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Representation Supporting Consciousness; a Note WRT Causation

The arguments supporting relation preserving smearing as a feature of representation, detailed in my TSC2017 presentation, tie in nicely with the notion of consciousness as driven by a process.

A process ‘unfolds’ over the Now instant or moment (be it infinitesimally continuous or atomically grainy), and that should be where consciousness fundamentally comes about – manifesting an instantaneous or momentary dimensionality that in-and-of-itself does not consist of structure and dynamics (in physical space-time, as conventionally defined).

Remarkably, in this (quasi) orthogonal-to-space-time system, distinct quales would be needed to represent every nuance and shade of experience. The sparsity / density balance that characterizes system dynamics over time would have to be replaced with a vehicle of representation by a state through the instant or moment. Therefore, perceived patterned relations (and translations and transformations etc.) should instantaneously or momentarily manifest rich combinations of qualitative dimensionality primaries, grounded in a sufficiently dense state.

Relation preserving smearing would drive all past and anticipated patterned, ‘interfering’, dynamics into an unfolding active process, thereby generating the underlying ‘physical’ fractal spatiotemporal compression activity that is required in order to consciously perceive sensations (producing a sufficiently dense NCC. Do please note, however, that the physical correlates of conscious sensation may involve limited locally expressed dynamic patterns of sufficient density that are never-the-less not phenomenally discernible by a global full-blown consciousness, because of the limits on it’s resolving capacities; i.e. compression, as described above, may apply to sensations as we know them at some mesoscopic scale, enveloping still lower order of scale spatiotemporal dynamics. The principle, however, of dense point-like manifestation in the instant, should be sound).

If some of what is suggested in these pages, or another scheme resembling it, is valid, then while consciousness produces space-time bridging awareness (spooky feelings through a distance…) it turns to also be perfectly correlated with causation (on some relevant order of scale), for causation is dependent on interaction effects, and interactions occur exclusively over the present instant or moment, at a given locus.
In this way, even though consciousness may not be directly steering it’s own dynamics and the agent’s behaviour, it is rather plausibly manifesting the most intimate knowledge possible – of causation steering these phenomena: It’s basic palette manifestation is correlated with stress or deformation where nothing ever changes and all changes occur.

Supra-Dimensionality

The supra-dimensionality of the reality that we perceive in patterned combinations and modulations of qualia fits very well with the primary postulates of inverted mind theory, particularly with the complementary ideas that

  • Our cognition is representational and based on iconic re-enactments of patterned activity – factored and recombined, and
  • Qualia stand in for some physics that we cannot represent, either because
    • they require representational resolution and sensitivity that lie beyond our system’s limits, or because
    • they lack spatiotemporal structure, and the one that is “made-up” for them, through interaction of evolved sensory apparatus with the physical properties of the stimulating agents, again requires finer resolution than that which the system can support non-locally (e.g. regarding the sense of smell).

One of the features that the system gains from having qualia is the multiplication of reference-able relata figuring in it’s computational constructs. One way to see this is to think of the necessary function as an information-conserving, tending-to-bijective mapping:– a projection of internal representation upon the agent’s environment, through it’s sensory perimeter; A reflection that applies a dynamical metaphorically resonant impedance function, in response to, and emulating, patterns falling on the sensory perimeter, that is enriched with ‘permeating’ microphysical qualitative properties.

For if it were only structure and dynamics – then mapping onto the environment’s projections upon the sensory perimeter, and by equivalence onto the environment itself, would converge the different modalities, rather than differentiate between them. Note furthermore that mapping based on derived or tagged-on (compressed, information reduced) symbolic representations cannot overcome this limitation. It is the most detailed iconic representation that must manifest the proto-qualitative “charge” (the constraint does not preclude correlated representational elements from bearing different proto-phenomenal contributions to some patterned experience, e.g. factored out components organised in modality specific loci, appearing as localized sources or sinks of activity, provided composition graph paths are preserved and invertible. i.e. such loci must share cohesive and contextual patterning relations consistent with the fully detailed whole, either by means of routing or through co-activation coherence).

