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

4. Conscious Integrated Information Knowledge

Taylor, John. Mind and Consciousness: Towards a Final Answer? Physics of Life Reviews. 2/1, 2005. A survey of quantum, synchronization, dynamical systems, narrative gravity, global workspace and relational mind approaches, each of some value, then leads the proposal of an advanced neuroscience model of attention. The journal and article can be reached via Google.

Taylor, John, et al. Introduction to the Special Issue on "Brain and Consciousness.". Neural Networks. 20/9, 2007. A collation that includes Walter Freeman, Bernard Baars, Axel Cleeremans, and other notables in this regard. As a ten year update to a 1997 issue, a salient advance might be the inclusion of complex system dynamics that can serve to illume modular hierarchies for the ascent of knowing awareness. (See L. Andrew Coward, and Freeman for examples)

Toker, Daniel and Friedrich Sommer. Greater Than the Sum: Integrated Information in Large Brain Networks. arXiv:1708.02967. Akin to Engel and Malone’s writings about Wikipedia, UC Berkeley neuroscientists apply Giulio Tononi’s collegial theory (search) of a tandem relation between a neural complex coherence and its aware content further afield than human cerebration. Here is another example of a prime natural principle, such as symbiosis, major transitions, and more, which is finding increasing apply across many realms.

Recent work in information theory has produced a sound measure of integrated information based on time-series data, which quantifies how much more information a system carries than the sum of its parts. As a principled measure of global information in complex systems, integrated information holds the promise of transforming a number of scientific fields, particularly neuroscience. Unfortunately, the measurement of integrated information involves a combinatorial search problem, which has made it impossible to measure this quantity in large systems such as brains. Here, we present a solution to this problem, reducing the computation time for large systems from longer than the timespan of the universe to just several hours. After evaluating our solution, we demonstrate that brain connectomes are structured in ways that facilitate high integrated information and provide the first measurement of integrated information in a real nervous system: the brain of Caenorhabditis elegans. (Abstract)

Toker, Daniel and Friedrich Sommer. Information Integration in Large Brain Networks. PLoS Computational Biology. February, 2019. UC Berkeley neuroscientists proceed to tidy up some mathematical issues with this popular theoretic synthesis by Giulio Tononi and many colleagues that appears to quantify a parallel, tandem relation between an aware cerebral sentience and a sapient knowledge content.

An outstanding problem in neuroscience is to understand how information is integrated across the many modules of the brain. While classic information-theoretic measures have transformed our understanding of feedforward information processing in the brain’s sensory periphery, comparable measures for information flow in the massively recurrent networks of the rest of the brain have been lacking. To address this, recent work has produced a sound measure of network-wide “integrated information.” But, a computational hurdle has stymied attempts to measure large-scale information integration in real brains. Here, we show that spectral clustering, applied on the correlation matrix of time-series data, provides an approximate but robust solution. Finally, we use our solution to support of the hypothesis that information integration is maximized by networks with a high global efficiency, and that modular network structures promote the segregation of information. (Abstract excerpt)

Tolson, Jay. Is There Room for the Soul? U. S. News & World Report. October 23, 2006. Unusual for a weekly newsmagazine, the article is a well-researched and written overview of the major players and viewpoints of the emerging field of consciousness studies. Yes there is a place, depending on what a “soul,” along with a personal self, is imagined to be.

Tononi, Giulio. Consciousness as Integrated Information. Biological Bulletin. 215/3, 2008. In a paper cited as a “provisional manifesto,” the University of Wisconsin psychiatrist sets out a detailed equation of sentient awareness with its contained knowledge. A mathematical exposition in cerebral qualia space of this “integrated information theory” (IIT) leads to the claim that consciousness ought to be appreciated as an intrinsic natural quality. A gradated evolutionary ascent is then seen to accord with relative information levels, or “discriminable states” with various encodings. Not said to be a panpsychism but as a result, as the several quotes aver, a radically different kind of universe and human becomes possible. Rather than the old moribund machine whereof people are “specks of dust,” if a rising, awakening sentience is the measure, human persons appear as its brightest, phenomenal center. Here, deep in the scientific literature, dawns some 70 years later just the vectorial tandem of complexity and consciousness that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin presciently foresaw in his cosmic genesis vision.

