EM Field Integrates Information Spatially in Brain

Johnjoe McFadden has a new paper Integrating information in the brain’s EM field: the cemi field theory of consciousness. In it he writes : “that consciousness implements algorithms in space, rather than time, within the brain’s EM field. I describe how the cemi field theory accounts for most observed features of consciousness and describe recent experimental support for the theory. I also describe several untested predictions of the theory and discuss its implications for the design of artificial consciousness. The cemi field theory proposes a scientific dualism that is rooted in the difference between matter and energy, rather than matter and spirit”.

In large part the paper is a summation of other papers and arguments by McFadden so it serves as a great overview of his cemi theory. His arguments about information integration are somewhat new. He specifically distinguishes two types of information integration:

  1. Temporal integration via a causal chain of operations in time.
  2. Spatial integration over space at a single moment in time.

McFadden claims most of what the brain does is temporal integration but it is unconscious. Consciousness itself is produced by the brain’s EM field that occurs at single points in time. Temporal integration is similar to Turing machine computing where instructions are executed serially (although instructions could be executing serially in multiple threads in parallel) to arrive at a result. Fields in contrast can integrate information at a single moment in time. He writes:

Force fields physically integrate complex information that may be simultaneously downloaded from any point in the field. This is apparent to anyone who views a TV show that has been transmitted from a single transmitter to their smartphone, alongside a thousand other people who may simultaneously view the same program on their phones in a thousand different locations. Moreover, an EM field can, like an integrated circuit, compute.

The view that emerges for me is that consciousness proceeding in frames from moment to moment with calculations occurring in multiple worksheets in the background with the final result updated from the background worksheets synchronously at single moments in the foreground via the brain’s EM field. This seems broadly compatible with global workplace theory with the brain’s EM field constituting the substrate for the workplace itself.

Especially notable is the expressed dualism which seems to preserve our intuitive sense about the world – that it is composed of matter and mind – without appealing to the supernatural. By replacing the Cartesian mind with energy and force, we remain rooted in physics and the physical.

Update: The paper by McFadden has a broken link to the youtube video of the artist creating the Robert Downey drawing. The correct link is:

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19 Responses to EM Field Integrates Information Spatially in Brain

  1. Brandon White says:

    I hope McFadden gets some media attention this time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • James Cross says:

      BTW, I emailed McFadden about a broken link in the paper and also asked him if he had a popular book coming out on his theory. He is working on the book now and expects it out in 2022.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I emailed McFadden recently as well James. I specifically asked why he didn’t use John Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment in his seminal 2002 (a) paper? Furthermore I tried to interest him in my own “thumb pain” version of it, with the position that people need simple reductions for the various funky things which popular competitors are selling.

        It’s really good to hear that he’s finally working on a book about his cemi field theory! It’s long over due.

        I’ll probably do a blog post on my sales pitch to McFadden, but he surely wouldn’t mind me pasting his simple response to my first letter to him:

        Hi Eric

        Thank you for your thoughts. Have you read my latest paper? https://academic.oup.com/nc/article/2020/1/niaa016/5909853

        I don’t specifically mention the Chinese room argument as the paper is already pretty packed but it basically comes down to the difference between discrete and integrated information – both may work in terms of computation but only one can be associated with consciousness. The operator in the Chinese room is dealing with discrete information (characters essentially as digits with no associated information).

        Best wishes


        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          What I find interesting in his latest paper also is his emphasis on integrated information. I already mentioned that his theory seems compatible with global workspace but it also seems compatible with IIT. Yet with both it brings important additions to those theories. With GWT, it provides a substrate and with IIT it provides the idea that the information must be integrated in a field.

          Liked by 1 person

        • As I recall James, back in his 2002(a) paper McFadden himself mentioned that GWT could be the case under his cemi. There were some other such associations as well I think. I asked him if that was why he didn’t discuss the Chinese room in his initial paper — that he hoped his ideas would be thought to potentially complete various models which were missing such a mechanism? (Thus mentioning Searle’s thought experiment might have queered certain deals?) In his above response he didn’t confirm or deny that, though I suspect so. Back then he may have erroneously thought that he’d be welcomed into the consciousness community by various prominent players. Ha!