Thus, in a loose topological analogy (not of my invention) proto-qualia might be bound to the “enveloping surface” of  Integrated Information Theory’s postulated central complex, in it’s implemented active form (which is all that counts) as it seethes with counter-flows between isotropic randomality and literal computational pattern enactment. And since cognition is itself sensed (e.g. the raw proto-self virtual focal point as described in the post on representation and smearing below and in the main articles of this site), and since according to inverted mind theory all expressed, therefore enacted, relations are comprised of effectively-continuous smeared modulations of sensed proto-qualia, it seems that paradoxically, even though information (as per the definition adopted by IIT) excludes qualia, it turns out that proto-qualia may be densely permeating the volume of IIT’s dynamic complex. Perhaps it should be interpreted as an imploded complex, one that owes it’s inflated dimensionality to the manifestation of micro-physical, locally bound and manifested, immutable, proto-qualia.

Perimeter Heresy

If:

  • Smearing is inherent in consciousness, and
  • Scale free dynamics span extends “far down” orders of scale to the limits of the conscious system’s spatiotemporal resolution, then
  • Considering that peripheral sensory amplification seems to reverberate long enough, across all modalities (each having it’s particular time constant; e.g. photo-receptor activity subsides in >40ms, cochlear hair cells are active for >4ms), to exhibit synchronous peripheral and CNS percept-triggered activity

There may be justification for an heretical question regarding the “loci of origin” of phenomenality:

Might the peripheral sensory apparatus be manifesting some aspect of phenomenality?

It’s a question that is amenable to simple empirical investigation, even supporting human reporting: A simple experimental setup could involve electrical stimulation of some superficial sensory nerve (e.g. the superficial radial nerve branch) proximally to a temporary reversible, and strictly local, blocking site (e.g. by cooling where the nerve passes close to the skin).
If the subject notices and can report a qualitative difference in the subjective sensation triggered by electrical stimulation, between the blocked and the non-blocked states, than that would be an outcome suggesting that we are still far from understanding what is going on…

Corroboration or refutation from a different experimental perspective could come from finding out whether multi-modal neural lines (e.g. thermo/mechanical/nociceptive sensory nerve endings) use equivalent signalling patterns regardless of the modality of the stimulus.

Proto-phenomenality, conscious representation and smearing

Assuming proto-phenomenality is biology’s proxy for neurally unresolvable spatiotemporally fine representations, it falls out that proto-phenomenal expression per-se (referents? phenomenality’s simples?) should be uncommunicable and immune to modification by brain’s computational functionality.

If one accepts the rationale that favours information conserving iconic representation in brains then it becomes apparent (as well as consistent with philosophical analyses) that the minimal manifestation of proto-phenomenality may coincide with the proto-phenomenal relata that are associated by computationally process-able spatiotemporal patterning relations. Analytically, using any spatiotemporal mapping of the represented pattern, a minimal proto-phenomenal manifestation may be assigned spatiotemporal coordinate values (relative to other proto-phenomenal relata expressed in the represented pattern).

While the computational machinery may control the activation of some proto-phenomenal end-points, and the patterned dynamics binding them, the proto-phenomenal manifest-quality potential of these “end points” in-and-of-itself would be immutable, indivisible – opaque and impenetrable, beyond the computational capacity of the relating brain. Therefore – untextured. If some combination of these surrogates were to form the essence of qualitative experience, then what can be said here is that each and every minimal manifestation of phenomenality should be just that – a glimmer of some qualitative awareness; without experience of patterning, and devoid of intrinsic awareness of bounds (perhaps akin to Strawson’s notion of SESMETs, or Chalmer’s ontological simples; Apologies for the superfluous rephrasing, the point is central to the theory).

