Topic: Theories of Consciousness

Camp: Agreement / Approachable Via Science / Representational Qualia

Camp Statement
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Representational Qualia Theory

Our working hypothesis is that redness is not a property of something like a red strawberry reflecting 650nm light, or the initial cause of a perception process. It is, instead, a property of the final result of a perception process. The world finally fully realizing this will be far more significant than when they switched from the working hypothesis of a geocentric solar system. This could lead to the most significant scientific revolution of all time. The early significant lead this collaboratively developed camp has ahead of all others is exciting evidence that, at least for some experts and hobbyists, we might have already made considerable progress in this direction.
Information theory mandates that information or knowledge must be represented by something. If you know something, there must be something that is that knowledge. If you know lots of phenomenal stuff like the redness of some strawberries, together with the greenness of some leaves, and cognitive information about how sweet the reddest ones are, there must be something that is all this information, and it must be somehow bound together in the same world of awareness that we experience.

Quale Interpretation Problem

All information that comes to us through our cause and effect based senses does so in the abstract. This type of abstract information suffers from a "Quale Interpretation Problem". This problem is why redness is ineffable. The cause and effect way this type of abstracted information comes to us by properly interpreting our senses has three important related (dis) functionalities:
  1. What this abstract information is represented by doesn't matter, as long as it is interpreted properly.
  2. Anything that represents this abstract information must be properly interpreted to get the abstract information represented by it.
  3. External abstractly represented information has no relationship to any fundamental properties the media doing the representation may or may not have.
This type of problematic abstractness extends beyond our senses into any detection instruments, and includes all our current computational and simulation devices. If you are going to represent information, you must have some media which can assume distinguishable states. Abstracted information being communicated someplace is, by nature of its design, only concerned with detectible and distinguishable causal local properties of the media. Regardless of what the properties of this media are, or may be like, the only relevant part is your interpreting these behaviours properly to get the abstract information being represented. External abstract information has nothing to do with what any of the intermediate representations might be fundamentally like, either phenomenally or behaviourally. With the design of whatever represents red in a computer (say red is 1 and green is 0), the only important thing is that whatever is doing the representation should have possible differentiable states, and that such differences be interpreted properly so the machines abstract algorithms can pick the items represented by ones, while avoiding the zeros. The process of interpreting abstracted representations is a local process isolated from the information and abstract algorithms being processed on them.
While with consciousness, what redness and greenness are like and how they are different in phenomenally motivating ways is a critical part of our conscious knowledge and is what enables us to consciously distinguish between different things so that we can choose the red over the green. These properties must have some way of being bound together and integrated with our cognitive reasoning ideas about them, memory of such, and so on. If we used traditional cause and effect observation that suffers from the "Quale Interpretation Problem", in order to examine the surface of the brain, or even to examine individual neurons and groups of neurons, and by this means we managed to observe the physical correlate for redness, we might ourselves only observe grey light reflected from these surfaces. However, it would be incorrect to interpret the subjective experience as grayness rather than redness.
If we are going to make any progress towards explaining consciousness, we must do more than just this. We must first have a clear understanding that there is more than just causal properties we should be looking for and understand this "Quale Interpretation Problem". We must understand just "what" to look for – qualia, "where" to look for it – a property of a neural correlate and finally "how" to look for it – via effing the ineffable or some type of repeatable and sharable binding or grounding process. The longer nuts and bolts neural researchers only do the former, and only focus on abstracted and incorrectly interpreted causal properties of neurons, the longer they will continue to have success regarding causal behaviour, but fail to achieve what could arguably be the greatest scientific discovery of all time, in uncovering the relationship of the phenomenal properties to the neural correlates. This discovery includes the mapping and sharing of all possible experiencable phenomenal properties to the behavioural properties we already know so much about, and with it the discovery of what physics is phenomenally like.

