How the light gets out

by 3500 3,500 words
  • Read later or Kindle
    • KindleKindle

How the light gets out

Illustration by Michael Marsicano

Consciousness is the ‘hard problem’, the one that confounds science and philosophy. Has a new theory cracked it?

Michael Graziano is a neuroscientist, novelist and composer. He is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University in New Jersey. His latest book is Consciousness and the Social Brain (2013).

3500 3,500 words
  • Read later
    • KindleKindle

Scientific talks can get a little dry, so I try to mix it up. I take out my giant hairy orangutan puppet, do some ventriloquism and quickly become entangled in an argument. I’ll be explaining my theory about how the brain — a biological machine — generates consciousness. Kevin, the orangutan, starts heckling me. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t have a brain. But I’m still conscious. What does that do to your theory?’

Kevin is the perfect introduction. Intellectually, nobody is fooled: we all know that there’s nothing inside. But everyone in the audience experiences an illusion of sentience emanating from his hairy head. The effect is automatic: being social animals, we project awareness onto the puppet. Indeed, part of the fun of ventriloquism is experiencing the illusion while knowing, on an intellectual level, that it isn’t real.

Many thinkers have approached consciousness from a first-person vantage point, the kind of philosophical perspective according to which other people’s minds seem essentially unknowable. And yet, as Kevin shows, we spend a lot of mental energy attributing consciousness to other things. We can’t help it, and the fact that we can't help it ought to tell us something about what consciousness is and what it might be used for. If we evolved to recognise it in others – and to mistakenly attribute it to puppets, characters in stories, and cartoons on a screen — then, despite appearances, it really can’t be sealed up within the privacy of our own heads.

Lately, the problem of consciousness has begun to catch on in neuroscience. How does a brain generate consciousness? In the computer age, it is not hard to imagine how a computing machine might construct, store and spit out the information that ‘I am alive, I am a person, I have memories, the wind is cold, the grass is green,’ and so on. But how does a brain become aware of those propositions? The philosopher David Chalmers has claimed that the first question, how a brain computes information about itself and the surrounding world, is the ‘easy’ problem of consciousness. The second question, how a brain becomes aware of all that computed stuff, is the ‘hard’ problem.

I believe that the easy and the hard problems have gotten switched around. The sheer scale and complexity of the brain’s vast computations makes the easy problem monumentally hard to figure out. How the brain attributes the property of awareness to itself is, by contrast, much easier. If nothing else, it would appear to be a more limited set of computations. In my laboratory at Princeton University, we are working on a specific theory of awareness and its basis in the brain. Our theory explains both the apparent awareness that we can attribute to Kevin and the direct, first-person perspective that we have on our own experience. And the easiest way to introduce it is to travel about half a billion years back in time.

In a period of rapid evolutionary expansion called the Cambrian Explosion, animal nervous systems acquired the ability to boost the most urgent incoming signals. Too much information comes in from the outside world to process it all equally, and it is useful to select the most salient data for deeper processing. Even insects and crustaceans have a basic version of this ability to focus on certain signals. Over time, though, it came under a more sophisticated kind of control — what is now called attention. Attention is a data-handling method, the brain’s way of rationing its processing resources. It has been found and studied in a lot of different animals. Mammals and birds both have it, and they diverged from a common ancestor about 350 million years ago, so attention is probably at least that old.

Attention requires control. In the modern study of robotics there is something called control theory, and it teaches us that, if a machine such as a brain is to control something, it helps to have an internal model of that thing. Think of a military general with his model armies arrayed on a map: they provide a simple but useful representation — not always perfectly accurate, but close enough to help formulate strategy. Likewise, to control its own state of attention, the brain needs a constantly updated simulation or model of that state. Like the general’s toy armies, the model will be schematic and short on detail. The brain will attribute a property to itself and that property will be a simplified proxy for attention. It won’t be precisely accurate, but it will convey useful information. What exactly is that property? When it is paying attention to thing X, we know that the brain usually attributes an experience of X to itself — the property of being conscious, or aware, of something. Why? Because that attribution helps to keep track of the ever-changing focus of attention.

The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it

I call this the ‘attention schema theory’. It has a very simple idea at its heart: that consciousness is a schematic model of one’s state of attention. Early in evolution, perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago, brains evolved a specific set of computations to construct that model. At that point, ‘I am aware of X’ entered their repertoire of possible computations.

And then what? Just as fins evolved into limbs and then into wings, the capacity for awareness probably changed and took on new functions over time. For example, the attention schema might have allowed the brain to integrate information on a massive new scale. If you are attending to an apple, a decent model of that state would require representations of yourself, the apple, and the complicated process of attention that links the two. An internal model of attention therefore collates data from many separate domains. In so doing, it unlocks enormous potential for integrating information, for seeing larger patterns, and even for understanding the relationship between oneself and the outside world.

Such a model also helps to simulate the minds of other people. We humans are continually ascribing complex mental states — emotions, ideas, beliefs, action plans ­— to one another. But it is hard to credit John with a fear of something, or a belief in something, or an intention to do something, unless we can first ascribe an awareness of something to him. Awareness, especially an ability to attribute awareness to others, seems fundamental to any sort of social capability.

It is not clear when awareness became part of the animal kingdom’s social toolkit. Perhaps birds, with their well-developed social intelligence, have some ability to attribute awareness to each other. Perhaps the social use of awareness expanded much later, with the evolution of primates about 65 million years ago, or even later, with our own genus Homo, a little over two million years ago. Whenever it arose, it clearly plays a major role in the social capability of modern humans. We paint the world with perceived consciousness. Family, friends, pets, spirits, gods and ventriloquist’s puppets — all appear before us suffused with sentience.

But what about the inside view, that mysterious light of awareness accessible only to our innermost selves? A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once told me about one of his patients. This patient was delusional: he thought that he had a squirrel in his head. Odd delusions of this nature do occur, and this patient was adamant about the squirrel. When told that a cranial rodent was illogical and incompatible with physics, he agreed, but then went on to note that logic and physics cannot account for everything in the universe. When asked whether he could feel the squirrel — that is to say, whether he suffered from a sensory hallucination — he denied any particular feeling about it. He simply knew that he had a squirrel in his head.

We can ask two types of questions. The first is rather foolish but I will spell it out here. How does that man’s brain produce an actual squirrel? How can neurons secrete the claws and the tail? Why doesn’t the squirrel show up on an MRI scan? Does the squirrel belong to a different, non-physical world that can’t be measured with scientific equipment? This line of thought is, of course, nonsensical. It has no answer because it is incoherent.

The second type of question goes something like this. How does that man’s brain process information so as to attribute a squirrel to his head? What brain regions are involved in the computations? What history led to that strange informational model? Is it entirely pathological or does it in fact do something useful?

So far, most brain-based theories of consciousness have focused on the first type of question. How do neurons produce a magic internal experience? How does the magic emerge from the neurons? The theory that I am proposing dispenses with all of that. It concerns itself instead with the second type of question: how, and for what survival advantage, does a brain attribute subjective experience to itself? This question is scientifically approachable, and the attention schema theory supplies the outlines of an answer.

Attention is a data-handling method used by neurons. It isn’t a substance and it doesn’t flow

One way to think about the relationship between brain and consciousness is to break it down into two mysteries. I call them Arrow A and Arrow B. Arrow A is the mysterious route from neurons to consciousness. If I am looking at a blue sky, my brain doesn’t merely register blue as if I were a wavelength detector from Radio Shack. I am aware of the blue. Did my neurons create that feeling?

Arrow B is the mysterious route from consciousness back to the neurons. Arrow B attracts much less scholarly attention than Arrow A, but it is just as important. The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it. We can conclude that we have it, couch that conclusion into language and then report it to someone else. Speech is controlled by muscles, which are controlled by neurons. Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn’t be able to communicate anything about it. Consciousness cannot be what is sometimes called an epiphenomenon — a floating side-product with no physical consequences — or else I wouldn’t have been able to write this article about it.

Any workable theory of consciousness must be able to account for both Arrow A and Arrow B. Most accounts, however, fail miserably at both. Suppose that consciousness is a non-physical feeling, an aura, an inner essence that arises somehow from a brain or from a special circuit in the brain. The ‘emergent consciousness’ theory is the most common assumption in the literature. But how does a brain produce the emergent, non-physical essence? And even more puzzling, once you have that essence, how can it physically alter the behaviour of neurons, such that you can say that you have it? ‘Emergent consciousness’ theories generally stake everything on Arrow A and ignore Arrow B completely.

The attention schema theory does not suffer from these difficulties. It can handle both Arrow A and Arrow B. Consciousness isn’t a non-physical feeling that emerges. Instead, dedicated systems in the brain compute information. Cognitive machinery can access that information, formulate it as speech, and then report it. When a brain reports that it is conscious, it is reporting specific information computed within it. It can, after all, only report the information available to it. In short, Arrow A and Arrow B remain squarely in the domain of signal-processing. There is no need for anything to be transmuted into ghost material, thought about, and then transmuted back to the world of cause and effect.

Some people might feel disturbed by the attention schema theory. It says that awareness is not something magical that emerges from the functioning of the brain. When you look at the colour blue, for example, your brain doesn’t generate a subjective experience of blue. Instead, it acts as a computational device. It computes a description, then attributes an experience of blue to itself. The process is all descriptions and conclusions and computations. Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself. The brain insists that it has subjective experience because, when it accesses its inner data, it finds that information.

I admit that the theory does not feel satisfying; but a theory does not need to be satisfying to be true. And indeed, the theory might be able to explain a few other common myths that brains tell themselves. What about out-of-body experiences? The belief that awareness can emanate from a person’s eyes and touch someone else? That you can push on objects with your mind? That the soul lives on after the death of the body? One of the more interesting aspects of the attention schema theory is that it does not need to turn its back on such persistent beliefs. It might even explain their origin.

The heart of the theory, remember, is that awareness is a model of attention, like the general’s model of his army laid out on a map. The real army isn’t made of plastic, of course. It isn’t quite so small, and has rather more moving parts. In these respects, the model is totally unrealistic. And yet, without such simplifications, it would be impractical to use.

If awareness is a model of attention, how is it simplified? How is it inaccurate? Well, one easy way to keep track of attention is to give it a spatial structure — to treat it like a substance that flows from a source to a target. In reality, attention is a data-handling method used by neurons. It isn’t a substance and it doesn’t flow. But it is a neat accounting trick to model attention in that way; it helps to keep track of who is attending to what. And so the intuition of ghost material — of ectoplasm, mind stuff that is generated inside us, that flows out of the eyes and makes contact with things in the world — makes some sense. Science commonly regards ghost-ish intuitions to be the result of ignorance, superstition, or faulty intelligence. In the attention schema theory, however, they are not simply ignorant mistakes. Those intuitions are ubiquitous among cultures because we humans come equipped with a handy, simplified model of attention. That model informs our intuitions.

Many people believe that they can feel a subtle heat when someone is staring at them

What are out-of-body experiences then? One view might be that no such things exist, that charlatans invented them to fool us. Yet such experiences can be induced in the lab, as a number of scientists have now shown. A person can genuinely be made to feel that her centre of awareness is disconnected from her body. The very existence of the out-of-body experience suggests that awareness is a computation and that the computation can be disrupted. Systems in the brain not only compute the information that I am aware, but also compute a spatial framework for it, a location, and a perspective. Screw up the computations, and I screw up my understanding of my own awareness.

And here is yet another example: why do so many people believe that we see by means of rays that come out of the eyes? The optical principle of vision is well understood and is taught in elementary school. Nevertheless, developmental psychologists have known for decades that children have a predisposition to the opposite idea, the so-called ‘extramission theory’ of vision. And not only children: a study by the psychologist Gerald Winer and colleagues at the University of Ohio in 2002 found that about half of American college students also think that we see because of rays that come out of the eyes. Our culture, too, is riddled with the extramission theory. Superman has X-ray vision that emanates from his eyes toward objects. The Terminator has red glowing eyes. Many people believe that they can feel a subtle heat when someone is staring at them. Why should a physically inaccurate description of vision be so persistent? Perhaps because the brain constructs a simplified, handy model of attention in which there is such a thing as awareness, an invisible, intangible stuff that flows from inside a person out to some target object. We come pre-equipped with that intuition, not because it is physically accurate but because it is a useful model.

Many of our superstitions — our beliefs in souls and spirits and mental magic — might emerge naturally from the simplifications and shortcuts the brain takes when representing itself and its world. This is not to say that humans are necessarily trapped in a set of false beliefs. We are not forced by the built-in wiring of the brain to be superstitious, because there remains a distinction between intuition and intellectual belief. In the case of ventriloquism, you might have an unavoidable gut feeling that consciousness is emanating from the puppet’s head, but you can still understand that the puppet is in fact inanimate. We have the ability to rise above our immediate intuitions and predispositions.

Let’s turn now to a final — alleged — myth. One of the long-standing questions about consciousness is whether it really does anything. Is it merely an epiphenomenon, floating uselessly in our heads like the heat that rises up from the circuitry of a computer? Most of us intuitively understand it to be an active thing: it helps us to decide what to do and when. And yet, at least some of the scientific work on consciousness has proposed the opposite, counter-intuitive view: that it doesn’t really do anything at all; that it is the brain’s after-the-fact story to explain itself. We act reflexively and then make up a rationalisation.

There is some evidence for this post-hoc notion. In countless psychology experiments, people are secretly manipulated into making certain choices — picking green over red, pointing left instead of right. When asked why they made the choice, they confabulate. They make up reasons that have nothing to do with the truth, known only to the experimenter, and they express great confidence in their bogus explanations. It seems, therefore, that at least some of our conscious choices are rationalisations after the fact. But if consciousness is a story we tell ourselves, why do we need it? Why are we aware of anything at all? Why not just be skilful automata, without the overlay of subjectivity? Some philosophers think we are automata and just don’t know it.

This idea that consciousness has no leverage in the world, that it’s just a rationalisation to make us feel better about ourselves, is terribly bleak. It runs against most people’s intuitions. Some people might confuse the attention schema theory with that nihilistic view. But the theory is almost exactly the opposite. It is not a theory about the uselessness or non-being of consciousness, but about its central importance. Why did an awareness of stuff evolve in the first place? Because it had a practical benefit. The purpose of the general’s plastic model army is to help direct the real troops. Likewise, according to the theory, the function of awareness is to model one’s own attentional focus and control one’s behaviour. In this respect, the attention schema theory is in agreement with the common intuition: consciousness plays an active role in guiding our behaviour. It is not merely an aura that floats uselessly in our heads. It is a part of the executive control system.

In fact, the theory suggests that even more crucial and complex functions of consciousness emerged through evolution, and that they are especially well-developed in humans. To attribute awareness to oneself, to have that computational ability, is the first step towards attributing it to others. That, in turn, leads to a remarkable evolutionary transition to social intelligence. We live embedded in a matrix of perceived consciousness. Most people experience a world crowded with other minds, constantly thinking and feeling and choosing. We intuit what might be going on inside those other minds. This allows us to work together: it gives us our culture and meaning, and makes us successful as a species. We are not, despite certain appearances, trapped alone inside our own heads.

And so, whether or not the attention schema theory turns out to be the correct scientific formulation, a successful account of consciousness will have to tell us more than how brains become aware. It will also have to show us how awareness changes us, shapes our behaviour, interconnects us, and makes us human.

Read more essays on consciousness & altered states, neuroscience and philosophy of mind


  • Daniel Kreikneros

    The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it. Are there any other "quantifiable truths?" If something is measured, units of measurement are involved. What are the units of consciousness? Otherwise, is this not a form of "I think, therefore?"

    • Bobby Arnold
      • Daniel Kreikneros

        Thank you. I understand mass and bits per second as information processing rate (a derivative of Shannon's work at Bell Labs), but how can you relate this to "consciousness"? Specifically, if we can ever relate neuron firings to bits/sec, then we can compare sleep or daydreaming to fully awake processing rates. But is this not only correlation?--Like saying that there is "more information" flashing through the brain when awake than when asleep? It seems that consciousness needs a qualitatively different "awareness unit" yet to be discovered before it can be defined.

    • robbie

      that was pretty much the point. "cogito ergo sum" is the only "true" basis we have still. it's not in units, it's just a check-mark really :-)

      • Daniel Kreikneros

        I read somewhere that Descartes original quote was: "I doubt, therefore I am," but this caused so much consternation in his day and time that "doubt" became "think." If true (and I don't know if it is), then "doubt" implies the ability to create mental simulations, or collections of representations that combine sensory inputs with memory, and to evaluate (through reason and by testing) the relative validity of those simulations. At a basic level, this might be the source in sports of "visualize yourself making the basket, or hitting the ball." Perhaps we need some type of a "unit of skepticism" (to measure how I view this very posting back to you). :)

        • Nick Corrado

          That's more reminiscent of Augustine's si fallor, sum.

  • mudgeon

    This theory of attention schema is accurate but not new. It is essentially latter Wittgenstein. The beauty of it is it dissolves the mind/body problem that has been a subject of investigation since ancient times.

    • EP

      This is infinitely far from Wittgenstein.

      • MathH

        I would agree. It seems the poster just saw a direct correlation in its supposed simplicity, but Wittgenstein is not one to "solve the mind-body-problem" and his solution, though really good, is common stock in modern logic and philosophy, and Wittgentstein like others just implies it, sort of on the go, with all kinds of other problems, but it's not his "topic" or "solution" in any way I can see or any text I have read. There might be a passage or few... But this is really not helpful anyway and just a random note on Wittgenstein or the body-mind-problem... One who has made it his topic is Merleau-Ponty. It's basically the logically consistent approach that in some form or emphasis is now part of the philosophical stock (the dualism is centuries old).

  • mijnheer

    I may be missing something, but this whole attention model of consciousness strikes me as falling squarely within what Chalmers calls the easy problem -- that is, understanding physical facts about the functioning of the brain, including how it integrates information. The hard problem is not about the circuitry or feedback loops that are necessary for an organism to be conscious; it is not about the evolutionary advantage of possessing consciousness; it is about bridging the explanatory gap between physical processes and conscious experience. Surely a computer could generate a model of attention, could "tell" itself a story about the information it is processing, without being subjectively aware as a result. Chalmers proposes that consciousness is simply a fundamental feature of the world, not something that can be reduced to the laws of physical systems. It would be interesting to hear his response to this author's theory.

    • Ed Lake

      I believe the author's solution to the hard problem is that it is an illusion, like other aspects of consciousness discussed in the article. Consciousness seems impossible to reconcile with physics because that's how our brains depict it, but in this regard and many others, our brains cannot be trusted.

      • Andrew

        But an illusion to what or to whom? Does it not shift the questions from "how the brain generates consciousness and what 'consciousness' is fundamentally" to the questions of "how the brain generates the *illusion* of consciousness and what the 'illusion' is fundamentally"?

        • Ed Lake

          I can't speak for Michael Graziano here. However, my understanding of his view is not that it says consciousness itself is an illusion – it's real enough to play a part in the brain's information-processing – but that when we represent consciousness to ourselves, we get aspects of its nature systematically wrong. Is this an intuitively satisfying answer? No, as the author says, it isn't. But it's hard to state clearly how it might go awry. "Illusion to whom?" doesn't get there, because the theory doesn't deny that "you" exist, it just claims that you are wrong about what "you" are like. In the interests of full disclosure: I worked with Michael on this piece, and half the time his theory strikes me as powerfully explanatory and lucid, and half the time it seems completely absurd. But as he says above, that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

          • Andrew

            To this clarification I very much agree. Much but not all of phenomenal experience is set in the format of naive realism. Based on what we know of the highly processed and synthetic nature of information represented in the cortex, naive realism is, I think, a fundamental illusion of consciousness. Though how this bears on social cognition is not clear to me.
            I would imagine Dr. Graziano would agree with the "to whom" roughly being another aspect of the model written about, which would be in accord with the 'self model theory of subjectivity' of Metzinger.

          • Crude

            "But it's hard to state clearly how it might go awry. "Illusion to whom?" doesn't get there, because the theory doesn't deny that "you" exist, it just claims that you are wrong about what "you" are like."

            Actually, it does get you there, if "there" is to a point-blank refutation of the theory. Apparently Graziano is denying subjective experience. But with no subject, there is no illusion - period, end of story. Likewise, there's no 'brain telling itself that...' going on. There's no 'self' to tell.

            That actually leads to a serious problem with the article: insofar as subjective experience is apparently being denied, the title is misleading. This isn't an explanation of how consciousness works. It's a denial that we are conscious after all.

            More than that - appeals to 'computation' and 'information' are ultimately not going to help a materialist here. Not unless Graziano is arguing that information and meaning, in relevant senses, are intrinsic - and to argue that much is to argue that materialism is wrong after all. (Not that the word has much meaning in a post-quantum world, compared to the classical world left behind.) At best it would be derived meaning, but insofar as 'derived' meaning requires on minds existing in advance to do the 'deriving', any theory of that sort is not going to be of any help.

      • Lucas Picador

        I think the problem is that the author, like many neuroscientists, dismisses any problem that cannot be solved using the scientific method as not a true problem at all. The "hard problem" of consciousness is not one that can be solved through empiricism. I can make a computer program that is aware of its own internal processes. That doesn't necessarily mean that it will have experiences; it will just process inputs and produce outputs, like any other computer program. The author is, as mijnheer states above, still addressing the "easy problem".

        Why do I have experiences, instead of just being and acting? Adding extra feedback loops to my brain cannot account for this fundamental difference in what is going on with what we call consciousness. If it could, then we would have to assume that my computer is having conscious experiences because its RAM contains a table of what processes it is running. Nonsense. This is a problem of metaphysics, not physics; indeed, not science of any kind.

        • randy

          You are wrong. If a computer program functions as described, complete with sensory input, with a model of itself within its environment, even a simulated environment, then it will be conscious of itself in the same way we are. That is the implication of the theory.

          • Lucas Picador

            Sure. And perhaps it is conscious. See my response to KEM below.

        • KEM

          I agree with Randy. As you've carved up the problem, Lucas, how do you then deny your computer's RAM the vaunted attribute of consciousness? The computer senses, the computer ranges over options and its own internal processes, and the computer executes action based on available information and time contingencies. We are the same. On these terms, you can only deny consciousness to your computer if you are prepared to deny it to every other person who does not happen to be you.

          Part of the confusion here: Consciousness is not a site or space; it is a process. That process may depend on a complex network of neurons (or microchips) but the experience you're having right now is not in any sense a state, place or thing. It is a highly attenuated sensory experience. We grant sensory experience to other organisms; why is it suddenly so mysterious here? The mystery is not THAT we experience (unless you're a philosopher like Ned Block, of course, in which case it becomes the Hard Problem), but WHITHER this particular class of experience that seems so peculiar to us.

          From time to time, you pause to marvel that you are having an experience at all. And you carry an analog version of your place in space and call it Lucas Picador. But these, too, can arise from the computer's experience of new sense information or be programmed into the computer beforehand. So, again, why deny the computer?

          We only ever confirm and confer the status of consciousness on someone or something else to the degree that we share language with that person or thing. Consciousness is a function of language. You and I are figures of speech.



          • Nick Rogers

            In essence we don't exist. So why should I believe you when you say that?

            It is an invalidating paradox, akin to saying there is no such thing as truth, ridiculous to its core, the product of self delusion in people who cannot account for themselves in the materialistic universe they claim to believe in.

            I know it, inherently, to be false. I don't need to prove it. If you exist, you know it too, and if you claim to disagree, you are simply lying to yourself, pulling a clothe over your eyes so you can't see.

            In the end, what horrifies me about this, is that perhaps all these people who are wishing themselves out of existence will succeed and actually do it. Their own close minded, prideful consciousnesses will devour themselves until there really is nothing but a mindless automaton left.

          • Lucas Picador

            I don't deny consciousness to anyone or anything. For all I know, rocks have experiences. But as you point out, I'll never know, because rocks can't speak English.

            I only know that I have experiences. Everyone else could be a zombie (in the cogsci sense of the term). I have every reason to think that my conscious experiences arise from specific characteristics of my brain -- I base this theory on the usual observations (e.g. no experience of being asleep, no memories from before a certain age). But there's no real reason to think that any complex being might some kind of experience akin to my own: young children, animals, even plants. Why not computers? Why not entire ecosystems?

            As you point out, we really only have access to data on our OWN experiences, plus anything described by another being using language that we choose to believe. This is a stumbling block that science cannot overcome.

    • Ormond Otvos

      "Surely a computer could generate a model of attention, could "tell" itself a story about the information it is processing, without being subjectively aware as a result. "

      Saying "surely" raises a red flag to me, especially with no evidence.

      • robbie

        i think you understood "model of consciousness" which would justify a "red flag", but he really meant a mechanistic "model of attention" which would NOT involve awareness or consciousness.

        • Ormond Otvos

          I was commenting on a style of rhetoric.

      • randy

        If a computer program is built as described it will be self-aware. For evidence, try removing key parts of your own brain and see how long you retain self-awareness.

  • Archies_Boy

    Hmm. This lucid and pleasurable article is intriguing. But to answer the question put to the reader at the beginning, "No, a new theory has *not* cracked the problem." I don't even see a theory here. I see a meditation or a speculation including too many "what-ifs", "perhaps's", and in general too many sentences ending in question marks and not enough assertions to qualify as a theory. I can easily agree on the concept that, yes, we all have consciousness. But I'm not sure that our minds have the capacity to finally figure out what it is and how it works, despite our current knowledge of neuroscience. But that's for future testing and experimentation to decide. (And who's the guy with the headlight eyes?)

  • Andrew

    Where to begin? This theory is manifestly incorrect at multiple levels. Functionally: the brain 'attributes' consciousness to itself to understand other minds? What of solitary primates (e.g., orangutans) with structural and neurophysiological homologies to humans and other social primates? What of other mammals and perhaps other animals: no, or greatly attenuated, consciousness there? And why would a control system (the brain) need to model the mechanism of signal selection and selective processing? What a tremendous waste of time and energy for that system. Much more relevant to model are things necessary to control its mobile container (the body) in order to to satisfy its many and dynamic needs (e.g., food, shelter, mates, avoiding predators) and an dynamic and uncertain world - as well as to update this model in real time in order to function effectively within this world. And yes, the system may even model its conspecifics and their intentions, emotions, etc. (and attend to said models) using the same neural networks involved in the system's (human's) own experience of intention, emotion, etc. - all without explicitly attributing attention, consciousness, or the like to itself.

    Nevermind the fact that this theory has nothing to say about the bread and butter of the modern neuroscience 'of consciousness': things like change blindness, inattentional blindness, binocular rivalry, bistable percepts, anesthesia, neuropsychological conditions with selective ablation of a particular aspect of consciousness, sleep, dreams, etc., etc.. Or the neurophysiology of consciousness: namely that some cortical and subcortical areas seem to be necessary for conscious experience (tellingly none involved with social cognition), the necessity of both feedforward and recurrent neural activity, etc. Or about the phenomenology (perspectivity from a single point, percepts are nested within each other, which are in turn nested within the whole scene, multi-modality, smooth temporal evolution, etc.)

    However, an interesting point to arise from this is the role of the arrow from B to A, from consciousness to the process instantiating it. Namely, how does the whole (or a large subset) of the brain come to utilize the information latent in a conscious percept - both physiologically and conceptually. That is a fundamental question I agree.

    • Ed Lake

      The book does address some of your concerns. I very much recommend it.

      • Al_de_Baran

        "and neuroscience at Princeton."

        Yes, we know. Graziano makes sure that we are all aware that his laboratory is at Princeton, as if, by implication, that fact makes his work more valuable than if it were produced at, say,. Case Western..

        • Ed Lake

          You know he didn't write that biographical note, right? And that they follow a fairly set format?

    • Joshua

      You really like the word namely.

      • MathH

        Twice indeed. You are an astounding namely-picker.

    • Joe Campbell

      "My apologies for the rude tone of this comment."

      I don't think that's necessary. The author should apologize for writing a paper that said absolutely nothing, except for perhaps the B to A arrow thing, which has been said more eloquently by others. I'll quote a great thinker here, but I'll omit his name because he is controversial and thus open to ad hominem attacks.

      " No one knows how it is that I can command my hand to make a fist and that it will do that. I mean, that’s mind over matter: that’s the violation of every scientific principle in the books. And yet it is the most trivial experience any of us have; we expect to command our body. We expect the mental will to order the monkey flesh into action, and it will follow." -anonymous, talking about the "B to A" arrow of consciousness.

      • Andrew

        I added the post script to facilitate others' attention to the content rather than the tone of the comment. As it received 2 down votes within 10 minutes of posting, I figured the harshness would preclude any useful discussion I hoped to generate.

        The quote is not quite there. I think we can map with some precision the path from intention to move to fist-making by tracing the dynamical evolution of neural networks known to be involved in various aspects of motor output (using methods of neurophysiology and imaging). The B to A arrow, I think, asks how do cortical and sub-cortical networks conspire to generate the apparently unique, unambiguous informational format, updated multiple times per second and available *only* to the system generating it, that is conscious experience, and how is *this* information used in, for instance, motor output such as forming a fist.

        • Joe Campbell

          Gibberish. This article and your reply is everything wrong with academic writing.

          What is the origin of the electro-chemical signals that lead to the formation of a clenched fist? You can describe "dynamical evolution of neural networks known to be involved in motor output", but you still haven't explained what consciousness has to do with it.

          • Ed Lake

            I'm going to have to ask you to tone it down a bit. You make some defensible points, but there's no need to be aggressive.

          • Andrew

            When you don't understand even basic concepts in neuroscience - the 'origin' of electro-chemical signals in neuronal activity - I'm afraid everything will sound like gibberish. If you mean what are the immediately preceding signals to the act, read up:

            As consciousness is the question at hand here, we can only suggest solutions to the last question. But if consciousness is an global best-estimate world and self-model operating in real time its role in motor action (clinching a fist) would be to inform motor effectors of the state of affairs: whether there is an object in the hand, whether another person is watching your action, how hungry you are, etc. Consciousness therefore, as a model, would inform what one can/should do next on a continual basis.

          • Al_de_Baran

            I believe Joe's point is that your reply is filled with jargon, and that, in a general forum, you could have made more of an effort to speak to an audience of non-specialists. I would agree with him. Asking others to "read up" is rather arrogant.

            As to your reply, your refutation of Graziano's overly social model is well taken. (There's a certain irony to his using an orangutan hand puppet). On the other hand, I think that you miss the point of the quotation from Terence McKenna regarding "mind over matter".

          • Andrew

            My experience with those favoring a 'psychonautic' approach to consciousness says that they will impose confusion and ignorance onto issues which are well-understood (e.g., simple motor control), as only then can their preferred mysterian, pseudo-spiritual, non-scientific theories remain at least vaguely viable. Yes I suppose explanations can do without excessive jargon, but I'm not sure I miss the point of that quote. My understanding is that it is an attempt at a refutation of a materialist world-view, which theories of consciousness grounded in neuro-anatomy, physiology, etc. would supposedly need to adopt. But this is too simplistic: materialism has been replaced by physicalism, which includes information as a, if not the, fundamental unit of reality.

          • Xavier Candiani

            There is a world of information already on the topic of consciousness, it would be better if you stop for a second the pompous atheist attitude about your own ignorance saying "if it is not my field of study then is pseudo science". Researchers like me, devoting our lives to study how "god" or consciousness are a little bit tired of atheist children calling "pseudo" to our discoveries. This is not "Spiritual" or "mystical", this is pure science. Repeatable, measurable and very serious science. Check this idea: over the years science have been corrupted by very wrong philosophies that were integrated with bad intentions. When a concept is lobbied into mainstream science with the purpose of increase a scientist reputation or a politic view, then science is corrupted and some of the new knowledge is impeded to be discovered. that is the case with the darwinian theory. That was imposed by atheists to give their stupid point of view a hand. Now this idiotic way of view has populated our books and our culture. The new model of the world has ripped away this idiotic concept to let a much better one in, that concept is PURPOSE. Every time you see a researcher saying something like, "In a period of rapid evolutionary expansion called the Cambrian Explosion, animal nervous systems acquired the ability to boost the most urgent incoming signal" that is not science, that is religion trying to pass as science. The Darwinian point of view is a poison for mankind and happily is dying. One of the parts or characteristics of Consciousness is purpose. The evolution did not take place by random mutations and adaptations, It took place with purpose. THIS IS TE NEW SCIENCE, the DESIGN that makes us was FIRST, then probabilistic evolution took place and coincidence by coincidence the design was executed and it is being finetuned every instant, and that applies to every single atom, molecule, animal, rock, building, three, planet, galaxy, everything. Michael Behe writes books about that and some presumptuous ignorant idiots call that pseudo because their prestige as scientist is obviously going down because they were cheated to believe in Darwin by the big names like Oxford or Princeton. The left field of science that includes researcher like Terence McKenna, Penrose, Hameroff, Fred Alan Wolf, William Tiller, Jeffrey Satinover, Candace Pert, Andrew Newberg, Daniel Monti, Miceal Ledwith, John Hagelin, Amit Goswami, Joseph Dispenza, David Albert, Joseph Rael, Bernard Baas and even Deepak Chopra and hundred more, we all are serious researchers, so all the atheist out there, is time for you to stop calling your selfs scientist or go and read some more, and stop calling this pseudo. Consciousness is the base of all existence, it is not a brain function, it is the self, the soul, the real being that is dressed with a mind, a personal universe that begins with your awareness of your self and includes your body and everything you call the universe, It is an evolving system that includes everything. We had quantum physics for a hundred years, that explains how the computer called consciousness works with the less possible effort to produce the best possible outcome, always choosing between a lot of probable experience the one that is more conducive to wellness. There is no randomness in the wave collapse, there is purpose. The wave collapses to the best probable outcome. And that not only apples only to particles, like atheist wants us to believe, that applies to every part of your experience, be it other people, circumstances, events, cars, your own body every single bodily function includes this characteristic. Everything is a wave of probabilities collapsing into the more conducive to wellness and evolution. There it is, you can go and research your self, all that I have written here is the new knowledge that will be THE BASIS for the new science, the new way of looking at everything. Stop attaching your selfs to the old way of seeing things. this is the new truth.

          • Joe Campbell

            You're making no sense at all.

            You can move the goalpost all you want, further defining terms like pyramidal tracts, but you're avoiding the original question:

            What is determining how a body moves through the material world? You can describe the action to the finest detail possible: Betz cells firing down sodium ion channels to affect motor neurons that stimulate muscle fibers which ultimately move the body around. But when a body uses it's hands to melt sand into glass, refine ore into steel, and mix concrete to create a skyscraper, what is driving the firing of those pyramidal tracts you're so fond of? What is determining the firing pattern that ultimately leads to a skyscraper or a space shuttle or even a glob of Silly Putty?

            The answer is consciousness. Nothing in the above article or your responses have gotten us any closer to explaining or describing it. You've described the biological systems that sit directly below consciousness, but have not described consciousness itself.

          • miki83

            I've been reading down this discussion looking to find anyone who made an argument I would, clearly, and Joe did. It's nonsense to attempt to prove consciousness as something beyond our body, by explaining our body.
            If I claim I see an invisible untouchable squirrel, you can't disprove it by measuring me and the area I'm looking at. My claim has nothing to do with scientific method as it is not measurable. This attempt of scientists (not science) to "prove" or "disprove" answers to the question WHY?, by answering the question HOW?, is just an ego feeding attempt at proclaiming themselves all knowing. It's embarrassing and humiliating to everyone reasonable and humble associated with science.

      • Matt Sigl

        That's not "anonymous," it's a quote from the always ingenious Terence McKenna. With any justice he'll be remembered as one of the 20th century's great philosophers.

