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