Reduction of unified complex knowledge to fundamental qualia

The final result of the perceptual process is the appearance of a visual sensation in the phenomenal visual field (A). This is associated with the acquisition of cognitive knowledge (B) correlating to an external physical object. Processes A and B are mediated by different brain mechanisms. In associative agnosia the patient has intact phenomenology but defective epistemology about visual objects. In blindsight the opposite occurs—no phenomenology but functioning epistemology. Visual phenomenology (A) and visual epistemology (B) are processed by different brain mechanisms and correspondingly lost by damage to these regions.
The word 'red' can be used in its common sense mode as naming a causal property such as the surface of a strawberry reflecting 650 nm light. But this usage is ambiguous referring to both the property of an object reflecting 650 nm light and to the correlated but physically quite separate process of the phenomenal experience redness in the brain. It is possible to add a red/green inverter anywhere in the perception process of a strawberry patch. Whenever you do this, the still reflecting 650 nm light strawberry is then being represented with phenomenal green, and the leaves are represented with phenomenal red. Dreams, hallucinated strawberries, and other visual brain states can also be composed of phenomenal red even when there is no 650 nm light coming to our retinas from the external world.

We think that the redness of the phenomenal red strawberry amongst the green leaves is out beyond our eyes, and that we are directly aware of it. But this is a misrepresentation - an optimization selected by nature. In reality, these sensations only arise after the perception process, in the model of a unified conscious world* perceived by us as our knowledge of everyday reality.
At the center of this phenomenal 3D world model in our brain is our experience of the body-image. This is the model of the physical body that we experience and that is also constructed by a representative mechanism. All somatic sensations, including 'phantom' limbs and phantom limb pain, are located in the body image not in the physical body.
Inside our experience of our body-image is an experience of our "self" or "spirit" or "I". This "I" is represented as looking out of our eyes within this body image. But of course, this spirit image, unlike everything else in this phenomenal world, has no referent in reality. However, though it has no referent in reality, this in no way means our spirit does not exist. This phenomenal "spirit" is what we really, literally, and spiritually are. During "out of body experiences" this image of our spirit* leaves our body-image, but remains in the unified phenomenal world of our conscious awareness.

Effing the Ineffable

Since this theory predicts that redness is not a property of the strawberry, but instead a property of our knowledge of such, we are faced with a communication problem. Currently we can't know if my redness is anything like yours or anyone else's redness. How can we eff that which is ineffable?
If this theory is borne out, and we achieve any kind of ability to reliably predict just what it is that has redness, we'll be able to do things like use our traditional instruments to detect the same thing going on in others' brains. Any such would provide us tools to ground our abstract communication so that it could become phenomenally meaningful between brains.
As an example, we could look for whatever it is that we reliably know has person A's redness in person B's brain. Then we could say to person B that this is person A's red. To which person B might say something like, 'No, that is my green', or maybe, 'Yes, that is very similar to my red', or any of many other possible responses that would enable us to map out and communicate, in a predictably reliable way, at least some of the more obvious differences between our brains.
This would be a kind of weak effing of the ineffable, which can be achieved via any ability we may achieve to reliably observe whatever it is that has redness and ground what we mean by abstract words in such a personally experiencable way as this. The next section describes 2 stronger types of effing the ineffable.

Gamma Synchrony, the Binding Problem and the Unity of Consciousness: Strongly Effing the Ineffable

