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Thread: evolution of consciousness

  1. #1 evolution of consciousness 
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    What could be the evolutionary reasons/the advantages that human consciousness arose? In my opinion it seems to be not advantageous in respect to reproduction. Due to our consciousness we can imagine how senseless reproduction is, that lifeforms only exist to transfer their DNA into the next generation. Therefore we could stop or at least limit our reproduction. Due to our mind we can work against instincts and therefore against evolution. Wouldn't it be better to for evolution to have shells for the DNA without will? Or am I totally wrong?


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    They are good questions without good answers. Evolutionary theory has no good way to account for the mind, morality or conscious and even our presumed ability to be logical or discern objective truth. It's a clean slate and the speculations are across the board.

    But as you point out many of these characteristics don't fit the evolutionary model very well. By evolutionary theory there is no scientifically valid reason to conclude that our perception of objective truth is correct because selection does not require truth. It is much more modest. It only requires characteristics that offer reproductive advantage. Our decisions needn't be based on truth, just a perception of truth that tends to promote increase of the human race. Therefore a belief that selection of random mutation is correct, is referentially inconsistent If it is true, we could never be certain of that truth. You have pointed out a similar issue with being self aware. There are numerous examples of this, which is why evolutionary theory has no good explanation for the human mind.


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    I think by consciousness here you mean outsmarting ourselves? Build an internal model of the self, including DNA, and judge it? Nothing inexplicable about that.

    Neird, you say reproduction is senseless, but - exerting all my consciousness - I can't find anything more sensible. Reproduction leads to variety. Variety leads to evolution. Evolution is infinite. Got another path to immortality?

    Anyway evolution doesn't have a clue where it's going.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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    Maybe consciousness was an accident. One of the main differences from the Homo sapiens brain to the one from other primates is the sheer size of the frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are mainly concerned with motor control. Because motor control is closely related to freewill and the ability of being aware of yourself, your thoughts and actions, consciousness maybe appeared out of this pure mechanical control of your own body. Of course the answer is not only in the frontal lobes, but maybe it's all about the circuitry that connects this region to other areas.

    Some people argue that consciousness is just smoke and mirrors, that investigating consciousness is the same as physicists investigating the nature of luminiferous aether. From the neurobiological perspective, there are no such things as (pure) freewill, or a 'self'. These are just illusions that emerged from our very sophisticated brains. Consciousness might be the same thing, but this is very controversial.
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    "Consciousness" seems to be largely a construct of our own design. A label that we put on the apparent result of increased encephalization and cognitive functions present in the Genus Homo when the last 4 million or so years of material record is examined.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    They are good questions without good answers. Evolutionary theory has no good way to account for the mind, morality or conscious and even our presumed ability to be logical or discern objective truth.
    Cypress - Your comments above are plainly false, and if you are not intentionally lying when saying them, then I truly feel sorry for how profoundly you miunderstand the workings of this universe in which you exist.
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  8. #7 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by neird
    What could be the evolutionary reasons/the advantages that human consciousness arose? In my opinion it seems to be not advantageous in respect to reproduction. Due to our consciousness we can imagine how senseless reproduction is, that lifeforms only exist to transfer their DNA into the next generation. Therefore we could stop or at least limit our reproduction. Due to our mind we can work against instincts and therefore against evolution. Wouldn't it be better to for evolution to have shells for the DNA without will? Or am I totally wrong?
    Let's consider for a bit what consciousness is. While definitions are obviously still up for debate, a large part of consciousness is considered to be self-awareness and self-reflection, and most importantly, the ability to understand that your mind and your thoughts are separate and potentially different from the minds and thoughts of other individuals. This is not an ability most other animals have, and I think it may surprise some people to realize that. This is called having a theory of mind, and it is especially useful in complex social groups where surviving depends on your successful complex interactions with other members of your social group. Though it is difficult to test thoroughly whether or not other animals have a theory of mind, our current knowledge suggests that chimpanzees and other great apes may have some elements of a theory of mind, and possibly dolphins and elephants do as well. However, a full blown and complex theory of mind seems to be something only humans have of the animals that are alive today.

    Secondly, you are making the assumption that consciousness would directly cause us not to reproduce. However, I'm fairly certain the evidence speaks against that assumption. Everyone likes to bring up the story of the couples they know who have decided not to have children but really, the vast majority of people on the planet still desire to reproduce and still do. Why? cypress seems to think this is a nebulous and difficult concept but it isn't. Those individuals who lost their desire to have children to the point where they no longer attempted to have any did not have offspring, did not pass on their genes to the next generation. Thus any individuals who developed consciousness and lost their desire to reproduce didn't make it to today. Those who maintained both traits are the ones who thrived, reproduced, and whose descendants are alive today.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  9. #8 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith


    Secondly, you are making the assumption that consciousness would directly cause us not to reproduce. However, I'm fairly certain the evidence speaks against that assumption. Everyone likes to bring up the story of the couples they know who have decided not to have children but really, the vast majority of people on the planet still desire to reproduce and still do. Why? cypress seems to think this is a nebulous and difficult concept but it isn't.
    The metaphysical descriptions you offer are not at all difficult. The concept is simple. But the science behind it, demonstrating that consciousness and "mind" are a product solely of material processes is not something science can do at this time. It is referentially inconsistent because the human mind is required for the scientific method and if it is purely material and a product of evolution, then there is no requirement that the mind has any capacity to discern objective truth. Therefore we cannot know if our belief in evolution or materialism is correct and we cannot say that your metaphysical explanation is correct.
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    This is a philosophy of science stance and if you with to follow this line of reasoning, take it to Philosophy. There are certain assumptions upon which scientific reasoning is based and one of them is that our minds are reliable tools for understanding the universe. If we assume we can't learn anything about the minds with our minds than why bother trying to understand them at all.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    I believe I was pointing out that your explanations were philisophical as opposed to empirical. They are supported by logical arguments rather than experiment and evidence.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    I believe I was pointing out that your explanations were philisophical as opposed to empirical. They are supported by logical arguments rather than experiment and evidence.
    ....logical, I suppose, in the sense that they follow evolutionary logic which is based on theory which is supported by empirical evidence, particularly the mechanisms of inheritance and reproduction with which are very empirically familiar. And no, do not start harping about the inadequacies of evolutionary theory in this thread. There are several others where that conversation is already ongoing and that is enough.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    I believe I was pointing out that your explanations were philisophical as opposed to empirical. They are supported by logical arguments rather than experiment and evidence.
    No, what you were doing is making a post-modernist argument that really has no bearing on reality. I realize that its upsetting for science to dare question and poke into the last bastions of superstition that are held by some (i.e. consciousness), for if science were to show that the neuro-chemical activity that occurs is non-magical (i.e. not metaphysical, which is a made-up term where biology is concerned) and wholly biological and, thus, physical, it dispels the necessity for superstitions that include nonsense claims like souls, gods, and other magical entities.

    Thus, creationists (and I clearly don't believe your claim that you aren't a creationist) and the superstitious will nearly always take advantage of what science has yet to discover or explain and suggest that the lack of explanation is because its outside of the physical world, non-material, etc.

    The claim that one cannot explore "consciousness" because it requires a "conscious mind" to do so is post-modernist mumbo-jumbo. Its akin to saying "we can never know if reality actually exists, so why do anything in the real world to explain anything."

    If this is truly your stand, I'm happy to split the thread from your post into the pseudoscience subforum and you can carry on the conversation there.

    If you truly believe that biology cannot be used to explore "consciousness" (which hasn't yet been defined in this thread -there are, after all, several usable definitions), feel free to start that thread in an appropriate forum.
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    @ Pong
    Neird, you say reproduction is senseless, but - exerting all my consciousness - I can't find anything more sensible. Reproduction leads to variety. Variety leads to evolution. Evolution is infinite. Got another path to immortality?
    OK, that's right. For evolution and for the survival of species it is sensible and necessary. But what about the individual person? It is simply a circle. Due to chemical and physical properties molecules arose, which are capable of self-reproduction (RNA/DNA etc) (=replicators). Because of that ability of self-reproduction life began and so humans. At that moment also Evolution and natural selection started. The future Replicators and complexer life-forms are merely a result of that ability. What advantage do you get, when you reproduce? You die, but your genes are in the next generation. For me that is not an sufficant goal. You call that immortality, but what advantage do you get, when you can't experience that immortality, as your consciousness is wiped out?
    In my opinion it is not such a good idea to reproduce. Due to the sexual urge children are created, that obtain consciousness. Of course, it could be a wonderful life for that children. But it also could be a nightmare of life. As parents you don't know that future. Therefore it would be safer not to reproduce. Consciousness also allows to experience much more intense. Besides at the end of that life (happy or not) death waits. The consciousness will be propably wiped out (my opinion). The things that made the person out are wiped out. One gives his children birth, but at the same moment one condemns them to death (sorry for that formulation -I know it is hard, but it is logical to me).

