A Conversation for Some Modern Theories of Consciousness

A-Dialogic-CONVERSATION ON: Some Modern Theories of Consciousness

Post 1




1 - - Guide-ID: A3005001 (Edited), Created: 7th December 2004, Written and Researched by: DrMatt, Edited by: quizzical, has the following text:

2 - - "When we talk about consciousness, what do we have to explain?
Concerning what philosopher David Chalmers calls the 'easy' questions, we have to explain how light waves passing in through our eyes onto a two-dimensional surface (the retina) can be turned into three-dimensional images that we can manipulate in our 'mind's eye.' Or how it is that, despite the huge amount of input coming in through our five senses, we can concentrate on one thing at a time?"

CONVERSATION-1 ON: Some Modern Theories of Consciousness

1 - - "Consider an image."

- - "What image?"

2 - - "Any image. Take that one there."

- - "You mean that comely girl over there? The one coming toward us now?"

3 - - "Alright, take her."

- - "I wish I could. She's rather lovely. Her sweater hugs her nicely. Ooops. Look. She dropped something. She's stooping to recover it. Ah, what a lovely way she moves. She has it. Has it in her hand. Now she's moving toward us once again. Shall we go to meet her?"

4 - - "We can't."

- - "Why can't we?"

5 - - "She's just an image."

- - "Just an image? I don't know what you mean by that. I see her there. Quite clearly, too. Light blue sweater and very light brown hair. Oh, look, the sunlight makes her hair burn auburn when she turns her head. Her dress flows nicely in the breeze. Just an image you say? I'm sure I don't know what you mean by that."

6 - - "I mean the image of that object has entered through your eyes and met your brain."

- - "I wish you wouldn't call that sweet young lass an object."

7 - - "Listen to me. Your brain tussles with the image, tears it apart, and analyzes all the pieces."

- - "Nice metaphor. "Tussles". I think I like it."

8 - - "Shut up and listen. The image stimulates an immediate response in your brain."

- - "I should say so."

9 - - "Shut up. Listen. There are separate and distinct nerve cell groupings in your brain. They work independently of each other. They divide the image of that moving object..."

- - "Of that girl. Please. Please call her what she is."

10 - - "Alright. The image of 'her' is divided into separate parts."

- - " 'Parts'? What 'parts'? I know what 'parts' I'd like to work on."

11 - - "The 'parts' that make up the image, fool. The edges of her. The rounded contours of her form. The contrasts between the light and the dark shadows that are the texture of her. The colors of her. The blues and the reds and the orange flowers in her hand."

- - "That's it. I was wondering what it was she picked up. She hadn't dropped anything at all. She was picking a flower form the earth."

12 - - "Please. Shut up and listen. All these unified features that are the image of her, are separated by your brain to be worked on independently."

- - "How on earth do you know this when I do not?"

13 - - "Research. Elemental research has proved it."

- - "Not to me it hasn't. I don't see how you could prove that."

14 - - "Look at the flower. If you had it in your hand and breathed the odor of it, one part of your brain would pleasure in it. If you could touch its orange petals, another part of your brain would feel the contact. If you kissed them with the tip of your tongue, still another portion of brain matter would register the taste of it. If you dropped it, another corner of your brain would catch the sound of it as it is crushed under the anger of some passing stranger's foot. If you picked the pieces up again and looked at them, the vision in your hand would climb into still another part of your brain."

- - "But that's so humdrum. The five senses. Right? So what? I don't see what that proves at all. I knew all that already."

15 - - "But each of those five senses is achieved by very large groupings of nerve cells. And those nervecell sets subdivide further and further into smaller and smaller cadres. Within the nervecell set that does the job of tasting, different groups of them will awake dependent on the characteristics of the taste."

- - "And the others?"

16 - - "The others sleep. The five pieces of your brain that..."

- - "Hey. I've been listening to you two. Maybe I can help you stumble on to some truth."

- - "How do you do?"

17 - - "Yeah. Please do."

- - "You should think of it this way. The brain is born bearing a vast horde of embryonic neurons. Each neuron is a potential soldier. Thousands of these single neurons connect to each other, hold hands as it were, and form work Squads. The Squads meet other Squads and become Platoons. Each Platoon interconnects with other Platoons to form Companies. The Companies move into lockstep with other Companies to become Battalions. the Battalions extend their perimeters to plant communication links with other Battalions and so become Brigades. The Brigades become Divisions. The Divisions become Armies. And the Armies then march off in search of conquests in the external world."

