logically possible

Consciousness

[kon-shuhs-nis]
Consciousness has been defined loosely as a constellation of attributes of mind such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, and the ability to perceive a relationship between oneself and one's environment. It has been defined from a more biological and causal perspective as the act of autonomously modulating attentional and computational effort, usually with the goal of obtaining, retaining, or maximizing specific parameters (food, a safe environment, family, mates). Consciousness may involve thoughts, sensations, perceptions, moods, emotions, dreams, and an awareness of self, although not necessarily any particular one or combination of these. Consciousness is a point of view, an I, or what Thomas Nagel called the existence of "something that it is like" to be something. Julian Jaynes has emphasized that "consciousness is not the same as cognition and should be sharply distinguished from it. ... The most common error ... is to confuse consciousness with perception." He says, "Mind-space I regard as the primary feature of consciousness". The exact definition of consciousness is still open to debate among academics.

The issue of what consciousness is, and to what extent and in what sense it exists, is the subject of much research in philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. Issues of practical concern include how the presence of consciousness can be assessed in severely ill individuals; to what extent non-humans are conscious and self-conscious; at what point in fetal development consciousness begins; and whether computers can achieve conscious or self-conscious states.

In common parlance, consciousness denotes being awake and responsive to the environment, in contrast to being asleep or in a coma.

Etymology

The word "consciousness" is derived from Latin conscientia which primarily means moral conscience. In the literal sense, "conscientia" (or "con scientia") means knowledge-with, that is, shared knowledge. The word first appears in Latin juridic texts by writers such as Cicero. Here, conscientia is the knowledge that a witness has of the deed of someone else. In Christian theology, conscience stands for the moral conscience in which our actions and intentions are registered and which is only fully known to God. Medieval writers such as Thomas Aquinas describe the conscientia as the act by which we apply practical and moral knowledge to our own actions. René Descartes has been said to be the first philosopher to use "conscientia" in a way that does not seem to fit this traditional meaning, and, as a consequence, the translators of his writings in other languages like French and English coined new words in order to denote merely psychological consciousness. These are, for instance, conscience, and Bewusstsein. However, it has also been argued that John Locke was in fact the first one to use the modern meaning of consciousness in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, although it remains closely intertwined with moral conscience (I may be held morally responsible only for the act of which I am conscious of having achieved; and my personal identity - my self - goes as far as my consciousness extends itself). However, it is the case that Ralph Cudworth was in fact the first one to use the modern meaning of consciousness in his "True Intellectual System of the Universe" (1678). It too remains closely intertwined with moral agency, but does not in itself signify conscience. The modern sense of consciousness was therefore first found not in Descartes' work - who sometimes used the word in a modern sense, but did not distinguish it as much as Locke would do - nor in Locke's text, but Cudworth's. The contemporary sense of the word consciousness (consciousness associated with the idea of personal identity, which is assured by the repeated consciousness of oneself) was introduced by Cudworth. The word "conscience" was coined by Pierre Costes, French translator of Locke, but in the English language the modern sense first appeared in Cudworth's works. It is true, however, that Locke much influenced the subsequent reception of consciousness: in Samuel Johnson's celebrated Dictionary, Johnson gives a definition of "conscious" as "endowed with the power of knowing one's own thoughts and actions," and takes Locke's own definition of "consciousness" as "the perception of what passes in a man's own mind."

Philosophical approaches

There are many philosophical stances on consciousness, including: behaviorism, dualism, idealism, functionalism, reflexive monism, phenomenalism, phenomenology and intentionality, physicalism, emergentism, mysticism, personal identity etc.

Phenomenal and access consciousness

Phenomenal consciousness (P-consciousness) is simply experience; it is moving, coloured forms, sounds, sensations, emotions and feelings with our bodies and responses at the center. These experiences, considered independently of any impact on behavior, are called qualia. The hard problem of consciousness was formulated by Chalmers in 1996, dealing with the issue of "how to explain a state of phenomenal consciousness in terms of its neurological basis" (Block 2004).