When there is a red strawberry represented in the left hemisphere (right field of vision) and a green leaf represented in the right hemisphere (left field of vision), we are aware of them at the same time. This unified phenomenal world, which bridges the corpus callosum, unifies vision into a conscious whole, in which we can compare and contrast their phenomenal differences.
Studies show that conscious percepts correlate to different types of brain activity from unconscious percepts. In particular consciousness is demonstrated to correlate with synchronisation of gamma oscillations in widely separated neural assemblies, whereas unconscious signals correlate only to local synchrony. The 30-80 Hz oscillation of neuronal spiking known as the gamma wave can become synchronised across the brain. It is suggested that the synchronisation of widely distributed neuronal activity meets some of the requirements for explaining how conscious experience arises.
It is proposed that spatially separated neuronal assemblies are bound together by signalling between them. Neurons are known to be synchronised into coherent assemblies, and these assemblies are suggested to signal the presence or absence of particular features in them to other assemblies. This process is suggested to give rise to a distributed representation of an object or an environment. Neuronal assemblies form and dissolve rapidly, which could account for the easy shifting of consciousness from one focus to another.
Synchronisation allows better control of interactions between neurons. The excitatory inputs are seen to be effective if they arrive at the depolarising slope of a neuronal oscillation cycle, but are ineffective at other times. This means that groups of neurons that oscillate in synchrony will be able to signal to one another, and groups that are out of synchrony will be ignored. This mechanism can function within neural assemblies, but also between spatially separated assemblies.
Studies suggest that local processing is unconscious, whereas large scale activity such as reciprocal signalling between neural assemblies is a correlate of consciousness. It is these latter that can establish the global coordination that is correlated to consciousness. It is proposed that masking is a good way of studying consciousness, because this allows the same stimuli to either be used in unconscious brain processing, or to be translated into phenomenally experienced brain states, depending on how long the signal is sustained for (probably +/- 30 ms). In one study words could be perceived in some trials but not in others. Local gamma synchronisation was similar in both cases, but with consciously perceived words there was a burst of long-distance gamma synchrony. Melloni, L. et al , 2007, Melloni, L. & Rodriguez, L. 2007, Melloni, L. & Woolf, S
Whatever the relationship between gamma synchrony and consciousness, this spatially extended synchrony does appear to provide a plausible explanation of how conscious perceptions are unified. The redness of fruit in one neuronal assembly is synchronised with the greenness of leaves in another assembly, the blueness of the sky in still another, plus the humming of bees and song of birds in the more spatially distant but still synchronised assemblies of the auditory cortex.
Given that in principle anything physical can be built, in the long run, this theory predicts it will be possible to discover and use similar mechanisms to produce artificial hemisphere-like structures integrated into our visual fields that can reliably reproduce various phenomenal sensations upon command within one single phenomenal world of awareness with the red, green, and everything else we are already phenomenally aware of. This second type of effing is more flexible or wide ranging than the form mentioned earlier. With the first type, if you wanted to eff a particular quale, say your red which is another person's green, you'd have to hope you could reproduce and observe such in the target brain, so that the other person would experience what you were describing. But if the other person had never experienced the quale you were describing, or their brain was not capable of experiencing it, then the augmentation described above would be necessary
The possibility of a third type of effing is suggested by the ideas of V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein. They were the first to propose the idea of effing the ineffable (though they didn't call it such) in their seminal Three Laws of Qualia in 1997. They pointed out that if you were colour blind and a cable was run from the V4 area of someone else's brain into your brain, then perhaps you would suddenly have the experience of colour which would be an example of effing the ineffable. This cable would need to unify the same phenomenal information that we discuss above in respect of the global gamma synchrony. This leads on to the possibility of an actual merger or mixture of minds that experience the same representations of the world.

Different Types of Effing

  1. Weak: Having reliable maps of whatever neural correlates reliably have a particular quale. Then observing such in other minds via any traditional cause and effect methods. Then informing the person experiencing such what others use that quale for.
  2. Stronger: Augmenting someone's brain with capabilities to experience phenomenal experience the person's brain wasn't previously capable of producing.
  3. Strongest: Joining minds together with something that can do what the corpus callosum does, when merging conscious knowledge in both hemispheres of the brain. In other words merging two brains so two minds can experience the same qualia.
Any such method where two brains can experience the same quale is clearly the strongest of the 3 types of effing. While with only the first two types, it might be possible for skeptics to still doubt the existence of the external world, or other minds, by seriously violating Occam's razor in even more extreme ways than the Brain in a Vat idea. If science demonstrated the third type where two people are experiencing the same qualia, such could be extended to provide absolute proof of other minds and a real external world, and most importantly of all, what they and it are all phenomenally like, or not. Possibly with the first, and surely with either the 2nd or 3rd methods being achieved by science, as all predicted here, it will effectively falsify Nagel's famous hypothesis that it would never be possible to experience the qualia of a bat You'll never know what it's like to be a bat, Nagel, 1974 and any other of the many theories predicting there is no such thing as qualia or that effing will never be possible. Various brain interface experiments are increasingly getting close to 'effing' abilities. Just one demonstration of such is documented in this wired article.

