By Michael Godfrey Bell, 2015
To read Agent Human on-line, just click here.
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A fictional account, set in 2130, of what life might be like in cyberspace, based on the ideas of Agent Human. Eight young people challenge the status quo by exploring group consciousness, something forbidden by the authorities, who try to 'wipe' them and destroy their legacy human bodies.
To read We, Immortals: The Future Of The Mind on-line, just click here.
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The Collective Unconscious, Quantum Mechanics and PSI
Many current researchers into the inner and outer reaches of the human psyche do not attempt to construct an over-arching theory of the mind, and who can blame them, given the confusing mass of unexplained and contradictory data they face? Still, some people try, and a surprising number of them arrive at some type of 'field' theory, in which we, and all of our compeers, exist as islands in a pervasive sea which we but dimply experience.
This book attempts to record some of the more notable recent attempts at analysis of the mysteries that surround us, and reaches some tentative conclusions based on the inadequate evidence that exists so far. They are remarkable enough.
read it on-line, go to http://www.agenthuman.com/quantum/
A Marshal's Baton
Napoleon was supposed to have said: 'Every soldier carries a marshal's baton in his pack'. That was presumably just meant as a crowd-pleaser for the rank-and-file; but one of the man's greatest talents was his ability to spot a potential marshal, and surely one of a marshal's key skills is to be able to predict behaviour and outcomes. Indeed the ability to predict is a necessary aptitude for any successful advanced animal, and it is not necessarily or wholly a conscious one. Time is of the essence here: if you are in a fast-moving battle scenario (real or virtual makes not much difference) you have to respond to evolving situations speedily, and you die (really or virtually) if you can't. Watching two 8-year-olds playing a Star Wars game against each other, their hands no more than a blur, it is impossible to believe that consciousness is much involved. On the other hand, the general in his tent on the night before a battle has ample time to consider every aspect of the next day's field before he makes his critical decisions, even if in the end they have a large intuitive component.
Now comes a piece of research that describes prediction as an immanent capability of the human brain, although one that is to some extent controlled by neuromodulators such as noradrenaline or acetylcholine. According to David J Heeger, a Professor at New York University's Center for Neural Science, most theorists to date have regarded mental planning as a 'feedforward/pipeline' process, starting from sensory input and resulting in a output action or state of mind.
In his paper The Theory Of Cortical Function, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2017, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1619788114, Heeger suggests that 'prediction' may be a general principle of cortical function, along with the already-established role of inference, and presents a mathematical theory of how those processes may combine in the human brain.
"It has long been recognized that the brain performs a kind of inference, combining sensory information with expectations," says Heeger. "Those expectations can come from the current context, from memory recall, or as an ongoing prediction over time. This new theory puts all of this together and formalizes it mathematically." He says that much AI theorizing is based on the 'feedforward' model of cognitive activity, using a hierarchical structure to proceed from sensory input towards progressively more abstract representations, whereas it ought to make allowance for other models of predictive activity including a feedback mode in which the brain generates a sensory prediction from an abstract representation, or a combination of the two. Heeger suggests that neuromodulators determine which model of brain activity is dominant at any one time. The theory also provides for the generation of 'noise', i.e. random departures from the straightforward cognitive pathways of inference and prediction enabled by other neuromodulators, which allows for a creative element in the predictive process.
"The theory of neural function that I'm outlining aims to fill in some of the significant dynamics that AI is missing," Heeger says.
Read previous consciousness blogs:
Weasel Words 06 January 2017
Locked-In 31 November 2016
Superintelligence 31 October 2016
Ironic 19 October 2016
Reflections 28 July 2016
Faces 09 June 2016
Insects 21 April 2016
Music 13 February 2016
Free Will 9 January 2016
Disentangling Entanglement 15 September 2015
Multibrains 12 July 2015
Gazing 12 April 2015
Animals 01 January 2015
Fire 22 October 2014
Brainy 22 August 2014
Mating 08 June 2014
Spite 16 February 2014
Tether Hypothesis 12 January 2014
Booze 30 November 2013
Unconscious 19 October 2013
Language 08 September 2013
Quantum 25 August 2013
Deception 16 June 2013
Only Connect 13 April 2013
Decisions 30 March 2013
Brain Clone 10 March 2013
Altruism 15 July 2012
Copying 20 May 2012
Dancing 13 November 2011
Morality 05 March 2011
Sleep 18 December 2010
Laughter 06 December 2010
Yawning 19 September 2010
Trust 25 July 2010
Face 16 May 2010
Emotions, 01 May 2010
Attention, 20 March 2010
Grumpy , 07 February 2010
Elders, 11 January 2010
Self, 03 January 2010
Testosterone, 15 December 2009
The future of human evolution, 05 December 2009
to yourself is not crazy, 30 November 2009
Download a copy of The Futures Of The Human Race here.
For Heeger, inference (basing conclusions on a comparison of incoming stimuli with existing models) and prediction (determining likely outcomes under variable conditions) are two distinguishable cognitive activities, but most writers conflate the two at least to some extent. Since much of the time they are both carried out very rapidly, unconsciously, and we have very little phenomenological knowledge of the processes involved, it is impossible to take a view on the distinction between them, other than perhaps at moments when more time allows conscious analysis and planning of likely outcomes for given sets of input conditions.
'Conscious analysis and planning of likely outcomes' sounds like a human activity as distinct from an animal one (humans like to believe that only they have consciousness), but watching a cat observing a near vertical, difficult-to-climb wall the other day, motionless other than for rapid tilts of its head, and an occasional twitch of its tail, culminating after many seconds in a sudden and successful spring up the wall, one wonders, not for the first time, just how far the human/animal distinction has validity as regards consciouness.
It is possibly the case that only a self-aware human can use semantic and time-based frameworks along with sophisticated memory and rational analysis to construct 'what if' scenarios of future events involving multiple actors and varying external circumstances, but that is not to deny less-advanced animals the use of inferential and predictive thought processes. Heeger states that such processes are an automatic, constant and well-embedded part of human brain activity. By now we know that many aspects of human physiology and bio-chemistry have been conserved during the evolutionary process, certainly including much of the structure and neural workings of the brain. It seems intuitively unlikely that the inference/prediction cognitive process would have suddenly jumped into existence in the human brain. Why would sharks, snakes, squirrels and tigers not need rapid predictive skills in their varied environments?
On the biochemical level, supporting evidence for the long-existing continuity of homologous brain activity during evolution comes from a series of recent papers by Professors Loonen and Ivanova (see e.g. Circuits Regulating Pleasure and Happiness: The Evolution of the Amygdalar-Hippocampal-Habenular Connectivity in Vertebrates, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 22 November 2016, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00539). Loonen and Ivanova demonstrate a remarkable degree of biochemical homology between the mechanisms implementing pleasure-seeking and misery-avoiding behaviours in a succession of animals from our earliest vertebrate precursors (nowadays the lamprey) through to primates, even if the topology of the brain has changed almost unrecognizably over the course of evolution. These behaviours were orchestrated then, and still are today, by the same or very closely related neuromodulators, some of them being exactly those adduced by Heeger as being involved in the predictive process.