Computation and phenomenal content: Like structure and the properties of materials

Digression and rant: On the inherent ambiguity of experimental results, the un-observability of the central subject

Experiment design and empiric findings interpretation in cognitive science, as for example regarding perception of transients, masking effects, inter-modal synchrony, sensor alterations and switching etc. is always uncertain or equivocal, given the complex array of functionally diverse units and modules of the system being studied, which are entangled further with with many environmental influences. The investigation of compound behaviors, involving sets of many coefficients, is hindered by the absence of an anchor theory, a primary hypothesis, consensus lemmas.

Consider some other examples of the entanglement of tools, cognitive system being studied and theoretical reference framework: Various protocols of TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) have become one of the main probes in the quest to unravel the functional loci and temporal aspects of cognition, yet many experimenters do not attempt to or simply cannot separate the complex time dynamics of neural network effects of stimulation, inhibition and recovery, unfolding over a time span of approximately 100ms, that the TMS protocols trigger, from the natural behavior of the system being studied. Or consider the multitude of models applied to explain various masking effects exhibited by the complicated biological sensorineural machinery, the shakily grounded inconclusive interpretations addressing Libet’s results of several decades past etc.

Then there is the problem of microscopic to macroscopic scale translation; Neuroscience is rapidly developing greatly improved array of tools for triggering and monitoring neural activity, and a more complete picture of network, cellular and sub-cellular functions is emerging, from the macro level viewed in fMRI or MEG, through single and multi-unit measurements under various modulation/interference protocols, down to a level of intracellular/subcellular macro-molecular cascade dynamics regulated by epigenetic processes. However while these advances yield incredibly detailed knowledge of process fragments, the contribution of the growing body of data towards a general understanding of overall system function is confined to aspects of the easy problem.

Since researchers recognize the limits of scientific theory and the limitations of their tools, the subject of this section – phenomenology – is believed to be completely out of objective reach (i.e. the experience of any feeling whatsoever; e.g. the experience of content-less consciousness, quales, intentionality etc.). It is not often tackled. When it is, then if the research work remains close to the boundaries of conventional paradigms, e.g. the correlates of X, the insight driving potential of the results seems underwhelming and anemic. Conversely, bolder theories tend to stray into science fringe areas, to be dismissed, frowned upon or critically torn apart.

But the elephant is in the room, it is made of proverbial dark-matter. Un-observable does not mean undefineable or un-constrained. Perhaps to understand the principles of ‘Consciousness’ we must first develop an as yet non-existent scientific field of the physics of un-observable phenomenality. By Theorizing First perhaps we can come up with testable ideas and constraining assumptions with regards to the physical nature of consciousness.

Monism with Panprotopsychism?

Physical structural-arrangements and processes that generate the first person experience that we subjectively perceive – such as would be mandated to support any monistic, materialist, wider sense physicalist approach, inclusive of physics yet to be formulated – are expected to ‘exist’ and be amenable to third person description (inherent third person inaccessibility notwithstanding, although something like ‘shared subjectivity’ may some day be attained).

Such arrangements and processes must span many orders of physical scale, as per the interaction between experiencing agent and stimuli. Phenomenality arises from the nested set of interactions that occur between operators and operands within and across different orders of scale. Where and when-ever phenomenality arises – I believe an identity exists between the complete third person description of the physical correlates (including usage of yet to be formulated terms), on the appropriately informative respective orders of scale, and the first person experienced quality. i.e. I believe that in principle a phenomenally expressive artifact could be engineered (although it might not be possible to empirically prove that it is).

As a physical process involving some dynamics within or across some material complexes, (proto-) sensation origination is presumed to be spatially bounded and ultimately localizable. Sensation may be described as being comprised of spatiotemporal modulation imposed by neural-like computational process upon a (large) number of (proto-) phenomenality origination loci, experiential origination points manifesting quanta of (proto-) sensation.

For a stimulus to be sensed a generated (active) experiencing agent and a stimulus-reactive (or interactive) sensation origination point partaking in it should co-manifest. This suggests that the experiencing agent could be the product of modulating-correlating (compositional) patterns effected upon (proto-) sensation quanta origination points via coupling relations to the densely active dynamic core that makes the ‘I’. The (proto-) sensation is ‘in the patterns‘, because there is an embedded hardwired and learnt disposition towards activity ‘in the patterns’, corresponding to the manifestation of ‘binding’ (see below).

If phenomenality is physically grounded then phenomenal content modality imparts ontological segregation to intertwined spatiotemporal patterns. This is so because primary (proto-) phenomenal qualities manifest ‘fine-grained’ information, that is there to be bound, can be naturally combined, and is reflexively apparent and final. This last conjecture is based on speculation that some low order of scale coherence, converging on interaction, brings about autopoiesis. However, regardless of low order mechanics detail, the suggested deviates from notions of constitutivism, Russelian or non-Russelian. Consider this a temporarily ‘dual-aspect’ monistic perspective; temporary in that the dual-aspect explanatory gap is taken to be a theoretical challenge seeking scientific treatment. If a philosophical paradigmatic affiliation is called for then on this aspect Nigelian Monism (a-la Stoljar) will do. Some further embellishment of this idea can be found In the sub-section ”(proto-) phenomenality as an aspect of interaction?” below.