Access consciousness (A-consciousness) is the phenomenon whereby information in our minds is accessible for verbal report, reasoning, and the control of behavior. So, when we perceive, information about what we perceive is often access conscious; when we introspect, information about our thoughts is access conscious; when we remember, information about the past (e.g., something that we learned) is often access conscious; and so on. Chalmers thinks that access consciousness is less mysterious than phenomenal consciousness, so that it is held to pose one of the easy problems of consciousness. Dennett denies that there is a "hard problem", asserting that the totality of consciousness can be understood in terms of impact on behavior, as studied through heterophenomenology. There have been numerous approaches to the processes that act on conscious experience from instant to instant. Dennett (1988) suggests that what people think of as phenomenal consciousness, such as qualia, are judgments and consequent behaviour. He extends this analysis (Dennett, 1996) by arguing that phenomenal consciousness can be explained in terms of access consciousness, denying the existence of qualia, hence denying the existence of a "hard problem." Chalmers, on the other hand, argues that Dennett's explanatory processes merely address aspects of the easy problem. Eccles and others have pointed out the difficulty of explaining the evolution of qualia, or of 'minds' which experience them, given that all the processes governing evolution are physical and so have no direct access to them. There is no guarantee that all people have minds, nor any way to verify whether one does or does not possess one.

Events that occur in the mind or brain that are not within phenomenal or access consciousness are known as subconscious events.

The description and location of phenomenal consciousness

For centuries, philosophers have investigated phenomenal consciousness. René Descartes, who arrived at the famous dictum 'cogito ergo sum', wrote Meditations on First Philosophy in the seventeenth century. He described, extensively, what it is to be conscious. Conscious experience, according to Descartes, included such ideas as imaginings and perceptions laid out in space and time that are viewed from a point, and appearing as a result of some quality (qualia) such as color, smell, and so on. (Modern readers are often confused by this Descartes' notion of interchangeability between the terms 'idea' and 'imaginings.')

Like Aristotle, Descartes defines ideas as extended things, as in this excerpt from his Treatise on Man:

Now among these figures, it is not those imprinted on the external sense organs, or on the internal surface of the brain, which should be taken to be ideas - but only those which are traced in the spirits on the surface of gland H [where the seat of the imagination and the 'common sense' is located]. That is to say, it is only the latter figures which should be taken to be the forms or images which the rational soul united to this machine will consider directly when it imagines some object or perceives it by the senses.

Thus Descartes does not identify mental ideas or 'qualia' with activity within the sense organs, or even with brain activity, but rather with interaction between body and the 'rational soul', through the mediating 'gland H'. This organ is now known as the pineal gland. Descartes notes that, anatomically, while the human brain consists of two symmetrical hemispheres the pineal gland, which lies close to the brain's centre, is singular. Thus he extrapolated from this that it was the mediator between body and soul.

Other philosophers agreed with Descartes to varying degrees. They include Nicolas Malebranche, Thomas Reid, John Locke, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Malebranche, for example, agreed with Descartes that the human being was composed of two elements, body and mind, and that conscious experience resided in the latter. He did, however, disagree with Descartes as to the ease with which we might become aware of our mental constitution, stating 'I am not my own light unto myself'. David Hume and Immanuel Kant also differ from Descartes, in that they avoid mentioning a place from which experience is viewed (see "Further reading" below); certainly, few if any modern philosophers have identified the pineal gland as the seat of dualist interaction.

The extension of things in time was considered in more detail by Kant and James. Kant wrote that "only on the presupposition of time can we represent to ourselves a number of things as existing at one and the same time [simultaneously] or at different times [successively]." William James stressed the extension of experience in time and said that time is "the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible."

