Consciousness as Mimicry

I’ve compared the mind to a model but I’ve struggled to find a good example of the type of model it is.

We know there are different types of models. In science most models are abstract and mathematical. A couple of equations with tunable parameters could be used to model a complex physical interaction. For example, a climate model might need to account for variations in the Earth’s orbit and spin, influence of volcanic eruptions, solar variations, geological and oceanic changes, the effect of greenhouse gases, and the efficiency of carbon sinks. In a perfect model, the known and best estimate variables would predict accurately the variations in the temperature and ice caps over millions of years. Another example of this same type of model would be using physics equations to graph the arc of a projectile fired at specified velocity.

While the mind might be modelled abstractly, the mind itself isn’t an abstract model. Mathematical models quickly break down in modeling complex interactions. Even models of the interactions of as little as a hundred particles would require the computing power of the universe. While abstract models can be dynamic and arrive at different results with different inputs, they are frequently narrow in scope.

In contrast to abstract, mathematical models, there are concrete, physical models. The simplest of these to understand would be the scale model. Some of the earliest scale models were of buildings and dwellings from several thousand years BCE. Scale models are still extensively used in architecture, but the use has expanded to cars, rockets, and action heroes.

My first attempt at describing mind as model was the airplane in the wind tunnel. The problem with the example is that it is a static model and the mind is not static. We can put a model airplane in a wind tunnel and measure turbulence and lift, but the model just sits there. It doesn’t change. We can pull it out of the wind tunnel and change it, but it does not change itself. A second attempt was the YouTube video of kinetic art. This model isn’t static but it is very mechanistic and deterministic.

I was watching My Octopus Teacher for the third time with my wife (she hadn’t seen it) a few days ago. The movie is on Netflix and tells the story of the interaction between a man and an octopus over the course of a year. It begins with the octopus camouflaged in shells. Later we learn that the octopus does this to hide and protect itself from sharks. Through the movie, the octopus hides in kelp, merges with the sea bottom, and adopts the colors and textures of its background. Apparently the mimic octopus has even greater capabilities and can emulate more than a dozen creatures to trick predators and prey.

Mimicry in nature usually arises slowly through evolution and typically involves a harmless organism taking on the appearance or characteristics of a dangerous or poisonous organisms to fool predators. This is usually static. Once the organism develops it can’t change its appearance The dynamic sort of mimicry found in chameleons and octopi is more rare. In the octopus, apparently the skin has thousands of are chromatophores controlled by nerves that the octopus can squeeze or stretch to change their reflective properties.

The mimicry of the octopus is like the brain/mind model. First, it is biological. It is also dynamic. It can change rapidly based on environment. It is, I suppose, somewhat involuntary. The octopus may decide to take a form, color, and texture but we can suppose that whatever mechanism it uses to control each chromatophore is unconscious and automatic. Most importantly, however, the mimicry of the octopus reflects the world. In fact, it has been used to argue against extreme “no objective reality” views such as Donald Hoffman’s. Applied to mind and consciousness it could also be used to argue for some fundamental veridicality of mind.

This doesn’t mean necessarily that the mimicry of the octopus works identically to how the brain forms its model of the world. I am only arguing for similarity and likeness. The characteristics of mimicry – physicality, living, dynamic reaction to environment, reflective of reality – are similar.

Mind is essentially an internalized mimicry of the external world. The way it mimics is by creating spacetime relationships between sense datum coming from the senses. Closely related data become objects. The temporal-spatial relationships of objects is mimicked by neuronal speed (time) and the dimensional and patterns in the spatial architecture of of neural connections. This mimicry is what I have been calling a model and it maps (probably polymorphically) its internal objects with external objects based on a best fit for the sense data available.

If mind is internalized mimicry, the problem of explaining how it works becomes drastically simplified. We don’t have to imagine how complex computational algorithms evolved and became embedded in the brain. We just have to assume that the primary function of the brain is to mimic external reality by maintaining internally the same relationships that the sense data presents. The brain and its neurons doesn’t to know anything. It just has to faithfully copy the relationships and revise its copy whenever new data appears.

There certainly is more than this but this gets directly at how neurons can seemingly know about the world.

