For those who found Cecil’s latest on consciousness interesting, you may want to read up on Neural Network Simulators, which have been pretty successful at modeling “learning” behavior at a very very very basic level. Things like pattern recognition (such as representing a letter in many different typefaces) are becoming easier to handle mathematically with neural nets.
it didn’t seem to me that cecil answered the question. he started to answer it, and then started talking about how searle et al were consolidating on “computer consciousness.” so as for now, i’ll just stick with my def of consciousness, which is simply (though not very thorough) is “the thoughts of the now”
One thing to think about in addressing this is the following: Which of the following statements is more correct: A - I have a brain. Or B - I am a brain. Meaning, whatever conciousness is, does it reside solely in the brain, or in the entire body? Certainly, the most dramatic effects to change a persons conciousness can come about due to brain injury, but definite effects can be seen without brain injury, that is, to other parts of the body. (Consider the “Phantom Limb”) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those new agers who think that all of our cells can “think”, or carry race memory or whatever, and given the choice of losing an arm or losing part or all of my brain, I’d choose the former. Just something to think about.
This is somewhat similar to the ‘man in a box’ example by Searle.
Brain damage can certainly change a persons personality and the way in which he interacts with his environment. Is that the same as consciousness, though? Is a person who, due to an acident, became brain damaged less aware of himself than before the accident? What about mental trauma[sup]1[/sup]? This may affect a person in the same way brain damage does. Is that person less conscious of himself and his environment?
[sub]1. Not mental trauma per se (IANADoctor), but anything that looks like brain damage but isn’t. I also know there are a lot of different types of brain damage. It’s not really relevant, though as we’re talking consciousness here.
Obviously, there’s a lot to be said on this topic. But any discussion should address the amazing work going on in the imaging of brain activity (e.g., PET scans, etc.), which identify where brain metabolism increases as a function of attention.
Different tasks (math versus language use, etc.) light up different brain locations, so these locations vary as the subject’s thoughts move on.
The results of these experiments tend to support the theory that consciousness is wherever attention is directed. So the question becomes, what directs attention? They’ve got a anatomical candidate for that role as well.
A deeper question may also be: how does the decision-maker decide what’s worth paying attention to? Current theory argues that the brain is organized as a series of semi-automonous task managers that are continually competing for “top of mind” priority. Whichever one wins is – for the moment – defined as your consciousness. What would be intersted would be data on what constitutes highest priority. Obviously, a lit match under your finger would do the trick, but life isn’t all lit matches. Maybe Maslow’s hierarchy has something to do with it?
Don’t let the advertising agencies get a hold of this.