  • What is phenomenality to the conscious agent?
    It makes up the fine-grained element of the agent, by virtue of it’s fundamental nature. Phenomenality is integral to the agent’s workings in (proto-) phenomenal nature, ‘reflecting’ realized information patterns effected upon surrogate sensory apparatus as it interacts with the environment. The agent’s neural-like network’s spatiotemporal pattern tracing function aligns itself to optimize the representation of these patterns through it’s natural connectivity and capacity for probabilistic association refinement, and these representations are ‘tuned’ to select differentiated phenomenal combinations into ‘I’ (or vice versa). The physical correlate of experiential capacity may extend to pattern factors that are active or representable only on a fine local scale. i.e. there may be ‘fine grained’ information in patterned activity ‘close’ to the sensory perimeter, that is (‘low pass’) filtered as patterns permeate ‘deeper’ into the system. Such filtered out distally realized information may contribute to some experiential qualities. Thus the agent may be experiencing rich phenomenality that in part is locally constrained by fine grained representation not distinctly differentiated on a system-global order of scale.
  • Can phenomenality interfere with causal closure?
    No directly, only neural-like network activity acting on a coarse physical order of scale mediates causal effects.
  • The zombie situation?
    The notional existence of philosophical zombies is deemed paradoxical. If (proto-) phenomenality is inherent in nature then an approximated zombie would be subject to some form of (proto-) experience, yet being a zombie it would be incapable of exhibiting the full complement of expected duplicate behavior.
    e.g. Assume it were to be a product of an ideal in-time neural-like computation. By definition, being a zombie would entail relinquishing the finality potential of reflective modalities in exchange for mere tokens right at the sensory inputs. The zombie would therefore retain what may be loosely analogous to a digitized view of the world seen through a combination of a low-pass and discretizing spatiotemporal filter – imposed by it’s nerve equivalents. It’s input stream might also be serialized to a degree if it needs to communicate ‘inwards’ all information collected by it’s sensory perimeter. Given impoverished and possibly serialized sensory input, even if it were capable of maintaining effectively continuous activity through it’s network, it might only come to inhabit a metaphorical wire-frame quantitative world. Never the less, that world might still be crudely subjectively experienced by the zombie, an experience I am sure no reader would wish to share.
    Or would it? While a human can invoke, refer to and rely on the finality of qualia charged representations, anchored in some amplified surrogate physical manifestation, the zombie must recursively inspect it’s states to arbitrary depth, and the related phenomenal side effects might overshadow any residual phenomenality related to it’s external world-model.
    Furthermore the experientially impoverished and constrained zombie would suffer from an in-time enactment resolution problem due to a compromised ability to sustain an iconic dynamically adaptive resonant state. It’s capacity for differentiated, continuous interactive behavior will be deficient.
    If an agent is able to interact with the environment just as a conscious agent would, then within the confines of it’s internal and external sensorimotor behavioral repertoire it must be experiencing a world model in some equivalently rich manner.
  • It may be relevant to also note that conventional digital electronic tech computer simulations are inefficient by a measure of synchronous (dense) activity, and would drown the relevant phenomenality in copious amounts of noise, whereas in the biological system interaction encoding/enacting phenomenality manifestation could be relatively amplified.

Obviously, suitably designed phenomenality generating (nano?) machinery must be driven for a particular (proto-) quality to arise.

Could a ‘dis-connected’ sensory quanta origination point continue to function as in the connected/integrated/system influencing mode? If so, then in this respect, the particular structural arrangement and process operating in/upon an uncoupled sensory origination point may produce locally-bounded proto-phenomenality.

Reflections on the Binding Problem

Applying the schematic functional model presented in the preceding sections, binding is proposed to be bi-faceted, whereby one aspect effects compositional structuring and sequencing, or phases of nesting, of pattern factors – a spatiotemporal construct, whereas the other aspect effects phenomenal binding of a unified ‘I’ core. Both aspects are mediated by synchronous activity i.e. a product of activity through every conscious moment:

  • Binding of the composite structure of patterns is effected by the iconic tracing of sub-patterns, or isomorphic equivalents thereof (e.g. reconstitution and literal application of pattern factors or the product of a complementary filter function), unto a (notional, abstract, see below) sensory/phenomenal perimeter. This aspect, that is effected by the neural-like computational process, conveys spatiotemporal patterning to agent’s internal and external world model.
  • The ‘internal’ side of the iconic isomorphic transform is a dynamically ‘shaped’ and modulated (‘in the patterns’) active medium, characterized by the ‘dense activity’, which (in some way) constitutes the experiencing agent. i.e. Unity is ‘bound’ through continuously modulated synchronous state expressing momentary phenomenal composites. Units potentially partaking in the active population map distinctly (are coupled) to various (single or combination of multiple) (proto-) phenomenal origination loci. Here there is some isotropic spatial and temporal activity ‘smearing’ as the complementary aspect of compression (of the encoded and embedded internal cohesion of a sub-pattern). Temporal ‘Smearing’ (or reverberation, or ‘after effect’) through the concurrent and on-going activation of various associational tensors internal to an encoded and activated bound pattern generates the ‘world-line’ of ‘dense activity’ ‘in-the-pattern’, that is required for conceptual binding i.e. intentional experience to be manifested as bound.
  • The notion of momentary phenomenal state being mediated by synchronous population activity, nesting in iconic spatiotemporal  constructs, raises a complementary question to the binding problem, a reformulation of the problem assuming binding is, which is the boundary problem (Rosenberg articulates this question yet develops it to demonstrate a range of possibilities to consider. The requirement here is to hint at a solution that is consistent with IM theory) – Binding delimits just as it integrates. Why does an agent experience only it’s own sensory projections? Because the conscious agent is constrained to correlated activity ‘in the patterns‘, it’s own patterns, where ‘own’ schematically means an ‘I’ virtual focal-point (i.e a relatively isotropic morphing configuration of ‘dense activity’, manifesting and modulating the sensation of self) maintained by it’s brain-like computational system as described in the preceding section Consciousness and the formation of ‘I’.