    Anyway evolution doesn't have a clue where it's going.
    I absolutely agree with that. But could our consciousness maybe become a dead end for humanity in a far future? My assumptions are based on observations: A lot of things that were important and unbreakable in the far past such as religion, life after death, that the earth is the centre of the universe... are questioned or disproved today. The humanity starts to doubt. Couldn't it even come to a questioning of our existence (e.g. Nihilism)?

    @ Kadu
    Maybe consciousness was an accident. One of the main differences from the Homo sapiens brain to the one from other primates is the sheer size of the frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are mainly concerned with motor control. Because motor control is closely related to freewill and the ability of being aware of yourself, your thoughts and actions, consciousness maybe appeared out of this pure mechanical control of your own body. Of course the answer is not only in the frontal lobes, but maybe it's all about the circuitry that connects this region to other areas.
    I estimate it is indeed an accident or a by-product, as you say. The connection to the motor control is an interesting view. But what could be a logical connection betwenn motion-control an consciousness? I think the advantages are at the moment bigger, than the disadvantages (e.g. questioning our existence) of consciousness. Maybe the day will dawn when it will be our extinction... I hope not...



    @ paralith
    Though it is difficult to test thoroughly whether or not other animals have a theory of mind, our current knowledge suggests that chimpanzees and other great apes may have some elements of a theory of mind, and possibly dolphins and elephants do as well. However, a full blown and complex theory of mind seems to be something only humans have of the animals that are alive today.
    What could be the difference of theory of mind between humans and dolphins etc.?
    Secondly, you are making the assumption that consciousness would directly cause us not to reproduce.
    Self-consciousness lets us realize the truth. In my opinion it is the truth, that reproduction is senseless (see above).
    the vast majority of people on the planet still desire to reproduce and still do
    I think it is only due to the sexual-urge, that is a subtle force and consequence of our DNA, packed in love etc...

    @all
    Besides: Certainly Evolution is a force that is absolutelly fundamental. As biologist one has to argue on that basis. As already Dobzhansky pointed out: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"

    PS: don't feel offended by my statements. They are just hypothetical...
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  15. #14 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    [quote="paralith"]
    Quote Originally Posted by neird
    This is called having a theory of mind, and it is especially useful in complex social groups where surviving depends on your successful complex interactions with other members of your social group. Though it is difficult to test thoroughly whether or not other animals have a theory of mind, our current knowledge suggests that chimpanzees and other great apes may have some elements of a theory of mind, and possibly dolphins and elephants do as well. However, a full blown and complex theory of mind seems to be something only humans have of the animals that are alive today.
    .... and birds, and mollusks, .... http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feat...nybody_home%3F

    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.

    Some fairly smart people have tried to crack this nut and have gotten nowhere thus far.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadows_of_the_Mind

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadows_of_the_Mind

    I will be impressed when someone can predict the future emergence of consciousness among college freshmen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.
    I disagree; empirically, mind and consciousness are products of brain function. Therefore, it is possible to define these qualities by the nature of brain function and discern their evolutionary root by the nature of brain evolution. There is no great mystery to brain evolution and the qualities brain function defines when we fully understand what the contiguous nature of brain structure and function actually suggests about our brain's origin and development.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.
    I disagree; empirically, mind and consciousness are products of brain function. Therefore, it is possible to define these qualities by the nature of brain function and discern their evolutionary root by the nature of brain evolution. There is no great mystery to brain evolution and the qualities brain function defines when we fully understand what the contiguous nature of brain structure and function actually suggests about our brain's origin and development.
    DrmDoc - That's a slightly different argument, though. Nobody here will dispute that consciousness and theories of intelligence are rooted in brain function, nor that brain function leads to specific abilities and behaviors, nor that brain function itself can be both measured and tested. However, the concept of consciousness itself is too vague, gray, and fuzzy to be of much use or merit, and that is ultimately the point which is being made by posters here. "Consciousness" is a word much like "porn." We can't really define it other than to say that we just "know it when we see it."

    If you've got an adequate definition of consciousness, then please provide it. Until then, Dr.Rocket's comment remains both valid and applicable to the discussion taking place here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    If you've got an adequate definition of consciousness, then please provide it. Until then, Dr.Rocket's comment remains both valid and applicable to the discussion taking place here.
    My concept of consciousness is based on the research I did for a book about the dreaming brain a few years ago. Consciousness is a construct of brain function that is demonstrated by the distinction between the awareness our brain constructs while conscious and the awareness it constructs when we dream. When we are conscious, our brain constructs a consciousness that is cognizant of its physical/material surroundings; when we dream, our brain constructs a consciousness that is not cognizant of its true physical/material environment. The distinction between the two is made by the degree of information the brain receives or has access to from its sensory environment.

    In an earlier book, I defined consciousness as the abiding awareness of self that is cognizant of its distinction and existence apart from surrounding influence and experience. When we are awake, we are cognizant of our distinction in physical/material reality because of the information our brain receives through our sensory array. When we dream, we generally remain unaware that we are dreaming because physical/material sensory experience doesn’t enter the dreaming brain as it does when we are awake. Atonic activity in the brainstem diminishes our sleeping brain's sensitivity to sensory experience. The dreaming brain constructs a consciousness that believes its in-the-moment dream experiences are real because it does not generally receive information suggesting that those experiences are not real. It is only when we awake, that our arousing brain is able to distinguish what it experienced in sleep as a dream. In this way we are able to define consciousness--our abiding awareness of our distinction in reality--as a construct of brain function.
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    Well, thanks, but I'm rather put off by its self-referential nature and use of other ambiguous terms (many of the words you used in your definition are themselves fuzzy and ill-defined). In short, it sort of leaves me with more questions than answers, but I really appreciate it that you did, in fact, respond to my request.
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  20. #19 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    This is called having a theory of mind, and it is especially useful in complex social groups where surviving depends on your successful complex interactions with other members of your social group. Though it is difficult to test thoroughly whether or not other animals have a theory of mind, our current knowledge suggests that chimpanzees and other great apes may have some elements of a theory of mind, and possibly dolphins and elephants do as well. However, a full blown and complex theory of mind seems to be something only humans have of the animals that are alive today.
    .... and birds, and mollusks, .... http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feat...nybody_home%3F

    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.

    Some fairly smart people have tried to crack this nut and have gotten nowhere thus far.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadows_of_the_Mind

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadows_of_the_Mind

    I will be impressed when someone can predict the future emergence of consciousness among college freshmen.
    I certainly admitted that the definition of consciousness was debatable, but the idea of a theory of mind as at least one component of consciousness is, I think, fairly well defined and has been extensively researched with actual experimental studies in many primates, particularly apes (surprise surprise). This paper is a very nice review of the long history of these studies in chimpanzees. To quote a particular passage which I think emphasizes the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans as concluded by over 30 years of psychological testing:

    Quote Originally Posted by Call and Tomasello 2008
    Despite all of this positive evidence for chimpanzees’ understanding the goals, intentions, perceptions and knowledge of others, there is currently no experimental evidence that they understand false beliefs by, for example, predicting what another will do based on what that other knows (when the subject knows something else to be the case).
    Understanding this separation of awareness between yourself and other individuals (that what others know, perceive and desire is separate and possibly different from what you know, perceive, and desire) requires a certain degree of self awareness. Similar tests in monkeys show a much more limited awareness of the intentions etc of others, and so on. There are ways to test this though they are often difficult to accomplish.

    Ok, maybe you don't want to consider this mode of cognition an element of consciousness. But many others do. As for the birds and the mollusks, the modes of problem solving they exhibit are also considered elements of consciousness - the ability to plan ahead for the future, the ability to hold an image of a tool in your head that fits the requirements for your task and to create that image from available materials. Impressive abilities that humans also have, but not exactly the same thing as having a theory of mind (I'm not as familiar with the psychological literature on birds but no, it would not surprise me if some birds have some elements of a theory of mind as well.). And, though animals like chimpanzees and birds and maybe even mollusks can make tools, it is clear that no other animal can make tools as complex and multi-factored as humans can.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  21. #20 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Ok, maybe you don't want to consider this mode of cognition an element of consciousness. But many others do..
    This statement clearly reveals a lack of precise meaning to "cognition" and "consciousness", which in turn implies that our "science of the mind" is not really science at all. It is just too subjective.

    Maybe someday we will have something resembling a scientific understanding of consciousness, but that day is not now.

