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Other Aspects of Consciousness:

IMPORTANT: To fully understand aspects of consciousness presented below, you'll have to familiarize yourself with Dichotomized Operating System Model (DOS Model) available on whatismind.com

What is the Purpose of Consciousness?

The purpose of consciousness is to aid decision making process of ongoing interactions in real time by making available only data that may require the power of making judgments, which is done by filtering out unnecessary data (i.e. parts of interactions that are repetitive, condition based or pre-programmed), thereby saving time and energy, resulting into optimizing the outcomes of such interactions (based on optimizing aspect of the evolutionary process).

Are Animals, Machines, etc. Conscious?

Based on the understanding that consciousness exists to aid decision making, it can be derived that as animal and other organisms have the capability of making free will decisions, they have consciousness. As machines of today don't have free will decision making capabilities, one can say with certainty that they do not have consciousness, which is contrary to the common belief that "as consciousness is a subjective experience, it is impossible to objectively know if anything has it".

How can Mechanical Processes Give Rich and Magical Feel Offered by Consciousness?

Richness of Experience: Consciousness is often mistaken for the richness of phenomena it enables. In other words, instead of the fact that consciousness is just the ENABLER of thoughts and various kinds of perceived sensory experiences (and the effects they produce) to reach immediate awareness in order to be considered for intramural communication, it is viewed as consciousness IS all such phenomena (i.e. it is what one is immediately aware of - like the experience of a sunrise), thereby offering rich attributes to it, as explained in the following analogy:

If there is no electricity, one cannot turn on the computer and browse websites on the internet. Even when electricity enables us to browse websites, it does not mean that the nature of such websites, e.g. Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc. is electrical and can be understood by studying electricity.

For the above reasons, the sure way to understand consciousness should not be based on how one "feels" about it, but by understanding mechanisms that are responsible for it, as provided by the DOS model.

Magical Feel: If I pull a dove out of your pocket, the knowledge about how it appeared is not available to you, as it has no logical/causal support. In the same way, knowledge about how consciousness emerges is not available to you, as its logical/causal support is not known to you. When one comes across something that does not have logical/causal support (especially with consciousness, as its information terminates in the DOS, making it private and subjective), either it is classified as a part of nature (like gravity), or magic, which is the reason why many position consciousness as a "fundamental part of the nature/universe" while to others, it seems to be magical.

Where in the Brain is Consciousness Located?

In order to flag information of interactions as conscious, DOS has to determine whether they are new, repetitive, condition based, random or genetically programmed interactions, which it does by filtering them, for which it has to use different locations in the brain that are specialized for such processes. Only information from new interactions is flagged as conscious, which enters the conscious state. There is no one place where it emerges.

How Physical Processes in the Brain Give Rise to Subjective Experiences?

  1. DOS generates consciousness by filtering data, the nature of which is informational
  2. DOS processes such data using electro-chemical processes in the brain, the nature of which is physical (which is similar to information processing on electronic circuit boards in a computer)
  3. Subjective experiences are the outcome of processing data that is flagged as conscious (you do not have subjective experiences when you are not conscious)
  4. Thus, the nature of subjective experiences is informational
  5. This is how physical matter gives rise to subjective experiences

Qualia and Subjective Experiences

Qualia (singular form: quale) is philosopher’s term to refer to the qualitative character of subjective experiences (the way it feels to have mental states such as pain, smelling a rose, etc. - e.g. the experience of redness when seeing a red object.)

Philosophers argue that qualia cannot be identified with or reduced to anything physical, and that any attempted explanation of the world in solely physical terms would leave qualia out. They call it the "hard problem of consciousness".

Below is the first ever explanation of physical basis of qualia, which is based on causation, i.e. which does not solely rely on intuitions, opinions and observations.

Qualia Explained

True to its late 17th century Latin term "quails", which means "of what sort" or "of what kind", the purpose of qualia according to the DOS model is to understand the meaning and nature of the ongoing interaction.

Qualia are the qualitative character of subjective experiences, which are the outcome of interaction processing done by VP (to understand why, go to the next topic). E.g. the "experiencing" of red colour or the pain of a pin prick is the outcome of interaction processing done by VP.

Putting it differently, the redness of, e.g. the color red, is provided by the information generated when a certain wavelength of light is processed by VP (post composition extraction).

"Consciousness is simply the way information feels when it is being processed in certain complex ways" ()

-Physicist Max Tegmark

We use the term red as others, when receiving the same wavelength (as established by common experiences), use the term red.

The reason we need to tag it (red) is that there is no way others can detect what information is being processed by our VP (even by imaging/scanning our brain), just as one cannot detect what information is being processed in a computer circuit board. But then, a computer is designed to provide outcome of its information processing to be displayed to external viewers, whereas DOS (i.e. the brain) has not evolved to provide outcome of VP processing (i.e. subjective experiences) externally (more in next topic), and thus, is not detectable by others.

As we are social beings and possess language, it helps to exchange such knowledge with other people by tagging it with a name. The same is with other senses.

Similarly, higher level subjective experiences and mental states, like hunger, love, dislike, etc. (in fact, anything that is processed by VP, including thoughts) are also of private and informational in nature.

