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VII. Our Earthuman Moment: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

4. Conscious Integrated Information Knowledge

    Since the 17th centuryCartesian divorce of mind from body, human consciousness has been set aside as a spurious epiphenomenon. But into the 21st century, by way of novel advances in philosophies of mind and neuroscience, mindful awareness is now legitimate subject for research projects. As this section reports, many studies, writings and conferences have built up a valid basis. In regard the image is from an international conference held at the University of Arizona. A current example would be the Models of Consciousness meeting held at Oxford University in September 2019.

 
     

Circa 2010, Giulio Tononi, Larissa Albantakis, Christoph Koch, Bernard Baars, Tim Palmer and others have engaged theoretical and experimental reasons that have since given knowing consciousness a physical essence. (An Intrinsic Consciousness has more about how a natural ecosmic source is evident.) The Integrated Information phrase was added to the title to represent this popular mathematic explanation for how our daily noosphere arises by way of a parallel, episodic reinforcement of complexity and consciousness. In a broad view this tandem interaction graces both our own senses, and distinguishes an evolutionary ascent to our worldwide moment. Another main model is known as the Global Workspace Theory whence thoughts are collected so as to enter aware notice.

2020: For this bidecadal review, a definitive progress from fleeting, sideline glimpses to knowledgable senticence accepted as a respectable international endeavor is well in place. By a 2020 revolution, a natural genesis comes alive and personal. A once and future sense of an actual ecosmic consciousness which finds its self-recognition in phenomenal human beings is at last affirmed.

Chalmers, David. Constructing the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Dehaene, Stanislas. Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. New York: Viking, 2014.

Esteban, Francisco, et al. Informational Structures: A Dynamical System Approach for Integrated Information. PLoS Computational Biology. September, 2018.

Feinberg, Todd and Jon Mallatt. The Evolutionary and Genetic Origins of Consciousness in the Cambrian Period Over 500 Million Years Ago. Frontiers in Psychology. 4/667, 2013.

Ginsburg, Simona and Eva Jablonka. The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul: Learning and the Origins of Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019.

Mashour, George, et al. Conscious Processing and the Global Neuronal Workspace Hypothesis. Neuron. 105/5, 2020.

Mateos, D. M., et al. Consciousness as a Global Property of Brain Dynamic Activity. arXiv:1710.08384.

Palmer, Tim. Human Creativity and Consciousness. arXiv:2002.03738.

Popiel, Nicholas, et al. The Emergence of Integrated Information, Complexity, and “Consciousness” at Criticality. Entropy. 22/3, 2020.

Tononi, Giulio. Consciousness as Integrated Information. Biological Bulletin. 215/3, 2008.

Tononi, Giulio and Christof Koch. Consciousness: Here, There but Not Everywhere. arXiv:1405.7089.

Models of Consciousness Conference. models-of-consciousness.org. A site for a September 2019 meeting at Oxford University on formal approaches to the mind-matter relation. A full book of Abstracts is available here. As the Summary says, it has become evident that studies of human sentience have gained a valid, brain-based, mathematic trace and credibility so they should rightly be a subject for academic erudition. A premier cadre such as Roger Penrose, Adam Barrett, Adrian Kent, Ian Durham, Peter Grindrod, and Tim Palmer (search for paper review) out of 37 presenters covered across a wide expanse. A leading topic and basis was Integrated Information Theory, see W. Marshall below, along with statistical physics, quantum phenomena, cognitive aspects and more.

Consciousness and its place in nature has been a great mystery for human beings and has been the focus of philosophical and religious investigations for millennia. Lately the subject has generated a worldwide interest among mathematicians, physicists, and others who aim to translate the results of quantifiable investigations into forma models. To date, a good part of this work has been pursued in isolation and outside of the academic mainstream. The aim of this conference is to begin to foster broad collaborations and the exchange of ideas between diverse researchers and theories. (Summary)

Integrated Information Theory: From Phenomenal to Physical: The dominant approach in consciousness science is to identify the neural activity which correlates with specific experiences. However, many have argued that its subjective nature makes it difficult to do this. Integrated information theory takes a different approach, starting from consciousness itself to identify essential properties, and then postulate what sort of physical substrate could support it. (William Marshall, Brock University, UK)

Ananthaswamy, Anil. Brain Chat. New Scientist. March 20, 2010. A report on the growing verification of Bernard Baars’ and colleagues such as Stanislas Dehaene’s theory of a “global workspace” whereof if enough neurons distributed across disparate cerebral regions enjoin and “talk” to each other in unison, then out pops consciousness.