When we look around a room or have a dream, things are laid out in space and time and viewed as if from a point. However, when philosophers and scientists consider the location of the form and contents of this phenomenal consciousness, there are fierce disagreements. As an example, Descartes proposed that the contents are brain activity seen by a non-physical place without extension (the Res Cogitans), which, in Meditations on First Philosophy, he identified as the soul. This idea is known as Cartesian Dualism. Another example is found in the work of Thomas Reid who thought the contents of consciousness are the world itself, which becomes conscious experience in some way. This concept is a type of Direct realism. The precise physical substrate of conscious experience in the world, such as photons, quantum fields, etc. is usually not specified.

Other philosophers, such as George Berkeley, have proposed that the contents of consciousness are an aspect of minds and do not necessarily involve matter at all. This is a type of Idealism. Yet others, such as Leibniz, have considered that each point in the universe is endowed with conscious content. This is a form of Panpsychism. Panpsychism is the belief that all matter, including rocks for example, is sentient or conscious. The concept of the things in conscious experience being impressions in the brain is a type of representationalism, and representationalism is a form of indirect realism.

It is sometimes held that consciousness emerges from the complexity of brain processing. The general label 'emergence' applies to new phenomena that emerge from a physical basis without the connection between the two explicitly specified.

Physicalists claim that consciousness must arise from the neuronal interactions in the brain, a hugely complicated machine with about 10 million million neurones, each with thousands of excitatory and inhibitory connections “votes,” with no mystery stuff. These neuronal interactions must use voting mechanisms to deliver outcomes. But voting systems can produce different results from the same voter base and such voting result variations provide the required indeterminacy which provides freedom from rigid deterministic mechanisms (Welsby PD. Problems with voting: the ultimate source? Int Journal of Design & Nature Vol2, No 4, 2007). Sufficiently complex brains will have a coordinating system which, when confronted by such indeterminacy, will become aware that it has been burdened with free will as it has to determine which of the voting systems will be chosen to get the result. This, according to the theory, is the origin of free will; awareness of free will in turn leads to self-awareness, and self-awareness is consciousness. Investigators have failed to agree on an anatomical mechanism for consciousness. To those who support the emergence theory, this is predictable because consciousness is not an anatomical feature but a function; one that that emerges from billions of neurones and their voting interactions, in the way that a rainbow emerges from billions of raindrops.

Some theorists hold that phenomenal consciousness poses an explanatory gap. Colin McGinn takes the New Mysterianism position that it can't be solved, and Chalmers criticizes purely physical accounts of mental experiences based on the idea that philosophical zombies are logically possible and supports property dualism. But others have proposed speculative scientific theories to explain the explanatory gap, such as Quantum mind, space-time theories of consciousness, reflexive monism, and Electromagnetic theories of consciousness to explain the correspondence between brain activity and experience.

Parapsychologists sometimes appeal to the unproven concepts of psychokinesis or telepathy to support the belief that consciousness is not confined to the brain.

Philosophical criticisms

From the eighteenth to twentieth centuries many philosophers concentrated on relations, processes and thought as the most important aspects of consciousness. These aspects would later become known as "access consciousness" and this focus on relations allowed philosophers such as Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault to claim that individual consciousness was dependent on such factors as social relations, political relations and ideology.

Locke's "forensic" notion of personal identity founded on an individual conscious subject would be criticized in the 19th century by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud following different angles. Martin Heidegger's concept of the Dasein ("Being-there") would also be an attempt to think beyond the conscious subject.

Marx considered that social relations ontologically preceded individual consciousness, and criticized the conception of a conscious subject as an ideological conception on which liberal political thought was founded. Marx in particular criticized the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, considering that the so-called individual natural rights were ideological fictions camouflaging social inequality in the attribution of those rights. Later, Louis Althusser would criticize the "bourgeois ideology of the subject" through the concept of interpellation ("Hey, you!").

