BETWEEN RANDOM IMPOSSIBILITY AND ILLUSORY PHYSICAL CERTAINTY, THE SURVIVAL OF FREE WILL.
(“One can predict that the double reflecting surface of the mirror neuron will be the new area of neurophilosophy research as we march slowly but unrelentingly along the reductionist asymptotic plank knowing that we have choices because free-will survives.”)
Note: This is the concluding chapter of the second volume of “Neurophilosophy of Consciousness.” Which has been adapted for a formal presentation.
I could have entitled this presentation in a number of ways: ”Between an indeterministic and a deterministic reality.”, “Between epistemology and ontology, a hybrid model of reality.”, “Reality as a complex probabilistic chaos.” or “The physicalist religion’s horse blinders, their faith on reductionism.” The common thread between these alternate titles is the falsifiable premise that the human species has limited brain capacities for sensory resolution and combinatorial processing. If we accept those premises then the easier solution seems to be to just increase / extend the resolving power of the senses with the appropriate instruments and / or extend the human computational capacities with supercomputers. We have no doubt this has been largely responsible for the demise of the Skinnerian ‘behavioristic’ pessimism about the reality of a mind that pervaded the pre-Chomskian era. We have taken long strides in improving the quality and resolution of both instruments and computers.
Yet we remain ever so far from ascertaining the ontology of consciousness, the limits of cosmos or the characterization of the Kantian ‘reality in se’, if any one exists. Why do we keep trying? I suppose humans will always hunger for answers as to his origins and destiny. What alternatives remain, barring an unforeseen species mutation sometimes soon?
Let it be clear that, our species limited resolution capacities notwithstanding, all of us involved in modeling reality should be intellectually committed to a reductionist view of reality as an asymptotic goal by stretching to the limits the resolving powers of our ontological descriptions and epistemological explanations. Man remains the measure of all things, those that are and those that are not. Thus, both aspects of existence are relevant and should be integrated into a functional hybrid, what we have termed an ‘epistemontological’ view of existential reality. All of which reminds me of Chris Langan’s efforts in synthesizing matter and information in his CTMU.
Let us briefly review what neuroscientists and mind philosophers have accomplished in these respects and speculate on why a quantum theoretical probabilistic approach may be the best compromise in explaining ‘consciousness’ where conscious free decision-making or “free will” consent survives the perfectly deterministic, physicalist world faith / dream of reductionism.
First things first. For the sake of an efficient and productive timed communication, I will use the term ontology when exclusively referring to sense-phenomenal / instrumental ‘descriptions’ of observable / measurable beings in empirical reality leaving any ‘explanations’ of structure or function of an object or event beyond our species sensory phenomenal resolution to be inferred epistemologically with the aid of symbolic or sentential logic tools. Thus, terms like ‘correlation’ between mind ‘m’ & brain ‘b’ describes their relation when there is empirical evidence to back up the claim and ideally there is logical supervenience between them. But in most cases we have to rely on a ‘natural supervenience’, as when e.g., there is a consistent reproducible correlation between an increased glucose and oxygen consumption (increased blood circulation) and an activated brain area. We need not to worry about intermediate causal factors intervening as long as they remain stable and invisible to detection. If we claim instead a causal relation between ‘m’ & ‘b’ we are expected to theoretically explain the correlation. E.g., if we posit that the conscious mind free will consent can cause the actualization of a previously selected (subconsciously) and activated cortical attractor, the claim must be backed-up by relevant, falsifiable empirical correlations (EEG, MEG pattern description, brain potentials, etc.) and ideally explained by one or more fundamental types of causal interactions between ‘m’ & ‘b’ (weak, strong, gravitational or EM forces).
If all attempts at precision fail, we can always ascribe and explain ‘consciousness’ *as having a Russellian type of primordial existence or as ‘emerging’ from a special brain material complexity, both of which are metaphysical constructions to embellish our ignorance about matters immaterial! So, one often wonders about conceptual ego-trips into the invisible when others with their feet on solid grounds are trying to resuscitate and bring *behaviorism through the back door with the Don Quijote’s Sancho Panza reality test, e.g., the psychophysical archetypal *order approach of Chalmers, Jung, Bohm, Primas, etc. Our own biopsychosocial model (BPS) implicitely, albeit reluctantly, gives in into it… for now at least.
I will also assign jurisdictional frames to specify the particular mental state being referred to, thus I will use the term unconscious to refer to that mental state where the agent is totally unaware of those inherited reflex neuronal networks programs charged with the preservation of biological integrity for the species and whose conscious access is denied during normal functioning, like the access to ‘machine language’ programs running a computer registry or BIOS. The term subconscious I will reserve to the mental state of conditioned awareness, to those network processes containing both inherited (genetic) and acquired (memetic) components that, when necessary, can subconsciously access higher mental faculties to extract conscious meanings from the changes monitored / detected in the ongoing (online) contingencies, e.g., by accessing the mirror neuron complex or the language faculty.
