Consciousness at the Cutting Edge between World and Brain
The Interaction of Perception, Imagination, Action, Thought, and Language
ILLC, Department of Philosophy
University of Amsterdam
This book consists of three parts, which explore consciousness from different angles: First, from the philosophical point of view, showing the central tasks of consciousness for representation, intentionality, and for designing and following rules, as they have to be performed in order for language, understanding, and especially denotational semantics to be possible; second, from the perspective of connectionist and neuro-cognitive, especially neuro-dynamical approaches, which model, at least partially, how under a large-scale view the brain might work in achieving the central tasks of consciousness; and third, from a view which combines the philosophical with the neuro-dynamical approach in order to find and determine a standpoint about some disputed questions in consciousness research.
The first part consists of chapter 1, which deals with the function consciousness has, mainly with respect to language, thinking, intentionality, and the possibility to devise rules and norms and to learn and to follow these. The central task performed by consciousness is entertaining representations such that we can evaluate these under different points of view. An important strain of argumentation in this chapter is the difference between causal semantics and denotational semantics, and what role consciousness plays there in order to make intentionality of semantics possible. A further point of discussion is the nature of rules and norms and how they function in language and in the linguistic reconstruction of language. Furthermore two standpoints will be argued for, namely that consciousness is possible without language, and that free will is possible because of the special contribution of consciousness, which consists in providing representations of situations and actions such that comparison and judgement is possible.
The second part consists of chapter 2 and 3, which explore the contributions dynamic conceptual systems and connectionist models can make to an explanation of the nature and function of representations. Chapter 2 elaborates the possibilities of dynamic conceptual semantics and the possibilities and the shortcomings of plain connectionist models consisting just of input, output, and one hidden map of units. The shortcomings are evident with respect to modelling contiguity relationships, classification, and the understanding of basic sentences. Chapter 3 is the central chapter of the book, which shows how an architecture of connectionist maps with circuits of activation in principle works as a model for perception, imagination, and for understanding situations and basic sentences. The representations are percepts or imaginations of situations and of basic sentence inscriptions, i.e. of sentence utterances or written instances. Central is the notion of an episodic map on which activation circuits involving conceptual maps and sensorial fields get expressed in the form of the representations, which constitute consciousness. The material basis of episodic maps are the primary sensorial and pre-motor fields, emotional fields, and also proprioceptic fields, which express feelings concerning our own body. Sensorial fields of the different modalities, or sensorial maps, receive input from the respective sensors. Pre-motor maps form gestures for realising the motor output. These maps have connections to higher order maps, conceptual maps, in which groups of neurones indicate when the system has classified and ordered input with respect to previous input under similarity or contiguity relationships. From the higher maps activation is sent back to the primary fields. Such circuits of activation, namely those that hit the primary sensorial, emotional, and pre-motor fields, receive an expression in consciousness. They have some short-term stability in that the firing of the neurones involved is co-ordinated in a certain oscillation. By hitting the primary fields in this way the phenomenal qualities and forms are brought about which constitute representations of situations, objects, and linguistic utterances. These episodes are the conscious expressions of the primary fields in their interaction with the conceptual maps. The role of episodic and conceptual maps in understanding situations and sentences is explicated in the architecture of maps, in which smaller and larger circuits form the constituent structure of our perception and imagination of situations and utterances of basic sentences. Special attention is given to the possibility of integrating an episodic memory into the architecture, such that current remembering consists in creating episodes on the episodic maps, organised from out the episodic memory map in interaction with conceptual maps. In chapter 4 the ability to evaluate representations, and herewith the relationship between understanding and interpretation (in the modeltheoretic sense), is elaborated on as a special capacity of consciousness. Thinking is seen as manipulating representations on episodic maps, with constraints given by the control through evaluation. Thinking and judging is discussed with respect to the question of whether all thinking and judging requires consciousness, and whether all thinking has to be in language.
The third part of the book consists of 4 discussions of controversial questions in consciousness research. The issues are whether consciousness is an internal monitoring device of brain states, or rather a monitoring of the external, whether all conscious states involve thought or judgement, whether there are different kinds of consciousness, and whether there is a one-one correspondence between (a certain kind of) brain states and conscious states. The different arguments are discussed and a standpoint is taken, derived from the evaluation of the arguments and the position on consciousness developed in this book, namely that consciousness is a product of the episodic maps, i.e. of primary sensorial fields in their interaction with conceptual maps, and that therefore all consciousness consists of episodes in the form of representations, with or without their evaluations.
