Nature’s Craft Behind the Experience of Our Lives
Abstract: The effort here will be to build the portrait of our conscious experience by explaining the intangible mechanics affecting experiential brain states.
Why is it that the world seems to be out there beyond our eyes when we can be certain that the world we are experiencing is within the confines of our skulls? The answer lies in the difference between the presentation phase and response phase of our navigation systems. Our tendency, even if we are educated as to the processes of our navigation system, is to think of what we are experiencing in the presentation phase of our minds to be the appearance and nature of the external world. The presentation phase is a Map and is our mind’s analog for a world that has no appearance. The reason we experience the Map as a dynamic world is a result of the way the navigation system works. The presentation phase functionally proceeds the computation of response in the response phase.
If you are reading this paper, you are probably a lot like me. Ours minds are busy with ideas a lot of the time. We come up for a reality check every so often and to our surprise we find that the world is there more or less just the way it was when we left it. Our experience of the world is substantial in a way that the ideas that are metamorphosing in our minds are not. We do reality checks because our ideas can take us too far a field from the world that we have to deal with and to which our ideas, if they are to have any value, must apply. But in fact, this distinction that we feel between the world of our ideas and the real world is the distinction between the presentation phase and the response phase of our navigation systems. We have no experience that is not innate to our own flesh.
If you think about it, you will see that the processes of the presentation phase should not (logically in respect to selective evolution) be manipulatable by the conscious mind. In the presentation phase we need to see the world as it is rather than how we would like it to be. The aspect of the conscious mind that deals with thought is based on the function of action planning (see SELF: From Action Plan to Person) and is creative which is appropriate to the response phase of navigation. That is the aspect of consciousness wherein we imagine the world the way we would like it to be and then try to effect the change. Changing the presentation of the world in our minds would not accomplish the navigation needed to survive in the ‘real’ world. On the other hand, the character of the response phase is one in which we want to have creativity of ideas to design responses to the ‘real’ world. The person that is ‘in touch with reality’ is adept at comparing his ideas with the Map and with memories of the ‘real world’. The emotional content of a reality check feels the way that it does because of this contrast between the two phases of navigation. Both phases are part of our conscious mind but the presentation phase is beyond the thinking mind’s sphere to manipulate.
The sharp distinction between the Map and the world of our thoughts and imaginings is the reason that we are (before we learn otherwise) convinced that we are dealing with the experience of the world itself. The method of presenting the external environment in the navigation system is for all intents and purposes fixed. We (our ‘selves’) are not allowed to manipulate the way that the Map is presented. The environment is the exclusive affecter of the presentation function so that the Map is an analog of the world. It therefore seems that what we experience in the Map is not ourselves. On the other hand, the Map is an artifice manufactured by the organism that has none of the character of the world for which it is an analog.
Imagine being kidnapped by aliens from outer space and being blindfolded and moved into a pitch-black room. You have access to an unlimited source of tennis balls and your left foot is chained to whatever you are standing on. In fact, the room has all kinds of equipment to monitor you but none of it makes any sound or admits any kind of radiation. After a while you get bored and decide that you will start throwing the tennis balls out into the darkness. You can hear them hit things and sometimes more than one thing as they go ricocheting about. From the pattern of the sounds you begin to form an image of the spatial relationships of things in the room. You have very keen ears and a perfect memory and so as time passes you begin to have clear images of the objects in the room but they are all very foreign and mean nothing to you.
This situation design is intended to be an analogy for our relationship to our environment but it will only serve as a starting point. The first counterpoint of the analogy is that the room is pitch black because there is no such thing as appearance outside of our minds. By throwing tennis balls you are able to get information. The counterpoint for tennis balls in the analogy is photons. The analogy gets a bit messy here because instead of tennis balls coming back to you, photons from some light source are bounced off objects and then they bring information to you instead of the sound (air vibrations) of your tennis balls hitting things.
We call photons light but it is entirely a mistake to think of light in colors. The absence of appearance is not necessarily pitch-blackness and maybe pitch-blackness is a not even good analogy. The photons are stimuli carrying information that set brain states to experiential states of color. The spatial relationships in the pattern of the photons reaching you is preserved by your visual system and an analogy for the pattern of spatial relationships is constructed in states of your brain producing your experience of seeing things. When you constructed images of the objects in the dark room from the sounds of the tennis balls hitting things, you did so using an innate ability to layout a spatial relationship in your mind. Your mind already had an empty spatial framework in which you could locate the relative coordinates of the returning sounds of tennis balls hitting things.
It is my opinion that this framework is a physical space in our minds in which the spatial relationships of the analogy for the external world (the Map) can be laid out. There probably are multiple registers for different aspects of vision that are correlated but I believe there must be and underlying physical spatial relationship. I have two reasons for that opinion. It would be too difficult to take analog information out of a spatial format and represent it in a digital, mathematical or other non-spatial format, be able to retain information on all the zillions of relative coordinates and compute navigation. I can’t imagine navigation evolving that way in nature. It would seem far more reasonable to think that a spatial analogy for the environment was projected to the brain upon which spatial navigation could be computed directly. The other reason is that if our notion of space is not derived from the experience of space itself in the mind then I think we have to question whether space is an illusion fundamentally. That might mean that there are no dimensions, no distances between things and that things are not in positions relative to each other. If space is an illusion then I haven’t been able to penetrate it. One thing does seem certain; we are still a long way from understanding the neural correlates of experience. Nevertheless, our experience is of the brain and it appears in a spatial format.
