Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts

Friday, December 5, 2014

The State of Consciousness: Meeting the Philosophers of Artificial Intelligence



Consciousness is our state of awareness and has been debated among theologians for a long time. John Locke discussed consciousness as perception that passes through the mind while Rene Descartes followed Cartesian Dualism when pondering the differences between physical and mental matter. No one has every truly defined, empirically broke down, or proven the existence of consciousness. I had the pleasure of meeting a group of philosophers to discuss the nature of consciousness in today’s world.

Of course I am not talking about sandal wearing theologians coming out from some past century to share their Socratic wisdom. Instead of unemployed philosophers the group was made of psychologists, computer engineers, and even a mathematician. They are an eclectic crew that ranged from individuals who wore t-shirts with formulas to those with proper business attire. Each attended with their own interest in the topic from a professional and hobbyist point of view.

The meeting was fast paced and gave each person just a little time to discuss their understanding and knowledge of the topics. Participants discussed the nature of consciousness, difference between mind and consciousness and its application to artificial intelligence.  The knowledge contained within this group of enthusiast far surpassed that which you will find on the street.

What is Consciousness?

The group attempted to answer question with a variety of different responses based upon their research and experience. Answers included comments such as outside of self, neuro nature, reflectiveness, greater than parts, universal, life force, subconscious, and awareness of right or wrong. It is a property that has a meaning beyond the individual entity.

Consolidated Definition: Consciousness is neurologically based intelligence and awareness that transcends oneself to greater understanding of the environment.

Mind vs. Conscious:

The beginning of the discussion started with an attempt to understand the difference between mind and consciousness but soon morphed into the hypothetical place where consciousness is first realized. They used terms like environmental adaptability, levels of consciousness, collective awareness, relatedness of mind and consciousness, and evolving into consciousness.

Consolidated Definition: Awareness is an evolving process that purposefully improves survival of oneself and one’s species through greater levels of awareness (knowledge and understanding of self within one's environment.).

Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness:

It is not currently believed that Artificial Intelligence has the ability to create consciousness but is at present stuck in programing and thinking. When machines become aware of their existence, survival, and form a species they will be considered to be living with consciousness and therefore engage in independent goal-directed behavior.  At such time, machines will have a level of “free will” and independence of thought beyond their programmers. This makes them a living species of a different breed and a new developmental trajectory.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

States of Conscious Awareness-Internal and External



People constantly seek to create higher levels of understanding and depth of thought. One of the purposes of higher education is to help people understand their world and encourage ways to critically think about it. A method of doing this is to become more aware of yourself and the world in which you live. This requires the ability to think about your premises and understand the way you think in order to remove as many fallacies as possible. More accurate thinking comes with higher levels of conscious awareness and is a sign of a person’s reflective intelligence.

The ability to understand one’s environment by being able to focus attention outward (consciousness) or inward toward oneself (self-consciousness) creates a higher form of understanding (Mead, 1934). As one becomes more aware of the environmental information and internal information they contain about themselves they move up in progression of understanding. This creates higher levels of accurate thinking that can be used to achieve goals. 

One develops such higher order thinking through their conscious awareness of themselves within their environment. One can define it as, “A conscious experience is reflexive in that it consists in part in awareness of itself” (Block, 2007, pp 8). It means that one is consciously aware when they can reflect on their experiences to gain a better understanding. 

One can describe this experience as meta-cognition or thinking about thinking. When one gets good at understanding their internal states they begin to have authoritative self-knowledge. This self-knowledge comes from thinking about thinking about one’s current thought as in the cognito-type reflections (Burge, 1988). In essence, one thinks about their previous thoughts in order to understand their current, past or future internal states. 

Introspection is the handmaiden of higher order thinking. According MacDonald (2008) when one can grasp the nature of one’s thoughts they can also grasp a chain of previous thoughts and introspect on them. The more aware one is of the data that go into those thoughts and various feelings that were associated with those thoughts the higher their state of conscious self-reflection. If one has multiple levels of such experiences and are aware of them through self-reflection they can come to more accurate thinking by rooting out bias.