          In a paper eleven years later I think GWT was respectfully framed as more of a failing competitor, and he did at least mention the Chinese room glancingly. I told him that given the circus that is cognitive neuroscience, playing such a high minded game might require extra decades for progress to be made. IIT came out a couple of years later for example, and he’s now been lapped many times over by a panpsychist! Thus I suggested that he quit being so high minded and play this game to win. Someone needs to take the torch from Searle and straighten out some messes.

          On McFadden’s current emphasis upon information integration, I’m not sure it’s the right way to go. It could be that qualia can only be created in fields of space rather than time as he proposes. (He contrasts these fields with temporal waves in a pond given thrown rocks.) At the moment however I think there are bigger fish to fry. I doubt he can successfully make the case that only EM fields can provide “integrated information”.

          Better might be to focus more upon empirical testing of the theory that synchronized neural firing correlates with qualia. This has long been his forte, not that much progress has been made on this testing given that money mainly goes to funky ideas like IIT and GWT.

          For now however, if a mechanistic explanation is demanded by the naturalist for qualia, then what beyond EM radiation through neuron firing might carry sufficient fidelity of that firing? I can’t imagine what else might do the trick, so that’s a path I’d like to see his new book take.

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          – I doubt he can successfully make the case that only EM fields can provide “integrated information”.

          Actually his argument is the brain does integrate information temporally but that is not consciousness. So his argument already includes the idea of information integration outside of a field. His argument is that EM fields integrate information spatially because they are fields and that provides the solution to the binding problem. I suppose if some other type of field could also integrate complex information about the external world, it might also be conscious. But I don’t know what sort of field that would be.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Good point James. I’d forgotten how well his ideas address the binding problem. So the spatial and non-temporal integration associated with em fields might indeed be correlated with the binding of conscious experiences that we effectively have.

          When he refers to the integrated information of the em field, I guess I should interpret this as “non-temporally bound information in space”. Conversely the integrated information associated with synapse and neuron function, along with that of the machines we build, should merely yield “temporally bound information in space”.

          Here’s something else. Why did we not evolve dual modes of thought? Wouldn’t it seem productive if I could use one conscious mind to write this to you (implementing vision as well as my fingers to type), while also using a second consciousness to listen to a lecture? Instead I must do these sorts of things sequentially.

          I’ve long speculated that the reason we didn’t evolve more than one consciousness is because each of them would need separate sentient motivations. This might naturally produce conflicts of interest between the two self interested entities and thus not promote survival. According to McFadden however, the physics of em fields mandate that there be just one such field associated with a given brain’s synchronous neuron firing. So maybe evolution never had the chance to test whether or not dual consciousnesses can be helpful?

          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          The rule seems to be one field, one consciousness. However, he does write this:

          “It is these recurrent neuronal networks that are severed by the cutting of the corpus callosum in split brain patients, thereby preventing conscious EM field information in the right hemisphere from reaching speech centres in the left hemisphere (Fig. 3) and vice versa. Without the unification provided by networks of synchronously firing neurons, EM field information in each hemisphere will remain locked in each hemisphere”.

          That would acknowledge that something like two consciousnesses could exist. There might still be connectivity at a lower level in the brainstem that permit coordination between the two.

          Liked by 1 person

        • The way I see this is that the two hemispheres work in quasi individual ways. For example apparently one specializes in speech. This is to say that the synchronous firing associated with conscious speech should tend to be propagated on that side. Thus the other side should not be connected to this tool by means of em waves directly, but largely by means of the corpus callosum. It makes sense to me that certain parts of the brain would specializing in certain kinds of conscious function. So even if associated em waves do effectively reach each side of the brain, that shouldn’t mean that each side should be set up to use them in a conscious capacity if not “designed” that way.

          The strange part here is that cutting this link between the two happens to be as non-damaging as observed. To me this suggests that it’s merely a main highway though other reasonable connections must exist between them as well.

          Regarding two separate consciousnesses, that gets into how the term is defined. To me the most useful consciousness definition is essentially “qualia”. Is there one entity that feels a given pain while another such entity does not feel it? Or does one entity “see” while the other remains “blind”? If so then I’ll concede that two consciousnesses exist here, but I haven’t read anything like that. It’s more like sometimes different hands will do things in opposition, which I suspect occurs through non-conscious routines rather than conscious direction. Apparently consciousness eventually straightens such conflicts out even given this severed connection.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        “I suppose if some other type of field could also integrate complex information about the external world, it might also be conscious. But I don’t know what sort of field that would be.”