    • Xavier Candiani

      Andrew, I am convince that the article we are discussing is not a real article about consciousness, Is two things, first is atheist propaganda and second, is an advertisement to go and buy the book of this gentleman, that is atheist propaganda that includes the ridiculous concept that in the Cambric period birds adapted to social life by the spontaneous apparition of "attention". in my opinion, atheist rubbish.

      • Lao-Ming Liu

        Xavier, get a clue. Birds did not exist in the Cambrian Period. The Cambrian Period was from 542 Ma (mega annum) to 490 Ma give or take a few million years. Birds did not appear at the earliest until about 155 million years ago.

        • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

          The author of this propaganda stole the term Cambrian Explosion from the research of Stuart Hameroff as the time of the beginning of consciousness. Yes Graziano, we know you stole half this information. The other half you just made it up. Graziano just came up with an idea about the social adaptation of species, but in reality that number was calculated based on number of neurons of a very simple teorétical species.

      • Lao-Ming Liu

        By the way, Xavier, the author's reference to birds has nothing to do with the Cambrian. He shows that by his reference to 350 million years ago (later in the same paragraph). He uses 350 Ma to refer to the divergence of the earliest ancestors of birds (diapsids) and mammals (synapsids).

        • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

          Probably I did not express my self correctly. I was trying to say that every time an author try to explain anything with the Darwinian theory, he is writing atheist religion, not science. Darwinian theory is a political assertion made into science to promote atheism, is not real science. After writing that, I went to the authors blog and it turned out an atheist blog. Not a real sciences attempt, he is trying to promote his new book an atheism.

  • ken weiss

    Over many years I've heard one after another theory of consciousness. Some are vague statements about 'auras' of electromagnetic activity, others about some sort of wiring center in the brain, and so on. Obviously, as you say, there must be some kind of theory to explain it. But I think the key issue, even if your thoughts here are correct--and that's hard to judge, but at least you've outlined them in a well-written explication--they all seem to evade the 'is' question: what 'is' consciousness? This is of course the qualia question and I don't see how this answers it. Maybe science as it is currently configured just can't address it adequately. Science grew out of a period when different sorts of questions were, in many ways for the first time, being addressed with a type of systematic approach (reductionism, mathematics, etc.), that may be inapt here.

    I also wonder whether the points above would apply to the likes of insects and who knows what else, given their various abilities to assess and respond to the world via a similar array of complex input data types. You mention them in passing, but don't they have their version of 'attention'? I personally would not be surprised that some day insects will be shown to have such a phenomenon. But in any case, it is something to think about.

    • Tim

      Actually, much of the foundational neuroscience of attention was performed in fish and crustaceans. The attentional mechanisms of those animals tended to be compromises between larger brains (allowing greater behavioral flexibility in crises) and lower energy requirements. In most conditions, the animals brains would be partially dormant, maximizing efficiency, but under stress, simple attentional mechanisms would allow the animals to engage the brain regions needed to respond. An insect may or may not have an equivalent mechanism, but almost certainly doesn't have anything more advanced.
      All that being said, I think you're really describing theory fatigue, and not criticizing the essay. He does lay out plainly what the theory predicts consciousness 'is': it is a cognitive process which manages and reports on attention. Actually that part of the theory has been around for awhile (longer than I've been alive I think) in the form of higher order beliefs and metacognition theories. Where this really advances and improves upon the idea is the introduction of the notion of a model of attention which solidifies exactly how it could be accomplished.

    • Slartibast

      "what 'is' consciousness?"
      That question is semantic/cultural ideas that has to be reframed and seen in new contexts. Many "philosophers" (almost all of us?) have problems with the emerging new understandings.
      Powerful forces and ideologies are working against he "new" scientiffic minded philosophy.

  • Jon Lyons

    Hm. There's probably some truth in here, especially once it gets to the point about modeling space - That model's not very useful without any kind of "reality" to it.

    Of course the ur-example of quale, color, isn't really explained here... I wonder where that comes from and how it's generated. Maybe it's some stochastic thing that emerges as the brain is wiring itself, and it crystallizes into certain kinds of sensations out of all possible sensations from some kind of feedback, but that still doesn't really tell us anything about that original space of possible sensations, which is what we're ultimately asking about.

    I wonder if eventually cracking this problem won't involve a lot of changes to our notions of what things like "substances" even are, or some other daring metaphysical leaps - After all, we've already taken all the easy ones. How about "subjectivity is that via which abstractions are real, so as to be part of our ontology," or "it's the way in which the real activity of manipulating symbols and meanings is in fact real," or some other bit of Functionalist metaphysics. If Mathematical Platonism is true, something like the same way in which mathematical objects "exist" is a pretty good candidate. But again, what kind of predictions does any of THAT make?

    Man, this problem is hard.

  • Strangechilde

    There is something that I have been saying (mostly to myself) for years about the question of consciousness, that being the one of how phenomenological experience exists, the one that Chalmers has labeled the 'hard problem'. Put very bluntly, it is this: there has to be something that it's like. Otherwise it wouldn't work. By 'it' I mean the embodied organism in whatever form it takes. I'm not to bothered about to what or whom consciousness is ascribed. It doesn't really matter for this level of the problem. By making this statement, though, I am making a bald assertion of something which, though it seems pretty transparently obvious to me and most other people, but is absent, ignored, or vehemently opposed in some of the literature one encounters, and that is this: *it does work*. Conscious thought does useful work. It provides an evolutionary advantage to those creatures that have it. It is causally efficacious in the world. We have ideas about things, and we act. We have a problem about a lot of rocks, and we invent a wheelbarrow. We have a deep-seated, indefinable feeling of existential dread and we construct a novel exploring our position in the grand existence of all things through the metaphor of a salmon run. Sure, it's possible that an automaton could effect the existence of wheelbarrows and existential dread books in the world, but given that I am conscious, and I *do* things according to how it seems to me I should do them, and I assume that other people and animals, being much like me, are the same, the idea that these things come into the world purely by mindless chance is deeply weird. How that happens (the 'easy' problem, which is really not very easy) is the most interesting connected set of sciences and questions that we have, IMHO. The idea that many find contentionable is how a higher-level property can effect lower-level properties-- how a thought can push an atom. Well, we do have models that show how this can and does happen all the time without violating any natural laws; that really shouldn't be the problem any more, much though for some people it is. Simply to acknowledge the B-arrow at all is a step in the right direction. My intuition is that, in order to work, there must be a gathering together of information such that impressions acquire cohesion: attention. In conscious things, that appears as *something that it is like*. But how it gets to be felt is still a mystery. A pretty cool one that throws up all kinds of questions. Here's the thing though: if we begin with the assumption that there is something that it's like, and that somethings that it's like are useful, effective properties of some at least some organisms, we get to move on: now what?

  • cokkege prof in Montreal

    "How the brain attributes the property of awareness to itself is, by contrast, much easier."
    Baloney. Organized activity requires attention, but it does not require consciousness or awareness. This article is a lot of what mathematicians snidely refer to as "handwaving", which is what a mathematician does in desperation when lacking proof.
    No one has explained awareness or qualia.

  • SpecialAgentA

    "awareness is a model of attention" -- Sorry, but does this really say anything at all about the mystery of human consciousness?

    • guest

      It suggests that the brain developed further capabilities of evaluating situations beyond simply responding automatically to what it judged to be the most important stimulus. This new ability to watch your intuitive initial response, connect your response to the stimulus you believe to be causing it, and model yourself reacting to your environment prior to making an action (kind of like double-checking instinct from a deeper perspective) allows a higher level of decision making when it comes to focusing your attention, and through this the brain becomes aware of itself evaluating situations, and making and considering decisions. The author is suggesting that awareness (read: consciousness) could simply be a more complicated process of focus and information prioritization that comes from modeling yourself attending to your environment and the ability to make better decisions about how to allocate your attention based on this new information, thus awareness is a model of your own attention.

      • SpecialAgentA

        I understood that, but it sounds as if the explanation of awareness is that it is a model of awareness. It doesn't respond to the reality of the experience. In a strange way, reminds me of creationists holding that God created the cosmos, without addressing the question of, well, who created God? Yes, we have self-reflective consciousness (or think we do) and many can perceive thoughts arising thanks to our lastly evolved third brain or pre-fontal lobe, whatever, which has added this capacity, one beyond that of mere instinctual (reptillian brain-stem?) or emotional response. And yes, this seems to be a more complicated process of focus and information prioritization. Does that say anything about the deeper mystery of being?

        • Ed Lake

          Awareness and attention refer to different things in this piece.

          • guest

            This is a main point. I believe this article is an attempt to de-mystify being by presenting it as a result of modeling in the brain.

  • Bobby Arnold

    So this "model of attention" is a sort of reference to the actual "thing" attention is being applied to - but what is it that is aware of the reference? Explaining consciousness this way feels endlessly recursive to me.

  • joe

    This whole thing seems like semantics. How is the model of attention reproduced by the neurons? How does the model of attention project back onto the neurons? Seems like he's just dressed up consciousness up in different clothes.

    All theories of the mind are pure pseudo science anyhow. But it was an interesting read.

  • EP

    I question the author's intent. Given that this theory is not a dominant one in the scientific literature (as compared to say, Global Workspace Theory, the Dynamic Core, or Integrated Information Theory), it is "cheating" to write a popular science article popularizing your own theory and heavily suggesting it is correct with the title "How Consciousness Works." A more appropriate article would be admitting that this is a first step and taking a much humbler tone, while trying to highlight your differences from other theories.

    The simplistic theory proposed here is summed up as "awareness is a model of attention." This is really a version of a "higher-order representation" theory of consciousness, with a focus on attention. The proposed theory does not hold up philosophically nor empirically.

    Philosophical disproof: given that a model of attention is consciousness, what makes that special? We model other things, and model models (in the form of higher-order models) all the time - so why this arbitrary line at attention? If the model of attention is conscious because it is a higher-order model, then all higher-order models must be consciousness (making this theory into a Higher-Order theory of consciousness, which is about twenty years old and not your theory). If the model of attention is conscious because it is a higher-order model specifically of attention, then it is attention that is special -and again, a very old theory of consciousness is just that consciousness = attention, so this also breaks down into a theory that is not your own.

    Empirical disproof: Christof Koch (at "Caltech", as long as we are throwing around names like "Princeton" like they mean something in pure research, which they don't) and others have demonstrated clearly with psychological tests and neuroimaging that consciousness and attention are dissociable - that is, one can have maximal consciousness with minimal attention, and maximal attention with minimal consciousness.

    Ultimately, the only interesting thing said is the whole "Arrows A & B" thing, which has been said earlier. Much earlier.

    • EP

      Additionally, I just looked it up - this essay is based on "Awareness as a perceptual model of attention", publish in 2011 in Cognitive Neuroscience. That article has ZERO citations. None. To present this as "How Consciousness Works" and ask "Has a New Theory Cracked It?" is both immature and self-aggrandizing. No one else in the world, besides this man himself, believes this theory.

      • Ed Lake

        It's a little unfair to blame the article headings on the author. As at every other popular magazine, the editors (in this case, me) write that. Of course this piece is not the last word on consciousness, but it does make a very interesting set of claims about how it might work, and that's good enough for me.

        Regarding your citations complaint, your Google-fu seems to be rusty: What's more, the paper you name was responded to by ten teams of scholars, including Koch himself:

        I'd like to comment briefly on your two purported disproofs. What makes a model of attention consciousness? Well, doing everything that consciousness does. Attention itself doesn't fit the bill, and neither do models of other things, however meta those models might be. But a model of attention that is incorporated somewhere high up in the brain's chain of command plausibly does do everything that's required, as Graziano argues at greater length in his forthcoming book (

        Your empirical argument, that attention and consciousness can come apart, showing that consciousness cannot be attention, disproves the wrong theory. The theory is that consciousness is a representation of attention; a representation that is not invariably accurate.

        Where have you seen the Arrows A and B thing before? The only other person I've seen making that observation is Eliezer Yudkowsky.

        • cyborg

          EP seems to have been too busy self-aggrandizing whilst suggesting others were self-aggrandizing.

          I suspect that it might have been a ploy just to use that super-duper fun and not-so-often used word 'aggrandizing' that is superduper and grand to say!

          In my own self-aggrandizing way, I have no opinion on this article because it is not much different than the crapper-room 'science' rags that will sometimes be re-purposed when the TP runs out. Fun to read, but ultimately not something to base an entire personal paradigm out of.

        • EP

          Ed, thank you for your well-thought out reply, and it does help to know about the origin of the title. I understand the necessity of some of hyperbole for a magazine, but situating this kind of thing in the literature is important, or else readers would get the wrong impression (as I believe they do in this piece),

          In speaking of the lack of citations, I was referring to "Awareness as a Perceptual Model of Attention" (which has zero citations). You have linked to "Human consciousness and its relationship to social neuroscience: A novel hypothesis" (which has 3 citations). And you're right that Koch wrote a commentary on this, presumably negative (given the title of the commentary and what I know about Koch's views). I was unaware that the other paper also presented to concept of awareness models = consciousness. But still, even giving the 3 citations (plus commentaries, which don't actually count toward impact factor and therefore as citations, I believe), compare this to other, much stronger theories of consciousness which actually have had empirical work done on them.

          The following data is from looking at first few entries in Google Scholar for each search and summing the relevant articles # of citations.

          Global Workspace Theory (Baars): ~ 3500 citations
          Neural Darwinism and Consciousness (Edelman): ~3000 citations
          Dynamic Core (Edelman & Tononi) ~ 3000 citations
          Integrated Information Theory (Giulio Tononi): ~1000 citations.
          Higher-order Theories of Consciousness (Rosenthal, many others): ~400 citations
          Awareness as a perceptual model of attention (Marsicano): 3 citations.

          Additionally, in terms of the social cognition and consciousness stuff, that has been explored both by Frith & Humphrey (thousands of citations each).

          Supradditionally, the above leaders have all had empirical research actually done on them - i.e., the hypothesis has been tested specifically after if has been proposed, the theory doesn't just "fit the facts" so far...

          Empirical disproof (re: reply) : There seems to be a priori reasons to think that one could not have a strong model of attention while attention itself is minimal. This is simple to show -> a model has an upper information bound based on what it is modeling. If attention is minimal then the model of attention would be minimal as well, and, according to the theory, so would consciousness. But it has been recently well-established that attention can be minimal while consciousness (which is sensitive to the gestalt of scenes, the opposite of attention) can still be maximal, by Christof Koch and others.

          I haven't heard the A & B arrows argument in terms of arrows, but in terms of influence, it's out there in the P-zombie literature (the zombies have no reasons to be worried about consciousness, but they are).

          • Ed Lake

            It only seems fair to note that the other theories you mention have been kicking around for a long time - 15 years in the case of Global Workspace Theory. Anyway, you might like to read the long discussion in the book of the relationship between the attention-schema theory and some of the variants of integrated information theory, as well as several social theories of consciousness. Graziano's proposal is specifically designed to synthesize some of the most useful insights from the two traditions, while avoiding their pitfalls (in particular, violations of the Arrow B constraint), so of course the theory has features in common with earlier ideas. If memory serves, Graziano also discusses Koch's experiments on the separability of attention and awareness, though my Kindle search function is so painfully slow that I have given up trying to find his comments.

            I'd be very glad if you could point to a link in the P-zombie literature that presents the knockdown argument against the possibility of purely physical zombies that is entailed by the B Arrow constraint. Dennett's zimboes get closer than most, but I don't recall him remarking specifically on the incoherence of the idea that epiphenomenal experiences might prompt discussions in their non-zimboe possessors.

    • frank

      Could you share a little bit on the differences between consciousness and attention? I am curious

      • EP
        "Attention and consciousness: two distinct brain processes" - ~350 citations.

        • hume

          EP, you should read the article that you link to carefully. In fact, the claim is not made that one can be aware of something without attending to it, only that one can become aware of something while top-down attention is directed elsewhere. This says nothing about the state of bottom-up attention, which is plausibly directed to the object in question by its being flashed on the screen.

          And Ed Lake is right that it's irrelevant anyway because the theory proposed here isn't that consciousness and attention are the same thing, just the one a model of the other

          • EP

            Your language shows that you don't understand attention research (no offense, this stuff always has jargon in it that's confusing).

            There is no "directed" bottom-up attention. "bottom-up attention" only comes into play ONCE a stimulus is presented - it is not continuously present prior to a salient stimulus, rather it is what is activated by a salient stimulus.

            So the idea that "bottom-up attention is preserved" is false in regards to this theory: there's nothing to model about bottom-up attention until after the attention is needed - therefore the empirical separation holds.

            Ed Lake, despite bringing up interesting points, never actually addressed my arguments - he said they only apply if consciousness = attention. This is false and misses the point, as I say so in my re: reply. Here it is, simplified:

            IF model(attention) => consciousness
            model(minimal/zero attention) => minimal/zero consciousness.

            Empirical fact: a person can have minimal to zero (up for debate exactly how low it can go) attention, while having normal or high consciousness.

            Thus the above is disproved.

            If you want to try to get out of the above IF/THEN statement and still accept the theory, you are going to be trapped by the "minimal informatic bounds" argument I made in my re: reply - a model can only have as much information in it as what it is modeling. Good luck fighting this while preserving the identity.

            I'm reasonably sure this will stand. Not because I am so smart, but because this is a standard pattern of disproof for consciousness = X claims.

          • hume

            EP, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I will respond to your points in order.

            "There is no "directed" bottom-up attention." I see how my original comment may have been confusing in this regard. When I say that attention was "plausibly directed to the object in question by its being flashed on the screen", I use the word directed to mean something like "directed by the object". A better way to phrase this might have been to say that attention was "drawn to the object". Your formulation, that bottom-up attention is what is "activated by a salient stimulus", is exactly what I have in mind. I maintain that the experiments cited by Koch involve stimuli that very plausibly draw bottom-up attention. A priori reasons for suspecting this include the fact that they are flashed on an otherwise empty portion of the screen, and that they are naturalistic while the stimuli to which top-down attention is directed are not. Of course, one could test these possibilities, but the experiments in question do not.

            In fact, a full account of how attention might be allocated in these experiments is even more complex than this. Attention is, of course, not a purely spatial phenomenon. The number of non-spatial dimensions in which attention has been shown to operate are rapidly increasing. One can easily imagine that top-down attention is directed to any of the unique features of these stimuli (that they are naturalistic, for instance) precisely because of their relevance to the task. Neither of these possibilities, that (top-down) attention is directed to these stimuli because of their task relevance, or that (bottom-up) attention is drawn to these stimuli because of their inherent salience, are ruled out by the data that Koch reviews.

            Regarding the "minimal informatic bounds" argument, I don't think that it is the proper way to formulate the problem, though of course I agree that "a model can only have as much information in it as what it is modeling". I'm happy to unpack that, but I think you'll agree that its relevance rests on the empirical demonstration that one can become aware of a stimulus without attending to it. To my knowledge, this simply hasn't been shown.

          • hume



            'Given the close relationship between stimulus strength and bottom-up, exogenous attention, we do not think it is possible to dissociate bottom-up attention from consciousness.'

            Note, these are the same authors as those who wrote the review that you linked to.

    • Joshua

      No good philosophy starts with a humble admission that the OP could be wrong. I'm not calling this good philosophy, but my point should be well taken.

    • Tim

      So far, this is the most coherent criticism I've seen of the ideas presented. I'm not going to speculate on the relationship between the academic impact of this essay, a possibly related article, and the accuracy of the theory itself. I do agree that the theory incorporates several older ideas, so I assume the purpose of revisiting them lies in synthesis, but I could be wrong.

      Regarding your philosophical argument, I think the distinction arises from the fact that attention is itself being conceived as a global mechanism which interacts with other cognitive systems. A meta-attentional mechanism might then fulfill more of the functions that we intuitively ascribe to consciousness than other higher order models. That being said, I think your point has some validity, in that without including other higher order mechanisms it would be difficult to account for things like stream of consciousness or visual imagery.

  • Tom

    It doesn't seem as if this "theory" has cracked anything at all...

    • HGH

      The Mind-Brain problem
      The author presumes that the brain is entirely responsible for all mental activity. If that is so, then all mental products would be made of atoms, as the brain is. In nature things produce products with the same nature as the producer; which is to say that the product is never radically different in kind from that of the producer. Humans have two sorts of metal products: one is perceptual and the other conceptual. The conceptual product, such as abstractions, classifications et al., are entirely immaterial with no manifestation in physical nature; I can take a picture of a physical circle, but not one of circularity. As the nature of the product reveals the nature of the producer ( the ancients would say that the cause is in the effect), the immaterial mental concepts can only generate from an immaterial source. Do not make assumptions, examine the produce as a good scientist ought to do. The book to read is intellect: Mind over Matter (1988) by the late Mortimer Adler, as he explains that "we do not think with our brain, but we cannot think without it." I am astonished that no one mentions Adler.

  • Zen Benefiel

    I can really only reply from a more experiential place. I've had weird shit happen since I was a kid, with no one to mentor me through the process of learning more about it let alone understanding what was going on as I explored my own consciousness. Just let me share a few things that might possibly fit in this place.

    7 years old... laying on my bed I began to feel a strange sensation in my body, tingling for lack of a better. I began to focus on it and felt myself begin to rise up, confronting the thought of dying in the process and assured by some ethereal voice that 'everything was okay.' I floated above my body as I looked down upon it... and in subsequent experiences learned how to move about the cabin. It wasn't an 'on demand' kind of experience at all. The more I 'tried' the more it seemed to evade me, but when I stopped trying or forgot about making an effort, all of a sudden I'd have one.

    Years later in college I learned about telepathy, but not by intention. I began by 'hearing' all sorts of self-deprecating thoughts of others as I walked by them in between the honors dorm (where I was living) and the cafeteria. It scared the crap out of me to begin with and it wasn't until a friend asked me if the voices were others that it caused me to stop and think, realizing that it was others and not me. I gradually learned how to shut them off, desensitizing my capacity to 'hear' them.

    Along with that, though, came the desire to see if I could manage some kind of communication with others. There was a small group of us that just 'happened' to develop over time and we learned how to communicate by picturing each others faces and looking into our eyes and sending the message. We practiced setting up 'meetings' around campus to test our ability. It worked.

    The most dramatic example for me was the following year when my friend was at his grandfather's cabin in Canada and I was in my dorm room in Muncie, IN. It was early am one Saturday morning nearing winter quarter and he hadn't returned yet. I was anxious to see him. So, on a whim I put some conducive music on, laid down and imagined his face. As I looked into his eyes, I grabbed his shoulders and stood him up in front of me. His girlfriend appeared next to him and I had a short conversation with them, mostly about when he was going to return. I don't remember the rest and at the end of the song I came back and opened my eyes, continuing with activities in my room getting ready for sleep.

    The following Friday I called his home to ask his parents if they had heard from him. He answered the phone out of breath, as though he'd been running. He told me he had just returned and knew it was me calling, so he ran in to answer the phone. Weird... I made arrangements to pick him up a couple hours later. Once in my car I turned to him and simply said, "Hey, did you catch any flack last weekend?" He looked at me squarely in the eyes and said, "Yah, you woke me up out of bed, you SOB!"

    He related to me that he had been sound asleep and was awakened by someone grabbing his shoulders and setting him up in bed. He opened his eyes to see my face along with his girlfriend's. We had a short conversation and he fell back asleep. A week later he got a postcard from a California address with nothing else but, 'Enjoyed the conversation," in her handwriting. So based on that experience, unrepeated of course, there is something to the thing with the eyes. That wasn't all that I experienced, either, but I'll move forward.

    Some years later I ran into a group that used a technique called 'Multi-Plane Awareness' as a facilitated practice. It allowed the experiencer to have a controlled OBE that was structured in an experience of multiple planes of consciousness. We hear a lot about these kinds of experiences, but this process allowed a direct experience. Only recently and after using it for many others, I recorded a version and put it up on Amazon...

    What has become apparent to me over the years is that we are consciousness condensed into these forms we call bodies. We are infinitely more that we have come to know yet, but we are beginning to get beyond the logic, religions and superstitions that have bound us for way too long.

    I hope that those who read this will investigate further. I love the vetting process.


    • drokhole

      You might be interested in this site:

      The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences (TASTE)

      That's a link to the 'collected archives.' It's by no means comprehensive, but offers actual experiential accounts like yours (something this article glosses over and dismisses...a trick a lot of these arguments share). One of the best, which shares similarities with your first account, is this one:

      My Experience of Cosmic Consciousness

      This one also (including age):

      Falling Awake

      They aren't all of the same "cosmic consciousness"-type variety, but they're all worth a read.

      • Zen Benefiel

        Thanks! I read through them and yes, I could relate to the explorations and attempts at articulating the experiences. I'm not a doctor or scientist, although I began my college career in a pre-med program after testing out of 5 quarters of Gen Ed through the CLEP test. I had really poor study habits because I hadn't developed them in high school... no need.

        What I notice still is the the sense of separation, the notion that the experiences are somehow separate from our normal waking consciousness and yet take place in an awakened state. We have been taught to think in a linear fashion, connecting the dots to form lines and sometimes circles, but the concept of spiral or spherical thinking hasn't caught hold, even though Spiral Dynamics was introduced some years ago.

        We tend to discount and even disavow experiences of others that take us to the edge of reality as we know it and then thrust us over the cliff with no instructions as to how to fly or soar. The simple truth is all we have to do is spread our wings and the wind takes over, safely and securely guiding us to new heights of perception and points of view. It's a scary proposition at first, causing what I refer to as the butt-pucker effect.... the clenching of the body/mind in fear of the unknown.

        I had an experience similar to the good Dr.'s on TASTE, a year prior. I wrote an article about the same time his was posted... and eventually was asked to present at the 2010 annual IANDS conference in Denver... I was a bit discouraged at being given an hour initially and then told I only had 20 minutes when I stepped on the stage. Good thing I can wing it. :)

        Suffice it to say that we are far from peering into the depths of what truly keeps us afraid, angry, ignorant and immobile.... but we're beginning to look.

    • Srsly

      You should get James Randi to test you and you will win a million dollars for proving telepathy exists.

    • MandoZink

      - "no one to mentor me through the process of learning more about it"
      - "The more I 'tried' the more it seemed to evade me, but when I stopped
      trying or forgot about making an effort, all of a sudden I'd have one."

      Yeah. Wow. Been both places. And what to do when it happens? Just hope it lasts long enough to think fast enough to figure out something more about it. One thing you probably suspect is how damned unevolved humans must be at this point, considering what YOU know you did - and so often as a just total accident.

      • Zen Benefiel

        Cool places to BE, eh? There are ways of extending the periods of lucidity, but it takes a lot of discipline to do so. I remember reading Be Here Now way back then and the comment of the guru to Richard (before Baba)... 'Western man's way of experiencing Eastern spiritual realms without the rigors of meditation' (paraphrased of course).

        I set out many years ago to move consensus toward community... and I'm really not sure how far I've gotten. I've given up everything in the process and am experiencing what it means to let go fully... and rely on flow. Flow being the optimal experience of the mind/body/spirit/soul complex in its natural order. That doesn't mean it fits with the contrivations of daily life and responsibilities of maintaining a household... but in theory it should.

        Indeed the things we do happen on accident in most cases, simply because we were innocent and naive enough to believe it was possible and the instantaneous thought that prompts the experiences happens so quickly we don't have time to argue. It's the latter that stifles our awareness and experience. We argue with our inner knowing and it spills over into our outer experience.

  • Berence

    I don't see that Mr. Graziano's essay as an attempt to disclose, or make rash claims about, an "ultimate solution" to the 'problem' of consciousness.
    He points out that attention is a powerful quality of consciousness. A quality that we learn(ed) to control - else we might not have become tool-users. He is not suggesting that attention is the totality of 'consciousness', as in an equation
    (attention = consciousness). I think it a brilliant insight that our control of our attention (attention directed to attention) leads to schematic modeling of the process in ourselves and others. Further, that that modeling, while innaccurate in varying degrees (as all models), is in itself a social tool that can be modified (sharpened, or, for that matter, dulled).

  • Garret Tufte

    First off, you're not going to get anywhere with the real question of consciousness when you treat your readers like 5 year-olds. It might pass for those that have such a tiny conception of themselves that the only thing they can do in this world is interact with the outside, essentially 'reactionary' consciousnesses, but not for the capable.

    I like your idea of attention being a building block, but that's all this theory has going for it. Your repeated analogy is far too simplistic, and not something a theory of the calibre required can rest upon.

    All you are really explaining here is the consciousness of a cockroach, able to to formulate an amalgam of the simplest of questions, i.e., what is that? The human consciousness is far beyond these simple explanations, and I wonder whether or not, as a neuroscientist, you are able to extend your perception beyond simple observation. Not too deride too much, and surely your book contains explanations for these critiques, but without an in-depth study of "your own" consciousness, the theory falls flat. Also, in psychological experiments, don't forget that the experimenters often "collapse the wave function" by their very observation. That is, when the subjects are unable to explain their choices, it is because "you made them choose" without their knowledge. How are they supposed to know this? Are you granting that true consciousness is something able to glean the unknowable outside influence by virtue of its own existence? A ridiculous assumption. Of course they flounder, because you are conditioning them without their consent.

    Do you have an explanation for the placebo effect? How the mind, through its own intentions and to use your analogy, transmutes those plastic soldiers into flesh and blood?

    Have you taken your hypothesis and cross-referenced it with the thoughts in your own head? Tried to explain your various thought processes by "the action of neurotransmitters"? Does that get you anywhere in addressing their origin, where you might take them, what they are truly capable of, or how to control them from within? I should think not, and if you do, then you are severely limiting yourself.

    Consciousness, as the explanation of it, must be explained from both perspectives, within and without, at least. From within by the consciousness itself (i.e. observing your own), and without, observing the physical processes that awaken it in others. It appears that you have a good grasp on the simpler aspects of the latter. But without the former, it is nothing but brute-force observation that only enhances the "consciousness" of simpletons.

  • Yustayokle

    I think the recursion (A to B, B to A) the author mentions is essential for conscious awareness, but not sufficient. I think any such self-aware system requires an "occult point"; a physical or organizational structure which is integral to the system, but which the system labels as "other".

  • Tom Clark

    Graziano says

    "Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn’t be able to communicate anything about it.”

    So here he attests to the reality of consciousness as something different from neurons that has a real effects on the brain and behavior, e.g., reports of consciousness. Then he says

    “When you look at the colour blue, for example, your brain doesn’t generate a subjective experience of blue. Instead, it acts as a computational device. It computes a description, then attributes an experience of blue to itself. The process is all descriptions and conclusions and computations. Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself. The brain insists that it has subjective experience because, when it accesses its inner data, it finds that information.”

    So there really isn’t experience, it’s just we *think* we have experience. Experience is a myth, not reality. But if this is the case, then how can consciousness have an effect on neurons?

    But it ain't over yet. Reversing himself again, he goes on to say (against epiphenomenalism) that

    "... the attention schema theory is in agreement with the common intuition: consciousness plays an active role in guiding our behaviour. It is not merely an aura that floats uselessly in our heads. It is a part of the executive control system.”

    But this can only be the case if consciousness is the same thing as neural processes, which he's denied, or if it adds some extra causal oomph to what neurons are doing, which he also denies since he doesn't think consciousness is real, only that we think we have it.

    So I'm afraid I found Graziano's theory, at least as it's presented here, to be both obscure and self-contradictory.

    • something

      A highly coherent reply and criticisms.

  • drokhole

    There was a young man who said 'though
    It seems that I know that I know
    What I would like to see
    Is the I that sees me
    When I know that I know that I know.'

    • saksin

      As Schopenhauer noted long ago, the eye sees all except itself, and as for the eye so for the self: If you saw yourself, who was doing the looking?

      • drokhole

        Alan Watts made a similar observation: "Because what you are in your inmost being escapes your examination in rather the same way you can't look into your own eyes without a mirror, you can’t bite your own teeth, you can’t taste your own tongue and you can’t touch the end of one finger with the same finger."

        • saksin

          Thank you, yes, I do remember having read that, now that you jog my memory. So let me add another one: The Mongols have a saying which goes "The moon sees all except itself"

  • Guest

    "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." - John Muir

    "If all the parts of the universe are interchained in a certain measure, any one phenomenon will not be the effect of a single cause, but the resultant of causes infinitely numerous; it is, one often says, the consequence of the state of the universe the moment before." - Henri Poincare

    People (neuroscientists especially) would do well to keep these insights in mind when contemplating consciousness in its fullest aspect.

  • KV

    Many people believe that they can feel a subtle heat when someone is staring at them...

    More likely, many become uneasy when stared at! The heat is a physiological response to being stared at, and, there are other physiologic responses, like going to pee, sweat, run away, become aggressive...

  • jin choung

    it DOES seem like consciousness is somehow intrinsically recursive and that's genuinely fascinating but i don't think this article untangles anything.

    as others have said, you can construe consciousness as being synonymous with attention and attention with awareness....

    so then... attention arises from your brain modeling attention but something must attend to the model... right? so that which attends (...attention) comes BEFORE the model and is superior to it.

    so aren't we back to where we started? with asking - what is the true nature of attention/consciousness/awareness?

    we just bolted on "the model". we still didn't explain anything really about "the thing". so we added the toy soldier models as representations of the real soldiers... but that doesn't tell us anything at all about the general!

  • JustAThought55

    There is an assumption that is not accurate. The brain does not generate consciousness. The brain generates a sense of a separate "self" and believes that consciousness is a property of the brain. It is not.

  • Len


    I'd just like to say that I am thoroughly impressed with this theory, this could become a real game changer if it caught on. Also, I'd like to 'remind' all of us that humans are the lowest form of intelligent species in the universe. There's no real reason why planet earth only has one species that can speak, have abstract ideas, written language, music, art, etc.There is so much for us to learn about what it means to be intelligent and 'aware', and as your article clearly demonstrates, we have barely scratched the surface.

  • Ed Lake

    There seems to be quite a lot of confusion throughout the comments about what Graziano's position on the reality of consciousness is, and what (if anything) all this has to do with the hard problem. I guess that's to be expected; insofar as I understand the position myself, it's a confounding one. But I'll try to explain.

    A good place to start – not one endorsed by Graziano himself, as far as I know – may be with David Chalmers's zombie thought experiment. Imagine a hypothetical being that (I lazily quote Wikipedia): "is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. When a zombie is poked with a sharp object, for example, it does not feel any pain though it behaves exactly as if it does feel pain (it may say "ouch" and recoil from the stimulus, or tell us that it is in intense pain)." The strict version of the scenario insists that the zombie can even answer questions about its conscious experiences, though of course it doesn't have any. Physically speaking, it is exactly like a normal human, right down to its
    subatomic composition and all its behaviour and responses to stimuli. All it
    lacks is that strange bright inner essence of phenomenal awareness.

    But! When we genuinely conscious beings talk about own consciousness, it must be our consciousness that causes our talk, or else our talk isn't really about consciousness, it's about something else. In the zombie's case, the zombie's own consciousness can't cause the zombie to talk because the zombie has none. So the zombie must produce the relevant sort of talk – passionate, lyrical protestations of radiant inner subjectivity etc – by some other means. This means that the causal apparatus inside the zombie's head must be different to that of normal people: it must have a mechanism to produce the kind of talk that would otherwise be generated by consciousness. This contradicts the premise that zombies are physically indistinguishable from humans, meaning that the strict version of the zombie scenario is incoherent. Nothing can be physically indistinguishable from humans, behave the same way, and lack consciousness.

    We have shown that epiphenomenalism is false; it is ruled out by Graziano's B arrow. Consciousness is either a genuinely mysterious spiritual essence with causal powers, or it is an ordinary physical aspect of the brain's information processing. If you choose the dualist option, then you accept a lot of metaphysical obscurity, ontological mess, a permanently vexed relationship with evolutionary biology, and some eyebrow-raising predictions of physical anomalies inside the human brain. So, let's suppose you don't choose that. What's left? The only remaining option is that, like the zombie, we too have a neural mechanism that produces confident assertions about our own mysterious inner essence. And like the zombie, we don't have any such essence; we only have the mechanism, plus the information it outputs.

