Friday, October 29, 2010

Comments on “Why the Mind is not a Computer” by Raymond Tallis

1. I strongly agree with the aim of this book, which is to combat, by reaching the truth, the destructive effects of neurophilosophy and the Identity Theory (IT) on human freedom, dignity and behaviour. Tallis starts with an excellent deconstruction of the neurobabble that dominates so much present day discussion in the area of brain and consciousness (vide Frege, and Ryle, and later Dennett, Chalmers, Blakemore, Carter, etc.). His principle diagnosis is that these “science-cringers” (what a marvelous term!) believe that people are machines. They also attribute to the brain properties and activities that properly belong to the person whose brain it is. In particular he claims that the brain does not compute—people compute. Computers do not compute either—they are merely accessories to the people that program and use them. He also rejects the Identity theory and says that certain brain activities are necessary but not necessary and sufficient conditions for “ordinary consciousness and behaviour” (p. 29). He puts it thus: “To see people as machines—genetically determined or programmable—is no light matter…Neurophilosophy is simply wrong about human beings and their place in—and outside of—nature.”
He equates, provisionally, neurophilosophy with scientism and quotes Tzvetan Todorov, who linked scientism with the development of Nazi and Stalinist ideology. Tallis qualifies this by saying that we should perhaps not take scientism in a healthy society too seriously—“or perhaps we should”. He suggests that only in a society sick for other reasons does scientism leads to wickedness. On this point, I suggest, one needs to read John Cornwell’s book “Hitler’s Scientists” which will soon incline us to leave out any ‘perhaps’ in our estimation of the potential evils of scientism given the frailty of human beings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Disappearance of Appearance

Raymond Tallis, M.D.

It is [Bishop] Berkeley’s merit to have realised that the Cartesian/Newtonian philosophers, seeking to account for a seeable world, succeeded only in substituting a world that could in no sense be seen. He realised that they had substituted a theory of optics for a theory of visual perception.

--L Susan Stebbing

3.6 Why There Can Never Be a Brain Science of Consciousness: The Disappearance of Appearance

There are many other aspects of consciousness that elude any kind of conceptually coherent explanation. For example, it is not clear how, within the population of nerve impulses, we could find the basis for the absolutely fundamental difference between the level of consciousness (alert v drowsy v comatose) and its content; between background lighting and that which is lit. And what about the active directing of attention or racking one’s brains to remember something? But I won’t pursue these problems because I think I have already given enough reasons for maintaining that not only are neural explanations inadequate but they are wrong in principle and their current inadequacy won’t be amended by technological advances enabling ever more complete accounts of what is going on the brain. These, however, are only symptoms of a fundamental contradiction in neural theories of consciousness that I want to discuss now. The contradiction vitiates the very idea that certain material events in the brain could make the world around the organism or (in the case of human beings) the person appear to that organism or that person. The materialist account of mind requires us to confer on brain events properties that actually run contrary to the physical notion the matter of which they are formed.

Let us go back to what Daniel Dennett (accurately, I believe) calls ‘the contemporary orthodoxy’ in a passage quoted in Section 1.2:

There is only one sort of stuff, namely matter – the physical stuff of physics, chemistry and physiology – and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. In short, the mind is the brain… We can (in principle!) account for every mental phenomenon using the same physical principles, laws and raw materials that suffice to explain radioactivity, continental drift, photosynthesis, reproduction, nutrition and growth. 62

This, the clearest possible statement of the metaphysical framework of Neuromania, shows why it is a castle built on sand. Once we look past the relentless personification of the brain and bits of the brain indulged in by neuromaniacs – to be discussed in Chapter 5 – we will see that Neuromania has to look for consciousness in material events (neural activity), located in a material object (the brain) while holding that the final truth of material events and material objects is captured in the laws of physics. The trouble with physical science, however, is that it is committed to seeing the world in the absence of consciousness; indeed, at its heart is the disappearance of appearance. This presents not one but three insuperable problems for Neuromania. They are inextricably connected but it is helpful to address them separately: the first concerns the nature of nerve impulses; the second concerns the things nerve impulses are supposed to make appear; and the third relates to the supposed capability of nerve impulses to make those things appear.

Nerve Impulses Don’t Have Definite Appearances.

Let us get back to basics. If I claimed that consciousness was identical with neural activity, then you might reasonably assume that I had a clear idea what I meant by ‘neural activity’. We have already seen that there are serious ambiguities in this concept which leaves it unclear how we should think of what goes on in those parts of the brain that are supposedly associated with subjective experience. Is ‘neural activity’ something that is delivered to a certain place in the brain? Or is it the sum total of what is happening in several places of the brain? If so, where is the summing and the totalling taking place? Does consciousness reside in the travelling of nerve impulses along neurons or its arrival at a synapse? These questions invite a closer look at what we think a nerve impulse is. In trying to think about this we run into an immediate difficult, one that we glossed over in chapter 1, when we described nerve impulses: that of trying to get clear about what a nerve impulse is in itself.

You may think that that had been spelled out in (fairly pitiless) detail in Chapter 1. It will be noticed, however, that the nerve impulse could be described in different ways. Here are some:

a) the instantaneous passage of sodium and other ions through the semi-permeable membrane that surrounds the axon of the nerve fibre leading to an alteration in the potential difference across the membrane at the point of passage;

b) a pattern of events taking place at a particular point on the membrane that occurs over a time of the order of milliseconds and is represented by a wave or a spike traced on an oscilloscope screen – in other words, the sum total of the changes in the potential difference across the membrane;

c) the overall journey of the wave along the length of the nerve axon – a propagated displacement of the alterations in the potential difference along the length of the axon – a displacement of a displacement;

d) a part of a summed total of many millions of nerve impulses as seen on an EEG or inferred from an fMRI scan.

