EM Fields and Consciousness

If consciousness is in some way physical, what exactly composes it?

The widely discussed theories today seem to fall into one of two categories:

  1. Consciousness is information processing in one form or another. (CIP)
  2. Consciousness is composed of or created by something exotic like some consciousness attribute attached to all matter or quantum computing. (CEX)

CIP theories are alluring because it certainly looks like brains process information. Sense information goes in. Processing happens. Neurons fire. We apparently see, hear, or sense something. Maybe we take an action. Maybe we ponder. The more neurons fire, the bigger the brain, the more conscious the creature appears to be be. Don’t forget that neurons look and act a little like switches that go on and off and there are a bunch of them connected in the brain. That seems like a computer. Hence, CIP.

CEX theories appeal to a gut feeling that there is something really special or different about consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t seem material. How does it come from matter? It seems somewhat mysterious. We must find something that is a little more than plain matter as we know it to explain it. Hence, CEX.

CIP has never been persuasive to me. I don’t doubt information processing is happening in the brain but I’ve never quite grasped how the leap from it to consciousness could occur. I’ve been intrigued with CEX, especially the quantum computing theories of Hameroff and Penrose, but ultimately there is still seems to be a gap. Even if quantum processes are occurring in the brain, how would they assemble into a coherent consciousness? The same question could asked about some panpsychic material attribute (for which, by the way, we have no evidence).

Is the solution to explaining this much simpler? Maybe something that we have known about for years?

3. Consciousness arises from spatiotemporal, electromagnetic wave forms that result from neurons firing. (CEM)

The evidence for electrical activity and electromagnetic activity in the brain is overwhelming. Electroencephalography dates from the nineteenth century. EEGs are routinely used in medical to diagnose neurological disease and brain damage. States of consciousness – wakefulness, deep sleep, dreaming sleep, anesthetic induced unconscious  – all have distinctive electrical brain wave patterns. This is all occurring at a global, whole brain level. At the local neuron level, each firing of a neuron results in a movement of ions and creates a weak electromagnetic field. Neurons firing in sync create a larger electromagnetic field. Neurons firing in sync are correlated with consciousness.

CEM in its own way has the exotic qualities of CEX. Electromagnetism is physical and measurable but not solid and material like atoms and molecules. In contrast to debatable theories about quantum processing in the brain or unknown mental attributes to particles, it is well known and understood scientifically. It is pervasive in the living brain which is where we think consciousness resides and which is the only place in the body that has complex and constant electromagnetic activity. CEM also meshes well with CIP. If neurons firing is information flow, it also happens to be what produces electromagnetic fields in the brain.

Those arguments by themselves may not make a strong case for CEM but I would at least think it would put it in the discussion for possible explanations of consciousness.  CEM receives little or no attention in the journals. Few researchers seem to be working in the area. CEM seems to reside in the province of lunatics and cranks. On the talk page of Wikipedia for Electromagnetic theories of consciousness (not a bad high level overview by the way), the first comment is:

Everything about the article smells of yet another crank theory invented by some “philosopher” who happens to dabble in physics. Short of nominating it for deletion, would someone care to rewrite the article, and condense it to one or two paragraphs? That’s way more than it deserves.

My own attitude initially toward it was similar although not quite so derisive. For one thing, the idea seems a little nineteenth or early twentieth century from around the time of the discovery of radio waves. It seems to align with the idea of the brain/mind as a transmitter and/or receiver. It also reminds of people receiving messages or hearing voices in their head. In more recent times it makes one think of electromagnetic hypersensitivity and controversies about brain damage caused by cell phones.

Since I began to look at a comprehensive theory, however, my attitude about it has changed. The theory I have focused most on is by Susan Pockett. I’ll get to why I have been drawn to her in a moment. There are a few other researchers in this area and some on the fringe of it. I also have a learning curve with some of the science – not only the electrochemistry of neurons but some of the basics of electromagnetism (with a lot I never knew and a lot of what I once knew forgotten). So my learning process on this is just beginning and my views could change. At this point, I think CEM may be the best approach to understanding how consciousness works.

Let me provide a brief account of how I got to this point. My last two posts have related to the paper Coupling the State and Contents of Consciousness. The core argument in that paper is that consciousness depends critically on activity in the layer 5 pyramidal neurons.  If the argument for L5 pyramidal neurons is even partially correct, there must be something in the architecture of these neurons that enable consciousness. I wandered into Susan Pockett’s work looking around for something special that might be tied to the L5 pyramidal neurons.

Neurons are defined as electrically excitable cells and usually consist of a cell body and two types of slender extensions: dendrites which usually receive input and an axon that usually transmits information away from the body. Pyramidal neurons, in addition to having a pyramid-like main cell body, have a apical dendrite that extends from the apex (hence “apical”) of the body. They are found in the cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. There are billions of pyramidal neurons in the brain and, in the cortex, they line up roughly in parallel. The body of the L5 pyramidal neurons sits in layer 5 of the cortex but the extensions extend from the bottom of the cortex to the top of the cortex. The apical dendrite, in particular, runs from the neuron body in layer 5 through the entire cortex to the top.

The function of the apical dendrite isn’t well understood. From the neuron base it extends to what is called an apical tuft at the top of the cortex. This allows connections to the apical terminations of other neurons on the surface of the cortex. While dendrites in general receive input, there is evidence of bidirectional flow in the apical dendrite. One theory, developed by LaBerge and Kasevich, sees a major role for the apical dendrite in synchronizing the firings of groups of neurons. In their The apical dendrite theory of consciousness paper, they write (parts in bold are by me) :

The neural basis of consciousness is theorized here to be the elevated activity of the apical dendrite within a thalamocortical circuit. Both the anatomical and functional properties of these two brain structures are examined within the general context of the cortical minicolumn, which is regarded as the functional unit of the cerebral cortex. Two main circuits of the minicolumn are described: the axis circuit, which sustains activity for extended durations and produces our sensory impressions, and the shell circuit, which performs input-output processing and produces identifications, categorizations, and ideas. The apical dendrite operates within the axis circuit to stabilize neural activity, which enables conscious impressions to be steady and to be sustained over long periods of time. In an attempt to understand how the conscious aspect of subjective impressions may be related to apical dendrite activity, we examine the characteristics of the electric and magnetic fields during the movement of charges along the apical dendrite. The physical correlate of consciousness is regarded here as the relatively intense electromagnetic field that is located along the inside and the outside close to the surface of the active apical dendrite.

With this as background, I wandered into The Electromagnetic Field Theory of Consciousness A Testable Hypothesis about the Characteristics of Conscious as Opposed to Non-conscious Fields by Susan Pockett. Once again the pyramidal neurons put in an appearance with a specific proposal about why these neurons would be associated with consciousness. There was the below diagram with this explanation: “The hypothesis proposed here is that one necessary (albeit clearly not sufficient) characteristic of conscious as opposed to non-conscious EM fields or patterns of charge is a spatial structure something like that shown in Figure 3 [below]. The essence of the proposal is that in the radial direction (perpendicular to the surface of the cortex) conscious fields will have a surface layer of negative charge above two deeper layers of positive charge, separated by a distinct neutral layer.”


I don’t know if her specific proposal is correct, but I had to be intrigued by the correspondence between it and the LaBerge-Kasevich theory as well as the coupling state and content paper I’ve been following.

Pockett’s hypothesis, in more general terms, is : “The electromagnetic field theory of consciousness proposes that conscious experiences are identical with certain electromagnetic patterns generated by the brain.” In her theory consciousness would be possible outside of wet brains. Any material which could create the correct spatiotemporal EM wave forms would have consciousness. What’s more, consciousness might not be limited in biological organisms to organisms with structures exactly like those in the diagram found in the mammalian brain. In her book The Nature of Consciousness: A Hypothesis she discusses evidence of EM waves associated with insect olfaction and speculates that even insect could possess a rudimentary consciousness.

Pockett’s version of the hypothesis is that consciousness is identical with certain EM wave forms. Not all wave forms will be conscious. She admits we don’t know the exact characteristics of the wave forms which are conscious but has ideas for researching the problem.

