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Consciousness has a function. Here’s what it does.

 
Philip Ludikar
 
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Philip Ludikar
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08 September 2015 08:46
 

Some scientists believe that consciousness is a useless by-product. One such scientist is Christof Koch –  consciousness researcher and former collaborator of Francis Crick. He believes that consciousness emerges by itself as information becomes integrated. That means, according to him, even mobile phones are minimally conscious.

It is, however, implausible that consciousness has no purpose and arose by accident. Of course accidents in the form of mutations have occurred throughout evolution, but mutations not bringing any advantage haven’t stayed around for long. In fact consciousness has distinct disadvantages: it takes energy to be conscious and conscious reactions are slow compared to unconscious ones. Natural selection would have eliminated consciousness long ago unless it had some overriding benefit. In other words: consciousness must have a useful function.

But what could this function be? Pain and pleasure are a big part of consciousness and because they are motivating feelings, it makes sense to conclude that consciousness has something to do with motivation too. The problem with this idea, though, is that often we seem to be aware without feeling anything. That is, we are conscious but with no pain or pleasure. Does that mean that consciousness only occasionally has a function?

This isn’t likely. To save energy, consciousness would be switched off when it’s not being used. My guess is that consciousness is motivating even when we don’t think it is. I believe that consciousness’s job is to assess incoming information as painful or pleasurable. It can happen, though, that the pain or pleasure produced is not intense, which means we don’t recognise it. For example, very interesting things are noticeably pleasurable, but if something is only slightly interesting, the pleasure is weak. Because we scarcely feel the pleasure and because we are used to much more powerful feelings, we tend to ignore it – but the pleasure’s there all the same.

Consciousness has an important function: it is the motivational faculty of the brain. To assume – as Christof Koch does – that consciousness is useless is, quite frankly, absurd. Absurd assumptions lead to absurd conclusions. Wouldn’t you agree?

[ Edited: 21 October 2015 13:29 by Philip Ludikar]
 
CH123
 
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08 September 2015 18:20
 

Two points.

1. I, too, believe that conscious experience motivates (or not) but how does it do it? Does it reach back into the brain in order to affect it? As follows ...

Brain—> pleasure—> Brain

Surely, you would have to posit some mechanism wherein this strange ethereal phenomenon of consciousness impacted itself upon neurons.

But it’s hard enough trying to figure out this ... Brain—> pleasure

2. As you probably know, a zombie-robot without consciousness could, in theory, say and do everything that humans do; i.e. consciousness does not, in theory, appear to be necessary to motivate people.

 
Philip Ludikar
 
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09 September 2015 01:22
 

Hi,

Actually, I believe only pain motivates. (Pleasure motivates only indirectly by being a precursor to pain.) Of course no one knows how we subjectively feel pain but what is certain (because we all experience this) is that pain makes us take actions to try to get rid of pain.

As for zombies, robots and unconscious animals - their limitation is that as long as they have their instructions or stimuli they are bound to act. Conscious animals only take actions to get rid of pain and only for as long as the pain lasts. For example moths (which I guess are unconscious) will continue to fly at light bulbs even if it kills them. A hypothetical conscious moth will feel the pain from the bulb and will stop flying at it. Consciousness also allows us to prioritise our pains according to their intensity. (That´s a fancy way of saying it allows us to make choices.) So if the pleasure from a light bulb is perceived to be less intense than the pain the light bulb gives, a conscious moth will avoid the bulb.

 
CH123
 
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09 September 2015 07:58
 

” I believe only pain motivates.”

It’s difficult to see why pain would motivate me to put on my glasses, watch a film on TV, eat a doughnut or have a bath, .

 
Philip Ludikar
 
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09 September 2015 08:55
 
CH123 - 09 September 2015 07:58 AM

” I believe only pain motivates.”

It’s difficult to see why pain would motivate me to put on my glasses, watch a film on TV, eat a doughnut or have a bath, .

It is indeed difficult to see why and also difficult to explain.