Table of contents
1. Introduction: The case of blindsight and the episodic character of consciousness 1
2. Consciousness is necessary for denotational semantics and following rules. 7
3. Consciousness is necessary for having general knowledge and structural semantics 19
4. Consciousness is necessary for an intentional creation and improvement of language 24
5. Linguistic ability is not a generative system of rules 27
6. Linguistic theory formation is rational reconstruction 31
7. Linguistic structuring is flexible and is not fixed by a single set of rules 42
8. Learning from rules is possible via the construction of examples 46
9. Consciousness and intentionality are prerequisites for cognition and knowledge 52
10. There is conscious thought without language 57
11. Free will has to be learned on the level of consciousness 60
2.1 The non-classical cognitive model 72
2.2 Projecting Structures of Dynamic Conceptual Semantics onto
Structures on Activation Patterns in
2.2.1 The structure of Dynamic Conceptual Semantics 78
2.2.2 The desired structural properties of neuronal network processing. 92
2.3 The problem of systematicity and binding in simple connectionist networks 101
3. Conclusions with respect to a one-map architecture 108
3.1 Episodic and conceptual maps 111
3.2 Understanding situations and linguistic expressions 122
3.2.1 Understanding a situation 127
3.2.2 Understanding a sentence 129
3.3 The Binding-operation on different levels of description 134
3.4 Episodic memory in an architecture of neural maps 136
4.1 The relationship between understanding and interpretation 143
4.2 Ways of thinking. Thought, Imagery, and Language 150
5.1 Is consciousness an internal monitoring device of brain states, or rather a monitoring of the external? 161
5.2 Do all conscious states involve thought/judgement? 172
5.3 Are there different kinds of consciousness? 179
5.4 Is there a 1-1 correspondence between brain states and conscious states? 188
This chapter discusses the role of consciousness in the distinctions between reception and perception, between a purely causal and a referential or denotational semantics, and between linguistic ability and linguistic analysis, including representations and rules. The first two topics are treated by designing several thought experiments based on the phenomenon of blindsight. It is argued that reception, causal semantics, and linguistic ability do not require consciousness, while a denotational semantics, a notion of truth and reality, linguistic analysis, forming representations and rules, and following these require consciousness and imagination, like any design activity does. They presuppose a linguistic or a picturing medium in which they are formed. The medium is interpreted, i.e. connected to the world, via a neural network background established in training as our linguistic ability, which does not contain symbolic or picturing representations. Rather it functions as a system of dispositions in the ability to interpret pictorial and linguistic representations and rules. Dispositions towards the production of certain neural activation patterns are implicit in the connectivity between neurones. They are not language-like or picture-like representations. It is further pointed out that rules and representations can only indirectly function in changing or forming linguistic ability by serving in consciously constructing series of examples, which in learning processes can be a basis, a training set, on which linguistic abilities then are formed or reformed.
In the previous chapter the relationship between denotational semantics and causal semantics was at issue in the discussion about the roles of consciousness. Denotational semantics, a semantics from a realistic point of view and with normative constraints is the heart of interpretation of linguistic utterances. From a cognitive point of view not primarily interpretation, rather understanding is the topic. Our goal now is to make some formal assumptions about the mapping of the cognitive structures of understanding on processes and states of the brain, such that there we can speak of structures with a degree of coarseness that is appropriate for discussing the causal backbone of cognition. The connectionist neural networks discussed in this chapter are fairly abstract models of some structurally relevant aspects of brain processes. We formulate desiderata for these, which then can be transferred onto the brain, leading to hypotheses about global brain structures.