A weaker version of the CEM would be that consciousness is not identical with certain EM wave forms but that consciousness is a sort of internal sensing of EM wave forms. Since we do not have anything resembling receptors in the brain itself, this seemingly would require that the neurons, probably the same ones involved in producing the EM waves, act as both generators and receptors of EM waves. I don’t know if this is possible so I provide the idea only as additional speculation. If this speculation is true, the feels like to be something in Nagel’s definition of consciousness would be the experience of EM fields.

Let me spend some time reviewing some of the arguments in favor of CEM as well as some major objections.

First, let me review a few items. We’ve known since  Faraday that electricity and magnetism are somewhat interchangeable. A current travelling in an electric wire produces a magnetic field around it and rotating a wire in a magnetic field will create a current in the wire. Neurons generate electrical signals as ions flow through permeable membranes so these flows, just like current in a wire, produce electromagnetic fields around them. These fields are extremely weak and low frequency, in the range of 0-100 hertz range.

CEM doesn’t require new forces, exotic quantum effects, or a miraculous emergence of consciousness from information processing. It hypothesizes consciousness arises from a well-known physical force. As previously mentioned, evidence of electrical and electromagnetic activity in the brain has been known since the invention of electroencephalography in the late nineteenth  century. EEGs are routinely used in many neuroscience experiments, for detection of disease and abnormalities, and for determination of comatose conditions. They can reliably detect overall brain state. Since the days of Wilder Penfield it has been known that direct electrical stimulation of the brain can create experiences. This includes memories and hallucinations. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been shown to generate a range of cognitive disturbances in subjects including: modification of reaction time, induction of phosphenes, suppression of visual perception, speech arrest, disturbances of eye movements and mood changes. TMS has been used to restore some experience of color where before there was no visual awareness whatsoever. So clearly there is electromagnetic activity in the brain and electromagnetic activity has an effect on consciousness.

A common objection to CEM is that, if consciousness is generated by electromagnetic fields, we would expect interference from the wide variety of electromagnetic radiation we are exposed to daily. The EM waves in the brain are weak and low frequency. The fields generated by neurons can affect other neurons because they are in extremely close proximity and in the right frequency range. The amount of radiation from other external sources is minuscule in the frequency ranges of brain waves. Strong stimulation, as with TMS as discussed above, actually does have effects on consciousness.

CEM addresses what is one of the most perplexing problem in neuroscience: how does the brain synchronize brain activity to create a unitary experience. This is what is known as the binding problem. To quote from the McGill brain site:

So if there is no single place where all of the information about an object converges to become conscious, is there perhaps a single time when it does? That is the other major approach to solving the binding problem, and it seems the more promising. In this approach, broadly speaking, neurons that are active at the same time are believed to be “perceiving the same thing”. In technical terms, this approach is based on the temporal synchronization of neuronal activity.

Christof von der Malsburg was one of the pioneers of this approach. In the early 1980s, he began to explore the hypothesis that the key to the binding problem might lie in the synchronized activity of the neurons that process the various properties of an object.

Andreas Engel and Wolf Singer subsequently confirmed that this hypothesis was well founded. Several of their experiments seemed to indicate that the objects represented in the visual cortex are in fact represented by assemblies of neurons that are firing simultaneously.

CEM can explain the binding problem by propagation of modulations of EM waves across the brain. Like a tuning fork, sharing the same natural frequency with another vibrating tuning fork that is placed nearby, will begin to resonate with the vibrating tuning fork, groups of neurons will begin resonate together by firing in sync. With small groups start to fire in sync, the EM signal is boosted which can then trigger groups at larger distances to resonate in sync.

Consciousness in this theory seems more like a elaborate symphony with complex harmonics and counterpoints than the clicking and clacking of an adding machine.

CEM doesn’t need to explain all neural activity or information flow in the brain as produced by EM waves. Undoubtedly a lot of what goes on the brain is neurons firing other neurons. Certainly once a decision is made to wiggle your foot, undoubtedly the neural signal follows familiar electro-chemical pathways from the brain to the muscles of the foot and leg.

It is possible that simple brains and nervous systems do not make use of EM fields. EM fields may simply be side-effects of electro-chemical transmissions in such systems with no effect on capability. As brain got larger, evolution was faced with the problem of how to synchronize activity in real time across much larger distance. The already existent EM fields may have been recruited for this purpose and created an alternate information flow path. Consciousness might have been an inadvertent result.

I don’t know whether CEM will ultimately work out, but personally I am finding CIP and CEX to be dead ends. At any rate, I would be surprised if EM waves are completely inconsequential in the brain even if they do not provide a complete explanation for consciousness.




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69 Responses to EM Fields and Consciousness

  1. “Consciousness doesn’t seem material. How does it come from matter? It seems somewhat mysterious.”

    This always seems to be the conundrum. It lies at the heart of the hard problem of consciousness. The question to ask is, why does it seem that way? And given how many of our intuitions science has trampled on over the centuries, why should we expect this one to be different?

    On CEM, my views remain similar to what I said in the other thread. If the evidence ends up leading there, I’ll want to know what about those electromagnetic wave forms produce consciousness. I’ll want it studied and decoded. Honestly, I’ll be expecting CIP over a CEM substrate (or hybrid neural / CEM one).

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I haven’t seen a convincing explanation of how consciousness emerges from information processing/flow. It is much the same problem I have with IIT. Integrate information is what brains do and the more neurons, the more connections, the more information is integrated. However, I don’t see consciousness leaping out from that.

      Regarding glia cells in your comment in the other thread, the modern view is that they do quite a bit more than serve as insulation for neurons and that they have an electrical potential themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Regarding consciousness emerging, what would you say electromagnetic wave forms bring to the table that information processing doesn’t (on top of the electromagnetism or otherwise)?

        On glia, definitely all the things they do are not well understood. It might turn out they participate in information processing. That said, this is another area where I think we have to be careful as amateurs reading popular science articles and papers, that it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees, in this case, how prevalent or significant glia signalling might be.


      • James Cross says:

        According to the strong version of the theory EM waves are consciousness. No complicated emergence required. Even a fairly straightforward evolutionary story in which evolution makes use of existing properties of the brain to enable more complex behavior. It explains consciousness in terms of a force that is measurable and somewhat understood. It is both physical but also somewhat immaterial. It also can transfer and move information so it doesn’t conflict with CIP.

        Bit shuffling, by itself, doesn’t really have a way of explaining what consciousness is beyond the bit shuffling itself unless we invoke some kind of emergence. We are still left with the problem of what material composes consciousness. Or, we have to say consciousness is not physical or material.

        Even in the weaker version of consciousness as the experience of EM waves, no great leap is required. We know of receptors for EM radiation – eyes (or the cones in eyes). We also know some birds and other animals have a sense of the earth’s EM field. So sophisticated, biological detection of EM is known except it also requires the brain and other structures to process it. All that would be required for the weaker version is to move the detection capability internally into the brain into multipurpose neurons or perhaps existing structures for which we do not understand their purpose.


      • So would EM waves emanating from other sources, such as radio tower, the sun, the earth’s magnetic core, etc, be conscious? If not, then what about the brain’s EM waves would provide that consciousness?

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Pockett’s view is that wave forms in the correct spatiotemporal forms would be conscious or represent a part of consciousness. Not all electromagnetic waves. Most of the ones you mentioned wouldn’t be. The exact forms need to be determined by experimentation. She thinks these are low frequency in the 0-100 hertz range. Interestingly, however, the earth EM field uses a frequency in this range. The Schumann resonance has been speculated to be associated with mental states, although some of that is pretty far out on the fringe.

          Personally I lean more to the weaker form of the theory because I want to reserve consciousness for living organisms. She thinks, however, any material could generate consciousness with the correct forms. She also thinks it might be possible to project a wave form to location, say the middle of a room, and someone sitting at that location could have the experience contained in the wave form.


      • James Cross says:

        There are some interesting aspects to this in relation brain waves and meditation.

        It would align very much with this theory that synchronizing brain waves to particular frequencies and patterns could produce positive psycho-physical effects as well as leading to peak and/or religious experiences.

        Also, concentration on particular forms – mantras, flowers, candles, thangka images – could also alter brain waves which has been demonstrated.