In this last respect we have argued that at that time the adopted language processing and accompanying thought (or conscious activities) are recursively co-generated (see below). We admit that these distinctions are a controversial premise because we do not always realize that, unless there is a significant change in the ongoing, familiar scenery (external or body-internal), the customary ongoings and familiar perceptual / conceptual inputs are not reportable nor generate ‘inner language’. This is a kind of neurophysiological ‘habituation’ like the one experienced when using a cell phone while moving down hill along a familiar but dangerous, uneventful road where the focus of attention is in the phone conversation and the driving is set to ‘pilot control’ subconscious mode. Likewise, we may have someone playing music in front of me while I focus my conscious attention on a conversation with another person without being oblivious to the music or the source, as opposed to what would happen to my attention threshold if the musician is now pointing a cocked gun at me instead! It should be mentioned that there is new evidence (continuous flash suppression) that we still register (and respond behaviorally) to perceptual stimuli we are not paying conscious attention to while focused on some other activity!
*Another forced short cut that may bias this discussion is worth pointing out. In a previously published paper we found it easier to assume that language generates thought than the reverse account based on the relative completeness of language data (as opposed to the ambiguous foundation of thought processes) on which to base language development. As a compromise we arbitrarily opted for tentatively positing a recursive cycling co-generation of both thought and language.
Furthermore, I will assume the troublesome position that the non-physical mind that is involved in the conscious choices / *intentions of a human being can influence the activities of his physical brain (as suggested by Stapp 1999, 153), a most controversial stance attributing the non-physical mind causal efficacy in driving the physical brain. We will very briefly explain the quantum theoretical reasoning and other intuitions.
In a nutshell we are saying that the psychological experience of being in a conscious state with ‘inner language’ faculties is the result of an actualization of one of several co-existing potential conscious states. We are not going to develop here the technical notions of quantum theory (wave functions, eigenvalues, state *vectors, etc.) we have adopted to equate the coming into a conscious mental state to the actualization of a Hilbert space state vector by giving our conscious consent to one of several coexisting alternatives (entangled, superpositioned, embodied in Hilbert space) , the one subconsciously isolated (by collapse of its wave function) on the basis of its biopsychosocial (BPS) survival value, in response to an important perceptual / conceptual change detected in the environment. A particular cortical attractor constitutes the state vector being the focus of the directed attention / awareness. We can assign to any physical subsystem (e.g., a *brain) a singular state represented by a vector in its own Hilbert space, as discussed elsewhere. At this moment we prefer to disclaim any correlational continuity our selection to bring into a conscious mental state with a cosmic scale Hilbert vector space. We disagree with the current interpretation of von Neumann’s projection postulate suggesting that the mind becomes conscious after the collapse of the wave function as it happens during an instrumental measurement analogy. In our model, the initial online perceptual / conceptual input triggers an introspective evaluation of alternative solutions (cortical attractor’s probable future outcome) present in the ‘flow of consciosness’, an arguable state pre-consciousness. The most compatible / adaptive vector space is consciously consented to and the ‘collapse of the wave function’ follows, in that order. Contrary to what happens in quantum mechanical instrumental measurements, our mind (microscopic M?) conscious ‘consent’ represent the measuring instrument of the brain’s (macroscopic B) cortical attractor isolated alternative. They form a single quantum theoretical state vector (wave function) ψM + B which arguably can in turn be the object of an empathy ‘measurement’ by another observer’s mirror neuron system. Consequent to the significant perceptual / conceptual input-induced change in the quantum field wave (represented by the wave function) of the cortical attractors, a wave function collapses onto the cortical attractor option with the highest probability of success in resolving the contingency posited by the novel input, all BPS consequences being considered in the process.
Besides the formalities barely mentioned, we prefer the intuitive premises based instead on analogies to well established neurophysiological facts (see British neurophysiology school of Sherington) regarding the unconscious reflex coordination of the best musculo-skeletal dynamic body posture (controlled by reflex networks in sub-cortical basal ganglia, cerebellum, olives, etc.) in executing a complex adaptive movement, like we saw in the Olympic gymnasts, where the biological integrity of the subject is genetically guaranteed; in such cases we need not be conscious of every possible moto-neuronal synaptic connectivity to guide the many individual muscle fiber contractions resulting in the gross, balanced, integrated and coordinated adaptive movement needed. Based on the various relevant inputs (from muscle spindles, stretch receptors, Golgi tendon receptors, mirror neurons and others) the genetically programmed appropriate reflex arc just needs to be unconsciously ‘isolated’ and mobilized into actuality by the simple conscious consent (yes or no) to the ‘chosen’ reflex arcs by the unconscious activity of the performer. Please notice that, for lack of a more precise word now, we are making a subtle distinction between choice and consent suggesting that only the latter is exclusively a conscious event.
