I’ve added a new page on EM fields and consciousness that I hope to keep updated with the latest developments in this area.
You can access the page through the navigation menu or here.
I would particularly like to call out the links to Johnjoe McFadden who I didn’t discuss on my previous post. To quote from his web site:
That concept of information encoded as an electromagnetic field is actually a very familiar one. We routinely encode complex images and sounds in em fields that we transmit to our TV and radio sets. What I am proposing is that our brain is both the transmitter and the receiver of its own electromagnetic signals in a feedback loop that generates the conscious em field as a kind of informational sink. This informational transfer, through the cem field, may provide distinct advantages over neuronal computing, in rapidly integrating and processing information distributed in different parts of the brain. It may also provide an additional level of computation that is wave-mechanical, rather than digital; one that drives our free will. This is the advantage that consciousness provides: the capacity to make decisions.
I’m pleased that you’re taking up this project. My own ideas are instead psychology based, though I’m quite intrigued by this neuroscience based speculation. Technically I could go along with the “consciousness as information processing” standard, except that it offends my sense of naturalism. Even if an actual god created us, in that case my ideas would potentially present useful reductions of what this god created. This is to say that my ideas are independent of the “How?” question, though I’m at least happy that EM fields concern causal dynamics of this world.
Furthermore our mutual interest in EM field based notions of consciousness should give me more opportunity to help you grasp the nature of my psychology based ideas. It’s not exactly that I need validation from others. What I truly seek is for them to grasp my ideas well enough to successfully predict the sorts of things that I’d say about associated issues. How might someone effectively critique my ideas, if he or she doesn’t understand them?
It’s interesting to me that McFadden has associated the EM fields which animate televisions, computers, and so on, with the EM consciousness proposal. One of my standard arguments is that a brain animates a conscious entity, somewhat like a computer animates a computer screen (and might do so through EM fields, of course). Without a screen to animate, the associated information processing that a computer does shall produce no such output (beyond externalities like heat or entropy). So just as a computer animates a screen, neuron function should animate a conscious entity, and perhaps by means of electromagnetic radiation.
I really like the McFadden paragraph that you’ve cited here. From this perspective I agree that the brain sends these phenomenal EM fields to itself as something to get feedback from. It may be useful to disassociate the brain from the experiencer however. So just as a lightbulb is disassociated from the light that it produces, the brain could be disassociated from the conscious entity that it both produces and receives feedback from.
Let’s try a scenario: Neurons fire in a way that creates something which you and I would interpret as “an itchy left knee”, and perhaps by means of EM fields. Here it’s the conscious entity rather than the brain which experiences this. So given that the experiencer has this input, what does it then desire? Maybe to make it’s hand scratch the knee? If so then the brain should tend to take care of this. Or perhaps the experiencer is doing something with each hand that it feels mustn’t be disturbed. So maybe it decides to instead itch the knee against a nearby wall. Here it would be up to the non-conscious brain to operate associated muscles.
The irritating part of this experience would be the “phenomenal” element. The locating part of the experience would be the “access” element (which I generally refer to as informational senses). Then because neurons that have fired in the past seem more inclined to do so later, the conscious entity may also “remember”.
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I am not sure it is an real entity but it is an entity that feels real, if that makes any sense. There may be a good evolutionary reason for its existence. I’m thinking about something relating to this but haven’t actually begun writing it yet. I may have some more detailed comments in a week or two.
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Yes feeling real does make sense to me. The only thing that I know about what ultimately Exists, is that I do in some form or other given my feeling itself. I merely suspect that the things which I perceive are real in some capacity most of the time, and even if physics suggests that my perceptions display convenient “cartoon representations”. I’m pretty sure that I do have a body, for example, though it shouldn’t actually exist in the way that I perceive it to. (And still I don’t call myself “an illusionist”, since surely educated people in general grasp this sort of thing today. Or at least I hope they do!)
On why phenomenal experience exists, I could go into my own thoughts about this if you like. Or we could assess each other’s positions once yours is ready. Apparently McFadden’s answer is “freewill”. This corresponds with my own position reasonably, though with a caveat. I don’t consider us ultimately “free”, but rather just from our own tiny perspectives.
Don’t worry if you aren’t exactly sure how to respond to me right now. Just know that I’d like to interest you in my psychology based conception of our nature. I believe that the failure of psychology mandates general softness in our mental and behavioral sciences.
For example, you’re aware of the field’s p-hacking and replication crisis I’m sure. So that’s getting straightened out and everything will be fine, right? Maybe not. Someone has finally checked the archives to find that the famous 1971 Stanford prison “experiment”, was actually scripted. The field’s response? A collective yawn. 😖
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A psychological approach is as valid as any other in its context.
As to why phenomenal experience exists, it is probably an over simplification to think there is only one reason.
Consciousness appears to be required for learning so it may play a role in entraining new neural circuits that eventually become unconscious processes.