In this chapter a formal relationship shall be postulated and spelled out between, on the one hand side, understanding of situations and basic sentences, and on the other hand, global neural network activity that models the causal background of understanding in an appropriate coarseness in the brain. Understanding is couched in the model of Dynamic Conceptual Semantics (Bartsch 1998), which will be explained presently. Especially we will try to constrain the relationship between the level of experiential concepts in Dynamic Conceptual Semantics (dcs) and concept formation in distributively representing connectionist neural models (cnm). Both approaches model learning of concepts, especially linguistically expressed concepts, and at the same time they imply theories of understanding situations in perception, and of understanding simple sentences that describe situations. dcs gives a logico-philosophical reconstruction of concept formation and understanding on the cognitive level of conscious phenomena, namely on growing sets of data which are experienced situations. cnm tries to model on an abstract level of neuronal connections and activation patterns the learning of classifications and associative connections of contiguity in perception and behaviour, also linguistic behaviour, as generalisations and associations over sequences of examples. Special attention shall be given to the problem of syntactic systematicity, which is a notorious problem in cnm.
In the previous section it was shown that connectionist models using only a single map for the generalisation of input data are not able to provide for semantic transparency, systematicity, and binding. It was suggested that an architecture of maps with interaction circuits between them would be able to fulfil the semantic desiderata. Also results in neurological-cognitive research suggest such an architecture.
The basic distinction we shall make is the one between one or more episodic maps on the one hand side, and several layers of conceptual maps, ordered according to the generality of concepts these maps achieve, on the other. On the episodic maps happens all that is conscious, namely perceptions of situations, including perception of linguistic utterances, and imaginations of situations and utterances. On these maps, sensory and conceptual activity meet in consciousness, namely in perception and imagination. On the other hand, everything that happens merely on the conceptual maps is unconscious, i.e. below the level of consciousness. Even thinking, as far as it emerges in consciousness, is couched in episodes, namely in the form of imagined situations or inscriptions of sentences, pictures or graphic schemata. Schemata are compositions of linguistic and pictorial representations, which serve to represent, to hold and to control in consciousness large networks of logical and conceptual relationships. The episodic maps are the ones that provide for phenomenal content due to their intricate relationship with the perceptual system. Everything that is conscious must have phenomenal content, i.e. it must be couched in some perceptual or proprioceptual medium.
On the episodic maps phenomenal content is provided by including parts of the perceptual and proprioceptual system, especially feeling of our own motor activity. The phenomenal contents, being shaped by conceptual activity, make up feeling, perception, and imagination. The phenomenal contents are rooted in the sensory capacities of the episodic maps and include to a lower or higher degree categorisation and identification, which consists in an interaction between activation on the episodic maps and on the conceptual maps. I take it that phenomenal content never is without at least some form or conceptualisation. It contains categorisation through the involvement of generalising maps, by which a perception or feeling is shaped via the neural network by the effects of previously experienced similar episodes: because of the trained, i.e. weakened or strengthened, connections, activation from an activation from a new instance of sensory reception travels most easily towards those neurones on the episodic and conceptual maps which had been previously activated by similar episodes. Hereby the sensory input of the new episodes get classified together with those previous examples, and hereby becomes a perception, a perceived episode.
As we know from brain research, there are different maps or regions for our different senses or modalities of perception: vision, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and also balance, motor and other proprioceptual experience. And some of the maps are compounds consisting of several maps; for example, vision consists of a primary region through which all visual input goes, and more specialised regions such as a region for colours, a region for shapes, spatial relationships, and a region for motion and some shape and locality aspects. The specialised regions are inter-connected with the primary region. We can assume that on the primary visual region visual episodes are momentarily represented by the activation pattern caused by the visual input and the processing results achieved by the specialised visual areas. These results are categorisations as to colour, shape and movement, and they are received back on the primary visual region, which in this recurrent process becomes to be the map of visual episodes. A sensorial map, i.e. an area receiving sensoric stimuli, in interaction with categorising maps, which generalise over the different aspects of the stimuli, is called an episodic map. Thus a sensorial map is not by itself an episodic map; rather it is an episodic map only as long as it stands in interaction with categorising, i.e. conceptual maps. These are firstly modality specific conceptual maps, creating modality specific episodes, such as visual episodes, auditory episodes, etc. And these are secondly higher conceptual maps, which categorise and identify individuals of our normal ontology of situations and entities. The episodic map of representing situations and objects according to our normal ontology consists thus of at least two spaces, whereby the space of modality specific episodic maps is embedded into the space of the normal ontology map. The smaller circuits, which run between the primary sensorial areas and the conceptual maps categorising aspects of the sensoric input in a modality specific way, are embedded into the larger circuits between the layer of conceptual maps of individual concepts and kind concepts and the sensoric input. There is not just a one-way path from input categorised in a sensory specific way to the higher categorisation according to the concepts of normal ontology. Rather reciprocal fibres also make the higher conceptualisation play back to the modality specific conceptualisation by injecting into the perception of the received sensoric data also such features that are imagined due to the general and specific knowledge couched in our concepts of individuals and kinds. In this way we do not just perceive certain clearly sensed parts of the front side of a house, but we see the whole front of the house, which even gets completed more or less accurately to the whole house by our power of imagination.
