Consciousness ~=~ self-referentiality' (was Re: Consciousness, New Thinking About

Matt Jones jonesmat at physiology.wisc.edu
Tue Jun 4 11:12:50 EST 2002


Mark Horn <rama at pop3.discovernet.net> wrote in message news:<adi59e$seg$0 at 216.221.130.84>...
> 4-JUN-2002
> 



Mark,


 > I'm not exactly going to disagree, but perhaps a representation of
a
> point omitted would be useful, where I wrote:

<snip much sensible stuff> 


OK, I see better now what you meant. Initially, it seemed that you
were discouraging the whole idea of talking about consciousness at
all, until physics had all been solved. Now I see that you view the
two endeavours as being closely related, and possibly depending
explicitly on each other to reach a single solution (or am I still not
getting your point).

I guess my view is that -ultimately- the two might converge into a
single theory formulated by conscious beings, but in my gut I think
the relation between the two is -so- deep that it is probably the core
of reality (jeez, did I just say that? what a new-age bullshit point
of view for an ostensibly 'rational' scientist to have... ). Thus
since life is short, I think it'll be more satisfying to study the two
-as if- they were semi-independent for the time being.


> ... and maybe the 
> observer defining the observer is an evolutionary event of some note 
> within the quarternary.   

Agreed, but I think it goes back farther than that. Introspection, at
least, has been -the- central part of philosophy for a very long time.
Maybe because philosophy is a sort of formal, communal
codification of 'consciousness' in general. That is, it is the formal
introspection that our species engages in (some of the species
anyway). And if there's anything to the notion of a continuum of
consciousness, then the observer-defining-the-observer thing goes back
a very  long way indeed (maybe not as far as the original rocks,
though).

>But there is still something that appears to 
> me as -too- recursive in contemporary theoretical and empirical 
> approaches to evolutionary psychology and consciousness, and though a 
> quantum-mechanical basis is often presented as a best choice, the wave 
> function of a neuron is still an open research question, because of the 
> hopeless complexity of solving the problem of initial boundary 
> conditions.  So is quantum-mechanical still a best choice?  I really 
> don't know, but I suspect someone will eventually come up with a trick 
> or tool to make reasonable large-scale approximations, of single neurons 
> and even whole brain states, possible.


Brain simulations have come a long way (but still have a long way to
go). I But the talk about explaining consciousness -through- quantum
mechanics really bothers me, despite what I said above. Ultimately,
yeah, the brain is made of wavicles and stuff, and I suppose there
must be some sort of wavefunction description. But who the hell wants
an explanation that's -more- complicated than the actual thing you're
trying to explain. This is like trying to explain a ball rolling down
an inclined plane by solving the wave function of the laboratory. It
isn't necessary to do that if all you want to know is "which way will
the ball go?" Clearly, there are deeper levels at which explanations
-can- be produced, but at some point we'll have explained all the damn
fun out of it, and forgotten that our original question was just
"which way will the will go?" (pun intended)

But forget about that. What -really- bothers me about this "quantum
consciousness" stuff, as it is often promoted in recent popular
literature (-not- scientific literature, in my opinion) is that people
talk about quantum tunneling in
microtubules and in DNA molecules and stuff like that, and say that
these things might be the ultimate source of consciousness. For some
bizarre reason, things that you might normally think of as really
relevant to brain function (as opposed to just being generically
relevant in every organ), like sodium channels and neurotransmitter
receptors, rarely get a mention from the quantum consciousness folks.
I don't know why this is, but maybe it's because the quantum theorists
who foray into brain science are simply more comfortable with
well-studied molecules than with brains.

In contrast to the recent popular quantum consciousness stuff, there's
a fairly well applied body of theory (dating back  at least to
Hopfield and probably a lot farther) that applies the formal
principles of statistical mechanics and nonlinear systems to neural
network function, by using energy functions, attractor states and such
to characterize network performance. This has been pretty successful
in many ways, but doesn't require that you actually think of the
statistical mechanics of individual molecules in the brain. Rather,
you treat whole ensembles of neurons -as if- they were molecules. The
physical formailism is applied at a different ('higher') level than
that which it was originally designed, and works pretty well. You can
pretend the brain acts like a spin-glass, for example, and see what
behavior that predicts, without claiming that the brain -is-
physically a spin-glass (which would be absurd). For some reason the
quantum consciousness school isn't able to restrain themselves to the
same degree.


Cheers,

Matt




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