A Neuroscientist’s Radical Theory of How Networks Become Conscious

#1
An interesting article appeared in fairly mainstream wired.com, Koch is so radical! :P

excerpts from the article:

“The electric charge of an electron doesn’t arise out of more elemental properties. It simply has a charge. Likewise, I argue that we live in a universe of space, time, mass, energy, and consciousness arising out of complex systems.”

In the case of the brain, it’s the whole system that’s conscious, not the individual nerve cells. For any one ecosystem, it’s a question of how richly the individual components, such as the trees in a forest, are integrated within themselves as compared to causal interactions between trees."

"We live in a universe where, for reasons we don’t understand, quantum physics simply is the reigning explanation. With consciousness, it’s ultimately going to be like that. We live in a universe where organized bits of matter give rise to consciousness."

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/11/christof-koch-panpsychism-consciousness/

And just to be complete here is the skeptiko show with Koch:

http://www.skeptiko.com/160-christof-koch-consciousness-and-near-death-experience-research/

Has koch changed his stance somewhat?
 
C

chuck.drake

#2
I'm all for panpsychism, but the bit about feeling different when on or off the internet as evidence that the internet may be conscious? Hmm. I'm pretty sure I would feel different if I was in an entirely blue room. Does that mean blue is conscious?

Wouldn't the internet be the greatest attempt at AI yet? All the data? All the applications? All the robots? And we've never seen any evidence of it doing anything it wasn't programmed to do. It hasn't surprised us.
 
#3
Although such predictions excite the imagination, they are not based on a sound assessment of the complexity of living systems. Such systems are characterized by large numbers of highly heterogeneous components, be they genes, proteins, or cells. These components interact causally in myriad ways across a very large spectrum of space-time, from nanometers to meters and from microseconds to years. A complete understanding of these systems demands that a large fraction of these interactions be experimentally or computationally probed. This is very difficult.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6094/531.summary

This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse -- the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse -- about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years..., even though it is assumed that the underlying technology speeds up by an order of magnitude each year.
By his standards he has his work cut out for himself. Even if the complexity gives rise to consciousness idea was in some way valid. Even if it could be done, I don't think it would answer the question. If we are biological robots then, holy shit! the universe quite by accident produced artificial intelligence through unguided blind evolution! The blind deaf and stupid watchmaker leaves us for dead in engineering and cybernetics. No doubt!

Invoking quantum mechanics does not help his cause either.
 
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#4
Doesn't panpsychism postulate that a form of proto consciousness exists in even the most elemental forms of matter? And that consciousness is a continuum, not some kind of binary switch that goes from 0 to 1 at some threshold?

^loneshaman
Given enough spacetime, a trillion to one chance event happens 9 times out of 10. :p
 
#6
It rather seems that Koch is starting to see the problems with materialism and its standard view of the mind. However, I think he could usefully learn a lot about subjects like ψ - subjects that have only been sidelined because they don't fit in with standard materialism.

David
 
#7
At first he makes a reasonable statement:
Yet the mental is too radically different for it to arise gradually from the physical. This emergence of subjective feelings from physical stuff appears inconceivable and is at odds with a basic precept of physical thinking, the Ur-conservation law—ex nihilo nihil fit. So if there is nothing there in the first place, adding a little bit more won't make something. If a small brain won't be able to feel pain, why should a large brain be able to feel the god-awfulness of a throbbing toothache? Why should adding some neurons give rise to this ineffable feeling? The phenomenal hails from a kingdom other than the physical and is subject to different laws. I see no way for the divide between unconscious and conscious states to be bridged by bigger brains or more complex neurons.
then he becomes illogical
Yet I derive meaning from these images because my memories are heavily cross-linked
The more integrated the system is, the more synergy it has and the more conscious it is
Computers are not going to become conscious through complexity or integration.
 
#9
“The electric charge of an electron doesn’t arise out of more elemental properties. It simply has a charge. Likewise, I argue that we live in a universe of space, time, mass, energy, and consciousness arising out of complex systems.”

We still have no idea where charge comes from. This opening statement is ripe with assumption. Not surprising an academic is mistaking an unknown as an inarguable fact.

"In the case of the brain, it’s the whole system that’s conscious, not the individual nerve cells. For any one ecosystem, it’s a question of how richly the individual components, such as the trees in a forest, are integrated within themselves as compared to causal interactions between trees."

Yes but there are many well integrated, inorganic systems that cycle and couple similar to living systems that are in no way "conscious". It can't all be chalked up to "how richly the individual components...are integrated." Networking is obviously key to how conscious beings come about, but to say its everything is selective and myopic.

