As a “real man” I don’t ask for directions when I am lost or use a GPS. But my wife does. Sometimes we are out together with her GPS in operation and decide to ignore the advice of the device. The device will have none of that and helpfully try to reroute back to its preferred route. “Recalculating,” it tells us, often repeatedly, until we turn it off or finally go on a route we all can agree on.
This is a brief followup to my previous post Temporal Resolution of Conscious Experience.
If the lag time in pathway from the thalamus to the cortex is critically related to consciousness, there might some insight we can gain from multithreading in computer software. Multithreading in Java allows a single process (the Java Virtual Machine) to take advantage of multiple CPUs by allowing concurrent execution of different parts of a program. Typically I have used it when different parts of a program can execute independently – for example, updating multiple records (accounts, orders, etc) when the records are unrelated. However, the same technique can also be used for a complex series of computations if the overall computational task can broken into pieces.
A typical problem in multithreading is coordinating the threads. The simplest problem is knowing when all the threads are finished – all the records are updated so the program can terminate. A more complex coordination problem might involve waiting on the results of some threads before proceeding with next steps which might involve dispatching new threads. One way of doing this is to have a “monitor” thread (which could be the main thread) that tracks the other threads, accumulates the results, and takes appropriate actions.
You may see where I am going with this, but before I get there, let me clear about one thing. I am not arguing here the brain or consciousness is a computer or computer-like. It may, in fact, have computational elements but that is a different discussion. Here I am only using the concept of multithreading in software as an analogy.
The brain has millions of neural circuits that must operate in parallel. This would create problems similar to those that happen in multithread programming with perhaps similar solutions. Some of the circuits would be likely dedicated to monitoring the other circuits. With a lag time in these circuits, there would be no guarantee that all of the circuits required for any concerted action would complete at the same time. This would necessitate that there be some mechanism of accumulating and temporarily persisting the results of some circuits while other circuits completed. Could these mechanisms explain much of what consciousness and qualia are about? Is our brain constantly “recalculating” to reach agreement on its route?