If the conscious self is an illusion – who is it that's being fooled?
Watch the full video with related content here.
The discussion following the presentations I featured last week.
Posted by Peter on November 30, 2016 at 6:39 pm.
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It’s not about consciousness. It never was. Consciousness is a side show.
It’s all about imagination. Imagination is the ability to think of a world
that never was, except in your mind at that moment. You remember a past
world, real or imagined, remember whatever features of that world were
important to you at one time and are important at this moment. Then from
that you conjure up a new world. A new imagined world that you see only
at the moment, based on your past. Then that imagined world disappeares
and a new one takes its place. A new one with whatever features inspired
you about the previous one in the previous moment and with new features
added as your mind imagines them. As each moment passes, your mind
conjures up yet another new world, adding to the old with each passing
That ability to imagine is what makes us distinct from the lower animals
and from all the machines that we have so far created. One day, we will
make machines with the ability to imagine. At that moment, we will have
created a new race, a species of creatures that did not exist before.
That will not happen until some time after we have created conscious
machines. Conscious machines will be machines that we can interact with,
that will interact with the world. Conscious machines will understand
the world. They will know and understand themselves. They will understand
us better than we understand ourselves. But they will be uninspired.
They will lack the spark of creativity that makes us human and, so far,
sets us apart from the machines.
Consciousness emerges when an entity develops the ability to experience
the world through the mechanisms of perception. The perceived conditions
as they appear to exist in the world are collected in a central model,
which is then used by the entity as a basis for all evaluations of the
conditions in the world and for all actions to be performed in and to
the world. Consciousness is the result of that collection of world facts
and conditions being evaluated by the entity as it exists in the world.
Based on the structure of the brain and the development of that brain
structure throughout the evolution of living creatures, consciousness
probably first developed around the time of the emergence of mammals
with brains distinct from the “old brain” style of reptilian nervous
systems. A frontal lobe begain to grow, capable of forming a new, detailed
world model to guide actions in the world, supplanting the older mode of
direct action resulting from direct perceptions. The internal world model
allowed the organism to evaluate the state of the world in ways that had
not previously been possible. That evaluation of the world based on an
internal model constitutes the ability we now refer to as consciousness.
Imagination is a different thing, a thing added to the world model which
makes up consciousness. It is the ability of the entity to manipulate
the world model in ways beyond the world facts as received through the
mechanisms of perception. It is the ability of the entity to create a
new world model, one that does not exist, one that is not supported by
the “facts” of perception. That new “imaginary” world model can then be
used by the entity to act as if it were a real world or to use it to
continue to build additional new imaginary worlds.
Based on experiments that have been done with dogs and chimpanzees,
I believe that imagination probably started to develop some time after
the apes started living in trees, after the frontal lobes were no longer
as important in tracking the smells of the world and were freed to add
and develop into new ways of dealing with the world.
In the discussion in the video the word “consciousness” is used a lot. I don’t really object to that. My point is to understand that the word is a short way of saying “the entity’s view of perceptual inputs as they affect the entity”. For example, the exercise about acting as if subliminal stimuli had been perceived, simply shows that the brain processes a lot of things in separate places, all at the same time. So mental calculations can be done in one part of the brain while another part does something else. Whether one or the other of these brain parts involves perceiving the input is not relevant to what the other parts are doing.
Hi Peter. Good to hear from you.
“Consciousness is a side show.”
Poor Peter. All that work for nothing !
Don’t get me wrong. It’s all extremely interesting. Barry, for example, is asking an awful lot of extremely interesting questions. But I do believe there’s an underlying issue that feels as if it’s blocking the discussion. Why is it that we cannot know how the bat feels? Everybody knows in some sense that that question is unanswerable. But I claim there is an approach which makes the gap more understandable, more acceptable.
I do not hear people talking about the part of the mind I call the world model. It seems clear to me that consciousness consists in the operation of the world model. All of the above issues about how the model works are of great interest. But the fact of the model, the fact that it is the central function of the brain being conscious, gives us a completely different point of view of why we cannot be the bat. We have our model, it has its own.
Everything we feel, everything we perceive, everything we think about, is the operation of the world model. The model operates when we dream, when we hallucinate, and when we live our normal lives. The neurology of how it all works is extremely interesting, but to see its role in the sense I am trying to communicate frees up the issue, in my opinion, of the centuries-long struggle to come to terms with what we are. It is then obvious why we cannot be the bat.
I’m sorry. It was Anil who mentioned a lot of the clinical issues in the video. Barry asked “who owns my thoughts?” Barry asks why the first person is not transferable. That is exactly the point I am trying to get at. The clinical details are interesting. The non-transferability is just a fact of the universe.
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