By analogy to the conscious consent to the ‘choice’ of a particular gross movement from several unconsciously organized probable motor responses just described, we are suggesting, for analytical purposes, that a conscious consent / choice is the functional *equivalent of an instrumental measurement in quantum mechanics as discussed above. This conclusion is based on our modification of Dr. W. *Freeman’s seminal work on the cortical attractor basin for the olfactory system of rabbits and also on von Neumann’s projection postulate (1955, Ch. V.1) describing a quantum mechanical instrumental measurement as causally efficient in producing the transition of a quantum state à to an eigen state of the observed event with a certain probability of occurrence, what we called above the ‘collapse’ of the wave function (opposing the expected normal continuous evolution of the Schrodinger equation). Arguably, then, when we consciously ponder / measure on probable courses of action during a flow of consciousness and make a ‘choice’ from available future outcomes alternatives in the cortical attractor basins (based on their probability of adaptive success), we are just passing review before giving our conscious consent (yes or no) to a previously subconscious isolation and choice of an alternative among many available which caused the activation (‘collapse’) of the ‘free-*willed’ / chosen alternative. We have tried to develop an *algorithm incorporating vector spaces (Hilbert) reasoning to explain this in more detail but have achieved limited success thus far.
In this respect it should also be noted how the significant perceptual / conceptual environmental change experienced (e.g., purposive, goal-directed movement by another person or animal) captures our attention focus and shifts it (e.g., visuo-motor *relays) to relevant ‘cortical mirror neurons’ situated at the premotor, insular and parietal cortex loci, (see Rizzolatti, G. 2002 *“Hearing sounds, understanding actions: Action representation in mirror neurons”. Science 297, 846–848.) the same general location where related prior events were registered in specific cortical attractors based on the related content of the perceptual / conceptual change as we speculate based on Dr. Freeman’s results. This environmental change input triggers a transition from a chaos of environmental sensations à stochastic/chaotic *probability in the attractor basin à self consciousness and certainty of the ‘chosen’ attractor solution, a veritable spontaneous but negentropic activity. See . Unlike quantum theory that selects from probable ‘random’ natural events (during an instrumental measurement), in our case the conscious free consent to a preceding subconscious selection is equivalent to ‘choosing’ from complexly organized stochastic / chaotic synaptic architectures. Far from being random, they just happen to be complexly ordered dynamic events in potency. But they cannot be considered inexorably deterministic events either to the extent that we can consciously consent to a selection even those alternatives considered the least adaptive as witnessed in heroic or pathological acts ‘contra natura’. The quantum theoretical interpretation introduces, like in the previous case above, the conscious consent to the antecedent subconscious selection (all things considered) of a probable future outcome alternative and does away with the physicalist deterministic model of reality and brings a new unexplored domain between the deterministic and the indeterministic extremes resolved by a conscious free will consent to a previous subconscious selection based on biopsychosocial equilibrium considerations.
Somehow we get the intuition that nature’s ‘randomness’ only exists when an event so behaving is considered isolated (for cognitive pedagogic convenience), out of its normal natural / holistic ecological environment, e.g., radioactive decay from an unstable atom. When so considered this reality ‘in se’ is non-linear, asymmetric, indeterministic, atemporal and acausal and as such, unintelligible to human cognition because of our natural inherited linear / sequential way of processing information so aptly simulated by computers. Thus the human species had to *bring symmetry by temporalizing empirical reality and *linearizing the sensory receptors input in harmony with an inherited sequential language processing by inventing the concepts of time and space to explain change (see ). Independently related events can now be processed statistically or linguistically when linearly coupled on the basis of their complementarity and entanglement potential.
This is a most controversial and dark grey area indeed where it has to be demonstrated how significant receptor inputs (e.g., movements, sounds / phonemes) are eventually represented / encoded and readied to be parsed and processed in the language *mill. Humans process information in serial sequences with the aid of innate language processors (see S. Pinker). For humans to extract the meaning of the quotidian Kantian ‘chaos of sensations’ we may have inherited the ability to represent crucial audiovisual environmental events as linked with individualized phonemic and visual content tags attributing primitive survival meanings when compared to an inherited gallery of audiovisual / movement representations, what we have called the proto-linguistic organ (plo) in the amygdaloid complex. We have not developed equivalent explanations for other sensory input variations, but the ‘freeze response’ to pressure, tactile and other receptors can be easily demonstrated.
