view on consciousness
are two metaphorical roads to approach the enigma of 'sensing matter'.
Both arrive at the same building, one at the front, the other at the
rear. So far it has been impossible to pass the building - inside
or outside - in order to meet the entrance at the other side.
The objective, experimental and outer-directed route ends in the visible
brain, but any visitor keeps circulating in the maze of neural networks,
synapses and cell microtubuli. This is the preferred road of deductive
Travellers in the subjective landscape of sensation and thought dwell
in the holistic illusions but lack clear indications and there is
nobody to ask, as they travel on their own. Sooner or later they get
order to overcome our dualistic paralysis in theorizing about the
nature of awareness, we need to have a closer look at this dilemma
and relate first person (phenomenology) and third person (deductive
science) approaches on the subject, without denying the dualistic
nature of consciousness. Consciousness is always awareness of something,
if not of itself, aknowledging a differentiation between content and
container. Possibly this duality is a product of our differentiating
and categorizing consciousness itself, thus maybe an illusion. The
main knowledge tools of our mind - logics and imagination - may not
suffice to tackle the problem.
Yet I invite the readers to follow my reasoning and formulate critical
questions, leading to either increased insights and understanding
or its scientific death penalty...
nature of knowing
us consider now the relation between the existence of something (ontology)
and the knowledge we can obtain about it (epistemology). Our only
way to get access to reality is by isolating phenomena through perceptual
categorisation, further aided by higher-level categorisation made
possible by language. These gives us the means of interrelating perceived
phenomena at higher cognitive levels and learning more about their
mutual interactions and relations.
In whatever description of reality we need to realize that the categorical,
discrete character of symbolic languages (and even lower-level perception)
only points at an inpermanent and highly intra-active reality without
the artificial borders that our knowledge system imposes on it.
Just as any categorisation about, say, social life phenomena, like
'the Muslim', 'warfare' and 'Muslims make warfare' are by definition
an impoverishment with regard to real life, which is too complex to
describe in a realistic way in common daily language, so we encounter
these categorical limitations in science as well. As long as we use
these categorisations as operational models that refer to ontological
processes, without substituting for (even the subtlest details of)
it, we can learn from reality without violating her.
As we have no other means than discrete language, we should continue
using it in its most fruitful way, which implies also acknowledging
Our only way of knowing aspects of reality is by taking a single perspective
at any moment. What we then know is our (at best 'shared') representation
of a single point of view. For example, we can look at a tree (that
is: our limited, categorical, internal perceptual representation of
it) from various points in space, thus hypothesising how the ontological
real tree out there 'is'. The more we zoom in, the more aspects we
will discriminate. On the smallest possible scale we probably see
just nothingness (empty space with invisible energy). So then what
is the real tree? Do we really catch its identity by summing up all
our observations on all possible scales? And is there still an entity
on the smallest scale or do the atoms and electrons vaguely merge
into the environment of the supposed tree?
These considerations will appear to be important when we come to speak
Self-referenced Unified Information Field - an approach
existence of any biological or physical 'object' (its 'being') can
be considered as an information field, where many processes occur
simultaneously and are interrelated. Here, an object refers to any
group of molecules with a certain structure, without specifying its
exact boundaries other than given by our perceptual system and the
resulting naming conventions. But even though there is always interaction
between processes, like flows of electrons and changing chemical relations,
and whatever the intensity of these interactions, there can be no
emergence of consciousness without an overarching unification of information
in which parallel processes - as well as sub-processes about their
mutual interactions - are integrated into a larger context. Only with
the existence of such a field in which simultaneous present information
is fed back to its components, a process of self-referencing, subjective
consciousness can emerge, given the appropriate organic architecture
to make these interactions possible. It seems therefore unlikely that
such fields occur spontaneously in objects other than complex animals.
characteristic of consciousness is that the body implicitly experiences
itself as a unity and as a constant, in response to continuous change
inside itself, including changes in the senses. The senses are part
of the body that sample information from the environment. The brain
then 'calculates' its conclusions, including a response, and 'translates'
these into qualia. These are suitable to form part of a SSUIF by merging
with other qualia and at the same time keeping their own identity.
Sameness and change thus coexist in any experience.
Consciousness can be seen as the potentially parallel availability
of a variety of specific information, aspects of which can be accessed
by attention processes but only in the context of the simultaneously
available overall picture (the unified information field). Consciousness
thus arises as an emergent phenomenon from foreground-background interactions.
is basically self-awareness, which means awareness of one's own body.