To finish up on counter pointing the analogy of our darkened room, I should point out that although sounds are different to colors they are both experiences. We can wonder if a bat sees the shapes of things in the world or instead hears their shapes or maybe its experience is something altogether different that we can’t even imagine because we have no such experience with which to imagine. It seems entirely reasonable to think that other creatures or even inanimate things may have experiential states, which are different than ours. Our brains’ hardware determines the experiential states in which we can imagine. And don’t forget, unless there is also a cognitive link to an experiential state, it cannot be known.
There is one other aspect of the darkened room analogy that I couldn’t assemble an aura of importance about but that is very important. I said it was an alien environment and that you didn’t recognize anything in it. That is not quite true. You recognized that it was yourself in the room, chained to the floor and that you had tennis balls. Suppose we were to take even those recognizable objects a way and then did away with gravity and all your tactile senses. I am sure that you have heard about black box experiments in which they put a person for an extended period of time and his/her mind becomes disoriented.
Considering the mind as a navigation system, couldn’t we expect it to break down? What would there be to process and is the mind not what it is processing? Of course there is a lot of internal memory that can be processed but that is not the designed purpose of the system. There is an intangible relationship of the mind to the environment that is essential to the processes of the mind. It is a gap that we could not expect a mind in a black box to fill for long. There is a unity of the mind and the environment such that our minds are complimentary functions of that relationship. It is information from the environment that forms the content of the mind. If it were possible to drop your mind into a telepathic gas cloud somewhere out in space it would soon become non-functional or begin to learn new content. The earth is a stage in which the mind is a part in the drama but without the stage its costume and all its lines are pointless. Finally, the stage itself is pointless. There are only relative roles being played by the actors. The mind is what it is because the world is what it is. It would have been a very different relationship if it had begun differently long ago. The experience of consciousness is the function of a navigation system. Though some of us may be navigating primarily through ideas our entire behavior finds its basis in navigating to survive.
If you will imagine all this in gray, as we did in the paper ‘PINNOCHIO: Thought’, you will be able to see it all as a dance in the sea of particles except for a very important detail. You are a part of the event. The content of your mind is merely an intangible representation of the world but beyond your mind you are also a material part of the event happening. That materiality is the substrate of your mind and it is invested by the intangible function of intelligence, which represents what is happening in the world and thinks about it. The function of intelligence perpetuates the life of the organism in which it has arisen. To do that, it is associated to a navigation system that represents the environment in patterns of your states of being creating the contents of your mind.
Experience just is experience (a physical state of being) and if it did not exist you would not have experience. It is because it is also the substrate for cognitive processes that you know about it. You can imagine ‘nothing’ because nothing is an idea but you can’t imagine the experience of nothing. Imagining experience requires experience. The world outside of our minds has no appearance because appearance is a construct predicated on experiential states in our brains. If it were not so, we would not be able to close our eyes and imagine seeing something in our minds. Ideas can be processed without experiential states but then we wouldn’t be aware of them experientially as inner speech or visual imaginings.
If you want to truly understand this then try to get beyond the egotistical ruse of being an observer. Get something that is flat and of matte appearance in a neutral tone (like green or brown) with no texture of color, hue or surface to distract you that is large enough to fill your vision. Stare at this surface at reading distance until you can come to grips with the fact that what you are looking at is not there but rather is a state in your brain. While your mind is processing data about an object, the object is content in the process but if you have negated everything about the functional role of the object (in this case the one at which you are staring) then it should reduce to pure experience. It is at that point that you should be able to realize experience is a state of your being. You are trying to make the leap from being an observer into being an experience. Being an observer is a relationship that overlays reality. Experience is not a relationship. It is a state. This is worth doing to understand what consciousness is from the bottom up. If you have already understood logically how our conscious world is constructed then your mind should be able to lead you to this jumping off point. The mind is process and cannot be experience nor can it make the last step to realizing experience but it can take you (you are the mind) there and abandon you for the moment that you need to realize experience for itself free of being an image in the mind. We can understand what we are.
Experience is all that there is that is real in our world. It is the media on which the mind formulates consciousness. Conscious images are formed in experiential states. The forms are a Map that represents the external environment. Everything that we consider to be the world is only our own mind’s analogy for the world. We experience the world because of this process and the world we experience is this process. It is an information process. We do not experience real things. Things only exist for us as the shapes of experiential states even if they are a tiger leaping at us or the arms of our lover. Consider the fact that this is the only world you have ever known. You haven’t been able to compare it to the real world. That possibility simply doesn’t exist because the world you know would not exist if it were not for intangible information processing being carried on a physical substrate within your skull.