Choice, Preference and the Emotional Brain: The Turing Test Isn't Enough

Certain aspects of emotional processing appear to be basis of choice and preference. As something that is not replicated in classical computing, they look to be the best way of distinguishing a conscious entity. Emotional processing in the brain revolves round a system of 'rewards' and 'punishers'. Representations of the external world are produced in the cortex, but these are initially neutral in terms of reward value, until they are projected to other regions, and particularly the orbitofrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal is thought to encode the relative value of rewards. It responds more strongly to sensory inputs related to rewards than to neutral stimuli. Thus it responds more to the pressure of velvet than the pressure of wood.
In particular, studies show that the level of orbitofrontal activity correlates to the subjective pleasantness of sensations rather than the strength of the signal being received Rolls et al 2003c, 2003d, Anderson et al, 2003. In responding to a face, activity increases in line with the subjectively assessed attractiveness of the face. The orbitofrontal also process shifts in preferences. In a choice of apples and carrots, apples may be preferred, but when bananas are added, the preference can shift to bananas. Thus some aspects of orbitofrontal processing could be argued to make sense only in terms of qualia, rather than any form of non-conscious communication from the external world. The orbitofrontal can be seen as a brain region that creates a common neural currency that weigh up the qualia of differing rewards, or even of rewards that have no common characteristic such as holiday or a healthy bank balance.
The orbitofrontal projects to the subcortical basal ganglia, a region that lies upstream of actions and behaviour. The orbitofrontal also project to the dorsolateral frontal seen as the executive and long-term planning region of the brain. The basal ganglia integrate the reward assessment of the orbitofrontal, plus inputs from many other parts of the cortex, the amygdala and other parts of the limbic system. The basal ganglia appear to act as a form of mixer-tap for a wide spread of inputs. Dopamine and other neuromodulators play a role in the delivery of the qualia of subjective reward in the nucleus accumbens, itself part of the basal ganglia.
It is absurd to think the only way to determine the nature of another's consciousness is through a "Turing Test", rooted as this test is in the more limited mid-twentieth century knowledge of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. To phenomenally know the nature of qualia, the most important question to ask is something like: "What is Red like?" And to know if the conscious entity is telling the truth, you must have some way to get around the quale interpretation problem while observing the mechanisms of their brain.
If you ask an intelligent system that is based on abstract knowledge what its red knowledge is phenomenally like, depending on the level of self-referential information it has access to, it could reply that it is an abstracted knowledge based system in which the information is represented by, doesn't matter. It might provide some information about the specifics such as, red is represented with 0xFF0000, revealing depth and resolution information about its knowledge and so on. Some people might consider such system to be a non-phenomenal 'zombie' that could behave identically to a phenomenal system as far as easily picking red strawberries goes. Despite such, if it demands something like 'red is a property of the surface of a strawberry', it will simply be revealing its stupidity, or if it is smarter than that, and claiming it is a phenomenal system, perhaps in line with its attempt to pass a Turing test, it will be lying.
And if it is really smart, like some humans are now becoming, it will be able to learn what a phenomenally wonderful and rewarding quality red is, what it is a property of, and that effing is required to communicate and be aware of such. Like intelligent humans that want to know what other's red is like, it will want to know what red is like for us. It will likely start looking for ways to eff such ineffable knowledge to itself, so it too can experience the same wonderful stuff and finally phenomenally say: "oh THAT is what red is like for you!". An example from Sci-Fi includes Commander Data in Star Trek, who is often asking about and seeking after obviously valuable phenomenal things.

