Is Northoff Pointing the Way to Solve the Serious (Hard) Problem?

I don’t usually post long videos but I recently came upon Georg Northoff and believe this video is the easiest way to introduce his ideas. I will probably be following up after I spend some more time on some of his work. This talk in English seems to have been delivered in Russia to a sparse audience. Northoff himself is German. The presentation is crude and Northoff with his accent certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of a lot of others in the consciousness business. The talk begins with a lot of fumbling with the laser pointer among other things. However… the ideas are stunning in my view and finally begin to draw the connections between brain and mind.

The talk is a PowerPoint presentation essentially based on this article:

This post title reference to the serious (hard) problem refers to a post I did on Chalmers a while ago.

Northoff has a book just out that I have on order.

Personally I think his core idea that space time is the common currency linking neurons to mind blends well with EM theories; however, I haven’t found any direct mention of EM theories in his work so far. His theory certainly is based on waves and brain oscillations which will certainly link to EM fields in the brain.

Northoff and Victor Lamme also have an interesting article on a possible convergence of theories of consciousness.

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9 Responses to Is Northoff Pointing the Way to Solve the Serious (Hard) Problem?

  1. First Cause says:

    Space/time is a useful construct that helps us to navigate our environment and make predictions however, I do not see this notion of space/time as being fundamental. Therefore, insisting upon constructing a model of consciousness based upon a dubious predicate concept is misdirected.

    What is fundamental however is a continuum of change known as motion resulting in form where nothing is ever static. Motion resulting in form is the underlying feature that occurs across the entire spectrum of the material universe including what happens within our own brain. What I find to be additionally problematic is that Northoff along with his peers do not recognize that mind is a separate and distinct system that emerges from the brain, a system that is dependent upon that substrate, uses that substrate for its own purposes; a system that is sovereign and one that has causal power when animated during wakefulness.

    The notion of sovereignty and wakefulness has to be accounted for in any model of consciousness. Additionally, it is sovereignty that is responsible for subjective experience whereas in contrast to subjectivity, what the classical brain does is 100% veridical. If a light bulb moment ever occurs with these folks, then this period of consciousness research will look like the dark ages of Europe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I would wonder how motion happens without spacetime.

      Mike and I got into this somewhat in one of his posts about whether spacetime is fundamental. It occurred to me that our ability to measure anything at all in science is dependent on spacetime. How can a particle move from point A to point B without space defining A and B and time defining the interval of the movement?

      I am not arguing necessarily that spacetime is fundamental but only that something more fundamental would have to be outside the bounds of spacetime and beyond measurement. Hence, it would probably be beyond science.

      Northoff doesn’t claim to be a philosopher. I’m not sure that the emergence of mind as a separate distinct system is out of scope for his theories. Basically he is looking for the language or common currency that allows us to translate neural oscillations to mental experience.


      • First Cause says:

        I think a more viable common currency is the notion of construction. Nature is in the business of building constructs and mental experience itself is constructed model built by the mind.

        There is a huge epistemic gap in consciousness research, and that gap is the unaccounted for “ghost” within the machine, (the machine being the brain). I’m not a dualist myself but at least those who profess to be dualist like Chalmers recognize that there is a ghost within the machine. It is a stark intuition that we all share in common, and in spite of this intuition functionalists dismiss it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Constructed in/with/out of spacetime?

          If mind emerges from brain, then wouldn’t we find it useful to understand how mind relates to brain, how the neuron firings translate to subjective experience?

          If that question is ever answered in sufficient detail, I think the gap will be effectively gone as far as science goes.


  2. First Cause says:

    When we talk about space in the environment in which we navigate, that correlation of space is about the distance between point A and point B in relationship to what we refer to as time. Whereas in science, space is a reference to a void where nothing exists but that void. So there is that distinction to deal with when discussing space/time.