Since the nerve impulse may be represented with equal validity as being any of these thing, it is intrinsically none of them. The properties that are ascribed to them – being a passage of ions at a particular place, being a wave at a point on the axon, waves, being the journey of a travelling wave (and by this means binding together different places in the brain), or adding up to macroscopically visible activity occupying certain quantities of brain tissue at a certain intensity – are observer-dependent.

To put it slightly differently, there are different ‘takes’ on a nerve impulse. It could be seen as an influx of sodium ions at a particular point in the neuron followed by an efflux of said ions. Or as a change of the potential difference between the inside and the outside of the membrane at a particular place. Or as a succession of events, lasting about a millisecond, at a particular point in the neuron. Or as a wave of activity at that point. Or as a wave moving along the neuron. Or as a wave arriving rather than travelling. Or as one of a crowd of waves, several thousand, several million or several billion strong, occurring in a particular place in the brain. There are many other candidates – for example patches of coloured pixels in brain scans or brain maps. But I hope the point will have been made: the appearance of a nerve impulse depends on how it is looked at. It is not in itself a local passage of sodium ions or in itself part of a billion-strong crowd of waves, otherwise it would have to be both of these at the same time.

And it is not just a matter of how the impulse appears. What a nerve impulse is depends upon how it is viewed. A micro-pipette recording from a single neuron will deliver a different account of a nerve impulse compared with an EEG recording large-scale activity through the skull. Or, to draw the conclusion that should be blindingly obvious to anyone who is not ideologically wedded to Neuromania, the nerve impulse does not have any intrinsic determinate appearance or character. It depends how it is looked at, on how it is teased apart or put together. We are deceived if we think that scientific instruments reveal what it looks like ‘in itself’. It is easy to overlook this when we confuse the representation(s) of the nerve impulse with the thing in itself. We are less likely to do so if we remind ourselves that there are many competing ways of representing a nerve impulse. Some of these representations see the impulse as extended over time – as for example when it is envisaged as propagating along the length of the neuron. Temporal depth, as we have just discussed, is not to be found in matter – or in material events such as nerve impulses. The nerve impulse requires a viewpoint (provided by a highly mediated consciousness involving sophisticated scientific instrumentation) to be either an instantaneous displacement in potential difference at a particular point in space and time; or a spike extended over a short time at particular place; or a spike moving over space and time; or a member of a crowd of spikes moving over space and time and spreading over space and building up over time.

Anyone who still thinks that neural activity has an intrinsic appearance that is independent of observers might want to reflect on this final twist. Some of the ways we may represent nerve impulses to ourselves can be analysed into two or more takes that correspond to incompatible viewpoints. For example, seeing the impulse as a travelling spike requires a observation over time at a particular place (this generates the image of the spike) and observation at successive places.

Material Objects Do Not Have (Phenomenal) Appearances When Viewed Through the Eyes of Physics.

Nerve impulses are not uniquely impoverished in having no intrinsic appearances. This lack of intrinsic appearance is evident throughout the material world as seen through the eyes of physical science. This was noted early in the history of modern science. Galileo - and subsequently philosophers such as Descartes and John Locke – marginalised most of the things that make up the appearance of material objects as being (mere) ‘secondary qualities’. Colours, tastes, smells, sounds and so on exist only where there are observers and they do not correspond to what, according to physical science, is objectively there. As Galileo said, ‘If living creatures were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated’ 63. The material world has only primary qualities such as solidity, extension, motion, number and shape. These by themselves would not, however, amount to a full-blown appearance. You couldn’t imagine an object without a colour (and ‘colour’ here includes black and white). Primary qualities by themselves don’t really amount to much. An object such as a cup reduced to its primary qualities would not only lack colour etc but also features such as being near or far, looking small or large, and being related to this object rather than that. Indeed, it would boil down to naked numbers which capture (abstracted) figure, motion, size and so on. This is what lies behind Galileo’s famous assertion that the book of nature is written in mathematical language. One manifestation of this view is connected with the centrality of measurement in science and the reduction of the phenomenal world to numerical quantities and the unfolding of events to the relationships between quantities, ultimately expressed in equations. The output of measurement is a number - of abstract units, or patterns of numbers of abstract units or general laws connecting numbers of abstract units.

Let’s illustrate what happens when we progress from immediate (subjective) experience to (objective) measurement with a simple example. Imagine you and are looking at a table. Because we are looking at it from different angles, it seems square to you and oblong to me and I think it is bigger than another table and you think it is smaller. We decide to settle our disagreement by making a measurement and discover that it is 3 feet by 2 feet. End of argument; but also end of the appearance of the table. It is no longer ‘square’-looking or ‘oblong’-looking. It has no secondary qualities and it lacks position and relationship to us. We have replaced its appearance by two numbers. You might want to argue that there is a residue of appearance: the appearances that are necessary to make the measurement; for example the appearance of the ruler next to the table. But of course, these appearances set aside once we have the result: ‘2 foot by 3 foot’ gives no hint of the appearance of the devices (the tape measure or ruler) by which the measurement was made or of the processes which led up to the measurement. They are as irrelevant as the quarrel we had over which side of the tape measure to use. And the actual appearance of the measurement as written down - ‘2 foot by 3 foot’ - is equally irrelevant. It would not matter whether the result was written in blue ink or black, was written as “2’ by 3’” or “2 foot by 3 foot” or “Two foot by three foot” or whether it was spoken or presented on a screen.64