Nietzsche, for his part, once wrote that "they give you free will only to later blame yourself", thus reversing the classical liberal conception of free will in a critical account of the genealogy of consciousness as the effect of guilt and ressentiment, which he described in On the Genealogy of Morals. Hence, Nietzsche was the first one to make the claim that the modern notion of consciousness was indebted to the modern system of penalty, which judged a man according to his "responsibility", that is by the consciousness through which acts can be attributed to an individual subject: "I did this! this is me!". Consciousness is thus related by Nietzsche to the classic philosopheme of recognition which, according to him, defines knowledge.

According to Pierre Klossowski (1969), Nietzsche considered consciousness to be a hypostatization of the body, composed of multiple forces (the "Will to Power"). According to him, the subject was only a "grammatical fiction": we believed in the existence of an individual subject, and therefore of a specific author of each act, insofar as we speak. Therefore, the conscious subject is dependent on the existence of language, a claim which would be generalized by critical discourse analysis (see for example Judith Butler).

Michel Foucault's analysis of the creation of the individual subject through disciplines, in Discipline and Punish (1975), would extend Nietzsche's genealogy of consciousness and personal identity - i.e. individualism - to the change in the juridico-penal system: the emergence of penology and the disciplinization of the individual subject through the creation of a penal system which judged not the acts as it alleged to, but the personal identity of the wrong-doer. In other words, Foucault maintained that, by judging not the acts (the crime), but the person behind those acts (the criminal), the modern penal system was not only following the philosophical definition of consciousness, once again demonstrating the imbrications between ideas and social institutions ("material ideology" as Althusser would call it); it was by itself creating the individual person, categorizing and dividing the masses into a category of poor but honest and law-abiding citizens and another category of "professional criminals" or recidivists.

Gilbert Ryle has argued that traditional understandings of consciousness depend on a Cartesian outlook that divides into mind and body, mind and world. He proposed that we speak not of minds, bodies, and the world, but of individuals, or persons, acting in the world. Thus, by saying 'consciousness,' we end up misleading ourselves by thinking that there is any sort of thing as consciousness separated from behavioral and linguistic understandings.

The failure to produce a workable definition of consciousness also raises formidable philosophical questions. It has been argued that when Antonio Damasio defines consciousness as "an organism's awareness of its own self and its surroundings", the definition has not escaped circularity, because awareness in that context can be considered a synonym for consciousness.

The notion of consciousness as passive awareness can be contrasted with the notion of the active construction of mental representations. Maturana and Varela showed that the brain is massively involved with creating worlds of experience for us with meager input from the senses. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins sums up the interactive view of experience: "In a way, what sense organs do is assist our brains to construct a useful model and it is this model that we move around in. It is a kind of virtual reality simulation of the world."

Consciousness and language

Because humans express their conscious states using language, it is tempting to equate language abilities and consciousness. There are, however, speechless humans (infants, feral children, aphasics, severe forms of autism), to whom consciousness is attributed despite language lost or not yet acquired. Moreover, the study of brain states of non-linguistic primates, in particular the macaques, has been used extensively by scientists and philosophers in their quest for the neural correlates of the contents of consciousness.

Julian Jaynes argued to the contrary, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, that for consciousness (which he defines as not merely perception of an object, but awareness that one is an entity which is perceiving it) to arise in a person, language needs to have reached a fairly high level of complexity. According to Jaynes, human consciousness emerged as recently as 1300 BCE or thereabouts. Some philosophers, including W.V. Quine, and some neuroscientists, including Christof Koch, contest this hypothesis, arguing that it suggests that prior to this "discovery" of consciousness, experience simply did not exist. Ned Block argued that Jaynes had confused consciousness with the concept of consciousness, the latter being what was discovered between the Iliad and the Odyssey. Daniel Dennett points out that these approaches misconceive Jaynes's definition of consciousness as more than mere perception or awareness of an object. He notes that consciousness is like money in that having the thing requires having the concept of it, so it is a revolutionary proposal and not a ridiculous error to suppose that consciousness only emerges when its concept does.