        • But the question to me comes back to, what about those low frequency waves in those particular spatio-temporal forms makes them conscious? If we ramp up the frequency or distort the forms in a particular way, and that extinguishes or degrades consciousness, what about those changes is causal, and why?

          “She also thinks it might be possible to project a wave form to location, say the middle of a room, and someone sitting at that location could have the experience contained in the wave form.”

          This triggers my skeptic meter instinct pretty intensely. Given the long sordid history of ESP, I’d need to see extensive consistently repeatable evidence.


        • James Cross says:

          “What about those low frequency waves in those particular spatio-temporal forms makes them conscious? ”

          I haven’t seen anything yet in any other theory that suggests why whatever it is proposing creates consciousness either. What is it about gravity that makes it distort space-time? I don’t think Einstein answered that either. Those sort of questions may never be answerable.

          However, in line with the weaker version, my hunch would be that the lower frequency waves align more closely with the speed of the chemical reactions and ion movements in living material. The forms may need to match electromagnetic properties of proteins, nucleic acids, and other living molecules.

          For what’s it worth, this is potentially testable if the wave forms are understood. That is more than I can say for most of the theories floating around.


        • James Cross says:

          Adding to previous comments.

          Since the EM waves are generated from biological ion flows, they would necessarily need to have characteristics that mesh well with those. If core to the evolutionary origin of mind are prediction, decision, and action, the EM waves would also need to be able to be causative in influencing and controlling ion flows, particularly in order to be able to initiate action – firing neural signals to run from the lion, for example. For all of this, the wave forms would need to “speak the same language” as the organic.


        • As I mentioned before (either here or on another thread), every theory of consciousness writes theoretical IOUs that will eventually need to be cashed out. The question is how small they can make those IOUs. I perceive the ones for EM wave theory to be far larger than you do.

          “For all of this, the wave forms would need to “speak the same language” as the organic.”

          This does seem like it might shrink the IOU. It’s where I was wondering if we’d end up. But aren’t we back to information processing?

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          I think information processing is involved but mostly analog most likely.

          As I said “CEM also meshes well with CIP”.

          It could be the explanation of how the information processing theories implement themselves – the magic sauce that makes bit shuffling conscious.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Gunnar Reichborn-Kjennerud says:

    There is no master consciousness at play. You can only be conscious of one object at a time, like being conscious of a fly crawling on your hand. What is at play are the thousands or more of what stored memories you have associated with the fly. The more memories (active neurons), the stronger the illusion of feeling it conscious.. As simple as that. This feeling of consciousness has nothing to do with the hard problem, which is about qualia. Qualia is how you perceive the world in your brain, which is different from the world you infer from all the sensory inputs you receive from a putative outer world. This outer world you actually know nothing about. It is just inferred. You call it real because the mental picture you have of it appears so consistent that you assume the probability is high that the consistency will prevail. An example of a qualia is the redness of an object’s red color which is actually something you just feel and cannot be detected by any instrument. By making experiments you infer that the red color is represented by invisible electromagnetic waves in this outer world. Your thoughts and feelings cannot either be detected directly by any instruments. Therefore, they too are all qualia. You might say that your mind consists of just qualia,. In fact,they are all mental feelings. When pheromonal molecules are detected by receptors in your nose, neuronal signals will travel to your olfactory center in your brain, and you may surprisingly feel the smell of say, vanilla. We cannot explain how the olfactory center can create the smell. Seems there is no physical act of creation,, and maybe there just is none. The particular smell.arises in our mind automatically and at the same time as the putative neural signals reach the olfactory center. Maybe there is no hard problem, just a fact of life.
    You are encouraged to read my two papers at Academia.edu;: Comprehending the Nature of Consciousness and Comprehending the Nature of Qualia…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Intriguing possibility James. I’ll need to think on this a bit more to come up with some worthy questions, so stay tuned.


  4. Gunnar Reichborn-Kjennerud says:

    A comment to SelfAwarePatterns. Consciousness is not material, not a process, nor does it have much to do with the hard problem. The moment you become aware of an object, the neural sensory signal involved will be spread to all the locations in your brain that may have to do with the various aspects of that object, like shape, color, smell, etc.. The resulting activation of all these neural places will be felt and act as instruments in an orchestra, sort of illuminating the object and give you an illusion of consciously perceiving the object. With no further processing. .As far as the hard problem is concerned. It seems as feelings are independent of the associated neural signals. They just accompany each other, one being a mental phenomenon, the other what you can call a physical phenomenon, Physical in the sense of being part of the mental understanding of an inferred outer world…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gunnar,
      So by “not material”, do you mean the overall structure of the orchestra? But isn’t that just material in motion?

      What causes the activation of all the neural places to be felt?

      I think feelings are instinctive reflexive reactions, reactions that early in evolutionary history led to automatic action. But every situation can’t be genetically programmed for ahead of time, so an ability to predict cause and effect emerged to deal with novel situations. The signal of the reflex rises as input to the circuitry that makes these cause and effect predictions. We call this input “feelings”. Incidentally, this happens so that the prediction circuitry, the planner, can allow or inhibit the reflex. We call this “volition”.

      Importantly, we are constantly reacting with feelings to sensory stimuli, although most of time it’s relatively low level. The more higher intensity surges, we often call “emotion.” But this constant loop of stimuli-reaction-action-stimuli provides the feeling of the sensory experiences. It’s why it feels like something to see a red flower.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    These are interesting theories. Nevertheless, I believe that you will agree James, that no physical theory is going to be able to solve the hard problem. The only discipline which has that type of reach is metaphysics. Metaphysics is the purest form of scientific investigation, because metaphysics is held to the highest standard of logical consistency, a consistency which does not “rely” upon weighing, measuring and or testing physical phenomena. The ability to weigh, measure and test phenomena is a method which by it’s very nature instills a certainty that does not exist.

    For example: Just because it can be scientifically demonstrated that if I jump into a swimming pool full of water ten times, and every time I jump in I get wet, doesn’t prove that I will get wet every time that I jump in. The only thing the experiment “proves” is that I got wet ten times. The rest is synthetic a priori judgements predicated upon logical consistency. The scientific method itself therefore becomes the seductive, alluring nature of science, a nature which instills a certainty that does not exist, a nature which leads to prejudice, bigotry and bias, the very stumbling blocks of intellectual progression.

    In contrast, metaphysics relies solely upon logical consistency which is synthetic a priori judgments in their purest form. Synthetic a priori judgments postulate conditions of the possibility, a possibility which must conform to the most rigorous logic consistencies, their can be no exceptions, inconsistencies or paradoxes. Long story short, it has to make sense and be able to stand up under the scrutiny of analysis, an analysis free of prejudice, bigotry and bias.

    The following is a demonstration of metaphysics. It is an excerpt from my book and it addressing the notion of power:
    __________________________ *

    Plato also offers some more intuitive insights of his own as to the notion of power.

    “Whatever has a native power, whether of affecting anything else, or of being affected in ever so slight a degree by the most insignificant agents, even on one solitary occasion, is a real being. In short, I offer it as the definition of be-ings that they are potency — and nothing else.” Plato, Sophist, 247d–e

    (i) Plato explicitly says so, at 247d-e. As one proponent put it: “Being, Plato says, is power or potency”.
    (ii) The definition is convincing, since the power to act and to be acted upon is indeed common to all things.
    (iii) Participation, or the communion of beings, is explained by, and indeed depends upon, the capacity of a thing to act or be acted upon. Indeed, for Charles Bigger, the ‘battle of the
    giants’ “must surely be the most important passage for an understanding of participation in the dialogues”.

    What is interesting about Plato’s dialogue is that both Plato and Berndtson draw a correlation of power to “being” or be-ing respectively, which just happens to correspond succinctly with Roetcisoender’s reality-appearance event horizon. This is shown in Plato’s dialogue where “acted upon” corresponds to experienced and “the power to act” corresponds to expressed.

    * “THE IMMORTAL PRINCIPLE: A Reference Point”; 2018, pages 61,62.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I agree. I am not offering any metaphysical view in what I am presenting here.


      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        I understand that James; just thought I’d lay a little metaphysics on the table so your viewing audience would have the chance to see what metaphysics looks like.