For clarity, another way of articulating the ‘binding-boundary’ idea described above would be to view any virtual bound-pattern-system as a composite of low-spatiotemporal-order, fine-grained reflexive (proto-) phenomenal qualities (arising upon the notional ‘perimeter’):

  • Pertaining to ‘Binding’:
    The composite manifests phenomenality as a correlated and associated temporally morphing stream of additive (proto-) phenomenal  elements – both giving rise to and modulated ‘in-the-pattern’.
    This phenomenal content is experienced through segments of effectively-continuous world-lines (when gauged at the population level). Each such experiential ‘island’ bears no residual impact upon the system beyond it’s spatiotemporal boundaries, and within these boundaries it’s cohesion as an experiential construct requires some temporal ‘smearing’ (e.g. by a realization as ‘dense activity’ involving a population of units, each of which exhibits quanta of activity spanning a sufficiently long duration of time to support overlap vis-a-vis a given order of scale). But this is only the first part of the binding story. If a pattern’s representation was to be bounded only so then the ‘scope’ of it’s representation’s’ (proto-) phenomenality would be isolated and contained as a local, fleeting, fragment of experience that exists in and of itself. For the experiential composite to become integrated into a ‘larger’ conscious experience binding relations must be established that express contextual spatiotemporal statistics. These apply ‘internally’ and ‘externally’ via correlating ‘computational’ associations involving the pattern’s contributing (proto-) phenemenal loci: For the experiential composite to be accessible as an intentional ‘object’ temporal ‘reverberation’ of pattern-internal (proto-) phenomenal elements across cohesive relations must be expressed throughout the duration of the intentional activation (effected by the configuration of isotropic activity, the virtual focal point aspect, of an isomorphic transformation). Such expression drives:

    • A tendency for concurrent compositional manifestation of various intra-pattern partial (proto-) phenomenal factor compositions, throughout the duration of the bound pattern’s intentional activation (the recognition/enactment bias pattern representation aspect of an isomorphic transform).
    • The formation of a virtual focal point representing the pattern that both funnels and can anchor external contextual relations invoking or involving the pattern in it’s entirety.
    • Facilitation of the formation of a relational ‘bridge’ to the ‘wider’ scope of an agent’s ‘I’ (integration with, and potential contribution to the activity configuration expressing the ‘I’ through diffuse Bayesian association).
  • Pertaining to ‘Boundary’:
    Conversely the bound-pattern-system’s ‘I’ is a composition product of the diffuse relations associating it’s (proto-) phenomenal perimeter loci, ‘placed’ in a spatiotemporal ‘harness’ by it’s computational process. All other (proto-) phenomenal activity in the universe is not correlated with activity in the bound-pattern-system, and therefore has no spatiotemporally located or extended expression in-so-far as the bound pattern system is concerned.

With regards to the conventional notion of ‘Binding through Synchronicity’ across transiently active neural ensembles: The conventional view does not conflict with, and even suggestively supports, the view presented here. Transient ensembles exhibit isotropic synchronous oscillation (relatively… ref. note on phase and scale and coherence) (and finally, noise) that is coupled to factored sub-patterns. Coupling is mediated through hard-wired and learnt transformations relating synchronous and sequential configurations of population activity (biologically, in n*10^-1 to n*10^2 Hz  frequency bands of cortical, thalamocortical, cerebellar… neural activity and related field effects).

It is conceivable that intentionality and phenomenality (or Block’s A-consciousness and P-consciousness, disregarding rigorous dissection of terminology) mesh together as these two aspects of cognition may stem from the same type of synchronous ‘dense activity’ process, applied to different levels and perspectives of representational models.  Although similar principles may be at work across the two aspects, phenomenal expression points may be anchored in modality specific physical designs of the pattern matching and sensory-surrogate producing machines, which may be further removed and less manifested in access processes.

Temporal Binding, and a philosophical slant on Time Consciousness

The temporal ‘Binding’ of experience should have distinguishable physical correlates in the evolving state of the system. The generation of (the experience of) ‘specious present’ (as coined by James, Kelly/Clay) may be associated with the on-going physical transformations between [invariant, spatial] and [iconic, spatiotemporal]:

–  The continuously evolving, fuzzy bayesian probabilistic anticipation of likely paths of evolution of state, if also the subject of ‘primal impression’, may be experienced as ‘protention’ (as coined by Husserl).