What has remained a mystery is an explanation of how the sensory information travels and relates to mirror neurons strategically located in pre-motor, insular, parietal and Broca’s cortical areas where we speculate they generate the emotional qualia as consciousness awakens. We don’t know yet how mirror neurons connect with cortical attractors, if at all. By using the technique of continuous flash suppression (what magicians use to distract the public so you don’t see things while looking at them) it has been demonstrated how unconscious stimulation can control your behavior.
We speculate that soon after birth, the newborn had to activate the inherited archetype allowing us to linearize the sense-phenomenal environmental receptor input and couple it to the processing of the adopted language. This way we integrate the inherited protosemantic, amygdaloidal unconscious processing of sense-phenomenal data input with the hippocampus subconscious, contextual analysis of the sensory input and the insular mirror neuron input. The amygdalar and insular components are charged with the preservation of species biological integrity and the visceral brain neuro-humoral homeostasis respectively. The hippocampus / executive cortex axis is involved in the preservation of psycho-social equilibrium. As long as there is no significant / purposive environmental change threatening the biological homeostasis and the psychosocial equilibrium, we remain in a state of subconscious awareness, like a sophisticated robotic monitor. As soon as a significant perceptual / conceptual change ensues we either continue updating the attractor basins with perceptual and / or conceptual memory based inputs or adaptively respond to the environmental contingency. We can reflexly respond *stereotypically at the unconscious protosemantic level by a temporary inhibition of any response (‘freeze response’) pending a contextual analysis by the hippocampus at the subconscious level. If the contextual analysis is semantically positive and the sensory stimulus represents a biological survival threat, the amygdala is disinhibited and a Cannon, ‘fight or flight’ response is unleashed. Otherwise, when the change carries the potential for a psychosocial disequilibrium then higher mental faculties’ are accessed to extract meaningful information, e.g., a language sequential, linear processor to parse the inherited and / or acquired audiovisual representations data and generate the corresponding syntax structure to express the proper symbolic and / or sentential premises preceding the appropriate logical conclusions (propositional attitude?) and co-generate the *corresponding thought / consciousness in the process. Brain lesions to angular gyrus and Brocas area interfere with this processing. A flow of consciousness is thereby triggered from which the most probable and best adapted cortical attractor solution is consciously and freely chosen from the probable future outcomes as discussed.
A cortical attractor (including the corresponding mirror neuron components) represents the unit behavioral complex attending the solution to a novel contingency. It comprises a complex behavioral strategy integrating the phenomenal and attitudinal / emotional aspects and their associated perceptual / conceptual qualia included. Once more we emphasize that perceptual and conceptual qualia are semantically neutral and find their existential meaning within the context of an individualized BPS equilibrium context requiring the language faculty to generate the appropriate symbolic / sentential representations for recursive parsing.
It has been most difficult to integrate the participation of mirror neurons in this unit behavioral complex because of our paucity of anatomico-physiological data. Their presence, in association with Broca’s area, insular cortex and parieto-temporal angular gyrus, is an indication of their likely involvement in the semantic, emotional and multimodal assembly of the unit behavioral entity, not to mention their possible role in the emergence of self-consciousness as we reverse the mirror neurons focus into the agent / observer. As we published elsewhere, just like a newborn baby can watch her lactating mother’s facial / body movements and listen to her baby talk cooing until she eventually discovers the self from that of mother’s and reciprocally, mother can anticipate the newborn needs, an empathy mental state only possible with the help of mirror neurons, we see no reason why the same ‘mirror neuron’ mechanism cannot be directed inwards to auscultate the self in action and discover the self as the actor and the observer! We can demonstrate using fMRI techniques the complex coordination of left somatotopic premotor cortex with auditory and left parietal cortex which lightens up when we either move a hand while making a sound or watching someone else do it! If the observer can empathize with the external subject making those sounds and movements via mirror neuron system, especially the likely emotions attending such behavior (as suggested by activity of insular mirror neurons), we don’t see any serious problem about turning that empathy faculty on ourselves and achieving self-consciousness in the process! This area needs more development because both phenomenal and conceptual qualia in our BPS model requires the language faculty to be accessed for ‘interpretation’ as to what it existentially means to me whereas in an ordinary ‘introspection’ a semantic analysis may be waived, like when we are just ‘mindreading’ someone else. I can predict that the dual reflecting surface of the mirror neuron will be the new area of neurophilosophy research as we march slowly but unrelenting along the reductionist asymptotic plank knowing that we have choices because free-will survives.
Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Esq. Deltona, Florida Winter 2007
de la Sierra, Angell O. Telicom 2006-2008