The IIT claims that, just as the quantity of consciousness generated by a complex of elements is determined by the amount of integrated information it generates above and beyond its parts, the quality of consciousness is determined by the set of all the informational relationships its mechanisms generate. (224)

Consciousness exists beyond any doubt (indeed, it is the only thing whose existence is beyond doubt). If consciousness is integrated information, then integrated information exists. Moreover, according to the IIT, it exists as a fundamental quantity—as fundamental as mass, charge, or energy. (233)

If one accepts these premises, a useful way of thinking about consciousness as a fundamental property is as follows. We are by now used to considering the universe as a vast empty space that contains enormous conglomerations of mass, charge, and energy—giant bright entities from planets to stars to galaxies. In this view (that is, in terms of mass, charge, or energy), each of us constitutes an extremely small, dim portion of what exists — indeed, hardly more than a speck of dust. (233)

However, if consciousness (i.e., integrated information) exists as a fundamental property, an equally valid view of the universe is this: a vast empty space that contains mostly nothing, and occasionally just specks of integrated information — mere dust, indeed — even there where the masscharge–energy perspective reveals huge conglomerates. On the other hand, one small corner of the known universe contains a remarkable concentration of extremely bright entities (where brightness reflects high consciousness), orders of magnitude brighter than anything around them. Each bright “star” is the main complex of an individual human being (and most likely, of individual animals). I argue that such a consciousness-centric view is at least as valid as that of a universe dominated by mass, charge, and energy. In fact, it may be more valid, since to be highly conscious implies that there is something it is like to be you, whereas if you just have high mass, charge, or energy, there may be little or nothing it is like to be you. (233)

Tononi, Giulio. Consciousness, Information Integration, and the Brain. Laureys, Steven, ed. The Boundaries of Consciousness: Neurobiology and Neuropathology. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005. Sentient awareness is due to the brain’s modular capacity to join experience and knowledge into a coherent whole. Akin to the global workspace theory of Baars, Dehaene and Changeux, consciousness is associated with an informational content. But this not need be linguistic based for infants and animals are also seen as self-aware. One then wonders if humankind itself might reach a common consciousness, a grand intentional synthesis of human learning, the one story, which is an aim of this website.

Tononi, Giulio and Christof Koch. Consciousness: Here, There but Not Everywhere. arXiv:1405.7089. After a decade of thought and research, the University of Wisconsin and Allen Institute for Brain Science neuroscientists post a summary document on this phenomenal occurrence both for its cerebral and evolutionary aspects. As the Abstract details, our aware sentience can be understood to arise from and supported by its relative knowledge content. As animal studies then aver, gradated degrees of informed cognition and sensory acumen can be traced through life’s procession back to the nematodes. By this 2010s synthesis, the long materialist or physicalist phase whereof mindful subjectivity is ephemeral can be set aside. While not a panpsychism, by this theory “consciousness is an intrinsic, fundamental property of reality.” Such a 21st century conclusion, aided by global collaborations, is seen to resolve and affirm deep intuitions from Plato to Teilhard.

With regard to consciousness studies, similar to syntheses in other fields, a flurry of reports about we people and our creaturely forebears confirm an evolutionary neural and cognitive elaboration and stirring as if an embryonic gestation. For a sample see, Integrated Information Increases with Fitness in the Evolution of Animats by Jeffrey Edlund, et al (PLoS Computational Biology 7/10, 2011), The Minimal Complexity of Adapting Agents Increases with Fitness by Nikhil Joshi, et al (PLoS Computational Biology 9/7, 2013), From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0 by Masafumi Oizumi (PLoS Computational Biology 10/5, 2014), Information Integration Without Awareness by Liad Mudrik, et al (Trends in Cognitive Science Online June 2014), and Toward a Computational Theory of Conscious Processing by Stanislas Dehaene, et al (Current Opinion in Neurobiology, June 2014).