–  The continuous collapse of active probabilistic anticipations into particular realizations, each comprised of pattern factors spanning orders of temporal and spatial scale (spectra), could underpin the richer experience of specious present (referring back to Husserl’s terminology – correlating with the aspect the ‘primal impression’ that is not experienced as ‘protention’).

–  Both Extensionalism and Retentionalism can (and by the following account, may be bound to) co-manifest as the neural-computational process applies to the generation and modulation of phenomenality:

  • Iconic representations have activity playout durations, and are experienced through time, as per the stance of extensionalists. Yet considering the temporal span spread of various iconic patterns, broad module tuning, continuous evolution of state and compositional ontology – The sense of specious present may be the time-free momentary phenomenal experience brought about by superimposed sub-pattern activities, each spanning a different time extent and each having a different temporal start/end alignment, e.g. representing the ebbing past (sliding down sensation’s spectral band), strong present, and rising anticipation (climbing up sensation’s spectral band), satisfying the retentionalists (and all unified in the isotropic activity that forms the dimension-less ‘I’).
  • Contingent on manifestation of higher order or recursive/reflexive sense, or a propensity for intentionality to be applied to the temporal extent of phenomenality: Phenomenal experience associated with isotropic (temporally invariant) activations of spatially embedded representations may be constant (i.e. the same at any instant, throughout the duration of an encoded pattern or sub-pattern, via higher order experience of it’s activity) – satisfying the retentionalists, whereas experience originating from the modulated sensory side plays out and varies with in-time components (i.e. the decoding ‘unfolds’ in time) – satisfying the extensionalists.

–  The horizons of specious present, both past and future, would be fuzzy. Limited alignment between time shifted representations and the present perimeter state would be a cause in a system characterised by isotropic synchronicity.

Temporal binding in the timescale order of a conscious moment in a biological model

Spreading neural activity, that also persists at the origin for at least n*10^-3 seconds, follows brief sensory stimuli (e.g. in response to an auditory click lasting less than 100 micro-seconds the acoustical characteristics of the inner ear and the physiological characteristics of the active hair and ganglion cells become active for a couple of milliseconds).

Does a notion of duration apply to conscious perception of a momentary event? This could be dually the notion of any experience persisting through a minimal temporal extent (a definable conscious moment could be characterized by derivative functions for subjectively coming about, persisting and then ebbing away), and the notion of stacked experience of close packed sensory events (minimal discernible duration offset and duration difference is high. Given the limitations of experimental approaches listed above – can we learn anything from the characteristics of how it changes when examined and interfered with in different settings and from different perspectives?). The properties of transients around threshold have been studied extensively using first person accounts and objective measures, proving little but the shortfall in theory and the difficulty in isolating causes and disentangling effects.

Can a theoretical notion of absolute synchronicity as a mediator of consciousness be developed further without contradiction or implosion? This idea that isotropic coherence implies spatial dimension-shorting equivalence, and could provide a vehicle for relating cross-modal patterns by isomorphic transformation, without compromising bounded, “nested”, modalities, also implies that experience is at once (i.e. instantaneously) an orders of scale straddling phenomenon possessing both agent-global structural and effector-bounded qualitative aspects. These are expressed on different orders of scale (but depending on implementation could be physically intertwined throughout the agent’s embodiment, see below).

Claiming that absolute synchrony, and coherence through dense activity with precision commensurate with order of scale, are mediators, i.e. objective correlates, of the essential integrative nature of consciousness, the theory presented in this work could perhaps be supported empirically. Or it could be used to provide a distinct framework for interpreting known effects. Some physical aspects of phenomenality could possibly be constrained in light of the interpretation of the characteristics of such effects.

Where and when does phenomenality arise? An Illustration of some conceivable models of correspondence between biology and phenomenology, depicting neural activity spread vs locus and timing of initial (if duration applies) conscious perception (P) of a brief stimulus, e.g. an auditory click (at t0).
Model [A] illustrates the conventional neural paradigm. Circled models [B],[C],[D] exhibit system-spanning absolute synchronicity.
In models [A],[B],[C] phenomenality manifests when conscious perception arises.
Model [D] depicts a timing gap between early phenomenality and delayed awareness.
This set of depicted models is illustrative of the problem and not exhaustive.
Models [B],[C] and [D] are mutually compatible and may be combined. Phenomenality could manifest in any or all of the three (or more) neural ‘depths’, e.g. model [F] would be the equivalent of [D] in the case whereby phenomenality manifests only in sensory apparatus.

Addressing the ‘Hard Problem’; Preamble:
The Perimeter, with phenomenology in mind(1)

Recap: The extended definition of the ‘perimeter’ as the bounding ‘surface’ upon which all phenomenal content is manifested, supports a useful conceptual dissociation between loci of phenomenal origination and other ‘Internal’ computational workings of the cognitive machine. This definition assumes that specialized loci of phenomenal manifestation exist, i.e. found in structures and processes that are spatially located and anchored on an appropriate scale and manifest a particular (proto-) quality, It does not, however, presume that physical correlates of the generation of experience are fully separable from the activity that is conventionally regarded as neural computation, since all action may conceivably manifest some (proto-) phenomenal character.

