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Thread: Imagination and consciousness

  1. #1 Imagination and consciousness 
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    Reference : New Scientist, 20 September 2014, page 33

    Imagination is a ubiquitous human trait, and is vitally important. A study of children showed that those who had 'imaginary friends' grew up to be more successful, get better grades, less mental illness, less drug or alcohol use,and were not arrested. The imaginary friend provided emotional support at any time, and helped to calm down children who would otherwise exhibit violent emotion.

    Imagination appears to have value on that emotional level, reducing trauma, but is also vital in practical ways. Children with high levels of fantasy life have been shown to be more likely to grow up into successfully creative adults. Adults make use of imagination for practical purposes, such as planning and preparing for difficult situations. Even something as simple as figuring out how to seduce a desirable woman. It is clear that imagination is one of the keys to human success.

    It occurred to me (therefore this is my opinion and is subject to debate) that consciousness might be related to imagination. In psychology, the nature and origin of consciousness is seen as a major problem. I have seen a statement to the effect that we know no more about consciousness than the ancient Romans did, which is to say, nothing.

    However, to me, consciousness must include the concept of self. To understand that there is a person, known as 'me', who can be thought about in the same way we think about other people or about things or situations. Thinking about this self is a big part of consciousness, if not the main part of it.

    If we use imagination as a means of dealing with the world, then we introduce this self into the imaginary world. My imagination at work deciding how to seduce the girl of my dreams, or even to determine how to decide if the rustle in the bushes is a lion, then my imaginary scenario must include myself. So I am suggesting that the inclusion of 'self' into worlds of imagination, is the origin of consciousness.

    Now tell me where I am wrong.


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    It's generally accepted that consciousness must include a concept of self. But that doesn't really solve the issue of how this sense of 'self' arose from biological processes.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    It's generally accepted that consciousness must include a concept of self. But that doesn't really solve the issue of how this sense of 'self' arose from biological processes.
    I suspect a sense of self has arisen in biological organisms through the process of measurement. The use of sensory receptors and the processing of environmental information assists in creating a sense of self that is seperate from that which is being measured. Magnify this a million or so fold with a brain to analyse these decentralized inputs and it is not so difficult to imagine how conscious awareness might emerge from these processes.
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    I dunno if this helps, Skeptic, but all the while I read your post I had little girls playing Ken & Barbie in my mind. The child uses these dolls as projections of possible selves.
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    Though it does seem like a big leap from having some ability to monitor one's state, to having a subjective experience of the world and concept of self.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    Though it does seem like a big leap from having some ability to monitor one's state, to having a subjective experience of the world and concept of self.
    When I play those first person shooter games and have the ability to independently navigate throughout the simulated world, in a rudimentary way a sense of self is created for the player by providing a sense of purpose and independence for the player. At all times you are vigilant for those external probabilistic factors that could cut your time short. You are very aware that to survive you must continually monitor your surroundings. I personally don't see this as such a great leap.
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    I love the finding that people with imaginary friends have a statistical advantage in life. It goes against my preconception that it was practically a mental disability.

    Actually I started a thread a long while back called "exercises for the imagination"
    exercises for the imagination

    It is my preconception that consciousness is built into the universe and what we experience it as is a bit like as if we somehow "focus" it (perhaps around our perception of self).

    That idea makes me think about the way matter might be thought of as concentrated waves (possibly a garbage word salad) .

    Perhaps I am influenced by Roger Penrose's view (which I understand has had very little traction despite his otherwise good reputation ).

    Because the imagination is such an enjoyable phenomenon perhaps I will make more of a sustained attempt in my own life(and in others') to cultivate it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    Though it does seem like a big leap from having some ability to monitor one's state, to having a subjective experience of the world and concept of self.
    When I play those first person shooter games and have the ability to independently navigate throughout the simulated world, in a rudimentary way a sense of self is created for the player by providing a sense of purpose and independence for the player. At all times you are vigilant for those external probabilistic factors that could cut your time short. You are very aware that to survive you must continually monitor your surroundings. I personally don't see this as such a great leap.
    It is easy for you to say this as a very intelligent evolved being, but for those who aren't so good at those games it is a great leap, even a great barrier.
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    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post
    I love the finding that people with imaginary friends have a statistical advantage in life. It goes against my preconception that it was practically a mental disability.

