Friday, February 04, 2011

Biology of Consciousness - Gerald M. Edelman, Joseph A. Gally & Bernard J. Baars


I like Gerald Edelman's books (Edelman shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work with Rodney Robert Porter on the immune system) - and I liked Baars' Global Workspace Theory when I heard him lecture about (and read an article or two) - but I did not know they both are materialists (or I somehow ignored that fact).

This is an interesting new article in which Edelman and Baars team up with their materialist perspectives - show that they are complementary, not competitive.

Biology of consciousness
Gerald M. Edelman*, Joseph A. Gally and Bernard J. Baars
The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego, CA, USA

The Dynamic Core and Global Workspace hypotheses were independently put forward to provide mechanistic and biologically plausible accounts of how brains generate conscious mental content. The Dynamic Core proposes that reentrant neural activity in the thalamocortical system gives rise to conscious experience. Global Workspace reconciles the limited capacity of momentary conscious content with the vast repertoire of long-term memory. In this paper we show the close relationship between the two hypotheses. This relationship allows for a strictly biological account of phenomenal experience and subjectivity that is consistent with mounting experimental evidence. We examine the constraints on causal analyses of consciousness and suggest that there is now sufficient evidence to consider the design and construction of a conscious artifact.

The full article is available at the link above - open access is awesome - and you can also download the PDF version.

They propose to take on and solve the "hard problem" consciousness - the qualia or subjective element - why "red" is red and not soft, or cold.

Qualia, Subjectivity, and the So-Called Hard Problem

How can we account for qualia, subjectivity, and the self? According to the selectional theory based on the behavioral trinity, the experience of qualia occurs in each individual as a set of discriminations: “heat” is not “green,” “green” is not “touch,” etc. In this view, the complex unified scene at any given moment is a composite of multiple different discriminations integrated within the Dynamic Core.

It has been proposed that no matter how adequately a biological account appears to explain perceptual categorization, memory, and various mechanistic aspects of how the brain works, we remain confounded by the so-called “hard problem”: an inability to explain in scientific terms the phenomenal “feel” of conscious experience (Chalmers, 1996). Indeed, many people consider this to be an essential and mysterious problem, one that cannot be solved. Unlike the subjects of other scientific accounts, phenomenal experience entails a first-person point of view, and the suggestion is that it cannot be explained by scientific means. Qualia, the felt contents of consciousness, are therefore concluded to be possibly beyond scientific explanation (Chalmers, 1996). Here, we will attempt to refute this position.


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