        There is a certain poignancy with having written a book which for all practical purposes is metaphysics. I have no audience. It’s one of the pitfalls of our scientific and technological paradigm I suppose. We have all been so enticed and subsequently seduced by the modern era that our world view is focused through a narrow prism of science, technology, logic gates, bits, algorithms and software. Under this paradigm, metaphysics is a ship that sailed long ago…


        Liked by 1 person

  6. James Cross says:


    Sorry about the sad state of metaphysics.

    My own metaphysics at the moment is what I might call pragmatic panpsychism. It’s pragmatic in the sense that it focuses on bottom line results and is even somewhat skeptical of metaphysics. It is panpsychic because it is basically materialistic but it acknowledges that mind exists and seems to have a “complicated” relationship with matter. Strawson and Whitehead recent influences.


    • Lee Roetcisoender says:

      What are your thoughts on subject/object metaphysics (SOM)? I’ve demonstrated that the SOM distinction is arbitrary, even Wyrd acknowledged that aspect. With the elimination of subject, there is no longer a combination problem for panpsychism.

      Sam Coleman outlines the combination problem in great detail in his essay: “The Real Combination Problem: Panpsychism, Micro-Subjects, and Emergence”. One can read the essay and replace the word “subject” with the term “discrete systems”, avoiding and thereby eliminating the infamous combination problem. Discrete systems are the micro and macro systems of the entire universe, constantly being destroyed and re-emerging, all of which are conscious.

      The only reason to be skeptical of metaphysics is because of the intrinsic nature of homo sapiens to be prejudiced, bigoted and biased. People confuse prejudice with intuition. Real intuition is synthetic a priori judgements, where one is struck by something profound: “I know not what, only that it is of high value”. It is only later that one is able to create an articulation of that profound a priori intuition.

      Very few individuals, and I mean very, very, very few individuals ever experience real intuitions. When people like Mike Smith talk about intuition they are referring to the catalogue of prejudices we have all acquired which shape our world view. Prejudice is hard to overcome, simply because our biased world view provides psychological stability and a sense of control, a control which is absolutely essential to the self-model. A sense of control and a sense of self are coextensive and cannot be divided. It’s just the nature of the beast James.



      • James Cross says:

        I don’t really subscribe to the idea that the micro-material has phenomenal properties.

        When I say the relationship between mind and matter is complicated, I mean that all we ever know is mind but the world seems composed of matter. So in one way mind is fundamental (all we know); in another way matter is fundamental (all there is). We need theories about how representations of the world came to exist in a world of matter.


      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        “We need theories about how representations of the world came to exist in a world of matter.”

        Reality/appearance metaphysics (RAM) is an architecture that is capable of answering that question. Unfortunately, the paradigm of RAM is as caustic today as was during Parmenides time. This is evidenced by the SOM architecture promoted by Plato and Aristotle. Those Greeks had access to Parmenides entire script, and found what he was attempting to articulate to be profound. Nevertheless, they chose to reject RAM. Kant resurrected RAM in the modern era, and has been the target of acerbic criticism ever since.



  7. Wes Hansen says:

    I don’t believe it’s fair to call Orch-OR quantum computational; I know this is how they refer to it, but that’s being, I do believe, more than a bit disingenuous! There is not one shred of evidence to support the current definition of the qubit, this idea that it is the electron itself, say, that is in the superposition and NOT the so-called carrier waves or pilot waves. In a Quora answer of mine, https://www.quora.com/Is-quantum-computing-a-hoax/answer/Wes-Hansen-1, Jonathon Doolin, a physicist, links to a video in a comment, saying:

    “In this, video “Is this What Quantum Mechanics Looks Like” Derek Muller suggests an alternative theory that in fact, the electrons themselves do NOT superimpose in the two-slit experiment, but rather, their heretofore undetected carrier waves superimpose, causing interference patterns associated with wave behavior.

    I wonder if it is theoretically impossible to detect such carrier waves, or if quantum computing would become reality as soon as a technique of detection were developed.”

    Okay, so we have at least three explanations for the interference patterns, which are generally taken as empirical support for quantum computation as currently defined:

    1) William Tiller’s bi-conformal model, see for instance, https://www.tillerinstitute.com/pdf/White%20Paper%20XXVI.pdf, pages 10 through 18 for a description of how interference comes about and https://www.tillerinstitute.com/pdf/White%20Paper%20XXXVII%20-%20revised%20number%20change%20from%20XXXIX.pdf, page 12 for a very simple and straightforward experiment to falsify such. And why have these simple, inexpensive experiments NOT been conducted, I ask?;

    2) The Carrier Wave explanation in the video Doolin links to, which has been cast in doubt due to the https://www.quantamagazine.org/famous-experiment-dooms-pilot-wave-alternative-to-quantum-weirdness-20181011/, although I highly recommend the comments by Emmanuel Fort and Rob McEachern;

    3) The Qubit, which is taken as fact in spite of there being not one shred of evidence for it, and, in addition, very flimsy mathematical justification; I find this baffling, to say the least!

    Okay, so now let’s look at some data, shall we!?! You say, “Since we do not have anything resembling receptors in the brain itself . . . ,” but Karl Pribram and David Bohm long ago suggested that the entire nervous system acts like a massive wave-guide array – not necessarily for EM waves however! And this is the key! I have already linked to a number of the Pre-stimulus response experiments on this blog, I do believe. In most of those classical experiments, the events are generated by either a PsuedoRandomEventGenerator or a TrueRandomEventGenerator, but the overwhelming success of those experiments motivated a team at UC Santa Barbara to utilize a QuantumRandomEventGenerator, see for instance, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6e56/5ca8f544fac5b8a5fcbdb0ac2c0fc0a630cc.pdf.

    These data cast serious, serious doubt on both the Qubit model and the Carrier wave model but robustly support the Tiller’s bi-conformal model! They cast doubt on the Qubit model simply because, if the system is in a state of superposition up until decoherence, then it is in an indefinite state and no definitive information about the future should be accessible, yet it obviously is. They cast doubt on the Carrier model simply because the Carrier model assumes that the superluminal properties of the Carrier waves dissipate due to propagation through dispersive media.

    This being said, I would highly, highly recommend a really nice 2019 paper, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1910.08423.pdf, called Quantum effects in the brain: a review. It would appear as though the nervous system of various biological organisms can in fact detect these quantum waves, in conformance with Will Tiller’s PsychoEnergetics. And this would seem to conform also to Bernardo Kastrup’s contention that Artificial General Intelligence, itself apparently intimately related to true quantum computation, is in actuality a search for abiogenesis.


    • James Cross says:

      I need to look at that in more details. There might be quantum activity going on somewhere in the neuron body, axon, or dendrites. I don’t find that too far-fetched even if unproven. However, it would seem to me far-fetched that it would stretch across the entire brain and involve millions of neurons the way EM fields potentially could.


    • James Cross says:

      To me consciousness looks like something of a holistic, somewhat unitary phenomena in the brain. So it will involve many different parts of the brain. Even a simple conscious visual representation probably involves the frontal lobe, the visual cortex, and possibly the hippocampus for memory, and maybe other parts Each blue sky carries with it memories of previous blue skies. Consciousness arises with a unified firing of neurons in many areas coming into agreement on a presentation. This is where I see the folly of looking for consciousness in any one place.

      I can’t see how any sort of quantum phenomena would be involved in this integration. However, EM waves via a coordinated, resonating firing of L5 apical dendrites could result in the holistic experience.


  8. Wes Hansen says:

    I left a comment which included a number of links, so perhaps it ended up in your spam filter!?!


  9. James,
    I’ve been hoping to have some deep discussions with you on brain function ever since I realized your skepticism of consciousness as information processing alone. This was back in October when John “Mark” Bishop happened to show up over at Mike’s. https://selfawarepatterns.com/2019/10/20/michael-graziano-on-mind-uploading/

    One thing that I’d like to clarify is that my ideas actually are compatible with the standard “consciousness as information processing alone” paradigm. The reason that I nevertheless object, is because CIP offends my sense of naturalism. This is not only displayed by John Searle‘s Chinese room thought experiment, but by my own “thumb pain” version of it.

