Abstract: Experiences are physical properties of certain brain states. These brain states are given forms representing the external world by information processing in our brains. The model of the world thus created is the conscious world of our experience. It is a Map used to compute navigation for our organisms. The contextual relationships within the model give meaning to its various images. It is the intent of this paper to make it clear that experiences (qualia and sensorial consciousness) are properties of physical brain states and to show how things are given appearance and meaning.
If you are someone who has inquired into the nature of consciousness, it has probably occurred to you that our sensorial impressions of the external world, such as color, visual scenes, sounds and smells, are phenomena going on inside our minds. Our sensory apparatuses are affected by external stimuli such as photons and air vibrations. They in turn send neural signals into our brains, and–voila, we are conscious of the external world.
Have you given much thought to what it means to see? External stimuli and neural signals are moving inwardly towards your brain so you cannot be seeing things where they are externally. The images must be inside your head. This is troublesome because now it seems that the whole world is inside your head, but you might consider this: Even though the world is inside your head, everything in it is to scale, and it may be the only way that you have ever known the world, or, the only world that you have ever known.
Here we run into a problem. Where are you the observer? The world is deeply three-dimensional and all around you. From where are you watching this world that is inside your head? The solution to the problem is simple. You can’t be observing this world in your head (see Discovering Your Self for an explanation).
Your eyes have already done the job of seeing. What’s going on inside your head is what is seen. Think about it in this way: If you are looking at a tomato and if you can’t be seeing that tomato outside your head since the signals are moving inwardly, then that tomato must be a thing inside your head. It might not have occurred to you that seeing produces the thing that is seen. The tomato is before your eyes, but the tomato seen is behind your eyes.
When we pick up a tomato and look at it, we are not experiencing what a tomato is; we are processing the affect that the tomato has on us. The tomato itself is a kind of energy soup, particles swirling about; hardly something we could relate to as a tomato. The red, round, smooth thing that we think of as a tomato is not the actual tomato, but is rather, the qualities of our mind’s representation of the tomato. The external world remains outside of our minds forever.
This is a rather beautiful insight. It points to the simple fact that we are only able to experience those things that are within the physical limits of our organisms and certainly not those things, such as the real tomato, that are outside our physical limits. What could we possibly mean by saying we see things that are outside of ourselves? Outside things merely affect us. We see them when and if they affect an information carrier such as light that stimulates our sensory apparatuses, which in turn send neural impulses inward to our brains.
So what we call the world is an active, alive, biological process going on inside our brains. Think of it as being inside a living map. We can’t see things out there, so our brains take information from light affected by things out there and produce a 3-D panoramic model of the world in our heads. How do we know that it is in 3-D and panoramic? Simply because that is the way we experience it despite what the mechanisms might be that contribute to how it occurs. As we move about in the external world our brains are constantly changing this internal map. What we know as the external world is, in actuality, a navigation room in our minds that is essential to computing our interactions within our environment. It is this navigation room that we experience as the external world. The map is seeing, itself. Seeing is (equals) what is seen, but is seen is inside our heads, not outside.
What is the “mental imagery” that forms inside our heads when we observe something? What is the stuff from which imagery is made? No one has ever found that stuff or the images, known in philosophy as qualia, inside a head. I will explain why.
Consider for a moment the implications of what has been said so far. The tomato, formerly thought to be real, is now a mere model. Likewise, the rest our world is a model. We shouldn’t be surprised, because to experience things as they are themselves would require being them ourselves. Since we can’t simultaneously be them and be ourselves, then that leaves us with having to model them. Okay. Then that is it! The world is information in our navigation computers. The red, round, smooth tomato is not a real tomato. Instead, it is a mental artifact that represents the real tomato out there.
You are probably pretty comfortable with the idea that the whole world is a navigation system inside your head. You might have realized that if this is true, then nothing has really changed. It is the way that the system has always worked. The tomato is still red, round and smooth. Ah, but that’s not quite true, is it? Out there the tomato is energy soup; however, you are trapped in the navigation computer’s model and can’t see it the way it really is! Your model of the tomato is just a computation based upon the real tomato’s effect on your navigation system. Your mind models the information carried by photons to your eyes into something red, round and smooth. What is the tomato itself if what is in your mind is just a model? Frustrating, huh? Actually, all the images in your mind are just models. How can you relate to the real world if you can’t know what the real world is? The answer is, so what? It works, doesn’t it? The world is a navigation model embedded in the mental processes of your organism.
At this point, it will be easier for you to follow me if I tell you what the next conclusion is going to be. Here it is. In our day to day lives, we are not conscious of the real world at all. We live in a world that is an information process. Those things that we experience are not real things. They are models. They are information. Don’t worry. I am not about to deny that there is a real world out there. You are mistaken when you see a tomato in your hand, feel a tomato in your hand, bite into a tomato in your hand, smell and taste it and say: “Wow. Now this is a real tomato.” You are referring to the qualities of the model of the tomato. This is what the sensory stimulus from the tomato does to you, rather than what the tomato is. This is information, not the real tomato. The mind doesn’t deal in real things. It models and processes information. The only world that we know is an information process. There really is no problem with this. Nothing changes except your understanding of what is occurring. You have erred in believing that the world you experience is real. It isn’t. It is information.
