Picture: correspondent. Paul Almond’s Attempt to Generalize AI has reached Part 8:  Forgetting as Part of the Exploratory Relevance Process. (pdf)

Aspro Potamus tells me I should not have missed the Online Consciousness Conference.

Jesús Olmo recommends a look at the remarkable film ‘The Sea That Thinks’, and notes that the gut might be seen as our second brain.

An interesting piece from Robert Fortner contends that speech recognition software has hit a ceiling at about 80% efficiency and that hope of further progress has been tacitly abandoned. I think you’d be rash to assume that brute force approaches will never get any further here: but it could well be one of those areas where technology has to go backwards for a while and pursue a theoretically different approach which in the early stages yields poorer results, in order to take a real step forward.

A second issue of the JCER is online.

Alec wrote to share an interesting idea about dreaming:

“It seems that most people consider dreaming to be some sort of unimportant side-effect of consciousness. Yes, we know it is involved in assimilation of daily experiences, etc, but it seems that it is treated as not being very significant to conciousness itself. I have a conjecture that dreaming may be significant in an unusual way – could dreaming have been the evolutionary source of consciousness?
It is clear that “lower animals” dream. Any dog owner knows that. On that basis, I would conclude that dreaming almost certainly preceded the evolution of consciousness. My conjecture is this: Could consciousness possibly have evolved from dreaming?

Is it possible that some evolutionary time back, humans developed the ability to dream at the same time as being awake, and consciousness arises from the interaction of those somewhat parallel mental states? Presumably the hypothetical fusion of the dream state and the waking state took quite a while to iron out. It still may not be complete, witness “daydreams.” We can also speculate that dreaming has some desirable properties as a precursor to consciousness, especially its abstract nature and the feedback processes it involves.

Hmm.

20 Comments

  1. 1. John davey says:

    Stuff like this is why we need to spend some serious money on neuroscience, so we can avoid all this speculative talk.

  2. 2. Vicente says:

    to speculate requires at least some logical baseline, this one is not even the case.

    could dreaming have been the evolutionary source of consciousness?

    No, because for dreaming you already need consciousness in place.

    Is it possible that some evolutionary time back, humans developed the ability to dream at the same time as being awake, and consciousness arises from the interaction of those somewhat parallel mental states?

    it must mean awake like zombies…since there was no conscious state yet, and then why were zombies going to dream??

    What is the relation of all these with the current known process of dreaming?

    I guess all this is just a nightmare….

  3. 3. Lloyd Rice says:

    I read the Fortner paper and then noted that many of the commentaries seemed to disagree with Fortner’s views. So I did a rough classification of the 32 posts into three groups, 1: “Agree, SR is terrible”, 2: “SR is not great, but it’s good enough for some uses”, and 3: “You have it wrong. SR works”.

    The results were Group 1: 11, Group 2: 6, Group 3: 15.

    It seems to me that Mr. Fortner needs to do a bit more study. (My background is a degree in linguistics and a lifetime of building commercial speech synthesizers and writing SR software (retired).)

  4. 4. Lloyd Rice says:

    I should also note that many of the group 3 responses were from people with one or another sort of SR industry background while few of the group 1 writers were (or were willing to admit it.)

  5. 5. links for 2010-05-09 « Blarney Fellow says:

    […] Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Interesting stuff – May 2010 … could dreaming have been the evolutionary source of consciousness? It is clear that “lower animals” dream. Any dog owner knows that. On that basis, I would conclude that dreaming almost certainly preceded the evolution of consciousness. Is it possible that some evolutionary time back, humans developed the ability to dream at the same time as being awake, and consciousness arises from the interaction of those somewhat parallel mental states? Presumably the hypothetical fusion of the dream state and the waking state took quite a while to iron out. It still may not be complete, witness “daydreams.” We can also speculate that dreaming has some desirable properties as a precursor to consciousness, especially its abstract nature and the feedback processes it involves. (tags: consciousness dreams cognition evolution philosophy) […]

  6. 6. Alec says:

    Vicente, I have to question your assertion (I can’t grant it the status of a “logical baseline”) that “for dreaming you already need consciousness in place.” In my opinion, that is demonstrably not true. Also, for those of us who do not subscribe to creationism, it seems likely that consciousness arose through some sort of evolutionary process. Whatever your preferred theory, at some stage during the last million years it is possible that proto-consciousness could very well have had a zombie-like quality to it. We cannot know, but it really isn’t that unthinkable.

  7. 7. Vicente says:

    Alec:

    “for dreaming you already need consciousness in place.”
    “In my opinion, that is demonstrably not true”

    – if it is DEMONSTRABLY not true, it is not an OPINION any more, (once it is demonstrated.

    – Dreaming is a phenomenal experience, therefore a part of consciousness, for which it cannot be it precursor.

    “consciousness arose through some sort of evolutionary process”, that is an opinion, could be, who knows.

    “proto-consciousness could very well have had a zombie-like quality to it”. proto-consciouness??

    I believe, that at present stage, we as beings have a significant zombie component in our behaviour, I call it “autonomous mode”.

