Tag Archives: Theory of Consciousness

My Grandfather’s Axe

Theseus and MinotaurIn Greek mythology, the hero Theseus, who slew the Minotaur and escaped its maze, returned from Crete to Athens where the Athenians preserved his ship in seaworthy state for more than a thousand years. It was an emblem of courage and a reminder of a national hero that many Greeks considered more legendary than mythological.

The Ship of Theseus was carefully maintained. Parts that rotted away were replaced with exact replicas. And in a ship made almost entirely of wood, crude iron, rope, and sail, everything rots, so eventually everything gets replaced.

Which makes the identity of the ship an interesting question.

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Information Processing

sanityOver the last few weeks I’ve written a series of posts leading up to the idea of human consciousness in a machine. In particular, I focused on the difference between a physical model and a software model, and especially on the requirements of the software model.

The series is over, I have nothing particularly new to add, but I’d like to try to summarize my points and provide an index to the posts in this series. It seems I may have given readers a bit of information overload — too much information to process.

Hopefully I can achieve better clarity and brevity here!

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Transcendental Territory

transcendent mindLast time we considered the possibility that human consciousness somehow supervenes on the physical brain, that it only emerges under specific physical conditions. Perhaps, like laser light and microwaves, it requires the right equipment.

We also touched on how Church-Turing implies that, if human consciousness can be implemented with software, then the mind is necessarily an algorithm — an abstract mathematical object. But the human mind is presumed to be a natural physical object (or at least to emerge from one).

This time we’ll consider the effect of transcendence on all this.

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No Ouch!

no ouch

“Ouch!”

Over the past few weeks we’ve explored background topics regarding calculation, code, and computers. That led to an exploration of software models — in particular a software model of the human brain.

The underlying question all along is whether a software model of a brain — in contrast to a physical model —  can be conscious. A related, but separate, question is whether some algorithm (aka Turing Machine) functionally reproduces human consciousness without regard to the brain’s physical structure.

Now we focus on why a software model isn’t what it models!

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Sunday Sundries

day of rest 1I have mentioned before that I like to observe a Sabbath of some kind, a day of rest and difference. Years of religious indoctrination cause me to see Sunday as that day. More than forty years of work life reenforced that view (although I often worked Sundays in my very first job). Ultimately the actual day isn’t important; it’s the idea of taking a weekly break from normal that I think is crucial to mental well-being.

There is also for me, not a religious component, but a moral one nevertheless. I observe certain restrictions on my Sabbath (I don’t watch anything violent, for example), and I try to connect with my gentler side. (I’m actually a gentle soul at heart. The world has had the effect of giving me a crusty, pointy exterior.)

So today, no Python, no POV-Ray, no math (no rants).

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Strange Loops

Drawing Hands by EscherIf you have read this blog much, you know that a topic that interests me greatly is the nature of consciousness. How is it that a three-pound clump of cells, a brain, gives rise to the rich experience of consciousness, our minds? Cognitive scientist David Chalmers termed this “the hard problem” of consciousness, and as it stands we really have no idea what consciousness is (and yet we all experience it all the time).

Back in 1979 cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book that attempts to answer the question. GEB, as it became known, was a large book most took as a random tour of interesting scientific ideas. But GEB did  have a theme, so 25 years later Hofstadter wrote another (much shorter) book to re-state his case.

That book is called I Am a Strange Loop, and it has much worth considering!

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BB #17 – Pointers!

Brain BubbleThis may be the first actual Brain Bubble I’ve ever posted! The original intent was to provide a mechanism for sudden (short) thoughts I wanted to record or put out there. But the BB posts quickly turned into mini collections of thought bubbles.

But today I started trying to get into Immanuel Kant (again), and that naturally led to a bit of Wiki Walking.

It was when I got to the article about the subject-object problem that a sudden brain bubble burst!

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Existence and Consciousness

My recent post about how the Big Bang and “Let there be Light” seem equally fantastic to me triggered an interesting comment from a reader. A detailed response requires more elbow room than a comment allows, so here’s a follow-up article instead.

One of the points involved that our scientific ideas, no matter how inaccurate they may turn out to be, are at least based on evidence. And to the credit of science, when we recognize errors in our interpretation of the evidence, science changes to accommodate the new interpretation. This has been, as I mentioned in that post, hugely successful. One of the failures of our spiritual metaphysics is that it clings to frameworks defined thousands of years ago and often stubbornly refuses to accommodate new information.

However the idea that there is no evidence for the existence of God(s) seems wrong to me. There is the fact that the universe exists and the fact that we recognize and are aware of its existence. Existence and consciousness are daily experiences for us all, and they beg for some explanation. Yet for all its progress, science hasn’t answered those questions. One can argue it hasn’t even made much progress towards an answer. It has some guesses, but the more you study those guesses, the more you realize they are filled with assumptions (at least in the case of the Big Bang).

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Cogito Ergo Sum

In my first post I mentioned René Descartes and his seminal statement, Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. Because this statement and the ideas that spring from it lie at the heart of my philosophy and interests, it is a fitting topic for my second post. I also mentioned beginnings; these beginning posts explore such core topics as form my core and inform my mind.

And mind is the topic at hand. “I think, therefore I am,” concerns one of the most central, most personal, most mysterious, most fantastic aspects of our existence. It concerns something each of us shares every waking moment, but which remains–thus far–completely unknown.

That every moment mystery is that we think and we experience. Each of us has a voice inside their head; an «I» that is us. It’s the driver of the car that says, “I’m hungry,” or “I’m going to the library.” It’s the sound track running in your head right now as you read this. It’s the basis of your thoughts and experience.

We have no idea what it actually is.

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