Let´s use the doughnut example. Just before you take your first bite, quite obviously you aren´t getting any pleasure from eating the doughnut yet. But you are still motivated to take that first bite. Why? Perhaps you are thinking about how tasty the doughnut is going to be. The thought is pleasurable but that pleasure doesn´t last long and will disappear unless you start to eat. Let´s imagine now that you are starving and someone is deliberately taunting you by eating a doughnut and refusing to give you any. Then the pleasurable thought that you had previously has noticeably turned painful. That´s the pain which motivates you to eat - but usually this pain is slight and hardly noticed because normally you’d start to eat straightaway.

Pleasure, by the way, would be a useless motivator. Imagine you have a mouth full of doughnut and the pleasure from this experience makes you put more doughnut in your mouth. You´d never stop eating.

[ Edited: 15 October 2015 12:37 by Philip Ludikar]
 
Feather
 
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09 September 2015 15:19
 

These are some initial thoughts that strike me. I don’t know Christof ideas, but it seems strange to me that people feel reality we see is the eternal truth - all there is - all that can be - realist - fundamentalist - ruler, yet something that defies every essence of that can emerge from it. If something can emerge from all there is then it is not all there is. It makes more sense, to feel that reality “appears” to be… and that the realist all there is - the fundamentalist thing is that which interprets that which appears.
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Information creation only consciousness can do. Devices and such things like the internet, rely on consciousness’s information to sort and control data, which make it appear as though or allows for us to word words in such a way we speak as though devices and such create information. Consciousness uses the body to process data to create information. I would not be surprised if other things like the internet or some device is used by consciousness to do some rudimentary information creation.
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I think it is inaccurate to speak as though the device or the body creates the consciousness although it would definitely “appear” that way with the naked eye. That entire idea is dependent on reality being all there can be and all there is, which leads to the thinking consciousness must be a derivative and it must somehow either be an impossible bizarre exception, or an illusion and not really a separate thing from what there is.
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Its easier I think to make sense of science and reality, looking at it as if it’ is emergent from consciousness. The same way as a virtual reality appears emergent, reality is a product of an information system which is something only consciousness can create. Often people hear consciousness and think mind of god or something. I just mean anything that can create information is consciousness, anything. Once we have an information system like reality by how I am terming things you automatically have consciousness. Even if we want to say information could naturally emerge from nothing, I would say great throw that in a box and then the box is conscious and has a consciousness.  Eventually we have to address the fallacy that randomness can create information, but that just can’t be said because randomness ‘Is’ the destruction of information.  If we wanted to do an experiment and throw a jar of colored jelly beans on the table and see if we can create meaning randomly, you still have to go find something conscious to ask them to process the data and search if the seemingly random data has meaning. Randomness means nothing without the existence of consciousness. Consciousness can’t emerge or come from a - all there is all that can be random thing.
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Energy is just an agreement made by consciousness. Like people can pick up a rock and decide and agree it will represent a symbol as money. Money like energy is just a construct of consciousness. Our physics is just rules that regulate spacial entities we experience, some of those entities we call matter, some we call forces. Just as money can experience inflation or changes in its agreed value, our laws in physics also change over time as constants of nature don’t stay very constant.  Basically you don’t need money to think and be conscious but is sure as helps you act out what you think. Same with the energy we are familiar with in our physics, it can change nothing in our consciousness directly but it can be used to act out what motivates our consciousness in turn those experiences can alter our consciousness and its potential ability {energy} which is whole different thing that we can’t quantify like we can energy from our physics.
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The function of consciousness is to create information and evolve its ability/energy to do so. Yes I also think pain and pleasure is the feedback that allows consciousness to evolve, and is deeply rooted and a necessary thing for consciousness.  Pain and pleasure has two sources, one is defined from ourselves, and is synthetic. This is based on what we fear {values with risk} and our desires {goals that avoid risk}, coming from our ego and delusion and intellect. The other is defined by natural fundamental process consciousness undergoes and we learn these values from our experience.
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Pain and pleasure are words that are more associated with our ego. If one say meditated they could get In touch with a how the consciousness feels, if they are successful the feelings are more about harmony, peace, focus, aligned, directed, attention, pristine, quality. If one is unsuccessful their feelings are probably more dead, scattered, bland, fleeting, messy, nasty, uneasy, unsettled, struggle. For some people who don’t think they have consciousness they have buried it so deep, they become flat and drone like. Some people though talk of consciousness as that ego intellect and getting rid of that programming one can see it is just an illusion or synthetic. This is how Sam sees it. It’s a variation on wordplay but it’s getting at the same thing. Our sentient ness and awareness is dependent on input and the novelty and order of the input, so “us” the body and the experiencer of the conscious experience, requires the correct context to ‘feel’ conscious. That consciousness we operate from can do other things if it has the capacity while “we” don’t got a lot going on. We can experience those other things, that’s what happens to many during meditation.
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Consciousness being useless I just can’t make sense of. So I’d have to agree.
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People seem to really think and find so much solace and truth, in that if they just attach one of these words… random, useless, purposeless, meaningless, accident, from nothing, no reason, nothing matters…to any complicated conundrum they have just discovered some profound revelations that is the most genius thought that could possibly exist on the subject.
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It really perplexes me because; it makes absolutely no engineering practical rational sense. Those words have meanings that come in complete logical conflict with subject. This effect is a result of people being confused and somehow double down on that confusion to think the only solution must be the absolute most confusing option. I don’t know I guess, to me it’s like a fadd that I keep waiting for people to realize is lame and not that intelligent or genius. Ok I talked myself off the path and got lost, Im done.

