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Author Topic: Quantifying Consciousness  (Read 13966 times)

Offline Ahmad Soomro

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Quantifying Consciousness
« on: 01/01/2014 04:54:09 »
Someone asked me:

If consciousness is not generated by the physical brain, but instead exists somewhere else and somehow is linked to the brain, shouldn’t there be some kind of evidence that can be quantified (assuming there is no ‘supernatural’ magic at work or anything). What are your thoughts?

So I posted my response on my blog:
newbielink:http://ahmadsoomro.com/asking-ahmad-1-quantifying-consciousness/ [nonactive]

Check it out, subscribe to my newsletter, and let me know what you have to say!

Happy New Year!
Ahmad Soomro


 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #1 on: 01/01/2014 11:40:53 »
Define consciousness, and I'll be happy to join in the discussion.
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #2 on: 01/01/2014 15:16:16 »
Someone asked me:

If consciousness is not generated by the physical brain, but instead exists somewhere else

Baloney!!

What intelligent reasonable person would suggest that consciousness originates anywhere but in the brain?

Maybe it originates across town, or maybe on Alpha Centauri? Anywhere but the logical place, go figure????????

The Don Quixote virus is becoming epidemic!
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #3 on: 01/01/2014 20:39:50 »
It is an interesting question even without the non-local consciousness aspect. There's brain imaging that measures the the consumption of glucose or oxygen, or rate of blood flow in the brain. There's EEG that looks at electrical activity from nerve transmission. But one problem is that researchers found that the brain works harder and uses more oxygen or glucose when it's struggling with a problem than when it can solve it easily. So I don't know how you could measure the quality of operations or the depth or complexity of thinking - kind of like not being able to tell from the odometer or speedometer  how far or fast a car has moved, or if it's just been spinning its wheels in a snowbank.

One of the most interesting ways of eaves dropping on the brain is comparing the location of activity to brain maps and reconstructing thoughts based on computer data banks. This is a cool website. I think it's impressive how closely they managed to match some of the original images that the person was looking at with what was in a computer's data bank. And it also seems important that the accuracy increased when they combined both visual mapping and semantic brain mapping.

http://gallantlab.org/
« Last Edit: 01/01/2014 20:41:38 by cheryl j »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #4 on: 01/01/2014 20:40:26 »
So I posted my response on my blog:
http://ahmadsoomro.com/asking-ahmad-1-quantifying-consciousness/

Light gray text on a white background is hard to read - most people won't bother trying to read your blog as a result.


What intelligent reasonable person would suggest that consciousness originates anywhere but in the brain?

It easily could. This universe could be virtual and we could be outside of it but wired into it in some way. If that's the case though, how far can we explore the functionality of the brain while the virtual world continues to show us something that appears to provide that functionality while not actually doing so? That would be a fun thing to program, and it may be that someone has done exactly that.
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #5 on: 01/01/2014 21:56:04 »
This universe could be virtual and we could be outside of it but wired into it in some way. If that's the case though, how far can we explore the functionality of the brain while the virtual world continues to show us something that appears to provide that functionality while not actually doing so?
While only containing two letters, the word IF is still one of the largest in our vocabulary. My dad always used to say; "IF a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his behind parts on the ground when he hopped.

This is why we have to examine the feasibility of our search and the possible fruits we may obtain thru it's endeavor. I doubt seriously that we'll be garnering any useful information about an intelligent consciousness that resides beyond our useful control.

You seem to suggest that we may be living in a Matrix of sorts. May I suggest to you that science deals with evidence we can measure. Until evidence for this spooky Matrix world view is found, I suggest we're wasting our time speculating about any such mythical theatrics.

« Last Edit: 01/01/2014 21:58:31 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #6 on: 02/01/2014 19:53:24 »
This universe could be virtual and we could be outside of it but wired into it in some way. If that's the case though, how far can we explore the functionality of the brain while the virtual world continues to show us something that appears to provide that functionality while not actually doing so?
While only containing two letters, the word IF is still one of the largest in our vocabulary. My dad always used to say; "IF a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his behind parts on the ground when he hopped.