    Now this probably grates on people whose rice bowl is connected to "science of the mind". But there are siimply some disciplines that use the term "science" as a badge of legitimacy that has yet to be earned. That may be why "many others do", but science is not a demoncracy and scientific results are not the result of a vote.

    It is rather disengenuous to talk about an "element of consciousness" while admitting that the term "consciousness" is ill-defined.

    The area is simply not sufficiently mature to be considered a science. That does not mean that one should abandon efforts to gain understanding. But it does mean not falling into the trap of thinking that one understands somethig that one does not in fact understand. To do otherwise is simply to fool yourself

    "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." -- Richard Feynman
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  22. #21 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    It is rather disengenuous to talk about an "element of consciousness" while admitting that the term "consciousness" is ill-defined.

    The area is simply not sufficiently mature to be considered a science. That does not mean that one should abandon efforts to gain understanding. But it does mean not falling into the trap of thinking that one understands somethig that one does not in fact understand. To do otherwise is simply to fool yourself

    "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." -- Richard Feynman
    I don't know what's "fooling yourself" about being honest of the short falls of a field and current knowledge of a particular concept. I imagine you didn't even read that paper I linked to? The concepts being tested in the myriad of methdologically sound experiments described in that paper are quite clearly defined, and to call the work described therein "not sufficiently mature to be considered science" is far more disengenuous than anything I've said here. If nothing else, let me say that my arguments in particular relate specifically to a theory of mind. Due to the fact that OP is clearly not an expert in neurological studies I made the assumption (my apologies if I should not have assumed) that part of his layman's understanding of consciousness included self awareness, to which theory of mind is directly related in terms of defining and understanding yourself as separate from others. We can say with quite precise certainty, as I have been trying to this whole time, that many elements of human cognition, though it clearly shares common elements with other animals, are capable of a complexity that far exceeds what other animals can accomplish. Again, the OP appeared to be thinking in particular of some aspect of cognition that is unique to humans. And one of those cognitive elements is a complex theory of mind.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Well, thanks, but I'm rather put off by its self-referential nature and use of other ambiguous terms (many of the words you used in your definition are themselves fuzzy and ill-defined). In short, it sort of leaves me with more questions than answers, but I really appreciate it that you did, in fact, respond to my request.
    Ok, then let's go deeper. What are your questions, exactly?
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Ok, then let's go deeper. What are your questions, exactly?
    What are the specific parameters of consciousness which we can measure to test a) presence, and b) magnitude? Once that's answered, how do we perform said measurements, and what are the things for which we are looking?
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Ok, then let's go deeper. What are your questions, exactly?
    What are the specific parameters of consciousness which we can measure to test a) presence, and b) magnitude? Once that's answered, how do we perform said measurements, and what are the things for which we are looking?
    Perhaps we should make sure we're both on the same page regarding the nature of consciousness. I perceive it as a construct of brain function. As such, it can be measure by standard diagnostic methods. Your comments seem to suggest that you perceive it as a "presence", which suggests to me an entity independent of brain function. If so, that is not my perspective. Could you explain yours further?
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  26. #25 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by neird
    What could be the evolutionary reasons/the advantages that human consciousness arose? In my opinion it seems to be not advantageous in respect to reproduction. Due to our consciousness we can imagine how senseless reproduction is, that lifeforms only exist to transfer their DNA into the next generation. Therefore we could stop or at least limit our reproduction. Due to our mind we can work against instincts and therefore against evolution. Wouldn't it be better to for evolution to have shells for the DNA without will? Or am I totally wrong?
    Reproducing also involves surviving to reproductive age, which consciousness could reasonably be expected to aid.
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  27. #26 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by neird
    What could be the evolutionary reasons/the advantages that human consciousness arose? In my opinion it seems to be not advantageous in respect to reproduction. Due to our consciousness we can imagine how senseless reproduction is, that lifeforms only exist to transfer their DNA into the next generation. Therefore we could stop or at least limit our reproduction. Due to our mind we can work against instincts and therefore against evolution. Wouldn't it be better to for evolution to have shells for the DNA without will? Or am I totally wrong?
    There are many advantages of human consciousness and higher intelligence. Higher intelligence allows a species to adapt to changing environments better. That's probably the reason natural selection favored it. It also helps movement.

    Also natural selection and evolution aren't perfect, the result of a surviving species most likely contains many things that a species would be better without.

    Natural selection eliminated most species, the ones leftover are just ones that survived, not necessarily the very best possible for survival.
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.
    I disagree; empirically, mind and consciousness are products of brain function. Therefore, it is possible to define these qualities by the nature of brain function and discern their evolutionary root by the nature of brain evolution. There is no great mystery to brain evolution and the qualities brain function defines when we fully understand what the contiguous nature of brain structure and function actually suggests about our brain's origin and development.
    DrmDoc - That's a slightly different argument, though. Nobody here will dispute that consciousness and theories of intelligence are rooted in brain function, nor that brain function leads to specific abilities and behaviors, nor that brain function itself can be both measured and tested. However, the concept of consciousness itself is too vague, gray, and fuzzy to be of much use or merit, and that is ultimately the point which is being made by posters here. "Consciousness" is a word much like "porn." We can't really define it other than to say that we just "know it when we see it."

    If you've got an adequate definition of consciousness, then please provide it. Until then, Dr.Rocket's comment remains both valid and applicable to the discussion taking place here.
    The hard problem of consciousness and how consciousness is generated are still unsolved problems and unanswered questions.

    Consciousness means awareness of experience, sensory perceptions, the sum total of all perceptions.

    We know that pain perception obviously has benefit, as well the sense perceptions (sight, hearing, taste, feeling, smell).

    So only the perception left would be thinking? Thinking is beneficial for a species that has to adapt to changing environments. If an environment is static and unchanging, thinking is not really required. If an environment constantly changes rapidly thinking would be necessary for the species to change and adapt.

    So that's all consciousness is, just the totality of perceptions.
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  29. #28  
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    Quote Originally Posted by neird
    Self-consciousness lets us realize the truth. In my opinion it is the truth, that reproduction is senseless (see above).
    ...
    I think it is only due to the sexual-urge, that is a subtle force and consequence of our DNA, packed in love etc...
    OK, sure. But obviously the sexual urge is strong enough to overcome any "truth" that reproduction is senseless. The sexual act feels good, having children that love you feels good, raising your children successfully feels good, many people feel unhappy and unfulfilled if they don't have children. Just being consciously aware of something doesn't mean you won't give into an emotional urge - and that's why those emotional urges are there. To encourage us to do those things which are reproductively advantageous.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  30. #29 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    It is rather disengenuous to talk about an "element of consciousness" while admitting that the term "consciousness" is ill-defined.

    The area is simply not sufficiently mature to be considered a science. That does not mean that one should abandon efforts to gain understanding. But it does mean not falling into the trap of thinking that one understands somethig that one does not in fact understand. To do otherwise is simply to fool yourself

    "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." -- Richard Feynman
    I don't know what's "fooling yourself" about being honest of the short falls of a field and current knowledge of a particular concept. I imagine you didn't even read that paper I linked to? The concepts being tested in the myriad of methdologically sound experiments described in that paper are quite clearly defined, and to call the work described therein "not sufficiently mature to be considered science" is far more disengenuous than anything I've said here. If nothing else, let me say that my arguments in particular relate specifically to a theory of mind. Due to the fact that OP is clearly not an expert in neurological studies I made the assumption (my apologies if I should not have assumed) that part of his layman's understanding of consciousness included self awareness, to which theory of mind is directly related in terms of defining and understanding yourself as separate from others. We can say with quite precise certainty, as I have been trying to this whole time, that many elements of human cognition, though it clearly shares common elements with other animals, are capable of a complexity that far exceeds what other animals can accomplish. Again, the OP appeared to be thinking in particular of some aspect of cognition that is unique to humans. And one of those cognitive elements is a complex theory of mind.
    You did not provide a link or even a title that I saw, but only an excerpt. I presume that you mean this paper http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/pdf/TICS30.pdf

    Frankly, I am not impressed in the least by the paper. It simply confirms that there is no solid definition of "consciousness" or "theory of the mind" and I don't find the experiments described either quantitatifve, well-controlled or anything beyond anecdotal observations of chimps. I would be interested in the chimps opinions regarding the researchers as much as vice versa.

    Most pointedly they concluded that maybe chimps have such a theory and maybe they don't. But in any case they don't have a definition of the term so how would one make a decision anyway ?