    Actually I started a thread a long while back called "exercises for the imagination"
    exercises for the imagination

    It is my preconception that consciousness is built into the universe and what we experience it as is a bit like as if we somehow "focus" it (perhaps around our perception of self).

    That idea makes me think about the way matter might be thought of as concentrated waves (possibly a garbage word salad) .

    Perhaps I am influenced by Roger Penrose's view (which I understand has had very little traction despite his otherwise good reputation ).

    Because the imagination is such an enjoyable phenomenon perhaps I will make more of a sustained attempt in my own life(and in others') to cultivate it.
    Sorry Geordief I felt guilty to have posted over your post.
    I loved Skeptic's OP post about imaginary friends as my daughter used to have a swag of imaginary friends up to about the age of 6. Fortunately she has turned out alright too.
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    I think we all very much underappreciate the immense emergent complexity and power of the brain. We are just scratching at the surface currently. In my opinion we are far too preemptive and primitive in attempting to define consciousness and as a result grab onto more esoteric hypothesis in trying to understand a very complex organ. Personally I think the answer will be solved by AI but we have a long long way to go.
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    I think I may have read that there are numerically as many (possible, theoretical ,actual?) connections between an individual's neurons as there are atoms in the universe.

    To my mind AI sounds like reverse engineering (it gives me the creeps that is for sure) .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    I think we all very much underappreciate the immense emergent complexity and power of the brain. We are just scratching at the surface currently. In my opinion we are far too preemptive and primitive in attempting to define consciousness and as a result grab onto more esoteric hypothesis in trying to understand a very complex organ. Personally I think the answer will be solved by AI but we have a long long way to go.
    I do often wonder what other people think and wonder how their memory work for I'm certain my brain is not as good as theirs. Take the statement above I would be incapable of expressing that, well at moment at least. I do think it is so important to start education at a very early age, so parenting has a major bearing on how developed the next generation becomes. OK AI machines will be as good as they are programmed, to begin with, then they will have to have a way of passing that knowledge on somehow. Interesting thought of whether that knowledge will just be memory or can the new machine can be programmed by the previous generation.
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    If experience has taught me anything about the brain then I personally don't take too much credence in a person's innate intelligence. Of course, damage to the brain needs to be viewed differently......however I suspect what most people have trouble with is maintaining coherent thought when they are perpetually bombarded with external stimuli. We can only multi-task so much before performance is effected. Just get away for a bit free from distractions and enjoy a good book or two. You will be surprised how much that grey matter in your skull can absorb.
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    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post

    To my mind AI sounds like reverse engineering (it gives me the creeps that is for sure) .
    I often wonder whether it is in our interests to progress down such a path with AI given the potential risks involved. But hey, that's progress I suppose.....*shakes head*.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Implicate Order View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post

    To my mind AI sounds like reverse engineering (it gives me the creeps that is for sure) .
    I often wonder whether it is in our interests to progress down such a path with AI given the potential risks involved. But hey, that's progress I suppose.....*shakes head*.
    We are riding a tiger and there is no dismounting.With luck we will get the better part of the bargain. As they say , the truth will set you free.
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    Based on the development of other things that make us human, it would appear that consciousness evolved. That is, it would have appeared minimally at first and developed over time, due to the development improving the odds of survival and successful reproduction. The first life would have been pretty much mechanical, with responses based on a pure reflex mechanism. However, at some stage, the responses became conditional. That is, an internal mechanism processed incoming data, and permitted the response to be variable, depending on internal neural effect - thinking.

    I do not know where in this evolutionary process consciousness first appeared. It seems probable that higher animals have a level of consciousness. What of lower animals? Would a snail? A squid?
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Based on the development of other things that make us human, it would appear that consciousness evolved. That is, it would have appeared minimally at first and developed over time, due to the development improving the odds of survival and successful reproduction. The first life would have been pretty much mechanical, with responses based on a pure reflex mechanism. However, at some stage, the responses became conditional. That is, an internal mechanism processed incoming data, and permitted the response to be variable, depending on internal neural effect - thinking.