 
Philip Ludikar
 
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10 September 2015 00:40
 

Hi Feather,

Where we are at one is that consciousness doesn´t emerge from information.

What I can´t agree with is the idea that consciousness creates information. But if you were to replace the word “information” with “concepts”, I´d agree with you completely. (You wrote “people can pick up a rock and decide and agree it will represent a symbol as money”, so I think “concepts” is what you really mean anyway.)

I believe consciousness helps to create concepts. Christof Koch believes that consciousness emerges from concepts. (“Integrated information” and “concept” are one and the same thing.) So what Koch believes is a cause, I believe is an effect. In other words, Koch and I believe the exact opposite to each other.

[ Edited: 10 September 2015 02:32 by Philip Ludikar]
 
Feather
 
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10 September 2015 10:29
 

What I mean by information is = data that means something to consciousness.  The internet definition of information is = what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things. The internet definition of convey is = •make (an idea, impression, or feeling) known or understandable to someone. There appears to be a requirement of information that it is interpreted.
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That is the link I make where information and consciousness can not be separated. You could say information is integrated data. ultimately a consciousness has to integrate it. Plus the way I am terming things I am talking very generally such that, if you were walking down the street and found integrated data in a box, but you had no idea what integrated it, and you had to go tell a scientist what you found, and say you found this happening very often, instead of saying, “a something or somehow data got integrated in this box”. I am arbitrarily using the word consciousness as a shorter symbol to represent that long sentence. The reason for doing so seems necessary due to the definition of information. 
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Some use data and information interchangeable because they down play the importance of a “something” or “somehow” by using words like represent. In this case if data and information are the same thing, integrated information = concept, is what I am talking about when I say integrated data = information. Because that Christof guy doesn’t not feel a “something” or “somehow” is intrinsic to information and the “something” or “somehow” emerges from it, he probably uses information to mean the same thing as data. Where I do not, because I do thing the “somehow” is intrinsic and a requirement to having information.
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So a concept as integrated information is just a level up of the same process. The same process consciousness undergoes to arrive at information is the same process to take the information and use inductive reasoning to form a model or elaborate concepts, all of which is what a “something” or “somehow” does.
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I am partly just talking out the side of my face because I have not thought this out this far until now, take it with a grain of salt, and I like this word integration, I need to read this guy Chritof. Is it worth a read?

 
Philip Ludikar
 
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10 September 2015 13:09
 

You can read about Christof Koch on his website http://christofkoch.com.

I haven’t bothered to read any literature by the man himself because I’m sure it would be a waste of my time. From articles about his ideas and from the talks he’s given I can tell he’s barking up the wrong tree.

 
scientia
 
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23 September 2015 10:59
 
Philip Ludikar - 08 September 2015 08:46 AM

Consciousness has an important function: it is the motivational faculty of the brain. To assume – as Christof Koch does – that consciousness is useless is, quite frankly, absurd. Absurd assumptions lead to absurd conclusions. Wouldn’t you agree?

