I've been hugely intrigued byAaron Schurger and colleagues' experiments published as "Cortical activity is more stable
when sensory stimuli are consciously perceived" (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B69EMEm0AvRlaFJQVUh4ejFXWEk/view) These use scans to show show that brain activity related to events which enter consciousness is characterised by a lasting steady-state of local activity, rather than the transient burst of activity where consciousness is not apparent.
Which is nice for me as it rather neatly fits in with my pet Simplified Theory of Consciousness. The full 30-minute read of which is here or the quick and simplified-simplified version of which is .....
Consciousness. Everybody knows what it is. It is the absolutely easiest
thing to understand, because consciousness is simply we ourselves
understanding that we're understanding things. But it is a Hard Problem
to find any way of explaining OUR consciousness to other people in words
they can understand.
Actually, not a just a Hard Problem, but an insoluble problem. Why?
Because the essence of consciousness being that it is internal and
personal means that there isn't really anything outside itself to
compare it with. And, if you can't make a comparison, you can't define a
thing. Judgement is the making of comparisons. Everything has to first
be like something to be known. That's the comparison nature of mind, forced on us by the way our neurones work
All the same, consciousness seems to be important, so it deserves some sort of explanation.
About the only thing you can say of consciousness with any concord is
that it is more than just 'awareness'. A thermostat is aware of the
temperature around it. But our experience of consciousness is set apart
by a certain reverberance - I'm aware that I'm aware, I know that I'm
knowing, I can 'see' that I'm seeing and so on. How does this arise? And
why and when?
Which brings us up against the BIG Problem of Consciousness, the problem
of trying to explain it when any explanation is likely to be clouded by
the assumptions forced on us by consciousness itself - particularity
the assumption that consciousness is frequent or even particularity
important to the bureaucracy of mind.
The Big problem is that the resonating back-on-itself nature of
consciousness means that the only thing we're ever conscious of is
always itself an aspect of consciousness. You'll never find yourself
'just conscious', you're only ever conscious of something.
I'll just have to ask you to suspend judgement for a bit. Sort-of try to
ditch your consciousness of being conscious for a bit. Which isn't
You will know that the brain just a grand system of comparison. Stuff comes in and only
gets accepted if it nicely matches stuff which is already there. If it
doesn't match, the search for a match goes on, smoothing-out the route
for the next time.
So what happens if the
ball-on-a-track doesn't find a match for itself? It just keep going on.
And in going on, it can form a loop where it meets itself. Seeing
itself, so to speak, in its own mirror. This is how consciousness
This, oddly simple, explanation solves a number of puzzles about
consciousness, and leads to a number of conclusions which may, at first,
seem rather strange...
PAUCITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Consciousness, according to the Theory of Comparison, only arises where there is not a
readily available match. If a new input arrives in the neuronal system
which pretty-much exactly matches a thing found before, then the route
will have already been 'smoothed out' for it and a match is quickly
found. No round-and-round searching is needed, so no consciousness
If that seems difficult to comprehend, then try stopping reading for a
moment while you consider precisely how conscious you were about the
shape and size and position of every letter and word. Everyday reading
by an skilled reader gives rose to consciousness only inasmuch ass it
present new stuffs.
Consider the way you can travel a familiar root, perhaps even carrying
out very complex tasks of walking, cycling or driving, with absolutely
no recollection of having done so. Consider the famous
'cheese-in-the-fridge' problem - the piece of Gouda which has puzzlingly
been invisible for a year, until a foul smell or visible fungus calls
it to consciousness.
Consider; typing, playing a musical instrument with skill, catching a ball, lying, opening a packet, picking-up a dropped thing.
Or consider the puzzle of prayer. I don't mean the sort of contemplative
prayer or communal invocation of sympathy or hope which anyone can
rationally join in with. I mean the sort of intercessory prayer where
the supplicant petitions a divine being to alter the course of the
universe. This just doesn't work, so why do so many people think it
does? Especially those who do it a lot, who, you'd have thought, would
have the most experience of it not working.
Do the same thing over and again with the same result and it will soon
cease to create consciousness, so that the occasional rare instance of,
say, a prayer actually matching what does happen becomes the only
occasion you're ever aware of it.
Which similar reason is why a person may be entirely oblivious to the
glorious spectacle of our astonishing planet, and the amazing theatre of
its inhabitants right in front of them, while being highly conscious
of, and even distressed, by, a minor change in the bus timetable.
I like breaking the rules! No you don't. You like breaking just a very
tiny bit of them - enough to make others conscious of your effort.
Only the unusual creates consciousness. A feature extremely difficult to
test, because as soon as you ask about it then you've introduced an
unusual input. So the answer to the question "are you currently
conscious of..." is pretty much always "yes".
THE VALUE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
There is no 'conscious mind' and 'unconscious mind'. There is only
'mind', parts of which occasionally flicker with consciousness. But why?
It is a precious achievement to manage to get yourself into a situation where life is secure.
such a happy circumstance things will tend to be much the same every
day, so very little ever rises into consciousness. But any change in the
world around - bringing a new set of inputs to the brain - may likely
represent a danger. Inputs from such possible risks can't find a
straightforward match - they have to do a lot of whizzing around the
brain, and in the process give rise to instances of consciousness.
We have big brains, each, hopefully, with a lot of the old stuff we
call 'experience' ready and waiting to be found to match new situations.
Consciousness is a bit of the procedure of finding out how to cope with
It has always seemed obvious that consciousness is something to do
with choosing, but never been quite clear what. By the ToC Model,
consciousness is neither the absolute cause nor the effect of human
decision making. Rather, it is a part of the decision-making process.
Which is great for human adaptation. But terribly depressing for
news and gossip, where we discover that the things which get attention
do indeed tend to be the dismal and dangerous ones. 'Everything is just
normal' isn't noticed, and doesn't make a headline. "No one" as Lord
Russell put it, "gossips about other people's secret virtues."
Troublesome, too, for management and administrations where both the
everyday ordinariness of the excellent, and the true crap of 'we've
always done it that way', can both get forgotten alongside the glow of
the new thing.
Consciousness-free Zombies, were they to exist, would behave normally, but have great difficulty adapting to new situations.