    I do not know where in this evolutionary process consciousness first appeared. It seems probable that higher animals have a level of consciousness. What of lower animals? Would a snail? A squid?
    Nice reasoning skeptic. If you favour the notion of consciousness being an emergent phenomena, then you would conclude that the fundamental building blocks are likely to have been present from the first single celled organism and progressively enhanced or 'distilled' through evolutionary development. For a single celled organism, the relative simplicity of assessing the environment would undoubtably be seen as 'mechanical in nature' but with cellular complexity and the associated increase in information processing associated with additional sensory inputs would necessitate that competing stimuli would need to be assessed, prioritised and coordinated for the benefit of the 'colony' or 'organism' as a whole. This is where I would anticipate, conditional responses would become a necessary ingredient for survival and where centralised processing of stimuli would be advantageous for survival. Once de-centralised sensory inputs are received from individual cells and then processed and prioritised centrally, this is where I see a sense of 'self' kicking in for a complex multi-cellular organism. The development of a centralised processing system for fully autonomous systems would be where I would draw the line at where full blown consciousness or self-identify first emerges.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Based on the development of other things that make us human, it would appear that consciousness evolved. That is, it would have appeared minimally at first and developed over time, due to the development improving the odds of survival and successful reproduction. The first life would have been pretty much mechanical, with responses based on a pure reflex mechanism. However, at some stage, the responses became conditional. That is, an internal mechanism processed incoming data, and permitted the response to be variable, depending on internal neural effect - thinking.

    I do not know where in this evolutionary process consciousness first appeared. It seems probable that higher animals have a level of consciousness. What of lower animals? Would a snail? A squid?
    Thinking would then be like a outcome based on more than one stimulus within a certain time period.

    Primitive animal.
    Hears a noise to the right
    Sees a cliff to the left
    Does some Thinking! Don't run to the right or the left as both are out
    Decision/response run forward at first.

    Sees swamp ahead.
    Does some more Thinking! Don't run to the right or the left or forward as all are out
    Decision/response Turn around and run in opposite direction next.

    Each of those inputs must be associated with memory as well, the animal remembers it isn't a good decision to run toward a noise, or a cliff or through a swamp. OK even my primitive animal is get complex now. How does memory interact with the current observations?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    Thinking would then be like a outcome based on more than one stimulus within a certain time period.

    Primitive animal.
    Hears a noise to the right
    Sees a cliff to the left
    Does some Thinking! Don't run to the right or the left as both are out
    Decision/response run forward at first.

    Sees swamp ahead.
    Does some more Thinking! Don't run to the right or the left or forward as all are out
    Decision/response Turn around and run in opposite direction next.

    Each of those inputs must be associated with memory as well, the animal remembers it isn't a good decision to run toward a noise, or a cliff or through a swamp. OK even my primitive animal is get complex now. How does memory interact with the current observations?
    There has been talk of internal maps. If an animal knows where it is in relation to its physical surroundings one would presume it is aware of itself.
    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia on Animal Navigation
    Several species of animal can integrate cues of different types to orient themselves and navigate effectively. Insects and birds are able to combine learned landmarks with sensed direction (from the earth's magnetic field or from the sky) to identify where they are and so to navigate. Internal 'maps' are often formed using vision, but other senses including olfaction and echolocation may also be used.
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    I would guess that imaginitive kids are good at, and enjoy, running test scenarios in their head, which would be useful for all sorts of things, like predicting what will happen and how people might react, practicing behaviors, and also reducing anxiety about future events. Whether make-believe is a reflection of this ability, or actually enhanses it, might be harder to judge, although I thought this was an interesting article. The acting classes might reinforce the test scenario thing, but also help autistic children practice identifying and displaying social cues - this is what anger looks like, this is how people act when they are happy.


    http://www.scientificamerican.com/ar...s-with-autism/
    Acting Classes Could Help Kids with Autism - Scientific American
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    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” - Albert Einstein