Other approaches

Cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience

For a long time in scientific psychology, consciousness as a research topic or explanatory concept has been banned. Research on topics associated with consciousness were conducted under the banner of attention. Modern investigations into consciousness are based on psychological statistical studies and case studies of consciousness states and the deficits caused by lesions, stroke, injury, or surgery that disrupt the normal functioning of human senses and cognition. These discoveries suggest that the mind is a complex structure derived from various localized functions that are bound together with a unitary awareness.

Several studies point to common mechanisms in different clinical conditions that lead to loss of consciousness. Persistent vegetative state (PVS) is a condition in which an individual loses the higher cerebral powers of the brain, but maintains sleep-wake cycles with full or partial autonomic functions. Studies comparing PVS with healthy, awake subjects consistently demonstrate an impaired connectivity between the deeper (brainstem and thalamic) and the upper (cortical) areas of the brain. In addition, it is agreed that the general brain activity in the cortex is lower in the PVS state. Some electroneurobiological interpretations of consciousness characterize this loss of consciousness as a loss of the ability to resolve time (similar to playing an old phonographic record at very slow or very rapid speed), along a continuum that starts with inattention, continues on sleep, and arrives to coma and death . It is likely that different components of consciousness can be teased apart with anesthetics, sedatives and hypnotics. These drugs appear to differentially act on several brain areas to disrupt, to varying degrees, different components of consciousness. The ability to recall information, for example, may be disrupted by anesthetics acting on the hippocampal cortex. Neurons in this region are particularly sensitive to anesthetics at the time loss of recall occurs. Direct anesthetic actions on hippocampal neurons have been shown to underlie EEG effects that occur in humans and animals during loss of recall (MacIver et al 1996; see also: http://www.stanford.edu/group/maciverlab/research.html).

Loss of consciousness also occurs in other conditions, such as general (tonic-clonic) epileptic seizures, in general anaesthesia, maybe even in deep (slow-wave) sleep. At present, the best-supported hypotheses about such cases of loss of consciousness (or loss of time resolution) focus on the need for 1) a widespread cortical network, including particularly the frontal, parietal and temporal cortices, and 2) cooperation between the deep layers of the brain, especially the thalamus, and the upper layers, the cortex. Such hypotheses go under the common term "globalist theories" of consciousness, due to the claim for a widespread, global network necessary for consciousness to interact with non-mental reality in the first place.

Brain chemistry affects human consciousness. Sleeping drugs (such as Midazolam = Dormicum) can bring the brain from the awake condition (conscious) to the sleep (unconscious). Wake-up drugs such as Anexate reverse this process. Many other drugs (such as alcohol, nicotine, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), heroin, cocaine, LSD, MDMA) have a consciousness-changing effect.

There is a neural link between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, known as the corpus callosum. This link is sometimes surgically severed to control severe seizures in epilepsy patients. This procedure was first performed by Roger Sperry in the 1960s. Tests of these patients have shown that, after the link is completely severed, the hemispheres are no longer able to communicate, leading to certain problems that usually arise only in test conditions. For example, while the left side of the brain can verbally describe what is going on in the right visual field, the right hemisphere is essentially mute, instead relying on its spatial abilities to interact with the world on the left visual field. Some say that it is as if two separate minds now share the same skull, but both still represent themselves as a single "I" to the outside world.

The bilateral removal of the centromedian nucleus (part of the Intra-laminar nucleus of the Thalamus) appears to abolish consciousness, causing coma, PVS, severe mutism and other features that mimic brain death. The centromedian nucleus is also one of the principal sites of action of general anaesthetics and anti-psychotic drugs. This evidence suggests that a functioning thalamus is necessary, but not sufficient, for human consciousness.

