The Neurodynamic Genesis of an Unit Coherent Thought, An Epistemontological View.
Understanding what a mental state of ‘consciousness’ entails much more than the unconscious ‘binding’ together or the functional integration of the perceptual properties or attributes of an object, e.g., the shape, color, texture, tactile contours, size, etc. of a statuette because these varied sensory properties are inevitably experienced coalesced as an unit whole concurrently integrated with the subconscious association of the object with a contextual ongoing event or memory thereof (genetic or memetic), e.g., the statuette being a loved one’s gift on your birthday to match the smooth marble table it sits on. This way the perceptual and conceptual constitutive elements fuse into a single conscious state by way of its attentional underpinnings. (See Dr. Francis Crick, “The Astonishing Hypothesis.”) It is not enough to have the visual occipital cortex unconsciously integrate the perceptual signals arriving from the retina (and other sensory input) and thereby assign properties and attributes which then coalesce into the beautifully smooth, coral colored version of Michelangelos Pietas, this would be the equivalent of having a language sentence with just a subject, ‘statuette’ without qualifications as to number, spatiotemporal location/position, history, etc. We need to subconsciously find a context within which the object becomes historically and sociologically meaningful to our existence; this analysis is subconscious and depends on hippocampus memetic data base. When the perception posits a potential life threat to the species, as determined first by an amygdaloid protosemantic genetic data base and confirmed thereafter by the hippocampus context analysis, there will follow an adaptive Cannon response. This consists of an unconscious triggering of the appropriate musculo-skeletal responses to reflexly fight or flee. At times there may be a subconscious activation of the language machinery to articulate the relevant contextual premises and co-generate thought in an evolving ‘inner language’ appropriate to the co-existing emotional quale. As thought and consciousness co-evolve with language processing we are now in a position to consciously choose among probable future alternatives and isolate a cortical attractor as the exclusive response to the original set of perceptual and conceptual mix.
Before we attempt to apply these interpretations to the explanation of the ‘flow of consciousness’ preceding the free-will choice (charged with the isolation of an adaptive cortical attractor solution), we need to sort out the variety of probable mental states, how they link together inside the attractor basin when defining a resting mental state (as a function of neuro-humoral based attentional status), how their links become labile when being updated, how they exibit reciprocal causality between the perceptual and/or conceptual input and how they are singled out for isolation and instantiation. At least we hope to provide the guidelines and danger signals for those traveling this unchartered route.
Unlike what happens during the dream state of consciousness, the normal vigil state is normally preceded by an attention span triggered by a sudden change in either the ongoing perceptual scenery or memory input. It seems like we need these changes, however small, to maintain us in a state of self-consciousness, otherwise we shift into a subconscious stage of mere awareness when we are no different from any complex monitoring robotic device; this is the way we spend a substantial part of the quotidian vigil state and then may lapse into an unconscious dream state if no novel stimulus is present. Otherwise we are in and out of conscious awareness as determined by the recursive cycling of stimulation from the mesencephalic reticular activating system (RAS) and/or diencephalic pineal gland. This fleeting state we term the ‘flow of consciousness’ depending on which ongoing attractor(s) content(s) is(are) then dominant. One may, e.g., be walking along the fair grounds as we view a table counter decorated with colorful flowers and a substantial number of gadgets generating audio signals, all distracting me from feeling the pain coming from some uncomfortable cobblestones under the shoes. Each particular stimulus (color, shape, sound, motion, plantar pressure, etc.) provides its own attentional alert on the corresponding cortical sensory area yet we experience an indelible fusion of all stimuli present as an unit phenomenal event because of our brain’s inability to individualize / separate the component parts for individualized experiencing, the equivalent of a flicker fusion frequency while watching a movies where the individual takes from the camera are fused as one unit, a single conscious state. Nonetheless each audio, visual or tactile input is being subjected to a continuous subconscious ‘context’ analysis where a silent ‘inner languge’ provides the meaning before an adaptive correction is instantiated. Either one of the individual stimuli may assume dominance/priority based on the associated neurochemical millieu generated to activate the appropriate RAS network. Imagine the cobblestones under her shoes threatened the biological integrity of her plantar surface. Once the attentional input is focused into the pressure receptors on the plantar surface and their corresponding input into the cortical attractor(s) or parts thereof, these are singled out into conscious prominence for us to continue the bracketing process until one is willed into isolation and instantiation based on its higher probability of adaptive success, all things considered. She had a few alternatives to choose from, e.g., could have returned back home and wear stronger boots, etc., but it was easier to take another route with a smoother pavement. In what follows we will examine some of the arguments in support of a single unit of consciousness where particular experiences are subsumed in a more complex unitary experience of conjoint phenomenology as opposed to a mosaic or composite of related parts as we find during those fleeting moments when we examine the probabilities available during the flow of consciousness. Since we are at the center of this decision process, it makes sense, with Descartes, to distinguish the consciousness of self from the conscious flow of the alternatives to be chosen from or from the choice being isolated. To the extent that inherited, unconscious biological imperatives of self-preservation default our choices in the decision process, visceral-brain-controlled neurohumors influence our emotions and social conviviality influences our psychic life, perhaps a holistic Gestalt conception of a conscious biopsychosocial (BPS) unit is more appropriate when argued as derived from the totality of all relevant things considered as *previously defended by Carnap.