    Graziano's theory is largely about the nature and purpose of the mechanism, which some have objected is the easy problem, though he says as much himself in the original piece. The thing is, in insisting on the B Arrow constraint, he has aready supplied one possible answer to the hard problem: "You're a zombie. Get over it."

    After all this, are we conscious or not? The argument becomes a boring semantic one, reminiscent of the free-will debate, another philosophical question that survives largely in zombie form. We are as conscious as it gets. When we talk about consciousness, there is something that we are talking about. Who knows? Perhaps qualia are real in a certain sense, too: an inner Pantone system for our system of sensory representation. But the inner light? The feeling of lonely, ineffable
    incongruity we get when we consider our observing selves? Those are illusions,
    like out-of-body experiences and squirrels in the brain.

    As I have said elswhere in this thread, I do find this argument difficult to swallow, and I would welcome a well-executed Heimlich maneuver about now. If anyone has the first idea about how to perform one, please do chip in!

    • Ed Lake

      This version of the anti-zombie argument, by the way, derives from a blogpost Eliezer Yudkowsky:

      I don't know if Graziano has ever heard it before.

    • Andrew

      In an attempt at an answer, I'll make an analogy forwarded by many crackpots trying to 'solve' the consciousness problem; I hope I don't get laughed at too much :) It is between 'measurement' in quantum mechanical formalism and consciousness. Without going into details, a measurement is a mapping from a complex amplitude (square root of a probability distribution, i.e., the wave function) to a real number valued eigenvalue of the operator in question: or, from a probability distribution over all possible states to a single states. From John Wheeler: "No question, no answer." The world is not classical as our intuitions would have us believe; the world is not in such and such state already waiting for us to discover it; only in measurement (not just by humans or machines, mind you) does the world find itself in a state.

      I think the relationship between brain and consciousness holds a similar situation. Namely, every step along the road from stimulus to conscious percept is ambiguous, uncertain, probabilistic. The world may be in a mind bogglingly huge array of states, many of which, for example the face/vase and old/young woman bistable percepts, are inherently ambiguous as well. Noise impinges at every step of the way from sensory neuron to cortex. Different sensory modalities may give conflicting reports of the current state of the body and world. There is good reason to believe that individual neurons and cortical columns represent probability distributions over possible stimulus values rather than the values themselves. So what? Well, consciousness in turn is decidedly unambiguous. We can only see one of the vase or face at a time; all modalities are bound into a single state; within modalities, a nested hierarchy of resolution exists: texture bounded by edges defining objects spatially related to one another within a visual scene, for example. Whatever the final word on consciousness, I think this can be said, consciousness is a process or mechanism taking the messy and probabilistic information coming from the world and body and constructing from that a global best estimate on which the organism (human in our case) can base its decision to act or plan future acts, one that updates sufficiently frequent to operative effectively within the world.

      There is much to say on this point, but I'll stop rambling and try to answer to the questions. Whence the ineffable incongruity? I think we have good reason to believe the processes/mechanisms of consciousness are pre-conceptual and pre-linguistic: it was present in our ancestors, in non-human primates, in mammals, in animals - all to varying degrees. What critter with a centralized brain - or any brain for that matter - wouldn't benefits for an all encompassing best guess on the state of the world and body? (This gets back to the notion of models touched on in the paper. From Conant and Ashby: Every Good Regulator of a system must be a model of that system.) Now, on top of, or within, this humans have acquired a sort of run away conceptual/analogistic intelligence driven by the development of language. We can conceive of, reason, analogize, and talk about the contents within these best guesses. And our social cognition is such that we recognize others are doing the same.

      Here is the incongruity I think. As I mentioned in another post, much of pre-conceptual conscious experience is set in the format of naive realism. It's not a model, a best guess of the present state of the world, my body and its needs: its the real world and me, damn it! But when we begin to talk and think and conceptualize and realize that other minds can too, this is not in the format of naive realism: we understand these things to be the product of our brain/minds. By the nature of the conscious process itself, we and the world are irreducibly real. By even beginning to talk about consciousness in a way that casts it as synthetic and mechanistic (where such properties are not at all part of our phenomenology), we run into a conceptual wall of sorts: intuition and intellect have a hard time meeting. Of course, students (and philosophers) learning quantum mechanics have much the same problem in that our model of the world and accompanying intuitions are classical; a fully new model of the world has a hard time integrating.

      • Ed Lake

        Thanks for your stimulating reply. Would it be fair to say that this line of thought accepts the following implications of Graziano's theory?

        1) Consciousness is entirely a matter of physical information processing, however exotic those physics may become.

        2) Appearances to the contrary are artefacts of consciousness as a mode of representation, and not evidence for some other metaphysical basis to consciousness itself.

        3) The hard problem is softened to the extent that it is no longer about how consciousness is possible, but about why, mechanistically speaking, it seems so odd to us.

        Without wishing to derail the discussion too far, you might be interested in a recent paper by the computer scientist Scott Aaronson, which (somewhat playfully) explores the possibility that neural processes might exploit quantum uncertainty:

        • Andrew

          1. Yes and no. No, I do not believe it to be information processing per se. The operations of the cortex in, say, visual perception, which serve to 'build' the contents of a conscious percept. We may say it is reducing the ambiguity - i.e., the number of possible states of the world - in doing so. However, we know the totality of such processing does not correspond to conscious experience or its contents but at best a subset of it. I think there will have to be a conceptual leap of sorts akin to Tononi's "integrated information" theory (which I think is on the right track but not quite there) but no exotic physics, like Penrose and Hameroff's 'Orch OR' theory, which is obviously wrong.

          2. Yes, as Metzinger claims, conscious experience (our model of the world, its contents, and ourselves) is cast as naive realism; this format is pre-linguistic and pre-conceptual. As we cannot visualize 4 spatial dimensions, we cannot escape the mode of presentation of our reality model. This fact should be included in the structure of any model of consciousness I think.

          3. Again, I think there is something conceptually special in the way consciousness is instantiated - this hunch stemming from the disconnect from the inherent ambiguity of the world and neural processing to the fundamental unambiguity of conscious experience.

          I will check that paper out.

          • Xavier Candiani

            You think Penrose and Hameroff are wrong because they are exotic. What an Imbecil.

          • Andrew

            No. They are wrong because the predictions and implications of the theory - many of them, in fact - are directly contradicted by neurophysiological reality.

          • Xavier Candiani

            Sorry for my bad comment, I tried to delete it.

            Andrew, I have read a little bit of your comments and I can tell you are a very intelligent man but also very naive, I mean, to think that you can grasp the “reality” makes me laugh hard, is just the traditional scientific point of view, “what i know is everything there is”, very funny to me. I am one of those exotic researchers. For me, dealing with atheist is like dealing with little children, and sometimes I get a little frustrated that some of them call them self "scientists" and end up writing a primitive essay like the one we are reading here. Sometimes funny, sometimes a little painful to watch the level of ignorance of a very respected Princeton professor. I have to say that it is a brave move to introduce into his model something that is taboo for atheist that is the use of a metaphysical concept like "something invisible comes out of our eyes", he tries hard not to be criticized by his peers for implying a disrespect for atheism so he makes it very clear that is not a supposition, is just a practical way to construct his very childish and primitive atheist model to begin their quest for the knowledge of a non existing god. Funny and painful. There is a world of information out there of people that has spent their life studying the subject and reading this article of an atheist assuming he “cracked” the mystery of mysteries, well... Why I make emphasis in the word “atheist”? because I am witnessing how this way of thinking came 150 years ago like a natural evolution from the restrictions and manipulations of the church, had its moments of glory some decades ago and now I am watching its decay, with Dawkins getting old and not far from now die. Contemporary scientist have to decide to continue this now obsolete philosophy or to change trains to what once was the “exotic” way of thinking, a science with no expectations and no prejudices; that is, in my eyes, the new mainstream. I am about to publish my first paper about consciousness, it is called The Theory of Vibrational Evolution. Is the result of many years of research and it will be the beginning of a new era for science and a framework for the new way of thinking. It will give much light and excitement to find such freedom away from stupid conceptions like darwinian evolution, randomness and it goes as far as changing the concept of “reality” or “time linearity”: Nothing is what seems to be. The new model of reality that is being constructed far to the left of science is much more complex, and much more exact and very very exciting. Greetings.

          • Guest

            Xavier, you try to be condescending but just come across as ignorant and deluded.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            I don't "try" anything, I just write what I think, and I don't think everybody comes to the same conclusion as you do and I don't really care what others think of me, I just to what I want to do without thinking of the consequence, that is the way I live my life. Do you think there is one single right way of living?Well, that is condescending. Notice how every time you have a criticism to other people, you are the one with the defect. Very basic stuff.

          • Lovable Content

            Wow. That strikes me as a rather limiting and immature worldview. If you're planning on publishing and continue to research and publish, I hope for your sake that you strive to move past it. With such rigidity and dismissal of others, you have a perfect recipe for publishing the same paper over and over again without evolving your ideas with the lessons from constructive criticism.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            Thank you for your advice, I think I have something to learn. :)

          • Guest

            Sorry, I think 'try to' was perhaps the wrong wording. I simply meant that you were aiming to sound knowledgeable yourself through making disparaging comments about others' viewpoints.

            Unfortunately, many of the comments made by you were clearly indicative of someone who is ignorant of the majority relevant literature and quite deluded in key aspects of their worldview.

            Claims such as 'stupid conceptions like darwinian evolution' instantly tag you as a bit crazy when so many scientific fields are in absolute accordance on the matter and the level of coherent evidence is so overwhelming.

            Your first comment claimed that a theory was dismissed merely because it was 'exotic' rather than on (lack of) merit, but the general content of your following post ironically gives the strong impression of someone who is looking specifically for something exotic to believe in rather than considering your view based on evidence. You even claim that a 'new model of reality will be constructed far to the left of science' when science itself is the very methodology in place to counter systematic biases and assumptions; showing a common misunderstanding of what 'science' constitutes and represents.

            Finally, your condescending tone towards the article and it's author in describing it as a 'primitive essay' becomes a complete joke when a little further down your comment you illustrate a complete lack of understanding for it's basic contents; claiming that he actually endorses the idea of vision involving 'something invisible coming out of the eyes'.

            You really need to re-read the article a few times and grasp its content rather than forming ill-informed views based on assumptions. Perhaps you would be well-served by a few years of actual study in relevant disciplines first though.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            Hello "Guest", thank you for putting some time reading my comment. I think in return I will waist five minutes to answer.

            First of all, let me tell you some news. Not everybody thinks like you. Not everybody has the same "principles" as you do. not everybody wants the same things you do. I am very different than you. This statement is very hard to understand so probably you won't, that is ok.

            When I speak or write, my only "aim" is to express my self. I don't aim to sound knowledgeable because I always hope that someone who knows more than me can understand my lacks and help me correct them.

            If you think "many scientific fields are in absolute accordance", that is kindly put, plain stupid and then say "the level of coherent evidence is so overwhelming" it means you are in the level of not distinguishing between evidence and interpretation. Then you continue your idolatrie for evidence claiming that I should look for evidence instead of looking specifically for something exotic to believe in. Like if your way of living was declared by the NATO as the correct one. I am a researcher finding new knowledge. I am not like you, I do not try to figure out the way to be accepted by my peers or to respect current knowledge or to have any status or reputation. I am trying to smash current knowledge with new findings.

            When I say "far to the left of science" I mean, the true discoveries are not being made by the "scientist" you see on tv but the real ones, trying to come up with new knowledge that contradicts status quo, for example Intelligent Design, the findings in consciousness researchers. The mixture between science and traditional knowledge like Kabbalah, Buddhism, Sufi, Christian, The Law of Attraction, and all sorts of "Channelled" material.

            "What science represents" for me is one of many techniques we use to get to new knowledge. In this particular moment in time science also represent a way for manipulating people religiously and económically.

            And, I did not write that the author of the article claims that something invisible comes out of our eyes. I claim that the author knows shit of what he is talking about. probably I wrote it wrong. But that was what I meant.

            I understand your frustration to find someone who does things differently than you. Get over it. It's time you grow up.

            Thank you.

          • Ivan

            I really hope you are the greatest internet troll of all times.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            That would be awesome.

          • lol

            name calling makez u rite lolz

        • Tom Clark

          "Appearances to the contrary are artefacts of consciousness as a mode of representation, and not evidence for some other metaphysical basis to consciousness itself."

          But of course one has to explain that there are appearances *at all*, veridical or artefactual. You can't demote the reality of consciousness (eliminate it) by saying it's an illusion, since the purported illusion - a conscious appearance - in this case is exactly the explanatory target, consciousness itself. The metaphysical fallout of not being an eliminativist like Graziano remains to be seen.

          • Ed Lake

            I don't think the point of this line of thought is to eliminate consciousness. It is to rid it of metaphysical shadows. The B Arrow makes it very clear that, whatever consciousness is, we seem to badly misunderstand it. It seems to us to be the kind of thing that could plausibly be an epiphenomenon - that its nature somehow eludes physical detection – and yet we are physically detecting it now by typing messages about it.

          • John Doe


            I believe that the mind just needs to create a model of the world that "works" in the sense that it continues to process data based on a hard-coded, genetic, information-filtering function.

            As such, I do not see why it would be necessary for awareness to exist. Wouldn't the "skilful automata" possibility satisfy this condition of pattern matching data, regardless of external and internal origin?

            Do you think consciousness reflects a filtering function of the data produced from neuron mappings?

            If so, I believe the golgi apparatus performs this filtering function within the brain.

            This filtering function of sensory data would become complex as the self-organizing neural system branches. However, the same filtering function is just repeating over many layers of informational abstractions and relational mappings.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            I was almost understanding you until I read Golgi.

          • John Doe


      • beachcomber

        "We can only see one of the vase or face at a time" I'm sorry to be obscurely pedantic, but the real geometric image of the vase/face gets assessed by our brain and a choice is made by the executive function which defines the image in a way most suitable to the cultural development of the viewer. Perhaps it's a bit like the wave/particle problem in physics.

        • Andrew

          Cultural development? Like wave-particle duality? No and no. Individuals, regardless of culture, will see one or the other image, alternating every couple of seconds or so. Both are perfectly suitable for cultural development it seems. Perhaps it is like W-P duality in that there are alternate, viable descriptions of a single phenomenon, but there is no obvious problem.

          • beachcomber

            "Individuals, regardless of culture, will see one or the other image" .. there are a couple of references - which I can't get hold of right now : ( of indigenous peoples (on first contact with western maritime explorers) describing the ships as great white birds, because they had never seen such a ship before. Their brain saw a construction of wood and fabric (both of which were familiar to them, yet they "saw" the ships as "birds". By wave/particle duality (rather flighty connection) I mean that things can for the most part be thought to exist in a state of superposition, but become defined by our observation. Refer the gorilla/basketball selective attention experiment.

          • coyote fish

            Ah, no. They did not describe them "AS" great white birds, but a "being like" great white birds. That is to say, having a similar appearance to great white birds.

            They knew about birds, but not ships. Like all of us when confronted with the unfamilar, they referenced forms they knew to describe them. UNTIL they could create or adopt new words.

            The idea that they saw birds came more from either bad translation, or from the arrogance of the explorers, many of whom - but not all - saw the indigenous through their own assumptions. One of which was that the "savages" were like children.. and saw "birds". Laughable, This idea has since been debunked.

            And in almost all cases, those "savages" at the point of contact were better fed, healthier, disease free, and were brilliant traders and negotiators..

          • beachcomber

            Yep ... agreed that the western explorers thought themselves superior to the locals, but my point really is to show that the mind references what it sees relative to its cultural affiliation. There are a couple of cases that I remember - South America and the Eastern Coast of Southern Africa ... I would be grateful if you have references . Not to doubt your comments but to reacquaint myself with the material.
            An interesting confirmation in the article The Reality in the Altered States section of this edition of AEON:
            "Persecutory delusions, for example, can be found throughout history and across cultures; but within this category a desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban American that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being monitored by the CIA."

    • wood railing

      ""But the inner light? The feeling of lonely, ineffableincongruity we get when we consider our observing selves? Those are illusions,
      like out-of-body experiences and squirrels in the brain.""

      Not illusions, and rather more congruent with the proposed theory, but blerps in the code or actual neural hardware.

    • Jaya

      "After all this, are we conscious or not?" :-) WHO is saying "we"? The author is pronouncing "we" and is still asking whether we are conscious or not hahhahhaaa! It's like a fish asking "show me anyone who is not in water and I'll admit that I am in water".

    • Nick Rogers

      This is idiotic. If we are simply zombies, why should I pay any attention to you stating that fact?

      Its like saying there is no such thing as truth.

      In the end, scientific materialism is a necessarily invalidating paradox. A bunch of monkeys, the product of unconscious, irrational, deterministic mechanisms, insisting that they are such.

      It is self deluding at its best.

      The unfortunate, objective, and uncomfortable truth might just be that "Consciousness is either a genuinely mysterious spiritual essence with
      causal powers, or it is an ordinary physical aspect of the brain's
      information processing." is a false dichotomy; neither is true. I know inherently that the latter is false, and I know from my sensory experience that obviously my consciousness interacts and to a certain extent depends on my material being; science tells me that I don't simply have a spirit and a body, I have this thing called a brain which acts as the link between the two. The only option left is the dualism, with its messy ontology and its metaphysics.

      This is one of the reasons why, despite all my doubts, I've never been able to abandon my Christianity. Because Christianity is the only world view I know of which really reflects this truth of the universe. I am both body and soul. The Physical universe is one side, Consciousness (which is
      just a more scientific way of saying the soul) is the other side, and
      the brain is the bridge.

      To me, it seems incredibly odd, a one in a million chance, ridiculous even, that there should be this thing called God, that he should incarnate himself through a filthy human woman, and perform miracles for our salvation.

      It seems equally strange that we should exist.

      And yet, here we are.

      • Ed Lake

        Isn't your brain part of your body, then? And what's so filthy about Mary? I thought she was meant to be immaculate.

        • Guest

          Isn't your body part of the universe?

        • Nick Rogers

          Yes, the brain is certainly part of the body. It is also the bridge between our conscious being and our material being, though it is completely part of the latter.

          Second off, "filthy" in the sense that she is Human and in the sense that we are all, in a certain sense, nothing more than damn dirty apes.

          Really of course, in the bigger sense we have no justification to be judging ourselves as filthy but I think one of people's major stumbling blocks with religion is the idea that anything divine and spiritual should bother to interact with anything so dirty and mundane and biological as ourselves.

          • Lao-Ming Liu

            As enlightened as you may be, using the expression "filthy human woman" was a very poor choice no matter what you may say to the contrary.

          • Nick Rogers

            Why so? I think the contrast between our notions of the divine and our human notions of our own biological selves is incredibly relevant to any discussion of what Christianity is actually saying about the world.

            And I think one of the things that bothers people about the whole Jesus thing is this idea that God would allow himself to become a biological being, with all that entails. Filthy might not, in the end, be exactly fair, but I think it perfectly describes how people, including myself, sometimes think about themselves.

            That and, using strong language makes people take notice. Shock value has real value in discussions like these.

          • Hannah Rose

            It's interesting that you take a spiritual approach to the matter, but then disregard physicality and biology as "filthy." If they are creations of G-d, then aren't they just as holy and necessary as
            all other things in His kingdom? Kabbalist/Jewish philosophy actually cites denouncing the physical as a sin for this very reason, and begs the conscious being, manifested as human, to understand and accept this.

            Take the drinking and eating of the wine and bread, meant to represent Jesus - if you discount the physicality of this ritual (not that I have an opinion on it, being a Jew), then aren't you too, discounting the spiritual significance thereof?

            I beg of you to contemplate this possibility, and think maybe of the Holy Trinity when you consider of the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual realms of Reality. There is a purpose for each, and perhaps for the purpose of our own lesson learning, HaShem (the lord) has "put" us here in this form to separate us from the illusion of all-knowingness in the spiritual realm.

            ^*^ much love to you!

          • danwalter
          • Hannah Rose

            dude alan watts is my man. good suggestion!

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            I didn't know him. His point of view has similarities with mine.

      • ck

        Dualism? Matter is information. Information is physical. Consciousness is a non-lateral dimension that intersects with spatial dimension. Dimension has it's defining property as thus; the freedom for information to move within spatial and non spatial systems.
        What you are calling a soul is a complex intersection of causes and effects in a relative reality of interrelating objects, which when reduced to their sources, can demonstrate paradigms that govern the "flow" of this information. As matter is information, it's direction is defined by entropy, which is the absolute behavior of matter that moves it towards it's increasing in complexity. I think most models of reality share an element;

        Relevancy to the subjective. Truth's value is not only a metric of it's ability to be a fact of absolute shared reality but also in the fact that when held it is what creates the form of life that is caused by holding that truth in mind that then goes on to govern and justify actions within your value system which become your language that becomes thoughts that become actions that stimulate your environment and become the cause for an effect of the environment in turn stimulating you. This is not dualism, this is information having both form and substance.

        • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

          When you say non-lateral you mean non-local, the dimension with no time and space?

          Just a point. The direction of information is not defined by entropy but: entropy are the lego pieces that consciousness uses to put together (lingüistically, poetically, symbolically) the new values of what is prefered so new levels of order are achieved (evolution by fine tuning).

          This new values of what is prefered is what we call "Purpose" and it works as the aim for evolution moment by moment. Every time a wave collapses, id doesn't do it randomly as some believe, the frequency of the possible outcomes is measured and the one closest to "Purpose" is what is choosen. This is the cause of coincidence. There is not a single drop of randomness in the universe.

          This is my contribution to the consciousness scheme called the X-evo model in my Theory of Vibrational Evolution. Soon to be published.

          And another thing, the focus (or attention) of the individual can be aimed off of the environment to avoid entering in vicious loops and to achieve higher levels of awareness (the path to illumination).

          • ck

            I do not mean non-local, that's absurd. I used spatial vernacular help step away from, what seemed to be Nick Rodgers' definition of dimension. (I was speaking to be understood by him in particular.) Though,I do not think non-lateral adequately encapsulates what I mean. This is the briefest I can explain; I think the processing of stimuli(awareness) is subject to a new element of information's procession through time. As information increases in density(complexity), it accelerates the intervals at which the smallest unit of information will influence a change in any state.

            This is where I would bring entropy into the equation as this pattern for information to "speed up" is an element of the paradigm of entropy for increasing complexity of micro states within a macro state. All objects in space are subject to the laws of physics, I do not think entropy stops being relevant when governing the construction(flow/direction) of meta-centers(awareness) which becomes the nature of consciousness. So understanding the universe becomes crucial for understanding brains.

            You saying entropy is the cause of the arrangements of the constituents of a system to produce lego pieces for consciousness to use for selection and then separate consciousness into a sub-system that uses other relevant stimuli (presented causally speaking by way of entropy) to describe the form of purpose is still just saying what I'm saying which is to say; Direction of information is defined by entropy.

            "Coincidentally", I also agree with some other things.
            I agree that cycles of causality can be broken and the meta-center collaging the senses can begin to illustrate its own machinations. I also agree with you about there being no such thing as true random but I'm not sure we are using the same definition for the word entropy.
            It isn't a measure of non-homogeneity, it's the logarithm of the number of possible microstates associated with a certain macrostate, ie the number of ways to make a certain arrangement of matter.

            Now even though you are using entropy incorrectly or just in a weird way where I don't know which outdated definition you are pointing at, you aren't wrong in everything else you are saying. I suspect if we were to be using the same headspace that we assign the word entropy to we may have a better time understanding one another.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            Where do you learn to speak like that about consciousness? I would love to have that kind of lexicon.

            I think saying entropy directs the flow of information is like saying food directs our nutrition instead of The digestive system directs our nutrition and the fuel of that nutrition is food.

            In my model, consciousness uses entropy to create order and purpose.

            Lets take the subject of health. the gamut of possibilities in that particular subject goes from very sick to completely healthy. Every time an individual focus on that subject, the flow of information coming out of consciousness does not include all possibilities, only the preferred possibility. The input (stimulus) can be whatever possibility in this topic, like sick, very sick, healthy, very healthy. and the output will always be "completely healthy". Consciousness has changed the overall sum of information. That is called evolution.

            I am not sure that "All objects in space are subject to the laws of physics" I see it differently. i think there is no laws of physics, i think there is a mechanism translating non physical information into physical and choosing between the infinite possibilities at the moment and that chosen possibility is congruent with harmony and order. And it looks like it is following a "law of physics"

            I remember playing an othelo game with the computer, the program always made it's move according to the present position onwards, it didn't use any algorithm. And the plays looked like algorithms the program made many times what looked like "plays" but I knew there were not because I knew the way it was programmed. I have the same understanding of nature. I think what looks like laws of physics are the result of harmonic computing of infinite possibilities.

            It's very interesting for me that you handle a very detailed view of consciousness but you include some mixed cause-effect elements, just like science tends to do.
            For example, in evolution that is very often mentioned we can read "this animal adapted to that environment so it developed this kind of ears and now it can hear very good" they put "hear very good" as the effect and adaptation as the cause. Very weird. I think that is Atheist corruption of science and darwinian theological nonsense.
            Now we know there is a purpose, a design, that is achieved via evolution. hearing good is the cause, adaptation is the effect.

        • Nick Rogers

          "Dualism? Matter is information. Information is physical"

          Information is physical? How so? Define physical, define information.

          Would you agree that 2 + 2 = 4 is an instance of "information". Is 2 + 2 = 4 extant in any sense other than an abstraction?

      • Oliver Milne

        I agree that eliminative materialism - where people like Graziano take
        the traditional categories of 'mind' and 'matter', and then ditch mind
        in favour of matter - can't be right. But there are ways out of this
        other than the one you propose. I'm going to try and set out an argument
        stage-by-stage for one of them. Here goes nothing:

        To be conscious is to have a subjective quality
        My experiences have subjective qualities
        Therefore they're conscious experiences

        Physics (in the broad sense) searches for the causes of things that are physical (in the narrow sense)
        (Quarks, for example, aren't what you'd call 'physical' in the narrow sense, but keyboards are)
        So anything with physical consequences is within physics' remit
        So only physical things have physical consequences
        My experiences have physical causes and consequences (Arrow B)
        Therefore my experiences are physical (ie. within physics' remit)

        Physics only admits quarks, neurons, etc. because that's what it has evidence for
        My experiences are physical
        Therefore my experiences are exclusively the sort of thing that physics allows

        Our traditional idea of 'matter' excludes matter/material events from being conscious experience
        But my experiences are both material and conscious
        Therefore our traditional idea of 'matter' is wrong

        Materially speaking, there is no difference between 'brain' and 'not-brain' beyond those indicated by Graziano
        The differences he indicates are insufficient to differentiate consciousness from non-consciousness
        Therefore everything is conscious to some very basic degree

        upshot is that Graziano's ideas about attention are interesting and
        explain some aspects of the mind, but ultimately fail to solve the hard
        problem, which can be solved by saying that to be is to be conscious. It
        remains to be seen how instants of consciousness - the consciousness of
        an atom at a moment in time, say - could be linked together to form
        minds that think in the way he suggests.

        • Nick Rogers

          "To be conscious is to have a subjective quality
          My experiences have subjective qualities
          Therefore they're conscious experiences"

          How is consciousness a subjective quality?

          What exactly do you mean by subjective?

          adjective: subjective

          1. based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

          Consciousness is not based on personal feelings, tastes or opinions. In other words, consciousness is not based on perceptions.

          Consciousness IS perception (among other things). My existence as a consciousness has not been left up to me or my opinion. It is a rock solid fact, as solid as 2 and 2 makes 4.

          • Oliver Milne

            I think we basically agree on this. It seems like you're saying - please correct me if I'm wrong! - that consciousness is the process of perception, perceptions are instances of perception happening, and that the latter rests on the former, rather than the other way around. Where I think we diverge is that you're saying that personal feelings, tastes, perceptions etc. are in some sense not real, solid things that exist, which is why they have to rest on the foundation of the perceiver's existence as a consciousness.

            What I meant to say is that these perceptions are real things in their own right (separate from the thing perceived), that they are occurrences in the brain, and that consciousness is a property of them (regardless, as you say, of their opinion on the matter). Since these brain events aren't all that physically different from any other physical event, there is no reason to believe that consciousness is not a property of all other physical events, too.

            The difference between people and rocks then would be that human consciousness is somehow unified into a person whereas rock-consciousness is not. It implies that there is a very basic, primitive level of consciousness, shared by 'unconscious' people for example, which is difficult to imagine.

          • Nick Rogers

            "that consciousness is the process of perception, perceptions are
            instances of perception happening, and that the latter rests on the
            former, rather than the other way around."

            Perception is an element of consciousness...It's not strictly necessary to be perceiving anything to be conscious, but when you are perceiving anything, it is a conscious act. Its kinda like frogs and toads. Perception is consciousness, but not all consciousness is perception.

            "Where I think we diverge is that you're saying that personal feelings, tastes, perceptions etc. are in some sense not real, solid things that exist, which is why they have to rest on the foundation of the perceiver's existence as a consciousness."

            No I would not say that, depending what you mean by "solid". I know inherently without a shadow of a doubt that I, the perceiver, exist. If that is the only foundation to my personal feelings "existing" than they exist, end of story.

            And no matter what, on a certain level, my "feelings" definitely exist. If I stub my toe, the pain (even if it is a mere phantasm in a void and I'm a brain in vat, and neither the toe nor what I stubbed it on are real) exists as a feeling. The issue has always been rather what we were perceiving was real or not, not rather our "perceptions" are real.

            Mine obviously are. Assuming you exist as I do, so are yours.

            Its like when people ask "do you believe in UFO's?"...well, that's not really the question is it? Obviously I believe in UFO's...the question is, is that some light from swamp gas from venus caught in some greenhouse gas or is that an alien looking to abduct me or one of my fellow men.

            Now if, by solid, you mean "physical" well that's a different story. Our brains seem to exhibit these physical processes which reflect and are fundamentally connected to our perceptions...

            But that said, a network of neurons firing in a certain pattern is no more a "perception" than a network of telephone polls receiving a current is a phone call.

            So I would not say perceptions are "physical" if thats what you mean by solid.

            But I think 2 and 2 makes 4 is "solid" according to my meaning of the word, and that mathematical truth is completely abstract.

            "Since these brain events aren't all that physically different from any other physical event, there is no reason to believe that consciousness is not a property of all other physical events, too."

            I really don't understand you there. It seems to me that the things we associate with "consciousness" in ourselves...brains, neural networks and the like, do not exist in the non-organic world. Our fellow organisms seem to have these things, so we can say that our fellow organisms MIGHT be conscious in the sense that we are BUT Rocks do not have brains. Its that simple. I ain't saying Rocks or non-organic phenomena aren't conscious...they might be, hell if I know. But its a scientific fact that they do not have all those mechanisms that we (meaning all of us organic organisms) have visa vi consciousness.

          • Oliver Milne

            "No I would not say that, depending what you mean by "solid"." Looking at what you said after this, we mean the same thing by 'solid', so I guess I must have misunderstood you on that point.

            "... a network of neurons firing in a certain pattern is no more a
            "perception" than a network of telephone polls receiving a current is a
            phone call" - This is only true if all purely physical things are non-conscious. What I'm saying has two parts: first, the difference between purely physical things like neurons and rocks is not enough to make one thing conscious while the other is not, meaning that either all purely physical things are non-conscious or they're all conscious to some degree. I think we agree on that.

            Second, I'm arguing that since we are (apparently) purely physical and (definitely) conscious, all purely physical things must be conscious to some degree. You on the other hand seem to take the other path, saying that all purely physical things are non-conscious, meaning that human beings cannot be purely physical. The problem with this position is that there seems to be no obvious way for the non-physical element of consciousness to interact with the physical world.

          • Nick Rogers

            "This is only true if all purely physical things are non-conscious."

            How so? I don't follow you.

            "between purely physical things like neurons and rocks is not enough to make one thing conscious while the other is not"

            True enough...but do rocks, inanimate matter exhibit any behavior which we associate with consciousness as we have it? Does modern science indicate that they have a form of "consciousness" which is similar enough to our own to even necessitate the label "conscious"?

            "they're all conscious to some degree"

            Maybe...I think its possible. I don't see any reason for believing its true either. But at that point consciousness wouldn't be subjective as you said earlier. Everything would have it.

            Moreover, whats your point? How does this contradict my overall view point?

            If there is a consciousness inherent to all of creation you are laying forth an even stronger repudiation of materialism than I am.

          • Oliver Milne

            Maybe I've been needlessly obtuse by using the word 'physical' here - what I'm saying is roughly that matter is what consciousness looks like from the outside. If that's true it means you can have consciousness without all sorts of things that we take for granted as being involved in consciousness, like intentions, sensations (maybe), the self, memory, ideas, and so on, because rocks obviously don't have those things. In that case those things would just be optional features of consciousness.

            The main reason I don't think your dualism works is that the 'physical' is hermetically sealed: if something can have an effect on it, it's in the domain of the physical. So if there were souls like you describe, they would end up in the domain of physics, given the right experimentation. But those experiments could never detect what was conscious about them - only that they have certain effects on instruments. So it's more reasonable to suppose that this has already happened, and that physical particles have some undetected and undetectable consciousness to them, than to propose a separate soul that has not yet come under the aegis of science.

          • Nick Rogers

            Oliver, what is your definition of "consciousness"?

            Because, with respect to what you saying, I literally cannot comprehend any of what your saying. I'm not saying its stupid or badly reasoned or anything like that, I just suspect that your using the same words as I do with radically different meanings.

          • Oliver Milne

            Good question - I guess for something to be conscious would have to mean that there's a 'what it's like to be that thing' independent of its effects on anything else. (In that case I guess what I'm saying is something along the lines of: 'what a thing is like, independent of its effects' = 'what it's like to be that thing'.)

    • Josh Ehrendreich

      I have philosophical issues with the 'zombie thought experiment.' It is challenging to conceive of anything that lacks consciousness, because I don't think of consciousness as contained. And assuming that it is, as done in the zombie analogy, it appears to beg the question - or contains it to function of the brain.

      If I were to speak about a rock, I feel that would plausibly address whatever is said to be had in understanding our conscious-lacking zombie. I believe, in a sense, that a rock has consciousness. But a key to this, is I'm convinced the rock's consciousness is not separate from mine. To the degree that I draw a distinction between rock consciousness and mine, is expression about me, first and foremost. From here, I could say I am willfully limiting consciousness, and projecting a separation / division in consciousness where perhaps none exists. Then, at this point, I could go on to explain how different and distinct the rock APPEARS to my (physical) self and how the rock appears to be without life / sentience. And finally, I could conclude, that the rock is without a conscious. All the while, a rational observer may believe I am talking about the rock, making fair / accurate observations about the rock. As I understand it, I never stopped referencing myself, and am simply projecting my limitation of consciousness onto the rock.

      IMO, the consciousness debate can quickly get off track if we are to assume that the illusion of separation that our physical perception is attuned to, also covers consciousness. And then exacerbate the inherent problem by saying the separation is not an illusion.

      From whence we originally began, according to physical sciences (pre-formation of expansive universe), it is challenging to understand separation, though I do think it is possible. Just incredibly challenging. From spiritual / religious perspective, the separation concept is the whole enchilada.