Aru, Jaan, et al. Cellular Mechanisms of Conscious Processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. September, 2020. By virtue of the latest theories and techniques, Humboldt University of Berlin neurobiologists advance ways that human awareness can be associated with and seen to arise from intrinsic, complex neuronal properties and interactivities. Might one imagine a quickening ecosmos is stirring and awakening into its own perceptive sentience?

Recent breakthroughs in neurobiology can help us understand how cellular-level mechanisms are related to conscious experience. Here, we study the biophysical properties of pyramidal cells which allow them to act as gates that control the evolution of global activation patterns. In conscious states, this cellular mechanism enables complex sustained dynamics within the thalamocortical system, whereas during unconscious states, such signal propagation is prohibited. We then suggest that conscious processing is the flexible integration of bottom-up and top-down data streams at the cellular level. This cellular integration mechanism provides the foundation for Dendritic Information Theory, a novel neurobiological theory of consciousness. (Abstract)

Apical Compartment: part of the pyramidal cell toward the surface of the cortex. It integrates contextual information from the corticocortical and thalamocortical loops. Basal compartment: part of the pyramidal cell around the cell body including the basal dendrites that controls the spike output of the cell. The basal compartment mainly receives feature specific information. (Glossary, 2)

These two information streams could also be seen as the first-order representation in the basal compartment and the higher order representation in the apical compartment. Hence, this cellular mechanism within the L5p cells could lay the foundation for higher order theories of consciousness. In summary, the architecture and biophysical properties of the L5p cells enable flexible integration of segregated data streams. Here we point out that the segregation and integration of data streams within a pyramidal neuron are conceptually fundamental and render cognitive, high-level, or global descriptions. Dendritic integration of segregated data streams might be the defining characteristic of conscious processing. (9)

Baars, Bernard. The Conscious Access Hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Science. 6/1, 2002. This phrase is offered as another name for “global workspace theory” (see Dehaene and Naccache below) whose “massive distributed set of specialized networks” gives rise to and verifies an informed consciousness.

Baars, Bernard, et al, eds. Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. A comprehensive reference with over 60 articles on the admission and recognition of reflective sentience as a respectable subject.

Bieberich, Erhard. Recurrent Fractal Neural Networks. BioSystems. 66/3, 2002. The brain is composed of self-similar systems from a ‘global coding structure’ to neuronal networks. A consistent mapping occurs throughout its many-layered, dendritic architecture. By this view, the same fractal data and pixel compression used in computers may be the way a ‘fractally structured memory’ is formed. Bieberich then sees his theory to converge with Bernard Baars ‘global workspace model’ as the seat of consciousness.

Boly, Melanie, et al. Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals. Frontiers in Psychology. 4/625, 2013. A joint commentary on a July 2012 meeting in Rockport, Maine organized by the Mind Science Foundation. With authoritative attendees such as Bernard Baars, Steven Laureys, Melanie Wilke, others, these studies are said to attain a mature synthesis. It is thus averred this phenomena is real, fundamental, and amenable to scientific study. In accord with concurrent papers by Tononi, Koch, Dehaene, and colleagues herein, the global workspace and integrated information theories are seen as good explanations. Along with contributions from animal cognition research and more, a gradated continuum is affirmed throughout the creaturely kingdoms and an evolutionary scale from the earliest invertebrates to Maine Mind.

Bor, Daniel. The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning. New York: Basic Books, 2012. In this accessible work, a University of Sussex, Sackler Centre for Conscious Science, researcher equates the rise of knowing visuospatial awareness with its survival value of being able to perceive crucial, fluid environmental patterns. Early chapters such as “Evolution and the Science of Thought” consider proponents such as Gerald Edelman, Giulio Tononi, and the global workspace model of Bernard Baars and Stanislas Dehaene. In perspective, an engaging entry to an apparent awakening human cosmos that seems to be trying to better recognize and create itself.