Consciousness about objects, events or memories thereof without a conscious agent minding their content is counterintuitive. Consequently, the agent has the *dual Cartesian role of being simultaneously the conjoined unit actor and unit observer capable of making judgments about a unit self within the context of the outcome alternatives being evaluated or isolated. The unity of the self is preserved whether experiencing a mosaic of alternatives in the flow of consciousness or an individualized alternative when choosing amongst them. This must be the case because the agent should be able to consider his own BPS preservation as may be affected when evaluating qualitative, quantitative, relational and especially the probability/modal categories of the perceptual and conceptual information content, what Kant termed the cognitive ‘structure of *knowledge’ (we have added the perceptual element). We emphasize again that objects, events or memories may as well have no essence or existence unless there is an agent existentially impacted by their conscious presence. The meaning of this dual relationship to the agent has to be syllogistically extracted/inferred by accessing the language processor during the recursive cycling co-generating language and thought at the moment of decision *making by proximate causation. This bears a slight resemblance to James arguments about the synchronicity aspects in achieving unit consciousness.
Similarly, we find it simpler to view the conscious unit exclusively as that experience / feeling of what it is like for the agent to reciprocally interact dynamically with all the constitutive components now subsumed into a holistic unit view, at least when in the process of isolating by choice the attractor best adapted to solve the problem at hand. As long as there may be an unfamiliar perceptual or conceptual change present a general idle flow of conscious events of coarse granularity may ensue where the conscious unit may be grossly differentiated as to its subject, object, connectivities and other forms until bracketing and selection of the appropriate subunits progresses and a best match with the originating perceptual and/or conceptual stimulus is achieved resulting in the all important unit of phenomenal consciousness being consciously isolated. When dealing with intractable complexities it is pointless to integrate concepts from the bottoms àup unless a lucky strike matches the conceptually inferred abstraction result with the self-evident experiential quale. It makes more sense to us to conceptually differentiate the self evident truth of the conscious experience into parts and proceed from the top à down trying to reframe the resulting jigsaw puzzle into the best fitting, abstract modeling straight jackets available. When you choose to start integrating from shaky abstract singularities up, the results of a collapse are more catastrophic than differentially building the pyramid up from a shaky broad base instead. It makes more sense to consider the ‘flow of consciousness’, a coarse-grained but unified conscious experience, as a composite of other relevant probable future outcomes (attractors). As the selection process evolves by bracketing, the resulting unified conscious experience will be unitary and exclusive, not a composite or mosaic. However, to the extent that the actor and observer remain distinct entities the experiences are co-conscious because the unified consciousness of self (observer) remains so whether experiencing a composite ‘flow of consciousness’ or the exclusive isolated/selected attractor, they are components of a single state of consciousness of variable and diminishing granularity as we approach the isolation stage. The careful reader will note that this is akin to the Kantian division of experience that distinguishes the observer and the observed. The latter, as described, has three levels, one dealing with the properties and attributions of individual objects that when unified gives them the spatiotemporal position, color, shape, etc. where the ‘binding problem’ applies. The second level is relational as it describes the causal relationship between such relevant objects along with their biological, psychic and social implications for the agent, what we call the unitary event. When we finally join them together seamlessly we get the ‘attractor’ structure that is singled out for selection and instantiation. Finally, the third level dynamically links more than one attractor and their constitutive BPS encasing giving rise to a ‘flow of consciousness’ of varying event content and complexity. We must emphasize once again that consciousness of self as an observer agent is always required in all conscious acts just described because objects, events or memories only exist to the extent these acquire an inferred vital meaning in relation to the agent/subject BPS equilibrium, thus the requisite for a language processor to represent the symbolic or sentential premises of a logical analysis as an accompanying thought is co-generated. Consequently we need not posit the existence of yet another level of consciousness unless it entails a significant existential BPS meaning for our survival as a species, e.g., the audio-visual, tactile or kinesthesic, etc. inputs (intensity, duration, frequency of stimulation) may only trigger a ‘subconscious awareness’ of their presence iff their stimulation reaches threshold values depending on their degree of fine structural granularity. Below this threshold sub-ontological level, as e.g., quantum ‘structure’, we need accessing the language processor to elaborate the conceptual/epistemological explanation of their questionable perceptual / ontological existence at the conscious epistemontological hybrid level of structural and/or functional level of organization, e.g., the valuable Bohr atomic orbitals of physical chemistry.