An embodiment of a Perimeter would be the physical constitution of that which generates quanta of experienced qualities, the ‘proxy’ for all that affects the experiencing agent’s state yet cannot be experienced. Therefore here the concept of Perimeter is endowed with a rather abstract meaning: It should be inclusive of all origination points of experiential qualities – such as may be generated by activity both in sensory organs and in biological structures and micro-structures not directly involved in environmental sensory function. e.g. brain tissue and brain cells, which could conceivably manifest phenomenal qualities supporting either of particular experience qualities or some vaguely characterized sui-generis proto-sense of being in ‘I’.

The Perimeter, with physical scale in mind

Details of the composition and function of the ‘perimeter’ span orders of scale, e.g. in the biological realm, if some phenomenal experience were to be found to arise in sensory apparatus, for example in retinal layers, rather than deeper within the neural constructs of the system – then on a macroscopic anatomical scale the retina would lie on the ‘perimeter’, whereas on a cellular level we would speak of photoreceptors (or proprioceptors embedded in tendons etc.) and on a sub-cellular scale the ‘perimeter’ may involve sensory organelle structures, cell membrane surfaces with their myriad channels, macro-molecular activity e.g. signal transducing pathway molecular kinetics, with overall molecular interaction dynamics  on one order of scale and particular molecular conformation oscillations on a lower order of scale etc. as analysis zooms into the nano, pico and femto spatiotemporal scale ranges.

It is not known whether when experience is initiated (i.e. by stimulation of sensory points on the perimeter surface) any qualitative aspect of phenomenality is encoded in measurable activity on scale orders greater than [meter^-7 (micron^-1), millivolt, millisecond and ionic or active messenger concentrations] that are conventionally accepted as characterizing the physiology of biological neural computations (across the diversity of neuronal and supporting cell types). There is little, if any, evidence hinting at the existence of such encoding.

Indeed it is proposed that the biological-neural, or neural-like, computation’s order of resolution can compositionally modulate proto-phenomenality that is manifested on a much finer order of scale than the than the [meter^-7 (micron^-1), millivolt, millisecond] order of scale of neural computation as it is conventionally thought of.

Furthermore if the physical correlates of qualia are expressed on an extremely small locally bound order of scale  then it would be natural and consistent with current knowledge for such expression as associated with particular qualities or modalities to be effected within labelled lines, but not inconceivably also within sensory apparatus (see below). The system may essentially be comprised of a slow densely active large scale network, effected by neural-like computational activity (as it is conventionally conceived), that is coupled to, and therefore associates (i.e. modulates the part in the whole, of) locally bounded (short duration, sub-microscopic) proto-phenomenal quanta.

The Perimeter, with phenomenology in mind(2)

To clarify:

  • By this hypothesis there exists an information content scale-related gap between the manifestation of tending-to-local, perimeter-bounded, activity that is associated with phenomenal experience, and an agent’s spatiotemporal patterning computational processes that modulate it. i.e. some Information supporting qualitative dimensional differentiation (beyond undifferentiated spatiotemporal patterning) is not entered into the entity-global-scale computational process (i.e. It does not ‘penetrate’ the neural-like computational process to affect it’s workings, although it could be generated by elements partaking in the process).
  • Since it is this computational process which makes the agent function, then by the above argumentation consciousness can be considered to be ‘epiphenomenal’ (and ‘phylosophical zombies’ are possible and phenomenality is superfluous to function and the possibility of materialism and physicalism is questioned…). This counter intuitive conclusion has been put forth and questioned by many.
  • If however the neural-like computational process’ function is to spatiotemporally relate low-physical-order perimeter-bound qualitative references (i.e. to generate or filter locally bound modality-specific phenomenal surrogates by association through maximization of in-time pattern tracing), then phenomenality becomes integral, in the leading role that supports the segregation of spatiotemporal constructs by phenomenal modality, and their super-position (in a classical sense) within the computed world model (and if the conjecture elaborated below regarding phenomenal manifestation in sensory organs is to any extent true then phenomenality assumes a position subvenient to computational isolation or extension).
    Such a position seems all the more plausible if one considers the limited utility and very high cost of carrying all local patterns through all-to-all integration via the “core” of the system. With all likelihood “low pass” filtering is applied at many levels of scale, and therefore locally relevant patterning information may only manifest in local proto-phenomenality. By this view the accuracy of internally generated spatiotemporal patterning is refined as it converges on perimeter generated attractors that express some information that is not represented in the core. Patterning is refined by the coherence seeking process, as the ‘layers’ of the system provide complementary contributions to patterning.
    Phenomenal qualities effectively ‘fill-in’ the patterned projection tracing, centrally computed, skeleton; the computed skeleton correlates the ‘para-computational’ lower natural order of scale phenomenality, however it arises. The physical correlates of phenomenology are modulated by (differing from effected by), and hence effectively ‘nest’ within, computed spatiotemporal pattern constructs.
    Obviously when modelling phenomenal mechanisms conventional information theory related argumentation might form but a minor part of the story. Both of a) proto-phenomenality as a (micro-) physical properties practically orthogonal to microscopic biological scale spatiotemporal patterning, or b) proto-phenomenality as an interaction interface (reflective) feature could be consistent with integral proto-phenomenal positioning (see below).
  • There is no conflict between the two perspectives.