If you wave your hand in front of your face, you will notice that there is a trailing image of your hand left over from the moments before the point at which you are looking at it. The reason for the trailing image is that the states representing where your hand was are still fading while your hand has moved to another position. Your real hand does not have a trailing image. Would we see motion if there were no trailing image? I don’t think neural science can answer this question satisfactorily yet. There are cells that have been recognized as motion detector cells but I don’t think it is clear as to how they fit into consciousness. Motion seems to be as much an idea as it is an event. What tells us that a blurred image of a hand is a moving hand and not simply a blurred thing? The blur disappears when the image stops moving. That would be a conceptual understanding of the blur implying something in motion. We might not be knowledgeably aware of the blur representing motion but we have certainly learned the concept unconsciously. To see motion, we have to experience the image of something being in more than one place at once, where it was and where it is, and its transiting from the first to the second place. Motion, in the way that we experience it, is something that can only be apprehended in a mental process where the system design has a fade time. Of course a mechanical system such as a motion detector can detect motion but to consciously experience motion implies a moving conscious experience. So here we have another characterization that the mind adds to the way that it represents the world. The motion that we perceive is not a characteristic of the world but is rather only a characteristic of the mind. Objects in the world move but not in the way that we perceive them to move.
So how far does this system bias go in distorting what the external world is really like or in creating the way that we experience our world? There is a sense of motion about our lives. We are involved in activities that are moving our organism from point A to point B. We even feel motion in our minds as we understand things. Is it only the system’s ability to hold onto the ‘moment before’ (and maybe its inability to have it fade instantly) that creates the sense of motion? It may be that the mind’s sense of motion and time are not real world concepts. I want to say frankly that I don’t understand time fundamentally. I am pointing out that the sense of time that the mind understands is a process that is peculiar to itself. It creates what it calls motion which is the foundation for its sense of time. It is only in the mind that an object can be moving from here to there. In reality it is either here or there or where it is while it is moving but it is not here moving to there. That is a product of the fade factor in the mind. The fade factor happens in the presentation phase of navigation but the motion it implies can then be reinforced by deduction in the response phase that remembers where something was in comparison to where it is.
It is also this sense of motion that gives the mind its ability to understand function. If it did not see things move it would be hard to imagine it understanding how one thing related dynamically to another. If we could not understand how things behaved then we could not anticipate events. We can imagine instinctual creatures reacting to the fade factor as motion but we can’t suppose that they can contemplate the passage of time or coordinate events. Time for our minds is more than mechanical fact. It is conceptual, too. It is a tool that we use to plan actions. We have created time in a way that makes it difficult to know what real world time really is.
Consciousness is not a system in a vacuum by any means. It is more like the executive department of the nervous organization of the organism. The conscious mind is a dynamic system that is responsible for gratifying the needs of the inner milieu of the organism and navigating the organism as a mobile entity in the environment in which the organism must survive. It is not directly involved with controlling the functions of the inner milieu but the organism’s internal conditions such as hunger, thirst, body temperature and fatigue are summarized and reported to it. It in turn is driven by these conditions to cause the entity of the organism to perform actions that will change or gratify those conditions. The mind primarily directs the activities of the whole organism. It does this through control of the musculoskeletal system.
In summary, I would like to draw a portrait of consciousness. The physical limits of our conscious experience are within our heads. Nothing reaches out from our heads to apprehend the world. Our sensory apparatuses glean information from cues in the environment but from that point on the information about the environment is presented as an analogy in a format that is peculiar to the brain. Nothing in our world is what it appears to be. All things in the landscape of our world are built from the fabric of experiences. Our world is a living biological process that is a navigation system.
Consciousness is a dynamic relationship driven by the need to gratify conditions that keep the body in equilibrium internally and within the environment. These needs are generated in the body and are summarized and reported to the mind where they are felt as drives and emotions and where they motivate one’s intelligence to devise action plans to gratify them. The mind contains a proprioceptive image of the body that intelligence identifies as the organism, which it is to serve. The environment is represented for intelligence in the Map, which presents the world dynamically in such away that the functions of things in the world can be observed. The mind learns the behavior of things so that it can anticipate changes in the environment while navigating the organism through it. Intelligence is dynamic information processing being driven by needs to organize responses to the conditions of the environment. It identifies the body image of the organism in which it arises as itself and the needs of the organism as its own. It thus becomes a cybernetic entity and the agent of the organism and views the world as different than itself. The world it relates to is the presentation phase of navigation in the mind but the ‘self’ as agent of the organism sees the presentation as the world that is external to itself the organism. It explains this by believing that it sees, hears and otherwise perceives the world, as it is where it is. The presentation phase is a good analogy for the world because what is presented is controlled by the information coming from the environment. The ‘self’ is not aware of itself as the response phase of navigation and so causes intelligence to second-guess itself through the subsystem of the ‘self’. There is no one to dispute it so the ‘self’ establishes itself in its beliefs as the mover and shaker that controls all the activities of the entity of the organism. The ‘self’ is an anomaly in the navigation system but the system accommodates its creation. More will be said about the ‘self’ in the next paper PINNOCHIO: Self. So this is how we come to be people in the world when in fact it is all information being processed by neurons in our heads.