I’m not sure if I should comment on this or not. Awareness is an evolutionary adaptation to overcome problems with the way information is organized in the brain. This information structure is itself an adaptation to overcome speed limitations. In other words, without this structure the brain would be too slow so an organism would not be very fit when dealing with other organisms with brains. This structure then creates problems. Awareness seems to be the simplest solution. It’s possible that some other theoretical solution exists but I haven’t found one. You can push awareness to some complexity if you avoid self-reference because this also causes problems. However, you do reach a point where self-awareness is required to get past these limitations. Self-awareness deals with seeing yourself as separate from the environment rather than just an aspect of the environment.

Emotions do seem to be directly related to awareness. When you have a simple, non-aware organism you can directly link brain states to actions. However, to gain more flexibility these are expanded into contextual states supplemented with emotion. Emotions work primarily in bypassing abstract manipulation. In other words, if emotions were only abstract constructs then you could ignore them.

If you consider an organism in terms of maximizing opportunities then that organism has an advantage if it is able to create new decision classes. However, if your brain can do this then it also becomes non-functional. It will tend to either become trapped in a single context or bounce around from context to context. The solution seems to be the development of a conscious cycle which maintains focus and keeps the amount of information small enough to handle. The same flexibility that allows you to create new decision classes also lets you form classes about yourself. So self-awareness is unavoidable. The phenomenon that we call consciousness is the part that actively maintains the current contextual state.

This probably sounds like gibberish. Basically, I see awareness and consciousness as necessary adaptations to allow expanded decision choices while maintaining adequate brain speed. I don’t see anything mystical in it. Nor does it appear to be simply an emergent property of greater complexity.

 
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24 September 2015 01:20
 
scientia - 23 September 2015 10:59 AM

Basically, I see awareness and consciousness as necessary adaptations to allow expanded decision choices while maintaining adequate brain speed. I don’t see anything mystical in it. Nor does it appear to be simply an emergent property of greater complexity.

Hi Scientia,

I agree with much of what you write, especially with your conclusions in the last paragraph.

Where I differ from you:

1) Self-awareness. I don´t believe self-awareness is that fundamental nor do I believe it is another level of consciousness (as some thinkers would have it). Self-awareness is quite simply an awareness of concepts about the self. Conscious animals can be aware of many different things - emotions, tastes, smells, concepts and so on. Humans are very aware of concepts of self - because clearly at some point in our evolution it became important to be aware of these concepts. Dogs are much less aware of self because this kind of awareness is much less important in their particular niche.

2) Pain and pleasure. You don´t mention these feelings but I am convinced that they are the key to what consciousness is. My belief is that the first conscious animals were only aware of pain. This developed over time into an awareness of a wide range of types of information - but in essence consciousness remains the brain´s way of evaluating information in terms of the pain and pleasure it gives.

 

 
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13 November 2015 21:05
 

I’d say - consciousness is a type of input that comes instead of from specialized sensory cells a type of neuron that perceives our own processes ... but does not perceive it in a way that is easily reducible to 1, 2, 3 or 4 simple dimensions, that is maybe it weighs things in its own intuitive n-dimensional way that is so complex and subtle that we just experience it as networks of experiential context that light up in response to what is going on in our environment and our heads.

That is consciousness is like a screen, we have several, our skin, a matrix of sensory neurons that are mapped into our “consciouos” space, and our vision - another mapping, and our smell and hearing - still more mappings, but consciousness is a higher dimensional process that binds it all together, and yet that we are not really privy to, except the small parts we see light up, but we do not see how they light up in the way we would see how a tree and the sun light up in our visual field.

 
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13 November 2015 21:12
 

> That means, according to him, even mobile phones are minimally conscious.

Mobile phones are not conscious in any way, and to say that or think it is almost mindlessly primitive, like saying the sun is a god because we don’t understand it.

Now ... if you could plug a mobile phone into someone’s brain it could become part of something conscious, and maybe the changes that happen around where it gets plugged in might be monitored to get some kind of biological understanding of what builds or develops consciousness.