18 - - "I like that. I think I do. It sounds so military."

- - "And what do they do? What do these soldiers do when they make war?"

- - "They don't make war. They just joust. And they gather pieces of information and hold them in their knapsack. And when they are called upon by the leader neurons, they tremble and throw that information into the totality of thought."

19 - - "So there you have it. Doesn't he? When you touch the flower, one army in your brain handles that sensation."

- - "And which division or which brigade or which battalion or which company or which particular platoon within that vast army handles the work of feeling that sensation will depend on the characteristics of the contact."

- - "And those characteristics are the pressure with which the touching is done, the type of skin sensation it causes, the motion of the petal touched or your own in touching it."

20 - - "There are hard-pressure platoons and fast-motion brigades and cold battalions and hot divisions."

- - "I like that."

- - "I think I like it too. I'm sure I like it. It's all so really military. Regimentation is so tasteful to the human psyche. Is it not?"

21 - - "We do like a place for everything and for everything a proper place."

- - "So consider the image of her. An army of neurons set themselves to work upon it. One or more brain cell sets react to the perceived colors she projects. Others are activated by her motion toward you or away from you. Others see her climbing a mountain trail. Others see her descending a stairway. Still others perceive the speed with which she moves. Even others, still as different and distinct as moon from sun, take up the contrasts between light and dark that reveal or obscure her"

22 - - "Yes. He's right. The image of her breaks apart the moment it enters your eyes."

- - "I can understand that. But I do not see it. I can attend to the color of rouge upon her face, but it is her face I see. I can concentrate on the edges of her form, but it is the suppleness of her I see."

- - "Bonding is the problem."

23 - - "Yes. The binding problem."

- - "Yes. He has hit the dilemma we encounter in all our research labs."

- - "We can reduce the image of her to its constituent parts. We can watch as his brain does that mathematical destruction of reality into discrete components of electrical energy."

24 - - "Yes. But what we cannot explain to him. or even to ourselves, is how his brain recombines it all and reconstructs that outer reality into an inner representation."

- - "Yes. That is the problem. How does the brain create the image of her from the reality of her?"

- - "Yes. The binding problem. Tell me have you ever seen that girl before?"

25 - - "Oh yes. I see her every day. She takes the same route every morning."

- - "And when you first saw her this morning, did you think of other mornings? Mornings when you saw her as you see her now."

- - "Of course. I always do."

26 - - "There. You see? Another facet of the binding problem."

- - "Yes. It's an enigma. We can say the brain breaks down the outer reality fed into it by the external world but we cannot say how it recombines all the pieces back again."

- - "An enigma is what it is. All our visual perception research finds the brain first breaks down the elements of an image into components. The components are then separately processed. Through a division of mental labors, the visual scene is parsed and parceled out to be analyzed by separate brain cell cadres."

27 - - "Yes. But that's the easy part. Now we must throw a twelve the hard way. The disaggregated elements of that image must now move upward again from the individual neurons through higher and higher regions of the cortex."

- - "Yes. And memories of past experience with that image, or with related ones, must be called upon to provide an emotional context for the image."

- - "Finally it reaches the what?"

28 - - "We do not know where or what the what is?"

- - "But we know it must be there."

- - "It is there where the image becomes a complete concept. An inner reality that represents the outer reality."

29 - - "Yes. There is where she becomes a unique and matchless form. She moves in there. She has a fragrance. She makes her self known by the emission of sweet sounds. She is tangible and can be touched. And she has a function. To be herself. To be real."

- - "Yes. But how and where are all the disaggregated elements of her image reconstituted and recombined for the conscious brain?"

- - "Yes. This is the binding enigma."

30 - - "What on earth are you two talking about?"


A-Dialogic-CONVERSATION ON: Some Modern Theories of Consciousness

Post 2


Very nice, this illustrates the difficulty we have in explaining the rich varieties of experience based on seemingly prosaic neurons. Thanks! I've been meaning to update this to make it a little less rambling and a bit more focused, but it'll be a big job, so I may just keep procrastinating...


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A-Dialogic-CONVERSATION ON: Some Modern Theories of Consciousness

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