We seem, therefore, to have a disappearance of appearance as we move from subjective experience towards the scientific, quantitative and ultimately mathematical account of the world as matter. This loss of appearance is strikingly illustrated by those great equations that encompass the sum total of appearances such as “e=mc2” . But is also present at a more homely level when we try to envisage material objects as they are in themselves. Think of a rock. I can look at the rock from the front or from the back, from above or below, from near or far, in bright light or dim. In each of an (innumerable) range of possible circumstances it will have a slightly or radically different appearance. In itself, it has no definite appearance: it simple offers the possibility of an appearance to a potential observer. (Though those possibilities are constrained – the rock cannot look like a bowl of custard.) So we can see that, as we get closer to the material world ‘in-itself’, as a piece of matter, so we lose appearances – colour, nearness or farness, perspective. (The history of science, which is progress towards greater generalisation is a gradual shedding of perspective – a journey towards that Thomas Nagel described as ‘a view from nowhere’.) You might want to say, it still has primary qualities. Weight, size, shape may exist independently of any consciousness, as is evident from the fact that the rock may have an impact irrespective of any perceiver. It may provide shelter to grass, stop the dampness in the soil underneath it from drying out so quickly, arrest the path of another rock rolling down the hill, cast shadows and so on. Primary qualities, however, do not add up to an appearance. A rock does not have the wherewithal to generate the way it would appear in consciousness – even less from ‘from a long way off’ or ‘from close to’. It is, of course, potentially all of these things but the potential will not be realised unless the rock is observed. If those appearances were intrinsic rather than merely potential, if they were in the rock itself, then it would be in conflict with itself, trying, for example, to look as it does from far off and from nearby at the same time. Like the nerve impulse, the rock – or indeed any other material object considered in the absence of an observer, as matter - does not have an appearance. Such appearances as material objects do have are the ‘takes’ that external observers – or an entire community of scientific observers coming to a conclusion about the way of representing impulses – have on them. While the objects provides certain constraints on ‘takes’, it does not of itself deliver takes; ‘takes’ require consciousness; indeed, consciousness is made up of takes. Material objects as viewed by physics ‘in themselves’, as matter, have no appearances. The very notion of a complete account of the world in physical terms is of a world without appearance, a world without consciousness.

Nothing in (Appearanceless) Nerve Impulses Suggests that Have the Ability to Make Appearanceless Material Things Have Phenomenal Appearances.

So far we have arrived at two conclusions: firstly, nerve impulses do not have definite appearances or character in themselves; and, secondly, they share this lack with all material items when the latter are considered independently of an observer, most obviously when see them through the mathematical eyes of physics. We are now in a position to see the inherent contradiction of trying to find consciousness in nerve impulses or, more broadly, to see consciousness as a property arising out of certain events in the material world. Consciousness is, at the basic level, appearances or appearings-to but neither nerve impulses nor the material world have appearances. So there is absolutely no basis for the assumption, central to Neuromania, that the intrinsically appearance-less material world will flower into appearance to a bit of that world (the brain) simply because of the particular material properties of that bit of the world – for example its ability to allow the passage of sodium ions through semi-permeable membranes. We cannot expect to find anything in a material object, however fashioned, that can capture the difference between a thought and a pebble, or between a supposedly thoughtful brain and a definitely thoughtless kidney. And there is even more obviously nothing in the difference between a spinal cord and a cerebral cortex to explain why the former should be thoughtless and the latter (in parts) thoughtful. The idea that nerve impulses can journey towards a place where they are consciousness implies that, by moving from one material place to another, they become able to be the appearance of things other than themselves, is nothing short of barmy. If this is physics, it is not as we know it, Jim!

The difficulty of seeing how nerve impulses confer appearance upon the material world has led some to suggest that we do not experience the world as such, only nerve impulses. But what we have said already knocks on the head this ‘last ditch’ position which, as it were, tucks consciousness back into the neural activity, making it as it were be ‘of itself’. Iain McGilchrist, whose extraordinary The Master and His Emissary represents Neuromania at its most extreme, asserts that ‘one could call “the mind” the brain’s experience of itself’ 65 and many others have suggested that consciousness is our perception of some physical processes in the brain. In short, that consciousness and appearance are made of the appearance of nerve impulses to themselves! Leaving aside the fact that nerve impulses do not have a definite appearance apart from a viewpoint which has a certain take on them, there is no reason why they should be riddled with self-awareness that is, mysteriously, awareness of the material world that is their immediate and remote cause. 66

The science within which neuroscience is framed is ultimately physical science that sees both the observed object and the brain as material entities. Matter itself, by definition, ex officio as it were, does not have an appearance corresponding to the kind of things we experience in consciousness. No more does energy. There is nothing in either corresponding to my seeing my red hat. The light-mediated rubbing together of an appearance-less object (my brain) with appearance-less light arising from an appearance-less object (my hat) is hardly going to explain the appearance of my hat to me, the owner of the brain, even less my sense that the hat is independent of me (a foundational intuition of physics) or that it has the potential to yield an infinity of other different appearances (the foundational intuition of the public world we humans live in). If the end-point of physics is the disappearance of appearance, it is impossible to see how there can be a physical explanation of the appearance of appearance.