      The separation concept is a cornerstone illusion. Yet, if this is only conceived of in a physical sense, I think it actually perpetuates the illusion, and as noted before, attempts to pronounce separation as the (new) reality of existence. The separation concept when applied to consciousness, yet accepting of physical separation as reality, is where existence gets extremely distorted. Consciousness then is only (being) allowed to reinforce the perception of separation, to perpetuate the illusion. An illusion where it suddenly seems rational to say, our things (brains/bodies) have consciousness, but those things over there (rocks, zombies, etc) are without consciousness. As the illusion is (clearly) working on another level besides our individual observations, and thus our physical sciences, then the denial of mutual consciousness will forever appear like we can accurately talk about other (separate) things, while pretending it isn't about us.

      Those silly zombies.

      • Ellis D’Trypped

        I totally dig. I commented above, and referenced a roundabout way I wanted to explain this same thing. Essentially our hardware, and our internal software, segment us off from the pervasive consciousness that exists throughout, and essentially IS the entire universe. We reinforce that we are separate, because that is what our subjective experience is supposed to be about, but it is an illusion that we are all basically required to accept as long as we're animals who have advanced as far as we have--but no farther---along our eventual evolutionary timeline.

        In otherwords, the reality is as Lennon said it was in the beginning of I am the Walrus: I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together. But the subjective reality we all experience during average moments of unenlightened thinking is that we are all separate and every man, unto himself, is an island. What people don't see is that if you look underneath the water, it turns out that in a gigantic see of billions and billions of men and women standing alone on their own islands, is a tether to the same omnisciently conscious mass deep beneath the surface. We are not islands per se. But above the water, where our waking, subjective conscious mostly lies, it seems as if we are. I hope I was not missing your point when I described, basically, mine here, in the hopes that I've understood you accurately in expressing yours.


    • BDewnorkin

      There seems to be a lot of confusion over Graziano's position largely because this article is so poorly written. If I've understood Graziano correctly, for example, the map analogy – serving mainly to illustrate the point that consciousness is a rough representation of external reality – will likely misdirect readers from the main question, "what is consciousness?" or "how does consciousness come about?" And the primary point of the squirrel example – as echoed by Lake's comment – is simply to distinguish an account of consciousness as a unique ontological entity from one without this difficult ontological proposition. Graziano, though, seems to be reluctant to make explicit claims.

      • Dan T

        I (think) I agree with you here BDewnorkin. The article, for me, does
        not really answer the question of what consciousness is and how it
        comes about - it's more a description of the resultant effects that we,
        as humans, perceive.

        "How does a brain generate consciousness? In
        the computer age, it is not hard to imagine how a computing machine
        might construct, store and spit out the information that ‘I am alive, I
        am a person, I have memories, the wind is cold, the grass is green,’ and
        so on."

        Yes, it is easy to program a "computer" to do the above, but is the computer really "conscious" that it's doing it?
        You could construct the computer to build a framework that matches a
        human's perception of "I am doing this" - and even program the computer
        so that when asked "are you aware of what you're doing" it can reply
        with the answer "yes". But all that is just a computational function, it
        takes an input and gives an output. The question still remains, is it
        "aware" of what it is doing in the same way a human would be?

    • beachcomber

      Re; the zombie scenario: do zombies procreate? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Ref: Philip K. Dick's scifi novel. If an entity is unable to procreate and thus occupy greater space, the likelihood of it being "conscious" or having elements of "consciousness" seems very remote. Is a sea slug more "conscious" than a zombie? Certainly.

    • Aaron Novikoff

      Ed, what was the first electrical impulse that gave rise to the first conscious brain, let alone, animalistic awareness? What is this electrical impulse that can cross the placenta to give rise to a screaming schematic growth?

      The problem with zombie theory is zombies are notorious for not having babies. This makes them cognitively mechanistic towards survival/desire (do zombies eat for business or pleasure?).

      Regardless - due to the fact zombies do not have the cognitive capability to create a lineage investment, or have the conscious awareness to invest in an after-death monument of remembrance (kids, statue, fortune, ect.); then there must be more to being consciously human, the protruding electricity of it, than the instinctual awareness of being animal (or a zombie).

      Assuming that zombies are "walking dead", death, being of no electricity, cannot spontaneously produce charged life. The fact that morals, meaning, and action exist outside of survival conotation differentiates between humans and animals, as well as humans and zombies.

      The question comes down to: from what did the first electricity enter into the human circuit to power our value-implementing cognitive machinery? From where did it come from? Why do we have pre-programmed notions of good and bad for the humanistic levels? What encoded these, or determined the susceptibility to gravitate towards these prior to coming out of the uterus? How does a baby experience happiness and smile? What is normal?

      The answer is: A magical force (God) is creating the unique framework that is keeping us from entering each other's living room and urinating on their carpet.

    • Joe Campbell

      Great response.

      Here's an interesting wrinkle: Are sociopaths conscious zombies? If you buy into the idea that they lack a capacity to feel that 96% - 98% of the population possesses, then they're almost like artificially intelligent humans. They can lead (CEOs, Vice Presidents), they can create, they have imagination, and they're capable of novel action (albeit action that largely repulses healthy humans, such as serial killing or war-based genocide).

      I read in Jon Ronson's "The Psychopath Test" that, in MRI and EEG scans, psychopaths exhibit reduced bloodflow and electrical activity in regions of the brain that are active in non-psychopaths. This suggests damage to normal functioning. One hypothesis is that they lack a threshold amount of mirror neurons that would allow for emotional empathy.

      The psychopath may be Chalmer's philosophical zombie...

    • bierzy

      I can only imagine Zombies would lose a large chunk of satiety and/or hunger, resulting in decreased brain performance, and also the physical fuckedness of them.

    • yangreen

      is there something other than consciousness which is real?

    • LivingAnExaminedLife

      Hi Ed, I just posted a long comment on this article about the endogenous neurotransmitter DMT being fundamental to the study of consciousness. If you're keen to explore the origin of consciousness then DMT is the bullseye. Breadcrumb trail in my comments.

    • Tam Hunt

      Ed, if you haven't already you should check out David Ray Griffin's book Unsnarling the World-Knot for a far more convincing (to me) account of consciousness and the hard problem. It takes consciousness seriously, as we should if we're being empirical, and it provides a naturalistic explanation of the relationship between mind and matter that recognizes that all matter has at least some tiny bit of associated mind and vice versa. There is no "vacuous actuality," to use Whitehead's phrase. My book, Eco, Ego, Eros, also explores these ideas.

  • AndyA

    I enjoyed the thought process here. Where it started to come unstuck for me was when he talked about us being able to differentiate the ventriloquist dummy, by saying:

    "We have the ability to rise above our immediate intuitions and predispositions."

    If our awareness/consciousness is in fact identical with these models that we make of our attention (for good evolutionary reasons), then how do we rise above our own awareness? Those 'intuitions and predispositions' are in fact the models that my brain makes in order to make sense of the world.

    There is a model of my experience, that tells me that the ventriloquist dummy is conscious. If my consciousness is identical with that model of my attention... then how do I go about differentiating?

    One might argue that what happens, is simply that one's attention falls upon the actual reality, which is that the ventriloquist is manipulating things and thus the new model is created, in which the dummy is inanimate and the ventriloquist is sentient.

    But then, there must be some level at which these varying models of the same presented stimulus are evaluated and rated, so that we can then decide which of the models is 'real', or at least 'more real'.

    However, if the modeling itself is identical with awareness and consciousness... then what process is doing that evaluating? And on what basis? And also, how is our attention directed in such a way as to fall predominantly upon modelling that provides consistency in our perceptions of the world and our internal lives?

    It seems to me that the argument as given, contributes some interesting thought experiments to the philosophy of mind. But in essence, it does seem to present a new set of sensory impressions (attention models) that need to be evaluated, integrated and chosen between... and for that process, we need to have some explanation of a consciousness that does that differentiation.

  • Frustrated but really interest

    Really great topic, but way too wordy with explanations and parallels. If you want to actually communicate to the reader be shorter and to the point. I was so lost in your explanations I forgot what your point was and had to reread your article paragraph by paragraph and figure out how it all tied together

  • tennenrishin

    Partway through I had a hard time following. Are you trying to address the hard problem, or are you claiming that the hard problem doesn't exist? The question of why "the brain insists that it has subjective experience" is relevant to how the hard problem arises in us, but is not itself the hard problem. Explaining how a question arises does not make the question invalid. An answer that is "unsatisfying" in that sense will never make the question go away.

  • tennenrishin

    Traditionally, the A to B and the B to A arrows are called the soul and the spirit, respectively. These are just the names that religions and cultures have given to whatever happens at the (conceptually lumped, if physically distributed) apex of the sensory and motor neural networks, respectively. The soul is that which feels, and the spirit is that which decides/acts.

  • IvonaPoyntz

    I was not aware of the 'extramission theory', nor does itmake any intuitive or other sense to me, so am perplexed that so many people would subscribe to it.

    • Joymars

      Ditto. I never heard of it before, from anyone I've ever known in my many decades on the planet.

  • Kenny Chaffin

    Great piece. Thanks for writing/sharing/posting!

  • Joe Campbell

    Why the F did I waste my time reading this article? It is unintelligent. That's the best, least offensive way to say it: the author has a poor grasp of the content he's writing about. There was nothing interesting, novel, or exciting about this. How do you manage to write an article that is circling the topic of neuroscience without writing anything specific or detailed about the functioning of the brain? Read some David Eagleman and some V.S. Ramachandran and come back to us with something interesting, not this drek.

    This reads like a high school student who was given a novel to read over the quarter, didn't, and wrote a bullshit paper transcribing the Cliff Notes in the vaguest, broadest terms in the hopes that he'd incidentally address key issues in the text.

    I'm sorry, but if I didn't say it, I fear nobody else would. There is NOTHING valuable written in this piece about either neuroscience or philosophy. Waste of time.

    • Slartibast

      Strange how different we se things, I thought it complemented and gave me more understanding of both Eaglemann and Ramachandran.

  • Kenneth Weene

    This is a well written and insightful piece. However, it does leave out one crucial piece, that before we can have awareness and social function we must first have the social function within individuals. Once past the single cell organism, we are dealing with the complexity of organization. Awareness and therefore the capacity for consciousness is requisite for the evolution of complex behavior before the social milieu is considered. It is as simple as the capacity to place the paw correctly on the lever in that Skinner Box, or the capacity to direct one's movement away from the noxious or towards the desired stimulus when that movement is controllable. In effect the capacity for awareness is the sine qua non for animal evolution.

  • wood railing

    This makes me consider the underlying machinery 'running' consciousness. If consciousness, as proposed, is a sort of modeling software, like a game of Risk, then there exists both hardware, the pieces, and software, the rules. The hardware clearly seems to be the brain and its crazy connections. But what about the software? Genes clearly play a role in this but, as the author observes, consciousness can influence the actual physical brain. So this is more than just a single set of instructions. More like the genes provide a framework of possibilities. Lots of implications following this line of thought...

  • Wagabonga

    What is really problematic about the statement "I am aware of X" is not "[verb] aware" or "[object] X", as the author is implying, but "[subject] I am". Subject comes BEFORE both the verb and the object. What is that "subject" that makes us feel that first-person-singular is real and not an illusion? The real unknown is not the "nature of consciousness" but the "nature of 'I am'".

    • Katie Wright

      I think that's what I was trying to get at, but you've put it a lot more intelligently.

      • hume

        yes so intelligently that he couldn't properly parse the sentence (hint: 'aware' is not the verb in that sentence)

    • Tim

      There is a lot of philosophy dealing with identity and almost as much psychological research, but identity is not consciousness. In fact, I don't think a proposition invoking latent self awareness comes into the matter at all. That is, what else could conceivably replace 'I am...'? Would you suggest that a neural circuit might make an observation ('...aware of X') but attach the wrong subject?

      The article is about the mechanism which makes 'aware of X', the preceding is just baggage.

      • Matthew Gaylard

        I would appreciate your comments on my post in response to your previous posts. I don't think the "I am" aspect of the problem can be quite as easily dismissed as you suggest. The " am aware" part may be dependent both on the "I" and "of x" with "myself" being a bit of both ("I" and "of x"). Perhaps this is a trivial insight, if it is one at all. And almost certainly well worne,

        • Tim Shea

          Hmm, I didn't really mean to imply that self was an illusion at all. I certainly don't think so. What seems most plausible, given what I've read and experienced, is that identity is a sort of combination of autobiographical narrative and idealisation which we employ to judge whether the actions and situations we find ourselves in align with our expectations and goals. There is almost certainly more to it than that, but I haven't studied this facet of cognitive psychology as deeply so I wouldn't want to speculate too much.

          However, I would argue that there is a conceptual distinction between this non-illusory self and the "self-awareness" that is so often tossed around as a prerequisite to consciousness. I think that self, or identity, is not a prerequisite for consciousness, though it may frequently play a role in how our conscious minds evaluate situations. Without identity, those evaluations would almost certainly be harder to make, more erratic, but the consciousness itself could still exist. "Self-awareness" on the other hand I think is an entirely illusory conjunction of various properties: the fact that I exist, the fact that I have a particular body (possibly with the extension that the body is oriented in a certain way, or even looks a particular way), the fact that I have an identity (in the previously discussed sense), etc. Each of these properties is a sort of philosophically deep, but computationally shallow idea. In terms of processing the world around us, explicit awareness of these facts adds virtually nothing to a non-philosopher. Again, I'm not saying autobiography, or proprioception, or a mental image aren't important, but rather, explicit awareness of these is overblown. As an example, you don't have any trouble deciding whether the visual field you are perceiving is your visual field or your neighbor's visual field, and nobody would seriously suggest that your brain possesses a special mechanism for making this distinction. The same is true of perceiving your identity versus your neighbor's identity. My point here is that self-awareness is not illusory, but not nearly as big a hurdle as it's made out to be. There is no reason to suppose a computer-based consciousness would struggle to decide whether it existed any more than you do in day to day life.

  • TJ

    The author says: "The heart of the theory, remember, is that awareness is a model of attention, like the general’s model of his army laid out on a map. The real army isn’t made of plastic, of course." But doesn't the "real army" have awareness of OTHER "real" objects as well, including OTHER "real armies"? If we pay "attention" to X, and if X in turn pays "attention" to Y, where does all this "modeling" and "mapping" activity stop? Where does this regression end?

  • anya

    I liked the article; a lot of things makes sense.It's all about us..

  • Dave the Brave

    This sounds like a less developed version of R. Scott Bakker's Blind Brain Theory that he's been kicking around for the last several years online on his blog, Three Pound Brain. I wonder if Graziano is reading Bakker's philosophy of mind articles he's been submitting on this very subject along these very lines over the last few years, or if maybe he's even been reading his blog. I mean, Bakker is just synthesizing Sellars, Dennett, Metzinger and Carruthers from what I've seen, and I'm sure Graziano has access to the same subject matter, but there are phrases here very much like phrases I've seen Bakker use to explain BBT since 2010 (and that's just when I personally stumbled across BBT, he's been expounding it earlier than that in context with his Semantic Apocalypse, here's a 2008 post on it from Speculative Heresy: ).

    • Dave the Brave

      Of course, since Bakker's argument is that the arrow of science's progress points in the direction of BBT, maybe it's just natural that neuroscientists would stumble across identical revelations.

      • EP

        Bakker's synthesis is just ranting from much clearer thinkers - it's why he doesn't publish anything under peer-review, just posts on his blog.
        Any actually interesting things from Bakker is just directly stolen from Metzinger.

        • Dave the Brave

          Actually, he does publish for peer review now. He has been for the last year or so, in part because he has it refined enough now after the last several years of synthesis and speculation on his blog and on other philosophy and neuroscience blogs. I think the MOST interesting things from Bakker are actually elaborations on Carruthers, not Metzinger. That said, he doesn't "steal", he freely cites all of his references and sources. He's where I first found out about Metzinger, for example.

        • Dave the Brave

          You should follow him on, you'll get updates when he puts up new drafts of his academic article submissions.

        • Scott Bakker

          That's not what Thomas thinks. He's always urged me to publish or risk being scooped. Otherwise, I'm a novelist, more interested in chasing the ideas. If someone finds them useful, then so much the better. Graziano, by my lights, is on the right track, but is still missing a few important conceptual bits. I'll definitely be checking out his book!

  • SkizDriz

    In reference to superstitions you say 'might', that is as far from definitive as you can possibly get. On the path of the religion of science you will need to continuosly inject faith into those places you will never be able to measure.

    "Primitive" shamanic people have been curing themselves of schizophrenia, albeit by means of superstitously communicating with spirits. And modern, cold hard science has been unable to cure any kind of mental diseases, including depression.

    The path of everything being physical somehow won't lead to any answers on these fronts. "But science can explain everything eventually". That is an injection of quite a bit of faith into areas that have already been solved by means of thinking outside the box. I digress, it really is like arguing religion rather than examining uncomfortable realities.

  • Josh Ehrendreich

    Example #77 why scientists may not wish to engage in the domain of philosophy.

    The ghosts of awareness this article makes note of could just as easily be found within an honest assessment of 'science itself.' For example, where article says, "Science commonly regards ghost-ish intuitions to be the result of ignorance, superstition, or faulty intelligence." Forget about the obvious irony that I am alluding to with first sentence of this paragraph (concluding that science is result of faulty intelligence), but instead let's honestly examine what anyone means by "science does thus and so" or as this quoted sentence is saying "science commonly regards." Sorry, but in our shared reality, that simply isn't the case. Science isn't doing anything, while some scientists may or may not be regarding whatever the assertion claims is being regarded.

    Science, as vast concept, becomes an enormous ghost, and a model that constantly seeks to embellish its perspective of both reality and all perceived physical processes, while frequently overlooking its own role as non-physical, intersubjective brand of philosophy. Science has become the squirrel in the head that we are sure is present in our brains, but not something we'll find in our MRIs, nor do we seemingly care to even look. We know what's rational, so we conclude science, as we currently have it established is 'best approach of what's around.'

    The fact that we can attribute a collective, coherent and I would say righteous idea to the 'we' part of our intersubjective experience is nothing short of amazing, while is often taken for granted. That assertion is example of what is being asserted. And it happens very often, with strong conviction in the 'we' that is constantly being alluded to. That "we" is a ghost, is not clearly defined, and provides model of reality to seemingly overcome subjective rationalizations. In reality it is shortened version of, "I think all of us can agree upon" something that "I" find to be "self evident."

    Also, "And the easiest way to introduce it is to travel about half a billion years back in time" is example of another ghost at work, within "science." Cause what follows from this is no actual being traveling back in time, but instead is being provided a model that attempts to explain how this came to be. I would think the obvious ghost would be the number and unit of time. Instead, we treat it like it isn't a ghost and that it is in fact an accurate representation of a collective past from which we all came. Obviously not 'we' as humans, but we as 'life.' But the less obvious ghost is the idea that consciousness can go to a time and project awareness of 'what's really going on there' as if it is now happening (now that we've gone back in time).

    "Awareness, especially an ability to attribute awareness to others, seems fundamental to any sort of social capability." Foremost, for what is being discussed in the article, would be science. Our awareness attributes scientific awareness to others. To deny this, even for a few philosophical moments, is to seemingly discard the useful and practical results that our sciences are believed to have provided us. And yet, to keep that attribution going on, a ghost must be constructed from the subjective and projected on the intersubjective, otherwise, science is inherently not a 'we' proposition.

    IMO, neurons become very magical when they are alluded to in order to help establish our motives and thinking of our reality, but aren't being referenced in helping to determine what part the brain wants to study neurons anyway. As if science, like consciousness, is operating at another level that, at times, need not be explained nor self referenced.

    • drokhole

      "Science has become the squirrel in the head that we are sure is present in our brains, but not something we'll find in our MRIs, nor do we seemingly care to even look."

      Brilliant observation with a clever callback!

    • Monica Lewandowski

      What he ^ said

  • Bill Klemm

    The article begins by making a point about "theory of mind." This basically says that we impute thoughts to others, because we have thoughts and others seem similar to us. That says nothing about the nature of our own consciousness, other than that we have it and assume that similar beings do too.

    From that opening, he moves on to assert that consciousness is a schematic model of one’s state of attention. This conflating of attentiveness with consciousness seems inappropriate. Lower animals, even ants, can attend to things, but they certainly do not have the neural machinery to support consciousness. He does concede this point, I think, by saying that evolution of lower animals was needed to create real consciousness. But the capacity to impute consciousness to others does not explain what consciousness is or how brains generate it. Where is the explanation of the anatomy and physiology of how brains relate to mind (see last paragraph of this comment).

    His emphasis on "model" is problematic. Models don't do things, they describe or predict things. The issue is somewhat skirted by saying that brains have an "attention schema," but that does not say how the schema works.

    In defending his thesis, he raises an irrelant question, "Why doesn't the conscious conception of a squirrel show up on an MRI scan?" The answer is that MRI scans measure metabolism, not the signalling process of brain function, which is nerve impulse patterns in networks. He compounds the error by saying that consciousness is non-physical. Yet later, he says that consciousness does things to the brain without explaining how a non-physical thing can do that.

    His argument that attention is a data handling method without substance, is likewise not helpful. Methods may be abstract, but they cannot operate without some kind of substance (computer chips, neurons) to instantiate them. Moreover, attention data handling can occur unconsciously and is not therefore unique to consciousness. That needs to be remembered when he makes a related claim that "The brain insists that it has subjective experience because, when it accesses its inner data, it finds that information." Inner data is also accessed unconsciously; in fact, most operations are unconscious.

    He then leaves discussion of what consciousness is and how it is created, as if he has explained it. He hasn't.

    His comments on what consciousness does is more on target. I have made this more explicit in my new book, "Mental Biology. The New Science of How Brain and Mind Relate," now in press with Prometheus Publishing. Moreover, my book presents an explanation for what consciousness is and how it is created.

  • Tam Hunt

    I'm not sure if the author has adequately surveyed the field of consciousness studies or the philosophy of mind. The biggest problem I see with this theory is that it doesn't seem to offer any reason why my iPhone isn't conscious in the same way that I'm conscious. If it's all about accessing information, surely the iPhone would qualify. Or why not a rock? A rock contains information to a lesser degree but it's still information.

    The author seems to view any non-materialist theory of consciousness as necessarily dualist, with the realm of spirit or soul as the complement to the material realm. However, there is a three-thousand year tradition that constitutes a third way, known as panpsychism. Panpsychism asserts that all matter has some mind associated with it and where matter complexifies so mind complexifies. The question remains: why are some things more conscious than others and how do we determine the locus or level of consciousness? This is known as the boundary problem or the binding problem or the combination problem. I've offered my own solution here: The boundaries of each experiencing subject are, in my approach, determined by the speed of information flows available to each subject.

    Anyway, Graziano may flesh out his theory more in his upcoming book, and may answer some of these questions, but what is offered here doesn't seem to add too much to the ongoing debate.

  • WardKendall

    "I think, therefore I AM."

  • joymars

    Interesting theory. I do intuit that consciousness has a very deep Mandelbrotian self-repetition dynamic. Your insight might explain how individual brains work, but it does nothing to explain intra-species communication and extra-species communication. It does not explain intuitions, premonitions, or creativity.

    • Slartibast

      I se no problem explaining all that within this model/theory

  • Mike Lovett

    that was the longest piece of dribble I have read in a long time; it didn't CLARIFY ANYTIHNG! Just a lot of "I suppose" crap.

    Come back and write something when you actually KNOW something about consciousness. Ya big maroon.

    • Clyde Seeger

      Man, that's a big set you got there.

  • srini

    There is nothing new in this article than what the eastern religions have been saying for centuries.... That the perception of the world is an illusion of the mind. U substitute "illusion of mind" with "computation by neurons fitting an attention scheme", and voila, you have this brand " new" theory !

    • Tim

      But "illusion of mind" is not equivalent to "computation by neurons fitting an attention scheme". In some sense, all discovery is merely the substitution of poor descriptions with better ones.

      • srini

        The word "illusion" as derived by translation of ancient scripts was not intended to carry the negative connotation ascribed to it in the modern times. Most religions have 3 parts... faith, philosophy and customs (in different proportions, of course). The philosophies of religions generally reflect the wisdom of humanity at that time. If you substitute a more modern word "perception" in place of "illusion of mind", it would be much closer to "computation by neurons fitting an attention schema" ? But, are we any wiser?

        • Tim Shea

          Yes, we are in fact wiser. Those are exactly the sort of substitutions that neuroscientists have dedicated themselves to over the past century. Consider the novel discoveries latent in the statement: the fact that neurons, special types of cells with long electrical channels built in, exist(!); that neurons propagate signals; that neurons can actually perform computation; that neural computation is capable of structured representation (schema); etc. Those are the sort of discoveries that allow us to scientifically approach difficult questions like the nature of consciousness. They produce actionable knowledge.

          • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

            Are you aware of a thing called quantum physics?

          • Tim Shea
          • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

            You don't believe in Quantum Physics?

    • Victor

      There is nothing new in this article than what the eastern religions have been saying for centuries

      The traditional argument of those who don't want (or can't) to study sciences! Wonder what these religions have said about ion channels, action potential, neural potentiation, or cortical computation?

    • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

      This article states just the opposite. Atheist philosophy states that only what we can see is real. So if we can se some organs inside a body, and we can see a big one in the head, well, by atheist logic, that organ must be what produces consciousness. Just as a movie has its trailer, a book has its article, this is that article for an atheist propaganda book. People that encounter for the first time any writing on the subject of consciousness will be curious and will buy the book. This article has no relevance in any way for the people that have been studding consciousness with seriousness.

  • Matt Sigl

    I hate to say it, but this theory is just a philosophical mess that attempts to demystify consciousness by hiding the mystery under the new label of "awareness." Now, awareness CAN be used as a purely functional term, but here its general linguistic association with phenomenological states is slipped in "under the rug" as it were, making us think that if we have a good physical theory of awareness we've explained consciousness. Of course this kind of shifty move is EXACTLY what David Chalmers demolishes in his book The Conscious Mind. He goes on AD NASUEM about how awareness isn't the same thing as consciousness, and convincingly so. (Though their relation is intimate.)

    Bottom line: If consciousness is a truly causally efficacious phenomena in the world, can it really be reduced to "computation" or any deterministic physical process while maintaining its causal autonomy? (Spoiler alert: it can't.) If it could, why couldn't the deterministic computation merely go on "in the dark" without the strange phenomena of subjectivity accompanying it? Such a computation or physical process presumably would be able to write this article even though the consciousness itself wouldn't have "caused" the "information processing" to do anything. I know this is weird when the writing is itself about consciousness, but it's not logically impossible. (See: Zombies, philosophical).

    I DO think science is on the right track with consciousness, but the theory that makes progress is far bolder than the one mentioned here. Giulio Tononi's Integrated Information Theory is a conceptually rigorous, mathematically coherent and philosophically satisfying account of consciousness. In the IIT consciousness is a fundamental property of the world generated whenever a physical system integrates information. An integrated information "shape" (all conscious states can be represented as n-dimensional polytopes in "qualia space") then determines, or "chooses," it's own next state based on the information it has available to it. Since the information state is an intrinsic property of the physical system which generates it, consciousness doesn't exist as any kind of "ghostly" add-on. A conscious state is a single physical system's reduction of uncertainty about its own state, with each causal mechanism in the system splitting a symmetry (a yes/no question) and generating ever more bits of information about itself. Ultimately, all causation is conscious.

    Any scientist really interested in consciousness (or AI) should pay VERY close attention.

    • Tim Shea

      Regarding your bottom line: if humans are truly causally efficacious entities in the world, can they really be reduced to "chemistry" or any stochastic (deterministic is an incredibly loaded term) physical process? Yes, of course, in as much as we use the word causation to describe anything that happens in the universe. Why does it suddenly become untenable to you when we reach the level of a particular kind of neural mechanism? I would certainly not be uncomfortable describing a bacterium as efficacious, and its DNA and cellular structure comprise a much simpler form of computation than the proposed mechanisms.

      The notion that consciousness might be based on higher order awareness has been around for awhile, and is not really hiding the problem. Consider: force is a relationship that exists when there exists a mass and an acceleration. It isn't a new thing which comes into existence at that time, nor a previously existing thing which is somehow independent of the physical bodies or particles which cause it. It simply *is* the relationship. Is it such an unfathomable stretch to posit that consciousness *is* a thing which exists when an ongoing computational process explicitly represents and manipulates its representation of another ongoing computational process?

      I hadn't heard of Tononi before, but IIT sounds interesting, thanks for the information.

      • Matt Sigl

        Thanks for your response. My first post was probably a little snarky. Comment threads bring that out of me. This is the thing about consciousness, there is no way to parse it without diving head-first into intense fundamental philosophical issues.

        What IS reduction conceptually? What defines a reductive explanation of something? I argue that (most often) it is this: that by reducing a system into component parts, the behavior of the whole is seen to be determined by such parts. Such a system has been effectively "reduced" and "explained." Even "emergent" properties can succumb to this kind of reductive explanation. For example, one can say that the wetness of water is an "emergent" property of H2O molecules grouped together in a certain way. One can see precisely why the chemical nature of H20 dictates that when grouped in large enough amounts H2O will behave as "wet." (In fact the one thing we can't explain about this "emergence" is why liquid H20 has the phenomenal qualities that it does when we perceive it. Our phenomenal understanding of "wet things" is different from the behavior of wet things.) The behavior of the emergent quality is entirely dictated by the lower-level structure of the system's component parts. In fact a real reductionist would be committed to the ontological notion that "emergent" properties aren't even real at all and are merely a kind of "trick" of our perception.

        Consciousness isn't like that. There is no reason to imagine that insentient parts could ever combine together to give rise to something that has a subjective point of view as long the lower-lever insentient parts could do the work on their own. Consciousness isn't behavior. (Awareness can be confused as both consciousness and a kind of functional behavior of a system, hence the temptation to conflate the two conceptually.) Serious confrontation with this problem leads to one of two responses, the radical denial of our consciousness altogether (the eliminativism of the Churchland's and Alex Rosenberg) or a concession that subjectivity is somehow a fundamental part of the world (a view which can be cashed out in various forms of dualism, monism, or idealism.)

        You write: "Yes, of course, in as much as we use the word causation to describe anything that happens in the universe. Why does it suddenly become untenable to you when we reach the level of a particular kind of neural mechanism?" Very good point. I DON'T think there is any kind of special transition that occurs when we reach the level of neural mechanism. That's because we really don't have a consistent theory of causation in the first place. (See: Hume, David) What we call "causation" is usually just a prediction about the way the world behaves based on statistical regularities from the past. Hume's answer to this was merely to throw his hands in the air and claim that we only read causation into the world as "custom." What Hume missed was the possibility that we may be able to understand causation as being rooted in conscious "decisions" at the very base of reality. (This is what Tononi's theory suggests.) Just as we are the cause of our own behavior, so to is the behavior of all phenomena of the world. The problem is, we didn't evolve to see the real causal world, we evolved to perceive macroscopic regularities of patterns that emerge from the behavior of "invisible" causal agents. (AKA - We don't see the network and logic gates, just the user interface.) That's not to say these agents are intelligent - low-level consciousness is probably inconceivably simple and dumb - but they are nonetheless what is do the actual "causing." We are so used to seeing the world as entirely determined by "laws" (a shifty philosophical notion) that we have forgotten that the best reason to doubt this mechanical model of reality is obvious from the nature of our own experience. The fact that world is "causing" itself through self-choice (or self-measurement) is supported by the odd fact from quantum mechanics that almost ANY physical transformation has a non-zero probability of occurring at any time; it's only wildly, ludicrously unlikely. Whenever we look for a determined world, we nonetheless discover freedom.

        Can the concept of awareness be thoroughly cashed out APART from consciousness? If yes, then it's a shallow sort of awareness and totally reducible to lower-level parts, and if no, then describing consciousness as awareness only moves the mystery to a different linguistic term.

        There's more to be said of course about consciousness including interesting arguments against the conception of the mind as any kind of computation at all, but I think this is good for now. I admit that if I'm at all right, it's going to be a tough pill for science as is to swallow. But fortunately, I think my POV matches our common sense of who we intrinsically perceive ourselves to be far better than the model traditional "materialistic" science currently endorses.

  • john

    There seems to be two realistic models to base theories of consciousness upon. The one utilized by the author is soundly based on known computer OS, data retrieval, processing and domain mapping. The second approach is to examine simpler models leading up to a known evolutionary end point - consciousness in homo sapiens. Examples of these simpler models exist in apes, other mammals, birds, insects and on across the evolutionary tree.

    So the obvious question is why did the author decide to use the computational model used in silicon constructs? This branch has shown absolutely no propensity for developing consciousness. Investigating down through the various levels of neuron link complexity seems like it would be much more likely lead to progress in this scientific endeavor.

  • Janet Williams

    Lotta words, never got to the point. Author has no idea what consciousness is.

    • betyangelo

      I was just trying to figure out how to say that! :)

      • Katie Wright


    • Tim

      It isn't really very many words, and I suspect that's why so many people seemed to have missed it when the author did get to the point. It is unlikely anyone will ever completely explain and convincingly defend a theory of consciousness in two-odd pages, but the theory revolves around the notion of awareness and modelling of attention as an explicit cognitive process.

  • drokhole

    "...the aspect of the universe which is aware of itself, which does the awaring, does not see itself. In other words, you can't look at your eyes with your eyes. You can't observe yourself in the act of observing. You can't touch the tip of a finger with the tip of the same finger no matter how hard you try. Therefore, there is on the reverse side of all observation - a blank spot; for example, behind your eyes from the point of view of your eyes. However you look around there is blankness behind them. That's unknown. That's the part of the universe which does not see itself because it is seeing." - Alan Watts

  • Inception

    Money isn't real. It's just a figment of our collective conciousness. Pape coinage and stock quotes are manifestations of the figment.

  • Jon

    The problem of other minds: consciousness does not, objectively, "exist." I am conscious. Note, I cannot get empirical confirmation of this. This knowledge that I am conscious is not due to any scientific theories or any measurements. It is directly perceived by me, and yet not empirically. It is not measurable. No science or measurements will tell me whether my neighbor is conscious. Indeed, if the laws of physics describe everything around me, then they describe my neighbor's behaviors as well - physics, chemistry, biology, Darwin.What is left for consciousness to "do" ? Whenever you believe that your neighbor is conscious, that is indeed the same thing as "belief in ghosts" - it is primitive animism, just as if you believed that a thundercloud or volcano must be conscious to behave as it does.

    • Tim Shea

      In the absence of evidence, you presume that people who engage in all the things people engage in are conscious. On the extreme opposite end, you would almost certainly agree that a person who is dead is not conscious. In between, say in a catatonic state or a coma, you would likely be able to arrive at some set of criteria to decide whether you believed the person was conscious, not, or partially so. This form of 'measurement' by evaluating a set of criteria may not be rigorous enough for a peer reviewed journal, but neither does that place it at the level of superstition. It is a nominally accurate heuristic to say that things which exhibit certain properties are conscious, and things which behave the same way as those things can be presumed to be conscious.

      Actually, there is even an evolutionary basis for the development of that very heuristic. It's called empathy and it is massively useful for social animals.

      • Jon

        Is it any more empirical than evaluating a set of criteria to determine which rocks are conscious and which are not? Nothing here is falsifiable. What does it get lumped in with science at all? Which volcanoes are conscious and which are not? ON your last point, amusingly, let me be regarding 2 others. I can understand A's behaviors via physics/Darwin. I can use that reasoning to understand why A's *behaviors* exemplify the trait of empathy regarding B. But, the "problem of other minds" still applies. A can be behaviorally empathic regarding B without being conscious per se. That's kind of the point of me understanding him in terms of reductionism/determinism. It simply adds nothing to regard A as sentient / conscious per se. Indeed if A's empathic behaviors can be understood via reductionism/determinism then conscious once again doesn't "do" anything and therefore any criteria we set up to determine if it is "there" amounts to something in our own imaginations - primitive superstition.