(To understand conscious and unconscious parts of the thought process, click here)

The How and Why of Subjective Experiences

Being the agent responsible for making decisions (more under title Free Will – In Detail), VP processes interactions to aid the decision making process by analyzing content of the ongoing interaction, which it does by searching for matching information from the past data, using which, it derives the meaning and nature of the interaction (how?). Putting it differently, qualia provide us information that is necessary for us to make decisions in order to reach our goals.

As mentioned earlier, your VP is the "self" that distinguishes you from others. It is what you refer to with words like I, me and myself. As VP processes such information internally, the result of such information processing is only available to "it-self", i.e. self ☺ (subjectively).

Because of the same, even when the description about such information processing can be transferred to another person via communication, the outcome of such information processing (responsible for qualia), which is also a form of knowledge, is limited to your brain only and is not available objectively.

Why is it called "The Hard Problem of Consciousness"?

In the absence of information processing approach revealed by the DOS model, and thus, without the knowledge of how, where, why, etc. the knowledge (i.e. qualia - the qualitative content of the experience) is gained in a subjective experience, what baffles scientists and philosophers most is that subjective experience is the only phenomenon known to the mankind where knowledge about it comes in two parts: 1) understanding the description of the experience (which is possible by analogizing with the self), and 2) experiencing it – i.e., gaining the knowledge of the actual experience (i.e. qualia), which is not directly available to others, as subjective experience is limited to the self (as explained in the previous topic) and for each and every person, there is only one existing self, i.e. VP.

Such ontologically unique characteristic coupled with the mystery of how physical properties can give rise to the way things feel when they are experienced leads them to conjecture that consciousness is a fundamental part of the nature like as space, time and energy or is a fundamental interaction like gravitational or electromagnetic interaction, because like them, consciousness does not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions.

"What is it like to be a bat?"

Approaching the qualia problem from a different perspective, philosopher Thomas Nagel in his 1974 paper "What is it like to be a bat?" argued that materialist theories of mind omit the essential component of consciousness, namely that there is something that it feels like to be a particular conscious thing. An organism has conscious mental states, he argued, "if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like FOR the organism"

Though experiencing something and understanding how one experiences it are two different things, following is the explanation of "What is it like to be a bat?" using DOS:

As explained earlier, qualia are of private and informational nature. In other words, the "something it is like" is of private and informational nature.

As human species have evolved in a similar manner, information processing of subjective experiences between humans is similar. Because of the same, though being private, they have an indirect way of understanding (i.e. get an idea of) other people's subjective experiences through analogy, which is by connecting and mapping their CB-ROM data (more here) to their own personal B-ROM (i.e. empathize - which simply is by imagining how they would have felt if they were in that person's place by recalling their own similar earlier subjective experiences).

Bats have evolved differently with different structure and different sensory capabilities. E.g. they use echolocation at night, in which they emit high pitched sound to locate objects in their environment. By the time it takes for the sound to bounce off objects and return to them, their brain processes and determines how far away objects are. Echolocation is very important for a bat in terms of its survival.

As DOS processes sensory information based on 1) structure, 2) type of sensory system and 3) importance of each sense in the terms of survival and reproduction, DOS of each species processes sensory information differently, which is the reason why it is not possible for humans to have any idea of bats’ subjective experiences.

Neuroscience and DOS Model’s Account of Consciousness

If you consider the following observations by leading neuroscientists, you will realize that they are different facets of the full explanation given by the DOS model on causal, and thus, more reliable basis.

  • Francis Crick and Christof Koch’s quest in the 90s to find 'the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), which suggested that "one of the functions of consciousness is to present the result of various underlying computations"
  • Bernard Baars' Global Workspace theory, which explains consciousness in terms of "broadcasting of information for widespread access and use to make it available for report and the flexible control of behavior"
  • Giulio Tononi's integrated information theory of consciousness, which suggests that "consciousness corresponds to the capacity of a system to integrate information, and that integration of information from many sources is an important feature of consciousness"
  • Stanislas Dehaene's signatures of consciousness, which explains consciousness as "information entering into a specific storage area that makes it available to the rest of the brain, and that the flexible dissemination of information is a characteristic property of the conscious state"

Excerpts from the book "Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts" by Stanislas Dehaene

Studying Consciousness

For thousands of years, numerous debates and studies have failed to give proper explanation of what consciousness is and how it works.

One of the main reasons for the same is that for the majority of such period, there was no concept of information processing, out of which consciousness emerges.

Even with the information processing approach, it is not possible to understand consciousness without considering the two core functional components, processing between which is responsible for it to emerge.

The reason it has become one of the main subject of mind and brain studies is that it is either equated to the mind or is often mistaken for the richness of phenomena it enables, thereby attributing rich characteristics to it.

Based on such understanding, it is believed that that once functioning of consciousness is understood in detail, most of the brain functioning will be understood, which is like saying that once we understand in detail how steering wheel, brakes, gears and accelerator work in a car, we will have a good understanding on how the car works.

As consciousness is the outcome of information processing between components of DOS, it is not possible to understand its nature and how it works without considering the DOS model.

Related:
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