If you're trying to work out how things are, "if" has a major role to play. If you want to ignore that, you may not explore the right paths.

Quote
This is why we have to examine the feasibility of our search and the possible fruits we may obtain thru it's endeavor. I doubt seriously that we'll be garnering any useful information about an intelligent consciousness that resides beyond our useful control.

If you restrict yourself to analysing what a potentially-virtual world allows you to see, you may be blinding yourself to the very thing you want to know about. The reason it's particularly worth considering the possibility that the universe is virtual is that it encourages us to try to work out how consciousness might work in principle in addition to trying to follow the mechanisms which we can barely get a handle on within the brain.

Quote
You seem to suggest that we may be living in a Matrix of sorts. May I suggest to you that science deals with evidence we can measure. Until evidence for this spooky Matrix world view is found, I suggest we're wasting our time speculating about any such mythical theatrics.

It is quite possible that the stars burned out long ago and we're now living in impoverished places from which we escape into virtual worlds which recreate what the universe has lost. I'm suggesting that you should keep your eyes open to both possibilities, which is quite different from the other two positions you can take on this where you open your eyes only to one of them and risk missing the truth.
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #7 on: 02/01/2014 21:40:40 »


If you're trying to work out how things are, "if" has a major role to play. If you want to ignore that, you may not explore the right paths.

The right path is the scientific method David and not just a bunch of speculative if's. I'm not as interested in the if's as I am in the why's and the how's.

We can choose to waste our time with constant metaphysical speculation or, we can look for measurable evidence. I choose to use the scientific method, you're free to waste your time if you so choose.
« Last Edit: 02/01/2014 22:23:19 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #8 on: 02/01/2014 22:17:33 »
I was reading an article called "A Computational Model of Machine Consciousness." And what impressed me about it was, without really insisting that it was possible or that they were going to do it, the authors just said, if one were to try to build a conscious machine, what would it look like? What would be required?

That is a kind of open ended speculation that I admire.

Here's the abstract and the link if any one is interested.
"
Despite many efforts, there are no computational models of consciousness that can be used to design conscious intelligent machines. This is mainly attributed to available definitions of consciousness being human centered, vague, and incomplete. Through a biological analysis of consciousness and concept of machine intelligence, we propose a physical definition of consciousness with the hope to model it in intelligent machines. We propose a computational model of consciousness driven by competing motivations, goals, and attention switching. We propose a concept of mental saccades that is useful for explaining the attention switching and focusing mechanism from computational perspective. Finally, we compare our model with other computational models of consciousness.
"

http://www.ohio.edu/people/starzykj/network../research/Papers/A%20Computational%20Model%20of%20Machine%20Consciousness.pdf

Even if it turns out to be impossible to generate consciousness in this way, working through the problem, or simulating consciousness, might still reveal other valuable insights into problem solving in machines and brains.
« Last Edit: 02/01/2014 22:23:19 by cheryl j »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #9 on: 03/01/2014 00:02:17 »
A disappointing paper, alas. After wandering into a multiplicity of divergent alleyways it seems to settle on the essence of consciousness being a flexible, multivariate approach to optimisation. Hardly exciting, and to a considerable extent contradicting some of the examples the authors give of non-conscious systems.   

Bu 5/10 for trying, at least, to define what they are talking about, which puts them way ahead of the rest of the field.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #10 on: 03/01/2014 01:28:55 »

A disappointing paper, alas. After wandering into a multiplicity of divergent alleyways it seems to settle on the essence of consciousness being a flexible, multivariate approach to optimisation. Hardly exciting, and to a considerable extent contradicting some of the examples the authors give of non-conscious systems.   

Bu 5/10 for trying, at least, to define what they are talking about, which puts them way ahead of the rest of the field.

Yes, I agree, it wasn't an Earth shaking paper, but I admired their gutsy, Brave Little Toaster approach to a daunting question.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #11 on: 03/01/2014 02:07:57 »
BRAIN METRICS Dr. Giulio Tononi wants to build a “consciousness meter.”