Sensory stimulation leads to this self-consciousness, too, through
changes in body experience. Thus, even for example vision is an aspect
of body experience (signalling changes in the environment), namely
a change in the SUIF as a result of sensory stimulation.
These changes are constantly moving flows of specific information
(foreground processes) forming all together in a parallel way the
SSUIF and derive their meaning from the feedback from the SUIF to
that specific information streams. Thus the network structure of the
SSUIF makes it possible to get access to associeted information that
(dynamically) can become part of the SUIF itself.
drops when there is little or no change in the input flows to the
SUIF. This happens for example in sensory deprivation and snow blindness.
The interactions between the SUIF and its constituent streams of information
are constantly changing and therefore essential to raise awareness.
The SUIF itself is not synonymous with consciousness, but is what
we subjectively experience as consciousness. Consciousness is thus
a necessary epiphenomenon of a dynamic phenomenon, namely the registration
of moving information flows in interaction with the SUIF, which itself
is a (parallel and temporally synchronized) composition of those information
flows. This does NOT imply a secondary role for the important process
it shadows, as some opponents of epiphenomenalism suggest. Further,
consciousness implies both parallel and serial processing of information.
A great mystery to this theory remains the emergence of qualia, being
'vehicles' responsible for the differentiation of information. It
is unclear how we will ever be able to understand qualia, as the process
of understanding itself it based on 'qualitative' experience. But
we might discover the neural mechanisms underlying their phenomenology.
On the phenomenological side there is no interference between qualia,
which may indicate that the neural coding of any quale is discrete
at a very basic level. Qualia are probably coded in the primary cortices,
as research to synaesthesia suggests.
help us differentiate between informational states. They emerge out
of specific, discrete coding processes of action potentials that arrive
from the senses in the primary cortices and that are modulated by
top-down feedback streams of information, like that from the hippocampus.
These neural codings and their emergence as qualia in consciousness
'make the difference' and it is the changing interaction between these
differences in the presence of stable references, supplied by (hippocampal)
memory networks, that give significance to our lives. They deal with
the content of consciousness and by that with the content of our lives.
Consciousness itself as a binding phenomenon gives us a 'total picture'
access by the formation of a unified information field that is maintained
by neuromodulation in the brainstem, giving it the right supply of
energy necessary for its enduring integrity.
Without that, the field falls apart, losing thereby its emergent characteristics.
This doesn't mean that all of its constituent processes decrease their
activity, too. The brain never sleeps completely. At
a critical level of network activity consciousness emerges necessarily
from intensive information exchange and 'melting' of discrete information
streams to a coherent field, while preserving their qualiative content
at the same time.
correlates with arousal (activation level) that seems to play a role
in global signalling (and thereby binding) of discrete, so far unconscious
and distributed brain processes. Crucial is the 'implicit self' that
figures as a constant (like the global body image) or 'ground' for
consciousness. This should not be confused with the 'explicit self'
that equals with self-consciousness.
We feel our legs 'down there', our back 'behind' and our head 'here
on top'. Patients keep these sensations even after amputation of a
body part (phantom pain). This reminds us that the sensation is generated
in the brain but projected back by consciousness to a specific place
in the body. The same is true for our internal representations of
outer space, which we identify with the real world out there. It is
an aspect of the integrative nature of consciousness and its function
to monitor the body (self) in its spatial environment (non-self).
2D spatial organisation of the retina and subsequent topographical
ordering of the visual cortex (V1) underscores the link between the
brain as a representational system and the 3D reality to which it
refers. The brain only has to do the trick of transforming 2D encoding
to 3D experience, which is done by multi-modal sensory integration.
is a necessary and illusory aspect of an energy consuming process
of linking and integrating extremely differentiated streams of information
in a unified and unique field, which is possibly electromagnetic by
The field contains multiple merged and mutually interrelated information
streams about body processes that are kept active as well as interrelated
in neural loops. These information streams that are constantly updated
by intensive and widespread feedback, are referenced to their own
individual as well as to their interactive history.
Specific coding processes of neural signals lay on the basis of differentiation
of information into qualia (and their complexes that give consciousness
its content and significance) and guarantee to preserve its identity.
The processes underlying this unified informational field (identical
to the neural correlates of consciousness) are self-regulating by
their strong top-down feedback loops. These also explain the relative
constancy and selectiveness of conscious content.
The energy to maintain this field is produced by the body metabolism
and regulated by brainstem and thalamic processes.