January 10, 2014

How the "magic" of consciousness occurs

The concept of consciousness intrigues me more than any other topic. Today at physorg, I found a fascinating new explanation of the phenomenon. The article is called "Unpacking the toolkit of human consciousness" and it describes a new theory devised by Princeton University professor Michael Graziano. It's a bit involved but as I say, I find such discussions compelling -- if they seem sensible. This one does.

Here's an outtake or two from the article:
In Graziano's attention schema theory, awareness is the brain's simplified model of the complicated process of attention. When a person is aware of something such as an apple in front of them, it is because the brain has put together two models: the information describing the apple, and the self-descriptive information about how the brain is focusing its resources. Put those two specialized types of information together and the brain is equipped to introspect, conclude and report, "I am aware of the apple."

The attention schema theory satisfies two problems of understanding consciousness, said Aaron Schurger...The "easy" problem relates to correlating brain activity with the presence and absence of consciousness, he said. The "hard" problem has been to determine how consciousness comes about in the first place. Essentially all existing theories of consciousness have addressed only the easy problem. Graziano shows that the solution to the hard problem might be that the brain describes some of the information that it is actively processing as conscious because that is a useful description of its own process of attention, Schurger said. [Bolding here and below is mine.]
At one point, the article mentions a book that Graziano wrote:
"That book is about how we attribute awareness to others and how we might also attribute awareness to ourselves. It proposes that human spirituality is a result of attributing awareness to objects and empty spaces," Graziano said.
So there's yet another reason to like Graziano. His theory comports with what I've always suspected: consciousness is the result of attention simultaneously being focused from multiple quarters of the brain. Yet Graziano's theory adds another level to the equation. It explains the "magic", the feeling that I am me. It's the essential mental trick at the heart of our lives and we're only now beginning to understand it. Very cool.

2 comments:

Artichoke Annie said...

Amazing, who needs science fiction when we have science fact.

The brain is so intriguing - talk about the next frontier!

My husband was involved with AI back in his college days, which was a LONG time ago. Progress has been made but there is still so much to learn.

Thanks, K.

writenow said...

You're welcome, Annie. I hope true AI is right around the corner. Then things will get really interesting. It'll help us forget about Congress for a while.