essentially sociopaths.

    You have no idea what kind of dangerous name calling religious extremist you are. Please move to Syria or other place in the world where the religious/philosophical Utopia you are searching for already exists.

  16. 16
    Mapou says:

    Me_Think, the psychopath:

    Interesting that soul has to depend so much on ‘materialism’.

    Soul/spirit depends on interactions with matter, not with materialism, which calls for the absence of spirits/souls. This is what dualism means. But, seeing that you’re a psychopath, it went right over your head, didn’t it?

  17. 17
    Mapou says:

    There are two things that materialists have in common with Christian fundamentalists. They both believe in infinity and they are both monists. That is to say, unlike dualists, they both believe that only one thing (matter or spirit) is needed for consciousness. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

    No wonder they are so obsessed with one another. Birds of a feather. LOL

  18. 18
    Me_Think says:

    Mapou @ 17
    Are Souls infinite or are there souls of different sizes – child souls, adult souls etc. ?

  19. 19
    Mapou says:

    Me_Think, the psychopath, wants answers. How funny.

    I’ll tell you what. Answer the two questions I posed @ 1 and then I might be inclined to answer your questions. I say “might be inclined” because I know that whatever answers you come up with will be pulled straight out of your asteroid.

  20. 20
    GaryGaulin says:

    Mapou how does “intelligent cause” work?

    You have not scientifically answered that yet, and are obligated to do so.

  21. 21
    Mapou says:

    Gaulin,

    Man, nobody calls me out. I am not obligated to do anything. Answer my questions first. Then, if I’m satisfied with your answers, I might be inclined to answer your silly question.

  22. 22
    GaryGaulin says:

    Read this Mapou:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-600079

    If you cannot explain how “intelligent cause” works then you are just another scammer in need of being legally prosecuted before anyone else gets hurt by your scam.

  23. 23
    Origenes says:

    Me_Think,

    MT: Unfortunately, we have no idea what a soul is (force, energy or particle?), (…)

    Incorrect. We necessarily must have some idea. Since we are souls we are incapable of not having intimate knowledge of the soul. What’s more, the fact that we are unable to define consciousness in material terms — force, energy or particle — , as you have pointed out, suggests that we are dealing with a different realm.

    MT: (…) so we have no model of how it would interact with brain to think.

    Maybe such a model is lacking, however quantum mechanics is suggestive that consciousness does interact with matter.
    Besides, the situation is even worse. Not only do we not understand the mind, we also have no coherent model of what energy and matter is — particles, waves or both? What is a wave? What is a particle? What keeps them in existence? We have no idea other than theistic ones.

    MT: Till someone comes up with a working hypothesis, it would be prudent to just stick to the fact that chemicals change cognition, perception and consciousness, (…)

    Yes, let’s stick to that fact. However, as I have been pointed out (see #11), that fact is perfectly consistent with dualism.

    MT: (…) hence consciousness is most likely just a manifestation of chemical and electrical process of brain.

    Doesn’t follow at all.

  24. 24
    Mapou says:

    Gaulin @22,

    Look, man. This thread is not about you. It’s about consciousness.

  25. 25
    GaryGaulin says:

    From the article by Michael Graziano:

    As scientists we can ask a series of basic questions. How did the machine arrive at that self-description? What’s the specific, adaptive use of that self-description? What networks in the brain compute that type of information?

    This thread should be about the above. But Mapou and others are as usual throwing stones full of insults at those who ask questions they should be able to answer using their “theory of intelligent design”. Presenting an ID model to show how networks in the brain compute that type of information is almost not allowed, ignored. Only defamatory bully type practices are welcomed.

  26. 26
    Axel says:

    You are right, of cuurse, Mapou : their credulity qua their credence in a putative precedence of matter over mind, beggars, not just belief but the imagination.

    What it does demonstrate is the power and incorrigibility of their will to believe in whatever they wish to be true. It has a parallel in what is called the Gay lobby, though presumably their credo in justification of a sexual orientation would not motivate all materialists. On the other hand, sexual licence was the avowed basis of the agnosticism or atheism of a number of famous, former atheists, such as Aldous Huxley.

  27. 27
    Me_Think says:

    Origenes @ 23

    Incorrect. We necessarily must have some idea. Since we are souls we are incapable of not having intimate knowledge of the soul. What’s more, the fact that we are unable to define consciousness in material terms — force, energy or particle — , as you have pointed out, suggests that we are dealing with a different realm.

    I pointed out souls can’t be defined by force, energy or particle, not consciousness. Consciousness arises due to chemical and electrical activity of the brain. Na and Cl doesn’t have ‘saltiness’. NaCl has saltiness. Would you say Saltiness is the soul or property of NaCl chemistry ?

    Maybe such a model is lacking, however quantum mechanics is suggestive that consciousness does interact with matter.

    It is the machine which monitors and measures the properties of Quantum particles in all Quantum experiments, not the lab technician. Do you think the machine has consciousness?!

    Besides, the situation is even worse. Not only do we not understand the mind, we also have no coherent model of what energy and matter is — particles, waves or both? What is a wave? What is a particle? What keeps them in existence? We have no idea other than theistic ones

    Particles don’t go out of existence? Virtual particles come and go out of existence every millionth of second. Nature and even LHC creates zoo of particles which go out of existence in millionth of seconds. Protons and Neutrons are made of quarks held together by Strong Nuclear Force which is why they exist. Waves and particles are both perturbation in ‘field’.

    Yes, let’s stick to that fact. However, as I have been pointed out (see #11), that fact is perfectly consistent with dualism.

    As explained above using Salt analogy, dualism is not needed to explain consciousness. Chemicals and electrical impulses are enough to explain brain’s consciousness. It is absurd to bring in an entity which can’t be explained in any manner.

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