Consciousness is subjective, personal, and famously difficult to examine: philosophers have for centuries declared this mental entity so mysterious as to be impenetrable to science. In The Ravenous Brain, neuroscientist Daniel Bor departs sharply from this historical view, and builds on the latest research to propose a new model for how consciousness works. Bor argues that this brain-based faculty evolved as an accelerated knowledge gathering tool. Consciousness is effectively an idea factory—that choice mental space dedicated to innovation, a key component of which is the discovery of deep structures within the contents of our awareness. This model explains our brains’ ravenous appetite for information—and in particular, its constant search for patterns. Why, for instance, after all our physical needs have been met, do we recreationally solve crossword or Sudoku puzzles? Such behavior may appear biologically wasteful, but, according to Bor, this search for structure can yield immense evolutionary benefits—it led our ancestors to discover fire and farming, pushed modern society to forge ahead in science and technology, and guides each one of us to understand and control the world around us. (Publisher)

Bronfman, Zohar, et al. The Transition to Minimal Consciousness through the Evolution of Associative Learning. Frontiers in Psychology. December, 2016. Israeli scholars of science EB, Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka, with colleagues, continue their endeavor to properly identify life’s essential advance as a relative analogical increase in aware cerebral knowledge. In March 2019 The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul: Learning and the Origins of Consciousness by S. Ginsburg and E. Jablonka (MIT Press) will provide a book length essay. By this view, in some real way a bioworld and cosmos is on a track to evolve and emerge in complexity and sentience so to come to its own personal and communal senses.

The minimal state of consciousness is sentience. This includes any phenomenal sensory experience – exteroceptive, such as vision and olfaction; interoceptive, such as pain and hunger; or proprioceptive, such as the sense of bodily position and movement. We propose unlimited associative learning (UAL) as the marker of the evolutionary transition to minimal consciousness (or sentience), its phylogenetically earliest sustainable manifestation and the driver of its evolution. We define and describe UAL at the behavioral and functional level and argue that the structural-anatomical implementations of this mode of learning in different taxa entail subjective feelings (sentience). We end with a discussion of the implications of our proposal for the distribution of consciousness in the animal kingdom, suggesting testable predictions, and revisiting the ongoing debate about the function of minimal consciousness in light of our approach. (Abstract)

Chalmers, David. Constructing the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. The Australian National University philosopher, author of the 1996 classic The Conscious Mind, continues his quest to limn the deepest essence of this extant realm we aware selves are born into. But what continues to pass for academic discourse seems inscrutably, almost deliberately dense. It is evident the man has something to report from these far frontiers, but as so many writings some 450 pages get lost in jargon such as “Tenth Excursus: Constructing Epistemic Space.” We quote from the publisher, if one may broach a translation, could it be the “elephant-like” reality that Rudolf, David, and everyone are quite trying to describe is much like a natural genesis with its own parental code?

David J. Chalmers constructs a highly ambitious and original picture of the world, from a few basic elements. He develops and extends Rudolf Carnap's attempt to do the same in Der Logische Aufbau Der Welt (1928). Carnap gave a blueprint for describing the entire world using a limited vocabulary, so that all truths about the world could be derived from that description--but his Aufbau is often seen as a noble failure. In Constructing the World, Chalmers argues that something like the Aufbau project can succeed. With the right vocabulary and the right derivation relation, we can indeed construct the world. The focal point of Chalmers's project is scrutability: roughly, the thesis that ideal reasoning from a limited class of basic truths yields all truths about the world. Chalmers first argues for the scrutability thesis and then considers how small the base can be. All this can be seen as a project in metaphysical epistemology: epistemology in service of a global picture of the world and of our conception thereof. The scrutability framework has ramifications throughout philosophy. Using it, Chalmers defends a broadly Fregean approach to meaning, argues for an internalist approach to the contents of thought, and rebuts W. V. Quine's arguments against the analytic and the a priori. He also uses scrutability to analyze the unity of science, to defend a conceptual approach to metaphysics, and to mount a structuralist response to skepticism. (Publisher)

Chalmers, David. The Character of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. The Australian National University philosopher and possibly the most sentient scholar in this field follows up and expands on his 1998 classic Six sections engage the Problems, Science, Metaphysics, Concepts, Contents, and Unity of Consciousness. See also his 2014 Constructing the World (search).

Chalmers, David. The Conscious Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. In a centerpiece book for the field, the University of Arizona philosopher makes a strong case for the reality of consciousness as more than a neural epiphenomenon. For a full appreciation of consciousness, a close relation with its information content is required. Chalmers’ website: www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/online. contains over 1100 papers on every aspect of the study of mind and sentience. See also Chalmers 2013 major work Constructing the World, reviewed in Current Vistas.

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