The separation between computation and phenomenology may be challenged. Some theories that acknowledge a non-dual origin of the phenomenal propose models that couple computation with phenomenality through binding effects in and upon the world (e.g. sensorimotor contingencies) with limited specification regarding the nature of these effects. Other theories propose models that couple computation and phenomenology through system-wide quantum-mechanical effects. Less far reaching theories assign to quantum effects control over neural computation at the sub-cellular order of scale, not hypothesizing with regards to phenomenology but implying that ‘somewhere down there’ mysterious things happen. Indeed it seems that many of these models rely on putative quantum effects for most support of their tenets. I concur with the notion that correlates of the emergence of phenomenality will eventually be found cutting-through orders of physical reality scale, and that quantum scale effects may naturally play a part. However the grounding of current such theories that the author is aware of seems tenuous, hinging on what can only be qualified as science fringe.

That suggestion that neural-like computation and manifestation of (proto-) phenomenality at it’s origination loci operate in distinct and very different orders of scale, does not mean to imply that spatiotemporally-patterned computation-based modulation does not materially affect perceived phenomenal qualities. Such modulation could trigger, filter-out or in, apply various functions, cause non-linear combination effects etc. But since computation produces anticipatory effects (predictions, possibly with associated phenomenality) the local manifestation of (proto-) phenomenality from actual stimulation, correlates with all other phenomenally active factors in ‘I’, predicted and actual, and the corresponding information rich (richer than predicted patterns incurring information loss and inherent limit horizon), deterministic actual afferent patterns drive this correlation through time by probabilistic selection, biasing for inclusion in the developing predictive phase.

The above should not be construed as a resurrection of some form of either “mind dust” or “mind stuff” theories, for here a mental state emergent upon a perimeter requires the (slow and large) spatiotemporal scale-bridging pattern-expressing affinities to “fuse” as a process – through isotropic dense activity, absolute synchrony – into a unified dynamical system with any semblance of structure. Even though it is suggested that (proto-) phenomenality is triggered and modulated in quanta coupled to neural-like activity, a relating “inter-quantal” world-line is critical to the functioning of the process. no ‘particulate’ aspect is meant to be implied. Nor does what is being suggested align with the notions of paradigmatic constitutive theses from an epistemological perspective.

Addressing the ‘Hard Problem’: (proto-) Phenomenality as an aspect of interaction upon a constrained medium?

Since the only recourse when characterizing any facet of phenomenality is exclusively subjective, it is proposed that the notion of interaction-perimeter be promoted and abstracted further, thereby embracing the inaccessibility problem by conceptually re-framing the obvious.

Schematically, what makes an ‘object’ is an existence of an abstract ‘interaction perimeter’ ‘enveloping’ a medium exhibiting some level of constrained coherence – which implies some degree of both boundary resistance and intrinsic ‘transparency’ in respect of the informational abstraction of interactions upon the ‘perimeter’: Any point within the medium is subjected to some of the perturbations affecting the ‘perimeter’, and such perturbations propagate through the constrained medium mediating cross-point modulations upon ‘perimeter’ interactions.

It is tempting to consider that some aspect of cross-‘perimeter’ interaction (i.e. between observed and observer) may be a nature defining characteristic of an experiencing system. On an extremely small order of physical scale the ‘perimeter’ of any ‘observer’ or ‘sensor’ object would constitute a blurred bound; Along the ‘perimeter’ there would be some degree of blurring with the ‘observed’ or ‘sensed’ – mutual field effects and physical exchanges between the ‘sensor’ and it’s adjacent ‘environment’. Whereby proto-‘feeling’ directly emanates from the interaction (i.e. is an aspect of interaction) between ‘sensor’ and ‘environment’? Could ‘proto-phenomenality’ ubiquitously manifest upon the ‘perimeter’, in the infinitesimal indeterminate order of elemental physical scale, as a manifestation of influence exerted across and upon constrained state, through interaction, from ‘within’?

Could this be a plausible re-casting of the philosophical dual-aspect proposition, by virtue of an aspect of nature not yet incorporated into our formulation of physics?

Obviously I cannot argue strongly for the notion, yet am inclined to entertain the hunch that (proto-) phenomenality could arise in infinitesimal scale interactions, amplified and mediated by patterned physical states (i.e. patterned dense activity, which could apply to many orders of scale, down to and far below a molecular order of scale).

Under such conjecture, phenomenality generating machinery would evolve to amplify and shape point proto-phenomenal physical correlates in system-state-coupled sensory-surrogate proto-phenomenality-generating micro-structures, with modality specific designs (Hameroff would probably say that in the biological implementation micro-tubules feature here. I’m inclined to think that there is a wide arsenal of particular physical implementations in action, optimized for different sensing modalities, and that intra-cellular signaling cascades play an integral amplification role). Correlation enforced by constraints in the medium (extending to a far higher order of scale of patterning) would convey phenomenal ‘binding’ throughout the correlated system and spatiotemporal framing.