    I believe there is missconception between consciousness and the understanding of the conscious experience, that the conscious being has. Probably, evolution leads to beings more aware of their conscious experience, if that has a competitive advantage, which is not that clear. Maybe, in current human social competitive scenario it does.

  8. 8. Alec says:

    Vicente, I was trying to be polite, in that my opinion remains just that until you accept my demonstration. I am a biologist, and often tend to think of things in evolutionary terms, but I accept that an evolutionary viewpoint may be less common in other fields. Proto-consciousness was just an invented word to refer to an intermediate capability in the presumed evolution of consciousness–call it whatever you want. I like your last two comments, and agree with you.

  9. 9. Vicente says:

    Alec:

    The role of consciousness in evolution, and of evolution in consciousness is very very interesting. But mind you, we have to make clear the difference between practical intelligence (problem solving, creativity and forecasting basically), and levels of conscious awareness.

    I have the suspicion that in advanced societies, both intelligent and high consciouss aware individuals avoid offspring, particularly the latter, which in evolutionary terms is the greatest disaster could happen.

    Once humans have education and available control of population methods, I am not sure how evolution models fit any more.

    In summary, if the goal is adaptation for survival and procreation, I really don’t see any advantage in conscious awareness.

    What do you think?

  10. 10. Vicente says:

    Just a clarification: I am not saying that people with children (my case) are not smart or conscious… it was just an statistical approach. So, please make it; “both intelligent and high consciouss aware individuals TEND to avoid offspring”.

    And there are stages in life… again I am not saying that anybody should regret at a later stage what was done at previous ones.

  11. 11. Alec says:

    Interesting thoughts, Vicente. It seems possible that some advanced cultures are close to “breaking free” of classical evolution, both by mitigating some of the selective pressures, and perhaps soon by direct manipulation of the genome. But every time we see another war or famine somewhere, I have to say maybe not quite yet. Evolution is an awfully big and diffuse thing, and it is hard to get a perspective from our necessarily limited viewpoints.

    Regarding the development of awareness of consciousness, could that be a by-product of the development of language? Peter’s blog probably has lots on this, but in the present context,language clearly has adaptive value, so evolutionarily, some aspects of consciousness may simply have piggy-backed on the evolution of communication ability. Though difficult, the role of language should be testable, if not in humans, then perhaps in other primates before and after being taught sign language.

  12. 12. Vicente says:

    Alec: important question. My believe is that consciouness is not a by-product of any kind. I also think that human language would not exist without consciouness.

    To have it clear, your view is:

    1) There were zombies messing around, with some communication skills.

    2) For some reason (no clear evolutive advantage), consciousness a completely new thing in this Universe “stems” from these zombies heads as a result of the evolutive improvement of those comm. skills.

    Why?

    To say something: I believe that consciousness is profoundly related to the concept of “meaning”. Somebody recently said that no semantics can be derived from syntax (I agree), but, could there be semantics without syntax substrate? (what do you think?).

    May I rephrase your question as: could it be that once the necessary syntax was ready to cope with the necessary semantics required for consciousness, then, it emerged?

    My answer would be no. Because consciousness itself is not coupled to the understanding of the conscious experience, despite for us, it is very difficult to picture a conscious experience without an observer interpreting it up to a certain extent.

    What I would agree is that advanced language skills help reasoning, which is just one of the mind functions among others.

    Buddhists believe that language corrupts the understanding of the mind, (which contradicts your conjecture), I have met a few of this guys and I have a hunch that they are right.

    Alec, this piggy-back idea makes me think that the approach that you and I have to the problem of consciousness, or the concept itself, is very different.

  13. 13. Alec says:

    Perhaps it is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg sort of thing, with consciousness and language being inextricably connected. It is possible that neither came first. In evolutionary terms, I was thinking that it could be a case of “pre-adaptation.”

    If there was any sort of intermediate “zombie” state, it almost certainly was not dysfunctional, so that term seem a bit off the mark. These creatures survived in a harsher world than we can imagine.

    I was a bit surprised to see your mention of Buddhists, because in fact I am one! On several occasions I have experienced a state close to “no-mind” (in the Buddhist sense), though I am not practiced enough to be able to maintain it outside of a monastery setting. I have long suspected that part of the experience is associated with more “primitive” aspects of consciousness, but it certainly isn’t just that. While formal language-based logic is diminished (language really does get in the way, and one of the main keys is stopping the internal dialog), intuition remains very active. I made a comment regarding this back when Peter posted “Four Zomboids.”

    I have no idea what it all means. It has been enjoyable discussing it, and you have helped me clarify some of my thinking.

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    Alec: great !! I think you have answerd yourself.

    – language really does get in the way,
    – While formal language-based logic is diminished
    – stopping the internal dialog

    “intuition remains very active”, does that mean that semantics can be stand-alone without syntax…? hmmm still don’t know….

    So, is language needed for consciousness as pure conscious experience? no.

    I think your comment is also very useful for the introspection page.

    I have enjoyed the discussion too, the conundrum remains…

  15. 15. Vicente says:

    Alec, let me make just one more remark that you might find useful.