In other words, objects come into phenomenal existence (not essence) at unconscious levels through a synthesis of their properties and attributes (e.g., that pink, smooth statuesque), then at subconscious level of awareness (not consciousness) when causal relationships are established between relevant contiguous objects and the agent during a contextual analysis. When this results in a threshold level of change that is significant to the agent we must extract the BPS meaning of the event being generated by accessing the language processing networks that co-generates unitary consciousness, whereupon an appropriate adaptive response must be called upon, first by activating a flow of consciousness from the relevant cortical attractor basins. All things considered we proceed to consider the most appropriate course of action by choosing from among the available probable outcomes the best adapted. Another example will help clarify. Imagine a mountaineer in his daily descent along the dangerous curvy, but familiar, steep mountain. The first level of analysis (shape, color, motion, size, texture, etc. of familiar environmental objects) and the second level (the familiar causal interactivities of the different objects withing sight and hearing in his path down the curvy road) operate at the unconscious and subconscious level of analysis respectively as demonstrated by his driving while transmitting by cell phone a puzzle being discussed in his car radio (‘he’s on automatic pilot control’). If e.g., all of a sudden there is a potentially significant change ahead of him that looks and sounds like earth movements as he approaches a bridge. This event draws genetic data from amydala, memetic data from hippocampus for contextual analisis at the unconscious and subconscious levels requiring now a third level of analysis for the evaluation of safety alternatives available depending on the road conditions for the speed, weight and value of the car, the height of fall from the bridge, etc. He is drawing now from a restricted number of cortical attractors in the fast flow of a conscious effort to choose the best probable adaptive safety solution from those available, push hard on the brakes and slam-stop the expensive car against the side of mountain, gently apply the brakes without sliding before approaching the bridge, jumping out of the car, etc. all of which alternatives are controlled by biopsychosocial hierarchical imperatives continuosly asking what we want, believe, desire, attitudes, resources available, memories of similar situations or whatever elements that can be brought to bear and integrate into a coherent unit of conscious cognition prior to instantiate the proper unit of behavior including motor commands to effector organs to coordinate the appropriate musculo-skeletal posture, psychic and emotional background to cope with biological self preservation and financial loss of his car, among others. Fortunately the constitutive links in this complex chain of adaptive behavior are already present *in the form of cortical attractor probable future outcomes as argued elsewhere. They just need ongoing update and modifications before consciously willing one of *them into actuality. Contrary to some authoritative opinions (Brook 2001), context analysis, whether at unconscious, subconscious or conscious level, must always be considered indexical, self-referential because when a meaning is extracted out of a perceptual or conceptual source of input we mean meaning to the agent, not to the species, family, ethnic or cultural group he belongs to, we mean the individualized agent who is he and his existential circumstances in his ecosystem niche, an unit of focal attention encompassing the agent-observer and his autobiographical memory baggage, the dynamic one and same person extending diachronically across time carrying along experiences, emotions, feelings, etc.