    It looks to me like they are fooling themselfves. Feynman had some things to say about how not to do that. http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/51/2/CargoCult.pdf
    Pay attention to the critique of cargo cult science as it pertains to psychology experiments.
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  31. #30 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    I certainly admitted that the definition of consciousness was debatable, but the idea of a theory of mind as at least one component of consciousness is, I think, fairly well defined and has been extensively researched with actual experimental studies in many primates, particularly apes (surprise surprise). This paper is a very nice review of the long history of these studies in chimpanzees. To quote a particular passage which I think emphasizes the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans as concluded by over 30 years of psychological testing:

    Quote Originally Posted by Call and Tomasello 2008
    Despite all of this positive evidence for chimpanzees’ understanding the goals, intentions, perceptions and knowledge of others, there is currently no experimental evidence that they understand false beliefs by, for example, predicting what another will do based on what that other knows (when the subject knows something else to be the case).
    Link to the pdf, authors, year. I suppose next time I'll just post the actual url and not put it in nice little bbs tags since apparently that's easy to miss

    I'm a little flabbergasted, Dr.Rocket. Nothing but anecdotal? No clear definitions? You think there are scores of publications referenced in that paper based on nothing but what some zookeeper saw Daisy do in her enclosure one day? And really, referencing me to a paper railing against pseudoscience? I'm not talking parapsychology here, Dr.Rocket. I cannot help but note that you seem to have a very definite bias against anything with the label "psychology" on it, as I cannot believe you read that paper I gave you very thoroughly and still come away with those conclusions.

    I think the quote above that I pulled from the paper provides some very clear definitions - that whatever theory of mind is, whatever consciousness is, a chimpanzee can infer from observing the behavior of others that another chimpanzee or human has a specific goal or intention, that other individuals are capable of perceiving information around them, yet cannot reconcile that when they know something is true, another individual may have a different knowledge and think that something is false. I understand it's a review paper and it doesn't go into complete detail on all the studies referenced, but certainly some of the descriptions make it clear that these are not just anecdotal observations! An example:

    Recently, J. Kaminski et al. (personal communication)
    found a very similar pattern of results in a totally different
    experimental paradigm. They presented both chimpanzees
    and six-year-old children with a back-and-forth conspecific
    competition game with both knowledge–ignorance and
    false-belief versions. The basic idea was that food was
    placed in the opaque buckets such that in some cases
    the location of the food was known to both competitors
    (who watched the other witnessing the hiding as well), in
    other cases only the subject witnessed the hiding of the food
    (the competitor was thus ignorant) and in still other cases
    both participants watched the hiding of the food but then
    only the subject saw it being moved to a new location (the
    competitor thus had a false belief). The overall finding was
    that children passed both the knowledge–ignorance and
    the false-belief versions of the task, whereas chimpanzees
    treated both versions as involving knowledge-ignorance
    only and not false beliefs. Together with the results of
    Hare et al. [15], the conclusion is clear: chimpanzees understand
    knowledge-ignorance, but not false belief. This seeming
    lack of understanding is all the more striking given
    mounting evidence that even one- and two-year-old human
    children understand something in the direction of false
    beliefs [16–19].
    I find it interesting that the Fenyman paper you linked to talks about testing previous ideas; as a matter of fact this review paper describes how many of the previous, conflicting conclusions (obviously referenced and not hidden) in the field were re-tested in order to control for now known biases in chimpanzee behavior (many previous studies involved a cooperative food-reward task when chimpanzees in actuality almost never cooperate when it comes to food in the wild, so competitive food-reward tasks were used instead) and multiple studies by different authors using very different experimental paradigms aimed at testing the same cognitive element have arrived at similar conclusions. And the conclusion at the end of the paper is not nearly so nebulous as you make it out to be. Given one definition, which includes certain specific cognitive elements, yes chimps have a theory of mind. Given another definition, which includes other specific cognitive elements, no chimps don't have a theory of mind. Whatever name you give to the collection of cognitive abilities we know they possess, we have nevertheless thoroughly and scientifically tested for the presence of these cognitive elements. Save that Fenyman paper for someone who actually needs it.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  32. #31 Re: evolution of consciousness 
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith


    I think the quote above that I pulled from the paper provides some very clear definitions - that whatever theory of mind is, whatever consciousness is, a chimpanzee can infer from observing the behavior of others that another chimpanzee or human has a specific goal or intention, that other individuals are capable of perceiving information around them, yet cannot reconcile that when they know something is true, another individual may have a different knowledge and think that something is false. I understand it's a review paper and it doesn't go into complete detail on all the studies referenced, but certainly some of the descriptions make it clear that these are not just anecdotal observations! An example:

    Recently, J. Kaminski et al. (personal communication)
    found a very similar pattern of results in a totally different
    experimental paradigm. They presented both chimpanzees
    and six-year-old children with a back-and-forth conspecific
    competition game with both knowledge–ignorance and
    false-belief versions. The basic idea was that food was
    placed in the opaque buckets such that in some cases
    the location of the food was known to both competitors
    (who watched the other witnessing the hiding as well), in
    other cases only the subject witnessed the hiding of the food
    (the competitor was thus ignorant) and in still other cases
    both participants watched the hiding of the food but then
    only the subject saw it being moved to a new location (the
    competitor thus had a false belief). The overall finding was
    that children passed both the knowledge–ignorance and
    the false-belief versions of the task, whereas chimpanzees
    treated both versions as involving knowledge-ignorance
    only and not false beliefs. Together with the results of
    Hare et al. [15], the conclusion is clear: chimpanzees understand
    knowledge-ignorance, but not false belief. This seeming
    lack of understanding is all the more striking given
    mounting evidence that even one- and two-year-old human
    children understand something in the direction of false
    beliefs [16–19].
    Everything that you have said here simply serves to bolster my opinion.

    It just plain silly to infer intentions of an indicudual from another species based on simple observations. We cannot do that with humans. In fact if we could it would greatly simplifiy trial procedures in criminal cases -- and that is a most unscientific and inaccurate process itself. Who even knows if champanzees have intentions ? A chimp with different acuity of senses may well be making its "decisions" based on cues that are quite different from that of the humans.

    Where are the controls ? Where is the consideration of sample size ? Why should chimpanzees mimic human behavior ? How can you discuss "theory of the mind" in an objective manner when you admit that you cannot even define it ? How can you call study of "consciousness" scientific" when you cannot define it ? In fact how can you claim that "consciousness" is present or absent if you cannot define it ? The "I'll know it when I see it" criteria doesn't fly -- you are talking about another species here.

    Yep, calling this science is fooling yourself. I think you need to look into the whole approach being taken and see if you cannot recognize "false belief" at work.
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    DrRocket, with respect, you are way out of your depth here. I would not have expected you to argue from ignorance.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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  34. #33  
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    What's being studied is cognition and the neural correlates to behavior and sensation. These are all well established lines of study in the fields of neuroscience and psychology.

    The controls and sample sizes along with all the methodologies are detailed in each of the studies referenced in the Call and Tomasello paper. If you haven't the access to them, I'm happy to retrieve a couple for you.

    You're making yourself look silly ranting on an on about "theory of mind" being pseuodoscience when you haven't even read the works. Perhaps you'd like to review the studies and critique the methodologies directly. I, personally, would be interested in seeing what a lay-person would bring to the table that the readership, reviewers and peers of the career researchers involved haven't yet had the intellectual or academic ability or desire to do.
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    Quote Originally Posted by VitalOne
    The hard problem of consciousness and how consciousness is generated are still unsolved problems and unanswered questions.
    For some, but not for me. The key for me involved my study of the distinct permutations of consciousness as suggested by the waking and dreaming states of brain activity and function. When the brain dreams, its activity rises to almost waking-state levels. The memories we recall as dreams are suggestive of some measure of consciousness amid the sleep process. Yet, a distinction in the consciousness that the brain appears to generate during its dreaming-state is suggested by our general lack of gross locomotion relative to our highly active brain amid dream sleep.

    Dreaming, as a suggestion of cognitive brain activity amid sleep, and our lack of gross movement amid dream sleep suggest a distinction in the cognitive activity or consciousness that the brain is able to generate. As a way of understanding the consciousness brain function generates, we can compare what happens in the brain when it is awake to what happens when it dreams. The distinction between the two suggests that consciousness is a construct of brain function that is dependent on the information the brain receives from its environment.
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  36. #35  
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker

    You're making yourself look silly ranting on an on about "theory of mind" being pseuodoscience when you haven't even read the works. Perhaps you'd like to review the studies and critique the methodologies directly. I, personally, would be interested in seeing what a lay-person would bring to the table that the readership, reviewers and peers of the career researchers involved haven't yet had the intellectual or academic ability or desire to do.
    You used the word "pasudoscience", not me. I said it was far to immature to be called science. That is quite a different thing. Pseudoscience requires that there be a legitimate body of science against which the "pseudosccience" can be compared. That does not seem to be the case here. Perhaps at some future time there might be such an entity. That is how sciences tend to evolve.