So, the neural theory of consciousness is at odds with the very notion of matter that lies at the heart of the ‘orthodoxy’ – to use Dennett’s word – that underpins it. The ordinary concept of matter has its roots in the intuition that, while matter is ultimately revealed though sense perception, through intentionality, the material objects we perceive have an existence beyond the experiences we have of them. What objects are in themselves is disconnected from appearances. This becomes increasingly evident as the fundamental scientific idea of things being composed of ‘matter’ (or matter and energy) is elaborated. The objects that surround us are analysed as elementary particles that are remote from the phenomenal world experienced and lived in by conscious beings. As the scientific gaze goes beyond ordinary objects, perceived in the ordinary way, to their underlying material reality, so it progresses from things that have qualities to things that are characterised by numbers. It is not by accident that atoms are colourless, odourless etc and are defined by numbers that capture their size, speed and quantities. Experiences and experienced phenomena are replaced by numbers, patterns, and laws. There is a progressive disappearance of appearance.

Further empirical research within the current way of understanding the problem will not take us any closer to a neural explanation of consciousness. What is needed is a revolution in the way in which we approach the problem. This may require us to see that it is more than a problem. Or even, to use the standard term applied to phenomenal consciousness, ‘a hard problem’. It is a mystery.

Notes and References

62. Daniel C. Dennet Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin Books, 1991).

63. Galileo Galilei The Assayer published 1623

64. The idea that we get closer to the essence of something as we progressively abstract from it toward mathematics most certainly does not apply to consciousness. This does not stop Neuromaniacs such as Paul Churchland suggesting that sensations really boil down to spiking frequencies in different vector spaces of the brain. See Matter and Consciousness Revised edition (Bradford Book: MIT Press, Cambridge Mass 1988).

65. Iain McGilchrist The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2009) p.19. Indeed, this ‘solution’ makes things worse for the neural theory of consciousness. Consider my consciousness of this rock in front of me. There is no such thing (within the rock) as what it is like to be that rock. And there is no such thing as what it is like to be my body qua organism. And there is no such thing as what it is like to be my brain understood as a material object. The McGilchrist version of the neural theory requires all three things, if I am to be aware of a rock. Most mysteriously, it requires that ‘what it is like to be a brain’ should be the revelation of what it is like to be a body and what a rock is like.


N.B. The above chapter is from Dr. Tallis's forthcoming book Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holographic model of human memory and tridimensionality of the space of perception

Simon Berkovich
Department of Computer Science
The George Washington University

1. A hypothesis that human memory operates on the principles of holography had been put forward by K. Pribram [1]. This hypothesis has been investigated, elaborated, and discussed in numerous publications [2,3,4,5]. As said in [5], without this idea “there had been a total absence of even the prospects of general theory of biological memory”.

The reason for the high regard of holography is that, apparently, it offers the only known method for distributed representation of information corresponding to the functionality of the brain. The two basic paradoxical facts about human memory are well interpreted by means of the properties of the holograms (see Fig. 1):

- Like a hologram, human memory, as observed in classical works of K. Lashley [6], does not keep information in a particular location; and in both cases, the entire information contents can be recovered from a piece of the whole structure.

- With holography it is possible to recognize partially matching patterns invariant to certain distortions; this provides the most important feature of human memory - associative access.

Fig. 1
The principle of holography – partial match recall
Light pulses from a laser are split into two beams: a reference beam going
straightly and a signal beam going through an object. The two beams meet at
the recording medium producing an interference pattern – a hologram. For
another object the same can be done with a reference beam at a different angle.
As the recording medium is irradiated by a signal beam from a part of an object

the corresponding reference beam, feasibly with lesser intensity, is recreated

2. In holography, the dimensionality of informational structures is determined by the restrictions on the wave propagation patterns. There are two basic types of wave propagation (Fig. 2): (a) waves can keep the whole medium behind agitated, for example, this happens on water surfaces; or, (b) waves can move with a sharp front leaving the media behind quiet, for example, this is the case for electromagnetic waves. The latter situation occurs in accordance with the so-called Huygens’ principle when the propagating front is created by secondary waves.

It has been noticed in [7] that holography can be effectively implemented only with the second type of wave propagation because for the first type of wave propagation the region of waves interference is extensive. It turns out that in a strict sense Huygens' principle is efficacious only in a 3D space [8]. As a result, a holographic model of human memory can directly manipulate only with 2D structures. Perception of 3D objects is done through temporal sequences of the 2D cross-sections. As to the objects of higher dimensions, their effectual representation in the holographic memory is not possible [7]. This implies that for the developed model the interface between the memory and the brain has to operate with 2D segments.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

3. To begin with, a holographic mechanism needs a source of coherent waves to implement the scheme in

Fig. 1. Apparently, in conventional science a source of waves for holography is not at hand neither for the brain, nor for the cosmos. Importantly, in the words of Karl Pribram, “holography does not like boundaries”.

The fascination with holography has been also extended towards the Universe where the properties of holography are applied to rationalize the weirdness of quantum mechanics. To explicate the key point of non-locality David Bohm introduced a concept, which he called “implicate” or “enfolded” order; the holography is attracted just as analogy showing that the whole world can be enfolded in each of its parts [4].

Processing in neuronal system coordinates activities in different brain areas. Vision system produces 2D patterns; other senses mainly produce 1D sequences signals. Access to holographic memory is done by 2D patterns, so to enable access to the memory by 1D inputs it is necessary to have serial-to-parallel conversion providing 2D patterns. As a result, inputs from various senses can be accommodated and cross searches between them become possible.

