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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

4. Conscious Integrated Information Knowledge

    Due much, it is said, to the 17th century Cartesian divorce of mind from body, knowing consciousness has been mostly set aside as a spurious epiphenomenon. But into the 21st century, by way of novel turns and advances in philosophies of mind and neuroscience capabilities, mindful awareness has become a legitimate subject for research and validation. David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel, both at NYU, are among leading commentators. A stirring sentience is now perceived to arise through life's long evolution to human acumen, as also noted in the An Intrinsic Consciousness and Intelligence, Animal Intelligence and Awareness, sections and throughout. Into the later 2010s, two main approaches have come to the fore – a whole brain Global Workspace Model (Bernard Baars, et al), and especially an Integrated Information Theory due to Giulio Tononi, along with Larissa Albantakis, Christoph Koch, Masafumi Oizumi and a growing list. As Pierre Teilhard noted seven decades ago, life’s developmental gestation can be seen to advance as an episodic tandem of relative sensation and complex knowledge. In regard the image is from an international conference held at the University of Arizona.

 
     

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.

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. 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.

Changeux, Jean-Pierre. Reflections on the Origins of the Human Brain. Lagercrantz, Hugo, et al, eds. The Newborn Brain: Neuroscience and Clinical Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Noted also in Phylogeny and Ontogeny, the College de France, Institut Pasteur, neuroscientist provides a luminous addition via the latest appreciations of pre- and post-natal, fetal and infant, cognitive states to the processive advance of knowing consciousness. See also his chapter “The Molecular Biology of Consciousness” in Consciousness Transitions (Elsevier, 2007).

Phylogenetic Ancestors of the Human Brain. As mentioned above, many important anatomical features of our brain have been inherited from our direct ancestors. The soft parts of their brains may be lost forever, but comparison of the endocranial casts of modern humans and their fossil ancestors provides interesting information. It reveals striking analogies between the various stages of the phylogenetic evolution of the ancestors of H. sapiens and the ontogenetic development of the brain in the modern human. (6) The simplified topography of the human newborn meningeal system strikingly resembles the arrangement in Australopithecus robustus (who lived about three to two million years ago). The meningeal topography of Homo habilis, who lived two million years ago (cranial capacity 700 ml), is rather similar to that of a modern 40-day-old infant. Homo erectus, who lived one million years ago (cranial capacity of about 1000 ml), has a meningeal system topography similar to that of a modern 1-year-old child. (6)

Aware that the whole sequence of the human genome is known, the overall philosophy of the neurosciences is anticipated to shift from a strictly “reductionist” point of view to a “reconstructionist” approach. Knowing all the genes that serve as building blocks of the human being, the emphasis will be to understand the molecular and cellular networks of interaction which yield the so-called “complexity” of the human brain. (16)

Cleeremans, Axel, ed. The Unity of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. A collection of leading edge papers which consider how the phenomenon of knowing sentience evolves and arises in embodied persons.

As the contributions to this volume so vividly illustrate, explaining unity involves many different levels of analysis: From an understanding of the concept itself to the neural mechanisms that subtend it; from empirical studies on normal or disordered participants to overarching computational analyses of what it means for information to be integrated in the complex dynamical system that the brain undoubtedly is. (19)

Clement, Fabrice and Abraham Malerstein. What is it Like to be Conscious? The Ontogeny of Consciousness. Philosophical Psychology. 16/1, 2003. A study of the sequential lifetime phases of awakening ones individual sentience. This process is seen to move from initial phenomenal awareness in infancy to an ‘access’ of shifting representations for appropriate responses and onto the formation of a rational self in latter childhood. Throughout the paper is a tacit recapitulation between our personal ontogenesis of learning about the social and natural world and the cognitive phylogenesis of humankind.

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