Consider next an iconic representation of some pattern: It implies the existence of some invariant, featureless, compressed form that owes it’s characterising features to the enactment of relations associating the proto-phenomenal relata alluded to above. Yet the representation’s handle may be not just the entry point to the pattern, a trigger for playing out the pattern; the compressed form should stably, invariantly, exist “alongside” the qualitative features of it’s represented content, as if it were a spatiotemporal virtual focal point.

Thus if we look at such representation as a dynamical system, we may expect to find that manifestation of proto-phenomenal “end-points” conforms to the represented pattern:
Given expression of proto-phenomenality at some “end-point”, one may assume expression of proto-phenomenality in related end-points within the represented pattern, separated by appropriate spatiotemporal intervals. Metaphorically – A spatiotemporal “scaffold” populated by proto-phenomenal “loci”. Furthermore the conscious perception of any relation is in itself an effectively-continuous expression of protophenomenality permeating some spatiotemporal trajectory segment (as it is or would be projected upon the subject’s sensory interface).

It may be that a closed kernel of awareness arises whenever wherever a pattern is traced across proto-phenomenal expression points, yet such manifestations might be self-contained and passing in real time. For composite awareness involving a differentiated subject to arise, activity through a set of relations between patterned sensory end points is required, that also traverses through a tonically active, qualitatively feature poor invariant core, that is correlated through (and/)or generated by the computational facet of the aware system.

Crucially, a trivial coherent or stochastically expressive “blob” will not conform as it discards the patterning – conserving the relata but not the relations. What could be a solution to this conundrum?

Through phenomenal introspection we can infer the following: For proto-phenomenality to manifest as awareness – as an experiential episode – a degree of reverberation that brings about an overlay of recent upon further past sensation seems to be required, a phenomenal “melding” combination likely involving computational cross modulation. In every sensory experience the most intense component of the blurred overlay of protension, immediate-past and the further past (the over-time tail of experience, an ebbing-away “echo”) seems to be the just-recent interval – the most immediate yet already perceived past, cast into mostly unconsciously computed patterns (seemingly in agreement with predictive, generative cognition ideas). Yet when we imagine or conceive of some object or concept, or scene, a multitude of paler large scale fragments of unabstracted experience seem to form awareness, both concurrently and serially. These seem to be independent, spatiotemporally segregated and non-overlaid parts of the overarching target of conjured experience charted over the experiential episode’s duration. Alongside these there is a sense of directed attention and a faint, yet definite, experience of conjuring up the object, concept or scene – of the promoting bias, or “handle” to the structured content.
An episode of experience concludes when no awareness of the episode remains. A shift of attention can lead to abrupt termination of awareness of some content. Conversely for awareness of some content to manifest, interplay between the various phases of that content and the feature poor invariant handle to the content, mediated by directed attention, must be maintained.

What can we make of these different perspectival accounts? Iconic representation necessitates smearing as well as coarser grained arbitrarily frequent concurrence (replay) of multiple sub-patterns. In the 1st person perspective experience appears to be an affair involving fine grained interplay between spatiotemporally extended and overlaid qualia and the sensations accompanying directed attention.  Imagined experience presents in segregated relation-preserving sub-patterns of it’s content.

Alternative ways of describing the necessity of a form of spatiotemporal smearing in the production of consciousness may appeal to the need to maintain a tending to isotropic virtual focal point in relation to patterned sensory stimuli – The virtual focal point is generated by an active population of units over time.

There may be various ways to realize composite models of awareness that would be consistent with the above. Here are some ideas regarding plausible design and implementation principles:

  • Paths of connectivity and pace of conduction define patterned relations.
  • Proto-phenomenality may arise anywhere in activity trajectories (i.e. metaphorically: It does not matter where “directly, in and along the line”, or even “indirectly, off the line” proto-phenomenality arises, so long as the appropriate relational constraints that are mandated among phenomenal binding effectors of the awareness manifesting process are maintained).
  • Relations define spatiotemporal patterns of phenomenality.
  • System mapped phenomenal sensory end points are set, but dynamical patterned structures involving such end points may be cast computationally.
  • Proto-phenomenal sources of awareness carry the potential to manifest “singular and unitary” phenomenal qualities, upon activation (or instantiation).
  • The “coalescence” of subjective awareness from proto-phenomenal activity is dependent on iconic representation involving a feature poor handle
  • The “coalescence” of subjective awareness from proto-phenomenal activity involves spatiotemporal smearing.
  • Spatiotemporal smearing implies induction of an effectively continuous function.
  • Assuming an “Atomism” orientated perspective with regards to the effector(s) of proto-phenomenality (just for the following postulated argument, with no commitment), then at the finest grain level an effectively continuous function may be instantiated by some sufficiently dense population activity spanning discrete loci, given the (natural) physics of transients (i.e. atomism cannot be binary absolute).
  • Sensations of attentional/intentional activity are feature poor.
  • Sensations of attentional/intentional activity may consist of diffuse (relatively – wide ranging in the population, slow, unpatterned) sensory contributions.
  • Sensations of attentional/intentional activity make up a raw self (the experiencing subject)
  • Conservation of pattern relations with smearing, through oscillation across phase transitions (and in particular across absolute phase inversions), occurring across a spatiotemporal spectrum (e.g. cross “stitching” of center/surround, off/on units).
  • Combination (interplay) of
    • isotropic population activity – serving attentional bias and maintaining the representational handle (correlated with active relations or relation constraining activity), and sensed as an invariant feature-poor phenomenal intention, with
    • patterned phenomenality (sensory relata).
  • Scale free power law spectral distribution; Stochastic (information poor) activity in a network of embedded relations (conserved information).
  • A relatively constraining prediction based cast contains a relatively constrained actual sensation related activation that drives it.

Correlation of phenomenal manifestation with “density” of activity in the appropriate effector medium (applying relevant measures).

The computational and proto-phenomenal aspects of conscious awareness

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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…

The fallacy of causal closure and epiphenomenalism

So many words have been poured unto this subject whatever more can be said? Give humans a topic and over time they will build magnificent formal towers of differentiation, comparatives, back-door arguments and such like, making ever more sophisticated cases for and against derivatives hanging off the merest of bases. Yet simple relevant truths are in danger of being overlooked in such engagements, lost to hubris.

Of course I am well aware of the converse trap, the misguiding unreliability of intuitive judgement and the lulling comfort of straightforward simplicity. Yet two vivid examples of domain masters demonstrating the power of simple truths, by calling upon common sense, spring to my mind: The first is John Searle’s acting demonstration, repeated in so many of his videoed lectures on free will, of wishing his arm to go up and – voila! It does indeed! The second, in the Q&A that followed Basil Hailey’s lecture in TSC2015 he was asked what he thought of the Everettian Many-Worlds quantum mechanics interpretation. Prof. Hailey seemed to be mildly irked by the question, dismissing it with a succinct response: “Where does the energy come from?”.

So what is the problem with the notion of causal closure as a line of reasoning favouring epiphenomenalism? There is an auto-contradictory facet to the arguments, but the problem deserves to be presented in a tangible so-evident form. Here is a hint: Given that there is no colour in Philosophical Zombie world, it is extremely unlikely that zombie culture (if there could be such a thing) would conjure up names for different colours; at least not before they evolve a mature zombie physical science (or neuroscience). Why would they? How could they?

Lets take a close look at a bunch of zombie neurophysiologists studying an anesthetized zombie brain while poor Z’s retina is exposed to red or green shape patterns on variously distinctly coloured backgrounds. The zombie scientists do not quite z-understand what is distinctly unique through and about their stimuli set; they had stumbled upon it’s discovery. Now they have got several multi-electrode probes stuck in their subject’s brain, and from the readings they can infer that there are some shape specific reactive neural populations (in V4), some wavelength specific reactive neural populations (in V1 and higher areas in the visual processing hierarchy), and some spatially-averaged wave-length correlated delta measure (aka “colour” to some humans) reactive populations (in the colour centre, wherever exactly that turns out to be once the debate settles). And if through genetic tuning or training and Baysean learning, specific shape-colour combinations have become associated with particular behavioural reactions then they could get lucky and find traces of these associations in the supplementary motor cortex areas.