The best that neuroscientists can say for the moment is that human memory is a stored pattern of connections between neurons in the brain. Each neuron makes about 5,000 to 10,000 synaptic connections with other neurons. Such a structure is not an effective computer engineering apparatus, but now Yasser Roudi and Peter Latham at University College London [10] have found that even with 10,000 connections per neuron, a network could only store about 100 memories – regardless of how many neurons were in the network. Current explanation of the brain attracts the Long-Term Potentiation to strengthen synaptic connections for the task of memory. However, switching times in neuron processing are about 10-2 sec and covalent modifications of proteins for LTP last minutes [11]. These time scales are absolutely incompatible with the speed of brain operations. As to other performance characteristics, notably, reliability and fault-tolerance, the pattern of connections between neurons cannot be even thought of to match human memory. Hence, workings of human brain tend to be attributed to perplexing quantum world or problematic non-Turing computations (see, e.g. [12]).

Information processing functions associated with human brain constitute a problem of acute discomfort to thinkers for millennia. Said St. Augustine, V century: “The way in which minds are attached to bodies is beyond man’s understanding”, Blaise Pascal, XVII century: “Man is to himself the most wonderful object in nature; for he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the mind is, and least of all how a body should be united to a mind”, Steven Weinberg, XX century: “How memories are stored in the brain is not likely to be affected by the discovery of the final theory”.

The contemporaneous philosophical thought tacitly admits that the considered problem cannot be incorporated into the existing knowledge; see, e.g., an article in the encyclopedia [13]: “It may well be that the relation between mind and body is an ultimate, unique, and unanalyzable one. If so, philosophical wisdom would consist in giving up the attempt to understand the relation in terms of other more familiar ones and accepting it as the anomaly it is”.

We have suggested a paradigm analogous to the concept of “Cloud Computing” that gives
an elegant constructive solution to the problem of the organization of mind where individual brains are not stand-alone computers but collective users getting shared access to portions of the holographic memory of the Universe [14, 15, 16]. A critical consideration of such an idea can be found in [17]. With the existing worldview attaining the extraordinary performance of the brain is absolutely inconceivable.


1. K.H. Pribram, “Languages of the Brain”, Brandon House, London, 1981.

2. P.R. Westlake, “The Possibilities of Neural Holographic Processes within the
Brain”, Kybernetik, 7, No. 4, pp. 129-153, 1970

3. Ken Wilber (editor), “The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes”,
Shambhala Publications, Boulder & London, 1982

4. M. Talbot, “The Holographic Universe”, Harper Perennial, New York, 1991

5. P. Pietsch, “Shufflebrain. The Quest for the Hologramic Mind”, Houghton Mifflin
Company, Boston, 1981

6. K. S. Lashley, “In search of the engram”(1950), in the book: Neurocomputing
Foundations of Research, editors J. Anderson and E. Rosenfeld, pp. 57-63,
MIT Press, 1988

7. S. Ya.. Berkovich, “The Dimensionality of the Informational Structures in the
Space of Perception (Posing of Problem)”, Biophysics, 21, pp. 1136-1140, 1976

8. R. Courant, D. Hilbert, “Methods of Mathematical Physics, Vol. I”,
Interscience Publishers, New York, 1953

9. S. Berkovich, “Shaping the computational model with content-addressable memory”,
E-Newsletters for Science and Technology, Issue 1, Number 1, 2007, pp 1-3,
European Academy of Sciences,

10. “Brain connections cause rethink over human memory”, New Scientist,
issue 2621, page 23, 18 September 2007

11. Amit Etkin, Gleb Shumyatsky, Christofer J. Pittinger, and Eric R. Kandel,
“Genetic Analyses of Functional Connectivity in the Nervous System”, pp. 221- 240,
in “Databasing the Brain”, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2005

12. Roger Penrose, "Shadows of the Mind", Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford, 1994

13. Jerome Shaffer, “Mind-Body Problem”, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 5,
p. 345, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1972

14. S. Y. Berkovich, “On the “barcode” functionality of the DNA, or The phenomenon
of Life in the physical Universe”, Dorrance Publishing Co, Pittsburgh, PA, 2003
(almost a full version of this book is at

15. Simon Y. Berkovich and Hanan M. Al Shargi, “Constructive Approach to
Fundamental Science: Selected Writings”, University Readers, San Diego, 2010

16. Berkovich S. “On the information processing capabilities of the brain: shifting the
paradigm”, Nanobiology, 2, 1993, pp. 99-107

17. Donald R. Forsdyke, “Samuel Butler and human long term memory
Is the cupboard bare?”, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 258, 2009, pp. 156-164

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Brain Mechanisms of Vision (Hubel & Wiesel)

With the proverbial appeal to authority, it might prove useful at this juncture to review a few key passages from an article entitled "Brain Mechanisms of Vision" written in 1979 by Nobel laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel for Scientific American in a special issue devoted to the brain (Vol. 241, No. 3), two years prior to receiving their Nobel Prize, which they shared with Caltech biologist, Roger Sperry, in 1981:

Understanding of this large and indispensable organ [the brain] is still woefully deficient. This is partly because it is very complex, not only structurally but also in its functions, and partly because neurobiologists' intuitions about the functions have so often been wrong (p. 150).

In the primary visual cortex the map is uncomplicated by breaks and discontinuities except for the remarkable split of the visual world down the exact middle, with the left half projected to the right cerebral cortex and the right half projected to the left cortex (p. 150).