There are so many trillions of connections in the brain in so many different contexts, it would not surprise me if there was an internal sensing system that perhaps assists with learning, like we all flash cards, flash cards, because they flash something and imprint it into our consciousness.  It is a super-system that does not have control over our behavior, because that would be dangerous, but it can over a long time program control and even program suicide thoughts and behaviors, so it is slow, and not easily understood, in fact maybe it evolved to be hidden from us, like the point of our dreams, because too much control over consciousness could be very toxic at a very high level, like a computer virus - though like suicidal thoughts and behaviors it is probably not impossible.

 
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14 November 2015 06:34
 
Bruce K - 13 November 2015 09:05 PM

I’d say - consciousness is a type of input that comes instead of from specialized sensory cells a type of neuron that perceives our own processes ... but does not perceive it in a way that is easily reducible to 1, 2, 3 or 4 simple dimensions, that is maybe it weighs things in its own intuitive n-dimensional way that is so complex and subtle that we just experience it as networks of experiential context that light up in response to what is going on in our environment and our heads.

It seems like all you’ve done is just paraphrase the term “self-awareness”.

That is consciousness is like a screen, we have several, our skin, a matrix of sensory neurons that are mapped into our “consciouos” space, and our vision - another mapping, and our smell and hearing - still more mappings, but consciousness is a higher dimensional process that binds it all together, and yet that we are not really privy to, except the small parts we see light up, but we do not see how they light up in the way we would see how a tree and the sun light up in our visual field.

I have no idea what you are trying to say. The functions that make up consciousness are not themselves conscious. This was one of the fundamental mistakes that Harris made.

[ Edited: 14 November 2015 07:58 by scientia]
 
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14 November 2015 06:42
 
Bruce K - 13 November 2015 09:12 PM

There are so many trillions of connections in the brain in so many different contexts, it would not surprise me if there was an internal sensing system that perhaps assists with learning, like we all flash cards, flash cards, because they flash something and imprint it into our consciousness.

Again, I don’t know what you are trying to say. It is quite well known that some systems are inherent. For example, the brain has an inherent ability for language and an inherent ability for math.

It is a super-system that does not have control over our behavior, because that would be dangerous, but it can over a long time program control and even program suicide thoughts and behaviors, so it is slow, and not easily understood, in fact maybe it evolved to be hidden from us, like the point of our dreams, because too much control over consciousness could be very toxic at a very high level, like a computer virus - though like suicidal thoughts and behaviors it is probably not impossible.

What doesn’t have control over what? I don’t think you have a very good concept of how the brain works.

 
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29 June 2016 09:30
 
Philip Ludikar - 08 September 2015 08:46 AM

It is, however, implausible that consciousness has no purpose and arose by accident. Of course accidents in the form of mutations have occurred throughout evolution, but mutations not bringing any advantage haven’t stayed around for long.

If consciousness didn’t arise due to natural selection, but predates biology, would it still have a purpose?

But what could this function be? Pain and pleasure are a big part of consciousness and because they are motivating feelings, it makes sense to conclude that consciousness has something to do with motivation too. The problem with this idea, though, is that often we seem to be aware without feeling anything. That is, we are conscious but with no pain or pleasure. Does that mean that consciousness only occasionally has a function?

This isn’t likely. To save energy, consciousness would be switched off when it’s not being used. My guess is that consciousness is motivating even when we don’t think it is. I believe that consciousness’s job is to assess incoming information as painful or pleasurable. It can happen, though, that the pain or pleasure produced is not intense, which means we don’t recognise it. For example, very interesting things are noticeably pleasurable, but if something is only slightly interesting, the pleasure is weak. Because we scarcely feel the pleasure and because we are used to much more powerful feelings, we tend to ignore it – but the pleasure’s there all the same.

Consciousness has an important function: it is the motivational faculty of the brain. To assume – as Christof Koch does – that consciousness is useless is, quite frankly, absurd. Absurd assumptions lead to absurd conclusions. Wouldn’t you agree?

Don’t you think all of this could be achieved without the feeling of awareness?  Couldn’t an unconscious process handle this just as well as an unconscious one?  As Sam says, all of our evidence for consciousness is subjective.  Then we attribute consciousness to beings like ourselves by analogy.

 
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