Information is insubstantial. Material things must act as its carrier in order for it to manifest. Information is a pattern of relationships that is superimposed on something that is material. Material things can be configured to contain information processes. When material things are not being information processes, then they are being, for instance, planets and cabbages. We experience information processes. We don’t experience planets and cabbages. We do not even experience all our own information processes, only the ones that are sensorial.
The red, round, smooth tomato that is represented experientially in my mind is a pattern that means something within the contextual relationship of my navigation map. If it merely sat in my mind and did not interact with anything, then it wouldn’t mean anything. I don’t and can’t, relate the red, round, smooth tomato in my head to the something out there in the external world. The thing out there is lots of particles swirling about in an energy soup. It is nothing like the tomato inside my head. In order for the tomato in my head to mean anything, it must interact with other models in my head. For example, it has to find its way into my salad. The salad is a contextual relationship that gives the tomato meaning. Of course the salad itself must be in a larger contextual relationship to have meaning, such as being served for dinner. And so on. The world in my head is the ultimate contextual relationship in which the meaning of all things lies in their interaction with other things.
In my navigation room, the meaning of each model does not arise from its correspondence to external things. Instead, its meaning arises from its interactions with all the other models in the navigation room, from its contextual relationships. By themselves, the models are meaningless. The sounds of words are like tomatoes. They are also mental artifacts. They have meaning when they are interacting in a dynamic contextual relationship. My explanations are examples of these contextual relationships.
The information world that is our own experience is a parallel world to the real world, yet it is utterly different. It is a world of appearances without substance, whereas the real world is a world of substance without appearance. The concept of appearance seems to imply that the appearance of an object is transmitted from the object to our senses, but the fact is that the appearance of the object is created in our minds. The external object affects the pattern of the light reflected by it. The reflected light carries information about the object’s form to our senses. But the light does not carry appearance from the object to our eyes. Appearance is made in the mind by modeling information about the form of the object in physical states of the brain which have the property of visual experience. It is the mistake of believing that “you” are actually seeing the external object that causes “you” to attribute the appearance of the model to the object itself. The real tomato is swirling particles in an energy soup, it is not red and smooth. And yes, a minded listener is necessary for the falling tree in a distant forest to make a sound.
As you can see, we really don’t know what material is. We have no access to material things, no direct way of experiencing them. We call the images in our minds the external world, but nothing from the external world has been transferred into our minds except something intangible we call information, which is a stimulation of our senses by an information carrier. That stimulation passes through several stages of transformation before it is modeled into our mental images.
Before I put pressure on a knife to slice a tomato, I want very much to know that the tomato, my fingers and the knife are all in the right position. The only way to describe, accurately and efficiently, where something is located relative to other things is in a visual model (a picture) that models the spatial relationships of the setting. The model of the tomato, my hands and the knife are computed and assembled in my brain from the information received by my sensory apparatuses. The model and the complex motor processing necessary for slicing the tomato are all data in a common computational loop. The model, which is an analog form of presenting information about the environment, is far more efficient than any non-analog form. The point here is not to explain how our navigation systems work, but what it is like to be a navigation system. This experience of your navigation system is your conscious world and it exists so that you can navigate.
Information is a pattern that is superimposed on something substantial, on something material. The world that we experience is a pattern that is superimposed on physical states of the brain that are experiential. We are that brain, and therefore, we are the experience of that pattern, which we mistakenly project to be the external world. The pattern itself is intangible, nothing, just an image like the ones on a TV screen. In this case, there is no need for a viewer because you are the image itself.
Consider the red, round, smooth tomato that is a mental artifact. Ignore the shape of the tomato, which could be of a Roma tomato, a beefsteak tomato, a little cherry tomato or a sliced tomato and what remains as the common denominator is the experience of red. Red is a physical property of the material brain. It is my experience. It is not information. The tomato’s shape is information. The experience of red adds to that information but information is itself insubstantial. The shape of the tomato is an abstract boundary. It is the limit of the experience of red, which is the material carrier of the information.
If a scientist looks into my brain, he won’t see me experiencing red. Why? Fundamentally, because he does not “see” me. He does not “see” my brain at all. He is experiencing the effect that sensory input from the subject has on his own brain. Its effect is to cause information about the subject to be modeled in the patterns of his experiential brain states in his own navigation system. The experience of red is what it is like to be the brain’s state that is experiencing red. It is not the color of a thing.
The informational content in the scientist’s mind emanates from the model, which is supervening on his brain states. This means that the characteristics of the subject that he is studying are the characteristics of the model. The model creates everything that we call appearance. Red and all other sensory qualities are clearly the material characteristics of the brain states that are the modeling medium because they are something whereas the forms (and relationships between forms) of the model are derived from the boundaries where sensory qualities begin or end. These relationships form the informational content. Whereas appearance is the experiential quality of the modeling medium, forms and the relationships of forms are intangible information. This information is first introduced to the navigation system by the sensory stimuli from the subject. The scientist’s brain models the functions of the subject of observation in experiential states of his own brain.