    I siimply observed that it had been stipulated by people claiming to be knowledgeable that "theory of the mind" and "consciusness" have no clear definition, and that making "scientific" statements about that which one clearly states to be undefined cannot be considered scientific.
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  37. #36  
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    What's being studied is cognition and the neural correlates to behavior and sensation.
    "The 18-inch-long Atlantic salmon lay perfectly still for its brain scan. Emotional pictures —a triumphant young girl just out of a somersault, a distressed waiter who had just dropped a plate — flashed in front of the fish as a scientist read the standard instruction script aloud. The hulking machine clunked and whirred, capturing minute changes in the salmon’s brain as it assessed the images. Millions of data points capturing the fluctuations in brain activity streamed into a powerful computer, which performed herculean number crunching, sorting out which data to pay attention to and which to ignore.

    By the end of the experiment, neuroscientist Craig Bennett and his colleagues at Dartmouth College could clearly discern in the scan of the salmon’s brain a beautiful, red-hot area of activity that lit up during emotional scenes.

    An Atlantic salmon that responded to human emotions would have been an astounding discovery, guaranteeing publication in a top-tier journal and a life of scientific glory for the researchers. Except for one thing. The fish was dead."


    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feat...ling_the_brain
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  38. #37  
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    You used the word "pasudoscience", not me. I said it was far to immature to be called science. That is quite a different thing.
    Fair enough. Perhaps I simply inferred it from your rant.
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  39. #38  
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Ok, then let's go deeper. What are your questions, exactly?
    What are the specific parameters of consciousness which we can measure to test a) presence, and b) magnitude? Once that's answered, how do we perform said measurements, and what are the things for which we are looking?
    Perhaps we should make sure we're both on the same page regarding the nature of consciousness. I perceive it as a construct of brain function. As such, it can be measure by standard diagnostic methods.
    Right, and I'm asking what specific brain functions define the presence of consciousness? Where are we looking to see it? What are we looking for? How do we measure it's different magnitudes and intensities?


    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Your comments seem to suggest that you perceive it as a "presence", which suggests to me an entity independent of brain function. If so, that is not my perspective. Could you explain yours further?
    I'm really not sure how you got that from my comments. All I've done is to ask you what are the specific parameters of consciousness which we can measure to test a) presence, and b) magnitude? I've also asked you how we might perform those measurements, and what are the things for which we are looking?



    In sum, I am asking how you define it, and how you can measure it. Your response that it's "brain function" causes a reaction in me like, "yeah, no shit sherlock," and I'm asking you to be more specific.

    Does that help clarify?
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  40. #39  
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    This seems to align with...

    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc

    Dreaming, as a suggestion of cognitive brain activity amid sleep, and our lack of gross movement amid dream sleep suggest a distinction in the cognitive activity or consciousness that the brain is able to generate. As a way of understanding the consciousness brain function generates, we can compare what happens in the brain when it is awake to what happens when it dreams. The distinction between the two suggests that consciousness is a construct of brain function that is dependent on the information the brain receives from its environment.
    ...this

    Quote Originally Posted by Kadu
    Maybe consciousness was an accident. One of the main differences from the Homo sapiens brain to the one from other primates is the sheer size of the frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are mainly concerned with motor control. Because motor control is closely related to freewill and the ability of being aware of yourself, your thoughts and actions, consciousness maybe appeared out of this pure mechanical control of your own body. Of course the answer is not only in the frontal lobes, but maybe it's all about the circuitry that connects this region to other areas.
    Which makes me start wondering whether the frontal lobes are also responsible for analyzing sensory input. I'm assuming that an important part of motor control is the construction of a detailed model of the environment, by taking all of our sensory input and constructing a picture that is more than the sum of its parts. We see the world in 3d because some part of our brain is able to take all those 2d pictures and combine them. (Something that is quite a challenge to adequately duplicated with computers.)

    From that, we get an imagination.
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  41. #40  
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Right, and I'm asking what specific brain functions define the presence of consciousness? Where are we looking to see it? What are we looking for? How do we measure it's different magnitudes and intensities?
    Good questions. For a start I'd answer "where" by my preferred brutality: If you insert a wire through the top of the eye socket and swish it through the fringe of frontal lobe farthest from the brainstem, consciousness is destroyed. And little else is destroyed, in that area.

    I don't think consciousness actually occupies that edge of the frontal lobes like a queen in her turret. It's more like the wall of a racquetball court - absolutely necessary to play the game but not where the game is played.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  42. #41  
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    so you see that part of the frontal lobe as a conduit or enabler to consciousness ?
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  43. #42  
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    I'm asking what specific brain functions define the presence of consciousness? Where are we looking to see it? What are we looking for? How do we measure it's different magnitudes and intensities?
    Forgive me; I assumed that you were more knowledgeable in this area than you now appear to be. The presence of consciousness is determined by the level of activity within the brain and by behavioral responses to sensory stimuli. We look to see consciousness in the behavioral responses of individuals to stimuli and in the diffuse levels of functional activity we find throughout the brain via fMRI, EEG, etc. What we look for, with respect to EEG for example, are sustained levels of desynchronous electrical activity. How we measure its varying magnitudes and intensities via EEG, again for example, is through the voltage and wave frequency levels the brain produces.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Your comments seem to suggest that you perceive it as a "presence", which suggests to me an entity independent of brain function. If so, that is not my perspective. Could you explain yours further?
    I'm really not sure how you got that from my comments. All I've done is to ask you what are the specific parameters of consciousness which we can measure to test a) presence, and b) magnitude? I've also asked you how we might perform those measurements, and what are the things for which we are looking?
    No offense intended; as I explained, your use of the word “presence” suggested to me that we were sharing different perspectives of consciousness. In other discussions, you seemed to have some knowledge of brain function and the associated technologies for studying it. If you do, I see no reason to drudge through the functional minutia other than as a means to forestall more meaningful discussions on the overall picture suggested by such functions.

    In sum, I am asking how you define it,…
    And I wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    I defined consciousness as the abiding awareness of self that is cognizant of its distinction and existence apart from surrounding influence and experience.
    …and how you can measure it.
    Because I didn’t understand how you were referencing consciousness, perhaps I didn’t respond as you anticipated. However, I have provided a general description above of how consciousness could be measured. Measuring levels of consciousness is performed routinely among comatose patients and, inaddition to various technologies, is inclusive of varying degrees of sensory stimuli.

    Your response that it's "brain function" causes a reaction in me like, "yeah, no shit sherlock," and I'm asking you to be more specific.
    If you’ll reread my comments, you will find that this is not what I said. Essentially, I’ve said that consciousness is the perception, awareness, and understanding that brain function pieces together from the information it receives from its environment, both internal and external. As an example, I provided a brief description of my view suggested by the distinction between waking and dreaming brain states.

    Does that help clarify?
    If my request for clarity cause you offense, as the tone of your reply seems to suggest, then how can we proceed?

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    This seems to align with...
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Dreaming, as a suggestion of cognitive brain activity amid sleep, and our lack of gross movement amid dream sleep suggest a distinction in the cognitive activity or consciousness that the brain is able to generate. As a way of understanding the consciousness brain function generates, we can compare what happens in the brain when it is awake to what happens when it dreams. The distinction between the two suggests that consciousness is a construct of brain function that is dependent on the information the brain receives from its environment.
    ...this
    Quote Originally Posted by Kadu
    Maybe consciousness was an accident. One of the main differences from the Homo sapiens brain to the one from other primates is the sheer size of the frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are mainly concerned with motor control. Because motor control is closely related to freewill and the ability of being aware of yourself, your thoughts and actions, consciousness maybe appeared out of this pure mechanical control of your own body. Of course the answer is not only in the frontal lobes, but maybe it's all about the circuitry that connects this region to other areas.
    Which makes me start wondering whether the frontal lobes are also responsible for analyzing sensory input. I'm assuming that an important part of motor control is the construction of a detailed model of the environment, by taking all of our sensory input and constructing a picture that is more than the sum of its parts. We see the world in 3d because some part of our brain is able to take all those 2d pictures and combine them. (Something that is quite a challenge to adequately duplicated with computers.)
    Although our primary motor controls can be found in a strip of the frontal lobe called the the precentral gyrus, the prefrontal cortex, which occupies a larger frontal area, appears to primarily generate qualities associated with personality, insight, and foresight.