The science of consciousness has made great strides by focusing on the behavioral and neuronal correlates of experience. However, correlates are not enough if we are to understand even basic neurological fact; nor are they of much help in cases where we would like to know if consciousness is present: patients with a few remaining islands of functioning cortex, pre-term infants, non-mammalian species, and machines that are rapidly outperforming people at driving, recognizing faces and objects, and answering difficult questions. To address these issues, we need a theory of consciousness that specifies what experience is and what type of physical systems can have it. Integrated Information Theory (IIT) does so by starting from conscious experience via five phenomenological axioms of existence, composition, information, integration, and exclusion. From these it derives five postulates about the properties required of physical mechanisms to support consciousness.

The theory provides a principled account of both the quantity and the quality of an individual experience, and a calculus to evaluate whether or not a particular system of mechanisms is conscious and of what. IIT explains a range of clinical and laboratory findings, makes testable predictions, and extrapolates to unusual conditions. The theory vindicates some panpsychist intuitions - consciousness is an intrinsic, fundamental property, is graded, is common among biological organisms, and even some very simple systems have some. However, unlike panpsychism, IIT implies that not everything is conscious, for example group of individuals or feed forward networks. In sharp contrast with widespread functionalist beliefs, IIT implies that digital computers, even if their behavior were to be functionally equivalent to ours, and even if they were to run faithful simulations of the human brain, would experience next to nothing. (Abstract)

Tononi, Giulio, et al. Integrated Information Theory from Consciousness to its Physical Substrate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 17/7, 2016. As this model which equates degrees of cognitive awareness with relative knowledge content grows in veracity and usage, Tononi with Melanie Boly, Marcello Massimini and Christof Koch (search names) proceed to discern its deeply rooted basis in material nature. At this late worldwise vantage, by way of many diagrams for brain anatomy and neural connections, human beings become ever more of a microscopic icon for an increasingly cerebral macrocosmos.

Tononi, Giulio, et al. Only What Exists can Cause: An Intrinsic View of Free Will. arXiv:2206.02069. A premier team of GT, Larissa Albantakis, Chiara Cirelli, and Melanie Boly, University of Wisconsin, along with Christof Koch, Allen Institute for Brain Science continue to advance this Integrated Information Theory view as it gains a popular validity. In regard, a table of Axioms: the essential properties of phenomenal existence by way of Intrinsicality, Composition, Information, and Exclusion is entered. A table of Postulates: physical existence then shows how the same qualities can be traced to a deep natural basis. As this section reports, since circa 2008 these developments seem to well define a parallel ascent of informed complexity and knowing consciousness.

This essay addresses the implications of integrated information theory (IIT) for free will. IIT is about what consciousness is and how it occurs. According to IIT, the presence of aware sentience is accounted for by a maximum of cause-effect power in the brain. Thus the way specific experiences feel is due to how that cause-effect power is structured. If IIT is right, we do have free will in the fundamental sense: we have real alternatives, we make decisions, and we - not our neurons or atoms - are the cause of willed actions responsibilities. IIT's claim of true free will is based on the proper understanding of consciousness drawn from its intrinsic powers ontology: what truly exists, in physical terms, are intrinsic entities. (Abstract)

Torey, Zoltan. The Immaculate Misconception. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 13/12, 2006. Reflective awareness is a dynamic process that involves information gathering and its linguistic medium. Ones ‘self,’ our qualities of mind, agency, and free will, arise from this self-directed attention. A succinct, accurate comment.

In summary, we have seen that the new language-based dispensation turns baseline awareness conscious, hands the control of attention back to the brain, generates the experience of the ‘self,’ generates the module that is the ‘mind’ and the functional autonomy that is our ‘free-will.’ The immaculate misconception, the ‘obvious’ we all seem to overlook is that human consciousness is a production routine and not an entity, further that its components can be identified and their interaction traced. (109)

Varela, Francisco and Evan Thompson. Neural Synchrony and the Unity of Mind: A Neurophenomenological Perspective. Cleeremans, Axel, ed. The Unity of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Reflections on how our agental awareness emerges from both local to global “upward causation” and reverse “downward causation.”

There is now little doubt in cognitive neuroscience that specific cognitive acts require the transient integration of numerous, widely distributed, and constantly interacting functional areas of the brain. For this reason, any hypothesis about the neural correlates of a moment of consciousness must account for the integrated or coherent operation of large-scale brain activity. (268)

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