Apart from that, although in some ways maybe related, it might be evolution’s solution for dealing with uncertainty. Although this is related to the idea of the brain as a prediction machine or McFadden’s decision-making function, I think it is subtly different. Predictions only get us so far but decision-making constantly requires adaptation of predictions to new or changing conditions. Consciousness tries to bring all the data together in one spot and effectively with its real/imaginary self lays everything on the line in the really critical decisions.
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“As to why phenomenal experience exists, it is probably an over simplification to think there is only one reason.”
IMHO, the phrase “phenomenal experience” expresses and gets to the heart of meaning better than the term consciousness. Currently, consciousness is conflated with mind. That conflation is an ontological error, an error which suppresses meaning, just like the ontology of subject/object metaphysics (SOM) suppresses meaning. In order to build an effective architecture, we have to learn how to use the words consciousness and reality correctly.
Referencing pragmatic panphyschism: A point particle has the structural and qualitative properties of mass, spin and charge. That is a description of the phenomenal experience of point particles. Although we have no idea what that experience is like, it is nevertheless the phenomenal experience of a point particle. When the energy level of that same point particle is brought to within a few degrees kelvin of absolute zero, that same point particle looses those structural, qualitative properties and becomes a Bose-Einstein condensate. It no longer knows what it is, and it can no longer experience the power of mass, spin and charge, nor can it express those structural, qualitative properties.
Phenomenal experience exists simply because phenomenal experience is the ubiquitous, grounding architecture which underwrites discrete systems and their relationships with other discrete systems, relationships which are maintained through correspondence. The laws of physics are descriptions of those relationships and nothing more.
Peace, and happy holidays
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Right James, psychology has its own context. I like to associate it with the field of architecture, and neuroscience with the field of engineering. The most distinguished architects have the skills to understand what needs to be built, not how to build those structures. Then they pass their visions over to the engineers and these professionals figure out what’s needed to practically build them. Note that various modifications to a given architectural plan may be required in order for it to pencil out and actually get built.
So ideally the psychologist would understand the nature of human dynamics, while neuroscientists and such would understand what it is that causes us to have the noted dynamics. But if modern psychologists have very little grasp of human dynamics, how might neuroscientists explain such missing reductions? It’s like engineers trying to do their job, when they don’t yet grasp what needs to get built! Thus I consider the modern state of psychology to impact far more than just itself.
Right, there should be all sorts of effective reasons. Note that the single answer of “for survival” doesn’t help, since this doesn’t explain why phenomenal experience is adaptive. It simply states what we already presume.
I definitely think consciousness helps wire the brain for more effective non-conscious processes. I also like the “uncertainty” theme, but frame it terms of environments that are more “closed”, such as the game of chess, and environments that are more “open”, such as the situation of a bird. We can build a computer to play chess extremely effectively, but as for building a computer which could instruct the function of a bird — the circumstances seem far too open to even potentially program such a “robot”. I presume that evolution failed here as well.
Once environments became too open for standard “If…then…else…” types of operations to work well enough, I suspect that the way it got around this was to add “agency” into the mix. It could be that certain EM fields produced by neurons, create a distinctly different entity that feels good in various ways, while others cause it to feel bad in various ways. Originally this experiencer would have been an epiphenomenal by-product of normal brain function. But theoretically at some point the non-conscious brain must have taken cues from the experiencer’s good/bad feeling state, and so must have altered body function on that basis. With such “agency”, some of these organisms must have succeeded well enough to continue evolving this entity, that is given the challenges that more open environments should bring as discussed. Thus you and I would exist as highly evolved experiencers produced by the brain to deal with more open circumstances.
I can go along with you about phenomenal experience being a more focused term than consciousness, that this is given that I do reduce it to that anyway. Or I could substitute terms like qualia, sentience, affect, and so on. And I can’t say you’re wrong that this stuff is fundamental. I simply have no particular reason to think so. Would I stop doing things like mowing my lawn, or driving, if I thought I was causing pain to some of the matter which I disturb? Nope. I haven’t heard you mention anything like this, but I’ll continue to consider certain brain function special in this regard, or at least until there is reason to believe everything can feel something.
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“I simply have no particular reason to think so.”
Try trading in the narrower world view of subjectivity for the more broader world view of objectivity. Objectivity sounds like a pretty good reason to me.
“…or at least until there is reason to believe everything can feel something.”
If our reality is an objective one, then there is justification to believe that every thing can feel some thing. Projecting my phenomenal experience onto other discrete systems is an error in judgement, whereas, projecting the phenomenal experience of micro systems onto the macro system of my own experience works. For example: I have a vague idea of what it might be like to be mass, spin and charge. I experience those phenomenal properties whenever I overload on alcohol and everything begins to spin until the mass of my biology tips over and continues to accelerate until I make contact with the floor. If mass, spin and charge was not a fundamental property of phenomenal experience, I doubt very much that I would be able to experience the phenomena I just described.
Peace and merry Christmas
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Damn it Lee, how the hell am I supposed to straw man you, if you go straw manning yourself?!
Yeah, merry Christmas buddy.