Neurophysiological studies in awake, behaving monkeys point to advanced cortical areas in prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes as carriers of neuronal correlates of consciousness. Christof Koch and Francis Crick argue that neuronal mechanisms of consciousness are intricately related to prefrontal cortex — cortical areas involved in higher cognitive function, affect, behavioral control, and planning. Rodolfo Llinas proposes that consciousness results from recurrent thalamo-cortical resonance where the specific thalamocortical systems (content) and the non-specific (centromedial thalamus) thalamocortical systems (context) interact in the gamma band frequency via time coincidence. According to this view the "I" represents a global predictive function required for intentionality. Experimental work of Steven Wise, Mikhail Lebedev and their colleagues supports this view. They demonstrated that activity of prefrontal cortex neurons reflects illusory perceptions of movements of visual stimuli. Nikos Logothetis and colleagues made similar observations on visually responsive neurons in the temporal lobe. These neurons reflect the visual perception in the situation when conflicting visual images are presented to different eyes (i.e., bistable percepts during binocular rivalry). The studies of blindsight — vision without awareness after lesions to parts of the visual system such as the primary visual cortex — performed by Lawrence Weiskrantz and David P. Carey provided important insights on how conscious perception arises in the brain.

In recent years the theory of two visual streams, vision for perception versus vision for action has been refined by Melvyn Goodale, David Milner and others. According to this theory, visual perception arises as the result of processing of visual information by the ventral stream areas (located mostly in the temporal lobe), whereas the dorsal stream areas (located mostly in the parietal lobe) process visual information unconsciously. For example, catching a ball quickly would engage the dorsal stream areas, whereas viewing a painting would engage the ventral stream. Overall, these studies show that conscious versus unconscious behaviors can be linked to specific brain areas and patterns of neuronal activation..

An alternative and more global approach to analyzing neurophysiological correlates of consciousness is referred to by the Fingelkurts as Operational Architectonics. This still-untested theory postulates that thoughts are matched with and generated by underlying neurophysiological activity pattern that can be revealed directly by EEG.

Evolutionary biology

Consciousness can be viewed from the evolutionary biology approach as an adaptation because it is a trait that increases fitness. Consciousness also adheres to John Alcock's theory of animal behavioral adaptations because it possesses both proximate and ultimate causes.

The proximate causes for consciousness, i.e. how consciousness evolved in animals, is a subject considered by Sir John C. Eccles in his paper "Evolution of consciousness." He argues that special anatomical and physical properties of the mammalian cerebral cortex gave rise to consciousness.

The ultimate causes of consciousness should provide insight into why consciousness has evolved in animals and the selective advantages of consciousness. Human consciousness may have evolved as an adaptation to anticipate and counter social strategems of other humans, predators, and prey. One theory for the evolution of consciousness and language is that it was an evolutionary "arms race" driven by need to counter one's rivals within society. Another theory, proposed by Shaun Nichols and Todd Grantham, proposes that it is unnecessary to know the evolutionary or causal role of phenomenal consciousness because the complexity of phenomenal consciousness implies that it is an adaptation.Regardless of the adaptive complexity theory, several functions of consciousness were outlined by Bernard J. Baars.

Functions of Consciousness
Function Purpose
Definition and context-setting Relating global input to its contexts, thereby defining input and removing ambiguities
Adaptation and learning Representing and adapting to novel and significant events
Editing, flagging, and debugging Monitoring conscious content, editing it, and trying to change it if it is consciously "flagged" as an error
Recruiting and control function Recruiting subgoals and motor systems to organize and carry out mental and physical actions
Prioritizing and access control Control over what will become conscious
Decision making or executive function Recruiting unconscious knowledge sources to make proper decisions, and making goals conscious to allow widespread recruitment of conscious and unconscious "votes" for or against it
Analogy-forming function Searching for a partial match between contents of unconscious systems and a globally displayed (conscious) message
Metacognitive or self-forming function Reflection upon and control of our own conscious and unconscious functioning
Auto-programming and self-maintenance function Maintenance of maximum stability in the face of changing inner and outer conditions