Important as the advances in mapping cortical projections were, they tended for some time to divert thought from the real problem of just how the brain analyzes information. It was as though the representation could be an end in itself instead of serving a more subtle purpose--as though to cater to some little green man who sat inside the head and surveyed the images playing across the cortex. [F]or vision, at least, the world is represented in a far more distorted way; any little green man trying to glean information from the cortical projection would be puzzled indeed (p. 152).

It follows that this [the visual cortex] cannot by any stretch of the imagination be the place where actual perception is enshrined. Whatever these cortical areas are doing, it must be some kind of local analysis of the sensory world. One can only assume that as the information on vision or touch or sound is relayed from one cortical area to the next the map becomes progressively more blurred and the information more abstract (p. 152).

It is important to realize that this part of the cortex [the visual areas] is operating only locally, on bits of the form; how the entire form is analyzed or handled by the brain--how this information is worked on and synthesized at later stages, if indeed it is--is still not known (p. 155).
From their subsequent book, published 26 years later, Brain and Visual Perception: The Story of a 25-year Collaboration (OUP), it would seem that this general characterization remains largely the same, in spite of further discoveries of theirs and those made by other researchers, such as Ramachandran.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Friedrich Paulsen on "Vague Dualism" and States of Consciousness

It is surprising how much old ground we keep covering in our comments here, as the basic arguments that have been presented were already nicely summarized over a century ago by philosopher Friedrich Paulsen, a philosopher I never heard of until coming across his name in a Google search of the phrase "naive realism." Paulsen (1846-1908) was a pupil of Fechner's and chair of philosophy at Berlin. In his textbook, Introduction to Philosophy (1895) reviewing arguments from materialism, he writes:

[T]hus scientific meteorology explains the thunder-storm by inserting this phenomenon into a larger group of homogeneous phenomena. In other words, it recognizes lightning as an electric spark, and then searches after the conditions of its origin, i.e., the processes which precede and accompany electrical expansion and discharge in the atmosphere.

Science has the same task to perform in relation to states of consciousness. It has to seek their uniform antecedent and concomitant phenomena in order thus to determine the lawful relation of these phenomena. The antecedent and concomitant phenomena, are, as experience shows, physiological processes in the brain and nervous system. Accordingly, it is the business of science to substitute for the pseudo-science " psychology " and its prescientific principles, " soul" and " psychic forces," the natural-scientific explanation. Scientific psychology is physiology.

This gives us the formal principle. As regards the matter itself we may go further and say: The so-called states of consciousness, proclaimed as peculiar and unparalleled states, are in reality nothing of the kind. Science can see in them only peculiarly modified movements; psychical states as such, regarded objectively, are nothing but physiological processes. (p. 62)

That constitutes a fairly concise and compact statement of what today we call the psychoneural identity theory, as well as that of the scientific program that follows from it (promissory materialism). Elsewhere Paulsen takes a swipe at dualism:

If we wish to refer the ontological view of popular thought to a class, we shall have to call it Vague Dualism. Bodies constitute the real reality, but alongside of them there exists a reality of the second order, bodily beings without real corporeality, that are both active in the bodies as efficient forces, and also exist for themselves as departed spirits.

The philosophical conception of reality is, as was mentioned before, characterized by the tendency to Monism. It is the fundamental impulse of philosophic thought to derive reality from one principle, to reduce the different forms of being to one original form. Two kinds of ontological monism result, according as we proceed from the facts of the external, visible world, or from those of the inner world; namely, Materialism, and Spiritualism. The former asserts : Bodies and movements constitute thn original form of reality: these also explain the facts of perception, thinking, and willing. Spiritualism or Idealism, on the other hand asserts: The facts of inner life as presented in self-consciousness are the first and only reality; thoughts cannot be conceived as products of matter, while matter may be conceived as the product of thought; the corporeal world is phenomenal. (p. 54f)

As his is a textbook in philosophy, it should remind us that what we have been discussing are primarily philosophical problems, not scientific ones. Since the publication of this book countless similar texts have covered the same material ad nauseam. What purpose is served by repeating the same positions over and over again? If we have something new to argue, that successfully refutes a philosophical position, we should make it clear what new element it is that we are contributing--and make certain that it is a new element, and not just a new version of an existing position that can be generally accepted (or not) or is prone to a general criticism (JMHO). I therefore recommend that each of us read the relevant several pages in Paulsen's book keeping that in mind:

Now what is most interesting is that Paulsen was evidently an adherent of panpsychism!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Theory of Material Dualism in a nutshell

The Theory of Material Dualism in a nutshell

1. In order to discover the relationship between phenomenal space (A) and physical space (B) I will follow the method of Sherlock Holmes, who said (more than once) “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I shall assume that A and B are both real spaces (that in which real events occur). In which case we can distinguish three possibilities: (1) Points in A are points in B. (2) Points in A are points in a part of B (i.e. brain space) only. (3) No point in A is a point in B. Possibility A presents the na├»ve realist (technical) position. Possibility 2 presents the position of an Identity theorist. Possibility 3 presents the position of a material dualist. This eliminates Cartesian Dualism, which makes the mistake of using ‘extension in space’ as the definitive criterion that we use to distinguish the mental from the physical (i.e. A exists but has no points). This scheme also eliminates Eliminative Materialism, which does not recognize the existence of A, as well as Idealism that does not recognize the existence of B.
Now this blog has reviewed very good reasons from science (neuroscience and introspective psychology) for rejecting both 1 and 2.
So we need to look at 3 more closely. This theory (ignoring time for the moment) suggests that A and B are two different 3D slices of a common higher-dimensional space. Both A and B contain events, but these comprise two different classes of event (phenomenal and physical) made of different kinds of ‘matter’. Real space cannot merely be empty and must contain events. Space A will contain ‘consciousness modules’ each one of which is the phenomenal world of a single conscious individual.