    You said: “intermediate “zombie” state”

    Consciousness is on/off quality. It is like being alive. You cannot be slightly dead, or a little bit alive, your are dead or alive. I know that even the definition of life is controversial, but please lets be classical, I don’t want to get into the autoreplicative entropy reduction structures, etc… I am not discussing what is life, but what is to be alive.

    Once you are alive, we can discuss your living conditions: you can be healthy and in shape, you can be critically ill, you can have some sort of dementia, you can be smart or you can be in deep coma, but you are alive. And when you die, it is clear.

    Consciousness is like that, your are either a conscious being or not, there are no intermediate states.

    Once you belong to the conscious (sentient for buddhists) set of beings, we can discuss the conditions of your conscious state, different levels of awareness, different senses, etc, but you are conscious, even if it is in a very difuse and confused state.

    If I may ask you, is this piggy-back idea a result of the buddhist believe of a soul, that can reencarnate in the wheel of karma… etc, so you think that at a certain point of evolution the brain (not only human) adquired the necessary features for the soul to connect to it, and so it happened. I would agree with that. In embriology, I believe there is a similar process, at a certain point the nervous system is developed and mature enough to allow the “connection”.

  16. 16. Alec says:

    Interesting thought, Vicente. My own Buddhism pertains only to the here-and-now. The rest of the cosmology (including the concept of a soul) is mostly a cultural legacy which I don’t pay much attention to. The meditational types of Buddhism don’t require any set of beliefs–that part is optional and remarkably flexible.

    The piggy-back idea comes from a different source. I will tentatively accept your on-off characterization of consciousness. If it has that property, consciousness is really difficult to evolve, because it has no earlier stage that can be improved upon by natural selection. This situation is fairly rare in what we know of evolution, and one of the mechanisms is called “pre-adaptation.” The idea is that the capability could have evolved in association with some other issue, and by luck turned out to have an “unexpected” (speaking loosely) utility. Evolution of the tongue is sometime used as an example–intermediate stages are problematic, as a tongue doesn’t work very well until it is fully developed. So if intermediate stages of consciousness are problematic, one possible evolutionary pathway is for it to be associated with some other adaptive trait that does have useful intermediate stages is is subject to selection. Communication is a good candidate for such a trait.

    It would help if we could sort creatures or life stages into those that are conscious and those that are not–granted, easier said than done! But if we could do that (let’s call it a “thought experiment”), we could investigate some major questions. So let’s specifically consider human development. At what stage of development does a fetus or individual become conscious? Your embryology comment suggests that this is a reasonable question. Even though two people might not be able to agree on what stage that is, we still might learn something from the criteria each of them use to answer the question. Regarding the present evolutionary issues, we could then ask, what other adaptive traits are developing functionality at the same time that consciousness “turns on”? Evolution could have been “working on” some of those other associated traits.

    On the other hand, if consciousness emerges more gradually (even if the gradient is steep)we would approach this differently. We don’t need to go there for now.

  17. 17. Vicente says:

    Alec:
    ” If it has that property, consciousness is really difficult to evolve, because it has no earlier stage that can be improved upon by natural selection

    Yes, but that should not posit a problem to you, take for example basic elements of matter: atoms, electrons, protons, I wouldn’t say molecules because they can evolve leading to improved biochemical cycles and processes…

    Atoms are not subjet to evolution, but the way in which atoms combine to make more complex structures follow evolution mechanisms.

    Take consciousness as a fundamental element of conscious beings, like electrons are to life, and then you can just apply evolution to the mind processes, so for example, smarter individuals are more successful.

    For the same reason you find acceptable that electrons (among the building elements of living beings) don’t evolve, you can accept that consciousness upon which phenomenal experience is constructed does not evolve either.

    I am aware the last statement is definitely feeble, I hope to have managed to convey the idea anyway.

  18. 19. Alec says:

    Hi, Vicente–
    Thanks for the interesting link. I have been lucid dreaming for over 40 years now, having independently discovered it when I was a college student. Until about 20 years ago when I learned it had a name, I never thought it was anything special, and just assumed everybody did it. I have always preferred to keep a “light touch” on my dream control (except for ending nightmares, which is very handy) in order to let interesting things happen. It seems that by being lucid, I gain much better recall of the content.

    Regarding some of our previous exchanges, one of my most unforgettable lucid dreams came right after a week long Zen meditation retreat, and when I became lucid in my dream state, there was no “me” in the dream! I can handle something like that in a waking state, but in a dream it was so bizarre I instantly awoke almost in shock.

    There is yet another related mental state that is said to be fairly easily entered, and that is the “shamanic state of consciousness”. From what I gather, it shares a lot with lucid dreaming, but certainly is a bit different again. I may try it some time, if I can overcome the obstacles (such as an aversion to intense imagery) I have built up in my conventional meditation.

    Just rambling, but this is fascinating stuff. It is really heartening to see science beginning to recognize and study these phenomena. Until you have experienced them directly, it can be hard to believe they are valid alternative states that can be duplicated across individuals.

    Regards, and thanks. Alec

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