Physical

Even at the dawn of Newtonian science, Leibniz and many others were suggesting physical theories of consciousness. Modern physical theories of consciousness can be divided into three types: theories to explain behaviour and access consciousness, theories to explain phenomenal consciousness and theories to explain the quantum mechanical (QM) Quantum mind. Theories that seek to explain behaviour are an everyday part of psychology/neuroscience, some of these theories of access consciousness, such as Edelman's theory, contentiously identify phenomenal consciousness with reflex events in the brain. Theories that seek to explain phenomenal consciousness directly, such as Space-time theories of consciousness and Electromagnetic theories of consciousness, have been available for almost a century, but have not yet been confirmed by experiment. Theories that attempt to explain the QM measurement problem include Pribram and Bohm's Holonomic brain theory, Hameroff and Penrose's Orch-OR theory and the Many-minds interpretation. Some of these QM theories offer descriptions of phenomenal consciousness, as well as QM interpretations of access consciousness. None of the quantum mechanical theories has been confirmed by experiment, and there are philosophers who argue that QM has no bearing on consciousness.

There is also a concerted effort in the field of Artificial Intelligence to create digital computer programs that can simulate consciousness.

Functions

We generally agree that our fellow human beings are conscious, and that much simpler life forms, such as bacteria, are not. Many of us attribute consciousness to higher-order animals such as dolphins and primates; academic research is investigating the extent to which animals are conscious. This suggests the hypothesis that consciousness has co-evolved with life, which would require it to have some sort of added value, especially survival value. People have therefore looked for specific functions and benefits of consciousness. Bernard Baars (1997), for instance, states that "consciousness is a supremely functional adaptation" and suggests a variety of functions in which consciousness plays an important, if not essential, role: prioritization of alternatives, problem solving, decision making, brain processes recruiting, action control, error detection, planning, learning, adaptation, context creation, and access to information. Antonio Damasio (1999) regards consciousness as part of an organism's survival kit, allowing planned rather than instinctual responses. He also points out that awareness of self allows a concern for one's own survival, which increases the drive to survive, although how far consciousness is involved in behaviour is an actively debated issue. Many psychologists, such as radical behaviorists, and many philosophers, such as those that support Ryle's approach, would maintain that behavior can be explained by non-conscious processes akin to artificial intelligence, and might consider consciousness to be epiphenomenal or only weakly related to function.

Regarding the primary function of conscious processing, a recurring idea in recent theories is that phenomenal states somehow integrate neural activities and information-processing that would otherwise be independent (see review in Baars, 2002). This has been called the integration consensus. However, it has remained unspecified which kinds of information are integrated in a conscious manner and which kinds can be integrated without consciousness. Obviously not all kinds of information are capable of being disseminated consciously (e.g., neural activity related to vegetative functions, reflexes, unconscious motor programs, low-level perceptual analyses, etc.) and many kinds can be disseminated and combined with other kinds without consciousness, as in intersensory interactions such as the ventriloquism effect (cf., Morsella, 2005).

Ervin Laszlo argues that self-awareness, the ability to make observations of oneself, evolved. Emile Durkheim formulated the concept of so called collective consciousness, which is essential for organization of human, social relations. The accelerating drive of human race to explorations, cognition, understanding and technological progress can be explained by some features of collective consciousness (collective self - concepts) and collective intelligence

Tests

As there is no clear definition of consciousness and no empirical measure exists to test for its presence, it has been argued that due to the nature of the problem of consciousness, empirical tests are intrinsically impossible. However, several tests have been developed which attempt to provide an operational definition of consciousness and try to determine whether computers and other non-human animals can demonstrate through their behavior, by passing these tests, that they are conscious.

In medicine, several neurological and brain imaging techniques, like EEG and fMRI, have proven useful for physical measures of brain activity associated with consciousness. This is particularly true for EEG measures during anesthesia that can provide an indication of anesthetic depth, although with still limited accuracies of ~ 70 % and a high degree of patient and drug variability seen.