    If what we feel by means of a whacked thumb ultimately exists as information alone, then if the information which goes to the brain were symbolically inscribed on cards and then interpreted with a sufficient lookup manual into other symbol inscribed cards, then this process should produce something that feels what you or I do by means of a whacked thumb! So here we have symbol inscribed cards properly converted into other symbol inscribed cards, such that thumb pain becomes produced? No, that simply should not be the case in a causal realm. Instead there must be material based mechanisms at work in the brain, along with standard neuron based information processing.

    From this point I’ve always had to admit that I simply don’t know what those material based mechanisms might be. What you’ve now provided me with is a potential answer to explore. As you’ve mentioned this is conceptually intriguing both since we’re discussing well understood physics, and as a bonus we inherit a ready made solution to “the combination problem”. Furthermore if experimentally verified this is something which could potentially rid the field of neuroscience from its current reliance upon “information” as some kind of non material based cure all magic.

    With the brief Wikipedia article on the subject I’ve now had a look at the Susan Pockett proposal, as well as that of Johnjoe McFadden. My own ideas would incorporate EM radiation in a different way however. I’m not entirely sure what familiarity you have with my ideas given discussion over at Mike’s. Regardless, for you own blog shall I run through them in general, though now with the “EM radiation as consciousness” potential?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. James Cross says:

    “As you’ve mentioned this is conceptually intriguing both since we’re discussing well understood physics, and as a bonus we inherit a ready made solution to “the combination problem”. Furthermore if experimentally verified this is something which could potentially rid the field of neuroscience from its current reliance upon “information” as some kind of non material based cure all magic.”

    That’s it exactly. I think most of the computationalists think they are subscribing to a hard materialist theory when in reality is carries with it almost as much woo woo as spirit worlds and ghosts. I know of Johnjoe McFadden but haven’t looked into him as much as Pockett. Also, some of the things I’m writing and thinking aren’t exactly in agreement with Pockett either, although her writings are what got me pursuing this direction.

    It just seems to me almost completely obvious that for mind to have developed during evolution it must have an ability to modify matter at some level. Otherwise, it would serve no function.The only other alternative is that it is a complete epiphenomenon, which I guess can’t be completely ruled out. If it modifies matter (neural circuits in this case), then it must be physical. If it is physical it would have to be chemical or electromagnetic. Or, you have to adopt some variation of it being a special substance emerging from information processing. But that gives you an emergence problem with no obvious explanation nor any evidence of special substance. Between chemical and electromagnetic only the latter has immaterial qualities and attributes we intuit belong to mind and has the capability of extending over large parts of the brain, integrating senses, memory, and actions, because it arises as part of the whole brain.

    So for me I arrived at the thought through a process of elimination. There isn’t much else mind could be but electromagnetic unless you just want to make stuff up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alright James, let’s get this going.

      In these sorts of discussions I’ve noticed a troubling pattern. All remains fine, that is until I realize that there are certain funky positions being defended by whomever I’m speaking with. Such positions tend to prevent a person from grasping the nature of my ideas, let alone accepting them. And of course it could be that I’m actually the one who has non supported funky ideas, though it sure never seems that way to me. Regardless of that issue, if history remains true to form then our coming discussion will go this way in at least some ways, though the less the better. I do remain optimistic in general however. Furthermore if you do find places where you suspect my ideas or terminology need alteration or abandonment, then I will thank you for helping me out in those ways. In the end things simply need to make sense, and regardless of who is considered right and who is considered wrong.

      I’ve just noticed that you’re eight hours ahead of us here in California, and so you must reside in the UK. I’m reasonably familiar with the country — twenty years ago the English woman that I married needed a green card to keep her job over here, which has worked out quite well for me! I haven’t been over for a while, though we do have a week scheduled there in the spring.

      Let’s begin with my “four forms of computer” discussion, though now with an EM radiation proposal as well.

      To me it seems productive to refer to the world’s first form of computer as the genetic material which evolved to produce life. Before that I’m not sure what else might effectively be said to take input substances as information, and then process it by means of code for associated output function.

      Of course multicellular organisms would evolve into more and more complex structures, though at some point individual cellular computation should not have been sufficient for whole organism function. Yes it doe still work this way for plants, though animals generally need more guidance.

      As I understand it the work of Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt suggests that before there were brains, there should have been individual paths by which an input informational sense, like a given chemical gradient, might directly wire to specific motor neurons that, for example, incite movement away from that chemical. While that might be considered a second computer in itself, the real computation should have occurred when organism input information in general came together in a single place for processing. Thus a vast array of inputs would be possible to be taken together for more specialized output function.

      At the moment it’s not entirely clear to me if central organism processors incited the Cambrian Explosion (by which most major animal phyla emerged, which may have occurred between 541 to 520 million years ago), or rather this occurred by means of the third form of computer that I’m about to get into. Or possibly a combination of them? Regardless, lets now get into consciousness.

      With non-conscious brains running mobile organisms which need to eat without getting eaten in order to better pass on their genes, it may be that standard programming was not sufficient. Regardless of how involved the instructions given to our robots seem to be, they tend to fail when situations come up which couldn’t have been foreseen and thus programmed for. Standard computers are fine in closed environments, such as the game of Chess, though purpose based function seems more productive in the more open environments of a moving world.

      For the third form of computer my proposal is that the function of brains must have initially produced a functionless entity that feels bad/good on the basis of standard brain function. And indeed, if it’s possible for EM radiation to produce something which possesses sentience, qualia, affect, utility, phenomenal experience, or whatever else one wants to call this punishment/ reward dynamic, then I think it will be useful to also call this experiencer “conscious”. There will be something it is like to exist as such an entity, and even if functionless. So theoretically under the more open circumstances where non-conscious brain function did worst, apparently mutations would have occurred where certain decisions were left up to the thing which actually felt bad/good. The key point however is that under more open environments the subjects that would have felt good doing more productive things, would also have tended to pass on their genes better.

      Here we get into functional consciousness, and thus the third form of computer which I propose. Note that the second form of computer, or brain, produces this third form of computer, or consciousness itself (which I define as a punishment/ reward dynamic, and it might indeed exist by means of electromagnetic radiation). Theoretically this dynamic continued evolving, and even to the level of human consciousness.

      So here genetic material exists as computer 1, non-conscious brains exist as computer 2, conscious existence is computer 3 (as an output of computer 2 and possibly through EM radiation based sentience), and finally the technological computers which advanced conscious creatures build shall exist as computer 4.

      I’ll stop here for a moment for any questions or comments that you might have. If we’re reasonably good here then next time I’ll get into what I consider to be standard elements of functional consciousness.


      • James Cross says:

        I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, not the U.K.

        Let’s start by dropping the idea of calling genetic material or anything else a computer besides an actual computer. The entire analogy drags in too many connotations and extraneous concepts.So start over with that.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Okay James, consider it done. I’ve simply used the “computer” term as an analogy, though several others have mentioned that they also consider it problematic.

      So there’s genetic material, which obviously produced life itself. Then when multicellular kinds got too involved there would have been a need for central organism processors, or brains, to provide more guidance. But these organisms shouldn’t have been able to do things well enough under more open environments given non teleological function. But if certain EM radiation (or whatever) nevertheless produced something behind the scenes that did have sentience, then this dynamic must have been exploited at some point. Here the non-conscious brain would detect feedback from that EM radiation (or whatever) that experiences existence, and so would do certain things on the basis of that detection rather than just standard neuron based instruction. Thus a consciousness dynamic would become functional as a product of non-conscious brain function. If so then here evolution could potential give the experiencer all sorts of input senses from which to gauge what’s going on, and so have the non-conscious brain do what a progressively more advanced experiencer desires, and even to the level of the human.

      Does this account work well enough to continue?


      • James Cross says:

        Actually I probably wouldn’t use exactly those terms but, yes, I agree I think that is the gist of it. Evolution selects for survival advantages of more complex behavior that comes from a facility that allows multiple senses, memory, and eventually imagination to be integrated.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds good James. So here the human brain exists as an extremely advanced non-conscious machine, though it also creates a sentient entity by which you and I experience existence as a product of that function (and we’re speculating by means of EM radiation). So how does general consciousness effectively function?