Consider what information is. Think about Morse code being spelled out on a telegraph key. We decipher information from the pattern and length of empty spaces between the clicks. We decipher visual information about objects from the frequencies of light they reflect and from the spatial patterns of the effects that the object has on that light. The light does not carry the real qualities of the object to our eyes at all. There is no essence of the object in what we experience. Information is intangible. It is carried on sensory stimuli and then is transferred to neural impulses going to our brains where the information is modeled by the brain in the medium of itself. We experience our own minds, not the objects our eyes are turned towards. An object’s appearance belongs to our minds, not to the object. My experience of a red tomato is a physical property of my brain. It is beyond the scientist’s own brain and therefore beyond his experience. The scientist has confused the information process in his mind with what things are. He attributes the appearance of the subject he is observing to the subject and not to the model supervening on his experiential brain states. Because he believes his perspective is focused outwardly through his eyes, he finds it difficult to understand how red can be the brain’s state of being the experience of red. Though we presume to know what things are, the fact is that the only thing we have ever experienced is our own consciousness. We experience consciousness as information about the world but what consciousness is itself is information organized in experiential brain states that serve as a map on which the brain designs motor responses to information from the external environment.
If my brain did not have the physical property of experience, then consciousness and my experience of the world would not exist. I don’t experience the real world. I am locked inescapably within my internal experience of information processing. (See Discovering Your ‘Self’ to understand the mechanism of how we believe otherwise.)
The information received by my sensory organs has usefulness beyond coding how I model my environment. I don’t experience its progress through these other processes in my brain, although they are the source of my knowledge. Consciousness is a confluence of experience and information processing. Information processing not only molds experience into images, but also endows those images with roles and vitality. Consciousness, or the navigation room, is the external environment represented in computable form in our minds.
The world we experience is a dynamic information process that models sensory information from the external world. The configuring of experiential states forms a picture, the one that we experience in our minds as the external world. All the sensorial states, sound, smell, tactile experience, proprioceptive experience, emotional feelings and pain, are integrated into the navigation system. The brain manipulates experiential states during information processing. For example, when we are moving our heads, our visual images change as the information affecting our eyes changes. Our experience of the world changing around us as we move through it is the changing pattern of our brain states. This is navigation.
Obviously, not all information processing involves the sensorial states we experience. The non-experiential changing brain states could be called the unconscious mind. Verbalization is sensorial or experiential. That is why, when information is put into words including inner speech, it is experienced. When words are made audible, communication is possible. Much of the process of speech assembly occurs unconsciously so that its results rather than the process are experienced. Our physical needs are translated into attention, which focuses energy into processing information that is of importance to our organism. Attention can be directed to conscious (experiential) or unconscious (non-experiential) processes. We are acutely aware of the external world when experiential visual processes are holding our attention.
What we consider consciousness to be is the aspects of our mind that are simultaneously experiential, in the focus of attention and “self” referencing. This distinction is overly glorified. For often, when our attention is intense we forget our “selves” and only see what we have accomplished after it is done, even if the processes involved active reflection. We often find ourselves agitated or in a daydream while our attention is applied unconsciously. Consciousness, by the above definition, would be useless without that vast unconscious processing which applies our knowledge to understanding our sensorial images. What we call consciousness is a small slice of what it is to be ourselves.
Our conscious experiences are physical states of our brains. The explanation begins with deconstructing our normal conceptual perspectives, in which we are observers, situated somewhere inside our bodies, seeing the external world where it is outside of our bodies. This can’t be true. Light reflected from an object carries information towards our eyes and they in turn send information inward to our brains. We must see inside our heads. The conceptual problems created by accepting this fact are resolved by eliminating the concept of ourselves as the observer. We make a conceptual transition from the idea of being an observer, observing images, to the idea of models formed in the brain, that are the actual visual experience in themselves. The world is our brains’ fabrications that we experience rather than something at which we look. It is an internal map; a navigation room in our brains, where information provided by our sensory apparatuses is transformed into a model of our environment. Using this model, as a strategic and tactical planning tool, we are able to formulate action patterns that are sent out on motor neurons for execution and thus we are able to navigate in the environment.
This internal experience, which we erroneously believe is the external world, is produced by information processing inside our heads. Information must be encoded onto a physical substrate. It has no substance itself and therefore depends on a carrier. This carrier is the physical states of the brain. Some of these states, such as vision, are experiential. Experience is a property of a physical state. These experiential properties are primary to consciousness, and are the foundation of our conscious experiences. They are the physical properties of our brains that are shaped by information processing into our experience of the world. The function of information processing organizes these physical states into contextual relationships of sensorial images. They form a picture. The contextual relationships give meaning and seeming tangibility to the images, or models, which makes the images into the objects that we believe are the external world.