    [quote]
    From that, we get an imagination.
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    When we dream, we generally remain unaware that we are dreaming because physical/material sensory experience doesn’t enter the dreaming brain as it does when we are awake. Atonic activity in the brainstem diminishes our sleeping brain's sensitivity to sensory experience. The dreaming brain constructs a consciousness that believes its in-the-moment dream experiences are real because it does not generally receive information suggesting that those experiences are not real. It is only when we awake, that our arousing brain is able to distinguish what it experienced in sleep as a dream. In this way we are able to define consciousness--our abiding awareness of our distinction in reality--as a construct of brain function.
    I'm thinking that the same part of our brain that constructs a composite 3d model from our sensory input is also capable of working from hypothetical assumptions. We probably use a mixture of both most of the time, because there's always a part of the picture we haven't directly observed. Filling in the gaps with conjecture is a necessary part of the process, especially for children, because they don't have enough compiled data from similar situations to be able to draw upon it.
    My presumption is that you perceive a connection between dreaming and imagination with both being types of mental 3d constructs. If so, my study of the dreaming brain suggests that this perspective is not entirely accurate. Imagination is a true construct of brain function because it culls together and creates an internal environment independent of sensory input. Unlike imagination, dreaming is an interpretive process, which the brain engages as a consequence of brainstem activations amid sleep. The imagery we recall as dreams are not whimsical creations of our imagination, they are how our brain interprets what it believes it experienced (brainstem activations) during a period of arousal amid sleep. Although dreaming occur during sleep, activations in the brain suggests that the experience is a type of wakefulness or consciousness amid the sleep process.
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    By your logic, pumping amphetamines into a rat will make it more conscious than a human pumped with valium. Is that correct?

    You've merely said that neural activity = consciousness. By your logic, we can make someone conscious using transcranial stimulation. Is that correct?

    I should think that the answer to both of the above is a resounding, No.


    I find the overall argument you are making to be lacking. I don't mean this as some personal attack, just a statement of fact. Is someone conscious if we sever the corpus collusum, so long as there is still electrical activity? Your argument as put forth above suggests they are. What if they have seizures in the parietal, but the temporal and occipital are unaffected? Are the less conscious or more conscious (after all, the seizure suggests greater neural activity than a baseline without seizures)? Pong referenced the frontal and prefrontal above. If executive function is impacted, does that alone mean someone is less conscious?

    These are all questions which need to be addressed.

    Your argument that consciousness is little more than neural activity is inherently true, but functionally useless. Is there some threshold of activity which must be met before a life form is conscious? Must the activity be sustained for any given amount of time, or is a one-time spike of activity enough to meet your criteria? Must that activity be localized to any specific lobes or regions?

    It's as if I've asked you to describe the workings of an automobile engine and you're telling me that we need to look to see if there is exhaust coming out of the tailpipe.

    I suppose I'll let you off the hook, though, as it truly is a difficult concept which is strongly resistant to simple definition. I just took some issue with the suggestion you made upon entering this thread, which I'll repeat below:








    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    I think the bottom line is that we have no idea what consciousness is and that there is no viable theory of the mind. There is just a bunch of anecdotal information and noting remotely resembleing a scientific theory that ties it together.
    I disagree; empirically, mind and consciousness are products of brain function. Therefore, it is possible to define these qualities by the nature of brain function and discern their evolutionary root by the nature of brain evolution. There is no great mystery to brain evolution and the qualities brain function defines when we fully understand what the contiguous nature of brain structure and function actually suggests about our brain's origin and development.
    DrmDoc - That's a slightly different argument, though. Nobody here will dispute that consciousness and theories of intelligence are rooted in brain function, nor that brain function leads to specific abilities and behaviors, nor that brain function itself can be both measured and tested. However, the concept of consciousness itself is too vague, gray, and fuzzy to be of much use or merit, and that is ultimately the point which is being made by posters here. "Consciousness" is a word much like "porn." We can't really define it other than to say that we just "know it when we see it."

    If you've got an adequate definition of consciousness, then please provide it. Until then, Dr.Rocket's comment remains both valid and applicable to the discussion taking place here.

    I'll say again... I agree that consciousness could be measured by measuring cortical activity. The point, however, is that we must first be clear about what we are measuring and what thresholds we are setting. None of that has been put forth. I fully agree with you that consciousness can potentially be measured by looking at the brain, but that doesn't help us in addressing the issue under discussion since we don't yet know what we're looking for and why.
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    By your logic, pumping amphetamines into a rat will make it more conscious than a human pumped with valium. Is that correct?
    No; as I have tried to convey, consciousness is not only measured by the level of diffuse activity in the brain, it is also measured by behavioral responses. The quality of consciousness a human generates compared to that of a rat is distinguish by behavioral responses unique to human awareness, such as, self-perception, language usage, abstract conceptualizations, use of memory, etc.

    You've merely said that neural activity = consciousness. By your logic, we can make someone conscious using transcranial stimulation. Is that correct?
    No, that is not what I said. I have said that consciousness is “the abiding awareness of self that is cognizant of its distinction and existence apart from surrounding influence and experience”. I have also said that consciousness is produced in the brain from the internal and external information the brain receives from its environment.

    I find the overall argument you are making to be lacking. I don't mean this as some personal attack, just a statement of fact.
    Judging by how you have persistently abbreviated my comments, I am not surprised by your statement, which is merely an opinion rather than fact.

    Is someone conscious if we sever the corpus collusum, so long as there is still electrical activity? Your argument as put forth above suggests they are.
    Indeed, that person would be. However, people with this procedure exhibit behavioral responses to types of stimuli that suggest significant limitations in how the separated hemispheres of their brains communicate.

    What if they have seizures in the parietal, but the temporal and occipital are unaffected? Are the less conscious or more conscious (after all, the seizure suggests greater neural activity than a baseline without seizures)? Pong referenced the frontal and prefrontal above. If executive function is impacted, does that alone mean someone is less conscious?
    Here, you are under the false perception that I am suggesting elevated activity in specific brain areas is the same as diffuse activity throughout brain structure, which is more indicative of consciousness as I have tried to convey.

    Your argument that consciousness is little more than neural activity is inherently true,…
    Although that appears to be your perception of my argument, it is not my position.

    …but functionally useless. Is there some threshold of activity which must be met before a life form is conscious?
    On this, we I agree. However, we have yet to entreat such discussion until now. Indeed, a structural and functional threshold must be met before a life form could be considered capable of generating consciousness.

    Must the activity be sustained for any given amount of time, or is a one-time spike of activity enough to meet your criteria?
    As this comment is reflective of your misperception of my position, I cannot answer. However—in consideration of my actual position—once the structural and functional thresholds are met, the time of consciousness would be evident through observed brain activity and behavioral assessments.

    Must that activity be localized to any specific lobes or regions?
    Consciousness arises from diffuse activity in the brain, which is inclusive of brainstem structure and function. However, localization of the brain functions that contribute to consciousness has been established through nearly one and a half century of research.

    It's as if I've asked you to describe the workings of an automobile engine and you're telling me that we need to look to see if there is exhaust coming out of the tailpipe.
    At best, a misperception of my position; at worst, a misrepresentation.

    I suppose I'll let you off the hook, though, as it truly is a difficult concept which is strongly resistant to simple definition.
    And perhaps this explains your resistance. You’ve decided that concepts of mind and consciousness are too difficult to either define or understand. In my view, given my investigation of brain evolution, they are not quite as difficult.

    I'll say again... I agree that consciousness could be measured by measuring cortical activity. The point, however, is that we must first be clear about what we are measuring and what thresholds we are setting. None of that has been put forth. I fully agree with you that consciousness can potentially be measured by looking at the brain, but that doesn't help us in addressing the issue under discussion since we don't yet know what we're looking for and why.
    I disagree; with consciousness, we are looking for indications of awareness. With human brain structure, function, and comparative behavioral testing, we have a demonstratively testable example for our investigation of what constitutes consciousness. If some of us don’t know what we are looking for, it is because they have not fully considered the distinctive confluence of human brain function. As to why one might look for consciousness, I would hope the answer is insight and enlightenment; otherwise, that is a question one should answer for oneself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    However—in consideration of my actual position—once the structural and functional thresholds are met, the time of consciousness would be evident through observed brain activity and behavioral assessments.
    Are you able to offer an example of one such threshold?



    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Quote Originally Posted by iNow
    I'll say again... I agree that consciousness could be measured by measuring cortical activity. The point, however, is that we must first be clear about what we are measuring and what thresholds we are setting. None of that has been put forth. I fully agree with you that consciousness can potentially be measured by looking at the brain, but that doesn't help us in addressing the issue under discussion since we don't yet know what we're looking for and why.
    I disagree; with consciousness, we are looking for indications of awareness. With human brain structure, function, and comparative behavioral testing, we have a demonstratively testable example for our investigation of what constitutes consciousness.
    Are you able to offer examples of such testable indicators of awareness that constitute consciousness?