Some people can go to a point of having meta-self-awareness which is one of the highest forms of consciousness. This meta-self-awareness affords an opportunity to create complex understandings of oneself as well as models of other people’s perceptions (Vogeley& Fink, 2003).  This extended consciousness affords an opportunity to understand others perceptions by reflecting on them and their behavior. It is an ability use that model to predict behavior and make more accurate choices in an environment full of people’s impressions.

Lau and Rosenthal (2011) argue that a high order conscious awareness is based on stronger mental representations of internal states of awareness. As one becomes more complex in their thinking they not only become more aware of themselves but also the world around them. This higher order of environmental understanding encourages survival in difficult situations. It helps to ensure that people make appropriate decisions based upon the internal and external information available to them and ensure accuracy of goal attainment by accurately predicting their environment.

Tips for Developing Higher Forms of Conscious Awareness:

-Understand yourself in your environment.

-Reflect on your past and use that information to make better choices in the future.

-Develop your emotional intelligence and understand where your feelings come from.

-Challenge your assumptions.

-Think about why you think something is true or not true.

-Realize the limitations of others and their perspectives.

Block, N. (2007). Consciousness, accessibility and the mesh between psychology and neuroscience.Behavior and Brain Sciences, 30.

Burge, T. (1988).Individualism and self-knowledge.Journal of Philosophy, 85.

Lau, H. & Rosenthal, D. (2011).Empirical support for higher-order theories of conscious awareness.Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15 (8).

MacDonald, C. (2008). Consciousness, self-consciousness, and authoritative self-knowledge.Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, cviii (3).

Vogeley, K & Fink, G. (2003). Neural correlates for first person perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7 (1).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: A Universe of Consciousness



The connections between matter and thought has been a debate for hundreds of years. Thought is a higher level of conscious form grown out of the natural development of human beings and their interaction with the environment. Matter is that which physically creates the biological structure by which thought can develop. Such matter developed out of our physical and historical existence in a need to create higher probabilities of survival. According to Darwinian perception, our very experience is constantly seeking advantages and adaptations to our environment. 

The book A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter becomes Imagination by Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi delves into this matter and consciousness connection. Like similar subject experts, they believe that neural connections in the neocortex create pathways by which we take individual images and connect them to develop consistent stories that both explain and predict our environments.  Those with higher levels of neocortical activity also have higher levels of intelligence as they are able to connect more experiences into a stream of consciousness.

More importantly, what we know as society comes from our shared language that helps to represent images that further create similarity in thought and conscious experience. The book does not move into this concept but it can be intuitively drawn that a society is a collection of people with shared streams of consciousness. It means that they have a shared string of images in their past that make them a unified cultural entity-a society. When these images and streams are significantly different, their sense of society and hence collective conscious experience is different. 

The brain makes connections within this neocortex depending on its development and experience. The more experience the brain has the more connections that are created to understand those experiences. New connections are created through cell division that helps us to become more aware of both patterns but also differences in our environments. The more successful we are able to distinguish these differences the more successful our brains are in creating pockets of knowledge through neural development. 

The book also discusses the concept of the World Knot. In its most basic form, the World Knot tries to untie the complex nature of how individual subjective experience relates to objective reality. It is believed that experimentation and research will be able to untie that knot someday. However, even research and its methodology is subjective at its core due to its cultural and developmental process. Perhaps the World Knot is really more of a collective knot whereby multiple perspectives and critical thinking create a more accurate understanding of our physical reality.

The book moves through the chapters of The World Knot, Consciousness and the Brain, Mechanisms of Consciousness, Dealing with Plethora, Untangling the Knot, and Observer Time. It is a collection and explanation of modern neuroscience and its theoretical explanation of consciousness. The book is written at a graduate level and a large bibliography for those seeking other sources.  It is coherent in its development but technical in the language. It is not suggested that those without a rudimentary understanding of psychology attempt to traverse its meaning without a theoretical and biological basic understanding of human life. 

Edelman, G. & Tononi, G. (2000). A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter becomes Imagination. NY: Basic Books.  ISBN: 978-0-465-01377-7
Price: $20
Pages: 250
Blog Ranking: 4.4

Author: Dr. Murad Abel

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