His working definition:"Consciousness, Dr. Tononi says, is nothing more than integrated information."

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21consciousness.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #12 on: 03/01/2014 21:00:53 »


If you're trying to work out how things are, "if" has a major role to play. If you want to ignore that, you may not explore the right paths.

The right path is the scientific method David and not just a bunch of speculative if's. I'm not as interested in the if's as I am in the why's and the how's.

The scientific method does not tell you to reject any of the "if"s on a whim. You should not be rejecting any of them until they are disproved. You can certainly prioratise them in order of likeliness, but this particular "if" is hard to put a probability value on. You may have noticed that computer games are very popular and people want them to feel more and more real. That means that we will almost certainly in the future redesign ourselves in such a way that we can plug our minds into virtual worlds and be unable to tell they are not real. We will also extend our lifespans to thousands of years, maybe tens of thousands or much more, at which point the biggest danger to your life is accidents, but these can be avoided by living in virtual worlds which can be made to feel 100% real and which can also be made more fun than the real world. We may already be in such a virtual world, playing games that can last a hundred years or more. Trying to do science with the fake data presented to us showing the supposed workings of our mind would be very stupid science indeed, so we should not have a religious belief in what we observe there being the truth.

Quote
We can choose to waste our time with constant metaphysical speculation or, we can look for measurable evidence. I choose to use the scientific method, you're free to waste your time if you so choose.

I'm not wasting any time by keeping the door open to this possibility, but you could be missing the truth by rejecting it on false grounds.
« Last Edit: 03/01/2014 21:32:10 by David Cooper »
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #13 on: 03/01/2014 22:02:54 »


The scientific method does not tell you to reject any of the "if"s on a whim. You should not be rejecting any of them until they are disproved.

The scientific method:

1. Define a question.
2. Gather information and resources (observation)
3. Form an explanatory hypothesis
4. Test the hypothesis by preforming experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
5. Analyze the data
6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions
7. Publish the results
8. Retest (frequently by other scientists)

We should all question just how far down this list we have gotten following mystical assertions.

The author of this thread starts with this question: "If consciousness is not generated by the physical brain"

1. Define a question  ...........................................(check)

2. Gather information and resources (observations)..(can't check this one)

Where are the observations suggesting consciousness originates elsewhere?   

3. Form an explanatory hypothesis..........................(can't check this one either)

Without those suggestions, this research has reached as far as the scientific method allows us to go!!
« Last Edit: 03/01/2014 22:20:52 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #14 on: 03/01/2014 23:49:35 »
2. Gather information and resources (observations)..(can't check this one)

What's the problem there? You can investigate your own consciousness even if it leads you beyond the brain and right out of the universe - you just have to feel it.

Quote
Where are the observations suggesting consciousness originates elsewhere?

The inability to pin down anywhere that it occurs in the brain other than by waving at the whole thing and saying "it's there, somewhere".

Quote
3. Form an explanatory hypothesis..........................(can't check this one either)

Consciousness resides outside the universe and the universe is virtual.

Quote
Without those suggestions, this research has reached as far as the scientific method allows us to go!!

No it hasn't - we're still free to explore step 3, thinking up theoretical ways in which sentience can be usefully integrated with an information system, and if anyone ever comes up with a viable model for that, however exotic that model may be, we can then search for ways to test it by looking for the points of interaction.

You can argue that it isn't much use if you get stuck at step 3 and never come up with an explanatory hypothesis beyond suggesting that the mechanism is elsewhere, but that's no different from getting stuck at step 3 and never coming up with an explanatory hypotheses beyond suggesting that the mechanism is in the brain - thus far no one has ever come up with any genuinely-explanatory hypothesis at all, because no attempted account of it can produce any kind of model showing how any aspect of consciousness can be made to serve as a functional part of the system in any way that enables consciousness to be recognised by the system.