        Take the bold step and posit a quantum field James. Just imagine our physical universe beginning as an infinite quantum field of some kind expressing itself as our three dimensional classical universe which, over time ultimately evolves into a discrete, complex physical field once again as mind. This notion could be some kind of hybrid hypothesis that could unite idealism and materialism into a single manifold if one choose to look at it that way.

        If this is the case, I think we would need to develop a new vocabulary to express that reality because our current vocabulary is limited in its scope by current definitions. I’ve been working on such a vocabulary.


        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Take a look at quora answer:

          The simplest “practical” quantum field theory is quantum electromagnetism. In it, two fields exist: the electromagnetic field and the “electron field”. These two fields continuously interact with each other, energy and momentum are transferred, and excitations are created or destroyed. So for instance, what we picture intuitively as an electron absorbing a photon is, in quantum electrodynamics, a specific interaction between the electromagnetic field and the electron field, in which the electromagnetic field loses one excitation quantum, and the electron field gains its energy, momentum and angular momentum.


          And as McFadden points out in paper:

          And, as illustrated in Fig. 1(b) EM fields may also implement algorithms. This capacity, known as ‘field computing’ (MacLennan 1999) sometimes as quantum-like computing (Khrennikov 2011), has several features in common with quantum computing such as ease of implementation of mathematical functions such as Fourier transforms, compared to digital computers. Moreover, as illustrated in Fig. 1b, this form of field computing—algorithms in space rather than in time—could only be implemented by neurons (either EMF transmitters or receivers) that fire synchronously.

          I generally try to avoid QM related topics because my foundations on the mathematics are shaky, there are too many interpretations of the mathematics, and any discussion of QM in explaining anything “mysterious” seems to draw people to immediately declare the explanation unscientific.

          At any rate, EM itself is still somewhat of a mystery and, if it can do field computing, then there is no reason to drag in QM anyway. On the other hand, if the quora comment accurately reflects the science, then behind or beside any EM field would a quantum field anyway.


        • James Cross says:

          BTW, are you familiar with the Wheeler-Dewitt equation?



        • Lee Roetcisoender says:

          I particularly like this quote from your Quora link:

          “In a quantum field theory, what we perceive as particles are excitations of the quantum field itself.”

          This assessment has a familiar feel, similar to Kastrup’s form of idealism and the excitations of M@L which brings the physical world into existence. I think where Bernardo runs off the track with his theory is correlating this hypothetical quantum field with a mind as such. Idealism is a metaphysics which essentially denies the reality of a physical material world. A physical material world exists, it’s the raw materials used to construct everything that physically exists including the phenomena of mind itself. This field may indeed be consciousness or more explicitly awareness, but it is not a mind as we experience mind, and I’m not talking about meta-cognition; I’m talking about mind being a system just like any other physical system.

          I’m somewhat familiar with Wheeler-DeWitt equations but mathematics is not my forte.


          Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Interesting parallel with Kastrup’s excitations.


        • Lee Roetcisoender says:

          Just an follow up…… I don’t think we will ever be able to empirically verify one way or the other whether a quantum field exists. Using an alternate vocabulary one might as well default to Kant and call the quantum field Noumena; the realm from which our phenomenal universe emerges.

          Either way, as an ontology idealism is metaphysically in trouble and materialism is an incomplete explanation as long as materialism makes draws a line of demarcation between living and non-living matter and unconscious and conscious matter.


          Liked by 1 person

  2. Did McFarren provided his definition of what “a single moment in time” is? How his separation of space from time correlates with common understanding that there is a space-time instead of separate space and time?

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I don’t know that he did but at the distances in the brain near simultaneity should be possible, if that is the point you are making.

      The bigger issue would be how neurons in different parts of the brain fire synchronously if the coordination is done only by electrochemical, neuronal communication, which is quite slow. That isn’t impossible to solve but there may be some unusual tricks involved. It seems like the connections are engineered so that more distant connections are faster than nearer connections based upon thickness and “insulation” on the connection.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just making sure you guys saw this.
    Like Koch, not an approach I’m enthusiastic about, at least until there’s much better evidence, but apparently there are a number of people exploring this area.

    Liked by 1 person

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