Problems with other working hypothesis

Many people often compare the idea of qualia to many failed theories of the past such as vitalism, phlogiston, either and so on. The problem with many of these arguments is they entirely miss classify the nature of qualia as John Gregg states in his essay on the hard problem:
  "The problem is that subjective consciousness (or qualia) is not
  something we drag into the picture to explain something or other
  that we observe, as elan vital was invoked to explain what we
  observe about life, or to use another example reductive
  physicalists like, as the luminiferous ether was invoked to explain
  light waves in the 19th century. Consciousness is the raw data,
  the observed thing that needs explaining. It is the light, not the

People like Daniel Dennett make similar categorical errors when they claim we don't have qualia "it just seems like we do" Consciousness Explained P. 375. The very meaning of 'to seem' is to have knowledge that doesn't accurately represent its referent. Qualia have to do with the nature of our seeming. Whether or not they are mistaken representations of something else is irrelevant.
A few people claim to be representationalists, while promoting the use of terribly confusing and ambiguous terms such as our representations are 'transparent' in a way that allows us to be aware of what we are looking at. Or they say things like "every quale is a representation". As soon as you say something ambiguous like our representations are 'transparent' this allows people to quickly jump to the obviously erroneous conclusion that phenomenal red is really on the surface of the strawberry, and that our representations, because of their 'transparency' allow us to be aware of such. See liberal usages of this word in the works of Michel Tye, Thomas Metzinger and others.
When you say something like 'every quale is a representation', again this confuses the issues and does not accurately mechanically portray what is the representation, and what is being represented. The key thing to grasp is that the qualia, subjective experience, or the fact that looking at a strawberry does seem like something rather than either nothing or a string of 0s and 1s is a brain state. It usually correlates to particular oscillations in the external world but bears little or no resemblance to them. Philosophers who say that we only seem to have the qualia of red strawberries miss the point or make a category error in that it is the seeming bit that they need to explain. If they are scientifically literate they already know that the qualia bear little actual resemblance to the external object.
A few so called representationalists also name something they call the phenomenal principle - "That if there sensibly appears to a subject to be something which possesses a particular sensible quality then there is something of which the subject is aware which does possess that sensible quality." And they deny such a principle. We believe such a principle, but think it is much better to simply say our brains use qualia to represent things and that our knowledge is made of such. What these qualia are like, how they are different, and how we are aware of such in a unified way, is critically important to the process.
This is a very brief list of issues present here. Steve Lehar has a much more comprehensive review of the history of the epistemological debate, and the various problems and confusions that have and still do exist, working from an assumption that representational qualia theory is correct. This comprehensive academic presentation is contained in his "A History of the Epistemological Debate" section of his "The Function of Conscious Experience" paper. It includes the following:
   "The critical realists all agreed on the fact that the sense
    data are independent of the object of perception itself.
    However the question of whether the sense data are part
   of the mind, or whether they are aspects of the external
   object is one on which critical realists differed in subtle
   ways. In a book on critical realism by a consortium of
   authors, Lovejoy, Pratt and Sellars claim that the senses
   are completely "the character of the mental existent ….
   although its existence is not given", whatever that might
   possibly mean, while Drake, Rogers, Santayana and Strong
   agree that the data are characteristic of the apprehended
   object, although "the datum is qua datum, a mere essence,
   an inputed but not necessarily actually existent. It may or
   may not have existence", whatever that might possibly
   mean. So the critical realists solved the problem of
   sense-data by defining a unique kind of existent, which may
   either be part of the external object, or of the internal
   mental state, but in any case it has a status
   of quasi-existence, which supposedly escapes the problems
   inherent in identifying it explicitly as either an internal or
   external entity. Epistemological confusion inevitably leads
   to a confused philosophy." 