      It seems to me that sentience essentially exists as the motivation which drives such function. Beyond this source of input there are informational senses like vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, and they’re often mixed up with the sentience input. The taste of something not only provides chemical information about that substance, but can provide a good to bad associated feeling. Of course the good to bad part is something which a chemical analyzing machine should not have.

      Beyond these two forms of input there is memory, which I define as past conscious experience that remains, though in a degraded way. Essentially neurons which have fired in the past to create a given conscious experience (and we’re supposing through EM radiation), have a tendency to fire again somewhat if incited. This effectively joins the present conscious entity with its past to some degree.

      Theoretically the conscious entity interprets these three forms of input (sentience as motivation, senses as general information, and memory because it also tends to be helpful), and constructs scenarios about what to do to promote its future sentience based interests. This process is commonly known as “thought”, so I’ll stick with this term.

      Beyond thought itself I consider there to be only one output of consciousness, or muscle operation. Consciousness shouldn’t directly move muscles however, but should essentially just desire such movement. Theoretically the non-conscious brain detects the desires of the conscious entity to move certain muscles, and generally obliges.

      So that’s essentially the gist of the model: a vast electrochemical non-conscious brain isn’t able to sufficiently operate the body alone, and so creates a sentient entity (possibly by means of EM radiation) that interprets good/bad feeling sensations, informational senses, and memories, to then construct scenarios about what to do (by means of muscle operation) to make itself feel better.

      There are some further points to this as well, and I do have a diagram that I should be able to get together for you tonight (though I suppose that could get late in the east). Until then any questions or comments would be welcome!


      • James Cross says:

        That is pretty close to my thinking at the moment.

        Twice you mentioned a “non-conscious” brain or machine. I want to emphasize I don’t think mind is some sort of minor add-on to the non-conscious brain. I think it must be a network with causal influence to actually initiate action when needed even if the implementation of the action makes use of a lot of unconscious processes.

        Regarding scenarios to promote its future. This only applies to humans and maybe a few other mammals in any sort of sophisticated form. A cat might decide to escape from a coyote “to promote its future” but isn’t a complex scenario that is required. The decision still arises from analysis of visual inputs, possibly some built-in recognition of large predators, an assessment of where safety lies (up a tree), and the initiation of the action to run for it. The determination of all that takes place probably in a conscious mind.

        Liked by 1 person

    • James,
      It’s good to hear that you consider consciousness to function in a similar way that I do. I’ve not yet noticed any prominent person to present this sort of position. It seems to me that until there is a constructive “What?” of consciousness explanation that’s generally used in the scientific community, consciousness science shall continue to remain in disarray.

      I didn’t mean to imply that consciousness is a minor add on, and certainly not for the human. We’ve evolved to be utterly dependent upon our consciousness. My point was simply that consciousness is produced by the non-conscious brain that tends to service conscious function.

      On “scenarios”, if this term is generally interpreted at a high level, then I may need to find an alternative. I require a term which addresses the function of extremely basic sentient life, and is also appropriate for human function.

      For example let’s imagine that standard house flies are sentient. One conscious scenario for such a being might be to decide to continue eating for as long as this feels good. At what point does it decide to do something else? Though primary, so far I’m calling such basic conscious options to choose from “scenarios”. More advance conscious life should have more potential to think in more involved ways.

      Here’s the simple diagram that I mentioned last time:

      Notice how it illustrates that consciousness exists as one of various outputs of non-conscious brain function. At the moment we’re speculating that some of the EM radiation associated with neuron function produces the sentient entity, and my diagram formalizes how associated elements fit together.

      So beyond the already mentioned three forms of conscious input, the though processor, and the muscle operation output, there are just a couple of things I’d now like to point out. I mentioned how we don’t consciously operate muscles, but rather simply decide to do so. Apparently the non-conscious brain detects this and gets it does. This is represented with an arrow line from conscious output to non-conscious input.

      Furthermore it seems to me that much of what we consciously take credit for, such as typing, is largely accomplished by means of non-conscious function. The more that we consciously practice such an activity, the more automatic it tends to become. Or consider the extremely complex mouth movements required to properly speak English. Practice as babies should render such involved movement non-conscious for us. In the diagram I signify this by means of a “Learned Line”.

      Beyond brain architecture we could also get into the general psychology associated with this perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • James Cross says:

        I’m not exactly sure what your diagram is intended to represent.

        I am thinking of mind/consciousness as network with its own internal interactions that sits atop an unconscious network(s) with feedback between the two layers. Everything coming in or going out goes through the unconscious layer. Not everything reaches the conscious layer and not everything going out of the unconscious layer starts at the conscious. The conscious layer is curated layer of what is present in the unconscious network.

        It is probably a simpler diagram than yours.

        Liked by 1 person

    • James,
      I should have provided a bit more context for my diagram. Yours does seem compatible with it though. Anyway I very much hope to be able to clarify my meaning here.

      The brain is thought to take input information from all over the body, process it by means of AND, OR, and NOT gates, and so provide output function to various organs and such. For example the human heart is caused to speed up and slow down on the basis of processed information. So the non-conscious input, processing, and output boxes of my diagram are meant to be extremely generic. I presume that there are countless forms of input information to the human brain, that it processes such information in countless ways, and that this incites countless varieties of output function. (In the future it might be helpful for me to add some examples in these boxes.)

      The only specific thing which I did note in this diagram, is a single kind of output of non-conscious brain function, or “consciousness”. And in truth it needn’t be made up of anything beyond the provided “sentience” box. It could be that certain EM radiation creates something that feels good to bad. I’d call such an entity “conscious”, and even if there were no functionality beyond what it feels.

      In this particular diagram however, I’ve provided what I consider to be a functional model of consciousness. Here the sentient entity is also provided with informational senses and memory. Note that if something can feel good/bad, has information about the sorts of things which tend to cause these positive and negative sensations, and even has memory of past experiences, then this in itself should be enough to constitute something with desires regarding its circumstances. Such an entity (whether made up of EM fields or whatever) should naturally develop at least basic opinions regarding its existence, or “think”. If certain information tends to be associated with its suffering, the sufferer should thus learn to dread those circumstances, and even if we’re still talking about an entity made up of radiation.

      It seems to me that I’ve now at least conceptually addressed how a sentient entity which is given informational senses and memory, should thus tend to “think” given various circumstances. So how would EM radiation (or whatever) make what it perceives to be in its own interest, actually happen? Theoretically the non-conscious brain must detect the way that this entity would like various muscles to be operated (since EM radiation (or whatever) should be detectable), and so causes those muscles to function as instructed. Here is where the conscious entity should gain agency.

      I wonder if my diagram is making much sense yet? In essence the brain produces a sentient entity with information about the world. It thus has associated desires, and is also provided with some ability to operate the muscles of an animal by means of the brain which creates it.


  11. Gunnar Reichborn-Kjennerud says:

    Consciousness is not EM, not physical matter, nor a process. It is a quale like everything else in the mind. it is some kind of an illusion, The special/deeper feeling we get by observing/perceiving an object and being overwhelmed all at once by all the unconsciously perceived inputs from the associated/interconnected remote neural centers which stores aspects of the observed object., like the shape, color name,smell,,etc.of the objecct. No sequential processing is involved. It is more like the sound of an orchestra when you hear all the sounds from the various musical instruments, literally in concert. The object here you might say is the conductor, interconnecting and making the musicians provide all the musical aspects of the composition in question..In general,, you sense all the aspects of an object sort of synergisticaly illuminating the perceived object, giving it a deeper, more.nuanced meaning. Since this a mental experience, it is a quale among all other qualia,.not present or observable in the putative outer world, which we infer from all the consistent sensory inputs we receive through our senses. That consciousness is some kind of cosmic ether pervading everything is an arbitrary belief that has never been substantiated. Conscious experiences are confined to the brain, that is, the mind. Nothing has been proved to exist outside the mind. Without millions of neurons and thousands of interconnections between them, there can of course, be no consciousness in ordinary objects like a washing machine, a smartphone,or a vending machine, or today’s robots and computers.


  12. James Cross says:

    “Nothing has been proved to exist outside the mind. Without millions of neurons and thousands of interconnections between them, there can of course, be no consciousness…”

    This makes no sense to me. You say nothing exists outside of mind then you talk about millions of neurons. Which is it?