Eliciting a reaction A to shape-colour pattern Sh1-Cx vs a reaction B to shape-colour pattern Sh1-Cy would be akin to zombie blind-sight, an incidental discovery which indeed seems to be a trait exhibited by all so-trained (non-anesthetized (?!)) zombies – they are disposed to react with particular affinities. yet nothing in the zombies’ accessible account of the so-called external world, i.e. in an account of their world model as constructible from that which is directly sensed by them, gives them anything to latch-on to, in order to z-explain such preferences. To begin to develop such an account zombie physicists must first figure out what prisms do, or, alternatively, their scientists must study retinal and CNS micro-anatomy and physiology.

The excessive amount of jesting above notwithstanding, I think the point should be clear: This ‘Mary’ theme inspired story illustrates how we lean on qualia (simples, perhaps referents?) as terminal surrogates for the reality out there, regardless of behavioural impact. The irrevocable immediacy of the proxies underpins and catalyses the crystallization of our world model, anchoring raw non-patterned multi-dimensionality in a way that enables us to refer back to it. We can and do tag qualia and we wouldn’t be doing that if consciousness was epi-phenomenal. Conversely – qualia are not tagged on, it is inherent in the (conscious) representation.

Is an evolutionary advantage conferred on agents having qualia? The conscious agent benefits in ways that are readily apparent and in ways that are yet to be understood. Apparent advantages include:

  • Accessible information advantage (e.g. as highlighted by the above ‘Mary in the operating theatre’ story).
  • Stackable and combine-able, yet inherently differentiated, reflexively multi-dimensional world model. Grounding by phenomenal surrogate does not rely solely on inferred correlations and label tagging.
    • Reduces computational demands associated with sensory driven world modelling (as applies e.g. to object detection or inter-pattern correlation for classification purposes; although it remains a challenge to model or express this in verifiable formal notation).
    • The reflexive Red quality requires no inference, and retains it’s particular (distinct and resiliant) subjective nature that may never be confused with other coincident concurrent sensations (e.g. the smell of a red rose, the prick of it’s thorn).
    • The underlying capacity supporting ‘pop-out’ perceptive capabilities. For some qualities – the first aspect that emerges from pre-attentive processing
      (As an aside: Could it be the case that experience is focused by the computational process of cognition, that raw qualia are experienced alongside and prior to final interpretation of patterning? It seems that simple subjective qualities are experienced before it becomes apparent what they are associated with – a pattern, an object, a shape, a fitting into a context; Further-more it seems learning modulates the ability to discern rather than enhance the potential to experience).

In other words, beyond obvious information conservation advantages (i.e. qualia plus labelled lines should convey more information than just labelled lines), in the framework of IMT the manifestation of qualia drives a-priori inclusion of intrinsic information that is packaged and wrapped as qualia; whereas zombie learning of same 1st-base properties must rely on posterior correlation-based clustering and coupled behavior analysis.

  • An enabling disposition with regards to the possibility of an inverted iconic computational model, as proposed and outlined in the main pages of this site, that has inter-alia the following characteristics:
    • A capacity for true distribution of information, in a way that ‘makes a difference’.
    • In combination with (and by) an iconic representation tracing computational process, underpins ‘Binding’ in a physical volume-occupying brain-like processing device (to clarify – the question how does the the brain produce binding, is resolved by the combination of the manifestation of spatiotemporally featureless proto-phenomenality and iconic representation).
    • Decouples sensation from overt action, facilitated by the creation of a raw information-poor proto-self.
    • Facilitation of the ability to evaluate conjectured scenarios.
  • Promotes early percept sensation with evolving accuracy and specificity over (computational processing) time. Supports early (re)action initiation and better control.
  • Temporal alignment of perceptual dynamics; bound percepts are synchronous (on a behaviourally relevant temporal order of scale).