2. We can illustrate the relevant geometry by considering the situation in Flatland. One can cut two 2D slices (planes) in a 3D cube. If these planes are parallel to each other they can represent two parallel Flatland universes. But the two planes can be at right angles to each other, in which case they will intersect about a line. The space in the line belongs to both planes. Likewise in the real world two 4D tesseracts can intersect about a 3D cube. The space in the cube belongs to both tesseracts.
In our model building we can now introduce time. We can take tesseract B to be the 4D physical space-time continuum (block Universe) of special relativity. Tesseract A is the space-time of phenomenal consciousness. It will contain the consciousness module of an individual person. The time of consciousness is always ‘now’.
The physicist Stannard (1987) says: “Physics itself recognizes no special moment called ‘now’ —the moment that acts as the focus of ‘becoming’ and divides the ‘past’ from the ‘future’. In four-dimensional space-time nothing changes, there is no flow of time, everything simply is ...It is only in consciousness that we come across the particular time known as ‘now’...It is only in the context of mental time that it makes sense to say that all of physical space-time is. One might even go so far as to say that it is unfortunate that such dissimilar entities as physical time and mental time should carry the same name!”

3. The Cambridge philosopher of science C.D. Broad (1953) adds: “...if we assume one additional spatial dimension beside the three we can observe, and if we suppose that our field of observation at any one moment is confined to the content of a {3,4}-fold which moves [in t2] uniformly at right angles to itself along a straight line in the {3,4}-fold, then there is no need to assume any other motion in the universe. This one uniform rectilinear motion of the observer’s field of observation, together with the purely geometrical properties of the stationary material threads in the four-fold, will account for all the various observed motions (various in both magnitude and direction) of the material particles which are the appearances of these threads in the successive fields of observation.” (note: “{3,4}-fold” here means Minkowskian space-time). Broad adds “…it has the positive merit of introducing unity and simplicity into the phenomenon of motion that is otherwise lacking.”
4. We can tie all this up into the following statement—
The 3D space A forms a cross-section with the 4D block physical universe B in a higher-dimensional space, and the two are in relative motion in the real time of A (t2) in the direction from the ‘past’ of B to the ‘future ‘of B (both are extended places in Minkowskian space-time). This motion generates both the moving ‘now’ of time—hitherto lacking in physics—and the appearance of movement of objects in B, as Broad describes above). This is all described in detail in ”The Walls of Plato’s Cave” chapter 8.
Next we have to explain how events in the brain interact with events in the consciousness module. Consider a tesseract made up of eight cubes in a 4-D space. Vectors wholly located within one cube can represent a force in physical space. Then a vector that starts in one cube and ends in another cube can represent the interaction between a brain event and a phenomenal event. In the days of Cartesian dualism Thouless and Weisner published their theory of Shin. They suggested that the unextended, immaterial Cartesian mind (Shin) lay somehow outside the brain and interacted with it by two ‘influences’ called ‘psi-gamma’ on the afferent side and ‘psi-kappa’ on the efferent side. These are supposed to be normally focused on the brain but have ‘penumbrae’ that mediate such ‘paranormal’ events as telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis.
Material dualism replaces the immaterial, unextended Cartesian ‘mind’ with a material and extended consciousness module containing a person’s phenomenal world. Psi-gamma and psi-kappa become causal interactions that cross between A and B. Thus a human organism is composed of one functional unit with two anatomical parts—a physical body in physical space-time B and a consciousness module in space A.
5. Material dualism has the advantages
(1) It does not break Leibnitz’s Law.
(2) It avoids the ‘no pictures in the brain’ problem.
(3) It gives a purely mechanistic account of the entire process of perception except for the final subjective Ego. For example the phenomenal visual field becomes the actual surface of a televisual-like representative mechanism.
(4) It allows us to include the findings of parapsychology within one overall scientific scheme.
(5) Experiments can be devised to test the theory (described in “The Walls of Plato’s Cave”.
Some would say that material dualism has the disadvantage of breaking William of Occam’s Law. However, in reply, it can be argued that whether higher-dimensional space exists and contains contents of the type the theory describes is purely a matter of fact. It either does or it does not. Therefore it is merely an arbitrary assumption to state that it cannot and does not. Therefore Occam’s Law does not apply.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Phenomenal Self and Visual Space

To respond to some of questions posed by Thomas Droulez in relationship to John Smythies' analysis of visual space, and the ostensive observer relative to it, I would just say that this has been considered a non-problem in cognitive psychology since the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate in experimental psychology. It is the subject of the paper I mentioned previously, "Sensory Localization as a Basis for the Self-World Dichotomy," which John read and approved when I first wrote it in the late 1970s, and later greatly elaborated in my monograph, "The Localization of the Mind."