What will the future be like if this theory turns out to be the one ?

Our brains and brain states are private from those of others, and give a first person experience, whereas what comes from other peoples' brains is public and third person. Though there are unified, grand and glorious phenomenal spirit* worlds within each of us, our spirits are still trapped behind this phenomenal veil of perception. Our cause and effect based senses and their extension via traditional scientific instruments and communication tools allow abstracted communication between these worlds, and about the causal behaviour of the world in general. But, beyond this abstracted information about the behaviour of what is outside, we are still phenomenally isolated and blind to any phenomenal properties beyond what is in our own world of conscious awareness. When we hug someone, we still only know half of what is important.
We believe science could be on the verge of getting an objective handle on these blind to traditional cause-and-effect observation phenomenal properties that could enable technologies such as 'effing' the ineffable. This discovery will finally resolve how they work, how they are unified, and many other conundrums of self and epistemology philosophy has been struggling with for so long. We believe such a discovery will be the most significant, profound and world changing of scientific achievements to date. For such an achievement will literally ultimately enable the piercing of these spirit prison walls and eventually allow our phenomenally unified spirits to be freed into a world that is surely much more than just cause and effect behaviour. If this theory turns out to be true our spirit* worlds, in addition to being shared and merged, will soon be growing in resolution, extents, diversity of phenomenal qualities, and many way's we surely can't even fathom yet, let alone know what it will be like.

1.) Rolls et al, 2003c
2.) Rolls et al 2003d
3.) Anderson et al, 2003 – Dissociated neural representations of intensity and valence in human olfaction - Nature Neuroscience, 6, pp. 196-203
4.) Melloni, L. et al, 2007 - Synchronisation of cortical activity across cortical areas correlates with conscious perception - Journal of Neuroscience, 27, pp. 2858-65
5.) Melloni, L. & Rodriguez, L., 2007 - Non-perceived stimuli elicit local but not large scale neural synchrony - Perception, 36, (ECVP Abstract Supplement)
6.) Memory, Attention and Decision-Making - Edmund T. Rolls, Chapter 3, pp. 113-129 New Horizons in the Neuroscience of Consciousness - Chapter 2, pp. 17-26 – Lucia Melloni & Wolf Singer
7.) Dennett, Daniel, 1991 – Consciousness Explained, Brown and Co.
8.) Nagel, T. 1974 __ What is it like to be a bat? ___ Philosophical Review, pp. 435-50
9.) Three Laws of Qualia in 1997.

More Info:
  • Steven Lehar, an early leader in the [1] Mind Experts topic maintains The Representationalism Web Site.
  • In Nov. 2009 David Chalmers et al did a PhilPapers Survey. Question number 21 of that survey was: "Perceptual Experience: Representationalism, Qualia Theory, Disjunctivism, Sense –Datum Theory?" Though this camp shares doctrines of many of the choices such as qualia and representationalism, the members of this camp consider the Sense-Datum Theory choice to be the closest to what is described here.
  • There is a canonized list of the most favourite publications about representational qualia theory here
  • This theory makes profound predictions about what things like uploading and "escape from our mortal spirit* prison" will be like, should it turn out to be true. A detailed description of such predictions in story form is contained in chapters 5 and 6 of the short story by Brent Allsop entitled "1229 years after Titanic" available here:
*Note: It isn't easy to describe what we are talking about here with common English. Terms like 'phenomenal' and 'spiritual' get close, but can also be misleading because these terms are so often used to mean other things than we are talking about here. Though this 'world in our head' has many similarities to what people commonly think of when they use the term 'spirit world' it should be very clear that what we are talking about here is completely contained in our skull, and is dependent on, or a property of, the living matter that makes up our brain. We do believe in 'spirits' as defined here, but we do not believe in ghosts.

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