Is consciousness a holistically uniform concept? an all-or-nothing emergent phenomenon? So-called objective evidence and subjective experience seem to indicate the contrary. So lets for the moment assume that consciousness is a complex composite phenomenon, the underpinnings of which are grounded in some elementary properties of nature: Assume that nature allows for some form of proto-conciousness, because evidently it does.
Whether such an aspect of nature should be considered physical or not would depend on one’s conception of physics – present day or future. Penrose proposed a “deep” mechanism for proto-consciousness. The Hameroff part of the theory put forth a suggestion for machinery components operating on the basis of the penrose principle. The proposed level of implementation is molecular and therefore microphysical.
Perhaps Penrose’s proposal will gain support, perhaps not. Lets for the moment assume that a notion of proto-phenomenality is a potentially valid conceptualization. Given proto-psychism of some as yet undetermined nature, can one throw computationalism into the mix in order to develop a combined model of what organisms with brains seem to be doing that gives rise to consciousness?
Brains seem to both encode and (re)generate patterns that correspond with environmental interactions, as filtered by a sensory interface. If these patterns were to be understood as modulating proto-awareness, if neural computation entailed the realization of awareness from proto-consciousness, if it were to be seen as the process through which potential for awareness becomes awareness through spatiotemporal patterning, then perhaps the understanding of what consciousness is could be furthered?
Even though the reflexive proto-psychic aspect of reality remains veiled, one may propose putative underpinning principles applicable to consciousness producing machinery.
From the computational perspective one primary principle would pertain to information conservation and embedding, and the inevitability of limits to representational resolution and span.
A non-computational premise consists of the possibility of relying on proto-phenomenality as a final representational surrogate – a local substitute (“plug”) for that which is beyond the limits of representational resolution.
One may then build upon these principles a somewhat more elaborate functional schematic of such machinery and it’s characteristics, whereby organisms utilise the natural manifestation of proto-phenomenality within an iconic representational paradigm to
- Create perceptual surrogates for that which their computational system cannot represent (spatio-temporally), because of it’s resolution and capacity limitations. There may be nothing but physics “all the way down”, but there is also the possibility of awareness through constrained, patterned, activity bearing some proto-phenomenal expression.
- Achieve “binding”, because that is what should happen when proto-awareness “manifests” in appropriately patterned representational relata (shall we call these referents?).
Note that the notion of an iconic / microphysical proto-phenomenal “dyna-mesh” provides a plausible framework for explaining both pop-out qualities and the cocktail-party resolution characterizing conscious perception.
Secondary derived principles would include the maintenance of effective dynamical continuity, the notion of coherence in a system of pattern-effecting relations and proto-phenomenal relata, information conserving smearing of sensory projection patterns as an essential characteristic of (conscious) pattern representation, computational dynamic balancing and protection from systemic artefacts through power law scaling (scale free constructs and dynamics) and stochasticity.
This line of thinking may be consistently extended to develop a somewhat more elaborate functional schematic of consciousness generating machinery and it’s characteristics: e.g. Functions such as the generation of a tonic “raw” self that is coupled to generative (predictive) capacities, correlation of measures of subjective awareness with density of activity (as opposed to the notion of sparseness), and therefore both level of activity and phase focusing/dispersion as mechanisms for attention modulation…