Already in the 1970s we had a good deal of evidence from studies on newborn infant perception such as the work of developmental psychologist Thomas Bower in Britain showing that even newborns behave as if their bodies are different from their mothers' and, for example, demonstrating good ocularconvergence (implying working binocular vision), possess the ability to imitate their mothers' facial gestures. Even then such findings as these and others pretty well exploded old ideas such as William James' that babies experience only a "buzzing booming confusion," but instead argued that their perceptual worlds possess organization at birth, not only because of inherited genetic capacity, but because of continual in utero sensory stimulation knowing, for example, as we do now that light penetrates the uterine wall and is stimulating the retinae of the unborn child.

The implication of the infant studies research combined with other research on self perception was summarized in the context of J. J. Gibson's concept of visual proprioception by Ulric Neisser in his 1976 book Cognition and Reality:

The observer's movement does not provide information only about the
environment. The pattern of change and invariance available to his eyes
specifies his own movements as well. As he moves forward, for example, the
retinal projections of every visible surface in the forward half of the
environment become steadily larger. Under normal conditions, no purely
environmental change can create this particular optical flow. It specifies ego
motion and nothing else. Morever, the manner in which the projections grow
larger is not arbitrary: every projected point except one moves steadily
outward. The single exception is the very point toward which the perceiver is
moving. Thus not only the fact that he is moving but the direction of his motion
is fully specified.

The availability of this kind of optical structure means that one can see
one's own position and one's own movement as well as the layout of the
environment. Such perception is not indirect or inferential; information about
oneself is as directly available and as fully specific as information about
anything else. J. J. Gibson has coined the term visual
for the pick-up of self-specifying information from the
optic array. Propriospecific information is not simply a matter of seeing one's
own hands and body, important as this may be. (Under ordinary circumstances, the
perceiver's hands are probably the most frequently available visual objects.)
Even when no body parts are visible, optical flow patterns enable the perceiver
to see where he is and where is going. In short, the physical ego can be seen;
it need not be inferred. (p. 116f)

The higher order conceptions of self to which Thomas alludes logically would then follow from this perceptual basis, not precede it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Structural isomorphism

Roy Wood Sellars was perhaps the first to explain the relation between the sensory input (for whatever sense modality) and the registration in the brain as structurally isomorphic. He did not use this term, which is that of Stephen Palmer's (Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 22, 935-44). Sellars obviously felt that he did not need to employ Ancient Greek for what can be simply explained in everyday language: he spoke of the 'differential correlations' that exist between the input and the registration (Sellars, Mind, 28 [1919], 407-26) in that intensities, characteristics, and distributions in space and time are all tied proportionately -- and not necessarily directly --to features of internal qualia.

To give an example I have used before. Down the side of cinema film is the sound track. The variations in width correspond with the frequency and volume of the sound, so that there is a principled relation between that width and the sound we hear. However, there is no similarity between the sound track and the sound other than this differential correlation. The same is true for the infra-red camera's input and its appearance of 'infra-red' on the TV screen, where the variations in intensity are shown in green light. What this makes plain, of course, is that, to take vision as our example, there is no direct similarity between input and qualia (which straightforwardly implies that, though there are unmistakably colours in the head, existing as some special brain productions, basically nonconscious, there are no colours in the external real.

Since nothing in the input comes with interpretation attached, as interpretations are driven by motivation, it is not in the least counter-intuitive to see that both input and registration are blank of conscious significance for the body (even in the case of low-level animal instincts, which are purely automatic). This is entailed by the arguments that arise out of the empirical evidence that I adduce in support of the non-epistemic nature of both input and sensory registration (Wright (ed.), The Case for Qualia, MIT Press, 2008, 8-22, 345-50). The conclusion is that the sensory registrations of whatever modality are basically not conscious, and, furthermore, retain elements of the non-conscious even within conscious perception. It is this ever-present penumbra of the non-conscious within the conscious that enables one agent to update the percepts of another, for the other agent may attend to that region and interpret from it something of value. This is an evolutionary advantage to the species -- even at the animal level, such as one Diana monkey's cry of warning to its group at -- not 'the sight' of 'a leopard' -- but the interpretation of some sensory evidence, which may still be 'mis-taken'. The experience of agnosics shows that the registration can be devoid of percepts. Smythies has described qualia as 'non-symbolical', which well characterizes the state of the case. He instances the plight of the blind who have had sight restored, having never experienced it before: all they see is 'a confused welter of light, dark, coloured and moving sense-data' (1956, 65).

Another entailment is that there is no given tie between that type of registration and the type of input. My discussion of John Smythies' insightful armchair experiment (long before virtual-reality hoods; Smythies, The Analysis of Perception, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956, 41; Wright 'More qualia trouble for functionalism: the Smythies' TV-Hood Analogy,' Synthese, 97 [1993], 365-82) which showed that its proof of the internality of qualia can be extended to the interchangeability of inputs and registrations (e.g. 'sound' for light input -- see the current discussion of blind people being provided via sound-wave to photon [not 'light'] input that is at present going on in the PhilPapers blog, where none of the discussants have taken up the notion of Sellars (pere's) differential corrrelation.

One of the possibilities I suggested was the interchange of space distributions for light-wave frequency, the colour being shown by the 3-D distance of the region of the visual display (e.g. indigo the farthest away, red the nearest), and, vice versa, real distance could be shown by colour. In both cases the differential correlations could be used as perceptual evidence. However bizarre this may seem, the possibility of some mutation having this substitution cannot be ruled out. It is possible that no outward difference in physical behaviour would be detectable.

So Smythies is correct in insisting that the 'space' of the visual display is distinct from that of the real space as source of input as there is no given relation between the two.

Correction: This blog was posted by elw33: I do not know how Schiller crept in! JS