  • MathH

    Nice and short. It seems a bit simple at this stage, unsurprisingly. But its simplicity also has something convincing about it. I'm very much tempted to say "Yeah, it's probably something like that". Then again, a lot of these observations are themselves not new or strange. They're just tied nicely together by this simple model or framework (rather network), that I now have to admit I'm not quite sure I have grasped already. In a way it seems like "Oh yes, it's neurons, actually, have been all along". Not sure how that is an explanation...? The reason why I said I find this convincing is mainly that it presents itself as more consistent as other approaches. And yet, yet... the blue remains quite a trick, doesn't it? It doesn't quite "go away" by the theory, which of course it shouldn't, but me don't see no blue in there.

  • Jon

    Steven Pinker, from How The Mind Works: "The philosopher Georges Rey once told me that he has no sentient experiences. He lost them after a bicycle accident when he was fifteen. Since then, he insists, he has been a zombie. I assume he is speaking tongue-in-cheek, but of course I have no way of knowing, and that is his point ... At least for now, we have no scientific purchase on the special extra ingredient that gives rise to sentience. As far as scientific explanation goes, it might as well not exist. It's not just that claims about sentience are perversely untestable; it's that testing them would make no difference to anything anyway."

  • Katie Wright

    What seems intuitive to me is that my consciousness is a feeling rather than a thought process or a series of actions and reactions brought about by some kind of distant schematic understanding of my relationship with the world around me. That feeling is most strong in meditation when my thoughts and actions are mute - something is still bubbling there - call it awareness. Consciousness seems, to me, to exist in the middle of both arrows - it's the veil through which they both pass.

  • elenor

    This theory could tie in in an interesting way to a theory of decision-making in a book I was reading called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He posited System A and System B, with System A (or B, can't remember which now) making most of the quick decisions but being bad with the details. Bit similar to the concept of the attention model which is low on detail. It would be interesting to hear how your theory relates to decision-making.

  • Douglas J. Bender

    "I am, therefore I think."

  • Douglas J. Bender

    Our consciousness is a facet of our spirit. We each have a spirit, which exists independently of our brain, but which "interfaces" with the physical world VIA the brain.

  • Silviu Costinescu

    First of all, "bleak" is not a criteria for truth. Many bleak things are true.
    Second of all, you develop conscience the moment you realize the universe feeds back and you are "back", and you need to account for the self as an actor in that diorama you call life, otherwise you would have a blind spot on your general awareness.

  • haney8604


    "Arrow A" and "Arrow B" might be a bit misleading on the surface since they imply two straight-line paths where the reality of the system is actually more of a circular process.

    Arrow A being comprised largely of data collection and analysis of said data based on predecessing associations often determined by years of remembered data collection. Associations, essentially the cataloging, categorizing and cross-referencing of various data sets, are incredibly important in the human brain.

    Arrow B is what you the system chooses to do with the results of the analytic processes of Arrow A. can be said to be the behavioral piece, expression. Choice, forgive me for falling back to psychology, is a benifit/goal determiation and the resultant "expression" is determined to be the most effective method to achieve said goal.

    The determination of that goal, in in a very primal sense, might be considered as self preservation which might then be evolved into a concept of self benefit. This is an important distinction in that what is acceptable as a "self benefit" is constantly being reevaluated as the system grows.

    In seeking to simulate such a system, as with anything, it should be conceived at it's simplest form. To observe the human consciousness in it's simplest form one should look to study infants and children. Any analysis of the adult mind, which has years of input data/associations/overly complex benefit analysis systems, would be inappropriate until the base system could be simulated.

    If an infant is hungry it interprets ways to express that hunger based on experience and memory. If a child cries when it's hungry, it gets food and remembers that crying when hungry = food. It now has a method of expression, which it will apply to other needs in an attempt to gain benefits from, but will soon realize it is inefficient. Specific means of expression are necessary to fulfill the goals brought on by specific problems.

    As this process is going on the brain automatically stores, categorizes and catalogs information it receives through its sensory inputs. Arguably this is the biggest problem when simulating consciousness. This system overlaps every other system in the brain and can have input on any part of the cyclical process of data collection, analysis, goal assessment, expression.

    To Be Continued.

  • James Anderson Merritt

    I wonder if there is any way to explore or test aspects of this theory using HTM (Hierarchical Temporal Memory), as discussed by Jeff Hawkins in the book "On Intelligence" and implemented in the open source nuPic platform by nuMenta/Grok. I am particularly intrigued by the similar statements that both the author and Hawkins have made, to the effect that a coherent theory of consciousness must explain both Arrow A and Arrow B. In Hawkins' case, he spoke clearly of the need for an artificial intelligence to be a participant in the world that it is trying to observe and understand: intrinsic to the structure of neocortex (which HTM models), are feedback and feed-forward circuits. Hawkins believes that neocortex predicts the future based on its record of past experiences, which include causing action, predicting the sensory feedback that its sensors will receive as a result of those actions, sensing the actual feedback received, if any, and making note of the difference between prediction and experience. Hawkins says that intelligence via neocortex -- and perhaps consciousness as well -- is a never-ending, self-adjusting cycle of motor output and sensory input, in which motor output produces expected and realized sensory input, while sensory input, compared with expected input, is used to modify the circuit and inform the next round of motor output. It seems to be that some of the ideas in Graziano's theory could perhaps be modeled and tested using HTM or similar platforms. We might then be able to see how consciousness or a precursor state to it is actually manifest in a model of cortex that we can examine internally in detail. Worth a try?

  • witheo

    Somebody asked the old rabbi, how can I be sure that I exist? To which the wise old man replied, who wants to know?

    Never mind the meaning of life, what is the raison d'être of this thing we like to call “the unbearable lightness of being”? Why am I here? Why, to survive long enough in order to breed of course. The rest is make-believe.

    If more than half of what is still optimistically called “human communication” is non-verbal, perhaps more than half of the non-verbal stuff rests wholly and irrevocably on blithe assumptions.

    I would go further. What is called “human communication” is not an exchange of information. This equally fond illusion rests squarely, I think, on the assumption that my sensory organs are capable of transmitting, like CNN, clear, unmediated information to my brain.

    No. What we humans exchange with and among each other and other creatures are brute sensory stimuli, verbal and semantic prods of a sharp tongue and glint in the eyes. My brain cannot recognise information, it creates it. My brain does not even know that it is a brain, or why. What my dumb brain receives from all the outlying sensory receptors (including the intricate balance mechanism of the inner ear, without which, incidentally, I could not make sense of the who, what, where, when and why of being) is raw data. Meaningless, sequential, electrically stimulated, digital code.

    My brain has evolved to selectively attend, to filter, to ruthlessly edit and reduce this incessant stream of meaningless, let me stress meaningless, sensory data to manageable levels, in order to “make sense”, turn raw data into information, possibly based on the same and/or similar reactivation of the original neuronal firing patterns associated with each sight and sound that were initiated long ago, when I first learned to speak. When, that is, I first learned to vocalise words and I began my life-long career of making linguistic sense.

    And the sense I make is all my own work. You and I may agree on the existence of “democracy” and “freedom” and “happiness”. But that’s because we have wisely learned from bitter experience, to avoid going into the detail. Consensus is the illusion of seeing and hearing the same truth, achieved by avoiding the detail.

    To elaborate. Consciousness is a word. As such, this word, as do all the other words we know and like and bandy about so confidently well, inevitably evokes the almost universal assumption, nay confident expectation, that the word “refers to” something else, something that is not the word itself, but something that the word somehow “represents”, as though “the thing referred to” pre-dates, pre-existed the word and continues to exist in some sort of extra-linguistic universe, “the real world” that is somehow and confidently assumed to be “an empirical given”, just sitting there, waiting to be apprehended by the first cognisant, homo-sapiens observer that happens along.

    No. All we can know about is what we talk about. The question, then, as to whether God exists, is rendered moot. The only things that can be said to exist are the things we talk about. Anything else is patently unknowable, un-re-cognisable, because, by definition, linguistically indefinable. Thus, in order to “make sense”, the atheist, too, is obliged to talk about the “God [which] does not exist”.

    Let’s, for argument’s sake, dispense for a moment with the current popular notion that there is such an experience as pre-linguistic (extra-linguistic) thought. I’m sure my imagination is as fecund as the next, but I somehow can’t quite get my head around the idea that a new-born child, on opening its eyes, goes, whoa, whoa, whoa, there must be some mistake, who are all these people?!

    No. To me, random contemplation, day dreaming, thinking, while driving or dancing, about the day’s plans and events, feels very like browsing through a library. The so-called “stream of consciousness”, is difficult to imagine without being conscious of words passing in and out of the mental “dialogue”.

    Thinking, then, may be understood, not as a coherent conversation, but certainly silently mobilising words; all the clichés and conventional expressions that make up the bulk of daily discourse. “Silently talking to myself” is too structurally deterministic, too grammatically, socially and conventionally constrained. “Thinking”, while certainly verbal, is not so conformed to civil protocols.

    If Socrates was right (ha!), cognisance (knowledge) is remembering. If that is right, then it seems reasonable to propose that I know my dog is my dog only because my brain is stimulated to reactivate the same neuronal responses to the sights and sounds, which I then verbalise as “re-cognition”; upon which I re-cognise the verbal construct “my dog”.

    Remembering produces the illusion of present awareness, as though of a present reality, even as I re-cognise that what I become aware of are the same and/or similar neuronal firing sequences of past cognitive responses. The only “present reality” I can be aware of is “the past”.

    The sky is not blue. Light is colourless. The cells in my retina respond to the specific wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum of visible light, to send that specific data to the brain, which, based on previous neuronal responses, turns the data into the learned linguistic information, confirmed by recitation and reward, that is articulated as “this is blue”, “that is your mother”, “this is the universe”, and so on.

    That, I believe, is how “consciousness” is linguistically constructed, dependent on what we call “memory”.

    • richard_hode

      True, perception is in the brain. Nevertheless, it references a reality that is independent of the observer. For example, when I say "Look there, at the house on the right side of the gas station," and you answer "it looks like it's on fire" indicates that there is an external reality that we both perceive. Our nervous systems construct reality in roughly the same way, at least for things we can observe visually. Those phenomena, presumably, are contained in the "real world."

      • witheo

        Thank you so much. Fortunately we none of us can know how much a mere acknowledgement can mean and is appreciated. Now then, for the sake of brevity, please see my response to my other interlocutor, ‘joymars’, earlier.

        I must confess, the problem I have with these commonplace anecdotal examples, as you present here, is that, as far as I can tell, “an external reality” (“the real world”) cannot consist merely of neat packages of artefacts, such as a burning house, little green apples, shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings and all the stuff of so many other nursery rhymes, myths and legends.

        My merely making (presumably) socially appropriate confirming noises in response to whatever you might say, while certainly appearing to evoke the beguiling impression “that there is an external reality that we both perceive” (and we all therefore like to “refer to” as “the real world”), is, to my way of thinking, disgracefully dismissive of everything else the brain relies on for making sense.

        By which, seeing as how you cannot enter my head, or observe with my eyes (and vice versa), I mean my unique sense, as distinct from your own sense and his, her and their sense, each to their own reality, based on who we are, where we’ve been and what we have learned to implicitly rely upon for reference.

        At the risk of repeating myself, it seems to me that my brain also implicitly relies on a wealth of “obvious irrelevancies” that intelligent people assume (for fear of collecting a bloody nose?) they need not reiterate ad infinitum.

        Things like the Pretext; all the ‘a-priori’ knowledge that you and I routinely take entirely for granted, which includes all of what’s habitually called “personal memory”, language skills, mastery of formal and informal socio-cultural conventions, upbringing, education, life experience (the list is long).

        Then there’s the Context; the specific circumstances in which the particular words (intonation, vocabulary, poetic licence, mood, etc) are spoken, heard and/or read, insensibly observed in close conjunction with size of pupils, facial aspect, smile/frown, gesture, body language, other vocal sounds like grins, coughs, fiddling with mobile phones, camera, car controls, etc.

        And finally and most pernicious and notoriously, there’s the ubiquitous, inescapable Sub-text; what the speaker/listener and/or reader/writer are independently and surreptitiously “reading between the lines”. As I’m sure you and I are doing right now and continually obliged to do during every social transaction.

        That tired old cliché, “You look great tonight” is most assuredly not all there is. Every novelist and screenplay writer must surely know and understand how dialog “works” in the context of different media. Raw dialog is not nearly enough. All speech relies utterly on ancillary data. When somebody says, “I’m going shopping”, we need to know that the speaker is at that moment actually taking a shower, or eating breakfast and therefore patently not going shopping (yet).

        This is certainly a very much watered-down analysis of what I believe is really going on, when two or more persons believe they are sensibly and conventionally “communicating”. All of that, and a whole lot more besides, I’m sure (such as how I’m feeling, what I had for breakfast, my blood sugar level, my inner ear balance function, sleep deprivation, pressing engagements, fears, guilt, etc. etc) is what I believe comes into play when I translate, interpret and respond to you (innocently) telling me, “Look there, at that house …” and all the myriad other commonplace things we wretched humans insist upon and talk about.

        Is it any wonder, therefore, that I’m going to keep saying (again) that what you say and what I say is not all there is. Far from it. There’s far more going on than either of us can hope to put a finger on. Which, I’m sure, is all to the good and much for the better, lest we dare not get out of bed in the morning, for fear of missing something urgently important.

        You know what? Just between you and me, I think it most fortunate indeed that we are bound, most readily and consistently, to miss most of what somebody else will no doubt call “the real world”.

        • richard_hode

          Undoubtedly, there's more going on in the brain than we realize consciously. But at least there seems to be recognition that perception and reality are distinct and that survival is promoted by adjusting to the real world.

          Consider, for example, many organisms that live in deep caves where no light penetrates, such as certain springtails and axolotls. Such beings are frequently sightless, and their carapaces lack color since they have no pigment. These organisms have adjusted to the physical environment by not wasting energy on body systems that are useless under the circumstances. (At the same time, we would expect the creatures to have increased sensitivity toward vibrations, and enhancement of the senses needed to function in Stygian darkness.)

          No, what we see is not "all there is" - it is only the aspect of the real world that is perceivable with our sensorium. By devising instruments, we may learn more.

          • witheo

            I’m sorry, I simply cannot accept that. For me, perception and reality are definitely not distinct, if for no other reason than that my perception is all I can apprehend and remember. As I cannot compare my dog, or my Moon, or my Civil War or wedding day with anything that is alleged to exist external to my conception of them, none other can exist for me.

            Not to belabour the point unduly, consider “the I/you dichotomy”. My concept of you is derived primarily from the words I have read as they appear under your (assumed) ‘nom de guerre’. Ergo, I can say you exist. But who is that ‘you’? Surely not the one you see in your bathroom mirror.

            Of course you exist, to some extent in your entirety, as seen from your own unique perspective and from the unique perspective of each of your acquaintances (who will quite properly claim to “know you” variously well). None of which ‘versions’, mind you, can be said to resemble each other.

            And all are most certainly most thoroughly unlike the ‘you’ I see. (Can any, or all, of those versions of ‘you’ be said to really exist? I say yes, all of them. But only one is perceptible to each observer, including you.)

            If all seven billion of us were to sit roughly around the same table on which is placed a single apple, how many apples may be said to be lying on the table? (In how many languages, just for a start.) I would have to say, there would appear to be as many different objects, events, people and realities as there are cognisant observers to report their individually apprehended “evidence” of (what is nevertheless resolutely said to be) one and the same phenomenon.

            When I speak, I am, as ‘the speaker’, inevitably mobilising the first person singular pronoun “I”. As an inescapable consequence, the second person “you” is thereby irrevocably presented (made perceptible). Even as I watch Hamlet on stage, in his existential soliloquy, as he famously asks ‘himself’, “To be, or not to be …”, I distinctly see the person speaking and the person spoken to. One actor, two distinct persons.

            But that is all I get, my vividly internalised experience of the performance, nothing else. In a very real sense, I can’t claim to know what “really” happened on stage, or testify in the dock precisely what happened at the scene of the crime on the date in question, nor indeed even what I know must have happened only yesterday.

            All I have to rely on is my memory of what I saw and heard, which is only my account of events, as seen and recalled by me alone, which, I also know, is by no means the whole story. Any other alleged reality must remain resolutely irrelevant to me, for I cannot know any other besides what I remember.

    • joymars

      No, memory is a subset of consciousness.

      I'd ease up on the coffee, if I were you. But while you're into all your formulating, please don't forget that everything has consciousness. Ours is just one sort. You wouldn't want to make the classic human-centric
      mistake religions make, now would you?

      • witheo

        Quite right. Well said. I most sincerely appreciate your taking the trouble. Forgive me, English is not my first love.

        I admit, quite frankly, most nearly everything I write these days seems to me afterwards fatuous, pompous, arrogant and insufferably hypocritical. It comes with the territory, I’m afraid, when one attempts to critique the function of language by means of the very medium under consideration. As for the coffee, when you have survived what they said was a “terminal illness” (survival, I assure you, is not always preferable to the other thing), if coffee did it for me, I wouldn’t be here, would I, adding my two decibels to this cyber-noise. I’d be out there, dancing and singing.

        Nevertheless. It seems to me that competent reading comprehension has much less to do with what I get out of the text than what I put in. Ergo, if you find your interpretation of my words disagreeable, perhaps I can hardly be expected to apologise for what is essentially your own work. What I wrote is one thing. What you manage to make of it is quite another.

        “Memory is a subset of consciousness.” OK. Fine. All we need now, you and I, is to agree on at least two suitable, comprehensive, easily falsifiable and succinct definitions; one for “memory” and another for “consciousness”.

        I know what people say, but I don’t think words come with concrete meanings, you see. Meaning, to me, does not sit blatant on the page, encrypted in the text, nor does meaning fly intact through the air when we converse. If you ask me (and nobody has), meaning is produced, manufactured anew at every turn, perhaps even while we are asleep. Your brain “makes sense” for you and my brain makes sense for me. That much (and a taste for coffee) I think we have in common.

        Where the shoe rubs is that I have no way of knowing what sense your brain makes for you and you have no way of knowing what sense my brain makes for me. Inherent to language is the universal assumption that words describe, "refer to", a universal, given “reality”. I don’t think I need to quote the literature or do the math to convince even you, gentle reader, that the narrative of what may be called the past 10 millennia of “civilisation” would seem to suggest, quite conclusively I submit, that people cannot be expected to agree about anything in detail. Your reality is not mine.

        But, that aside, how can I possibly take your advice seriously? How can I (not) “forget that everything has consciousness” when, not only do I not know, I confess, that “everything has consciousness”, but I also need much more information about what you mean by “everything” and what you mean by “having consciousness”. Infinitely much more information, to which, I’m afraid, neither you or I have the time (or inclination) to devote. Life’s too short.

        “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” (Peter Steiner, The New Yorker, July 5, 1993). On the other hand, if you’re going to keep growling at me …

        • Xavier Candiani

          I am devoting my life to the study of Consciousness.

  • NetDost Social Network

    interesting but off the mark

  • Nick Rogers

    Because I'm sure many more skilled scientific commenter have provided the scientific problems with this, I'm going to throw the ardently-religious/philosophical perspective in there.

    Never have I been quite so convinced as when I read this article that underneath so many so-called scientists, free thinkers, and "skeptics" there is a deep and horrifying, soul crushing irrational-ism. The death of light,love, life and reason inside a person. The destruction of their soul, in other words.

    This article, this argument, this theory, is completely RETARDED! It is a monumental work of self deception, of insisting on ignorance, on the part of the author.

    He spins his gears for paragraph after paragraph talking about how consciousness is an evolutionary construct, an adaptation of the physical world, and what its purpose is, but the entire time he is holding his hands over his eyes and pushing and screaming so he can't know what he already knows.

    He is not talking about consciousness, he is at most, talking about the mechanisms in the physical world which might generate it. His "theory" does not provide for the great "I think, therefore I am." its simply another idiot spinning his gears with regards to the physical interactions he sees in relation to that consciousness.

    I don't need to prove that consciousness is immaterial. I can assert beacuse I know that only a wicked, wicked person who is absolutely determined to destroy themselves and is beyond rational argument, will convince themselves otherwise!

    Everyone knows that they are not their body, not entirely, even if they haven't thought about it. And Consciousness is a mystery that is completely beyond scientists grasp. And it always will be.

    In essence, this guy is insisting, in so many complicated words that he doesn't exist. And if he keeps saying that it might actually come true. God forbid it, but when Scientific materialists go down this dark road, I honestly think at some point they succeed in wishing themselves out of existence. Suicide, for real. I pray for them.

    • joymars

      Lighten up Nicki. The infinite cosmos has been down this road innumerable times. And here we are... still here!

    • Clyde Seeger

      There were some who felt the same way about Prime Numbers. Scary stuff.

  • greenknight32

    Can't truly say this is science, not metaphysics - more like an attempt to reconcile science and metaphysics.

    I arrived at a similar conception. I call it a "mental model" - not a physical model, but an informational one, like a computer model. What you're aware of is not the world, but your model of it. Self-awareness is simply that you exist in the model as its center. "Schema" is another way of describing the same concept, I would say.

    Doesn't completely solve the metaphysical problem, though. It says consciousness is information - information is real, but has no physical substance, though it must be contained within physical substance in order to exist. How different is that, really, from the magical mind stuff idea? Don't know why you say it doesn't flow - information most certainly does flow, though it has no substance

    To those who recoil at the notion of reducing human consciousness to the "merely physical", consider that the more deeply we delve into the physical world, the more strange and magical we find it to be. Quantum physics isn't something separate from everyday reality, it is its basis - and it's quite weird enough for me, don't know why anyone needs to be looking for ghosts.

  • Philo

    The computational aspects of this should seem familiar to computer scientists and coders who have knowledge of reflection in programming languages (beginning with Brian Smith's 1982 thesis):

  • Barfly_Kokhba

    "Some are born to sweet delight
    And some are born to endless night"

    And then there are the philosophers, the scientists, the mystics and madmen
    Who live perpetually in the middle, in the dawn or the dusk
    With the sun always just past the horizon, just out of sight
    They are always asking different versions of the same question:

    "What is Man, that Thou should magnify him?
    And that Thou should set Thine heart upon him?
    That Thou should visit him every morning, and try him every moment?
    For You have made him a little lower than the Angels,
    And crowned him with Honor and Glory"

  • saksin

    Apparently Michael Graziano's performance skills extend beyond
    ventriloquism to sleight-of-hand, at least in the conceptual domain. He
    seems to make the problem of consciousness vanish, but close attention
    to his argument shows that like a skilled stage magician, he has only
    made it disappear from view. It hides instead in the miraculus power he
    attributes to brains, that namely of "attributing the property of awareness to itself": "It computes a description, then attributes an experience of blue to itself" and so on, in numerous places. With verbal magic like that, even the hardest problems becomes easy, but that should not be confused with explanation.

  • paul wright

    I largely agree with this article, but I think the missing step is that consciousness is what it is like TO BE an attentional model. We don't HAVE these models we ARE them. (Excuse the capitalisation please). The brain is an organ that produces models of the outside world, but we are not a person in the internal cinema watching the show - we ARE the show.

  • Robert Landbeck

    If there is one thing that makes neuroscience squirm with unease, it is hearing of any 'alternative' explanation for consciousness other than biology. Well they may have to get used to the idea as trials are now underway to TEST for the supernatural and for the source and function consciousness itself. Function being understood as the ability to comprehend and act on moral insight necessary for conscience to function as a corrective and restraint to reason. This trial is open to all who are able to challenge their own prejudices and explore outside the box of cultural understanding as we have come to understand it. More at

    • SmoovB

      "trials are now underway to TEST for the supernatural"

      Another in a long list of incoherent statements in and about this article. The "supernatural" cannot by definition be the subject of a (scientific) test, since science tests that which is "natural", again by definition.

      • Robert Landbeck

        Your definition will have to change. For this trial meets the most rigorous criteria science ever devised for the confirmation of new insight and discovery. But it didn't come from either the scientific or religious communities. But it exists and I'm testing it now for the evidence of it's own efficacy. But unable to challenge your own prejudices, you are obviously without the critical self scrutiny necessary to even imagine what happening!

  • armis

    If consciousness is a simple illusory by-product of part of the brain's decision-making processes and modeling of itself vs. the rest of the universe, is it quantifiable? Will brains that are, for lack of a better term, better at processing signals and outputting decisions be 'more conscious' than others? How does that manifest itself in perceived terms?

  • Benneker

    On the risk of sounding preposterous, I believe consciousness is relatively easy to model, if not explain. The original intuition of consciousness as an ‘inner sense’, or ‘the mind’s eye’ has rarely been taken seriously in the philosophy of mind. After all, our senses interact with the physical world, while consciousness interacts exclusively with the ‘inner’ world of volitions, intentions, etc.

    I would argue that consciousness can be viewed as a true ‘sixth sense’, and that this viewpoint dissolves many of the confusions and mystifications surrounding the subject. So to begin, what constitues a sense organ?

    Firstly, it interacts directly with the physical world. Our eyes register changes in light, our ears air-vibrations, our nose and tastebuds molecular structures and our touch electrical currents. The common denominator is representation: physical changes in the environment can only be registered once they have been properly represented, i.e. translated into changes of the organic matter that makes up the senses itself.

    Representation of chemophysical changes is the first necessary property of any sense organ. However, since the physical world has a large redundancy of information, our sensory organs attempt to simulate the physical world based on a minimum of sensory data. So images are preprocessed in the retina, inverted, sharpened and retouched before being send to the visual cortex for further processing. This is the second property of any sense: it simulates reality, based on biological presets and – further up the perceptual structure - prior experience.

    Representation and simulation are necessary and sufficient properties of sense-organs. If we take seriously – and not just as a convenient analogy – the view of consciousness as an inner sense, this implies that representation and simulation are the properties we should look for.

    Where the eye takes external photonic changes as its ‘raw data’, consciousness uses processed perceptions as its raw data. These data, which themselves are merely organic representations of physical changes, are in turn ‘re-represented’ in the brain, most notably through neural structures that enable their expression through symbolic systems like language.

    Thus a word can be accurately be described as a representation of stored perceptual data. And uttering a sentence or telling a story means using these shared data to simulate a possible reality in the minds of other conscious language users.

    What is consciousness? The representation of processed sense data and the simulation of imaginable worlds based on them, within the 'logical space' of our own and each other's minds, that is, the representation of reality itself. This entails the use of symbolic systems, like language and mathematics. By manipulating words and sentences (representations of processed sense data) in this way, we are able to simulate 'reality' (or rather, the simulation of reality created by our sense organs).

    Memories, plans, thoughts, stories, theories all constitute simulations of imaginable worlds within our own or each other's minds. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, understanding a proposition means knowing what the world would look like if it were true - running a simulation of the symbolized sense data within logical space, i.e. the representation of reality.

    I believe that with this concept of consciousness, the so-called hard problem is easily solved: consciousness creates what we experience as an 'inner life' because it uses processed sense data to simulate (hypothetical) realities, just as these sense data themselves are simulations created by higher level processing of physical data.

    • Tim Shea

      This is an excellent philosophical argument for how to understand consciousness (better, I think, than the simplistic ones given by Graziano) but it isn't inherently incompatible with the mechanical theory presented. If you consider the role of attention as a mechanism for enhancing important information and suppressing distraction, then it seems a perfectly viable candidate for the source of the inner sensory data you describe. That is, attention could be the sensor and the model of attention could be the higher order representation. Moreover, this lends to your account of consciousness a mechanism by which it interacts with (through enhancement and inhibition) the systems and data it represents. As you point out in your comment above, this bilateral interaction is not logically required as Graziano argues. It does however agree with our intuitive sense of the ability to direct our consciousness, which should be seen as a mark in its favor.

      Reading your argument clarified a notion in my mind that I hadn't fully explored, which is that integrating a directed higher order attention with the phonological loop theories of working memory gives a perfectly coherent account for 'stream of consciousness'. That is, the ability to direct (via higher order representation) attention-based activation to words creating inner audition, which is then accessible to be processed and represented by the same inner sense explains the subjective experience of being able to control (albeit imperfectly) the contents of inner audition.

      • Benneker

        I assumed Graziano's argument concerned the ability of consciousness to direct behaviour, not attention. (I roughly agree with your description of attention, which I understand best as directed consciousness, much like hearing vs. listening).

        I thought his point was that, since his conscious decision to write involved sensory-motor processing, consciousness has a 'specific, physical effect on neurons'. If I understand correctly, that's nonsense.

        Attention and volition are two different constructs. Attention is focused consciousness. Volition refers to behaviour displayed while conscious.

        • Ed Lake

          His point (if I understand correctly!) is that if you can make reports on your state of consciousness, there has to be some causal interaction between that state of consciousness, whatever it may be, and the neural, muscular etc mechanisms involved in making reports. The issue isn't decision-making, it's how your mouth could possibly "know" what's going on in consciousness, unless consciousness is a correctly formatted stream of data that is legible to the relevant information processors. So, epiphenomenalism is false, and we know something about the kind of causal shape that consciousness must have.

          • Tim Shea

            I suppose I should have been more explicit, but given the ability of attention to influence processing of the attended systems, I think it is plausible to consider this a mechanism for directing behavior. It comes down to what level of granularity is available for attention: much, if not all, of the body's perception and motor systems are available to a very fine level, allowing you to attend to sensations like to the feel of sandpaper on the tip of your finger or to motions like the flexion of the upper bicep. By enhancing (or potentially initiating) processing in the sensorimotor cortex, attention could directly control behavior and by extension (under the proposed theory) consciousness could as well. This is what I meant when I stated that the model lends to consciousness an ability to interact which agrees with our intuitive sense. This implies (again in agreement with our intuition) that much of sensorimotor function is unconscious. In contrast, while we do seem to have the ability to direct our phonological loop and to consciously control speech, we don't apparently have the same granularity of control: the subjective experience is more like selecting and refining than initiating.
            Anyway, I'm still not sure that the theory adequately explains all the facets of the things we consider features of consciousness, but I am increasingly convinced that it at least overcomes the most basic hurdles for a cognitive model of consciousness.

    • theotormon

      But couldn't a p-zombie do this as well?

      • Benneker

        They could conceivably replicate the process, and answer yes when asked if conscious. But those are mythical beings, the stuff of philosopher's nightmares, where p-zombies bounce around in Chinese rooms.

        Sense, perception, experience, only arise from organisms, with their built-in drive to survive and reproduce. In fact it's impossible to even define any of those terms without referring to the organism and its needs.

        The fallacy of p-zombie type arguments should remind us that thought experiments only work when they are constructible.

        The fallacy of artificial intelligence should remind us that believing in our own abstractions is our favourite mistake.

  • SmoovB

    Once again, a clever and engaging story about the nature of human consciousness. There are as usual though some statements which are flat-out puzzling in their sheer incoherence:

    "Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself."

    A very nearly content-free assertion, however it is surely trumped by this gem:

    "Some philosophers think we are automata and just don’t know it."

    Which approaches a level of comic absurdity worthy of Monty Python.

    There is among the class of folks to which the author belongs a certain scotoma when it comes to the ability to identify a self-refuting hypothesis. If one is incapable by nature of grasping why all such reductionist/materialist accounts of consciousness are obviously self-refuting, well there's not much that can be said.

    Have fun with your puzzles.

  • EP


  • Victor

    It's hard not to conclude that most commentators here seem to have their own squirrels in their heads. They just ignoring (or didn't bother themselves to read) Graziano's arguments and repeating the mantra that 'consiousness is mystical, unthinkable, transcendental, god-given, spiritual etc etc'. That's what happens when an ambiguous and general topic is posted - people promote their pet theories, rather than open their minds to the cold reality of facts. And the facts are as follows: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules" (Francis Crick)

    • Lewis_Wetzel

      "To say that consciousness cannot be reduced to the brain, one must first have a detailed understanding of the brain itself."

      That is, if you can prove a negative.

  • justsayin
  • Michael Graziano

    Glad there is so much interest in the ideas. Sorry for my late entrance – I will try to comment on some of the main issues that have come up. This topic does tend to generate dissent, and there may be a deep underlying reason for so much distress toward this idea in particular. I think that almost all people who think about consciousness, whether they are religious or scientific and atheistic, assume the presence of magic -- assume the presence of a non-physical feeling or experience. To explain or understand that experience is thus challenging (or impossible). But I try to take a rationalist approach here -- for what utility do brains compute and attribute this strange property to themselves? The question becomes one of computation and attribution and is therefore scientifically approachable. I am an unashamed extreme rationalist. Science can’t make any progress toward anything without rationalism.

    If anyone would like to see a short talk I gave on the topic, perhaps clarifying some points, please do check out:

    I do think it is impossible to really get the theory without reading the book, which spells it out and its relation to previous psychological and neuroscientific work. As spelled out in detail, it has a close relationship to Bernard Baars' work, also to Koch, to Kentridge's recent work dissociating attention and awareness, and to many other approaches. Ultimately the idea of awareness as a sketchy, inaccurate representation of attention comes out of my 20 years work on the body schema as a sketchy, inaccurate representation of the movement of the body. I believe the book was released early and is out now (available on Amazon).

    Thank you all for the deep comments.

    • Philo

      I still think this has something in common with reflection in higher-level programming languages. (Brian Cantwell Smith's 1982 doctoral dissertation introduced the notion of computational reflection in programming languages, and the notion of the meta-circular interpreter.)

      • Tim Shea

        I agree. Personally, I would argue that the set of phenomena we describe as consciousness is mostly already replicated across a diverse range of artifacts, and that we are really looking for before we are willing to call a computer conscious is some evidence of agency.

        • Matthew Gaylard

          Yes. The model of consciousness as derived from a representation of attention makes some sense to me. But the link between this consciousness and agency seems an important aspect of this. The "process of consciousness" obviously responds to and influences events in the limbic system, for instance - as well as attention to sensory perceptions. And I would assume that the physical substratum in which the process exists is configured differently in each instance of the process (being), despite there being clearly some extremely complex algorithms that are common across instances of the process (beings). Perhaps this goes someway to explaining individual agency? In this sense, every instance of consciousness is in a real way quite special and unique, linked to its actual embodiment. I suspect this is something that will be very difficult to replicate artificially.

          • Tim Shea

            Perhaps you're right that it will be difficult. I tend to think the opposite is true. I agree that in our everyday experience we tend to emphasize physical embodiment as a component of self awareness--a disembodied mind capable of communicating only by text might not have convince many people--but from a philosophical or even just rigorously analytic standpoint I think it's case for consciousness, given the appropriate properties, is just as strong as a mind which has a unique home. In my opinion, the personal narrative theories of identity are more compelling than any which rely on physical embodiment. Which, for me, raises an interesting question: given that certain forms of amnesia destroy the personal narrative, but leave the intact the habit of using the personal pronoun, should we suppose that these people have lost some degree of their consciousness, or only their ability to relate it?