In this chapter it is argued that thinking presupposes consciousness, because it deals with representations and their evaluations. It is shown that this further leads to the assumption that thinking has to take place in the medium of imagery or of language, or in both. In whatever medium, thinking takes place on episodic maps. In consequence, the notions of a hidden mind and the unconscious are reduced to neurological structures and processes. A hidden mind as a collection of representations and rules for manipulating them just does not exist. Representations are not hidden, rather they are in consciousness emerging from episodic maps in their interaction with conceptual maps, taking place in activation circuits between these maps. Procedures for manipulating representations can be thought of as partially learned from publicly endorsed relationships between perceived representations, such as they occur in inferences, substitutions, and other kinds of transformations. As learned procedures on public representations, on objects and on actions, they are parts of the procedural memory implicit in neuronal connection strengths. This might be so for relationships between linguistic representations, such as the ones between declarative sentences and the corresponding questions. Such transformational relationships can be learned as patterns. Other relationships between representations, such as inference rules, for example modus ponens, can be exemplified and experienced in reflection on the conscious results of the inclusion, intersection, and associative relationships between activation patterns and circuits, and the respective implications caused in the perception of situations. Such a cognitive base for logical relationships between representations, and also for many substitution relationships, can be the reason for an a priori knowledge about their public endorsement. In such cases, a public rule is not a mere convention, rather it is cognitively based.
The purpose of this chapter is first to show that judgement must be conscious and even presupposes self-consciousness. Judgement is entertaining a representation together with a truth claim, substantiated by a truth evaluation of basic sentences with respect to the world, in coherence with narratives and theories describing the world. Perception is the basis for the evaluation of basic sentences, and I shall show that perception presupposes a notion of self as being in space and time. I shall reconstruct the experience of space and time from out proprioception in co-ordination with self-perception from the outside. By being in space and time a perceived situation, and a percept generally, is embedded in a coherent way into the contiguity of space and time, which can be partially described by narratives and theories. Secondly, by discussing interpretation and evaluation of sentences and representations in general, this chapter provides a background for examining the relationship between language and thought, and especially between language and the content of propositional attitudes.
Interpretation binds understanding of sentences to the world in acts of reference and evaluation. It is the public application of the result of understanding, and subject to public control. The public control on this application indirectly constrains our process of understanding such that it does conform to the public outcomes of reference and evaluation.
In the last chapter an architecture of maps was proposed in order to model the perception of situations and the understanding of positive basic sentences. This understanding of basic sentences enables us to interpret them with respect to real and possible worlds, and it enables us to understand and interpret complex sentences. Interpretation involves understanding and establishing referential relationships to real situations and, generally, to the world. Understanding is a matter of conceptual semantics, interpretation a matter of denotational, realistic semantics.
Interpretation is a conscious operation involving control, which presupposes linguistic and conceptual semantic representations. These are the conscious expressions of activation circuits that involve linguistically specified and situational episodic maps within the neuronal architecture. Hereby the situational episodes that serve to evaluate the sentence as true or false must be perceived episodes. A basic sentence is judged as true if the conceptual-situational part of the process of understanding gets embedded into the process of perception, including the interaction circuits between conceptual maps and sensorial areas, by which the latter come to function as episodic maps. In the case of such a completed embedding, the perceived situation is a satisfaction situation of the sentence.