Turing

Though often thought of as a test for consciousness, the Turing test (named after computer scientist Alan Turing, who first proposed it) is actually a test to determine whether or not a computer satisfied his operational definition of "intelligent" (which is actually quite different from a test for consciousness or self-awareness). This test is commonly cited in discussion of artificial intelligence. The essence of the test is based on "the Imitation Game", in which a human experimenter attempts to converse, via computer keyboards, with two others. One of the others is a human (who, it is assumed, is conscious) while the other is a computer. Because all of the conversation is via keyboards (teletypes, in Turing's original conception) no cues such as voice, prosody, or appearance will be available to indicate which is the human and which is the computer. If the human is unable to determine which of the conversants is human, and which is a computer, the computer is said to have "passed" the Turing test (satisfied Turing's operational definition of "intelligent").

The Turing test has generated a great deal of research and philosophical debate. For example, Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter argue that anything capable of passing the Turing test is necessarily conscious, while David Chalmers, argues that a philosophical zombie could pass the test, yet fail to be conscious.

It has been argued that the question itself is excessively anthropomorphic. Edsger Dijkstra commented that "The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim", expressing the view that different words are appropriate for the workings of a machine to those of animals even if they produce similar results, just as submarines are not normally said to swim.

Philosopher John Searle developed a thought experiment, the Chinese room argument, which is intended to show problems with the Turing Test. Searle asks the reader to imagine a non-Chinese speaker in a room in which there are stored a very large number of Chinese symbols and rule books. Questions are passed to the person in the form of written Chinese symbols via a slot, and the person responds by looking up the symbols and the correct replies in the rule books. Based on the purely input-output operations, the "Chinese room" gives the appearance of understanding Chinese. However, the person in the room understands no Chinese at all. This argument has been the subject of intense philosophical debate since it was introduced in 1980, even leading to edited volumes on this topic alone.

The application of the Turing test to human consciousness has even led to an annual competition, the Loebner Prize with "Grand Prize of $100,000 and a Gold Medal for the first computer whose responses were indistinguishable from a human's." For a summary of research on the Turing Test, see here

Mirror

See also the concept of the Mirror stage by Jacques Lacan

With the mirror test, devised by Gordon Gallup in the 1970s, one is interested in whether animals are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. The classic example of the test involves placing a spot of coloring on the skin or fur near the individual's forehead and seeing if they attempt to remove it or at least touch the spot, thus indicating that they recognize that the individual they are seeing in the mirror is themselves. Humans (older than 18 months), great apes (except for most gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, pigeons, elephants and magpies have all been observed to pass this test. The test is usually carried out with an identical 'spot' being placed elsewhere on the head with a non-visible material as a control, to assure the subject is not responding to the touch stimuli of the spot's presence. Proponents of the hard problem of consciousness claim that the mirror test only demonstrates that some animals possess a particular cognitive capacity for modelling their environment, but not for the presence of phenomenal consciousness per se. Gallup's mirror test has also been criticized as logically invalid because negative results are uninterpretable. Prosopagnosiacs, for example, may fail the test despite having the ability to report self awareness.

Delay

One problem researchers face is distinguishing nonconscious reflexes and instinctual responses from conscious responses. Neuroscientists Francis Crick and Christof Koch have proposed that by placing a delay between stimulus and execution of action, one may determine the extent of involvement of consciousness in an action of a biological organism.

For example, when psychologists Larry Squire and Robert Clark combined a tone of a specific pitch with a puff of air to the eye, test subjects came to blink their eyes in anticipation of the puff of air when the appropriate tone was played. When the puff of air followed a half of a second later, no such conditioning occurred. When subjects were asked about the experiment, only those who were asked to pay attention could consciously distinguish which tone preceded the puff of air.

Ability to delay the response to an action implies that the information must be stored in short-term memory, which is conjectured to be a closely associated prerequisite for consciousness. However, this test is only valid for biological organisms. While it is simple to create a computer program that passes, such success does not suggest anything beyond a clever programmer.

See also

Cognitive science

Notes

Further reading and external links

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