"We live in a universe where, for reasons we don’t understand, quantum physics simply is the reigning explanation. With consciousness, it’s ultimately going to be like that. We live in a universe where organized bits of matter give rise to consciousness."

While this is defensible, it requires much qualification. Only for very simple, time reversible closed systems, is quantum physics (and classical mechanics) the "reigning explanation". An overwhelming majority of systems in nature are not time reversible; they are irreversible far from equilibrium open systems. This has been expounded on at length by Ilya Prigogine. So quantum physics by itself, as it pertains to how life arises, is meaningless without reference to non-linearity, dissipative systems, correlations, and irreversibility.
 
#10
  1. Perhaps whenpeople like Koch start talking gibberish, it is a sign that they are starting to confront the fundamental flaw in materialistic consciousness!
David
Emergence does not support spiritualism. It is a property of matter. I don't contradict science by saying that combining 2 moles of hydrogen (bp -252.87 °C) and a mole of oxygen (bp −182.96 °C), gives you water which has boiling point of 100 °C under 1 atmosphere of pressure. The emergent boiling point property that doesn't exist in its constitutes doesn't make science "spiritual" or "fundamentally flawed".

I think it makes the matter even more interesting.

That said, saying "consciousness is an emergent property" isn't a new thing.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=consciousness is an emergent property&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1;,consciousness is an emergent property;,c0

I'm surprised by the amount of traction that article got.
 
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S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#11
Unless one is committed to faith in materialism I can't see why we should take emergence all that seriously.

Nevertheless, I'm tolerant of materialists' religious belief so long as they don't try to get in the way of scientific progress or insist others adopt their paradigm.
 
#12
Interesting. In an act of synchronicity, I just published this on my blog:
Artificial Intelligence is Not Taking Over the World

Here's the gist of what I'm arguing:

The problem of getting a computer to think ultimately comes down to what is referred to as the Hard Problem of Consciousness.

The hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1995) is the problem of explaining the relationship between physical phenomena, such as brain processes, and experience (i.e., phenomenal consciousness, or mental states/events with phenomenal qualities or qualia). Why are physical processes ever accompanied by experience? And why does a given physical process generate the specific experience it does—why an experience of red rather than green, for example?

. . . The hard problem contrasts with so-called easy problems, such as explaining how the brain integrates information, categorizes and discriminates environmental stimuli, or focuses attention. Such phenomena are functionally definable. That is, roughly put, they are definable in terms of what they allow a subject to do. So, for example, if mechanisms that explain how the brain integrates information are discovered, then the first of the easy problems listed would be solved. The same point applies to all other easy problems: they concern specifying mechanisms that explain how functions are performed. For the easy problems, once the relevant mechanisms are well understood, there is little or no explanatory work left to do.

Experience does not seem to fit this explanatory model (though some reductionists argue that, on reflection, it does; see the section on reductionism below). Although experience is associated with a variety of functions, explaining how those functions are performed would still seem to leave important questions unanswered. We would still want to know why their performance is accompanied by experience, and why this or that kind of experience rather than another kind. So, for example, even when we find something that plays the causal role of pain, e.g. something that is caused by nerve stimulation and that causes recoil and avoidance, we can still ask why the particular experience of hurting, as opposed to, say, itching, is associated with that role. Such problems are hard problems.
How does this relate to a self driving car? The human mind has the mother of all shortcuts for dealing with vast amounts of data. Rather than have to learn, store and retrieve the patterns for every conceivable type of road, we only have to learn one thing: the idea of what a road is. What would require a computer to sift through terabytes of information, we accomplish with a single, not terribly complex (for us) idea. Once we have that idea we can not only recognize and navigate any passable road but we can also navigate a car where no road exists (i.e. drive carefully on a relatively flat patch of dirt around a tree that has fallen on the road) because we have an idea of the conditions necessary for driving a car somewhere. An idea of a road encompasses all possible versions, real and imaginary of what a road can be.
 
#13
Emergence does not support spiritualism. It is a property of matter. I don't contradict science by saying that combining 2 moles of hydrogen (bp -252.87 °C) and a mole of oxygen (bp −182.96 °C), gives you water which has boiling point of 100 °C under 1 atmosphere of pressure. The emergent boiling point property that doesn't exist in its constitutes doesn't make science "spiritual" or "fundamentally flawed".
Hey there and welcome. The bp didn't emerge, it was already there in the electronegativity of H and O. Dispersion forces vs Hydrogen bonding in that case. All determined by the electromagnetic force.

Hydrogen bonding conforms to the golden ratio. The harmonic pattern of beauty and existence.
 
#14
Hey there and welcome. The bp didn't emerge, it was already there in the electronegativity of H and O. Dispersion forces vs Hydrogen bonding in that case. All determined by the electromagnetic force.