    From the scientific framework, I envision that void of space as a ubiquitous, unified quantum field that has its own unique properties. So in theory, we would start with a ubiquitous quantum field that is unified, a unified field from which matter emerges. Then at the apex of the highest degree of organization and complexity of matter, i.e. the brain; this highly organized and complex system some how gives rise to a “localized” quantum field, i.e. the mind.

    It’s an intriguing idea nevertheless, one has to ask; what is the bridge or mechanism that links these two realms on both ends of that spectrum? At this point of the narrative I am clueless………

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      I haven’t known what to make of it but there are interesting parallels between the brain and the universe if we accept certain things.

      For example, some believe the universe holographic. Others believe the mind holographic. If they are, they are both contained creations defined by information at the boundaries. Both the universe and mind seemingly are closed off from what might be around them. The universe essentially closed to any multiverse. The mind closed to its bodily environment except where information seeps in across the boundary through the senses. If the universe is a black hole or has properties like a black hole (good evidence for this), then information from the surrounding universe would govern its properties. The mind picks up attributes and properties from its environment. Spacetime may function as an universal electromagnetic field serving as the medium for propagation of EM waves. Matter is interference patterns where EM fields interact. Mind may be implemented as an EM field (McFadden et al).

      Northoff several times alludes to the relationships mapped by mind. I need to read some more to understand what he means but something like this is possible:

      The mind is essentially an internalized mimicry of the external world. The way it mimics is by creating spacetime relationships between sense datum coming from the senses. Closely related data become objects. The temporal-spatial relationships of objects is mimicked by neuronal speed (time) and the dimensional and patterns in the spatial architecture of of neural connections. This mimicry is what I have been calling a model and it maps (probably polymorphically) its internal objects with external objects based on a best fit for the sense data available.

      If mind is internalized mimicry, the problem of explaining how it works becomes drastically simplified. We don’t have to imagine how complex computational algorithms evolved and became embedded in the brain. We just have to assume that the primary function of the brain is to mimic external reality by maintaining internally the same relationships that the sense data presents. The brain and its neurons doesn’t to know anything. It just has to faithfully copy the relationships and revise its copy whenever new data appears.

      There certainly is more than this but this gets directly at how neurons can seemingly know about the world.


      • First Cause says:

        I like what you are saying here Jim. Not only does it makes a lot of sense but it corresponds with the vision that is coalescing in my own mind. The internal mimicry that the mind does of the three dimensional outside world would be a literal re-construction of the sensory data that the brain receives from the outside world and yes, according to this rendition neither the brain nor its neurons would have to know anything; knowing is the mind’s responsibility after re-construction and analysis is made.

        As a feedback loop, the mind would build these re-constructions and store them in the neural correlates and even create new ones for future references. I think dreams and dream states are a mechanism that the mind uses for learning and reinforcement of these objects. These mechanisms and the newly created correlates would also be used as a data base and resource for imagination and creative thinking, allowing the mind to do what it does best, building intellectual constructions.

        What I would like to know is this: have you read this somewhere or are these ideas just kind of popping into your head because I personally have not read anything like you are proposing here……. But I like it and I think you are on the right track.

        Liked by 1 person

        • James Cross says:

          Thanks. I don’t know how original any of this is but I haven’t seen anyone else comparing mind to internalized mimicry. Certainly learning and memory also must enter the picture. If mental mimicry primarily deals with relationships of sense data and objects, then key to both memory and learning may be the ability to store enough of the relationships that sense data can be partially reconstructed or projected into the future


        • First Cause says:

          “You are a mystic my son”….. The infamous Arthur Schopenhauer was a self-proclaimed mystic. I think what he meant by that assessment was that he was able to think for himself, which seems to be a lost art in today’s world. We are so dependent upon others doing the thinking for us. As Schopenhauer asserted, when all we do is read or listen to others ideas, our mind is just a playground for other people’s thought.

          Keep it genuine and keep it real…….

          Liked by 1 person

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