    And what does the Lord require of you but to love justice, to be merciful and to walk humbly with Him?
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    I would guess that imaginitive kids are good at, and enjoy, running test scenarios in their head, which would be useful for all sorts of things, like predicting what will happen and how people might react, practicing behaviors, and also reducing anxiety about future events. Whether make-believe is a reflection of this ability, or actually enhanses it, might be harder to judge, although I thought this was an interesting article. The acting classes might reinforce the test scenario thing, but also help autistic children practice identifying and displaying social cues - this is what anger looks like, this is how people act when they are happy.


    Acting Classes Could Help Kids with Autism - Scientific American
    Acting Classes Could Help Kids with Autism - Scientific American
    I often attempt to prognasticate the back-and-forth sentences of a conversation before I talk to someone. Though, this seldom works smoothly (Unless I'm talking to my cat, I usually outwit my cat.)
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    Diane

    Quite correct.

    I see imagination as a role playing, or a computer model, of reality which prepares people for new situations. I mentioned the idea of a young guy imagining how to seduce the girl of his dreams, so that when the time came, he was prepared with all the moves. Not necessarily a bad thing for the girl, either, since many successful seductions lead to successful marriages, and on to happy families.

    I had my own life saved by imagination. When i was much younger, I read about a fatal accident, in which an overtaking vehicle smashed into a car coming the other way. I went into a reverie, in which I imagined that situation happening to me, and imagining ways for me to avoid being killed. A few years later, it happened. I was driving at the speed limit (100 kph, or 60 mph), and two cars came around the corner just ahead, one overtaking the other like a blithering idiot. I had already worked out what to do and I spun the steering wheel and literally threw my car into the ditch at the side of the road. An obvious step, but one I did much more quickly through having imagined it beforehand. In the gravel, my car fishtailed to a halt, while the overtaking car shot past without touching me. My life saved through imagination.

    In evolution, mental modelling of reality will clearly improve chances of survival. As time passes, evolution favours those who are better at imagining. To complete the imagining process, the concept of 'self' is introduced. Build a mental model of reality, like how to avoid being killed by a predator, and introduce this creature called 'I' into the model. This must be the beginning of consciousness. Again, evolution will support those best at this process, and consciousness is strengthened.
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    Hi everybody,

    I also think that imagination is linked to consciousness, here is how: to me, consciousness is about perceiving change, whether this change happens in or out of the mind, and imagination is about creating change in the mind and applying it outside. How does it sound?
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    OK, let me push the cork a little bit further: to me, consciousness is about perceiving a change, but since we resist automatically to a change, it is also about resisting to a change. I have an analogy to illustrate that: if you move a body, you feel its resistance, and you take conscience of it because of its resistance. What happens then is that your sensitive neurons transport the information to your brain, that also resists to the change happening to its own neurons. This is for a change from the environment, but there are also changes in our own brain, which is a job for our imagination. If the brain changes something on the informations it already contains, it automatically resists to it, it is forced to if it has to integrate it, and this is why it perceives it. We can only perceive changes, and changes sufficient to hurt if we do not take them into consideration. When we are asleep, it takes a sufficiently loud sound to awake us. When we are concentrated on a job, it takes a sufficiently important change to catch our attention. Any change that is not sufficient does not get to our conscience because we do not have to integrate it. When we resist to a change, it means that we are actually integrating it, not that we reject it. Without resistance, we could not feel anything. How is that? Do you feel a resistance now?"
    Last edited by Le Repteux; October 3rd, 2014 at 02:12 PM.
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    When going down stairs, you notice something is wrong when you expect to feel resistance, and don't feel it. That's not a conscious experience of resistance. When you touch a hot stove, while you may feel the 'resistance' of the object, you also feel the temperature. That is not resistance you're feeling. You're simply feeling what your brain assigns to patterns of electrical input from your sensory neurons. The brain manages to make you walk and run, counterbalancing with your shoulders, and maintaining balance at all times. You're not consciously processing all the tiny details, you're not processing all of the 'resistance'.