Hydrogen bonding conforms to the golden ratio. The harmonic pattern of beauty and existence.
Hi, thanks!

Well I'm looking at my phrases that you quoted where I said that the mechanisms that lead to emergence weren't there, can't really find it, sorry.

No comment on the golden ratio part, as I am ignorant on the subject of beautiful bondings that in some way shape or form relate to the cosine of pi/5. Although there are energy minimization algorithms that use what we know about the valence charges that help us determine the relative positions that the atomic particles most probably are at any point of time given a bonded molecule. Really don't know how it relates to pi/5.
 
#15
The most basic problem with hanging your hat on emergence is that it is solely based on consciousness. A material universe does not recognize or acknowledge patterns of any sort. It doesn't "know" what a pattern is no matter how basic. Even something so rudimentary as "three in a row" requires a mind to identify it as such. That's because a pattern is an idea, not a thing. And an idea is solely in the realm of consciousness.
 
#16
The most basic problem with hanging your hat on emergence is that it is solely based on consciousness. A material universe does not recognize or acknowledge patterns of any sort. It doesn't "know" what a pattern is no matter how basic. Even something so rudimentary as "three in a row" requires a mind to identify it as such. That's because a pattern is an idea, not a thing. And an idea is solely in the realm of consciousness.
This is very well stated and so completely obvious I can't believe that so many seemingly intelligent people don't seem to realize it; or if they do, don't really comprehend it or let it sink in too deeply. It's like people always pass over the most basic ideas, because they're just too easy "and I'm too cerebral to consider the rudiments of reality." It's just fucking common sense. With no more than five seconds of honest, uncontaminated clear-thinking, people could save themselves a whole lot of wasted effort and embarassment on the advancement of really dumb ideas. It would piss me off if it didn't amuse so much... "I shan't contemplate my circumstances as a center of consciousness. I must learn, I mustn't ever think."
 
#17
Hi, thanks!

Well I'm looking at my phrases that you quoted where I said that the mechanisms that lead to emergence weren't there, can't really find it, sorry.
That was my point, there is a mechanism. A mechanism implies weak emergence at best. It can be understood by its constituents. No problems there.

No comment on the golden ratio part, as I am ignorant on the subject of beautiful bondings that in some way shape or form relate to the cosine of pi/5. Although there are energy minimization algorithms that use what we know about the valence charges that help us determine the relative positions that the atomic particles most probably are at any point of time given a bonded molecule. Really don't know how it relates to pi/5.
Relatively recent discovery.


http://goldenratiomyth.weebly.com/phi-in-chemistry-and-physics.html
 
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#18
The most basic problem with hanging your hat on emergence is that it is solely based on consciousness. A material universe does not recognize or acknowledge patterns of any sort. It doesn't "know" what a pattern is no matter how basic. Even something so rudimentary as "three in a row" requires a mind to identify it as such. That's because a pattern is an idea, not a thing. And an idea is solely in the realm of consciousness.
Yeah, that is the nub of it. I have to go back to my repitious point on semantics.

There is no way in a physical reality to transfer information without the use of tokens representing things other than themselves. A physical discontinuity between a thing and the thing it represents. This is only ever bridged by consciousness. The fact the physcalist must come to terms with is that the discontinuity is a operational requirement for the input of information.

In the same way a pattern of firing neurons is not the actual thing it represents. It is meaningless without consciousness, so the circular question begging is unavoidable from a purely physical standpoint. As we clearly see in this case. Information is not matter or energy.

All physical sytems transferring information must use patterns that represent things other than themselves. The brain is no exception. That is what it does, that is what we do. And there is no physical connection between the thing and the thing it represents. Conciousness is the only thing that applies meaning, physics does not.

I have been on about this many times, but at least I think I am getting better at describing it.
 
#19
Yeah, that is the nub of it. I have to go back to my repitious point on semantics.

There is no way in a physical reality to transfer information without the use of tokens representing things other than themselves. A physical discontinuity between a thing and the thing it represents. This is only ever bridged by consciousness. The fact the physcalist must come to terms with is that the discontinuity is a operational requirement for the input of information.

In the same way a pattern of firing neurons is not the actual thing it represents. It is meaningless without consciousness, and so in a circular question begging is unavoidable from a purely physical standpoint. Information is not matter or energy.

All physical sytems transferring information must use patterns that represent things other than themselves. The brain is no exception. That is what it does, that is what we do. And there is no physical connection between the thing and the thing it represents. Conciousness is the only thing that applies meaning, physics does not.

I have been on about this many times, but at least I think I am getting better at describing it.
This was a very good description and it does get to the heart of the matter. Thanks for sharing it.
 
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