We're all stuck at the same point and it would be a mistake to try to shut down anyone else's exotic explorations because they might just be lucky enough to trip over some kind of theoretical mechanism that unlocks the puzzle. In this particular field, what we're actually seeing is a lot of work which is pointing to consciousness being a wholly fake phenomenon with a lot of deluded people trying to shoehorn it in regardless just because they already believe in it and don't want to give up that belief. The complexities of the brain are so horrific that it may be many decades or even centuries before we can get a handle on the mechanism by which the reports of phenomena relating to consciousness are generated by the brain in order to test whether they are actually real or nothing more than fabrications. For this reason, faster progress is more likely to be made by having more people investigate step 3 by attempting to create theoretical models which might unlock mechanims by which consciousness could occur without being shackled in their thinking by what they know of current physics. What we need is a model, any model, that can show a useful cause-and-effect role for consciousness in a system where the existence of that consciousness can also be recognised by the system. We don't have one of those at all at the moment and trying to shut people's minds down is not at all helpful.
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #15 on: 04/01/2014 00:43:40 »
What we need is a model, any model, that can show a useful cause-and-effect role for consciousness in a system where the existence of that consciousness can also be recognised by the system. We don't have one of those at all at the moment and trying to shut people's minds down is not at all helpful.
The author of this thread made the statement; "If consciousness is not generated by the physical brain"

To follow the scientific method, the author is responsible to provide for us the alternative he suggests may exist. I challenge him to suggest exactly where he thinks consciousness is generated if not in the brain. And BTW, don't accuse me of trying to shut it down, it is the scientific method that has established the criteria. And it will be the author of this thread that causes the shut down if he fails to produce what the scientific method demands.


Don't get upset when a scientist reminds you that your vision can't proceed past the 3rd step. Science needs evidence to move beyond that mark, and the 3rd step is where this argument will stay until the author of this thread tells us where he thinks consciousness is generated if not in the brain.

So I repeat: "Where are the observations that suggest consciousness originates elsewhere?"

Enough said! 
« Last Edit: 04/01/2014 02:51:12 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #16 on: 04/01/2014 15:52:33 »
It might still be an interesting question to ask if "If X is a simulation, how could we tell?" In what way could Truman detect the Truman show if he tried hard enough to find out. Whatever it is that makes a simulation slightly different from the real thing would seem to be very significant, in the same way whatever makes a computer model of consciousness different from the real thing is important, although, I suppose, they could turn out eventually to both generate consciousness and mainly be different in materials or how they do it.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #17 on: 05/01/2014 00:09:22 »
So I repeat: "Where are the observations that suggest consciousness originates elsewhere?"

Enough said! 

It isn't all about observations. It's about the lack of room for consciousness to exist in the brain. It isn't clear that it's any easier for it to exist outside of the brain, but once you've ruled out the possibility of it existing inside the brain you have to look somewhere else.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #18 on: 05/01/2014 01:26:50 »
OK, we now have three very intelligent people discussing how to measure something. Would any of you care to define what it is you are trying to measure? A functional definition will suffice for a start, as in "consciousness is that which....." 
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #19 on: 05/01/2014 16:13:53 »

It isn't all about observations.
OK everybody, put your blindfolds on, stuff cotton in your ears, and disregard everything your senses are telling you about reality.
Quote from: David Cooper
It's about the lack of room for consciousness to exist in the brain.
Mr. Cooper; I'm frankly quite content with the storage ability we  presently operate with, have you considered adding on?

Science has estimated that we only use a small fraction of or mental capacity,  should be plenty of room left up there for storage.
« Last Edit: 05/01/2014 16:38:42 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #20 on: 05/01/2014 16:17:24 »
OK, we now have three very intelligent people discussing how to measure something. Would any of you care to define what it is you are trying to measure? A functional definition will suffice for a start, as in "consciousness is that which....."
Consciousness is that which: "establishes the communion between the self to it's environment."

Consider the word; "Myself"

This is a compound word consisting of two words; My and self. The "My" establishes ownership of the following word "self". To understand the significance of this union, one needs to grasp the notion that the "My" refers to the physical attributes of one's existence and the "self" extends to the ethereal portion of this alliance between body and mind.

