Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Science of consciousness

 Toward a Science of Consciousness 2006 April 4-8, Tucson Convention Center, Tucson, Arizona
The dictionary defines science as: “The observation, identification,
description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena”. Among these, consciousness has clearly been identified, described, experimentally investigated and elicited theoretical explanations (though disagreements certainly exist among various approaches in each category).
Regarding observation, consciousness cannot be directly measured or observed by third persons, but first person accounts are prevalent.
Thus it appears that, yes indeed, there may now be a science of consciousness.

Must a "theory of everything" include consciousness?

Marking the century anniversary of Einstein’s first major contributions, an article in Nature (433, 257 – 259, January 2005) surveyed some of the world’s top physicists on the current status of a “Theory of everything”. Roger Penrose remarked that such a theory must include consciousness.
Here is his statement:
The terminology 'theory of everything' has always worried me. There is a certain physicist's arrogance about it that suggests that knowing all the physical laws would tell us everything about the world, at least in principle.

Does a physical theory of 'everything' include a theory of consciousness?
Does it include a theory of morality, or of human behaviour, or of aesthetics?
Even if our idea of science could be expanded to incorporate these things, would we still think of it as 'physics', or would it even be reducible to physics?
As for myself, I perhaps have enough of the physicist's arrogance about me to believe that a physical 'theory of everything' should at least contain the seeds of an explanation of the phenomenon of consciousness. It seems to me that this phenomenon is such a fundamental one that it cannot be simply an accidental concomitant of the complexity of brain action. It must be of such sophistication that the brain is enabled to dig more deeply into the fundamental workings of the Universe than are more commonplace physical systems. And if this is so, then we are very much farther from a proper understanding of the laws of nature than most physicists seem to believe.
Indeed, irrespective of the consciousness issue, in my opinion, we are nowhere close to an accurate, purely physical theory of everything. I find it remarkable how many physicists will express the view that, despite some missing details and unifying concepts, we know virtually all we need to know to describe the fully detailed physical behaviour of systems — at least in principle.
Yet, there is at least one glaring omission in present physical theory. This is how small-scale quantum processes can add up, for large and complicated systems, to the almost classical behaviour of macroscopic bodies. Indeed, it is not just an omission but an actual fundamental inconsistency, sometimes referred to as the measurement paradox (or Schrödinger's cat). In my view, until this paradox is resolved we must necessarily remain very far from a physical theory of everything — whether or not such a theory exists.
Roger Penrose
Consciousness defines our existence and reality, but the mechanism by which the brain generates thoughts and feelings remains unknown.
Most explanations portray the brain as a computer, with nerve cells ("neurons") and their synaptic connections acting as simple switches. However computation alone cannot explain why we have feelings and awareness, an "inner life."

We also don't know if our conscious perceptions accurately portray the external world. At its base, the universe follows the seemingly bizarre and paradoxical laws of quantum mechanics, with particles being in multiple places simultaneously, connected over distance, and with time not existing. But the “classical” world we perceive is definite, with a flow of time. The boundary or edge (quantum state reduction, or ‘collapse of the wave function”) between the quantum and classical worlds somehow involves consciousness.
I spent twenty years studying how computer-like structures called microtubules inside neurons and other cells could process information related to consciousness. But when I read The emperor’s new mind by Sir Roger Penrose in 1991 I realized that consciousness may be a specific process on the edge between the quantum and classical worlds. Roger and I teamed up to develop a theory of consciousness based on quantum computation in microtubules within neurons. Roger’s mechanism for an objective threshold for quantum state reduction connects us to the most basic, “funda-mental” level of the universe at the Planck scale, and is called objective reduction (OR). Our suggestion for biological feedback to microtubule quantum states is orchestration (Orch), hence our model is called orchestrated objective reduction, Orch OR.

"Mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of the universe" - Freeman Dyson
In recent years I have concluded that such a connection to the basic proto-conscious level of reality where Platonic values are embedded is strikingly similar to Buddhist concepts, and may account for spirituality.
Charge is a word with many different meanings.
In physics, the concept of charge is derived from the observation of conserved quantum numbers.
Various charge-like quantum numbers have been introduced by theories of particle physics, e.g.

electric charge for electromagnetic interaction,
magnetic charge (currently purely theoretic),
colour charge for gluons,
quark charges like strangeness, and
isospin for electroweak interactions.
In the formalism of particle theories charge-like quantum numbers can sometimes be inverted by means of a charge conjugation operator called C. Chiral fermions often cannot.
Quantum number
A quantum number is any one of a set of numbers used to specify the full quantum state of any system in quantum mechanics. Each quantum number specifies the value of a conserved quantity in the dynamics of the quantum system. Since any quantum system can have one or more quantum numbers, it is a futile job to list all possible quantum numbers. This article therefore illustrates the concepts by choosing two well-known examples, after a brief introduction to the general concept of quantum numbers.

