The real problem of consciousness

See this article. A few excerpts:

“A new picture is taking shape in which conscious experience is seen as deeply grounded in how brains and bodies work together to maintain physiological integrity – to stay alive.”

“The brain is locked inside a bony skull. All it receives are ambiguous and noisy sensory signals that are only indirectly related to objects in the world. Perception must therefore be a process of inference, in which indeterminate sensory signals are combined with prior expectations or ‘beliefs’ about the way the world is, to form the brain’s optimal hypotheses of the causes of these sensory signals.”

“A number of experiments are now indicating that consciousness depends more on perceptual predictions, than on prediction errors. […] We’ve found that people consciously see what they expect, rather than what violates their expectations.”

One thought on “The real problem of consciousness

  1. Well, for me the “real problem” of consciousness is pinning down the selection pressures that built various sorts and qualities of consciousness across taxa, especially and including humans. That project will really help us elucidate the functional design of consciousness.

    But, that said. I dislike it when somebody from one discipline claims that they have hit upon the “real” or the “hard” or in some way the “genuine” problem of consciousness. Understanding consciousness is going to require strong interdisciplinary work. Any disciplines, possibly including ones that are not strictly scientific (e.g., contemplative / introspective traditions aimed at seeing into mind more deeply than happens automatically, without special effort), are likely to have something substantial to contribute to our gaining a holistic and realistic understanding of consciousness.

    Moving forward with that work is going to require a lot of researchers and philosophers either dying or accepting great disillusionment. Papers like this one, offered by Edward, may be surprising to traditional psychologists and social scientists, but not to anybody with an evolutionary perspective on mind/brain.

    Of course the mind/brain is massively embodied, just as much as any organ. The unconscious (and relatively objective) information processing it performs, and the ever-shifting subjective conscious realities it creates based on that primary cognitive work, are designed to be fitness-enhancing. So the brain’s information processing must use (be affected by) all the evolutionarily/ecologically relevant information that is available from inside and outside the body. Of course, this includes all sorts of physiological information. Only in this way can the brain possibly do a decent job of regulating behavior and helping to regulate the activity of other organ systems so as to maintain and enhance opportunities for adding to an individual’s expected lifetime inclusive fitness.

    Papers like this one are going to continue coming out and hopefully will help humanity, before it is too late, to understand the depth, power, and transparency of the adaptively subjective dreamworld we all live in. Such understanding may motivate and inform our ability to not be completely overwhelmed and dominated by that dreamworld; this is our only hope of shifting our behavior toward more universal (less strategically contingent and genetically selfish) prosociality and biophilia — compassion. Best to all — PJW

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