    How does the brain resist change happening to its neurons? The physiological basis of action potentials is such that it resets to a state in which in can be activated again and 'change'. Neurons are constantly changing the way they connect to other neurons, improving in efficiency or becoming less efficient.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Repteux View Post
    OK, let me push the cork a little bit further: to me, consciousness is about perceiving a change, but since we resist automatically to a change, it is also about resisting to a change. I have an analogy to illustrate that: if you move a body, you feel its resistance, and you take conscience of it because of its resistance. What happens then is that your sensitive neurons transport the information to your brain, that also resists to the change happening to its own neurons. This is for a change from the environment, but there are also changes in our own brain, which is a job for our imagination. If the brain changes something on the informations it already contains, it automatically resists to it, it is forced to if it has to integrate it, and this is why it perceives it. We can only perceive changes, and changes sufficient to hurt if we do not take them into consideration. When we are asleep, it takes a sufficiently loud sound to awake us. When we are concentrated on a job, it takes a sufficiently important change to catch our attention. Any change that is not sufficient does not get to our conscience because we do not have to integrate it. When we resist to a change, it means that we are actually integrating it, not that we reject it. Without resistance, we could not feel anything. How is that? Do you feel a resistance now?"
    I don't know about the part about neurons or the brain resisting change themselves - their job is to be sensitive to it so that the organism can resist or counteract drastic changes to its internal mileau that might disrupt its functioning and survival, ie maintain homeostasis. I think there is a continuum from the most primitive form of sensation and response, to the kind of consciousness that we and some other animals experience. I think there is a continuum from some sort of recognition of the boundary between the inside and the outside, and a rich and complex experience of the self.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    When going down stairs, you notice something is wrong when you expect to feel resistance, and don't feel it. That's not a conscious experience of resistance.
    Hi Curiosity,

    Executing an automatism is the opposite of trying to change it. An automatism expects no change, this is why it can be executed subconsciously. But when it experiences a change, we first execute a reflex, then we take conscience of the change, thus we take conscience of the resistance this particular automatism offers while being changed.

    When you touch a hot stove, while you may feel the 'resistance' of the object, you also feel the temperature. That is not resistance you're feeling. You're simply feeling what your brain assigns to patterns of electrical input from your sensory neurons.
    What you are feeling is a change though, what comes to our conscience is always a change. If you developped an automatism that let you put your hand on the stove, you have to change it, and it will resist that change, it will take time to change.

    The brain manages to make you walk and run, counterbalancing with your shoulders, and maintaining balance at all times. You're not consciously processing all the tiny details, you're not processing all of the 'resistance'.
    There is no resistance to oppose to an automatism, because there is no change to do.

    How does the brain resist change happening to its neurons? The physiological basis of action potentials is such that it resets to a state in which in can be activated again and 'change'.
    This is another story, but I suggest that they resist a change in their frequency.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curiosity View Post
    When going down stairs, you notice something is wrong when you expect to feel resistance, and don't feel it. That's not a conscious experience of resistance.
    Hi Curiosity,

    Executing an automatism is the opposite of trying to change it. An automatism expects no change, this is why it can be executed subconsciously. But when it experiences a change, we first execute a reflex, then we take conscience of the change, thus we take conscience of the resistance this particular automatism offers while being changed.

    When you touch a hot stove, while you may feel the 'resistance' of the object, you also feel the temperature. That is not resistance you're feeling. You're simply feeling what your brain assigns to patterns of electrical input from your sensory neurons.
    What you are feeling is a change though, what comes to our conscience is always a change. If you developped an automatism that let you put your hand on the stove, you have to change it, and it will resist that change, it will take time to change it.

    The brain manages to make you walk and run, counterbalancing with your shoulders, and maintaining balance at all times. You're not consciously processing all the tiny details, you're not processing all of the 'resistance'.
    There is no resistance to oppose to an automatism, because there is no change to do.

    How does the brain resist change happening to its neurons? The physiological basis of action potentials is such that it resets to a state in which in can be activated again and 'change'.
    This is another story, but I suggest that they resist a change on their frequency.
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