We mean indexicality in all aspects of its inner language expressions, pronouns, demonstratives, temporality and locality. There is no such thing as a fixed cortical attractor architecture even at the species-stereotyped and unconscious genetic reflex level component. But they all have a sense-phenomenal perceptual and a conceptual, (language-based component) where neuro-hormonal levels may influence and bias a contextual analysis. As we always stress, in the normal person the preservation of biological integrity genetically defaults the analysis while the preservation of psychosocial equilibrium memetically biases any consideration; conscious free-will may, in abnormal, ‘contra natura’ cases, trump any of the previous conservative settings. We are not ready to dismiss the idea that the intentionality derived from all things being considered in a conceptual/contextual analysis is causally efficient in the generation of the free will focal choice of a given attractor among others. This would require a reciprocal causation where biopsychosocial considerations and their neurohumoral accompaniments influence the ongoing semantic analysis and the propositions thereby generated providing a feedback into the neurohumoral machinery to create a dynamic equilibrium between the propositions and the attitudes. This is not an easy task and deserves further examination before singing a requiem to the ‘propositional attitude’ model *of Fodor. To us mental states, whether of coarse granularity, as in a flow of consciousness or otherwise, become conscious because of their being the result of a preceding subconscious state accessing the language processor to generate the higher order thoughts, both being co-generated in the process. It is not preposterous to suggest that at least both stages are reciprocally causal on each other. It has been very difficult to convince our colleagues about the correlations between language and consciousness but a deeper reflection on a fairly well *documented laboratory experience with split brain patients (See Trevarthen) may help. An object presented to the left language hemisphere (right visual field) elicits conscious verbal report of its presence except when the attention is shifted to the right non language hemisphere (patient reaching for object with left hand) at which time the co-generation of language report and consciousness of object is lost! We have not been able to document a 1984 allegation by the experimenter that repositioning the object to the left visual field (right hemispheric presentation) brings back the conscious verbal report of its presence. The experimenter, in our opinion, should have modified the experiment protocol and allowed for extinction of the prior memory (diachronic memory) so as to distinguish between an extended memory of the object as opposed to new perception of the object. Another aspect of same idea is that the contextual analysis that followed the original object presentation to the left ‘talking brain’ hemisphere is retained in cortical attractor memory and triggered into actuality by the subsequent presentation of any cue suggesting/inferring its phenomenal presence; all of which suggest to us that either we see what’s in our brain (not in front of us) or we are witnessing a transcallosal transfer of information by quantum fields?
If unit consciousness depends on the brain’s structural and/or functional integrity of its neuronal networks connectivities (isomorphism) at the three different levels of integration, i.e., top à down: a)between cortical attractors in a basin, b)between the causally-related perceptual objects and their attending conceptual and emotional components in an isolated cortical attractor or c)between the variously amalgamated properties or attributions of the individual objects, then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that if their links are altered functionally by surgery, disease, updates or otherwise, the results will reflect the change in composition of the new resulting unit. Likewise if we select to directly stimulate selected parts of the unit *by electrical stimulation (see Penfield’s cortical stimulations), or exclude parts of the units from participation by callosal section (commisurotomy) followed by stimulation of a single hemisphere or some other surgical or pathological ablation or isolation, the unity is not breached but the resulting derangements in accessing data bases during behavioral control, belief formation or some other function, will reflect the altered composition of the new unit of focal attention or behavioral consciousness and consequently the self consciousness of the bearer of the conscious states. During the normal mental health state, among all relevant cortical attractors in a basin, only those of higher probability based on their logical and semantic coherence will be isolated from competing cortical attractors. We are looking forward to the day when the different brain disorders (Dissociative Identity Disorder, schizophrenia, split brain, hallucinations, anosognosias, blindsight, etc.) and their neuropsychological cognitive and affective behavioral concommittants will be analyzed in accord to this simpler view as it will continue to develop.
The alert reader may have noticed that we have defended in this and previous writings the synthesis of two seemingly incompatible views of brain neurodynamics, one stressing the visible ontological aspects deeply rooted on falsifiable brain monitoring results (EEG, MEG, PET Scans and fMRI) plus behavioral/psychological data, and the other view based on the invisible epistemologically-inspired, explanatory deductions from metaphysical logic. Our pedagogical pendulum swings from where language plays the fundamental role in processing the symbolically encoded representations of existential reality in co-generating consciousness/thought, to the vector representation of phase spaces (Hilbert space). The former stresses brain software, the latter brain hardware (wetware). One stresses a shifting attention from one coalition of neurons to *another one competing for dominance, an isomorphic view (see Hurley)…. but ultimately the winner is the human agent, a deterministic view. The other view does not substitute these explanations but adds another dimension that brings into focus the indeterministic nature of existential reality and the conscious role a free agent plays in determining what’s in stock as probable future outcomes before freely choosing according to his unique biopsychosocial reality. The big hurdle to us has been… and remains to be is how language processing may bridge the gap between the ontological descriptions and the epistemological explanations attending brain neurodynamics in the generation of consciousness/thought. To us it matters not whether the symbolic or sentential software generated in processing perceptual/conceptual input trumps or not the brain’s alleged (or implied) isomorphic multidimensional phase space hardware as underlying the transformations of complex vectors in Hilbert space, both views arguably are necessary (sufficient?) factors in determining a conscious state. As long as we humans remain the centerpiece about which crucial perceptual and conceptual information is denied because of species sensory and brain combinatorial limitations we must depend on a language processor to make the appropriate logic symbolic or sentential representations necessary for us to formulate the premises and conclusions to syllogistically extract their meaning and survive as a biological, psychic and social unit….. unless our detractors have a better explanation. Reality is an epistemontological hybrid.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS.
