Explain How New Discoveries Influence Contemporary Psychological Perspectives – Implications of noise on the neural correlates of consciousness: a computational analysis of stochastic systems of interconnected processes.
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Explain How New Discoveries Influence Contemporary Psychological Perspectives
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Surrealism: The Art Of The Unconscious Mind
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Received: 14 March 2021 / Revised: 14 May 2021 / Accepted: 18 May 2021 / Published: 22 May 2021
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This article evaluates two different theories to explain consciousness, a phenomenon generally considered amenable to scientific investigation despite its puzzling subjective aspects. I focus on Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which states that consciousness is integrated information (such as ϕ
) and says that even simple systems with interacting parts possess some consciousness. First, I judge IIT on its own merits. Second, I contrast it with a more traditional theory of origins called neurobiological naturalism (NN), which holds that consciousness is an emergent and evolved feature of complex brains. Comparing these theories is informative because it reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each, suggesting better ways to study consciousness in the future. IIT’s strengths are the sensible axioms at its core; his strong logic and mathematical formalism; his creative “first experience” approach to the study of consciousness; the way he avoids the mind-body problem (“difficult”); its consistency with the theory of evolution; and his many scientifically verifiable predictions. A potential weakness of IIT is that it contains parts of logic-based reasoning that were not compared to hard evidence when the theory was formed, whereas scientific arguments require supporting evidence for the reasoning to hold. This is less of a concern for the other theory, NN, because it incorporated the evidence much earlier in its construction process. NN is a less mature theory than IIT, less formalized and quantitative and less proven. However, he has identified his own neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs) and offers a roadmap by which these NNCs can answer questions of consciousness using the steps of the hypothesis-test-hypothesis-test scientific method.
Theories of consciousness; repetitive interactions; causal structure; mind and body problem; evidence; neurobiological naturalism; neuroevolution; scientific theory/method; inductive versus deductive reasoning; Artificial Intelligence; neural correlates of consciousness
Integrated Information Theory (IIT) is an important theoretical framework for investigating the phenomenal experiences of consciousness. “It tries to identify the essential properties of consciousness (axioms) and, from there, draws conclusions about the properties of physical systems that can explain it (postulates)” . It explains both the quality and quantity of consciousness that is intrinsic to the system, derived from first principles [1, 2, 3]. He says that consciousness is integrated information, or rather the maximum amount of integrated information that a system has. Integrated information (quantified as ϕ) is the information specified by the complete system in addition to that specified by its components. Therefore, integrated information is a measure of feedback (repetitive) interactions between parties. Causality is a key component of IIT. Specifically, IIT quantifies the causal power of a system and its parts over themselves. If the causes and effects of a system or mechanism can be reduced to only those of its parts, meaning that the parts do not interact with each other, then its integrated information is zero. IIT is unique among major theories of consciousness because it begins with the phenomenal and continues with the physical. Once again, he begins with axioms about experience and then sets out postulates that explain how physical things relate to experience (see Note 1 in Appendix A).
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I will evaluate IIT from my perspective as an evolutionary neuroscientist, covering its strengths and weaknesses as I see them. In doing so, I introduce some angles that have not been considered in past assessments of the theory. After evaluating IIT, I will compare it to another theory of consciousness, called Neurobiological Naturalism (NN), developed by Todd E. Feinberg and myself [4, 5, 6]. NN was designed to explain how consciousness evolved and how its subjective aspects could appear in our physical world. He pursues these answers by identifying neural features that are always associated with consciousness, called neural correlates of consciousness or NCCs ,  (pp. 81–95), , so that scientists can determine how and which NCCs “cause” consciousness. Proceeding from the physical to the phenomenal through NCC, NN follows a common approach to the study of consciousness and, as we shall see, differs from that of IIT.
Here are some initial comparisons. NN agrees with IIT in emphasizing the importance of repetitive interactions between parts (feedback reactions to feedback signals), as do many other theories of consciousness [10, 11, 12, 13, 14]. Both theories recognize standard definitions of consciousness, such as awareness of one’s own external and internal existence , and both focus on the most basic form of consciousness, called primary consciousness, which is raw experience without reflection [3, 16, 17]. Like other researchers working at IIT , I synonymize the terms ‘awareness’, ‘experiences’, ‘feelings’, ‘subjective experiences’ and ‘sensitivity’ . However, IIT also defines consciousness as information embedded in a physical system, and this makes it different from other theories. He says more integrated information means more awareness. More on that below.
IIT and NN have similar goals in that they both seek to understand the enigmatic subjective aspects of consciousness, as well as the physical underpinnings responsible for these aspects. Both theories are physicalistic in this sense.
IIT and NN are built in different ways. IIT is a deductive theory because it goes from general axioms to the theory itself, to its specific testable predictions. NN is an inductive theory that goes from specific observations to generalizations, to theory and its tests. I will consider whether these different constructions might affect the relative strengths and weaknesses of the theories, in a way that might improve future research in the field of consciousness studies.
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The first strength of IIT is that its five axioms seem to characterize human experience well. These axioms are intrinsic existence, composite nature, information, integration and exclusion [3, 9, 20]. Intrinsic existence means that only the subject has that experience, and no outside observer can. The complex nature means that the experience is a structured set of different components, such as the green, the grass, the stadium, the soccer ball and the cheering. Specific information means that an experience has a certain informational content that distinguishes it from any other experience the subject may have. Integration means that consciousness is integrated and not divisible into different subsets of experience: the entire visual field is seen integrated and cannot be further divided into separate experiences of the left and right halves of the field. Exclusion means that each experience has a defined content, no more and no less, and flows into the next experience at a defined speed, no slower and no faster. These axioms cover all phenomenal properties that I can think of (for a different view, see ).
Another advantage is the strong logic, rigor and mathematical formalism of IIT, especially since it was upgraded to version 3.0 in 2014 . Third, IIT is clever in using the reverse perspective of starting with the phenomenal rather than the physical. I think this is a creative and valuable way to study consciousness. One of the strengths of phenomenology is that it avoids the perplexing “hard problem”  or explanatory gap  that arises from the traditional approach of departing from the physical and asking how and why physical processes can lead to experience [1, 18] (see also note 2 in Appendix A). The reason IIT solves the hard problem is that it says your maximally integrated information is identical to consciousness. More specifically, IIT characterizes experience not as material processes or system structures, but as an abstract power of causal or causal structure (or conceptual structure: see Figure 1 in ). IIT also addresses another part of the mind-body problem: how could the mental cause physical behavior? IIT answers this question of mental causation by defining any system with internal causal factors as conscious [24, 25].
The fourth strength of IITs is that
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