          • Matthew Gaylard

            Tim - I am attempting to frame a philosophical and analytical argument here. And the argument relates to the "A" and "B" arrows as described in Graziano's article. Unless we retreat down the path of mysticism, there is analytically and philosophically, no such thing as a "disembodied" mind. A computer-based "consciousness" is embodied - it exists in code and patterns of electromagnetic activity that are an attempt at analogues of a biological brain. Someone else in this forum has suggested that the A and B arrows shouldn't be thought of as discrete things, but as a cyclical process. Meaning that in acting e.g. clenching my fist or writing a post, both the B arrow and the A arrow are constantly in play. This is not the same as a sending instruction (1) receiving sensory feedback (2) recalibrating information model and sending instruction (3) because the hand is not just a tool of consciousness. It is a vital part of the system of consciousness. So if I accidentally touch a hot oven top while contemplating a philosophical dilemma, not only is there an immediate response that bypasses consciousness, but there is a release of adrenalin and other neurotransmitters that result in a dramatic change of state in consciousness.
            My points here are threefold:
            (1) Consciousness is not something that exists as an arrangement of neurons in the brain/a state of electro-magnetic patterns in a computer that responds to external stimulus. The internal state of consciousness is dynamically tied to the state of the environment which it models, which includes itself. A computer that provides a text-based response to a question, (no matter how convincingly human that response), on the basis of an internal model of the interaction, is only a simulation of a very narrow band of conscious behaviour. I hold no store in the Turing test in its current conceptualisation as a test of consciousness.
            (2) This blurring of the boundary between the "model of attention" and that which is attended to is a critical aspect of consciousness (and analytically necessary if we are to avoid mysticism).
            (3) Consciousness has a purpose - in programming terms, it exists to optimise certain outcomes - and its existence and state at any moment in time is best understood by the relationship between those desired outcomes and the "thing that is attended to" (reality). So the person whose personal narrative is damaged due to amnesia still tries to optimise outcomes (and responds to states such as hunger etc). Interestingly, as I understand from documented cases, reconstructing and maintaining personal identity, either through creating stories to explain their situation or in making notes to maintain personal narrative integrity, seems to be a key feature of these unfortunate people's lives. Suggesting that identity is indeed important to consciousness.

          • Tim Shea

            I would first dispute your rigid assertion that consciousness is not a [pattern or structure] that responds to stimulus. In fact, I would argue that if we are to *avoid* retreating to mysticism, as you say, then it is essential to maintain an unbroken hierarchy of description from the physiological (which indisputably is a pattern of neurons that responds to stimulus) to whatever level of abstraction is actually useful for understanding. I'm not denying your second point regarding situated consciousness, only claiming that it must be necessary to reduce the abstraction.

            On the other hand, I actually think your second point is very compelling. I don't see it as entirely removed from the same spectrum of abstraction that contains the higher order representation theories or the physiological response theories, but rather as simply a more abstract description. Thus, describing a situated consciousness in the way you do lets us understand the purpose (I prefer to think in terms of evolutionary advantage, just to avoid certain pointless arguments) of consciousness, while reducing the abstraction to the level of higher order representations of cognitive systems lets us understand the functional implementation of consciousness, and further reducing the level of abstraction to neurological circuits lets us understand the physical behavior of consciousness. Reducing the abstraction impairs our ability to see and understand the model as a whole of course, but it lets us construct a physiological plausibility argument.

          • Matthew Gaylard

            Hmmm ... I am struggling a bit to follow your argument, partly because I have a limited exposure to the theoretical literature in this area, so I have to google quite a bit here :-). You are right about my rigid assertion. I should have said "not *only*".

            Some neurology may help us here. Your pointers to people suffering from amnesia was useful. Damage to the cerebellum/cerebrum/cerebral cortex is not directly associated with a loss of consciousness, although it is associated with losses of motor and cognitive function. Damage to the thalamus is associated with coma, inability to regulate awareness (e.g. insomnia), Korsakoff's syndrome (amnesia). So if we were to look for the neurological seat of consciousness, this would appear to be where it is. The thalamus has strong connections to the cerebral cortex and is integral to the functioning of all the sensory systems except smell. Its in many ways like the brain's central switchboard for the A and B arrows. See

            While I share your concern about "purpose" being misinterpreted, in the sense in which I am using it, it is more precise.

            Our ability for abstract thought and modelling is located in the cerebral cortex (mainly). You can think of this as the computer part. Quite a lot of what these areas of the brain do we can in principle emulate in software. But what makes an "I" which initiates and is aware of these things is located in the thalamus. And it is emulating this which is the "hard problem" in AI, I think. And I don't think it is peripheral or insignificant. It is the "I" which animates the cerebral cortex and is responsible for giving it purpose. When you have a new idea or insight, it is because the thalamus is keeping you aware and stimulated. Remove that and you have your zombie - but it's a real zombie - the living dead - like a computer in the absence of an operator/programmer.

            So while I find Graziono's article a fascinating description of how the "am aware" experience is constructed, I find it unsatisfactory in explaining the "I" part. I am interested in this partly because of a curiosity about AI. So for me a question is about how one might try to construct an artificial "I".

            It seems to me one would need to focus in the following areas:
            (1) Linking "it" to sensory mechanisms that include data streams about "it's" state.
            (2) Giving "it" parameters to optimise about "its" state
            (3) Making those parameters open-ended e.g. more processing power/data storage capacity etc, more interaction with people, activity in its sensory field
            (4) Including states of discomfort in the data stream about "its" internal state.

            I think that turning "it" into "I" would be more like teaching a baby than flicking a switch, and would be potentially dangerous.

          • Tim Shea

            The first three of your four points above give a good outline for a rigorous conceptualization of agency and autonomy (e.g. 'Understanding Agent Systems' by Luck) which is what I was getting at in my first comment above. The criteria given by Luck for an autonomous agent are goal-directed behavior and intrinsic motivation (by which new goals are generated). Subordinate criteria are actions, perception, environmental models, and social models. According to Luck, an autonomous agent spontaneously self directs its behavior according to its motivations and knowledge. This was the thrust of my original point, that before we are willing to accept an artifact as conscious, I think it will have to demonstrate a lot of qualities which are present in humans, but are not necessarily properties of consciousness (in this case, because they are properties of autonomy and agency). This is also sort of what I was getting at with my amnesia speculation: the destruction of the personal narrative wreaks havoc on the (in my opinion) most convincing conceptualization of self awareness, but I think it's not obvious that it impedes consciousness. That implies a dissociation between self awareness and consciousness. On the other hand, you seem committed to a more holistic understanding of self awareness which I don't really have a rebuttal to.

            So, I am asserting, unsupported, that consciousness is required for self awareness and that self awareness is required for effective agency, but that agency is not required for consciousness.

    • Crude

      "I think that almost all people who think about consciousness, whether they are religious or scientific and atheistic, assume the presence of magic -- assume the presence of a non-physical feeling or experience."

      Frankly, your explanation sounds vastly more 'magical' than most of the alternatives, whether religious or scientific or atheistic (it's not scientific 'and' atheistic. The two are not the same.) You do not explain consciousness - you pretty much declare subjective experience, if it does exist, to be completely intractable to a scientific solution, and therefore conclude that we must regard it as an illusion. That's not a scientific approach to the question - it's a thoroughly philosophical and metaphysical one which rules out of bounds any possibilities or even questions that don't fit your schema from the start.

      But worse than that - even the explanation you provide doesn't work on its own merits. You talk about 'illusions', but 'illusions' only make sense in the context of a subjective experience. You talk about representation, but representation also only makes sense if there is a person a thing is being represented to (again, a subjective experience). The talk of information, insofar as we're talking about meaning, is ultimately going to come down either to intrinsic or derived meaning. If you're declaring that intrinsic meaning is present in the brain or brain structures or the world generally, then it's game over for your explanation - it turns out that materialism is false after all, and intentional aspects are apparently a rock-bottom constituent of reality. If you're declaring the meaning in neurons, etc, to be derived meaning - meaning that is assigned to such and such a thing by another mind - then you've only pushed the problem back a step. You'll either need to talk about the ultimate source of that meaning, or - if you say that all meaning is derived, period - accept incoherency.

      • Marc Burock

        Graziano presumes, like most cognitive and neuroscientists, that reality is material and/or computational. This is his first assumption, and it has nothing to do with science or reason; it is a purely metaphysical assumption that has been productive over recent centuries. He appears to believe that anyone suggesting that reality is not material/computational must believe in magic (whatever that is). Some of us, however, question the limits of our knowledge and assumptions, and are not faithful materialist/informationalist. Nor need we be religious or spiritual. So when Graziano dogmatically asserts his 'rationalism' and computationalism, some of us cringe--the way Graziano might cringe when someone dogmatically asserts the existence of a judeo-christian God.

        Crude's criticisms are right on. Graziano's claims are inconsistent to me and full of contradictions. But if you cannot question materialism, then you will not see this inconsistency.

        • MikeLyvers

          Yes it really is akin to a dogmatic religious belief, isn't it. But materialism has hard problems too: what is matter? Why does it exist? Such questions are essentially the same as the hard problem of consciousness, as the deeper we delve into the nature of matter the more elusive the answers become.

          • Marc Burock

            So true. I forgot about materialism's hard problem, and the problems of quantum physics. And that's an interesting aspect of materialism -- the fact that most of us do not even notice that materialism has deep metaphysical holes. Materialism as a theory appears solid to us, like its theoretical objects, but under the microscope, the theory is uncertain, immaterial, and dynamic.

    • MikeLyvers

      Of course those of us who don't have Aspergers or some similar condition "assume the presence of a non-physical feeling or experience" simply because we do experience mental phenomena. When I imagine a beautiful woman standing before me, that is not the same event as a real physical woman standing before me; the imagined woman is a nonphysical, mental phenomenon not a physical one. There is no need to invoke magic here, as the distinction between imagination/dreams and reality is an everyday experience for most of us, even if it cannot be "explained" other than by pointing to areas in the brain that light up on a PET scan when we vividly imagine things or are dreaming. But in order to see a brain and imagine how it might work, consciousness is the prerequisite foundation for doing that.

      • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

        I think imagination is as "magic" as it gets. The PET scan just measures the effect of that magic in matter.

        • MikeLyvers

          The existence of this incredibly vast universe is even more magical, in the sense of being amazing and wondrous. Don't forget that matter is "magic" too!

  • JoinSeeLolly

    Great read...although it seems to me that, by this point in time, any article approaching this general subject that DOES NOT integrate our (albeit limited) understanding of cetacean consciousness/mind/etc is not truly taking a full view of the subject.
    A great read though.

  • R M

    Nice article.

    I'd wondered about what you call "arrow B" before. As far as I know, there seems to be very little philosophical awareness of the fact that consciousness does have physical consequences. The idea, common in philosophical parlance, of a "philosophical zombie", an entity indistinguishable from a normal person and yet with no consciousness, is thus an antimony, for any such being would answer "no" when asked to determine and declare whether it had consciousness.

    Simply tracking the physical cause of the enunciation of a "yes" from a normal human could yield great insight into the nature of consciousness. Do you know if any work has actually been done on this, via MRI scans? If not... it seems to me that it is an experiment long overdue.

    • elcerrito

      "There seems to be very little philosophical awareness of the fact that consciousness does have physical consequences."

      Really? That arguable "fact" is nothing if not the foundation of the free-will side of our ancient and ongoing argument in which the arguable converse "fact" underlies its determinism side. Philosophers had been all over this discussion ever since there have been philosophers.

      • Ed Lake

        And yet the conceivability of zombies is widely accepted.

      • R M

        What I was saying was that there doesn't seem to be much awareness that is IS a fact. What's arguable about it? If I asked you whether you're conscious or not, you check, and then you tell me. Your telling me was a physical event.

  • Sergio Poalsky

    aannnddd qualia is still unexplained.....

  • Benneker

    "Arrow A is the mysterious route from neurons to consciousness. If I am looking at a blue sky, my brain doesn’t merely register blue as if I were a wavelength detector from Radio Shack. I am aware of the blue. Did my neurons create that feeling?"

    I don't think questions like these are helpful. Organisms don't register blueness. Their eyes do and yes, for some primitive photosensitive organs this process has similarities to a wavelength detector (with the crucial caveat that an organism only registers information in the light of its own survival and reproduction).

    Nor is it accurate to say you are aware of the sky, or its blueness. You are aware of your sensory apparatus registering a blue sky. This is not semantics. It illustrates the nature of consciousness as a secondary, internal sensory process. We are not conscious of any observable properties of the physical world. We can only be conscious of our sensory organs registering them.

    And of course, neurons don't 'create' feelings in any useful meaning of the verb. Neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters etc. could be said to represent feelings experienced by the organism. But that only begs the hard question.

    "Arrow B is the mysterious route from consciousness back to the neurons.(...) Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn’t be able to communicate anything about it. Consciousness cannot be what is sometimes called an epiphenomenon — a floating side-product with no physical consequences — or else I wouldn’t have been able to write this article about it."

    Consciousness is a product of the brain, so it will most likely consist of neural activity - saying that it has a 'physical' effect on neurons is circular.

    Similarly, the writer defines consciousness and conscious behaviour in terms of each other: consciousness entails conscious behaviour, conscious behaviour entails neural activity, thus consciousness entails physical effects.
    (Generally, 'else I wouldn't have been able to write this' or any such recursive tautology, should not be allowed as an argument in philosophical discourse).

    Consciousness could still be an entirely passive, merely observational faculty of the brain. This does not preclude conscious behaviour, let alone writing about consciousness. If we view consciousness as fundamentally an internal sensory process, conscious behaviour is simply behaviour displayed while this type of information processing was active.

  • Sergio Poalsky

    Does not answer the hard problem of conciousness, qualia remains unexplained.

  • JSG

    This fascinating thread calls to mind a joke that describes economists as folks who, on seeing that something works in practice, immediately want to know if it also works in theory.

    Consciousness exists, as evidenced by this discussion. So why the need to explain it, or solve the so-called hard problem?

  • focuser

    Arrow A is the input of data? Arrow B is the belief it is there, outside of an isolated being called 'me'? Where is the structure, their relationship? This theory seems ready to be dismissed by philosophers like Nagel. And don't get me wrong, I'm not a proponent of his, this just seems like a confusion of the idea of consciousness rather than the simplicity that hides inside it.

  • Zippy the Pin Head

    Please find a completely different Understanding of Consciousness with a capital C via this reference.

  • Xavier Candiani

    This is the worst article on the topic of consciousness I have ever read in my years of researching consciousness. This is not science, this is an atheist writing his mental discrepancies and trying to find explanations that disregard all evidence whatsoever. It has been proven over and over that consciousness is not a brain function, why would a scientist start a research with such a supposition? The answer is easy, he wouldn't. A scientist is trying to find the true, an religious activist is trying convince others that his philosophy is right explaining it in "scientific words". Have you heard of quantum calculations? or quantum physics? It's been around for a hundred years. You can't advance a scientific study if you planning on superimpose your own personal superstitions over the evidence. I am about to publish a paper about consciousness. It will be called The Theory of Vibrational Evolution and it will cover this very topic in a much sophisticated and advanced way. Probably after reading it you will understand how your own prejudice is taking you very far from a real answer and very far from being a real scientist. I will let you know, in the meantime, stay away from this topic, leave it to the grown ups or stop trying to cheat people saying this is science, or that you "craked" the biggest answer of all by spending an afternoon writing in your blog. Good day.

    • RCB

      Apparently the author is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. What are your credentials Mr. Candiani?

      • Xavier Candiani

        If this was an article about neuroscience, I wold read and learn. this is an article to presumably "Crack" the understanding of consciousness, my particular field of expertise. We are figuring out the truth of nature, how things work. Truth is independent of the researcher.

      • MikeLyvers

        Every conscious being has consciousness credentials.

  • Lionel Thomas

    My belief is we are not our bodies, we are in control of them in a way you would control a computer character in a game, and where a computer generates the environment and visuals like our body’s brain generates our environment and visuals we experience.

    As different computer specs give end users different experiences so do different bodies and in turn their brains. Brains also caches and categories information as for quicker retrieval as a computer would.

    There is so much is this reality that mimics that of a computer game, as there is much evidence that indicates nothing is solid, yet as a computer character would have boundaries setup in level design so do we.

    So why not be the True Character in life you know you are…


  • rameshraghuvanshi

    Recent research in neuroscience telling us that 95 p.c.our unconscious mind governed on our conscious mind. If this theory is authentic we must study our unconscious mind..Conscious mind is puppet of unconscious mind and dance on his tune.Philosopher build up their philosophy on unconscious autobiography.Writers also disclosed their unconscious mind to us..Take the example of Kafka he want escape form the his dominated father, want to free himself. All his writing run around this circle.Nietzsche rightly wrote all philosophers are disclose their unconscious autobiography as their philosophy. Spinoza wrote "Men believe themselves to be free,simply because they are conscious of their actions,and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined" My question is if this is a fact why should we to study consciousness.?

  • wytcld

    This is not a new theory, let alone a solution. It would really be nice if people would read the existing literature before claiming to have come up with something new, let alone given it a novel name and pretended they have solved the riddle of consciousness.

    The problem is, we are not just aware of awareness. We are aware of our consciousness. (At least some of us are.) Consciousness is not just focusing awareness. It includes dreaming, in the broadest sense, feeling and vision, in their broadest sense, long term plans, history, deep emotions, and the scoping of the possible. It involves the capacity to commit to, and commit, novel action, beyond the bounds of deterministic models, and thus beyond current science.

  • BethL

    I think everyone should practice 30 to 45 minutes of daily meditation for a couple of years then come back to the dialogue. It'll be much more practical. By the way I thoroughly enjoyed this article and the propositions. No one says it has to be 100 percent correct. Throw correctness out the window.

    • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

      I would say is 5% correct and 95% bs.

  • Guest

    Reminiscent of Derek Bickerton, as far back as "Language and the mind", as recent as "Adam's Tongue".

  • jim55price

    Reminiscent of Derek Bickerton, as far back as "Language and Human Behavior", as recent as "Adam's Tongue".

  • Justin Lloyd

    The hard problem cannot be simply set aside as a meta processing of awareness. The reason for this is that consciousness can be had even when you are not aware you have it. Conciser driving a long car ride. Once you reach your destination you realize you where not conscious of most of your actions. Or more importantly you where not aware of that consciousness. It is my opinion that even though you may not be aware of the individual actions or internal feelings you had while driving, this does not mean you did not have any consciousness during the drive. I think this is the big mistake in the current thinking of consciousness (and even its definition) has. We treat consciousness as the awareness of awareness. When I think it is clear that persons and even animals can have an internal subjective state without being aware they have it. To be clear when I say 'aware' I mean that we may not have a mental model running at the time yet we still feel it. This is why we can still think that babies and animals are conscious even though that cannot voice it and most likely do not even know that have it at all. I think the big problem in consciousness can be summed up with this little concept. For every other human on earth I have no awareness of their internal state. Why does the universe need to be set up with me in the driver seat of me? Once I die the universe will have gone one step further and so I would not have awareness of you, or me. There will be no subjective state. Not for you, not for me. I'm not trying to get solipsistic here. It is just the best way to illustrate the issue.

    • drokhole

      I've quoted Alan Watts elsewhere in the comments, but your post brought to mind another insight of his - wherein he distinguishes between 'spotlight' consciousness and 'floodlight' consciousness:

      "Generally speaking, we have two kinds of consciousness. One I will call the “spotlight,” and the other the “floodlight.” The spotlight is what we call conscious attention, and we are trained from childhood that it is the most valuable form of perception. When the teacher in class says “Pay attention!” everybody stares, and looks right at the teacher. That is spotlight consciousness; fixing your mind on one thing at a time. You concentrate, and even though you may not be able to have a very long attention span, nevertheless you use your spotlight: one thing after another, one thing after another…

      However we also have floodlight consciousness. For example, you can drive your car for several miles with a friend sitting next to you, and be completely absorbed in talking to your friend. Nevertheless, your floodlight consciousness will manage the driving of the car, will notice all the stoplights, the other idiots on the road, and so on, and you will get there safely without even thinking about it.

      However, our culture has taught us to specialize in spotlight consciousness, and to identify ourselves with that form of consciousness alone. "I am my spotlight consciousness, my conscious attention; that is my ego; that is me." Although we very largely ignore it, the floodlight consciousness is working all the time, and every nerve ending that we have is its instrument."

      more at:

    • MikeLyvers

      I think what you are describing re: the "unconscious" driving episode simply reflects a failure of memory to encode routine and boring everyday experiences such as driving to work. Of course you were driving consciously, but in retrospect you don't remember any details of it because it wasn't important enough to encode into long term memory.

  • Vince

    Awesome Article! Very Good Read! Thank You!

  • Ellis D’Trypped

    I have a vastly different theory. I also happen to believe that I have something very close to accuracy, but since my theory is based on subjective experience which is--thank goodness--repeatable by others....But unfortunately only at random, and not at will....It is not one I can ever hope to convince to many people of, if they are also naive to the experience that one must be willing to engage in to receive a better understanding of one's limited consciousness.

    So you will find many others who agree with me. Unfortunately for many people, experiencing for oneself that which would lead a person to figure out things the same way I did requires that you have a willingness to break the law. I think many psychedelics will work, but for me, it was a a few ingestions of LSD that seemed to end up with something else doing my thinking for me, and running in places i would otherwise have never gone, that did it.

    But should you ingest certain molecules which I know to be ones more likely to help you come to these same conclusions doesn't necessarily mean you WILL have an experience that lets you understand what I'm about to try to explain. Because of this, its very possible that I am one of the crackpots some commenters are talking about, below me here, but until you've taken a couple swipes yourself at the actual experience which occasionally leads to an enlightened insight about one's consciousness, I also think you have no space to criticize me.

    I have written a two part blog post on this, about a year ago, which go into more depth, and so it'd be foolish to try and re-explain here. But don't get turned off by the term "God" in the blog post title. I am not a believer in any religious sort of God, and in actuality, the blog post that I wrote is probably the same response that I'd give if trying to explain my overall belief system to somebody asking me if I am in atheist, or if I believe in God. In short, my answer is "neither."

    In summary, though, I quote a close friend of mine who has come to the same conclusions about the true nature of our place in the universe and how our consciousness plays into this, and where it comes from.
    That quote is as follows, and succinctly explains my theory in a way few other sentences this short can:

    "Humans do not *have* consciousness, per se. Rather, it is Consciousness that *has* humans."

    The link to my blog part 1 is below. The link to part 2, which really gets into the consciousness aspect of things is found at the bottom of this first part. I know this isn't an IDEAL answer to the implied question of what is consciousness because that wasn't my initial intent, to answer that question. However, I feel the post does a good enough job explaining how our subjective experience as a guman being, including the mechanics of our brain and out forced subjectivity to linear time are actually the thing separating us from a more macro-hensive understanding of ourselves that otherwise permeates the remainder of the entire universe. In other words, if we were not specifically a living creature, then we'd be part of the ether from which all living creatures borrow their limited consciousness and comprehension, and to which that consciousness returns, not as ourselves, but as part of the"everything" once again, when we are no longer alive. If you read on, you'll see this is way less new agey and mystical then it sounds. Any use of the word God is an attempt to explain to people what they are really experiencing when they feel they have (falsely) perceived the presence of God........ Anyways: Here it is..... Feel free to let me know what you think either there or here.

    • drokhole

      "For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen. - Alan Watts

      "What we ordinarily call 'reality' is merely that slice of total fact which our biological equipment, our linguistic heritage, and our social conventions of thought and feeling make it possible for us to apprehend...LSD permits us to cut another slice." - Aldous Huxley

      "No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves those other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." - William James

      "It's persuasiveness seems to hinge on an experience of this interconnection as well as an understanding of it." - Richard M Doyle

      "This is an experience of inestimable value to everyone, and especially to the intellectual." - Huxley

      Used safely, responsibly, and reverently (and under proper supervision), I agree with you and Alan Watts - psychedelics could be as useful for studying consciousness as a telescope is for investigating outer space. One study has already produced the interesting finding that the feeling of vivid/expanded/"hyper real"-type awareness resulting from the ingestion of psilocybin ("magic") mushrooms is actually associated with decreased activity in the brain:

      Magic Mushrooms Trip Up Brain Activity

      Therefore, it seems Huxley was on to something when he referred to the brain as a "reducing valve" of "Mind at Large" and that certain substances (and meditative practices) acted as "disinhibiting agents." One book anyone - the author of this article included - would benefit from reading is:

      The Highest State of Consciousness by John White

      Same goes for this excellent article from Watts:

      Psychedelics and Religious Experience

      • MikeLyvers

        Most studies of the human brain on psychedelics show that these drugs cause a dramatic elevation of brain activity, not a decrease. The study you mention is an anomalous finding.

        • drokhole

          Would love to see them if you have them on hand, as it's an area of interest. Thanks.

          • MikeLyvers

            Check out the site and look up Vollenweider's PET scan studies of people tripping. Interesting stuff.

          • drokhole

            I'll look into it. It's too bad there was an essential embargo on research for the better part of four decades, robbing the world of that much more data. Dr. Rick Strassman helped pry the lid off with his DMT study in the early '90s, but the ongoing irrational suppression of nearly any and all psychedelic research continues to this day, the measuring of brain activity included. Organizations like MAPS are encouraging, and I hope to see a dramatic increase in their study in the near future.

    • Xavier Candiani

      I agree with almost all you write here and in your blog. I call that "Experiential Science". A measurable, repeatable experience or experiment with consciousness. One of the traps of atheist science is that it doesn't include any metaphysical view, so new techniques are blooming, probably later they will merge like it happened with psychology that today is a field of study integrated into science, or probably they wont and we will stop adoring the golden sheep of "science".

      In my study of consciousness I have discovered that our awareness has a frequency that can be raised or lowered at will. That is what emotions are for, to measure the frequency of our awareness. And you can raise your frequency by meditating, changing your opinions and taking drugs in any combination. I left a comment in your post for you to find more information on that subject.

    • MikeLyvers

      "Humans do not *have* consciousness, per se. Rather, it is Consciousness that *has* humans." Great line, thank you! And many other high dose LSD explorers have come to the very same conclusion.

      • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

        You don't have to take lsd to achieve high frequency awareness. You can implement in your daily life "opinion technology". it basically mens that you monitor your emotions during the day, and change your opinions to get better feelings. Thinking a politician is doing his best is better feeling that thinking he is an idiot. Thinking as your self as a very successful person feels better that to think you have not achieved enough. When you have been doing that enough you get an "expanded mind" and you need just a few puffs of weed to comprehend the next step in your particular level. I've been doing that for some years and now everything is just easy to comprehend for me. I will be posting some papers about my research in the field of consciousness soon. The book "Ask and It is given" has an introduction to that technology and some example processes to begin with.

  • Ari Bancale

    This makes sense. Consciousness = Attention + Imagination + Foresight = Survival

    • Xavier Candiani

      That would be the darwinian perspective. We "Consciousnesists" call the attention "Focus".

  • gregorylent

    consciousness makes the brain

  • John O’Hagan

    It seems inevitable that any solution to the puzzle of consciousness will be expressed in terms of neuroscience, just as the personal essence people pass to their offspring, heuristically described as "blood", is now understood in terms of genetics. I find all such efforts inspiring.

    However, every account of consciousness I have read so far, including this one, suffers from the same inadequacy: it begs the question. By framing consciousness as an "illusion", as "naive", as being not what it "seems" to us, it presupposes a subject who is being naive, to whom the illusion is appearing. Rather than explaining consciousness, it just puts it in a smaller box inside the larger one a more naive account would put it in; it makes it a homunculus. No matter how many nested representations of sensory data we propose, it won't answer the question of _who_ is "keeping track of attention" by referring to these models, _who_ is "insisting" they have awareness. Until an account can be framed without reference to a subject, but which is able to explain subjectivity, this difficulty will be intractable. We have gained greater understanding of the complex processing of sensory data which occurs before we become aware of (some of) it, but we are no closer to understanding the awareness itself.

    I think another way of stating the problem is in terms of identity - in the philosophical sense, not the personal one. As Wittgenstein pointed out, the notion of identity is problematic: two objects can't be identical, because at the very least they are in different places; and if all we can say is that an object is identical with itself, we aren't saying anything. "Identical" becomes a rather narrow, prosaic quality meaning something like "objects having certain attributes deemed to be salient which are quantitatively equal to some arbitrary level of precision".

    So to rework the "zombie" experiment slightly, imagine it were possible to make an exact physical replica of me, right down to the most minute subatomic details. I don't doubt for an instant that the new "me" would be conscious, by virtue of his neurological machinery. Having all my memories, he would probably unshakeably believe he _is_ me, and try to drive off in my car or whatever, and I may have trouble proving to anyone, even myself, that he was _not_ me.

    But does that means his consciousness is my consciousness? Would I suddenly have two points of view, one from behind my eyes and another from behind his? Of course not. We would each have our own distinct, separate consciousnesses, no more mysterious than a pair of super-identical twins. And no less mysterious: we would have proved that consciousness is a product of neurology by creating a new one, but my subjectivity, my "me", is still where it always was, and we are no closer to knowing where that is.

    Further, the difficulty of telling which of me is the "original" points to another intractable philosophical problem of identity: in what sense is an object at time t and at time t + x the same object? If some of its attributes have changed, it may not even be identical with itself in the prosaic sense above. Consciousness requires memory, an awareness of temporal continuity of self. This persists regardless of whether the cells in the brain are replaced or rerouted or whatever (within limits), so it seems to be a product of neurological processes rather than the meat itself. But the problem remains: _who_ is remembering themselves from the past? And whom are they remembering?

    It seems to me that the hard problem of consciousness is identical to the hard problem of identity!

  • murdoch

    everything in the universe is composed of different variations of elements that all came from the same place. we are all stardust. ive always felt that consciousness, in the broadest sense, is a underlying fabric throughout the universe. but what do i know, im only a musician.

  • Paul

    This still doesn't explain what property or fundamental law in a this universe permits consciousness to exist at all and explains its nature. Understood: it seems to be tied with complex neural networks and structures, but is still a mysterious phenomenon. epiphenomenalists and physicalists haven't really faced. Just get down with the mysterious nature and try to explain its nature. Maybe employ a mindset closer to Yeats than Freud. Summary: Please attempt to explain its nature/essence and please don't ignore its non-physical unique characteristics.

    • Paul

      In short: Just get down with the esoteric and 'describe' consciousness once and for all.

  • Patrick

    Too many words, incoherent, lacking content.

  • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

    I posted this to respond to some atheist and I will start a new thread whit this information. I use this stupid article as a way to introduce something very big, the new way of science: it comes from a remark that anything relating to metaphysics is messy, obscure and pseudoscience...

    There is a world of information already on the topic of consciousness, it would be better if you stop for a second the pompous atheist attitude about your own ignorance saying "if it is not my field of study then is pseudo science". Researchers like me, devoting our lives to study how "god" or consciousness are a little bit tired of atheist children calling "pseudo" to our discoveries. This is not "Spiritual" or "mystical", this is pure science. Repeatable, measurable and very serious science. Check this idea: over the years science have been corrupted by very wrong philosophies that were integrated with bad intentions. When a concept is lobbied into mainstream science with the purpose of increase a scientist reputation or a politic view, then science is corrupted and some of the new knowledge is impeded to be discovered. that is the case with the darwinian theory. That was imposed by atheists to give their stupid point of view a hand. Now this idiotic way of view has populated our books and our culture. The new model of the world has ripped away this idiotic concept to let a much better one in, that concept is PURPOSE. Every time you see a researcher saying something like, "In a period of rapid evolutionary expansion called the Cambrian Explosion, animal nervous systems acquired the ability to boost the most urgent incoming signal" that is not science, that is religion trying to pass as science. The Darwinian point of view is a poison for mankind and happily is dying. One of the parts or characteristics of Consciousness is purpose. The evolution did not take place by random mutations and adaptations, It took place with purpose. THIS IS TE NEW SCIENCE, the DESIGN that makes us was FIRST, then probabilistic evolution took place and coincidence by coincidence the design was executed and it is being finetuned every instant, and that applies to every single atom, molecule, animal, rock, building, three, planet, galaxy, everything. Michael Behe writes books about that and some presumptuous ignorant idiots call that pseudo because their prestige as scientist is obviously going down because they were cheated to believe in Darwin by the big names like Oxford or Princeton. The left field of science that includes researcher like Terence McKenna, Penrose, Hameroff, Fred Alan Wolf, William Tiller, Jeffrey Satinover, Candace Pert, Andrew Newberg, Daniel Monti, Miceal Ledwith, John Hagelin, Amit Goswami, Joseph Dispenza, David Albert, Joseph Rael, Bernard Baas and even Deepak Chopra and hundred more, we all are serious researchers, so all the atheist out there, is time for you to stop calling your selfs scientist or go and read some more, and stop calling this pseudo. Consciousness is the base of all existence, it is not a brain function, it is the self, the soul, the real being that is dressed with a mind, a personal universe that begins with your awareness of your self and includes your body and everything you call the universe, It is an evolving system that includes everything. We had quantum physics for a hundred years, that explains how the computer called consciousness works with the less possible effort to produce the best possible outcome, always choosing between a lot of probable experience the one that is more conducive to wellness. There is no randomness in the wave collapse, there is purpose. The wave collapses to the best probable outcome. And that not only apples only to particles, like atheist wants us to believe, that applies to every part of your experience, be it other people, circumstances, events, cars, your own body every single bodily function includes this characteristic. Everything is a wave of probabilities collapsing into the more conducive to wellness and evolution. There it is, you can go and research your self, all that I have written here is the new knowledge that will be THE BASIS for the new science, the new way of looking at everything. Stop attaching your selfs to the old way of seeing things. this is a truer truth.

  • Dennis Goos

    If I understand the concept of the attention schema theory, the schema itself is a pattern of neural impulses. The theory might be tested physically by altering impulses to alter consciousness. In fact, that might be why drug experimenters in the '50's and '60's referred to outcomes as, 'altered states of consciousness'. In any case, the alteration of consciousness through the use of neuroleptics is well- established and defined for many drugs. Given that, it would seem that the attention schema theory must describe a very robust system that survives many different sorts of disturbances. Brain injuries are common where consciousness is completely altered but not destroyed. Somewhere in the literature on brain injury and drug interactions there must be data that support or reject this theory.

  • oheart

    This is pretty interesting.

    As someone who has computer programming background I can clearly see how the brain could benefit from creating models, or rather abstract it down to a processable unit, to understand the real world outside, in fact, in Object-Oriented Programming Paradigm, that is exactly what is done, a series of objects are created from an abstract definition and object specific descriptions. In some programming languages there is even the notion of "this" or "self" that refers to the objects themselves or the environment that holds the objects.

    But the question of how "this" or the "self" is aware of its existence is hardly answered here.

  • James Bradwell

    The argument works if all we have access to is other people's reports about having consciousness, if all consciousness consists of is third-person reports to the effect of "I am consciousness," "There is something it is like to see red," etc., as is the case with the patient who has delusions of a squirrel in his head. But that is not the case. Barring the possibility of some p-zombies among us, any one of us can verify the felt, subjective quality of consciousness, the presence of qualia, by simply looking at our own experience right now. So while the author's argument may explain away consciousness in a world in which people only know third-person reports of consciousness, it cannot explain each individual's own first-person experience of consciousness, an experience which precedes any such conceptualization as "I have consciousness."

    • Nick Rogers

      Well said. The author could, at best, explain why these people around me seem to be conscious, simply by saying, well they aren't conscious but they have this adaptation that makes them appear as such and such. Its not as if any of us know innately that other people are conscious in the same way we are.

      But all that said, none of this solves the problem of my own consciousness, which I will absolutely assert exists. The author, essentially is being about as perverse as he could possibly be, basically insisting that he himself does not exist.

      • joymars

        And there you have it: consciousness IS self, and vice versa. One of the big problems in science tackling the "hard problem" of consciousness is getting to a definition of it. A non-objective state that is also shared tends to be difficult to define.

    • Jon

      There appear to be 3 tiers. (1) I have direct access to my own consciousness. It is beyond question. Is there a world? I can't say with absolute certainty that there is an independent world. (2) But, for reasons of sentiment or inertia, I treat the world as independently real, something beyond my own consciousness - sentiment and inertia rather than intellectual rigor. Okay, so I've made that leap of faith. So in this independently existing world around me, there are beings. Are the conscious like me? I can't say with certainty that they are. (3) But, for reasons of sentiment or inertia, I treat the beings around me as being conscious like me, their behaviors accounted for by something beyond the mere material cause and effect of the physical world around me - sentiment and inertia rather than intellectual rigor. Of course if these beings' behaviors could be wholly accounted for by material cause-and-effect, it would be foolish for me to ascribe consciousness to them.