    My sense is that you are conflating the term "conscious" (as in awake or not sleeping/dreaming) with the term "consciousness," but I could very well be mistaken, and I look forward to learning more once you've addressed the requests above. After all... I seem to be consistently abbreviating your comments, and I may not be as knowledgeable in this area as you assumed I was.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    This seems to align with...

    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc

    Dreaming, as a suggestion of cognitive brain activity amid sleep, and our lack of gross movement amid dream sleep suggest a distinction in the cognitive activity or consciousness that the brain is able to generate. As a way of understanding the consciousness brain function generates, we can compare what happens in the brain when it is awake to what happens when it dreams. The distinction between the two suggests that consciousness is a construct of brain function that is dependent on the information the brain receives from its environment.
    ...this

    Quote Originally Posted by Kadu
    Maybe consciousness was an accident. One of the main differences from the Homo sapiens brain to the one from other primates is the sheer size of the frontal lobes. Frontal lobes are mainly concerned with motor control. Because motor control is closely related to freewill and the ability of being aware of yourself, your thoughts and actions, consciousness maybe appeared out of this pure mechanical control of your own body. Of course the answer is not only in the frontal lobes, but maybe it's all about the circuitry that connects this region to other areas.
    Which makes me start wondering whether the frontal lobes are also responsible for analyzing sensory input. I'm assuming that an important part of motor control is the construction of a detailed model of the environment, by taking all of our sensory input and constructing a picture that is more than the sum of its parts. We see the world in 3d because some part of our brain is able to take all those 2d pictures and combine them. (Something that is quite a challenge to adequately duplicated with computers.)

    From that, we get an imagination.
    I'm not sure if the frontal lobes process sensory information, but it sure does analyze secondary informations. When you see a lion in front of you and start to think what the hell you are going to do -- if you'd be better off standing still rather than fleeing -- parts of the frontal regions are accessing the probabilities and outcomes. So in a way yes, the frontal lobes analyze sensory input (the lion in this case).

    Lets imagine an hypothetical animal without frontal lobes. When this animal sees a lion on the distance at time 0, his limbic system makes the computations about what he should do and simply decides that standing still on the same place is the better option right now, after all the lion is not close enough to attack. At the next moment in time 1 the lion starts to move in his direction. Right now his basal ganglia and periaqueductal gray decide it's time to run and he flees the scene.

    In human beings, on the other hand, when you see the lion at time 0 your brain is not confined to this moment only like the animal. Thanks to regions in the frontal lobes you can make a prediction of what might happen at time 1. "Damn, the lion will sprint in my direction" or "I think the lion will lose interest and walk away". When the lion eventually gets closer at time 1 you might start to imagine a future in time 2, and depending on what your brain decides, you might not move -- unlike the animal.

    So, like you said, we get pieces of the environment and construct a complete scene -- so complete in fact that it foresees the future. That's what makes you go to college, to restrain from binge drinking and go on a diet. Funnily enough, if something in the interaction between the frontal lobes and the limbic system goes wrong it can also make you too lazy for studying, be Amy Winehouse and eat too much knowing it's unhealthy. And isn't this one of the elements of consciousness, i.e., having reasons to do something?

    Obviously "consciousness" is a umbrella term, and several other concepts are included under it: perception, qualia, self, theory of mind, free will... the frontal lobes only account for a small portion of what consciousness is. Bear in mind that for me some of these concepts don't really exist, but they are very vivid and real representations that must have neural substrates. I don't think there is such thing as a "self" as in a little person or a little you inside your head controlling your mind. I don't think free will exists, as if this little you inside your head is doing things completely free of causality. And yet this illusion of a self and free will exist even for people who do not believe in them (I'm no exception).
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    However—in consideration of my actual position—once the structural and functional thresholds are met, the time of consciousness would be evident through observed brain activity and behavioral assessments.
    Are you able to offer an example of one such threshold?
    Are you able to offer examples of such testable indicators of awareness that constitute consciousness?
    If we agree that human brain structure and function produces consciousness, then we have a minimal physical and functional example of the comparative threshold other organisms should meet to suggest that they produce consciousness. With human brain function as our guide, minimally, comparative organisms must have a system in place for receiving and responding to stimuli. The measure and type of responses we observe by stimulating these systems will help us determine the equivalency of consciousness between the comparative organism and humanity. With sensory and response systems in place, a comparative organism must demonstrate that it is responsive to stimuli ideally similar to the stimuli that evoke human response (aural, tactile, visual, olfactory, etc.).

    After identifying an organism's response systems and determining that it is responsive, when must then determine whether the organism engages behaviors independent of those we consider instinctual; i.e., the organism must demonstrate that it engages proactive and anticipatory behaviors suggestive of a thought process. If an organism demonstrates that it has a thought process, then it becomes a matter of assessing the sophistication of that process through the behaviors that organism engages.

    In the advent of an organism’s incompatibility with observable behavioral responses, then our assessment of whether it produces consciousness falls to an evaluation of its neural structure and activity. If we can prove that a comparative organism has a neural structure that performs the same functions as those we fine in the human brain, we can reasonably assume that its brain produces consciousness. Specifically, if we can prove that an organism’s brain collects (afferent sensory array), integrates (thalamus), attenuates (cortical relays), anticipates (prefrontal), stores (diffuse cortical areas), and responds (efferent relays) to sensory information independent of instinct or programming, then we may reasonably assume that the organism engages brain activations suggestive of a thought process we associate with human consciousness.

    My sense is that you are conflating the term "conscious" (as in awake or not sleeping/dreaming) with the term "consciousness," but I could very well be mistaken, and I look forward to learning more once you've addressed the requests above. After all... I seem to be consistently abbreviating your comments, and I may not be as knowledgeable in this area as you assumed I was.
    I meant no offense. As I tried to convey, you previously demonstrated an understanding of brain function that was not evidence in the questions you were asking. If you will review my comments regarding the waking and dreaming states of brain function, you will see that my reference involved the distinction in consciousness between the two states suggested [by] the perception of reality amid those states. As a construct of brain function, our consciousness of reality is different when we dream because the dreaming brain doesn't receive the same level of information from our physical environment as does our waking state brain.
    [*]grammatical corrections.
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    I wonder if this discussion suffers at times from a lack of definition: consciousness is notoriously a slippery thing to pin down.

    Philosophically speaking, some approaches have included:

    1. Turing's famous Imitation Game - well regarded by many, but still controversial, and primarily behavioural in its focus.

    2. Functionalist approaches, of which I prefer Dennett's notion, similar to some expressed here, that consciousness requires a mind that can model the future - ie, imagine what might happen in certain circumstances without having to go through the act itself.

    3. Biological notions - again like some expressed here - that suggest similar brain structure and operation would entail similar consciousness. Again, Nagel, amongst others, finds this untenable in his famous essay What is it like to be a Bat?, to which Dawkins responded in one of his books.

    4. Ineffability - Wittgenstein suggests that having consciousness is a bit like having a beetle in a box that nobody else can open - you know it's there, and you can see others carrying around boxes, but as you can never look into their boxes to see their beetles, you're merely guessing that they have consciousness - which leads us back to behaviourist notions like Turing's (another reason why, though controversial, it remains the touchstone amongst philosophers for thinking about consciousness).

    The problem with figuring out how consciousness evolved is therefore fraught with difficulty, with large numbers of people arguing with each other because they cannot come up with a definition of it in the first place.

    I find it simplest to go with Dennett and his 'multiple drafts' notion - it's reasonably clear how such a mechanism may have evolved, and it makes sense, without being mystical about it, of what consciousness might consist of, mechanically speaking.

    For disagreement, just look up "the hard problem of consciousness", or Roger Penrose, John Searle et al, each of whom has a different take on the matter.

    A useful, functional, though arbitrary definition of consciousness might simply be that of having a moral sense, and therefore being a moral agent in the philosophical sense of the term.

    In this case a good biological case can be made for its evolution - through social animals, the need to maintain, remember and mould social relationships and so on, where the key environmental factors acting upon the entity are others of its own species.

    We can therefore quite easily suppose that, in a relatively egalitarian species (thereby excluding the eusocial insects), with large enough cognitive capacity, social modules will develop that require consideration of self versus others. These will need to lie on top of existing fight flight or fornicate type mechanisms with which the brain has to cope with in any case, and will need to be a sort of way of sorting out priorities, by allowing emotions, social intelligence and any other analytical mechanisms to interact (almost in a Darwinian fashion) in the brain (in the form of overlaid narratives in Dennett’s notion, but also see William Calvin’s How Brains Think for neurobiological idea on how this might work) and help make decisions at short notice, but with seeming greater foresight than ‘instinct’ alone.