  13. James Cross says:

    “AND, OR, and NOT gates”

    Are we sure about this? I wouldn’t rule out something more complicated.

    “is a single kind of output of non-conscious brain function, or “consciousness”.

    You want to think of consciousness as output. I’m saying it is output and input. That’s what feedback is. I would see a lot of lines with arrows on both ends between the conscious and the unconscious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just a quick one James, since I won’t have time until late tonight. I’m not ruling out that things more complex are happening in the brain than AND, OR, and NOT gates. My sense however is that this can get pretty complex as it is however. This is suggested to me by the following lecture of Stephen Pinker. At about minute 24 they show how in the 1950s through cat cornea experiments, the nature of neuron function starts to become realized. At about minute 30 he talked about how complex logic gate function can get. It’s a long one in total, though you might be interested.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that consciousness doesn’t feed back into the non-conscious brain. I think it does so in countless ways — or in the diagram goes back to the input side of the non-conscious , just as the “muscle operation” conscious output shown in the diagram does.

      What Pinker doesn’t have, is exactly what I do have, or a functional model of how consciousness works. That’s the main point of that simple diagram.


  14. I’ve now watched that Pinker lecture again and remain impressed. There’s simply no mention of anything spooky here. No talk of anything like consciousness existing as software that might thus be installed on any machine with sufficient capacity to handle it. I especially like how he diplomatically dealt with questions from over zealous naturalists in the extended Q/A period. Instead of getting into a war against the other side, he continued to make responsible statements.

    I get the sense from this that he would support the position of John Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment, but might be reading in more than I should. He surely has associated opinions. If anyone out there has a sense of this, could you let me know?


    • Eric,
      Pinker is a computationalist and definitely disagrees with Searle. Search for mentions of his name in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Chinese Room.


      • James Cross says:

        Pinker has a broad definition of computationalism that pretty much encompasses any physical system that moves from state to state following natural laws. That would make it useful for describing mind but not explaining it. The task, it seems to me, would be to explain how minds are different from other physical systems that move from state to state.


      • To me the question is, does Pinker understand and agree with the premise of Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment, as each of us seem to, and then go on to make the positive claim that phenomenal existence probably transpires by means of multirealizable “software”? Is he fine sacrificing material dynamics? To me the “computationalist” term is far too vague. Let’s talk about positive claims. As in “I believe that information itself functions beyond material based conveyance of it.” This is the case for the invented construct of mathematics, as well as the invented construct of MS Windows. Does phenomenal existence occur beyond human constructs? To me that’s the real issue here. I consider the brain to computer analogy quite useful, as I think Searle does. But I don’t go that far.


        • Eric,
          Pinker wrote a book on the subject: How the Mind Works.

          From the book:

          The computational theory of mind resolves the paradox. It says that beliefs and desires are information, incarnated as configurations of symbols. The symbols are the physical states of bits of matter, like chips in a computer or neurons in the brain. They symbolize things in the world because they are triggered by those things via our sense organs, and because of what they do once they are triggered. If the bits of matter that constitute a symbol are arranged to bump into the bits of matter constituting another symbol in just the right way, the symbols corresponding to one belief can give rise to new symbols corresponding to another belief logically related to it, which can give rise to symbols corresponding to other beliefs, and so on. Eventually the bits of matter constituting a symbol bump into bits of matter connected to the muscles, and behavior happens. The computational theory of mind thus allows us to keep beliefs and desires in our explanations of behavior while planting them squarely in the physical universe. It allows meaning to cause and be caused.

          Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works (p. 25). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

          The claim is not that the brain is like commercially available computers. Rather, the claim is that brains and computers embody intelligence for some of the same reasons.

          Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works (pp. 26-27). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

          Hope this helps.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks Mike. If there were a smoking gun tying Pinker to the notion that phenomenal existence occurs by means of generic information processing alone, that’s what I wanted. This is exactly what you’ve provided.

          We’ve talked extensively for just over three years, but only now do I feel that I truly grasp the magnitude of the essential disconnect between us. Your “Magic Step” post has finally educated me, I think, about what’s effectively become accepted in academia, and therefore why people like James Cross, Wyrd Smyth, and myself, are perceived as dualists (not to mention the likes of John Searle himself). Apparently we haven’t quite grasped this regarding our nature yet, though sensible people like Pinker, Graziano, and on and on, do illustrate our appeal to magic. It matters not that we perceive the same in reverse. You reside in a mighty club, while our club is weak. I make my stand from such a position nonetheless.

          Apparently Graziano’s argument against us begins with our demand for material based physics to explain the existence of phenomenal experience. Why do we demand this? Graziano ties this in with introspection, and of course introspection can be misleading. Here we’re left with a spooky presumption of “an ethereal fluid or energy that can be concentrated in or around the head”. Hmm… well I can go along with that part. Furthermore apparently some have written IOUs that the associated physics will someday be understood. This characterizes us in the shaky terms of a borrower that might default. I personally make no such IOUs given my respect for what evolution does and disrespect for what the human does, though I do see how the story now has a “Gotcha!” air to it. Given the shakiness of introspection and IOUs regarding an ethereal phenomenal existence, by holding out for material based explanations we’re rendered dualists. And this is the case even though your side thinks it has a wonderful and perfectly natural explanation for phenomenal experience.

          Apparently our side has been framed, though I doubt anyone was clever enough to set this situation up — nature itself should have done it. Nevertheless one needn’t be a dualist to demand material based mechanisms for phenomenal experience.

          That introspection is unreliable remains a default setting for the human in general, and so shouldn’t be considered evidence against us. Rather than a motive for our position, here we’re talking about a fully acknowledged limit regarding the validity of anyone’s beliefs. Then as for those IOUs, well I didn’t write any, though the practice in itself is not inherently suspect. It’s generally accepted in science that material dynamics incite causal dynamics, and so writing an IOU on that basis at least conceptually, should be quite acceptable. Whether we’re talking about the existence of pumps for liquid, conductivity for electrons, the dynamics of gravity, or anything else, without an adequate material basis, a given effect simply should not occur. Does phenomenal experience exist? Yes. Is it then overly presumptuous to demand that associated materials be responsible for its existence? No.

          From here I have a question for you to consider. Beyond the presumption of phenomenal experience, what other aspect of what’s accepted to be real, doesn’t depend upon associated material based dynamics? What else can generic computation produce, sans material based mechanisms for that production? If phenomenal experience is all that your club can come up with to exist in such a way, then that belief would become suspicious. Here one might legitimately claim that your club believes in the existence of two kinds of stuff.

          (Then as far as sci-fi fun goes, I don’t mean to ruin everything. Even if material based dynamics are ultimately responsible for phenomenal experience, theoretically one could still upload their brain information to a computer such that an iteration of that person also exists in that form. In order to actually implement such information, this machine would require material based physics for producing phenomenal experience. So this might be at least some consolation, that is if your club fails to come up with any other examples of non-material based dynamics, and thus must also bear the “dualist” classification.)


        • Eric,
          I appreciate the effort in trying to restate my position. Unfortunately it still don’t seem like you understand it.

          I make no assertion that phenomenal experience isn’t real. I know that’s Keith Frankish’s view, and those of many illusionists, but it’s not mine, although really the distinction is a terminological one. In my view, phenomenal experience exists, but only subjectively. It’s a construction of lower level machinery, machinery we have no introspective access to. That lack of access makes phenomenality seem simple but mysterious, magical, when in reality we’re only seeing the finished show, not all the backstage work.

          In terms of material based dynamics, nothing can exist without them, including computation. What you call generic computation is 100% materialistic processing 100% of the time. I make absolutely no assertion about non-material computation, or computation without interaction with the environment.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Mike,
          Actually I wasn’t accusing your club of being illusionists. Furthermore I’d that say I have a far harsher assessment of this talented group than you do. I consider the likes of Frankish and Dennett as parasites who make their livings by feasting upon the victims of a crippled system. They seem to spellbind their prey by means of nifty intellectualism, and then lap up the rewards of their apparent insights. While such clever people can work the system by means of their proficient language skills, dopes like me must instead speak to be understood and so rely upon the validity of our arguments. I do have bitterness here, and given the magnitude of their success versus my own such failure.