In this chapter the position on consciousness, neuronal network architecture, perception, imagination, and language, which has been developed in the preceding chapters, will be applied in the discussion about some controversial issues in consciousness research, namely the questions 1. whether consciousness is an internal monitoring device of brain states, or of the external results of brain activities, 2. whether all conscious states do involve thought or judgement, 3. whether there are different kinds of consciousness, and 4. whether there is a 1-1 correspondence between brain states and conscious states. Contributions and positions concerning these questions will be discussed and the argumentation will be evaluated. Concluding, a stand point with respect to each question will be derived on the basis of the argumentations given and from the implications of the position developed in this essay.
The main thesis of this book has been that consciousness arises by an interaction between primary sensory fields and conceptual maps in resonance circuits. These synchronised circuits of activation constitute and episodic map. This thesis was reached as a result firstly via a discussion about blindsight phenomena, causal and denotational semantics, and the functions of consciousness in judgement and other acts involving evaluation (chapter 1), such as planning, designing, and employing free will. Secondly the result was reached via a discussion of what understanding basic sentences amounts to, and what the shortcomings of simple connectionist models are with respect to modelling understanding (chapter 2), and it was worked out in some detail for perception and understanding of situations and basic sentences (chapter 3).
The position reached about the nature of consciousness takes into account that all consciousness is episodic. A primary sensorial, motoric, or emotional field, when involved in such a circuit activation is called an episodic map. We can then say that consciousness arises on such episodic maps. The episodes are episodes of situations or episodes of linguistic inscriptions, spoken or written or signed otherwise. The constituent structure of situations and of linguistic inscriptions was modelled as a temporally induced architecture of smaller and larger activation circuits, which when hitting a sensorial field, give rise to representations, which are conscious. The notion "representation" is restricted to conscious phenomena. At the same time, this result is strongly supported by research and modelling in neurological cognitive theories, to which reference is made throughout the book (especially in chapters 3 and 5). Ways of thinking and their relationship to consciousness are described within the model developed. Thinking, as far as it is conscious, is seen as manipulating representations under the point of view of evaluation. Thoughts are the results of such processes; they are representations, and herewith conscious phenomena (chapter 4). Thus, there are no thoughts without consciousness. Thoughts are either representations on linguistically specialised episodic maps, or on situational episodic maps, or on both together. The essential feature of all thought is that it is couched in aspectualised representations, whether in outer or inner speech sentences of some language or in aspectualised pictures or images.
Memory ( cf. chapter 3 and 5) is either conceptual, i.e. generalising, or episodic. The so-called declarative memory is episodic, whereby situations or linguistic inscriptions are remembered. When we remember something, an indicator of an episode, being a certain neuronal assembly located in a temporal order with other indicators within the memory map, is activated from out other such indicators, or from out indicators on conceptual or emotional maps, which in turn might be activated by some linguistic or situational input that reminds us on something we experienced in the past. The activation on the memory map in turn activates those neuronal assemblies in the sensorial, motoric or emotional fields which where involved in the original episode, and it activates those indicators on conceptual maps to which it is strongly connected, which are indicators of spatial and temporal relationships and of other relationships, and of one-place concepts, which were involved in the original episode. These enter into activation circuits with the neuronal assemblies in the respective sensorial fields, addressed directly from out the memory. In this way we have reconstructed the remembered episode, more or less accurately. Remembering is a way of imagining; but it is not just initiated from out the conceptual maps with maybe some emotional maps involved. Rather it also includes the space-time indicative pattern of a specific episode which was fixed by the original temporary connection of the original episodic activation on a sensory field, including its spatial and temporal order, to some neurones in the memory field.
The thesis about the episodic character of consciousness has then been confronted with several controversial issues in consciousness research and served there to take a position within these ongoing discussions (chapter 5).
The first issue pertains to the question whether consciousness is an internal monitoring device of brain states, or rather a monitoring of the external. The answer tends to the later: the external as we perceive it and reconstruct it in theories is monitored. Likewise designs, plans, and other imaginations, as well as linguistic representations and thoughts are monitored and evaluated. They are all of the same kind as our representations of the external, namely representations on the level of consciousness. There is no use in trying to look at brain states, what we anyhow cannot do, except as something seen as external in neuro-physiological research. We cannot monitor our own brain states, though we can monitor our state of mind, i.e. what is in conscious. We then don't look into our heads, rather we are just experiencing our surroundings and our theoretical reconstructions of our natural, social, and cultural world, and possible worlds of these kinds. We evaluate and monitor these, and not states of our brain.
