Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Links and a bit more on conscious awareness

Two informative podcasts:

Pete Mandik and David Pereplyotchik at Spacetimemind trying to discuss pain but break into a far cooler argument about the reality of our scientific theories, or our ability to know what is really out there. Also see their earlier exchange.

Neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux gives a good interview at Roger Dooley's Brainfluence podcast. There is a transcript attached if you would rather read. Joseph Ledoux has a new book out on anxiety. Here is a passage which touches on my consciousness rant below. Ledoux says that the brain's baseline behavioral response to danger is different than the feeling of fear itself:

The person has all of those things together in their conscience mind, but when you take these things apart in the brain what we see is that the threat detection system is separate from the system that gives rise to conscience feeling. If that same person were in the lab and I presented those stimulus subliminally, so the person didn’t know the stimulus was there, it had no conscience feeling of fear of anything else in response to that stimulus, and yet the person’s heart is beating, their muscles are tensing and so forth. Their brain has detected and responded to a stimulus that they don’t know even exists. There’s no feeling involved. The amygdala is lit up light a lighthouse in the brain when you present those stimuli either liminally or subliminally, but that’s not what causes you to feel fear.
The conscience feeling of fear is a cognitively constructed process involving the highest centers of the brain. For example, the prefrontal cortex and areas like that, that put together the fact that the amygdala is activated and it’s causing the brain to be highly aroused, and chemicals are coming from the body back to the brain. All of those things are happening. The amygdala is contributing in an indirect way, but the conscious feeling of fear is the representation that all that stuff is happening as a result of the amygdala activation together with the fact that you see there’s a stimulus there that you know from memory that is threatening. You may also retrieve personal memories of having been threatened by that stimulus, say it’s a snake. All of that comes together as an immediately present state of mind that we all fear.

Other links:

Scott Bakker discusses neuroscience threatening art

Karen Neander at Philosophy of Brains on content pragmatism, a poor solution to the problem of intentionality

If you liked that, see Alex Rosenberg's eliminativists take on intentionality

Lastly, NOVA on PBS had a good video on Homo Naledi

Conscious Awareness

We are “aware” that we are here, that we are humans, that we live on earth, that that man over there wishes me to pay him money, that we are part of a complex social, national, and family web. We form representations and models of these different relationships of our world and our selves. When we need one of those representations or some facet of information, we can turn our attention on it, and it will readily be there. “This is who I am. I live in the United States.”

None of this awareness, again, is going to transcend a robot that represents its self as being at “this location on the factory floor, in this position on the assembly line.” If the robot senses/represents, “I am out of screws, roll to far wall and get more.” (however such robots will do that), it will have awareness in a similar way that any of us humanrobots do at this moment. When we form the representations/thoughts that “I am out of food, need to go to store,” the representations and sensations we are aware of provides a great deal of information. This includes information and representations such as the location of the car, to the hunger in our body, to the place of the store.
The kind of awareness (vast representational stores) that adult humans have surpasses what higher animals, babies, and what our new robots have. As in the previous post, we have representational stores in abundance about our selves and our relationship to external events. We have such in ways that lesser “conscious” entities do not have, such as IBM's Watson or a chimpanzee. There is good reason to believe that language acquisition allows adult humans to have this kind of global awareness about our selves and the world.

But this high level of awareness, the vast informational stores about self and world, is not consciousness as often defined. It certainly is not qualia as often brought in. As explained in previous posts, your representational structures for seeing red are unique. No one else has quite the exact representational or informational repertoire as regards particular shades of red, and also do not have the bodily processes like feelings/emotions that will hang onto any particular shade. The person who played Big Bird for a long time will have representations and bodily attitudes (feelings of pleasure from remembrance) towards that particular shade in a way far different than anyone else. This should not be a bewildering fact. The only way to get a creature to represent and respond to a certain shade of red in the exact same away as a certain individual is to create that exact individual. That there is a great deal of overlap in our representations and bodily responses to a shade of color, just goes into the fact that we share the same general sensory mechanisms and share a great deal of environment and developmental structures. So, many of our representations and emotional responses will be similar to other humans, even if each of us has certain unique differences. Also, it is not surprising that we are walled off from imagining the basic representational repertoires of other beings, such as the representational structures of a dolphin.

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