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A new theory of consciousness: Attention schema

In “How the light gets out: Consciousness is the ‘hard problem’, the mystery that confounds science and philosophy,” Michael Graziano asks, “ Has a new theory [his own] cracked it?”

One’s instinctive response is always to say no, for the same reasons as one doubts that a fad is “here to stay” or that a person who claims he is “just being objective” actually is.

So far, most brain-based theories of consciousness have focused on the first type of question. How do neurons produce a magic internal experience? How does the magic emerge from the neurons? The theory that I am proposing dispenses with all of that. It concerns itself instead with the second type of question: how, and for what survival advantage, does a brain attribute subjective experience to itself? This question is scientifically approachable, and the attention schema theory supplies the outlines of an answer.

As it happens, the “how” question is the important one here. Any conscious being can see, in principle, why consciousness might be an advantage, but not how it is produced.

Some people might feel disturbed by the attention schema theory. It says that awareness is not something magical that emerges from the functioning of the brain. When you look at the colour blue, for example, your brain doesn’t generate a subjective experience of blue. Instead, it acts as a computational device. It computes a description, then attributes an experience of blue to itself. The process is all descriptions and conclusions and computations. Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself. The brain insists that it has subjective experience because, when it accesses its inner data, it finds that information.

I admit that the theory does not feel satisfying; but a theory does not need to be satisfying to be true.

No. A theory does not need to be satisfying to be true, but it does need to make some sense.

Subjective experience is just that—what an experience feels like. It is not “a myth that brain tells itself,” it is just the experience, experienced.

Graziano’s “attention schema” theory is interesting, as many theories of consciousness are, but it doesn’t get us anywhere with what may prove an unanswerable question: What would an objective presentation of subjectivity look like?

Well, what would a circle squared look like? What would you feel like if you were somebody else?

In other words, a good theory of consciousness would move us past precisely what current theories are trying to “explain.”

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4 Responses to A new theory of consciousness: Attention schema

  1. He seems to be advocating a form of eliminativism, or something very close to it.
    On my blog, I wrote a post dealing with materialist explanations of the subjective experience of a bat:
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpres.....ry/qualia/

    Apparently the bat would only delude itself into thinking it feels something.

  2. Lothars Sohn, I am sure that higher animals have consciousness, but of course it is limited by what they are able to perceive. You can’t explain to your cat that you are going away for three months to take a course, and then returning. Or that Grandma has died. The animal cannot participate in human life because it cannot process that type of information. But within its limits, it is conscious. If there is a mouse in the furnace room, it may be far more conscious of that fact that you or me. ;)

  3. Contrary to Graziano contention,,

    a theory does not need to be satisfying to be true.

    ,,There is a a-priori ‘beauty’ that many great mathematicians and scientists expect to find in a true theory:

    More often than not, physicists discover that the mathematics they need to describe a new class of phenomena has already been studied by mathematicans, for reasons that have nothing to do with the phenomenon in question. It appears that the Creator shares the mathematicians’ sense of beauty. Many physicists rely on his idiosyncrasy and use mathematical beauty as a guide in their search for new theories. According to Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, ‘It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment . . . because the discrepancy may be due to minor features . . that will get cleared up with further development of the theory.’

    Mathematical beauty is no easier to define than beauty in art. An example of what mathematicians find beautiful is what is known as Euler’s formula, e^ipi+1=0. One criterion for beauty is simplicity, but simplicity alone does not do it. The relation 1+1=2 is simple, but not particularly beautiful because it is trivial. In contrast, Euler’s formula shows a rather surprising connection between three seemingly unrelated numbers: the number e, which is related to ‘natural’ logarithms; the “imaginary” number i — the square root of -1; and the number pi — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. We call this property ‘depth.’ Beautiful mathematics combines simplicity with depth.
    Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes, pp. 201-202

    I hold that the self-admitted ‘unsatisfying’ aspect of Graziano theory stems from the fact that he himself is somehow deeply aware (made in God’s image aware?) of the fact that his theory lacks the beauty that it needs to be true.

    Quote:

    “I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension.” “…, I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense”.
    Thomas Nagel – “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” – pg.128

    Notes on consciousness preceding material reality:

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect):
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    Colossians 1:17
    And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

  4. 4
    CentralScrutinizer

    “Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself.”

    Like Daniel Dennet, he “explains” consciousness by denying it exists. Yawn.

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