Posted in Brain size, Consciousness, Information, Intelligence | 54 Comments

Is Northoff Pointing the Way to Solve the Serious (Hard) Problem?

I don’t usually post long videos but I recently came upon Georg Northoff and believe this video is the easiest way to introduce his ideas. I will probably be following up after I spend some more time on some of his work. This talk in English seems to have been delivered in Russia to a sparse audience. Northoff himself is German. The presentation is crude and Northoff with his accent certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of a lot of others in the consciousness business. The talk begins with a lot of fumbling with the laser pointer among other things. However… the ideas are stunning in my view and finally begin to draw the connections between brain and mind.

The talk is a PowerPoint presentation essentially based on this article:

This post title reference to the serious (hard) problem refers to a post I did on Chalmers a while ago.

Northoff has a book just out that I have on order.

Personally I think his core idea that space time is the common currency linking neurons to mind blends well with EM theories; however, I haven’t found any direct mention of EM theories in his work so far. His theory certainly is based on waves and brain oscillations which will certainly link to EM fields in the brain.

Northoff and Victor Lamme also have an interesting article on a possible convergence of theories of consciousness.

Posted in Consciousness, Electromagnetism, Psychedelics | 9 Comments

Ends and Odds

This is assortment of miscellaneous stuff I’ve come upon recently.

Feel free to comment on them or any topic you like as long as it is relating broadly to the topics I tend to discuss on this blog. .

Kinetic Art

I posted the above as a comment in another blog but didn’t get much reaction. I generally hate videos as taking too much time but this one is only 55 seconds.

What strikes me as how well this represents the brain and nervous system. You need to see the whole video to get the point. At the back are metal plates that receive the energy of the wind (sensory neurons). The energy from the plates rotation is transmitted to a sort of hub that modifies the input (thalamus) and posses it on to the panels of the face (cortex) that fluctuate according to the sensory input. What’s missing is the internally generated stimuli. What we have a fundamentally reactive, somewhat mimetic, system that can generate patterns. The brain and its neurons must be similarly. Individual neurons or assemblies of them have no knowledge themselves. They can only react and tune themselves to react better based upon rules we have yet to discover. No programming is required.

Particles are emergent properties of fields

I’ve been following Tim Andersen on The Infinite Universe. He also has some interesting ideas about electromagnetism, quantum mechanics interpretations, and a spatial dimensions beyond our three. This post argues as I do that:

Everything you are made of emerges from fields as part of the process of decoherence.

That doesn’t mean that metaphysically, particles don’t exist. That would be like saying that a state change like ice melting “doesn’t exist” just because it is an emergent property of many water molecules changing their behavior. Rather, it means that what we call particles are not fundamental to our universe. They are a state or process of fields rather than fundamental objects themselves.

We Are Electric

Just got the book by Sally Adee and it looks interesting. It begins with Galvani and Volta and goes to bioelectronics. It isn’t just about or even primarily about consciousness.

I am also re-impressed how great the SELFO paper was from Alison Hanson that I have discussed previously.

Looking at the rhythmic electrochemical oscillations at all levels of life, we can better understand the evolutionary origins of consciousness. The slow waves which appear in very primitive seem conserved all the way up to the human brain and fit well for the master integration circuits that generate consciousness. Some day we have a more complete picture of this evolution and understanding how consciousness arises in life.

Why condensed matter physicists reject reductionism

If you needed reasons to reject reductionism, there are some good ones in the article. Apparently in condensed matter physics no body can actually use reductionism to explain anything. Some might pay homage to it as a principle but it is useless for explaining anything.

What is interesting to me is that it’s the people who actually do the work in studying the higher levels of structure that are often the ones most convinced that reductionism doesn’t really work. Now physicists are not philosophers, which means that they are not trained to see the ontological and epistemological meaning of the theories they create. But I do think it’s telling that those closest to complexity have the deepest intuitions of and commitments to emergence.

I think condensed matter physics might be the closest we have at the moment for explaining consciousness with a theory direct from physics. Consciousness is swarm of virtual photons (FYI the particle tied to EM fields) forming its own “condensed matter” so to speak. Perhaps?

Posted in Consciousness, Electromagnetism, Human Evolution, Origin of Life, Philosophy, Waves | 15 Comments