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?

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6 Responses to Recalculating

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    Interesting. I am not sure that qualia refers to anything real (smacks a bit of Platonic philosophy). One of my main interests is memory. Memories are distributed: visual aspects are processed by and stored in the visual cortex. Auditory aspects are stored over there. Tactile aspects are stories over there. When a memory is “recalled” all the disparate parts are brought back together and stitched into some sort of composite. The trigger for the memory (aka stimulus) may be any part of the memory apparently. (E.g. I remember sitting on a day bed and casually placing my hand on the sheets exposed and having a vivid memory linked to that tactile sensation.) So, the brains architecture seems to be fundamentally distributed in nature.

    Recently I found a research paper that states that there is a common rhythm pulsing through the brain’s neurons, possibly acting like a clock is used to synchronize various activities in a computer. There is so much we still do not know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      My thought is that qualia and consciousness is very similar to memory but very short-term (like milliseconds). It is sort of a memory of the result of a processing thread(s).

      I’m familiar with the gamma wave that I think you are referring too. There probably is some overall syncing process but what I am talking about is much more low-level, although I guess it could be the gamma wave could be like the conductor of the orchestra.


  2. I didn’t know you were a programmer James. (Or if I did, I forgot it.) It’s interesting how many of us interested in the mind are old programmers.

    This seems hazily related to the binding problem, which never struck me as that much of a problem since, as you note, there are solutions to it. But coordinating the streams strikes me as something that happens well below the threshold of consciousness, although consciousness might be dependent on the system that does it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James Cross says:

    “coordinating the streams strikes me as something that happens well below the threshold of consciousness”

    Sure. But the lag in the thalamus to the cortex is where it emerges as consciousness.

    Of course, this blog is titled “Broad Speculations”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wyrd Smythe says:

    It is certainly the case that the myelin coating is instrumental in the speed of signal propagation and the correct synchronization of those signals.


  5. James Cross says:

    I didn’t realize myelin isn’t present in all neurons. Also, I found this:

    “What this means, Arlotta said, is that the higher in the cerebral cortex one looks – the closer to the top of the brain, which is its most evolved region – the less myelin one finds. Not only that, but “neurons in this part of the brain display a brand new way of positioning myelin along their axons that has not been previously seen. They have ‘intermittent myelin’ with long axon tracts that lack myelin interspersed among myelin-rich segments.”

    My thought would be that speedier neurons/circuits would be selected for so maybe there are alternate ways of speeding up the signal.


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