1 How many quantum numbers?
2 Single electron in an atom
3 Elementary particles
4 See also
5 References and external links
5.1 General principles
5.2 Atomic physics
5.3 Particle physics

How many quantum numbers?
How many quantum numbers are needed to describe any given system?
There is no universal answer, although for each system, one must find the answer for a full analysis of the system.
The dynamics of any quantum system is described by a quantum Hamiltonian, H. There is one quantum number of the system corresponding to the energy, i.e., the eigenvalue of the Hamiltonian.
There is also one quantum number for each operator O that commutes with the Hamiltonian (i.e. satisfies the relation OH = HO).
These are all the quantum numbers that the system can have. Note that the operators O defining the quantum numbers should be independent of each other. Often there is more than one way to choose a set of independent operators. Consequently, in different situations different sets of quantum numbers may be used for the description of the same system.
Testing the Survival of Consciousness Hypothesis
Recent advances in contemporary theory and experimental design are making it possible to test predictions of the survival of consciousness hypothesis. The experiments require the collaboration of skilled research mediums and research sitters who are trained how to score the data. Previous experiments have addressed and ruled out conventional explanations such as fraud, cold reading, rater bias, and experimenter effects. A recent "triple-blind" experiment (Beischel, Schwartz, Mosby, Fleischman, and Hayes, 2005) establishes not only anomalous information retrieval in gifted research mediums, but also points to the implausibility of "mind reading of the sitter" as the source of the information.
Future research on "discarnate intention" is required to determine the veracity of the survival of consciousness hypothesis.
The eminent cognitive science pioneer Douglas Hofstadter from Indiana University will also speak at Tucson for the first time. He is Professor of Cognitive Science, Computer Science, History, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and Psychology. Professor Hofstadter has received (among other awards) a Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim fellowship and a 1980 American Book Award for "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid". He has also written "Metamagical themas: Questing for the essence of mind and pattern", and (with Daniel Dennett) "The Mind's I: Fantasies and reflections on self and soul". Professor Hofstadter is now writing a book about consciousness and will speak to us about his new ideas.
In the Meditation session, Antoine Lutz and John Dunne will discuss their findings (e.g. their PNAS paper) on EEG in Tibetan monk meditators vs control meditators. They found in the Tibetans the highest amplitude gamma synchrony ever reported!
Neural Correlates of Decision-Making
Alan Sanfey (Psychology)
People make countless decisions on a daily basis, from relatively small ones (where should I eat for lunch?) to highly consequential ones (which job will I take? who shall I marry?). In recent years there has been a growing interest in more fully describing how we make these types of choices by assessing both the psychological and neural processes that elicit our judgments and decisions. This talk will review the progress that has been made in describing decision-making in terms of neural processes. I will also present results from my own work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to attempt to elucidate the processes that may underlie decision-making, in particular making decisions in a social context.
The Functional Neuroanatomy of Human Feelings
Bud Craig (Neuroscience, Arizona State University)
The functional neuroanatomy of human feelings"As humans, we perceive feelings from our bodies - and describe them to each other daily - that relate our state of well-being, our energy and stress levels, our mood and disposition. How do we have these feelings? What neural processes do they represent? Recent functional anatomical work has detailed an afferent neural system in primates, and especially humans, that represents all aspects of the physiological condition of the physical body. This system constitutes a representation of "the material me" that could provide a foundation for subjective feelings, emotion and self-awareness.
Revelations: On What is Manifest in Visual Experience
Joseph Tolliver (Philosophy)

Mark Johnston has defended a doctrine he calls Revelation: The intrinsic nature of canary yellow is fully revealed by a standard visual experience as of a canary yellow thing. A general version of Revelation would be: There are perceivable qualities Q such that an experience as of Q is sufficient for its subject to fully know the intrinsic nature of a way a thing is when it is Q. I defend two claims: (1) The colors are not revealed in visual experience; (2) There are, nevertheless, a class of visually revealed qualities. I call them "The Manifest Colors."
Consciousness: A Personal Perspective
Donna Swaim (Religious Studies)

