To make headway on the mystery of consciousness, some researchers are trying a rigorous new way to test competing theories.
Many of these ideas of consciousness seem ridiculous to me. I suppose that people need to be thinking about these ideas, iterating, and even doing some philosophy to ever get around to some better ideas and science, but it’s still very early days on the topic. I am glad that they’re actively attempting to come up with some actual science and testing of some of these theories to find a better answer.
If nothing else, this article does a reasonable job of giving an overview of some of the most recent schools of thought. And of course, it’s Philip Ball, so who could resist reading it…
The ability to integrate information in the brain is considered to be an essential property for cognition and consciousness. Integrated Information Theory (IIT) hypothesizes that the amount of integrated information ( Φ ) in the brain is related to the level of consciousness. IIT proposes that, to quantify information integration in a system as a whole, integrated information should be measured across the partition of the system at which information loss caused by partitioning is minimized, called the Minimum Information Partition (MIP). The computational cost for exhaustively searching for the MIP grows exponentially with system size, making it difficult to apply IIT to real neural data. It has been previously shown that, if a measure of Φ satisfies a mathematical property, submodularity, the MIP can be found in a polynomial order by an optimization algorithm. However, although the first version of Φ is submodular, the later versions are not. In this study, we empirically explore to what extent the algorithm can be applied to the non-submodular measures of Φ by evaluating the accuracy of the algorithm in simulated data and real neural data. We find that the algorithm identifies the MIP in a nearly perfect manner even for the non-submodular measures. Our results show that the algorithm allows us to measure Φ in large systems within a practical amount of time.
One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.
How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.
In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.
An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers, scientists, and thinkers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone eager to make sense of how the mind works and how it came about.