The computational model described in preceding sections virtually produces such a medium: A spatiotemporally differentiated and patterned computational product, that provides a scale-bridging framework for permeating ‘nested’ activity that manifests on a sub-microscopic scale. The application of spatiotemporally extended modulation correlating nested, point-bound, proto-phenomenality, could conceivably manifest as (proto-phenomenal composite) experiential qualities ‘sealed’ within the (partially) coherent medium, that are virtually located within the spatiotemporally patterned construct of the world’s projection upon the conscious agent’s perimeter.

With the aid of appropriately tuned probes it may become possible to identify specific sub-cellular mechanical/electrochemical correlates of scale bridging, and (proto-) phenomenality manifesting (high frequencies, very small spatial scale).

Framed in consciousness – ‘Where’ in the sensory/neural-like system does phenomenality arise?

Questioning the causative relations and interactions between neural computation and the phenomenal, as manifested in the higher evolutionary orders of the biological universe, based on established scientific consensus.

Are experiential (proto-) phenomenal qualities…

  1. …Generated by sensory ‘surface’, communicated by neural-like machinery and encoded in its computations (e.g. as      expressed by neural membrane activity)
  2. Triggered and modulated by signals arising in the sensory ‘surface’, generated by neural-like machinery associated    with labelled lines, encoded in neural computations (e.g. as expressed by membrane activity)
  3. …Generated by sensory ‘surface’ and not communicated, nor expressed, by neural-like computational machinery
  4. …Triggered and modulated by signals arising the sensory ‘surface’, generated by neural-like machinery associated        with labelled lines, but not encoded into neural computations
  5. …A combination of some of the above, adjusted for mutual compatibility
  6. …None of the above

Evaluation and plausibility assessment:

  • Options 1 and 2 claim an exclusively neural doctrine for the expression of phenomenology, and given present day physics encounter difficulties explaining the bridging across orders of scale and may need to rely on fringe science for explanations.
  • Options 3 and 4 dissociate between the computational process and the phenomenal, so at least computational aspects would be describable by a neural doctrine. Phenomenology begets a separate, independent, yet to be developed, explanation. It is however acknowledged that any physical process could conceivably manifest a (proto-) phenomenal character.

Exploring the possibility of proto-qualia arising in specialized sensory receptors

A putative (partial) dissociation of effects between the computational and the phenomenological, either spatially or across an orders-of-scale gap, allows us to theorize about pattern extraction/reconstitution in the context of a gradient between an invariant global (to the experiencing agent; noise or oscillating clocks, isotropic synchronicity) and the various patterns evolving on the agent’s phenomenality-expressing perimeter.

The extreme possibility that phenomenal experience is generated by the sensory surface and not communicated, nor expressed, by neural-like computational machinery (as proposed in option 3 above) leaves us with a model whereby quanta of phenomenal experience arise in and are bounded to specialized sensory organs.

Recap: By this view, neural-like computation extends the detection and processing of the lower spectral end of the spatiotemporal patterns playing on the sensory points. Neural-like computation binds patterns into a unified ‘I’ by coupling through dynamically evolving ‘world line’ ‘preserving’ isomorphic counter-flow paths, into and out of synchronous isotropic invariance. High ‘activity density’ brings about the ‘absolute’ synchronicity that sustains a dynamically ‘shaped’ focal point in relation to a modulated, iconic, reconstituted virtual world model, while phenomenality manifests on the Perimeter.

By this view, neural-like computations need not carry or generate phenomenal content although it is not ruled out. Such a model may accommodate constraints on information propagation from the perimeter through to the core of the system. Localization of phenomenality may reduce global activity requirements.

A model that locates the generation of specific (proto-)qualia in specialized sensory organs (regardless of whether and how these may be consciously perceived, which is contingent on the complete functioning of the conscious agent), that react to particular physical perturbations, can be intuitively appealing because is associates the natural grounding of different qualia with recognized modality specific designs and mechanics of the sensing apparatus. Local information processing support a dramatic reduction in the global information projection and processing burden.
With regards to the complete functioning of the experiencing agent: Throughout the local to global gradient the system’s overall dynamic reactivity and resolution limits must at least exhibit substantial superposition of enveloping of patterns on the sensory perimeter, from acutely locally to diffusely globally – because a manifestation of ‘absolute’ synchronicity effected by concurrent, ‘world line’ ‘preserving’ – continuous, dense activity – is required.

The hypothesis suggesting that some aspects of phenomenality are manifested locally in sensory apparatus should be considered with respect to the temporal evolution of global intra-agent integration. Such integration requires ‘world line’ sustaining extension of (proto-) phenomenal manifestation into and out-of the ‘I’, mediated by appended resonant pattern components (bearing in mind that an agent’s phenomenality at any moment is the sum of all phenomenal components located within the spatial reference frame that is associated with a continuous, near-isotropic and dimension-free core of ‘I’). It appears that two not mutually exclusive extreme temporal snapshot characterizations and one temporally extended characterization, consistent with both of the former, may combine in support of the model; Whether any of the following truly occurs would depend on the as yet unknown physical mechanism of phenomenal mediation:

  • Not plausible but conceivable: A baseline level of dense 
    activity is maintained throughout the system at all times. When a stimulus interacts with a sensory perimeter location, the ongoing level of dense activity within the system may be sufficient to manifest absolute synchrony with the stimulus triggered activity on the perimeter, as it happens. Conceivably, subjective phenomenal sensation may thus be instantaneous, although any and all reactive expression and computational processing (e.g. attentive ‘amplification’) would be subject to propagation delays. i.e. ambient or tonic activity would be ‘in the patterns’, constrained by genetically controlled programming, learning, and vague expectation. For such a mechanism to be possible, ambient neural signalling noise must arise as quanta of activity nested within lower spatial order envelope modulations, perhaps at densities lower than those that would be expected for attended stimuli – through a spectral band spanning several orders of scale. Effectively this would constitute an ‘antenna’ (read as a loose metaphoric analogue) for sensing, that is tuned by learning and maintained by sparser ambient activity conforming with the learnt patterns. Qualia so perceived would fall under the ‘Dancing Qualia’ trap argument (Chalmers) but that argument may be flawed if islands of sensation carry particular feels regardless of whether they are reportable or actionable. After all that is the premise occupied by the very notion of (proto-) phenomenality.
  • More plausible: Sensory apparatus may need to locally or globally echo (smear, sustain, repeat) sensation elements so as to extend these while the signal propagates through with system delays. This is plausible with regards to biological visuals, where photoreceptor reactions last many tens of milliseconds, but less applicable to the case of auditory stimuli, which generate a peripheral reaction lasting no more than a few milliseconds.
    To apply to auditory signals in larger mammals, it seems the virtual focal point anchor of conscious experience would have to be relegated to brainstem, diencephallic or low forebrain structures (i.e. some combination of models [C] and [E] in the synchronicity based consciousness mediating models illustration; ref. above re temporal binding in the timescale of a conscious moment).
  • A temporally extended model would see the conscious percept
    evolving over time. The initial sensation would be  followed by Temporal binding on timescale of moment E
    sensations associated with pattern formation (and integration with ‘I’), that might develop only after the end of of a particularly short stimulus. Conscious realization of the nature of the stimulus and it’s spatiotemporal context trails the actual sensation.
  • The above characterizations are not mutually exclusive and perception may involve temporally overlapping combinations of elements corresponding to all of these characterizations.

A remarkable characteristic of this proposition is that the accuracy of neural computation (as distinct from the source of phenomenality) constrains the ‘amount’ of sensation that is perceived; corrupt computation can only detract from the quality of sensation, misinterpret it. It cannot add absolute phenomenal artifacts in lieu of local sensory apparatus (proto-)qualia but for those arising as perimeter noise, which, while substantial (and as suggested may be providing the contents of internally generated emulations of patterns i.e. imagined patterns), would still pale in contrast to common natural stimuli. Limited precision or specificity in the computational system may support an adequate quality of phenomenal perception ‘getting through’, filtering out the noise floor.

In general, information reducing filtering functions evident in biological sensory communications lines assume a particular functional role in the context of the possibility of sensory-local manifestation of proto-qualia, that eliminates the need to communicate from perimeter to core some information (that which may be processed locally and brings about sensory-local manifestation of qualia).

Exploring the possibility of proto-qualia arising in labelled lines

The possibility that phenomenal experience is triggered and modulated by the sensory surface, generated by neural-like machinery associated with labelled lines, but not encoded into computations (as proposed in option 4 in a preceding paragraph above) yields a similar model except that the notion of Perimeter takes on it’s more abstract form (defined in preceding a section, above), whereby rather than phenomenality arising upon/within specialized sensory receptors, here it is set to be generated within the active micro-cytoarchitecture of the labelled lines comprising the neural (-like) machinery.

To clarify – A ‘labelled line’ in this context can be any arrangement in which (proto-) phenomenality arises in various locations along (or in) the ‘line’ but not necessarily throughout, or at it’s origination or end points (as such micro-topology would be defined from a conventional neural paradigm perspective).

Though dissociated from affecting the process of computation, sensation arising ‘in’ the line may be triggered by computational line activity, i.e. it may be generated as an expression of some computational activities – thus the computation may exercise ‘envelope’ modulation over (proto-) sensation due to lower order activity ‘nested’ within.

The labelled line model may be more relaxed relative to a ‘sensory apparatus origin of qualia’ model in it’s constraints on synchronicity and can accommodate perception lags greater than the persistence of sensory organ local stimuli bound reactions, although absolute synchronicity effected by dense activity throughout could conceivably be required for perception to manifest by this model as well (though it need not envelope sensory apparatus reactivity).

The notion whereby some experiential qualities arise within the central neural system, such generation being modulated by neural computation, is also compatible (in combination) with the possibility of phenomenality arising upon the perimeter, whereby some qualia arise directly on/within (peripheral) specialized sensory surfaces. Such a combination could evolve over time, in the activation of a pattern, in accordance with the notions regarding binding that are outlined above.

So where have we got to?

Does (proto-) phenomenality arise in the ‘back-end’ (‘brain’)? Throughout? In the ‘front-end’ (sensory equipment)?It appears that the issue of the topology of loci of (proto-) phenomenal origination associated with computational machinery is not settled. There may be a path here for research to follow.

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