          Regardless I do understand that you aren’t saying computation occurs without materials. Of course not. But the point is that your club says that any materials at all which end up doing the proper computations, will also produce something with phenomenal experience. For example John Searle might accept some scribbles on paper, look up how to transcribe them into other scribbles, and in so doing create something which feels what you do when your thumb gets whacked. If even John armed with paper and pencil can do what your brain does in this regard, then it’s clearly not the materials which matter but rather just the computation associated with his actions. It’s this void in material based dynamics which seems to render your club as dualists.

          I do realize that you don’t want to be dualists any more than we do, but materials should matter. So the question remains, beyond proposed phenomenal experience, what else occurs by means of processed information alone?

          It’s because everything seems to depend upon the specific materials by which they were produced, that James an I are intrigued by a material based solution for this problem. It may be that certain patterns in neuron firing also produce an entity which harbors phenomenal experience through the associated electromagnetic radiation of that firing. If materials do indeed matter then this would seem to be an extremely productive avenue to explore.

          Of course I’ve only gotten into this “How?” question given that everyone else seems so concerned with it. I suppose it’s good for me to finally begin expanding into the concerns of the mainstream.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Eric,
          The argument that multipe realizability, the idea that cognition can happen in substrates other than a carbon based one, is dualism, goes back to Searle and his biological naturalism. Given his polemical style, I don’t doubt he meant it as an insult. But the problem is that use of “dualism” has diluted the definition to the point of uselessness. It would imply that me running Tetris on all the various devices I’ve run it on over the years is dualism.

          I suppose we could say that’s a type of abstract dualism, but the word “dualism” unqualified, in the context of mental phenomena, implies Cartesian ghost in the machine substance dualism, or at a minimum, property dualism, that there’s a non-physical element involved in the execution of the mind. Implying that multiple realizability is that kind of dualism is, I think, deeply misleading.


        • James Cross says:

          Just to clarify.

          While I have wavered and weaved back and forth on this, my position at present is materialistic. Having said that, I don’t think we can say what exactly the material is or what its characteristics it has. Since I take mind as real, matter must be able to adopt some attributes of the mental or we would have to posit the existence of some substance different from the material.

          From a practical and scientific perspective,I think by material we primarily mean measurable. What matter is inside is hinted at in the mental since it is what we, as matter, feel like inside.

          Since material can produce mental properties, then a pragmatic panpsychism is the only logical metaphysics for a materialist.

          My quarrel with computationalism is that it provides no account for how the mental attributes of the material come into existence. I see it flawed or, at least incomplete, as a materialistic theory.


      • James Cross says:

        Pinker’s explanation of bits of matter bumping into other bits of matter in the right way sounds a little 3rd grade to me. Hopefully there is more to the book than this.

        Since bits of matter are bumping into other bits of matter all the time, it would be useful to know what sort of bits need to bump into what sort of bits and in what way for there to be a mind at work instead of a bowling ball hitting some pins.


        • The book has 566 pages, so obviously there’s a lot more than these snippets. (Although Pinker has a tendency to be long winded, often tediously justifying a point into the ground.)

          Here’s part of his response to Searle’s Chinese Room, particularly the point about “physical-chemical properties” of the brain. But I think it addresses your question.

          As for the “physical-chemical properties” of the brain, I have already mentioned the problem: brain tumors, the brains of mice, and neural tissue kept alive in a dish don’t understand, but their physical-chemical properties are the same as the ones of our brains. The computational theory explains the difference: those hunks of neural tissue are not arranged into patterns of connectivity that carry out the right kind of information processing. For example, they do not have parts that distinguish nouns from verbs, and their activity patterns do not carry out the rules of syntax, semantics, and common sense. Of course, we can always call that a difference in physical-chemical properties (in the same sense that two books differ in their physical-chemical properties), but then the term is meaningless because it can no longer be defined in the language of physics and chemistry.

          Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works (p. 95). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Actually I am generally a fan of Pinker so I might be tempted to buy the book.

          The more extended quote suggests biological tissue with the right sort of connectivity could be conscious. Even so it doesn’t explain what exactly could make it conscious beyond a general “right kind of information processing.”

          However, that wouldn’t be a argument that we could upload minds or instantiate consciousness in something non-biological.

          That is where I see the problem.

          I can accept brains and mind do things that are computational but so do other things – actual computers and thermostats. If we say everything computational is conscious, then we are really down some variant of a panpsychist rabbit hole. If only some things computational are conscious, then we need to specify what is it about the computation done by those things that make them conscious. Otherwise, we don’t really have a theory. We just have an assumption that computation causes the consciousness rather than being incidental to it.


        • Sorry for the slow response. I missed this comment before.

          I don’t think all computation is conscious, similar to how I don’t think all computation is, say, Linux. What we label “consciousness”, I think, is a complex information processing framework.

          Based on the cognitive neuroscience I’ve read, I think phenomenal experience has something to do with communication between the action planning parts of the mind and the sensory and lower level reactive parts.

          That’s the main reason I find global workspace and higher order though theories interesting. I doubt they’re the final answer, but they seem closer than most of what is out there.

          So, it’s not just computation. It’s computation plus the right architecture.

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          “I think phenomenal experience has something to do with communication between the action planning parts of the mind and the sensory and lower level reactive parts.”

          This is progress in narrowing computationalism but still leaves a pretty big gap.

          What exactly would make that sort of communication conscious? Is all of it conscious? If not, what is the difference between that sort of communication that is conscious and that that isn’t. Is no other communication or computation in the brain conscious?

          It seems you need to be able to argue:
          1-All “communication between the action planning parts of the mind and the sensory and lower level reactive parts” is conscious
          2- No other brain activity is conscious
          3- Computation during this communication produces phenomenal experience because X.

          Intuitively we, as humans, feel like we use consciousness for understanding the environment with our senses and planning action but, to use your argument, that could be a mistake in our own introspection. Consciousness could exist in other species simply as a facilitator of instinctual (no planning involved) action, for example spider building a web.


  15. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    Based upon my limited observations, you have excellent analytical skills, skills which appear faithful to the tenets of logical consistency. Most individuals don’t even comprehend the fundamental principles of logical consistency, let alone possess the ability to apply those principles in the practical application of analysis.

    Ever since I watched a documentary on Woodstock this last summer I am reminded of you. I think it’s because you were actually there. I was only 16 years old in the summer of ’69. Woodstock must have been a real trip. Keep on tripping my friend…


    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      It was a real trip in more ways than one.


      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        A while back, you commented over @ Goff’s blog that you were interested in what I published. I also gathered by many of your comments that you do a lot of reading. I do need a competent peer review of my work by someone who has good analytical skills and a low threshold for prejudice. Granted, none of us are squeaky clean when it comes to bias nevertheless, you do seem relatively open. Still interested?



        • James Cross says:

          Sure. But I don’t see why you are so secretive about whatever your ideas are.

          Why don’t you get a web site and put them out there? Or, put together a book for Amazon?

          If you’ve already done that, point me to them.


        • Lee Roetcisoender says:

          I’ve got a couple dozen copies of my book @ the house, 242 pages in all. You can contact me directly via my email account and forward your mailing address. I’ll wait until after the busy holiday season before I ship. Regarding my book, we can correspond via our private email accounts going forward.



        • James Cross says:


          Your name doesn’t show up with any links to a site or an email. It would be easier if you just put the document out there somewhere electronically and send me a link.

          There a form to contact me on this page:



        • Lee Roetcisoender says:

          I completed the form on the link you provided, so you should have my email address. I currently do not have a website or anything like that. I assume that you will have access to my email address even though I did not include in the comments box??


  16. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    I’ve been following your comments on Wryd’s site. You pointed out that the Ptolemaic system was a predictive model also. After Mike posted his rebuttal, I posted the following:
    “For me, it’s because physics models have consistently been shown to be predictive. ”

    Your justification is a straw-man Mike. The most predictive model ever devised was that Pharaoh was God. That model is scientifically testable and the accuracy of that predictive model is unsurpassed.

    Wyrd removed the posting from his blog site and blocked my ability to post any further comments. The guy needs relax and roll himself a joint…



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