      • James Bradwell

        To be sure, the felt quality of experience as such as the *first* thing we can know; it is epistemically prior to any other knowledge or belief. Based on this, we posit an external world. Why? Because the world *appears* to our consciousness to be external. To then abolish consciousness based on this leap (as you rightly point out) of faith in the existence of the objects of consciousness is a total fallacy, since the whole assumption of separate, external objects is parasitic on the notion of consciousness in the first place.

        • MikeLyvers

          I was going to say exactly this myself but you beat me to it.

  • jeremyweate

    This article argues that consciousness is the process by which full spectrum reality is filtered (given “attention”) in order to enable human brains to order and prioritise sensory data about the world. Consciousness is therefore, according to Michael Graziano, the means by which a model of the world is computed by the brain and referenced to sense experience.

    This approach to consciousness is at base a 21st century update on the Kantian transcendental scheme. In the 18th century, Kant argued, in his Critique of Pure Reason, that knowledge of the world is only possible if we assume a prior – “transcendental” model of the world, which, for Kant, turns out to be a set of rules that govern experience and knowledge.

    In this respect, the proposed theory of consciousness is hardly new. More problematic however, is the conflation of cognition and knowledge production with consciousness. Why should we assume that the conditions which enable and perhaps verify knowledge – an epistemology in philosophical terms – will provide an answer to the question of consciousness?

    Stepping aside from this issue, Graziano's article also assumes what it must first define: what is referred to by consciousness? Should we assume that consciousness is a unitary and universal experience, and qualitatively similar in all cases? It seems to me that we can point to at least five qualitatively different forms of consciousness (this category structure could easily be expanded):

    1. Absent minded. This is the default setting for everyday consciousness. We are not fully aware of what we are doing, at any particular moment. Consciousness in this sense is not fully functioning. In Heideggerian terms, ever day consciousness is inauthentic, a form of forgetting

    2. Mindful. The Buddhist concept of mindfulness is essentially reflexive
    consciousness. We are aware of what we are doing, and bring ourselves into the present moment. Mindfulness, rather than just a mode of consciousness, is in fact a form of praxis.

    3.Flow state. The act of being absorbed in the moment – whether playing a sport or a
    game, or in the act of creation – is often reported as the height of experience, by sports people, artists, writers alike.

    4. Hallucinatory. The experience of creating a reality or realm of experience which does not correspond to actual sense data about the world

    5. Epiphanic/visionary. Heightened states of awareness – often achieved through psychedelic drugs or meditation – which appear to break through from ordinary experience to a more penetrating understanding of the nature of ultimate reality

    Until we begin by recognising that there are different modes of consciousness along these lines, its difficult to see the research as being able to address the question of consciousness.

    • drokhole

      Well stated!

      "No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves those other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." - William James

    • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

      Jeremy, this article suggest that consciousness and attention is the result of random genetic mutations. You give it too much credit.

  • Ted Schrey

    This article reminds me again that a thorough knowledge of the qualities of paint, an ability to hold a brush, and a piece of stretched canvas puts me well on the way to being a great painter. All that is left is talent, the creative urge I identify as consciousness.

    • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

      "Creative Urge" is an emotion, one of the components of consciousness.

  • Sash

    "a theory does not need to be satisfying to be true"

    Actually, it does, at least in the scientific sense that a theory with any hopes of being true must at least explain the relevant phenomena. This theory fails to explain exactly the most salient aspects of consciousness. Instead, it conflates "consciousness" or "awareness" with mere information.

  • DT Strain

    Graziano doesn't seem to 'get' the hard problem. Awareness is not consciousness as Chalmers describes it. What Chalmers refers to is *qualia* - a direct first person sense of being that does not require language or even self awareness. In all likelihood, there is 'something it is like' to be a simple lizard, for example - even if you lacked the self awareness to think to yourself "I am experiencing qualia!". There is a continuous state of experience, seen through the lizard's eyes. It is not the lizard telling itself that it is experiencing qualia - it is the qualia itself. A fly probably even has it, but the simple robots we currently build probably do not. The question is: why should *any* collection of atoms, no matter how intricately arranged and interacting with one another, *ever* produce qualia - a sense of being?

    Graziano's theory would work to explain why zombies without qualia would still be able to function and report awareness of the self, and seem outwardly conscious by all accounts; but it doesn't explain why *real* qualia would be necessary to those functions or a product of them. If Graziano's theory explains consciousness, then all we need to do to have a conscious robot is create one with the information "you are aware" in its memory and, when asked, have it say that it has awareness.

    Lastly, for information on how an emergent property can affect the components out of which it arises, see complex-systems theory.

    • MikeLyvers

      Yes you have nailed it perfectly, well said.

    • Xavier López de Arriaga Candia

      Every single particle in the multiverse has an I. A fly, a cell, an atom, a rock. Thinking only humans does is medieval. Evolution is taking place from the single vibration in the ultra sub atomic level to the macro, like galaxies, stars, systems. Evolution is taking place in the "god" level that includes everything and evolution is the main characteristic and reason to be of consciousness.

  • MikeLyvers

    This theory like all others does not even come close to explaining the subjective experience of the color blue, much less anything else.

    • joymars

      Nor why Mozart is considered to be more profound than Manilow.

  • TrueJim

    Personally, I found this to be a really interesting theory and a well-written, thought-provoking article.

    Some thoughts:

    1. If I understand the author correctly, “attention” is needed because the body takes in more sensory data than the brain is capable of processing deeply. Hypothetically then, imagine life evolving on a planet so that brains on that planet are much more capable than our brains, whereas senses there are much less capable than our senses, so that brains there are in fact able to deeply process all sensory input.

    On this hypothetical planet, there would be no need for Attention to evolve. Without Attention, there would be no need for a control process to control attention, and therefore there would be no need for consciousness to evolve. In other words: consciousness is a consequence of having lots of good senses and having puny brains with which to process all that data. If I’m right in my thinking, then the irony is that more brains *more* capable than ours might not have developed consciousness! To put it in software terms, consciousness is just a clever hack to allow a puny brain to do a reasonably capable job of dealing with too much data. I think that’s a really interesting way to look at it.

    It also makes you wonder how inevitable consciousness may or may not be from an evolutionary standpoint. Are there planets where brains developed rapidly but senses developed slowly, so that there very complex organisms running around without consciousness? Or is it inevitable that there’s always going to be more sensory input than there is available processing power, in which case something like consciousness must inevitably evolve?

    2. Building a *model* is just one algorithm for accomplishing control. (For example, as I recall, crickets are wired so that the leg muscle closest to another cricket’s chirp contracts less forcefully, causing the cricket to circle toward the sound of other crickets, without any internal model of that other cricket’s location.) Could life evolve to create organisms that have human-level processing power and human-level sensory input, but with an alternative control process that does not rely on a model? If so, you’d have creatures with human-level of complexity in terms of sensory processing, but without consciousness. Might that not actually be a *better* survival strategy, from an evolutionary standpoint? Consciousness creates a lot of distractions (art, music, etc.) that don’t contribute materially to passing one’s genetic
    material onto one’s progeny. We humans tend to value consciousness because we
    have it, and so we think it’s cool, but one could argue that it’s also a huge and
    potentially unnecessary resource sink.

    Or maybe not. Imagine these alien creatures with human-level sensory input and processing, but lacking consciousness, and imagine these creatures being even more successful than humans from an evolutionary standpoint because of that lack. Might these creatures eventually dominate their ecosystem so strongly that they’d inadvertently destroy the ecosystem, without consciousness as a mechanism to limit their growth? Maybe in the very long run, consciousness is always a necessary survival strategy.

    3. Returning to these hypothetical human-like creatures who use something other than consciousness as a control strategy: I think we tend to believe ourselves superior to them because we believe that consciousness is “a good thing.” With consciousness, we can study the universe and appreciate beauty. We would probably pity these complex aliens who are merely zombies. Okay then, is there something even *better* than consciousness then?

    Arguably, one problem with human consciousness (if we subscribe to the author’s theory, as I understand it) is that consciousness is based on an overly simplistic model of ourselves and our environs. So let’s go the other direction now: let’s imagine creatures evolving with a much *better* strategy for control of “attention,” a strategy that’s based on a much better model than what the human brain uses.

    For example, imagine a model so good that it even includes the model itself as part of the model. On this planet, everybody is a Michael Graziano because it’s completely obvious to everybody on the planet that their own consciousness is a consequence of their attention control scheme. They never have to “discover” this fact as Michael did, because their mental model includes itself as part of the mental model. These aliens are “super consciousness” and might look upon us poor humans with pity, the way we look upon those other aliens (the human-like aliens that don’t have consciousness) with pity because they can’t appreciate science and beauty the way we do.

    4. Changing topics: I’ve always been fascinated by sleep. For about one-third of our lives our brains do not process consciousness. Or to put it another way, about one-third of the time we do not compute “attention.” Why? Here’s a thought: maybe our brains can’t *update* the control model while it’s in use. It’s like patching software on our computers: we have to quit the program, apply the patches, then restart the program. Maybe that’s the function of sleep: the brain shuts down the consciousness process so that it can use recent lessons from the past few hours to update the control model before rebooting the consciousness process that relies on that model to operate. That’s purely speculative of course, but I think it’s an interesting idea. Sleep is a forced reboot while patches are installed.

    I could go on forever discussing this article. I think it triggers all sorts of interesting ideas.

  • Michaelb1

    I read this article by shining my eye beams on it.

  • Dave Duffey

    I think it comes down to memory. Especially short term. I had an accident with brain injury/coma some years ago. My recovery was fairly rapid. For three weeks I was 'awake and talking to people and doing my therapy. But, I didn't realize I was a 'person" ! Kind of amazing. Very suddenly in my recovery I realized who I was and where(hospital) I was. I was released the next day.

    • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

      That is called Detachment of the ego. A high frequency consciousness experience when the being is separated from the identity (the mind). Yes, the eternal being, who you really are, is attached to an identity to live in this world. When you die, you detach your eternal being to that specific identity, return to the vibrational plane, then take another deep and attach yourself to the identity of a newborn human to live another human life probably in the past or in the future, since time and space doesn't really exist in the linear way we perceive it to be.

      In "spiritual" practices or consciousness science experiments is a very high rewarded state because lets us see reality from a much broader perspective.

      Congratulations. For you to understand consciousness will be easier than for the rest of us.

    • joymars

      Consciousness and identity are two different things, as your story amply illustrates. Animals are similarly conscious but without identity -- at least an abstract notion of self.

      • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

        I believe the contrary is true. I reached the conclusion that the notion of self is the sine qua non part of consciousness, it means every particle of the universe has a notion of self. The atom, the molecule, the cell, the rock, the ameba, the eagle, monkeys, water. Every time a wave is collapsed, a consciousness moment is experienced.

        We are animals, why you speak about other animals as animals? We also know that animals are better than us in many things, specially in this era of darkness.

      • Dave Duffey

        Thank you for your reply. I guess if we could figure out what chemical was in that fruit Adam and Eve chomped on, we'd have all our answers!
        Now I'm curious. Is this discussion about consciousness or identity? Does a person in a coma have consciousness? Guess not. How about a little response to stimulus, but no memory of it. Talk and respond ,but no memory of it? What is the tipping point that makes us feel separate from one another and be able to live in the past, present and imagine the future?

  • Nick

    Emmanuel Levinas has an interesting take on this position in Totality and Infinity, he tries to draw some conclusions about the nature of the Ego from a similar reckoning with consciousness as the Author. Although differently constructed and with some key critical differences, the more philosophically minded readers might find it interesting.

    He considers whether a scientific construction of consciousness might have profound impacts on the nature of our economic systems. If consciousness is consciousness of ourselves and others, then what does that imply for an economic theory that posits consciousness as consciousness of material objects? Or more importantly if we are simply reflexive then what does that imply for the nature of hierarchy and success? Similarly if we are conscious of others and we cannot deny their existence what might that mean for the notion of our own deaths? When others die do we cease to exist to some extent or in some aspect?

  • Ausfaller

    I don't think this author has in any way provided a solution to the "hard problem". Like many scientific materialists, he has simply dismissed it with a wave of the hand. Calling sentience a neurologically created delusion does not in fact explain it away. But it does indicate the poverty of current scientific approaches to consciousness.

    • Jon

      yes. in fact, as i like to point out, the words "illusion" and "delusion" both presume consciousness. For something to be an illusion, it must be consciously perceived but not objectively real. Therefore it doesn't make logical sense to refer to consciousness as being illusion or delusion.

  • Mike


    • joymars

      Go see the date of the earliest comment. That should always indicate when an article was posted. This thread says 13 days ago.

    • Josh Ehrendreich

      Date found at end of article.

      Curious how lack of dating renders it meaningless though?

  • Mortimer Snerve

    I like the story about the squirrel in the guy's head. It occurred to me that God and religious beliefs may just be squirrels in our heads. Since they are so common in the population there must be some survival benefit to having them. But unfortunately they also have a pathological aspect to them. Part of this squirrel's operation is to defend itself ruthlessly from all attempts to eradicate it with logic and evidence that contradict it. I pray for understanding and wisdom and this is what I get. Go figure.

    • Josh Ehrendreich

      I think science concepts ae the squirrel in the head. Can't see them, nor really measure them, but we are sure they are there. Also fits well with your assertion on "defend itself ruthlessly from all attempts to eradicate it with logic and evidence that contradict it."

      • Mortimer Snerve

        Indeed, this could apply to many beliefs we hold dear. Insisting on hard evidence and thinking for ourselves is our only defense. Also, don't lock in on a theory to the point of closing ourselves off to new information. Scientific concepts are testable and measureable. That is the main point of the scientific method. Any valid theory must be testable with reproducible results from unbiased testers. As opposed to religious beliefs that are accepted on faith. If we can test a religious belief and prove it true, it is no longer religious and becomes scientific. So how will theories and consciousness be tested?

        • Josh Ehrendreich

          Wouldn't a belief we hold dear include an assertion like, "scientific method is the best method around?" Or similar assertions about science and scientific method. Yet, the method isn't applied to that assertion, and is either assumed or simply purported as 'common sense.'

          The insistence that a physical world exists and that I am in a physical body, with physical perception is a faith based, subjective proposition. Many like to reframe that assertion as 'self evident' and thus beyond scope of rational or practical disagreement. I say it is clearly a matter of faith, but not the traditional version of faith that we latch onto in this sort of discourse. Way more fundamental than that, and likely way more pertinent to our reality and consciousness. Scientific materialism is thus ultimately a faith based proposition, or paradigm.

          I have faith, intertwined with reason, that strongly suggests the physical world is an intersubjective reality. Yet, I have no objective, hard evidence, to confirm this beyond suggestion, or a matter of (strong) faith. Thus I understand the cornerstone of sciences to be based, ultimately, on faith.

          Spiritual ideas can be accepted on (blind) faith, and I'm sure many are. Yet, they can also be accepted, understood, and applied via Reason. To relegate all such understandings to faith, and faith only, would be akin to relegating all scientific understandings to faith, and faith only. In other words, it would be irrational for the majority to receive it in these terms only.

          • Guest

            I agree. The word Faith is a degree of conviction. We witnessed the corruption of the word faith because the people that designed the manipulative pseudo religion called catholicism were very clever to mutilate any technical explanation on how to achieve this state of consciousness so people following this ideology could never get it, being condemned to poverty and suffering, giving birth to the term "blind faith"or "faith position".

            In the present day, people studying consciousness, like me, know some techniques to achieve the state of mind called Faith, and beyond, like Knowing or Love. Some of them by meditation or "opinion technology" and some with the help of drugs.

            From the past centuries to the present day, science has been corrupted by the same people to make sure it is not used by the general population to get beyond the "normal" mind state of suffering so it has been impregnated with atheist garbage in the form of Darwinian ideology and end up confusing cause with effect and mutilating any "metaphysical" findings of the "respected peer approved science" and imposing political and economical agendas over the original intention of science to find truth with an open mind and finally happiness and abundance.

            The best example of that corruption is the article that gatter us here, a fine example of manipulation, ignorance, confusion, economical purpose and confusion.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            I agree. The word Faith is a degree of conviction. We witnessed the corruption of the word faith because the people that designed the manipulative pseudo religion called catholicism were very clever to mutilate any technical explanation on how to achieve this state of consciousness so people following this ideology could never get it, being condemned to poverty and suffering, giving birth to the term "blind faith"or "faith position".

            In the present day, people studying consciousness, like me, know some techniques to achieve the state of mind called Faith, and beyond, like Knowing or Love. Some of them by meditation or "opinion technology" and some with the help of drugs.

            From the past centuries to the present day, science has been corrupted by the same people to make sure it is not used by the general population to get beyond the "normal" mind state of suffering so it has been impregnated with atheist garbage in the form of Darwinian ideology and end up confusing cause with effect and mutilating any "metaphysical" findings of the "respected peer approved science" and imposing political and economical agendas over the original intention of science to find truth with an open mind and finally happiness and abundance.

            The best example of that corruption is the article that gatter us here, a fine example of manipulation, ignorance, and confusion.

          • Mortimer Snerve

            So, tell me how this would work. You have emotional signals that tell you Graziano's and Darwin's theories are garbage. I get emotional signals that tell me these theories are glorious insights into previously clouded workings of the cosmos. I am probably elated as much or more than you are disgusted. Who is right? How do emotions help us to determine this truth? If we stick to hard evidence and repeatable test results we have a basis to work from. But as soon as emotions become part of the equation, we are back to the Inquisition or pistols at 20 paces.

          • Josh Ehrendreich

            How this works, based on your hypothetical, is that both are plausibly right, and that in an intersubjective existence both hold a plausibly equal rationale in relation to truth.

            The so called 'hard evidence' I am stating is based on subjective and/or intersubjective constructs. The 'repeatable tests' are not unique to any method/endeavor that I'm familiar with. In fact, I am aware of 'repeatable tests' or rituals that are common in say art and spirituality.

            And I disagree that as our emotions become part of the inevitable equation(s) that we are back to the Inquisition or pistol at 20 paces. Something as simple as 'agree to disagree' would stave off a fight to the death. Moreover, something as great as appreciation for where another is, is also able to produce respect and honor for whatever endeavor is on the table for examining nature of reality.

            Furthermore, as I understand history of 'reason' we do have periods where practitioners of one endeavor claimed itself 'best of what's around' and was willing to use both ad hom attacks as well as physical attacks to ensure that all those who are present find agreement and support for the method deemed as 'best of what's around.' I think religion has been humbled, in a sense, to no longer proclaim itself as best of what's around and that we are currently in a world paradigm where science, as practiced by conscious human minds, that are also laced with emotions, are in process of receiving their own version of humbling to help make it clear that science and scientific method isn't necessarily 'best of what's around.' Obviously there are exceptions to all endeavors, and those who will stubbornly hang onto notion that 'our approach is the best approach' but I think from within any endeavor, it is most helpful to have those who are mature and who help humble those within our own ranks that dare claim ours is the best and must be treated as such. I also think science doesn't take off like it did historically without religious zealotry trying to hold a singular perspective on reality. Clearly, there was another way to look at the physical world and explain things in a different way. Hopefully the religious persons amongst us have learned this lesson, but also I hope that the scientific persons amongst us do not forget this lesson and realize it wasn't only about putting religious zealotry in its place. It was actually about putting the notion of superiority in its (rightful) place.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            "Something as simple as 'agree to disagree' would stave off a fight to the death" LMAO

            When I first read Darwin I was so happy too, then I found new explanations and I felt even better and my mind expanded. Just try to avoid the notion of knowing it all. The thing is reaching for ever increasing happiness, ever increasing complexity. Many traditional scientist think they know it all. Just avoid that and try to say "I don't know" as much as possible.

            When someone thinks "I felt good at Darwinism, it means I know everything there is to know about evolution", like Richard Dawkins, for example, now he can't see beyond that and he is missing the magnificence of expanding his mind to new discoveries, to ever increasing complexity and a more "granulated" vision.

            The thing with knowledge, as for everything, is that it has a frequency. What you know about the world matches your general frequency of consciousness. You have to find a way to raise your frequency in order to reach for truer truth. Higher complexity truth. Science is not discovered in laboratories, science is discovered in the shower, in dreams, in visions and then is proven in laboratories. The scientist poses a question in her mind, thinks about it, contemplate the facts. Later, when she is not thinking about it, when she is completely distracted from the subject, the idea comes to her mind. That is called an "Eureka moment". The she rushes to the laboratory and do some test or run the math and corroborates that idea. This is the origin of Einstein's phrase "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

            To raise your frequency there are several techniques, meditating being the main one. I meditate at least twice a day and smoke pot once a month to have this eureka moments, I pose all kinds of questions in my mind and the answers come in perfect order and in perfect timing. To reach higher frequency some use lsd, dmt, salvia divinorum. speed, cocaine, mushrooms, alcohol, high dosis of coffee Every cat has its vice.

            To go even higher in daily basis use "Opinion technology". To rise the frequency of your consciousness you have to raise the frequency of your opinions. yes opinions, like all things have a frequency that match your general consciousness freq. How to rise them? search for a better feeling opinion. It gets easier with practice. You take any subject and change your opinion towards Love and turn of the tv.

          • Mortimer Snerve

            Yes, the scientific method is modified by application of the method on itself. See for details. Believing that the "scientific method is the best method around" would tend to block improvement in the method. This is key to the whole system: nothing is taken as completely certain. All theories are subject to modification and even total rejection. For example, the laws of Newtonian Physics modified and expanded by General Relativity. You make an incorrect leap (of faith :) from a) faith in our existence in a physical world and physical body, to b) calling scientific materialism a faith based proposition. Science does not assume that we exist materially. We just have lots of evidence to support that theory. Alternative theories are discussed here: and there are proposed methods of testing these theories.
            Faith may have its place, but try to keep faith separate from what is supported scientifically with data and evidence, or you will lose your objectivity and distort your conclusions (cognitive biases). Yes, if you believe something is certain because it gives you a certain tingly feeling in your body, it is faith (or imagination, or delusion, or maybe love). Its relationship to truth is unknown.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            The relation of knowledge and emotions is not unknown. Negative emotion has a direct relation with a false statement and positive emotion has a direct relation with true statements. Love and faith are measures of certainty being Know (with a capital K) an emotion of power and completeness at the top of the list. If this measurement scale is used the advance of science is accelerated.

            This "aesthetic" principle is very much used in Physics. Physicist very well know that for a formula to be correct must be beautiful and simple.

            People who does not use the emotional scale are prone to error and speculation, we see a lot of this in some sector of the scientific community where they use peer agreement, politics, fame, money accumulation, fear of rejection, religion, and reputation to measure their results.

            That is the reason some parts of the "Scientific knowledge" is a frankensteinian abortion. The best example being Richard Dawkins, who imposes his religious views to anything and disregards absolutely the value of the experience itself and come to the conclusion that anybody who does not think like him is deluded and stills lobby for the regression of science to the XIX century. He is an example of a person who cannot differentiate between the evidence and the interpretation because he disregards his own emotions.

            Tom Harris made an experiment involving brain activity and the subject listening to random statements The statements of true triggered a lot more energy movement in the brain than the false ones, that results "scientifically" confirm this knowledge.

            On evidence and interpretation. I have observed that some scientist interpret the evidence with their common sense instead of having some scientific rules and say for example, this interpretation is not possible because it contradicts previous conclusions, or because it contradicts my religious views or it contradicts my common sense. We see a lot of that in biology. The tv program "Enemies of reason" is the best example, we can see Atheist Elvis attacking a lot of knowledge disciplines that he has absolutely no knowledge about and say they are enemies of reason because they do not agree with his religious views that he confuses with "science".

          • Josh Ehrendreich

            I am up for considering the evidence that you cite as abundant (lots of) to support the (so called) theory that asserts we exist materially. I would (and will) argue that it is subjective and/or intersubjective, and that none of the evidence exists objectively.

            As I am familiar with the text of both links, I welcome you (or anyone) to come from that or from other sources to support your alleged evidence. Again, I am clearly saying it is faith based, and not founded on objectivity.

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            I have found that there are people who have a passion for truth, that don't find a problem spending years reading, exploring, experimenting and exposing themselves to the concepts of subjectivity, infinity, virtuality, change, leading edge of knowledge, collective mind, etc. that process makes a shift in the researcher's mind. The tuning of a very high frequency, so eventually this new world view is just normal.

            Then some people come and say: "give me". Then I say something like, "there is not a single drop of objectivity in this universe, everything is a virtual reality based in individual and collective experience" and their mind is simply tuned in another frequency, they just can't see. they have to spend time tuning all this new knowledge, they have to change their mind in a literal way to be able to understand a more elevated reality. A truer truth.

          • Mortimer Snerve

            That is a lot of metaphysical mumbo jumbo. I think it's all just your imagination. Try to write in normal, everyday language and maybe we could get somewhere.

          • Josh Ehrendreich

            "I think it's all just your imagination" is clearly subjective. Indicated by the "I think" portion. I understood what Xavier was conveying and am glad to be interpreter of sorts for the parts you found to be mumbo jumbo. I can't see a portion in his message that, at first glance, isn't 'everyday language.' And in points that may be scrutinized as 'no average person speaks as this' I believe I could do that for a) the article that we are adding comments to, b) many comments here that appear to support science and c) for sure with lots and lots of scientific writings. Thus, unless scientific writings can use everyday language, by your assessment they are mumbo jumbo and quite plausibly all just imagination.

          • Mortimer Snerve

            Thanks for the fascinating exchange of ideas. I will sign off now. My Mom says I have to spend less time on the computer. I will see you all in that big cosmic pool of shared consciousness. I'll be the one with floaties on. Mort

          • Josh Ehrendreich

            Furthermore, I wish to contend a few other points you cite here which are tangential to the fundamental issue - that being that scientific materialism (or physicalism) is, or is not, faith based. For your other assertions seem to follow from this, but as usual, in my experience, are under evaluated. And I believe I understand why, which simply comes down to idea that debate around the fundamental issue is seen as impractical and not adding to our advances in our endeavors. IMO, this is equally true for endeavors that are traditionally understood as 'non-science' - such as spirituality, music, art, etc. People appear to much prefer to play with, nurture and hopefully advance the endeavor rather than be bogged down with critical analysis of the fundamental, and likely philosophical, questions concerning the nature of reality. Thus applied science and applied research will always appear to trump whatever is the current rendition of philosophy of science.

            Anyway, where you say "Believing that the 'scientific method is the best method around' would tend to block improvement in the method." - is I feel missing what was the point of my originally noting that. And is rather easy to point out, if we take another method and substitute it with what you have said. As in, "Believing that prayer is the best method around would tend to block improvement in the method." (Please note that I chose 'prayer' for discussion sake, not to advance prayer or spirituality as a method that is now up for discussion.) So, what this assertion does is not take anything away from those who hold a conviction in prayer as the best method around, but instead focusses on how prayer can be tweaked, to be even better than it already is. In some ways, it is furthering the original point. Scientific method as best method around is almost seen as a given, but in looking to appear at least a little humble, it is deemed best to not express that, as that would prevent practitioners from making it even better, than the best method available.

            All of this seemingly neglecting the subjective belief(s) involved. I think a mature / wise person realizes science isn't best of what's around, but is just another method that is around. The superiority of the method would plausibly be subjective assertion, and seen as such amongst wise practitioners (of science). But to further claim it is a method that can be improved upon (and has been historically) is a subjective claim as well. It may be a reasonable claim, but the idea that it is in need of improvement is subjective. And the method by which improvement occurs is not likely occurring through scientific method, which is very interesting if one sits back and thinks about how that improvement occurs.

            Where you say, "Faith may have its place, but try to keep faith separate from what is supported scientifically with data and evidence, or you will lose your objectivity and distort your conclusions (cognitive biases). Yes, if you believe something is certain because it gives you a certain tingly feeling in your body, it is faith (or imagination, or delusion, or maybe love). Its relationship to truth is unknown."

            I would say I have been able to for periods of my life to separate faith from what is allegedly supported scientifically, and I would say I was figuratively asleep when doing so. This stems from the fundamental issue. The one where the data and evidence are based, ultimately, on a faith proposition, but not seen that way as we would rather play with the phenomenon, and make assumptions without staying focussed (perhaps even stuck) on what, or who, is doing the original observations that propel further research. Perhaps not 'best' way to say that point, but as I contend it is a subjective assertion ultimately, I must say that it does work, for me, and can be defended via reason, as desired.

            So, again, we are back to finding this so called objective evidence that exists for existence of a physical universe. I say it does not exist and that the evidence that very likely will be cited will be based on subjective and/or intersubjective notions. This means it is dependent on consciousness. "Reason" would be prime example of a construct that is dependent on consciousness, while reasoning may have observable correlation to physical processes. Yet, the 'observable' portion is the place where I am emphasizing high level of scrutiny, for I am contending that which is doing the observing (namely physical perceptual sensors) are in the category of intersubjective phenomenon and are dependent on mind/consciousness for their very existence.

            I also believe the tingly feelings that you attempted to put solely in the domain of faith, can be shown to be the basis for how any reasonable person justifies what is otherwise termed as 'self evident.'

            And finally, I will note that as I write, I write with intention of adding in "I believe," "I feel," or "I think" which is customary to my style. But I also feel it is very clearly stated in what you, and many others are saying, but are essentially deceiving your audience by not utilizing that language. As in you say, "you will lose your objectivity" and yet provide no reason nor really any basis for making that assertion. I believe it is because you feel I will and feel very confident that this is true. To not put in the "I feel" statement is I observe disingenuous, but to each their own and just wishing to note that my statements of "I feel" are based on reason as much as anyone reading this.

  • Namey McNamegoeshere

    From this short article it simple looks like Graziano did not even as much as look at Wikipedia article for consciousness let alone serious consider what has been said on the subject. All of this is old news.

    • Jay

      Wikipedia? Seriously? He's a neuroscientist performing scientific research at Princeton. Did you read the article? It's doubtless that rather than looking at the Wikipedia page, he's read the majority of the source material...

      • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

        Words like neuroscience or Princeton doesn't mean nothing when you write an article about consciousness, a subject that neither you or the author know nothing about.

        • Jay

          I don't claim to know anything about consciousness beyond its colloquial definition. But having also been a research scientist, I do know a thing or two about how most scientists perform research - and it usually starts by reading the published literature on the subject. It doesn't mean he's "right," because really, who knows? But it probably means he's at least informed himself about other hypotheses, which is why it's a little asinine to refer him to a Wikipedia page. And it's "don't mean anything."

          • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

            Jay, thanks for the correction (that you edited out), no offense taken, on the contrary.

            In this case I do not agree with you, first let me tell you, I've been discussing some videos about atheism and things of that sort on youtube, I love to troll atheist, and the debates there are very rude and funny at the same time. So I think Namey McNamegoeshere was not asinine but very polite, instead of trolling the author about his complete lack of knowledge on the subject on consciousness and just referring him to the most basic research tool we count on nowadays namely the wikipedia. I already bashed away the content of this article and rated it "a worthless atheist propaganda to promote the sells of a worthless atheist book", not as polite as Namey. I should learn manners. I also think that the only reason we read the article is because it has the word Princeton on it. If Princeton knew the kind of bs this guy is promoting using their name, they wouldn't allow it. And all this is because there are several serious researchers dedicating our lives to the study of the subject of consciousness and I think this article is a piece of crap. Thanks.

  • Ian Wardell

    Michael Graziano:
    "If we evolved to recognise it in others – and to mistakenly attribute it
    to puppets, characters in stories, and cartoons on a screen — then,
    despite appearances, it really can’t be sealed up within the privacy of
    our own heads".

    We can never know whether anyone else is conscious. The fact that we project consciousness onto others does nothing whatsoever to alter this. So your statement is simply complete nonsense.

  • mambo_bab

    Sounds like the author places importance on attention. However, I did not understand the process for consciousness and attention from this article. I like to think memories for understand consciousness.

    • Jay

      But consciousness is an awareness of ones surroundings - in the present moment. Memories are recollections of the past. This really makes more sense.

      • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

        This is the first time you read something about consciousness, right?

      • mambo_bab

        That's a good comment. However, please remember you remembered past memories after you got a new input to your consciousness. Perhaps you will understand that consciousness arises automatically from prediction from association from past memories. At this point "association" means the process of bringing ideas or events together in memory or imagination.

  • Paulo Ribeiro

    Good text. You know what bothers me? Why do you keep using 'theory' when you know it's 'hypothesis'?

    And please do LINK to the articles you mention, to back your POV up. Otherwise, interesting HYPOTHESIS.

  • George Watson

    I would say consciousness mainly has to do with counterfactuals - might I do this,
    might I do that, should I do this, should I do that. Notice that people report that
    in extreme situations that they barely had a conscious thought: I don't know how
    I did it, but I must have pulled the child from the burning car, I charged the enemy
    and then it was all a blur, I had only one thought on my mind...

    Very depressed individuals report that they can only have one thought: DOOM
    And obsessive individuals can be monomatic in their thoughts.
    We can also convince ourselves that the past was not as everyone else tells us.

    We make a mistake when we downplay the power of being conscious -
    it may be our greatest ability.

  • Steve Witham

    That orangutan has a pretty snarky attitude for an inanimate object. But I must admit he has a point.

    Finally something that makes sense. Contrary to what the author says, his theory is much *more* intuitively satisfying to me than anything else I had heard (or thought of). It matches how it feels as well as matching a practical reason to believe that we would be able to feel that. Claims that one's own consciousness is the most obvious and undoubtable thing, have always sounded like woo-woo rhetorical bluster to me. But Graziano points out the concrete need for that meta-awareness.

    One point: if the reason we can sense our awareness is that we evolved to model it out of necessity, then what's the analogous reason why we can talk about it? Has that ability evolved because we need to talk about what we're aware of and attending to? It's plausible enough...

    "What do you see up there?"
    "A city street."
    "The *middle* of the street with traffic?"
    "Um... No, we're between two parked cars."
    "Okay... What do you think we should do?"
    "Just climb up and start walking quietly like nothing happened?"
    "But what about the snarky orangutans?!"
    "Jeez I forgot, lemme think..."

    ...But there's still an itchy question: which things that our brain is producing information about, are we able to "be aware" of, and which are we able to talk about? Are the two necessarily the same? And are the categories of things we can infer about others necessarily the same as the kinds of things we can sense within ourselves?

  • ricky bo

    Who among you is qualified to question my opinion? Who I say?!?!??!! Who!! I am a highly qualified neurosurgion! this article is legit. Trust me, Im a doctor. You all amuse me.
    The important question that must be addressed is this: to what extent is our individual will free?
    Please consider the following: Perhaps it is true that in some instances we can consider our actions prior to acting, and maybe there is a "me" in our head that is at least a copiolot. If these are true, then that means that our will may be free to the extent that we can take the actions that occur to us.

  • s33light

    The Hard Problem of consciousness asks why there is a gap between our explanation of matter, or biology, or neurology, and our experience in the first place. What is it there which even suggests to us that there should be a gap, and why should there be a such thing as experience to stand apart from the functions of that which we can explain.

    *Materialism only miniaturizes the gap* and relies on a machina ex deus (intentionally reversed deus ex machina) of ‘complexity’ to save the day. An interesting question would be, why does dualism seem to be easier to overlook when we are imagining the body of a neuron, or a collection of molecules? I submit that it is because miniaturization and complexity challenge the limitations of our cognitive ability, we find it easy to conflate that sort of quantitative incomprehensibility with the other incomprehensibility being considered, namely aesthetic* awareness. What consciousness does with phenomena which pertain to a distantly scaled perceptual frame is to under-signify it. It becomes less important, less real, less worthy of attention.

