07 January 2008

A Frayed and Ravelled Consciousness

The human mind is only marginally better than the mind of a chimpanzee, but from that small margin emerges the ability to create a high-technology civilisation--perhaps eventually a star-faring civilisation. Let's look at the basic cognitive cycle:
1. Incoming sensory stimuli is filtered through preconscious perception where meaning is added and a percept produced.
2. The current percept moves to preconscious working memory where it participates, along with undecayed percepts from previous cycles, in the structure building of higher-level perception.
3. The current structure from working memory cues transient episodic memory and declarative memory producing local associations, which are stored in long-term working memory.
4. Coalitions of the contents of long-term working memory compete for consciousness thus training attention on the most relevant, urgent, important, etc.
5. The conscious broadcast a la global workspace theory occurs, enabling the various forms of learning and the recruitment of internal resources. The broadcast is hypothesized to be the time of phenomenal consciousness.
6. Receiving the contents of the conscious broadcast, appropriate schemes from procedural memory respond.
7. Responding schemes instantiate copies of themselves in the action selection mechanism, bind variables, and pass activation.
8. The action selection mechanism chooses an action for this cognitive cycle.
9. [the agent acts on its] environment.

Human cognitive cycles, as modeled by LIDA are hypothesized to sample the environment and act on it asynchronously every 100 to 300 ms.

The agent described above is "LIDA", or "Learning IDA", a software agent doing personnel work for the US Navy.

If the human "conscious bandwidth" is approximately 10 to 40 bits per second, at 3 to 10 cycles per second, each asynchronous cycle must incorporate a cluster of "conscious" bits.

There are a number of ways for human consciousness to fray. Ignoring obvious causes of disruption of consciousness--such as trauma, stroke, degenerative disease, metabolic disturbance, sleep or sleep deprivation, extreme mental stress or excitement--we can look at some intriguing examples of conscious raveling.

First of all, emotions act as an unconscious rapid assessment mechanism which register a judgment (and provoke an action) before the conscious mind can render a judgment. By hijacking the emotions, consciousness can be bypassed and disrupted. That is one mechanism for hypnotic engagement and suggestion.

A fairly recent "agent of disruption" of consciousness is TMS--transcranial magnetic stimulation. Focused magnetic stimulation of the cerebral cortex temporarily disrupts activity in the stimulated region. Depending upon the region of cortex stimulated, the effects on consciousness can be striking.

Consolidated long term memory is important to the cycle of consciousness above. One intriguing insight into the impermanence of even consolidated memory came from the lab of Joseph LeDoux. Karim Nader discovered that activated memories in mice could be "erased" by the antibiotic Anisomycin--a protein synthesis inhibitor. More recent research suggests this effect may be more complicated, but the possibility that consolidated memories can be erased remains quite intriguing.

While rumours of remote "mind-control technology" are rampant, the true "gold standard" of mind control will be direct neural interface technology. Much progress has been made in neural chip technology. The improved ability of neural chips to code and decode neural "language" promises to advance neural rehabilitation and regeneration significantly. More ominously, direct neural interface holds the threat of at least partial external control of a person's mind.

Otherwise intelligent and accomplished persons can also be undone by lust, drugs, momentary rage, jealousy, a gambling impulse, or simply unwise conformity to the wishes of others. There are many ways for minds to unravel. Science is learning more ways every day.

While attempting to build toward the next level, it is important to understand some of the problems humans face in trying to create a rational, moral, and equitable society. We must learn ways to better build and strengthen our minds, to understand and reinforce our core identities. While learning to reach further into the unknown, we must also learn to "return to ourselves" periodically.

H/T Chris Chatham


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Blogger Pastorius said...

What is the purpose of LIDA? How does it do "personnel work for the Navy"?

Wednesday, 09 January, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

LIDA is a software agent--an artificial intelligence of sorts. I am not certain what it does for the US Navy exactly.

A lot of companies and organisations use software agent technology.

More information of IDA, LIDA, and other models of consciousness here.

Wednesday, 09 January, 2008  

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