There is no absolute evidence that this alliance exists without both participants being involved. Until that evidence surfaces, we can only speculate, and speculation is not science.
« Last Edit: 05/01/2014 17:03:36 by Ethos_ »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #21 on: 05/01/2014 17:24:53 »
Quote
that which: "establishes the communion between the self to it's environment."
is the nervous system and its associated sensors.

My self (every object and process within this body) is simply a distinction between the speaker, your self, and themselves. Bees may not grasp the significance of individual spatial boundaries but intelligent humans certainly do.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #22 on: 05/01/2014 22:04:51 »
The trouble is that a zombie can do all this stuff thinking about "self" without having any consciousness or actual self at all. The key aspect of consciousness is sentience - without sentience you have a zombie and no self. Sentience depends on something being in existence which experiences qualia, and that thing is a soul - not the kind of bloated soul that religious people bang on about (with the magical ability to retain memories after the data store has been destroyed and the magical ability to think after the thinking mechanisms of the brain have been destroyed), but I mean a minimal soul as in something which is capable of experiencing qualia: the "I" in the machine, the thing that can be tortured and which therefore requires the invention of morality to protect it from harm. If your scientific model has no room for a soul of this kind in the brain, then consciousness can only occur if it is located somewhere outside the brain. Theories of consciousness which have qualia experienced in something that emerges out of complexity where the sufferer has no actual substance are not viable - you cannot make something suffer if it doesn't really exist but merely emerges into some kind of "existence" by magic. That is why it seems so rational to look for consciousness outside of the brain, but it is also still rational to look for it inside the brain, just so long as you're prepared to look for something that's actually capable of being tortured. If we are just machines like the computer you're using to read these words, you have no sentience (and therefore no consciousness) - no matter how you program it, you cannot make a computer suffer and it is pointless to torture it in the hope that it will feel anything. Every aspect of consciousness is tied up with feeling - you feel sensations, you feel as if you exist, you feel as if you understand things (even when the substance of the thought has slipped away and it's left empty). Sentience is the issue and the sentient thing, if there is one in us, is the self.
 

Offline Ethos_

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #23 on: 05/01/2014 23:49:50 »
If your scientific model has no room for a soul of this kind in the brain, then consciousness can only occur if it is located somewhere outside the brain.
I never said there was no room inside the brain for what you term as the soul. So that leaves us with the question I already asked you: "if not in the brain, where would you suggest we find this so-called "soul"?

Quote from: David Cooper
That is why it seems so rational to look for consciousness outside of the brain, but it is also still rational to look for it inside the brain, just so long as you're prepared to look for something that's actually capable of being tortured.

I do not agree that it is rational to find consciousness outside of the brain. But as you have conceded, "it is also still rational to look for it inside the brain".

This has been my issue with this whole argument from the outset. You seemed to insinuate that there wasn't room in the brain for the fullness of consciousness. And one or two others here have tried to imply that this consciousness lives on even when the physical brain has died. And the point about Zombies gives no support for that notion either, because being a Zombie doesn't eliminate the brain which is still alive even though it's in a Zombie's head. And don't start bringing up near death experiences as evidence for the survival of the consciousness. They call it NEAR death for a good reason.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
« Reply #24 on: 06/01/2014 00:04:03 »
A few people do not feel pain. This is sometimes caused by a rare genetic anomaly leading to a hardware fault in which some or all pain sensors just do not communicate with the brain. Such people are immune to most physical torture but the more common presentation is extreme loss of form or function due to a broken bone and the statement "I didn't realise anything was wrong until I tried to stand up".  I was shown such a case a couple of years ago in a medical research ethics committee, with the question "The proposed experiment would cause extreme pain in a normal subject but not to Ms X. Is it ethically acceptable to do it to Ms X?" 

Aside from the ethical conundrum (which actually resolved around informed consent to the permanent risk), are you asserting that Ms X did not have a soul?

Psychological torture is if anything even more mechanistic since it relies either on sleep deprivation or suchlike, or on the frustration of expectations.
 

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Re: Quantifying Consciousness
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