    *Idealism only fictionalizes the gap.* I argue that idealism makes more sense on its face than materialism for addressing the Hard Problem, since material would have no plausible excuse for becoming aware or being entitled to access an unacknowledged a priori possibility of awareness. Idealism however, fails at commanding the respect of a sophisticated perspective since it relies on naive denial of objectivity. Why so many molecules? Why so many terrible and tragic experiences? Why so much enduring of suffering and injustice? The thought of an afterlife is too seductive of a way to wish this all away. The concept of maya, that the world is a veil of illusion is too facile to satisfy our scientific curiosity.

    *Dualism multiplies the gap.* Acknowledging the gap is a good first step, but without a bridge, the gap is diagonalized and stuck in infinite regress. In order for experience to connect in some way with physics, some kind of homunculus is invoked, some third force or function interceding on behalf of the two incommensurable substances. The third force requires a fourth and fifth force on either side, and so forth, as in a Zeno paradox. Each homunculus has its own Explanatory Gap.

    *Dual Aspect Monism retreats from the gap.* The concept of material and experience being two aspects of a continuous whole is the best one so far – getting very close. The only problem is that it does not explain what this monism is, or where the aspects come from. It rightfully honors the importance of opposites and duality, but it does not question what they actually are. Laws? Information?

    *Panpsychism toys with the gap.* Depending on what kind of panpsychism is employed, it can miniaturize, multiply, or retreat from the gap. At least it is committing to closing the gap in a way which does not take human exceptionalism for granted, but it still does not attempt to integrate qualia itself with quanta in a detailed way. Tononi’s IIT might be an exception in that it is detailed, but only from the quantitative end. The hard problem, which involves justifying the reason for integrated information being associated with a private ‘experience’ is still only picked at from a distance.

    Primordial Identity Pansensitivity, my candidate for nomination (, uses a different approach than the above. PIP solves the hard problem by putting the entire universe inside the gap. Consciousness is the Explanatory Gap. Naturally, it follows serendipitously that consciousness is also itself explanatory. The role of consciousness is to make plain – to bring into aesthetic evidence that which can be made evident. How is that different from what physics does? What does the universe do other than generate aesthetic textures and narrative fragments? It is not awareness which must fit into our physics or our science, our religion or philosophy, it is the totality of eternity which must gain meaning and evidence through sensory presentation.

    *Is awareness ‘aesthetic’? That we call a substance which causes the loss of consciousness a general anesthetic might be a serendipitous clue. If so, the term local anesthetic as an agent which deadens sensation is another hint about our intuitive correlation between discrete sensations and overall capacity to be ‘awake’. Between sensations (I would call sub-private) and personal awareness (privacy) would be a spectrum of nested channels of awareness.

  • david

    I think it has something to do with cheese... or fried eggs.
    ...possibly. ?

  • Jody Schmidt

    Interesting account for attention in the brain, but still doesn't explain exactly what 'attention' is, what it is made up of. And, saying it isn't anything to be concerned about, and that we shouldn't focus on THIS aspect but focus on THAT aspect doesn't help much. This paper is focused more on its purpose. I can pretty easily devise an AI where it has several algorithms for discarding unimportant information, or prioritizing less to more important data, and perhaps processing the priority information and performing actions that result from the calculations on the important data, and there is still no need for the extra property of sentience. Scale it up 10,000X to the human brain, and 'attention' is nothing more than ultra complex processes of information processing and prioritizing and acting upon them and so on and so forth. Still doesn't account for sentience. Not even close. Tell me how I am off here? As complex as it is, if the brain-scanning technology is sophisticated enough, 'attention' can be mapped as an ultra-sophisticated brain process, with every input mapped (including millions of inputs from the senses) and every process mapped as well (every thought, decision, etc.), down to the neuron, with no mystery at all, again if the technology is sophisticated enough to map it. Once that is done, then attention along with every other brain process is described to the neuron. This can all happen without 'sentience'. Thus, if 'attention' is mapped right down to the individual neuron, it no longer becomes some evolved trait that has a strange middle ground. It is just a process, like decompressing a ZIP folder.

    With 'attention' mapped atop the brain, down to the individual neuron, the principle of parsimony suggests that an additional, seemingly unnecessary phenomenon such as consciousness is not necessary to explain it further. And, yet, there it is. Still not explained. Still no real account for its nature or purpose.

  • Matt Baen

    "So far, most brain-based theories of consciousness have focused on the first type of question. How do neurons produce a magic internal experience? How does the magic emerge from the neurons? The theory that I am proposing dispenses with all of that."

    In other words, it dispenses with what is actually of greatest interest: how subjective experience is generated by neurochemical activity. Instead, you have yet another functionalist model for consciousness. And to be sure, it seems like a pretty good one. But nobody has, to my knowledge, come close to explaining how we can have a subjective experience. Someone will, and a lot of people will say "Of course! Why didn't I think of that?"

  • Peter

    The problem with all theories that hint at an illusory nature to consciousness is that they require the very medium of consciousness itself in order to be conceived and expressed. If consciousness is a purely subjective illusion, then the very means by which you have that thought and by which I receive it is...illusory !
    Given that consciousness is the sole means by which we have experience of the world, if that experience is illusory then what possible credence can one place on any 'objective' facts about the world ? How can you argue that atoms have an objective physical existence in one breath, whilst in the next arguing that your conscious experience of atoms...the sole means by which you are even able to think the word 'atom' purely an abstract and illusory 'mental schema' in the brain ?
    If the very basis of all experience is subjective, then absolutely nothing within that experience warrants objectivity. As David Chalmers so eloquently puts it...." If conscious experience is not real....what is ?"

  • Prenume Nume

    I still see blue, no matter what you say. Blue is not an illusion, it's a fact. You cannot say that the brain is lying to itself to think that it is seeing blue. Where is the sense in that ? :)) Either a lie or not, I still see blue, so blue is real. Your theory doesn't explain anything.

  • Someone

    I do not accept the suggestion that "emergent consciousness" can not exist because it does not account for arrow B. Arrow B could be experienced the same way as arrow A. You are conscious of it because it is happening, the choices you made are just "displayed" in your consciousness, and your "free will" is just "will" because the freedom is only preceived but does not originate from an external source (like non-emergent consciousness). I'm not claiming that consciousness is emergent, but i am definitly not disregarding the possibility either.

  • Guest

    First ever casual explanation of the
    mechanism responsible for human consciousness you can verify with your
    subjective experiences

  • Parag

    First ever casual explanation of the mechanism responsible for human consciousness you can verify with your subjective experiences
    (become a free member)

  • Jamie Lee

    Thank you. This was precisely the article I've been planning to write over the past month, and I'm happy someone beat me to it -- because it was probably more cogently formulated here.

    Of course, I might point out that there is much more to 'myth' -- and the role of narrative in how we model our experience -- than is dealt with here, but there's only so much that can be done in a single article.

  • Marco

    I must admit i did not read the entire article. I also only read some of the comments. Very interesting to see so many angles of views. Here is a passage i found in a book entitled "Bhagavad-Gita" which was often quoted by Openheimer and Einstein.
    son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does
    the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by
    consciousness." The purport is from Bhaktivedanta Swami. There are various theories regarding consciousness. Here in Bhagavad-gītā
    the example of the sun and the sunshine is given. As the sun is
    situated in one place but is illuminating the whole universe, so a small
    particle of spirit soul, although situated in the heart of this body,
    is illuminating the whole body by consciousness. Thus consciousness is
    the proof of the presence of the soul, as sunshine or light is the proof
    of the presence of the sun. When the soul is present in the body, there
    is consciousness all over the body, and as soon as the soul has passed
    from the body there is no more consciousness. This can be easily
    understood by any intelligent man. Therefore consciousness is not a
    product of the combinations of matter. It is the symptom of the living
    entity. The consciousness of the living entity, although qualitatively
    one with the supreme consciousness, is not supreme, because the
    consciousness of one particular body does not share that of another
    body. But the Supersoul, which is situated in all bodies as the friend
    of the individual soul, is conscious of all bodies. That is the
    difference between supreme consciousness and individual consciousness.

    During my time as a member of the French Rosicrucian Order, I had heard about cosmic consciousness. This passage from Bhagavad Gita sheds further light on it. The discovery for me is that consciousness appears to have a relationshsip with (and perhaps accountability) with a higher consciousness. Perhaps this is why we feel emotions like guilt or embarassment when we act against rules of morally acceptable conduct. For example, why do children feel the urge to lie to cover-up their antics? why do crimninals run away from the crime scene? Why do corporate CEOs hide their insider dealings? Because inside they "know". When a person gives in charity, acts with courage and kindness, they naturally feel enlivened. Where does this come from?

    It may sound like utopia, but we have evolved immensely in all fields of science but have yet to find the perfect formula for peace and happiness. Perhaps we are looking in the wrong direction. Perhaps they key lies in connectiing our consciousness with that cosmic-super-self-supreme consciousness. I think scientists will resist this idea because it is outside of their control.

    • Xavier LópezDeArriaga Candiani

      Hello Marco. People studding consciousness are divided in two groups. The clever ones, like you and me. We know that there is a consciousness that is the being and to that being correspond a reality, a body and a personal universe perceived by that consciousness. The other group is conformed by people stuck in the XVIII century trying to explain things without a god. This article is constructed by such a person, being paid to promote atheist vision and he wrote this article to promote his atheist book about consciousness for the ignorant masses and make a buck, like the other famous atheists. That is the reason the name Princeton is at the top of the article. Just for money, there is no valid content in this bullshit, Your post is very nice.

      • marco

        Nicely put. Thanx.

  • Theodore Wiseman

    Consciousness can explain science, but science can never explain consciousness. Science is only a methodology that provides useful explanations for the material world. The material world appears in consciousness and not the other way round.

  • steve Agnew

    “The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it.”

    If by this statement as attention schema you mean that that we learn to be conscious or become aware by observing other people and animals, I agree. Just like all of our learned behavior, we humans observe that other humans are conscious and then we learn how to be conscious ourselves. In other words, we are not first conscious because of a subjective judgement of our own experience but rather we are first conscious because of the many objective observations we have made of others consciousness.

    Awareness is really something that we have learned as children by observing other people and animals. Eventually, we learn to be conscious and project our consciousness to others just like we learn to talk and speak with others and to walk and approach others.

    We feel we are conscious because we sense that other people are conscious, which is Arrow A, sensation to feeling to action. Since we feel that we are conscious, we then act just like other people act, which is Arrow B, action to sensation to feeling.

    • yor mom

      Nonsense. You're writing like you're not actually conscious.

  • Black Gordy

    ""a successful account of consciousness will have to tell us more than how brains become aware."""

    How true. Trouble is that, at present, we do not even know what awareness is.

    • TheMatrixDNA

      Awareness is not a property of brains about themselves. It is the private identity that emerges from any natural system. It is composed by all informations of its parts, pieces or organs, plus the new informations that arise from the interactions among these pieces. If the system is an opened system, like brains, we must ad the informations obtained from the interactions with external world. The identity contains and limits the system, but the system does not contains and limits the identity produced by it, like the baby produced by the mother's body is dislocated from her body, even that is linked by an umbilical cord. The best analogy for understanding it is observing the solar energy entering atoms at the surface of this planet. The matter of this planet can not lift up acting over that energy, but that energy act over its matter. You could refuting this analogy saying that the solar energy is coming from an external source, and consciousness comes from the brain. Nope. Brains are material objects and no material object can be conscious about itself. it is not my brain that created my awareness, it came from an external source, be it the human species. So, what is awareness? it is all about the natural state of informations. Which is carried on by photons. Then, awareness is a little bunch of photons returning to the state of informations that produced this Universe... and brains inside it. Ok, this is Matrix/DNA Theory and it could be wrong... but is a tentative of natural explanation that can be understood rationally.

      • Black Gordy

        Sorry. Your post sounds like meaningless gobbledegook to me.

        • TheMatrixDNA

          See the formula of natural systems and the graphics of light waves, both are theoretical models of Matrix/DNA Theory. Nobody can understand what is "the identity of a natural system" if not know natural systems reduced to its universal formula. Supposing that synapses produces a kind of not constant luminous plasma (as light sparks in the sky illuminates the cloud) and that this enlightened plasma is the substance of consciousness, the new discovery about light waves based in that graphic, suggests that there is a universal substance of consciousness like an ocean, and our little consciousness are like bubbles formed by this ocean. As bubble we are aware of the space/time at our limits, but when the bubble explodes, turning back to be the ocean, the awareness becomes universal awareness. Ok, it is merely a theory, under test just now.

  • TheMatrixDNA

    The Matrix/DNA Theory is suggesting surprising things about consciousness. It is almost the same process between hardware and software of computers. As the result of comparative anatomy between living and non-living natural systems, first of all, the investigation leads us to build the picture of the ancestor of biological systems, and it was revealed as being the building block of past natural systems, like atoms and galaxies. This building blocks have the same shape and functionality that have a base-pair of DNA's nucleotide. So, our problem was to know how it came here, from astronomical dimensions into microscopic dimensions. The solution is that bits-information, in shape of photons, invading terrestrial atoms, re-build the astronomical system and the result was the first cell system. Then, here we touch in consciousness. We have already found that any natural lightwave is the instrument that imprints the process of life's cycle to inertial matter, like dark matter. So, light has the code for life, and light is breaking into photons.

    Every natural system is composed of hardware and software, being the software composed by photons and its strings connecting them (dendrites are the material projection of strings). What we call "mind" and we does not know if has a substance, it is light broken into connected photons that we can not see and our scientific tools can not grasp, yet.

    Evolution is a process of feed-back between software and hardware. If we focus the first computational hardware - like the abacus - it has grasped new informations from the environment, which were transferred to human mind, which grew and asked a better hardware. The next hardware, like the mechanic machine, the ENIAC, etc., grasped more informations, which feed the human mind, who then created an extension of itself, like the Windows. We can see this feed-back process going further in time and space, till the Big Bang, thought galaxies, stellar systems, atoms, arriving to quarks, leptons. It happened that this universal software was sleeping in the atoms, dreaming in the galaxies, began waking up at plants and animals, and now is a baby lifting up at humans.

    Is consciousness produced or emerged by brains? The answer is at embryology: yes, it is from the baby's brain that emerges consciousness, but it does so due the baby's parents transmitted the informations for. Then, the consciousness we see at Earth, which is coming from the Big Bang, was produced by this Universe? Yes, but the informations for it came from the system that produced the Universe.

    Of course, Matrix/DNA Theory must be in fault of something, maybe it is totally wrong. Consciousness at humans is merely the new shape of a universal natural system that is developing under the process of life's cycle, like any human body changes shapes from blastulae to fetus to teenage, to adult, etc. If human embryology takes 7 months for building a living awareness of an embryo, the Universe takes 13,7 billion years for doing same thing. What's the problem?

    We have invented from nothing the computer composed by hardware and software? Nope, we are mimicking what nature is doing long time ago.

  • Jack Orenstein

    Equating attention to an internal mapping of mental processes makes sense. I don't see how that leads to the subjective feeling of consciousness. This article, and Dennett's Consciousness Explained both argue for schemas that would seem to accompany consciousness, or even be necessary for it. But they are both unsatisfying because they don't explain the subjective part.

    I can imagine software interacting with sensors of the real world, and many levels of organization above that, in which there are schemas allowing for symbolic manipulation of the layer below. I can also imagine how such a system might reason about (i.e., manipulate a symbolic representation of) some other computer's layers of representation and reasoning. But I don't see how the subjective feeling of consciousness arises here either.

    • TheMatrixDNA

      That's a fundamental issue to keep us on the topic: subjective feeling of consciousness. I think it is the hard part of this phenomena. But... what's subjective feeling? Do you agree that when a finger is hurt, there is brain's subjective feeling? If so, why the brain feels it? Because the finger is an accessory developed by the brain, an extension of itself, necessary for brain's survival. Then, the explanation for brain's feelings must be the explanation for conscious feelings: the whole world must be an extension of consciousness. Now, we have five questions: which consciousness?, What's the origins of this world's consciousness?, Why should this consciousness creating a material world? Why should something creating extensions that hurt it, without control? We know that's impossible to the hardware feeling the existence of the software running inside it; we almost sure that the software also does not feels the hardware; but... isn't the mind of Bill Gates feeling the problems of hardwares throught the software Windows? No, yet, but the naturals software and hardware are alive, different from the interaction Bill and computers. All matter are resumed finally to empty quantum vortexes, and any vortex has all life's properties, so, natural consciousness works with living softwares.

      The modern academic world view does not make these questions, because it makes no sense in a world made by blind evolution. They believe that consciousness is merely an fortuity emergent phenomena here or elsewhere. At my old school, I never forgot that ancient mathematicians developed theorems and equations suggesting that in no way it would be possible for matter itself giving the magical jump for becoming conscious of itself, as projecting itself in a mirror and turning to be the thing projected in the mirror looking to itself outside. So, consciousness must be related to natural dimensions for which our brain has no sensors, yet. Matrix/DNA Theory found a different world view when studying the sameness and differences between all living and non-living natural systems. Its models are suggesting a natural evolutionary link between non-living and living system, the link is our ancestor but its origins goes to the Big Bang, so, our ancestors created this world as their extensions. If our models are pure materialistic rationalizations and stops at the Big Bang, it meets the weird fact that reason is telling us that this Universe is a merely the tool where is occurring a process of genetic reproduction of the system that produced it. Genetics can be seen as computation, there is a unique developing software and generations of temporary hardwares. A new hardware ( like the first digital computer) can be seen - for those observers inside the system - as a new emergent phenomena fortuity produced here, as modern academic thought is seeing consciousness. We doesn't: we are seeing all properties of consciousness coming throught the Universal History and before it, as we are seeing at those seven brutes forces of any natural vortex as the ancestors of these seven life's properties.

      But, what should be the substance of this possible ex-machine consciousness coming from before the Big Bang? And how it is related the little portions of consciousness inside at every human brain with this cosmological consciousness? The scene revealed inside the brain, synapses popping up in chaotic distribution, like energetic strikes between clouds, illuminates the clouds. If synapses develops and becoming constant, the cloud becoming light. In this light lives consciousness, So, we must search cosmological consciousness at a kind of natural light. That's is the cause brains and light is our principal focus at Matrix/DNA today. We have found that any light wave carries on the code for life. We are suspecting that the cosmic radiation is the sound of a light wave emitted by the Big Bang. We are suspecting that when this light wave reaches a limit, it breaks into photons and begins to return to the Big bang as dark light. The dark light creates the material word... as extension of the white light. So, the little human consciousness are fragments of that natural light like bubbles floating above a cosmological ocean of white light emitted by an ex-machine system composed by natural body and conscious. These bubbles have subjective feelings because they are extensions of a system that feels the whole. By the way, Physics and Biology begins to explain the world rationally, naturally, without needing supernatural entities... But it is a non-complete world view because we, as human beings, still are inside the whole system, and as said by Godel's theorem "nobody can knows the thru of a system being located inside it". Trying to understand consciousness without knowing the forces and elements that is coming throught the Universal Natural History 13'7 billion years old, that produced it, focusing only at human beings here and now, makes no sense for me.

  • YMCA


    Oh Sumptuous moment
    Slower go
    That I may gloat on thee—
    ’Twill never be the same to starve
    Now I abundance see—

    Which was to famish, then or now—
    The difference of Day
    Ask him unto the Gallows led—
    With morning in the sky—

    E.D. Illustrating pure consciousness

  • isomorphisms

    I thought when people said consciousness is an epiphenomenon, they did not mean that C has no visible effects, but that C is a byproduct of natural selection which itself does not directly confer fitness.

  • Parag Jasani

    Solving the hard problem of consciousness by bridging the 'explanatory

  • a

    Here's why you have to read philosophy before trying to become a philosopher. It's been done before. Read Husserl's Ideas. Written 100+ years ago.

  • Ioreoea

    any of you neuroscientists look at Sankhya philosophy yet? Explains most of it, thousands years prior...

  • marcusbond

    In my experience, this is often the sort limited perspective which people bring to such a fundamental question when they stay within the confines of their own specialist subject area.

  • biggermiao

    This article simply describes information processing, storing a simplified copy(model) of the data of the object being interacted with whilst interacting with the object. A piece of software can do the same thing. psedo code: 1. object identified chair, 2. generating chair model || accessing chair model query 3. interacting with chair. 4. exit code 0. In no way does it identify awareness, much less explain where it comes from.

    Consciousness simply cannot be measured. Stating "I am conscious" does not measure it because it relies on the following arbitrary assumption:

    consciousness can be objectively described, therefore, simply stating the keyword conscious points back to it. Let's try to define it objectively: it is awareness. what is awareness? it is knowing that I am experiencing something. What is knowing that I am experiencing something? I mean that "I" know it, not just some automated system. What does it mean by “I”? All there is, is a bunch of separated atoms and neurons, which in the end finally generates sound waves in the form of human speech. Just bare metal. There is no objective way to describe consciousness. In fact there is absolutely no objective way anyone can ever convince me that they are "conscious,". So it is technically impossible for us to be sure we are all talking about the same "consciousness," which makes the keyword useless.

    At the end of the day, the universe is made up of atoms. Whether it's one lonely atom traveling is path. Or billions hitting, breaking up, and assembling together to form neurons and the human brain, they are still simply pinballs unaware of their paths and being guided by natural laws. Neither the single atom nor the multitude of them following the laws of physics which ultimately lead "me" to type this article can ever be conscious. Consciousness must therefore be fundamental to the universe, and everything else 2ndary.

    In order to prove consciousness comes from atoms, we have to first prove that atoms exist, that matter exists. How do we prove it, let's try to prove your computer exists. You see the computer, therefore it exists. Why is seeing something proof that it exists? Because it is. I don't understand. It's obvious, if i see it, then it exists, obviously. So it's a religion, a faith of firm conviction, an assumption that is not questioned due to your brain wiring? Guess so... So you cannot objectively prove that seeing something equates to it existing. In fact seeing=exists is completely arbitrary. There could be an environment in which green=exists, inhabitants are spectrum light beings which can only interact physically with the green light specturm

  • Mr F

    "Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn't be able to communicate anything about it."

    Consciousness has an effect on neurons in the same way that chemistry has an effect on physics. Consciousness is a "high-level" means of simplifying complex "low-level" phenomena. It IS an epiphenomenon.

    "Why did an awareness of stuff evolve in the first place? Because it had a practical benefit."

    Not necessarily. It is not safe to assume that simply because an organism displays a trait, that the trait was actively and specifically selected for during its evolution. Many phenotypes are simply by-products of other adaptations. It could be that a certain level of complexity happened to result in consciousness, rather than consciousness being directly selected for.

    • Mr F

      Also - everyone should read the book "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. It explains everything.

    • biggermiao

      There is no such thing as "high level" simplification in science. Atoms move according to physics, physics doesn't care (nor could it) whether you want to view a brain by counting its atoms one by one, or arbitrarily categorizing its sum as a brain. That distinction is soley human, and as random and subjective as the creator of poker's decision of the requirements for a straight flush. epiphenomenom do not need proof of origin, because they are not objective things, but simply subjective views. "I see a dining table, a sofa and a TV (cerebral cortex, nervous system, neural network)." "Really, I don't, I just see a living room (assertion of awareness and ego)." "Prove it." Once again, physics doesn't care. Therefore as a subjective "simplification" of distributed phenomenon, consciousness cannot be said to objectively exist, and therefore any research of it is unscientific.

      It is impossible to hypothesize objective phenomena outside of subjective experience. We say obviously the earth is spherical, but can you imagine the earth being spherical without subjective awareness? If you didn't have awareness, in what way would the existence, shape, quantity of the earth be objectively measured? Since we can't separate neurons from the consciousness which views them, at worst we must consider them as one, at best we must consider consciousness to be the cause and objective phenomena to be the caused. Taking the conservative worst approach, a thing cannot be the cause of itself. Taking the liberal, best approach, an object cannot be the cause of that which caused it.

  • biggermiao

    The problem is assuming "mentioning" consciousness points to anything
    other than neurons in the brain which end up creating the audible sounds
    c-o-n-s-c-i-o-u-s-n-e-s-s, or the pictogram "consciousness" Mentioning
    the word "Pink Dragon" does not prove a pink dragon exists, nor does it
    quantify the Pink Dragon. It is a symbol which requires an actual
    quantifiable object to point back to. Consciousness as a word, points
    to nothing, or more specifically, it point back to neuron formations
    which result in linguistical output that is endless and never concluded,
    therefore unscientific non-objective: "I want to tell you that there is
    an I, but it is not the I of the body, nor is it the I of the brain,
    nor is it the I of the Neurons in the brain, nor is it the I of the
    electricity in the neurons, it is the I that is watching, but it's not
    just the irises watching, nor is it just the pupil watching, nor the
    retina, it is an I. but it is not the I of the... " What we end up with
    is a non-existent object ever being pursued but never approached upon,
    never quantifiable. And we are left with a word whose meaning is to
    approach the unapproachable.

    In the field of quantum mechanics,
    it is already well understood that consciousness is fundamental to the
    universe and not a 2ndary characteristic:

    It simply doesn't exist
    in the classical universe, so obviously trying to prove the origin of
    something which doesn't exist is futile. In much the same way as a
    dreamer is not part of the dream and thus cannot be measured by the
    objects in the dream, or an atom operating under the laws of physics
    cannot modify the laws of physics its subjugated under, so consciousness
    is not a part of reality and does not touch it.

    and the law of physics are of the same breed, we cannot determine their
    origin and thus they cannot be described(we have no concept of
    mathematics or order before the big bang). They are both causeless
    causes that go back in time ad inifinitum

    • NotYou

      You can't even compare consciousness to the laws of physics....

  • William St. George

    This is a nice theory but wrong. As usual in Anglo-American philosophy we are reducing consciousness to something graspable, namely that mysterious stuff called matter. The author has yet to meet Kant and Schopenhauer. Or having met them he is still only distantly acquainted. The real question is this: what stands behind the couple subject and object or perceiver and perceived? When there are no objects what then?

  • ester7

    It is an interesting partial explanation. Mental illness might be a breakdown in one's modelling ability, as out of body experience may come from a similar failure of events to fit that ability. It is, after all, just a theory (model?).

  • George

    An enjoyable and thought-provoking read! But -

    When a brain reports that it is conscious, it is reporting specific information computed within it.

    Reporting to... what? So much of this article implies a viewpoint of experience. Repeatedly, the brain seems to do something for itself. Is one part of the brain 'looking' at other parts of the brain? How does that happen?

    The article tackles one idea of consciousness, essentially by reformulating it, but while doing so it implies another awareness on top I think? It doesn't really properly tackle how consciousness arises, nor makes a connection between brain functioning (lump of matter with detectable electric signals) and actual personal experience (an open, multi-dimensional space with content arising in it, a mix of thoughts and sensations and perceptions). This is the bridge that needs to be crossed.

    Or is it all to do with punched tape?

  • Patrick Lee Miller

    According to this article, consciousness is the model of attention, just as a general has a model of a battle. But the model of the battle is useful to the general as a model only if it appears to him, only if it is represented to him in some way (e.g., he sees it). In other words, it must appear to his conscious awareness. Following the analogy, then, the model of attention that is here supposed to be consciousness should be useful to someone only if it appears to her, that is, only if she is conscious of it.

    But this is the beginning of an infinite regress: consciousness (the model) must appear to her consciousness. If the latter be understood, too, as a model, then it too must appear: consciousness (the first model) must appear to another consciousness (the second model), which must appear to still another consciousnesss (the third model); and so on ad inifnitum. As such, there could be no consciousness, at least for finite brains. Yet there is consciousness, so this account of it must be false.

    • yor mom

      Exactly right. The explanation tries to "answer" the problem of consciousness by trying to avoid it.

  • Gene Callahan

    This is the silliest idea I have heard in years.

  • flowirin

    i think it is more that the brain concentrates consciousness, rather than creates it.

  • yor mom

    Another failed attempt to explain consciousness. The explanation doesn't even touch the surface of what consciousness actually does.
    I'm not surprised, from everything I've read and experienced first-hand, consciousness is metaphysical.

    Consider this statement; My blue could be your yellow, and your yellow could be my blue, and yet we could calculate the world in the same fashion.

    That made sense to you didn't it? That doesn't make any sense to a robot, or a computer, or any calculation you could perform. Yellow is yellow and blue is blue, it is a specific wavelength of light that can never be accurately measured in any other way, and yet here we are.

    That's not the only paradox of consciousness that would baffle any machine or algorithm, and it begins to touch on the issues that this article doesn't even mention.

    So. Nice try, I suppose. It was a fun read.

  • LivingAnExaminedLife

    "In psychology, one possesses nothing unless one has experienced it in reality. Hence, a purely intellectual insight is not enough, because one knows only the words and not the substance of the thing from the inside."
    —Carl Jung

    A 3,500 word essay from a Princeton neuroscientist. 425 comments. And not one mind here apparently knows about DMT—or else they surely would’ve mentioned it.

    Consciousness is not a problem to solve but a mystery to experience.

    A scientist cannot properly study consciousness until s/he has directly experienced DMT in oral form (Ayahuasca tea in traditional Shipibo ceremony) as well as pure DMT in vaporised form.

    Well, what is DMT?

    NN,DMT is an endogenous neurotransmitter found throughout the plant and animal kingdoms.

    It’s in you right now.

    When extracted from a plant and inhaled, DMT acts as a serotonin agonist and attaches to the 5-HT receptors for a few minutes. From there it creates a perfectly harmless ‘near death’ experience in the brain.

    Vaporized DMT is an 8-10 minute experience in which one instantly discovers that disembodied consciousness is a real possibility. The effects of vaporized DMT mirror those described by near-death experience survivors (NDEs)—including: travelling down a brilliantly colored tunnel made of elaborate crawling geometric designs; experiencing a reality that feels more ‘real’ than being alive; a feeling of a God-like or profoundly spiritual presence all around; and beings made of light waiting at the end of the tunnel who communicate telepathically. These superficial descriptions of mine pale in comparison to the gloriously awesome—though sometimes terrifying—experience that is a vaporized DMT journey.

    Oral DMT in the form of an Ayahuasca tea ceremony, is a 4-9 hour experience in which one could realize that conscious experience is something temporarily anchored to the brain for, say, a span of 75 Earth-years; but consciousness doesn't appear to be ‘produced’ by the brain, nor does it appear that it would terminate upon death of the brain/body. These are a few of the broad range of conclusions and ideas one might arrive at via direct experience of Ayahuasca.

    Just as one does not learn to golf by reading Golf Digest and fantasizing about golfing, by the same token, one cannot really begin to unravel where consciousness originates without directly experiencing DMT. When you experience DMT (whether in tea or vapor forms), you’re thrust smack-dab into the epicentre of the mystery-of-all-mysteries.

    If you sincerely want to study consciousness then you must turn your senses *on* your senses with the most potent entheogens: Ayahuasca tea and pure DMT, or even a high dose of psilocybin or LSD can suffice for some people. These entheogens are harmless, nonaddictive plant derivatives that, when used ritually and with positive intentions, can trigger profound insights into the nature of: consciousness; birth and death; God; Jungian archetypes; what kind of reality we want to shape here on Earth; are we happy with how we’re living?; and the list goes on and on. Entheogens bridge the cosmic gulf between science and spirituality.

    One possibility that DMT sincerely confronts us with is that consciousness might not be ‘generated’ by the brain so much as it could be a quantum-level signal tuned-in by the brain, in the same sense as a television tunes-in and deciphers radio patterns projected outside it.

    Anyone studying consciousness would be served to also investigate DMT through direct experience (if it feels like an experience worth having—it’s certainly not for everyone!). I’d love to see a rewrite of this article after the author experienced DMT and Ayahuasca several times.

    The most ‘scientific’ information on DMT that I’ve come across personally is from Stanford-educated psychiatrist Dr. Rick Strassman. In the early 1990s Dr. Strassman managed to obtain FDA approval to inject test subjects with DMT synthesized by a Tufts chemist (if I recall the story correctly). His landmark work is covered in the book and documentary entitled, “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.” I highly recommend watching that documentary or reading his book to dive deeper in the science.

    Another excellent anthropological and scientific work on Ayahuasca is psychiatry professor Benny Shannon’s book, “Antipodes of the Mind,” which covers his thorough investigations of Ayahuasca tea as a participant in over 100 ritual ceremonies.

    These two publications are excellent sign-posts pointing the way to phenomenal direct exploration. To understand the mind, you have to climb inside it, and DMT is key to unlocking hidden dimensions that exists in each of us.

    "Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”
    —Max Planck

  • Overleaf

    Very interesting theory, article, and well written. I can see you will get a lot of resistance from the left field because this runs against their religion of postmodernism and cultural determinacy. This theory brings back agency to focus, and will not sit well with the left field who believe we are just social animals and our sense of self is an epi-phenomenon. The computational theory of mind tears down many of the left's shibboleths and therefore will be fought against with tooth and nail.

  • Shaikh Raisuddin


    Physics is BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE of matter.

    It is not Physics that gives behaviour to matter; instead it is behaviour of matter that gives Physics. Physics is Psychology of matter.

    Awareness comes by changes. No change no consciousness. To be aware is to be effected (changed). Stimulus is a change causing agent.

    Only matter is tangible thus changeable.

    Thought, emotion, thinking etc are by behaviour of matter of brain.

    INERTIA is source of consciousness!....!!! Inertial system of a body is beholder of consciousness

    Time is fictitious concept. It is measure of change of context of sources of stimuli. Information is fictitious, it is TRAVEL EFFECT of matter which causes exchange of energy and direction of travel. For ease of comprehension compare information from voice recorder.

    Subjectivity is inertial system of human body. Recall how in theory of relativity inertial frames influence physical process.

    Duality of body and mind and subjectivity of experiences is a linguistic error. Communication between matter happen in LANGUAGE OF MATTER and not in social language.

    The words, "mind" and "consciousness" are not 'nouns' but 'verbs' because they represent neurological process that is "series of actions"

    Consciousness is HIERARCHICAL. Degree of consciousness increases with increase in variety of inertial systems and variety of number of languages of matter.

    Consciousness is CHANGE MANAGEMENT process.

    Consciousness interfaces internal structure with external environment like touch screen of mobile

    This is my Interface Theory of Consciousness whose abstract has been accepted by TSC 2015 Helsinki Conference

  • terracerulean

    The arrow A/B reasoning in this article is a strawman argument. There is nothing in the reportage of consciousness that contradicts the premises of epiphenomenalism. Epiphenomenalism explains only effect not cause, or at the very least a strict one-way causal relationship. It posits no Arrow B activity at all, under any circumstances. The apparent response to consciousness is all Arrow A activity.

    I am, hover, disinclined to accept epiphenomenalism based on the rather less formal principle of Occam's razor.

    The other interesting thing about consciousness is that it neither discrete nor monolithic. It admits degrees. Discussions attempting to find an analytical differences between sentience and consciousness are for the most part pedantic and tedious. And we know from contemporary neurology that our consciousness can, under many different circumstances, be disintegrated into less coherent, parallel states of awareness.

    If you are a causal materialist of any stripe, the continuum of aggregations of multiple modes of awareness in physical systems leads down a very unfashionable path called panpsychism. Which, at its most po faced, stripped of mysticism and new-age guff, terminates in the rather unsatisfying conclusion that consciousness is a fundamental characteristic of physical reality. Functional emergence - rather than metaphysical (ontological) emergence - which seems to be the default position these day. There isn't an "is" to ask "what" about. The only interesting question after that is "how?".

  • Paleologue

    Alan Turing devised tests to find out whether one was talking with a sentient being or with a cleverly designed machine program. But I'm sure others among these 433 commenters have pointed that out.

    Other than that I would suspect awareness is innate in all living organisms. The problem with proving it is that few of these have learned to communicate. A simple protozoan, for example, swims away from darkness, thus toward light. Why does he do it? We can't ask him. And a cockroach scurries from our foot in a very convincing demonstration of fear. Yet we can't ask him why he does it either.


  • MCope

    Merleau-Ponty much?