The second controversy is whether all conscious states involve thought or judgement. The answer depends on what is meant by thought and judgement. In a narrow sense, thought and judgement are in terms of propositions, which are understood sentences, i.e. linguistic representations together with the circuits containing the conceptual activations that go with these representations. As judgements these representations are evaluated for truth or falsehood. According to this narrow sense, we must conclude that there are conscious states that are not thoughts or judgements. These are situational perceptions, images, designs on the one hand side, and emotions, motoric gestures, bodily feelings or proprioceptions, on the other hand. If we take thought and judgement in a broad sense as including all these kinds of representations, the answer would be that all conscious states involve thought or judgement. Since all these representations include some categorising or conceptualising activity, they are hereby aspectualised, and this they have in common with propositions. However, instead of overextending the notions of thought and judgement too far, we rather take as an position regarding this issue, that all conscious states involve representations, and herewith are aspectualised.
The third issue is whether there are different kinds of consciousness. There has been claimed that there are phenomenal consciousness and so-called access-consciousness. This position is typical for the modular picture of the brain as a central computer for cognitive processing, which results in access-consciousness, and perceptive and motoric modules for the input and the output. What is merely perceived is in this vision not yet cognitively processed and thus is part of phenomenal consciousness. The position developed in this book is a negation of this modular computer metaphor. It rather is argued that all perception is automatically categorised to some degree and thus contains the features of access-consciousness. All perceptions, imaginations, feelings have a representational character in that they are aspectualised by lower or higher categorisation. On the other hand there never is pure access-consciousness, because every conscious state needs a phenomenal medium in which the respective representation is couched; the phenomenal qualities can only be provided by sensorial, pre-motoric and emotional fields, which become episodic maps by their interaction with categorising maps. An important point is that the notion of a hidden representation, used by many cognitive psychologists, is seen as senseless. On conceptual maps we have no representations of concepts or propositions, rather merely indicators of concepts, i.e. indicators for growing and stabilising sets of examples, that make up a concept. We are never conscious of these indicators or of concepts; we are merely conscious of their examples, which have phenomenal qualities and are presented and represented on episodic maps. Thus there is only one kind of consciousness, and this is episodic consciousness.
The last issue treated is whether there is a 1-1 correspondence between brain states and conscious states. The final answer has been that there is a certain kind of brains states, including processes, which corresponds with conscious states. These brain states are resonance circuits that involve both, sensorial fields and conceptual maps. These circuits have a constituent structure of smaller and larger circuits. Consciousness hereby is not merely a question of a certain system or structure of a cognitive system, but requires also certain substantial properties, as we find them in sensorial, motoric, emotional and proprioceptic fields, which are able to provide for the phenomenal qualities.
Concluding I want to address the question of whether this model of consciousness which is conform to the neurological background, has any bearing to philosophy? Certainly, no reduction of consciousness or specific conscious phenomena to neuro-physiological processes or states has been arrived at, or even has been intended. Philosophy has its place it always has had; description and analysis of conscious phenomena is primary to any description of brain phenomena. Also these are, of course phenomena, as we see them according to our scientific questions asked and methods used. And furthermore, the brain phenomena that correspond to conscious states and phenomena represented in consciousness are only understood as such corresponding brain states and processes by seeing them in their relationship to the conscious phenomena to which they are taken to correspond, on the basis of contrast analysis in brain scanning research. Thus, phenomenal analysis is primary to what we can learn from brain research. On the other hand, we should be aware of not thinking of phenomenal analysis as looking into our heads, or introspection. We cannot really look into ourselves; we can't see anything there. So-called introspection or analysis of our internal states is not more than rational reconstruction and theorising about our overt behaviour, our surroundings, and our conscious modifications and manipulations of these under the point of view of evaluations, feelings, desires and preferences. All these are represented and thus open to us on the episodic maps. To turn ones view onto ones inner life is not more than looking at the external and its modifications which we can imagine and design following unconsciously our dispositions, and controlling and reconstructing these according to evaluations with respect to conscious beliefs, feelings, desires, and preferences.
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