    We might see analogues to these mechanism in not just the usual suspects – bonobos, chimpanzees, orangs etc, but in others with similar situations – many cetaceans, baboons and vervet monkeys, and even in domesticated animals like dogs, that, despite their definitely feral qualities (it’s worth never making the mistake of anthropomorphising them too much), can display behaviours remarkably like those of more recognisably moral entities.

    Dunno if this helps much, but I thought I’d chuck it in here anyway…

    cheer

    shanks
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    I'd answer "where" by my preferred brutality: If you insert a wire through the top of the eye socket and swish it through the fringe of frontal lobe farthest from the brainstem, consciousness is destroyed. And little else is destroyed, in that area.

    I don't think consciousness actually occupies that edge of the frontal lobes like a queen in her turret. It's more like the wall of a racquetball court - absolutely necessary to play the game but not where the game is played.
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    so you see that part of the frontal lobe as a conduit or enabler to consciousness ?
    I should say by consciousness here I mean the metaphors of "reflecting" and especially "self awareness" or "thinking about oneself". Often that is just a sensation accompanying "I this... I that..." IMO a lot of these metaphors can be taken quite literally.

    I see the edge of frontal lobes as enabler. The extreme prefrontal can't be a conduit because it's structurally a dead-end. The significant structure is the barrier itself - it's the lack of something. Walls help define what can happen in the spaces between them.

    In the slack, detached prefrontal thoughts basically rattle around. The rattling is conscious thought enjoying the illusion of consciousness, which it can never grasp because the cause is a void.

    Self-awareness I think a slightly different and hugely more fruitful operation in the same area besides others, aided by the same trick.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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    Quote Originally Posted by sunshinewarrior
    I wonder if this discussion suffers at times from a lack of definition: consciousness is notoriously a slippery thing to pin down.
    Deconstructed, consciousness, in my view, is simply evidence of a perception process suggested by an organism's responses to stimuli. Whether an organism has human equivalent consciousness is a different matter because we would have to prove its perception processes result in the sophisticated behaviors, awareness, and insight humanity appears to produce. Existentially, a flower may have consciousness, but not have human equivalent consciousness because it does not display human equivalent behaviors suggestive of a thought process apart from its instinctual processes and behaviors.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    Existentially, a flower may have consciousness
    Buddhist metaphysical concept of consciousness is fully mature. Meanwhile empirically consciousness was literally plumbed by Walter Freeman through his infamous icepick lobotomies. The slippery thing is now pinned on both fronts. I suggest that each informs the other, ultimately a synthesis: the meanings of voids.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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    Kind of off-topic, but something DrmDoc said about flowers reminded me of this paper "Aspects of Plant Intelligence" - although I'm never quite sure how much of it is tongue-in-cheek or deliberately controversial and how much of it is serious.

    It suggest that plants can create a model of their world - although obviously not in a mind.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc

    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    When we dream, we generally remain unaware that we are dreaming because physical/material sensory experience doesn’t enter the dreaming brain as it does when we are awake. Atonic activity in the brainstem diminishes our sleeping brain's sensitivity to sensory experience. The dreaming brain constructs a consciousness that believes its in-the-moment dream experiences are real because it does not generally receive information suggesting that those experiences are not real. It is only when we awake, that our arousing brain is able to distinguish what it experienced in sleep as a dream. In this way we are able to define consciousness--our abiding awareness of our distinction in reality--as a construct of brain function.
    I'm thinking that the same part of our brain that constructs a composite 3d model from our sensory input is also capable of working from hypothetical assumptions. We probably use a mixture of both most of the time, because there's always a part of the picture we haven't directly observed. Filling in the gaps with conjecture is a necessary part of the process, especially for children, because they don't have enough compiled data from similar situations to be able to draw upon it.
    My presumption is that you perceive a connection between dreaming and imagination with both being types of mental 3d constructs. If so, my study of the dreaming brain suggests that this perspective is not entirely accurate. Imagination is a true construct of brain function because it culls together and creates an internal environment independent of sensory input. Unlike imagination, dreaming is an interpretive process, which the brain engages as a consequence of brainstem activations amid sleep. The imagery we recall as dreams are not whimsical creations of our imagination, they are how our brain interprets what it believes it experienced (brainstem activations) during a period of arousal amid sleep. Although dreaming occur during sleep, activations in the brain suggests that the experience is a type of wakefulness or consciousness amid the sleep process.
    My thinking on this issue was that the same circuitry that allows us to construct a 3d image from real inputs could be constructing 3d images from false inputs while we sleep with equal effectiveness. It would have originally evolved for the purpose of dealing with real inputs, but like many other things, it turns out to have multiple uses.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kadu

    So, like you said, we get pieces of the environment and construct a complete scene -- so complete in fact that it foresees the future. That's what makes you go to college, to restrain from binge drinking and go on a diet. Funnily enough, if something in the interaction between the frontal lobes and the limbic system goes wrong it can also make you too lazy for studying, be Amy Winehouse and eat too much knowing it's unhealthy. And isn't this one of the elements of consciousness, i.e., having reasons to do something?

    Obviously "consciousness" is a umbrella term, and several other concepts are included under it: perception, qualia, self, theory of mind, free will... the frontal lobes only account for a small portion of what consciousness is. Bear in mind that for me some of these concepts don't really exist, but they are very vivid and real representations that must have neural substrates. I don't think there is such thing as a "self" as in a little person or a little you inside your head controlling your mind. I don't think free will exists, as if this little you inside your head is doing things completely free of causality. And yet this illusion of a self and free will exist even for people who do not believe in them (I'm no exception).
    Maybe the illusion of consciousness is caused by the ability to imagine our self in the second person view participating in a scene from the near future, and then bring that scene into reality if its outcome is determined to be beneficial to us?

    I'm thinking that would kind of make it feel like there's a person inside our head and another person outside in the world, because there's always a part of our self that doesn't get projected into the 2nd person view. It's like it's too fundamental a part of us to be able to look at it from the outside. We can't predict its next move, because it's the part doing the predicting. How should it know what it is going to predict before it predicts it?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Buddhist metaphysical concept of consciousness is fully mature. Meanwhile empirically consciousness was literally plumbed by Walter Freeman through his infamous icepick lobotomies.
    I reviewed the work of Dr. Freeman for a paper I wrote comparing aspects of schizophrenia to dream states. Although Freeman’s work enhanced our understanding of how prefrontal function contributes to states of consciousness, I don’t think that was the intent of his work, which ultimately fell into disrepute upon the emergence of psychotropic therapies.

    Actually, efforts to understand the nature of prefrontal function began with the peculiar case of Phineas Gage who sustained traumatic injury to his left frontal lobe when a railway spike rocketed through his left cheek and exited through the top of his head in an accidental explosion. Phineas survived and reports regarding his altered behaviors fueled the work of Drs. Carlyle Jacobsen and John Fulton who were studying primate behavior via frontal ablation. Their efforts led to the work of Antonio Egaz Moniz who pioneered the procedure that would become known as lobotomy. Calling it leucotomy, Dr. Moniz subsequently won the 1949 Nobel prize in medicine for his procedure because of the popularity an abbreviated version (“ice pick” lobotomy) gained through Dr. Freeman’s showmanship. Ultimately, the work of these doctors showed how prefrontal function enhanced the overall quality of consciousness rather than inspire its emergence.

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    Quote Originally Posted by DrmDoc
    My presumption is that you perceive a connection between dreaming and imagination with both being types of mental 3d constructs. If so, my study of the dreaming brain suggests that this perspective is not entirely accurate. Imagination is a true construct of brain function because it culls together and creates an internal environment independent of sensory input. Unlike imagination, dreaming is an interpretive process, which the brain engages as a consequence of brainstem activations amid sleep. The imagery we recall as dreams are not whimsical creations of our imagination, they are how our brain interprets what it believes it experienced (brainstem activations) during a period of arousal amid sleep. Although dreaming occur during sleep, activations in the brain suggests that the experience is a type of wakefulness or consciousness amid the sleep process.
    My thinking on this issue was that the same circuitry that allows us to construct a 3d image from real inputs could be constructing 3d images from false inputs while we sleep with equal effectiveness. It would have originally evolved for the purpose of dealing with real inputs, but like many other things, it turns out to have multiple uses.
    I agree; there is evidence suggesting that cortical structure and function evolved as a means to attenuate and, ultimately, store sensory information as early animals began to engage in thoughtful behaviors. As primitive animals gained a capacity (sight most likely) that allowed them to make distinctions between necessary and unnecessary behaviors, they evolve the ability to habituate rather than react instinctively to stimuli and expend precious energy unnecessarily. In my opinion, based on my study of brain evolution, habituation spurred cortical evolution over millions of years as behavioral experiences widen through changes in habitat.
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