In this rather non-academic presentation, I will talk about my own years of experience, which have shaped my perception of consciousness and helped it grow -- from an epiphany regarding my own existence; from teaching "20th Century Science and the Arts" with Raymond White of the Department of Astronomy, where I first learned about quantum theory; from working with young men in prison whose behavior suggested a less than conscious choice; etc.
Reconciling materialism with the knowledge intuition
Elizabeth Schier (Philosophy, University of Adelaide)

The knowledge argument has been analysed to death, yet the debate remains unresolved. This is because dualists pump the core intuition of the argument (that there is some fact that can only be known through experience) whereas materialists deny it. I intend to break this deadlock by demonstrating that the knowledge intuition is compatible with materialism. In order to achieve such a resolution we need to discard the dominant "access" conception of consciousness in favor of a "medium" conception. The access theorist views phenomenal consciousness as the process that enables a subject to access their mental states. This means that if the access theorist accepts the knowledge intuition they are accepting that there is something about their mental states that only the subject can know.
The difficulty is that such facts are beyond the reach of physical science. However if one adopts a medium conception and views consciousness as the ground of representational content it is possible to accept the knowledge intuition without creating epistemically subjective facts.

The upshot is that materialism can be true even if there are some facts that can only be known via experience. Furthermore, instead of viewing the knowledge argument as an argument for dualism we can view it as an argument against an access conception of consciousness.
Moral philosophy and moral phenomenology
Mark Timmons (Philosophy)

Metaethics is a branch of ethics whose guiding question is: In what way(s) are moral thought and discourse objective, if at all?
Philosophical questions about the objectivity of some realm of discourse or area of inquiry concern the meaning, truth, metaphysics, and epistemology of the realm or area under consideration. Metaethics, then, inquires into the meaning, truth, metaphysics, and epistemology of moral thought and discourse. In the first part of my talk, I will a give selective overview of metaethics by doing three things:

(1) explaining the most general methodological constraints on metaethical inquiry;
(2) providing a snapshot of basic metaethical options; and
(3) locating the Horgan & Timmons view among the options. (Our view is often obscured by deep-rooted philosophical assumptions that we reject.)
In the second part of the talk, I will make a few remarks about the phenomenology of moral experience which, when one notices how little attention it has received from philosophers who do metaethics, is surprising, though perhaps explicable considering narrowly 'analytic' approaches to the subject matter.
Consciousness revived:
But is the therapy worse than the disease?
Stuart Hameroff
Professor, Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology
Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
The University of Arizona
Neural correlates of conscious perceptions occur too late - 250 to 500 milliseconds after impingement on our sense organs - for causal efficacy in seemingly willful actions.
Nonetheless, subjectively we consciously perceive and act sooner.
Is consciousness an epiphenomenal illusion?
Add to this the ‘hard problem’ of how we have conscious experience, and the ‘binding problem’ of how disparate and asynchronous aspects of consciousness are unified, and the science of consciousness is in a pickle.
The prevalent functionalist view considers neurons as simple input-output devices, and axonal-dendritic synaptic networks of such cartoon-like neurons as the essential elements from which consciousness emerges.
This view fails to address the difficult issues. Furthermore, the best electrophysiological correlate of consciousness – gamma frequency EEG, or coherent ‘40 Hz’ oscillations – is incompatible with axonal-dendritic synaptic networks.
I will discuss a two step approach to rescue consciousness from its status as illusory epiphenomenon.

The first is to consider cortical ‘dendritic webs’ – networks of neurons interconnected by dendro-dendritic gap junctions which fuse components into coherently oscillating ‘hyper-neurons’ – as the primary site of consciousness, with axonal spikes serving to broadcast the results of dendritic conscious processes.
The second is to look inside these dendrites at the unique cytoskeletal arrangements in which quantum computation may take place. By backwards time referral of dream-like quantum information, and connection to funda-mental physics, real time conscious experience and actions can be explained.
The plausibility of quantum computation in the brain will be addressed.

Interesing links:
Quantum Charge
Quantum Charge II
Quantum Number
Toward a Science of Consciousness 2006 April 4-8, Tucson Convention Center, Tucson, Arizona
Spring 2006 Consciousness Discussion Forum Program
Quantum Consciousness


Blogger Rob said...

Here is a good short film on the relationship between quantum science and consciousness

10:57 PM, August 27, 2008  

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