Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Acausality and the Machian Mind

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Acausality and the Machian Mind

Article excerpt


Imagine you are alone in the universe. There is no one, there are no other things, nothing around you but empty space. Now imagine you are spinning. You feel your arms being tugged outward from the centrifugal force. Or will you? How can you say you are spinning if there is nothing else to refer to or interact with? Such imaginings were the inspiration of Mach's Principle: that the inertia of our bodies must be due to all the other stuff out there in our universe. (1)

Similarly, is the heft of my thoughts, of the concepts in my (conscious) mind, dependent simply on all the other ones in my mind? Is my mind a closed off universe on its own? This is the assumption of the Machian Mind. The mind is a universe created by neurons and synapses, of interacting electrical charges. It is true that the outside world impinges on my senses, but these senses are still just part of my brain.

Both the present approach based on relatedness and Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (IIT) [3] are Machian in their inspiration. However, there is a serious thorn in the side of this inspiration: that qualia seem to have an absolute character to them. That, e.g., the sense of the color green does not, e.g., seem relative to other concepts in the mind. We simply posit that the internal, relative, concepts of the Machian mind provide the proper conditions for more (kinds of) qualia.

As an engineer I tend to think of the brain as a machine. But can a machine produce consciousness? If so, this would imply that consciousness itself follows a course completely dependent on the machinery, rendering it but an epiphenomenon. But why would nature bother with something that is essentially impotent? For this reason I think there is something more to consciousness than can be explained by machinery, at least at the level of description we currently have. For example, it may be an emergent property of certain complex systems [18, 20, 44], or it may entail a quantum mechanics [5, 10, 13, 33, 34].

In this paper we explore the possibility that there is at least a great deal of machinery (at least of the type we are familiar with) supporting and interfacing with consciousness. (2) It is based fundamentally on the notion that consciousness is broken up into a sequence of conscious moments. In this vein we consider the following criteria for the Consciousness Support Mechanism (CSM):

1. Can the mechanism manifest itself over a short time period of a conscious moment?

2. Can pieces of it (sub-CSM's) be put together to form a larger whole, i.e., are they constitutive?

3. Is there some evidence from neuroscience and cognitive science to back it up?

The foregoing is aimed primarily at the avid connectionist with an interest in philosophy of mind (or perhaps a philosopher of mind with an interest in connectionism). The connectionist models are given as simple examples to capture the basic ideas, hopefully with some biological plausibility, at least in spirit.


Giulio Tononi developed the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) about a decade ago as a measure of the degree of consciousness for an information processing system, with details worked out for a neural network model [4]. His theory posits that the degree of consciousness for any set of elements in the network (called a complex) is proportional to the amount of (Shannon) information the complex generates as a whole relative to the amount it would generate if it were not as fully connected in some sense (the latter is called the "minimal information partition"). He calls this relative information Integrated Information and designates it with the symbol

[PHI]. The complex in the system with the highest [PHI] he says "underlies the dominant experience."

Christof Koch [19], a long time champion of Tononi's theory, pointed out that IIT implies that any (causal) information flow is, or entails, consciousness, which amounts to a version of panpsychism. …

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