I can see where there will always be problems with language communications of complex issues unless people agree on the same meanings. For us anything within the threshold resolution of our senses or measuring instruments is perceptual and we experience and describe their physical ‘essence’ presence as an ontological ‘phenomena’. If the entity (object?) is beyond sense-phenomenal or instrumental resolution and description, we must instead explain their possible existence (presence?) inferentially by way of conceptualizing tools, either symbolic or sentential logic. Thus we can experience phenomenal (color, shape, size, etc.) or conceptual (affective anger, sadness, euphoria, etc.) feelings (qualia) or combinations thereof. We consider affective qualia as conceptual in nature because affective qualia are not neutral to the extent that a conscious agent experiences them in relation to the ‘meanings’ of objects, events or memories in our biopsychosocial lives and thus requires contextual analysis by the same conceptual tools. Notice that, counter intuitive as it may initially sound, the contextual analysis of sense phenomenal and/or memory inputs may proceed at subconscious or conscious levels depending on the need to access a language processor to extract contextual meanings from ongoing environmental changes been witnessed / monitored, being aware of. If the changes are familiar and uneventful, the subconscious awareness is not being recorded into memory, is not attended to or reportable because usually some other activity has captured our attention and language processing capacities or neutralized our RAS input into consciousness as when we fall asleep when we are not experiencing a significant BPS ‘change’. When before the presence of familiar, uneventful events our attention wanders away and we talk of being ‘aware’ as opposed of being ‘conscious’ of their presence.A complex robotic monitor of environmental changes is ‘aware’ as we are when subconsciously processing familiar input devoid of notoriety or significant changes in our BPS equilibrium. If a change becomes existentially significant and requires inferential language processing to extract its meaning to us then the agent being affected becomes part of the mix and we are then at the conscious level proper, as argued. I realize that such views, as expressed, assume premises that may not be accepted by all and we invite a pointed discussion of any such presuppositions as outlined in the argumentation.
Like it happens in all complex legal situations we have had to posit tentative conclusions based on circumstantial evidence (read intuitions or inferential logic) about the genesis of thought/consciousness, an extension and update about a *previous writing. Maybe there are invidual variations in the mechanics of thought generation but we have to pedagogically assume that it is constant for the human species. We make distinctions between levels of ‘consciousness’, first and foremost we distinguish consciousness of self as an actor (as when we focus on our own autobiography in search of information relevant to an important contingent event) from consciousness of self as an observer. We are not prepared now to assign any structure to the observer other than to use it as a pedagogical convenience. This is to be distinguished from consciousness of the sense-phenomenal properties and attributes of individual objects (color, shape, size, etc.) as unconsciously synthesized and then subconsciously catalogued/categorized as a phenomenal perceptual unit when esthetically judged (beautiful, old, heavy, etc.) in relation to similar objects or memory memes and now able to be retrieved into consciousness. This transit from ‘a’ category statuette to ‘this’ indexical statuette is to be noted to distinguish between ‘a’ transcendental, irretrievable abstract object and ‘this’ immanent real object of my perception (or memory) when situated in causally relevant relational aspects with other objects, the agent and his associated perceptual/conceptual qualia controlling the ongoing perceptual scenery OR as a conscious memory recall now existing as a modified/updated past event inside an individual attractor in a cortical basin to be, in another stage, be subjected to further scrutiny as to its probability of being an adaptive solution to an important environmental change before being isolated and instantiated. Meanwhile it is being continuously updated and modified by ongoing perceptual and conceptual inputs while dynamically linked to other attractors in the cortical basin. The neurodynamics of linked cortical attractor units can be summoned to a coarse granularity level of consciousness, flow of consciousness, for scrutiny and selection in response to a significant environmental change.
In the argumentation that has preceded we have examined how best to explain our human experience of unit consciousness notwithstanding the presence of so many participating sub-units.
In Deltona, Florida this late summer 2008 Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra