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Consciousness
#1

Consciousness
@DLJ

I promised you a summary of a book I was reading, but thought I would post it in a new string rather than continuing in the free will discussion.

This is a short summary of points from the book Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience by S. A. Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.  The professor calls his hypothesis the “attention schema theory.”

1) Early in the book, the author describes the evolution of the brain in some detail:

The tectum was “evolution’s first central controller of attention in the vertebrate brain,” where visual information was sorted into a literal map. 

Signal boosting and lateral inhibition developed to sharpen visual images, and laid the basis for global sorting and competition among separate signals.

The ability to overtly orient sense organs to stimuli developed early on in jawless fish. 

Covert attention – which developed in reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals – was the ability to focus selectively internally, regardless of overt orientation.  The cortex enables covert attention. 

Predators developed computationally intensive attention.

2) Here are a few definitions which the author scattered throughout the book:

Consciousness “is an ancient, highly simplified, internal model, honed by evolution to serve two main useful functions.”  These include a self model to help control one’s own attention, and an ability to model attentional states to predict behaviors in others, as a catalyst for social cognition.

“Consciousness is related to the massive integration of information throughout the brain.”  In other words, the author is describing an “information-adjacent” idea of consciousness as “an inevitable by-product of processing information,” which only requires models of objects in the world, a model of the self, and an attention schema (model) which computes the relationship between the self and the objects around it.

“Attention is a layered set of mechanisms – a data-handling method – whereas consciousness is an inner experience that we claim to have.”

3) Here is what the attention schema theory asserts:

Someone who has lost a limb can experience a phantom limb because he still has an operating model for that limb in his brain.  (British admiral Lord Nelson, who lost an arm in the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, took his own phantom limb as proof that he had a soul or a ghost.)  The reverse is also possible.  People who have strokes which damage their brain’s model for a limb may suffer from somatoparaphrenia, or the loss of sensation from the limb.

“I see a close analogy between a phantom limb and consciousness – between the body schema and the attention schema.  One is the ghost in the body and the other is the ghost in the head.  They are both simulations.  They belong to different ends of the same object – a multipart model of the self.” [It should be noted that although the body schema has been proven to exist, the attention schema is still hypothetical.]

“The attention schema theory is a kind of illusionism.  In the theory, the most perplexing property of consciousness – its ethereal, metaphysical nature – is not real.  We think we have that property only because we are misinformed by an imperfect internal model.”

“In the attention schema theory, the whole point of awareness [consciousness] is to give the brain a running account of attention.”  It monitors attention.  “By treating attention as a relational property of the world that is worth modeling, the brain constructs a central connector, the attention schema, to which all other information sets in the range of your attention will necessarily attach.”  The attention schema is therefore a simplified model of the self in the world, a “naive self model.”

The author proposes that the temporo-parietal junction (inferior parietal lobe) is the most likely location for the attention schema because it is involved with computations about consciousness.  “It is part of a network that builds a construct, a model, that informs the brain about what consciousness is.”  Attention-related networks include the dorsal attention network, the ventral attention network, the salience network, the control network, and the theory-of-mind network.

The theory makes the following predictions: If the part of the brain with the attention schema was surgically removed, it would result in an inability to regulate attention, an inability to build social models of others’ minds, and an inability to understand questions about consciousness.  The results would be similar to hemispatial neglect, when people stop perceiving half of their visual field and even can’t perceive the lack.

“If the attention schema theory is correct, then consciousness as we humans understand it probably appeared early, maybe as early as 300 million years ago.”

4) The book is best when it is providing miscellaneous information from neuroscience.  For instance:

The prefrontal cortex is “a natural candidate for the theater of consciousness.”  It is “an extremely high-level processor of information.”  It is highly flexible.  “Prefrontal neurons can take on any properties, depending on the task at hand.”  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is “the ‘working memory’ part of the brain.”  The cortex is an attention machine.  Information moves through hierarchical levels of increasingly selected information.  However, it’s damage doesn’t result in the loss of consciousness, but rather in difficulties planning and switching between tasks.

Complete consciousness requires an interaction between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex.  The thalamus is the gateway to the cortex.  Together they are called the thalamo-cortical system.
    
With our theory-of-mind ability, “we attribute emotions, intentions, agendas, beliefts – the whole range of mental content – to each other.”  It arises with the need to understand others’ covert attention in social groupings, and includes the abilities to interpret focus, cues, knowledge, body language, facial expressions, words, and so on.  “Our ability to have a subjective experience of anything at all and to attribute subjective experience to others, is of such basic utility that it may be shared across a vast range of the animal kingdom.”

According to psychologist J. J. Gibson, opportunities for action in our environment, which draw our attention in particular, are called “affordances.”  “Intentional stance” is the conceptualization Daniel Dennett used.

In the 1980s, Bernard Baars came up with the global workspace theory of consciousness, which was later elaborated on by Stan Dehaene.  Consciousness was considered “fame in the brain” as Daniel Dennett described it.  The theory defines the information in the workspace as in consciousness, but the author sees this as merely descriptive rather than explanatory.  “You need an internal model that describes cortical attention.”  The author asserts that complexity, covert attention, and the global workspace are not enough.

Blindsight studies show that attention is a different property than consciousness.  “Attention could exist when the mechanisms of consciousness were broken.”  However, “in the absences of awareness, attention does not seem to work entirely normally, consistent with it losing a part of its control mechanism.”  For this reason, it’s hard to pry consciousness from attention.  

Similarly, emotions can be experienced outside of consciousness.  The hypothalamus, amygdala, and bottom-most part of the prefrontal cortex are all involved in creating and interpreting emotions.

“The human brain contains about 86 billion neurons.  It may contain about 100 trillion synapses, possibly even 10 times as many.”  “The brain contains hundreds, possibly thousands of different kinds of synapses.”  “The brain is packed with other cells that outnumber neurons 10 to 1,” and the functions of those cells are not yet well-understood.  “Glia turn out to have properties directly related to the processing of information.”

“It doesn’t take much to disturb the normal balance of the brain.  Just a tract of certain drugs can cause pain, confusion, hallucinations, and seizures.”

5) Chapter 8 was titled “Conscious Machines” and Chapter 9 “Uploading Minds”:

Just as scientists have mapped the human genome, they may someday map the human “connectome” in enough detail to mechanically or virtually reproduce the brains of individuals, although at great expense and difficulty.

Having defined consciousness as an over-simplified model of the brain, really the brain just telling itself it is conscious when it really isn’t, the author saw no real barriers other than technical problems in creating conscious machines and even in uploading minds to mechanical or virtual systems.  “Sooner or later, probably later, people’s minds will be lifted from the biological brain and migrated to an artificial format.” 

The last few chapters of his book therefore read like ideas for science fiction novels, with possibilities of spaceships traveling to other planets but manned by uploaded humans who can either live in a virtual environment or in mechanical bodies which can be turned off for the long periods of time involved.  The author also imagined a scenario in which a wealthy individual paid to have his mind uploaded to a machine and woke disappointed from the failed procedure even while his duplicate was elated by its success.

6) My critique:

I personally think philosopher John Searle already convincingly argued against the idea that consciousness is nothing but a concomitant of information processing with his Chinese Room thought experiment.  Graziano takes the metaphysical interpretation of consciousness as a biologically-based over-simplification rather than as a culturally-based misinterpretation of the subjective experiences of consciousness.  He failed to understand how subjective experiences bootstrapped evolutionarily important responses in living creatures, and therefore failed to appreciate how life was necessary for their existence.
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#2

Consciousness
(11-01-2019, 04:32 PM)Alan V Wrote: @DLJ

I promised you a summary of a book I was reading, but thought I would post it in a new string rather than continuing in the free will discussion.

This is a short summary of points from the book Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience by S. A. Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.  The professor calls his hypothesis the “attention schema theory.”

1) Early in the book, the author describes the evolution of the brain in some detail:

The tectum was “evolution’s first central controller of attention in the vertebrate brain,” where visual information was sorted into a literal map. 

Signal boosting and lateral inhibition developed to sharpen visual images, and laid the basis for global sorting and competition among separate signals.

The ability to overtly orient sense organs to stimuli developed early on in jawless fish. 

Covert attention – which developed in reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals – was the ability to focus selectively internally, regardless of overt orientation.  The cortex enables covert attention. 

Predators developed computationally intensive attention.

2) Here are a few definitions which the author scattered throughout the book:

Consciousness “is an ancient, highly simplified, internal model, honed by evolution to serve two main useful functions.”  These include a self model to help control one’s own attention, and an ability to model attentional states to predict behaviors in others, as a catalyst for social cognition.

“Consciousness is related to the massive integration of information throughout the brain.”  In other words, the author is describing an “information-adjacent” idea of consciousness as “an inevitable by-product of processing information,” which only requires models of objects in the world, a model of the self, and an attention schema (model) which computes the relationship between the self and the objects around it.

“Attention is a layered set of mechanisms – a data-handling method – whereas consciousness is an inner experience that we claim to have.”

3) Here is what the attention schema theory asserts:

Someone who has lost a limb can experience a phantom limb because he still has an operating model for that limb in his brain.  (British admiral Lord Nelson, who lost an arm in the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, took his own phantom limb as proof that he had a soul or a ghost.)  The reverse is also possible.  People who have strokes which damage their brain’s model for a limb may suffer from somatoparaphrenia, or the loss of sensation from the limb.

“I see a close analogy between a phantom limb and consciousness – between the body schema and the attention schema.  One is the ghost in the body and the other is the ghost in the head.  They are both simulations.  They belong to different ends of the same object – a multipart model of the self.” [It should be noted that although the body schema has been proven to exist, the attention schema is still hypothetical.]

“The attention schema theory is a kind of illusionism.  In the theory, the most perplexing property of consciousness – its ethereal, metaphysical nature – is not real.  We think we have that property only because we are misinformed by an imperfect internal model.”

“In the attention schema theory, the whole point of awareness [consciousness] is to give the brain a running account of attention.”  It monitors attention.  “By treating attention as a relational property of the world that is worth modeling, the brain constructs a central connector, the attention schema, to which all other information sets in the range of your attention will necessarily attach.”  The attention schema is therefore a simplified model of the self in the world, a “naive self model.”

The author proposes that the temporo-parietal junction (inferior parietal lobe) is the most likely location for the attention schema because it is involved with computations about consciousness.  “It is part of a network that builds a construct, a model, that informs the brain about what consciousness is.”  Attention-related networks include the dorsal attention network, the ventral attention network, the salience network, the control network, and the theory-of-mind network.

The theory makes the following predictions: If the part of the brain with the attention schema was surgically removed, it would result in an inability to regulate attention, an inability to build social models of others’ minds, and an inability to understand questions about consciousness.  The results would be similar to hemispatial neglect, when people stop perceiving half of their visual field and even can’t perceive the lack.

“If the attention schema theory is correct, then consciousness as we humans understand it probably appeared early, maybe as early as 300 million years ago.”

4) The book is best when it is providing miscellaneous information from neuroscience.  For instance:

The prefrontal cortex is “a natural candidate for the theater of consciousness.”  It is “an extremely high-level processor of information.”  It is highly flexible.  “Prefrontal neurons can take on any properties, depending on the task at hand.”  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is “the ‘working memory’ part of the brain.”  The cortex is an attention machine.  Information moves through hierarchical levels of increasingly selected information.  However, it’s damage doesn’t result in the loss of consciousness, but rather in difficulties planning and switching between tasks.

Complete consciousness requires an interaction between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex.  The thalamus is the gateway to the cortex.  Together they are called the thalamo-cortical system.
    
With our theory-of-mind ability, “we attribute emotions, intentions, agendas, beliefts – the whole range of mental content – to each other.”  It arises with the need to understand others’ covert attention in social groupings, and includes the abilities to interpret focus, cues, knowledge, body language, facial expressions, words, and so on.  “Our ability to have a subjective experience of anything at all and to attribute subjective experience to others, is of such basic utility that it may be shared across a vast range of the animal kingdom.”

According to psychologist J. J. Gibson, opportunities for action in our environment, which draw our attention in particular, are called “affordances.”  “Intentional stance” is the conceptualization Daniel Dennett used.

In the 1980s, Bernard Baars came up with the global workspace theory of consciousness, which was later elaborated on by Stan Dehaene.  Consciousness was considered “fame in the brain” as Daniel Dennett described it.  The theory defines the information in the workspace as in consciousness, but the author sees this as merely descriptive rather than explanatory.  “You need an internal model that describes cortical attention.”  The author asserts that complexity, covert attention, and the global workspace are not enough.

Blindsight studies show that attention is a different property than consciousness.  “Attention could exist when the mechanisms of consciousness were broken.”  However, “in the absences of awareness, attention does not seem to work entirely normally, consistent with it losing a part of its control mechanism.”  For this reason, it’s hard to pry consciousness from attention.  

Similarly, emotions can be experienced outside of consciousness.  The hypothalamus, amygdala, and bottom-most part of the prefrontal cortex are all involved in creating and interpreting emotions.

“The human brain contains about 86 billion neurons.  It may contain about 100 trillion synapses, possibly even 10 times as many.”  “The brain contains hundreds, possibly thousands of different kinds of synapses.”  “The brain is packed with other cells that outnumber neurons 10 to 1,” and the functions of those cells are not yet well-understood.  “Glia turn out to have properties directly related to the processing of information.”

“It doesn’t take much to disturb the normal balance of the brain.  Just a tract of certain drugs can cause pain, confusion, hallucinations, and seizures.”

5) Chapter 8 was titled “Conscious Machines” and Chapter 9 “Uploading Minds”:

Just as scientists have mapped the human genome, they may someday map the human “connectome” in enough detail to mechanically or virtually reproduce the brains of individuals, although at great expense and difficulty.

Having defined consciousness as an over-simplified model of the brain, really the brain just telling itself it is conscious when it really isn’t, the author saw no real barriers other than technical problems in creating conscious machines and even in uploading minds to mechanical or virtual systems.  “Sooner or later, probably later, people’s minds will be lifted from the biological brain and migrated to an artificial format.” 

The last few chapters of his book therefore read like ideas for science fiction novels, with possibilities of spaceships traveling to other planets but manned by uploaded humans who can either live in a virtual environment or in mechanical bodies which can be turned off for the long periods of time involved.  The author also imagined a scenario in which a wealthy individual paid to have his mind uploaded to a machine and woke disappointed from the failed procedure even while his duplicate was elated by its success.

6) My critique:

I personally think philosopher John Searle already convincingly argued against the idea that consciousness is nothing but a concomitant of information processing with his Chinese Room thought experiment.  Graziano takes the metaphysical interpretation of consciousness as a biologically-based over-simplification rather than as a culturally-based misinterpretation of the subjective experiences of consciousness.  He failed to understand how subjective experiences bootstrapped evolutionarily important responses in living creatures, and therefore failed to appreciate how life was necessary for their existence.

 Fascinating.


Not sure  I understood , lots of unfamiliar words 


 In  "The Book: On The Taboo About Knowing Who You Are" (1966),  Alan Watts claims there is no such thing as ego.  Now I read this over 40 years ago.   I had trouble getting my head around that then . I mention it to ask if that idea is anything like your perception ? 

What can I say? It was the 60's, everyone was reading either Alan Watts  or Carlos Castaneda .  I read both and just ended up confused. 

My apologies if I'm being just too thick to grasp your position.
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#3

Consciousness
(11-01-2019, 09:20 PM)grympy Wrote:  In  "The Book: On The Taboo About Knowing Who You Are" (1966),  Alan Watts claims there is no such thing as ego.  Now I read this over 40 years ago.   I had trouble getting my head around that then . I mention it to ask if that idea is anything like your perception ? 

What can I say? It was the 60's, everyone was reading either Alan Watts  or Carlos Castaneda .  I read both and just ended up confused. 

It's not surprising you were confused by Castaneda, since he wrote fiction.  I have heard of Alan Watts but am not familiar with his work.

Philosopher Thomas Metzinger wrote the books Being No One and The Ego Tunnel with a similar theme as the book you mentioned.  He asserted that based on current neuroscience, our egos are just mental models and therefore don't really exist.

My perspective is that if what we typically call our selves are just mental modes, they are just self concepts rather than our real selves.  Our real selves are obviously our bodies.

So my critique above is that we have subjective experiences because we are physical bodies in a real world, and things happen directly to us -- however much such experiences are post-processed by our brains and however distorted our perceptions of ourselves are.  This is, of course, not the position of professor S. A. Graziano either.  He doesn't recognize biology as essential for subjective states.

Certain materialists seem to have a problem with living creatures for some reason.  I think "the hard problem of consciousness" really boils down to the problem of life rather than consciousness.  How did objective materials become subjective beings, even before they became conscious of themselves as such?  In other words, biological creatures had selves with attention long before they had anything approaching what humans experience as consciousness.  We evolved to become conscious of pre-existing selves.
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#4

Consciousness
. Thanks for the answer. I think I get it and can tentatively agree.

Yeah, I found out about Castaneda at university, when I was studying anthropology. My tutor thought he was hilarious.

Watts wrote dozens of books. I read a couple . Too Zen for me.


Think I'll give this topic a rest for a bit, I feel a headache coming on. This tends to happen when 'I' try to do any serious thinking . I suspect the brain doesn't like it. Perhaps it wakes up usually dormant neurons.
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#5

Consciousness
My thoughts on consciousness are simple.

If you are aware of environmental factors that affect your self, you are conscious. Seeing that all animals and plants qualify on that level, I think them to be conscious. Life needs to be conscious to evolve. 

I consider consciousness to be a primitive attribute.
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#6

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 12:39 AM)Dom Wrote: My thoughts on consciousness are simple.

If you are aware of environmental factors that affect your self, you are conscious. Seeing that all animals and plants qualify on that level, I think them to be conscious. Life needs to be conscious to evolve. 

I consider consciousness to be a primitive attribute.

I don't think there's any argument about that.  My take is that awareness is primitive, I understand that all mammals have that.  Few mammals are sentient. That comes much later..


Unless I've misunderstood again.
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#7

Consciousness
Consciousness is just subjective experience/qualia .... and if you don't know that is then there's no way to really explain it. It's something you know from your own case unless you're a zombie.
My Argument Against Free Will Wrote:(1) Ultimately, to control your actions you have to originate your original nature.

(2) But you can't originate your original nature—it's already there.

(3) So, ultimately, you can't control your actions.
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#8

Consciousness
So then the other question was whether this can be implanted in an inanimate frame. I don't know, I thought about this for a while. Probably consciousness evolved to protect that "frame". The inanimate frame can't give the feedback needed to protect it. Or can it? That would be a whole other can of worms, the back and forth between our "frame" and our brains is intricate and we don't even know all about it yet. If you cloned a brain and kept it without body, would that not frustrate the heck out of the brain because of the huge part that wants to act but can't? Would that actually be a clone anymore?
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#9

Consciousness
More complex consciousness evolved from more simple consciousness .... and there's no reason to think that the simplest forms of consciousness developed from total non-consciousness when total non-consciousness is something that (a) we have no evidence of even existing (b) we can't even distinguish from the simplest forms of consciousness from our third-person perspective.
My Argument Against Free Will Wrote:(1) Ultimately, to control your actions you have to originate your original nature.

(2) But you can't originate your original nature—it's already there.

(3) So, ultimately, you can't control your actions.
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#10

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 11:06 AM)EvieTheAvocado Wrote: More complex consciousness evolved from more simple consciousness .... and there's no reason to think that the simplest forms of consciousness developed from total non-consciousness when total non-consciousness is something that (a) we have no evidence of even existing  (b) we can't even distinguish from the simplest forms of consciousness from our third-person perspective.

So you think a rock might be conscious? That would explain the pet rock phenomenon.  Smile
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#11

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 11:06 AM)EvieTheAvocado Wrote: More complex consciousness evolved from more simple consciousness .... and there's no reason to think that the simplest forms of consciousness developed from total non-consciousness when total non-consciousness is something that (a) we have no evidence of even existing  (b) we can't even distinguish from the simplest forms of consciousness from our third-person perspective.

Every morning within just a couple hours, I am unconscious in deep sleep, partially conscious in dreaming, then fully conscious when awake.

Such shifts are due to changes in brain chemistry and activation.
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#12

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 12:39 AM)Dom Wrote: My thoughts on consciousness are simple.

If you are aware of environmental factors that affect your self, you are conscious. Seeing that all animals and plants qualify on that level, I think them to be conscious. Life needs to be conscious to evolve. 

I consider consciousness to be a primitive attribute.

Philosopher David Chalmers entertained the possibility that a thermostat might have an elementary form of consciousness because it responds to changes in the environment.  However, I think we can eliminate the need for consciousness in objects which respond mechanically or chemically.  I would think an animal would need a nervous system and possibly a brain for an elementary consciousness, which should include qualia or subjective experiences.

Of course, the word "consciousness" is vague and generalized.  Evie mentioned qualia, but I will try to address definitions and different aspects of consciousness in a later post, perhaps sometime this weekend.
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#13

Consciousness
Let me give you the example of my honeysuckle shrub. This shrub grew inside the Llama pasture, next to a fence. The Llamas loved to chew on it. The first year it got pretty beat up. Next spring, there were some new shoots outside the fence. Fast forward 3 years - the entire shrub was outside the fence, nothing left inside. It is still thriving outside the fence some 15 years later and hasn't moved since. 

Apparently, being "conscious" of the assault, the shrub "decided" to move.  What do you call that mechanism?
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#14

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 12:45 PM)Alan V Wrote: Philosopher David Chalmers entertained the possibility that a thermostat might have an elementary form of consciousness because it responds to changes in the environment...

Chalmers is one of the reasons I ignore any of these self-styled "philosophers" opinions about anything
in the real world.  Like all his vocational peers, Chalmers is nothing more than a modern-day witch doctor,
disgorging near-incomprehensible bullshit and making a million bucks doing so. He's one of these ivory-tower
academics who've done not one single thing to benefit or further our society.    Dead wood.

I don't know whether or not Chalmers was just taking the piss when he posited thermostats having brains,
but if he was  serious then he should be homed in a psychiatric facility ASAP.
I'm a creationist;   I believe that man created God.
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#15

Consciousness
Objective consciousness is best proven via our universal understanding that a tree is a tree.
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#16

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 01:17 PM)Dom Wrote: Let me give you the example of my honeysuckle shrub. This shrub grew inside the Llama pasture, next to a fence. The Llamas loved to chew on it. The first year it got pretty beat up. Next spring, there were some new shoots outside the fence. Fast forward 3 years - the entire shrub was outside the fence, nothing left inside. It is still thriving outside the fence some 15 years later and hasn't moved since. 

Apparently, being "conscious" of the assault, the shrub "decided" to move.  What do you call that mechanism?

I would guess that the shrub would have put out shoots outside the fence regardless of whether the llama was eating it or not, just by spreading.  Then it was just a matter of the llama killing off what was inside the fence.

But I like the story.   Smile
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#17

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 01:29 PM)SYZ Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 12:45 PM)Alan V Wrote: Philosopher David Chalmers entertained the possibility that a thermostat might have an elementary form of consciousness because it responds to changes in the environment...

Chalmers is one of the reasons I ignore any of these self-styled "philosophers" opinions about anything
in the real world.  Like all his vocational peers, Chalmers is nothing more than a modern-day witch doctor,
disgorging near-incomprehensible bullshit and making a million bucks doing so. He's one of these ivory-tower
academics who've done not one single thing to benefit or further our society.    Dead wood.

I don't know whether or not Chalmers was just taking the piss when he posited thermostats having brains,
but if he was  serious then he should be homed in a psychiatric facility ASAP.

I like to think of the thermostat comparison as a thought experiment of a kind, to define the limits of consciousness -- regardless of whether Chalmers intended it as such.  It's a reductio ad absurdum of considering consciousness as an automatic concomitant of information processing.

Here are some quotes from Chalmers' book, discussing thermostats:  https://annakaharris.com/chalmers/

At the end Chalmers concludes: "If there is experience associated with thermostats, there is probably experience everywhere: wherever there is a causal interaction, there is information, and wherever there is information, there is experience…"
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#18

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 01:36 PM)Alan V Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 01:17 PM)Dom Wrote: Let me give you the example of my honeysuckle shrub. This shrub grew inside the Llama pasture, next to a fence. The Llamas loved to chew on it. The first year it got pretty beat up. Next spring, there were some new shoots outside the fence. Fast forward 3 years - the entire shrub was outside the fence, nothing left inside. It is still thriving outside the fence some 15 years later and hasn't moved since. 

Apparently, being "conscious" of the assault, the shrub "decided" to move.  What do you call that mechanism?

I would guess that the shrub would have put out shoots outside the fence regardless of whether the llama was eating it or not, just by spreading.  Then it was just a matter of the llama killing off what was inside the fence.

But I like the story.   Smile

Then why did it stop spreading? And, honeysuckles are not prone to spreading. Some shrubs are, this is one of the ones that are not. Not only that, it moved to a location that is otherwise inferior due to a plum tree it now has to compete with. Actually, plants react to their environment all the time, they are just so slow that you don't notice it. Plus, other than cataloguing the incredible variety that has evolved and creating new cultivars, we know some things about plants but by far not enough to satisfy questions about the internal mechanisms. These are obviously not the same as ours, and, as a result of that, may include heretofore unknown processes.
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#19

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 01:48 PM)Dom Wrote: Then why did it stop spreading? And, honeysuckles are not prone to spreading. Some shrubs are, this is one of the ones that are not. Not only that, it moved to a location that is otherwise inferior due to a plum tree it now has to compete with. Actually, plants react to their environment all the time, they are just so slow that you don't notice it. Plus, other than cataloguing the incredible variety that has evolved and creating new cultivars, we know some things about plants but by far not enough to satisfy questions about the internal mechanisms. These are obviously not the same as ours, and, as a result of that, may include heretofore unknown processes.

It is entirely possible for information processing to occur and to effect changes without the subjective experiences of consciousness being involved.

So I guess the question becomes, at what point do subjective experiences become a better evolutionary strategy than merely mechanical and chemical processes?

Here's an article discussing some of the issues: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/...gent-plant
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#20

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 02:08 PM)Alan V Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 01:48 PM)Dom Wrote: Then why did it stop spreading? And, honeysuckles are not prone to spreading. Some shrubs are, this is one of the ones that are not. Not only that, it moved to a location that is otherwise inferior due to a plum tree it now has to compete with. Actually, plants react to their environment all the time, they are just so slow that you don't notice it. Plus, other than cataloguing the incredible variety that has evolved and creating new cultivars, we know some things about plants but by far not enough to satisfy questions about the internal mechanisms. These are obviously not the same as ours, and, as a result of that, may include heretofore unknown processes.

It is entirely possible for information processing to occur and to effect changes without the subjective experiences of consciousness being involved.

So I guess the question becomes, at what point do subjective experiences become a better evolutionary strategy than merely mechanical and chemical processes?

Here's an article discussing some of the issues: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/...gent-plant

Quote:The controversy is less about the remarkable discoveries of recent plant science than about how to interpret and name them: whether behaviors observed in plants which look very much like learning, memory, decision-making, and intelligence deserve to be called by those terms or whether those words should be reserved exclusively for creatures with brains.


Yep, that is pretty much what I was trying to say. Plus, if there is learning, memory, decision making and intelligence - does that not indicate an awareness of self? Maybe brains per se have little to do with that, it is entirely conceivable that other types of cognizant systems possess the same awareness of self. All I am really saying is that we don't really know shit about this. Yet.
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#21

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 12:45 PM)Alan V Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 12:39 AM)Dom Wrote: My thoughts on consciousness are simple.

If you are aware of environmental factors that affect your self, you are conscious. Seeing that all animals and plants qualify on that level, I think them to be conscious. Life needs to be conscious to evolve. 

I consider consciousness to be a primitive attribute.

Philosopher David Chalmers entertained the possibility that a thermostat might have an elementary form of consciousness because it responds to changes in the environment.  However, I think we can eliminate the need for consciousness in objects which respond mechanically or chemically.  I would think an animal would need a nervous system and possibly a brain for an elementary consciousness, which should include qualia or subjective experiences.

The key question is at what point does "consciousness" cease being a mechanical process like the thermostat, and how does that change happen. The only real answer is that somewhere along the line the process becomes irreducible and is thus emergent. But that's a weak defense as it only asserts that we can't know that consciousness is deterministic like the operation of a thermostat, not that it isn't similarly deterministic. It's a lot like the problem of free will in that any mechanistic account is a refutation of the concept. The alternative seems to be saying that, like God, it's mysterious. I don't find that at all persuasive.
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#22

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 06:52 PM)Dānu Wrote: The key question is at what point does "consciousness" cease being a mechanical process like the thermostat, and how does that change happen.  The only real answer is that somewhere along the line the process becomes irreducible and is thus emergent.  But that's a weak defense as it only asserts that we can't know that consciousness is deterministic like the operation of a thermostat, not that it isn't similarly deterministic.  It's a lot like the problem of free will in that any mechanistic account is a refutation of the concept.  The alternative seems to be saying that, like God, it's mysterious.  I don't find that at all persuasive.

I was going to post this second book report later, since it's a lot of information all at once.  But this discussion is progressing surprisingly quickly, and I think this second book addresses important aspects of your question. (You can skip to the bolded sentences and my TL;DR at the end for the shorter answer.)

These are some of the main points from The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind by Michael Gazzanina.  I believe they are pertinent to this discussion.

In his introduction, the author states that he wants “to examine how matter makes minds.”  He thinks “consciousness is an instinct.  Many organisms, not just humans, come with it, ready-made.”  Further, he states, “We are each a confederation of rather independent modules, orchestrated to work together.”

After reviewing the history of western philosophical and empirical thinking about the mind/brain problem in the first two chapters, the author lists several of the important scientific discoveries about consciousness from the last century.  These include:

1) Penfield’s discovery of how the human body was mapped out in brains,

2) The discovery that “consciousness is inevitably lost when the function of the higher brain stem is interrupted.”  This is interpreted to mean that consciousness depends on the “combined functional activity in the diencephalon and cerebral cortex, not within the diencephalon alone.”  In other words, consciousness does not exist in just one place in the brain.

3) The discovery that the brain is modular, which means that it is highly specialized functionally.  Even different aspects of language are controlled by different parts of the brain (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area).  Such modules have a high number of connections within them, but only a few to other modules.

4) The discovery that epileptics who had their corpus callosum cut, severing the connections between the brain’s hemispheres to prevent seizures, clearly demonstrated they had two independent minds subsequently, but sharing the same emotions and motivations from the mid-brain.  These minds did not share information as before, however, and therefore were distinctly different than they were in combination.

Gazzanina and Roger Sperry studied such split-brain patients together.  From such studies, Sperry concluded that conscious experience is a property of brain activity which is:
1) nonreductive (it can’t be broken down into its parts),
2) dynamic (it changes in response to neural activity),
3) and emergent (it is more than the sum of the processes that produce it).
He also concluded “it could not exist apart from the brain.”

Francis Crick and Christof Koch concluded that “at any one moment some active neuronal processes correlate with consciousness, while others do not.”  In other words, the brain is active in performing other functions than consciousness.  Nevertheless, “there must be an explicit correspondence between any mental event and its neuronal correlates.”

More and more progress was made assigning specific functions to specific brain areas through a study of patients with various brain injuries.  One discovery was that a kind of basic consciousness was very difficult to eradicate through specific brain injuries, and that patients were only aware of the brain circuits which were still working.  For instance, people who were missing half of their visual field still thought they were seeing everything they could before.  “If we lose a particular function, we lose the consciousness that accompanies it, but we don’t lose consciousness altogether.”  Another discovery was that some circuits out-compete others for conscious attention.  In other words, even when modules are fully functional and processing information, not all rise to awareness.  Yet another discovery was that the brain was arranged hierarchically.  Some modules have submodules with their own submodules.

“The perks of brain modularity are that it saves energy when resources are scarce, allows for specialized parallel cognitive processing when time is limited, makes it easier to alter functionality when new survival pressures arise, and allows us to learn a variety of new skills.”

Also, humans “possess highly integrative modules, which allow us to combine information from various modules into abstract thoughts.”

Because the matter which makes up the brain changes with some frequency through metabolism, replication, and repair, the functionality of the brain resides in its organization, and that “organization must be independent of the material particles that make up a living system.”

Like most biological systems, brains have a layered architecture.  Levels are in series, but layers are in parallel, and can work independently and simultaneously.  Information which is passed upwards is abstracted.  “The purpose of each layer is to serve the layer above it while concealing the processes of the lower layer.”  The lower layers are the most fixed and automatic.  The higher layers are the most modifiable and least automatic.  Evolution built the higher layers on the lower.  “Overall, a layered architecture is ideal for complex systems because it is easily fixable, less costly, more flexible, and evolvable.”

Roger Sperry said, “View the brain objectively for what it is, namely, a mechanism for governing motor activity.”  The brain is a motor control system for the body, which uses thinking, planning, remembering, learning, and cognition to guide its actions.  “The more experiences you have had, the more choices your brain can simulate.”

“It is the mid-brain that supports the basic capacity for conscious subjective experiences.”  It sustains emotional and motivational feelings, including “seeking, fear, rage, lust, care, grief, and play.”  The frontal lobe controls such emotions.  “Losing modules causes losses in specific funtionalities, but the mind keeps on producing a continuous conscious stream as if nothing changed.  The only things that have changed is the contents of that stream.  Not only does this provide evidence that the brain operates in a modular fashion, but it also suggest that independent modules can each produce a unique form of consciousness.”

From our understanding of quantum mechanics, we now know that objectivity does not just pertain to what is inherent entirely in a material system, but to what is inherent in a system-observer pair.  “By the mere fact of measuring you are introducing subjectivity into the system.”  This is complementarity, and it is an important concept in approaching the mind/brain problem.

Howard Pattee pointed out that “it was the belief that human consciousness ultimately collapsed the wave function that produce the problem of Schrodinger’s cat.”  But Pattee suggested that natural mechanisms far simpler than human consciousness could do this, and he proposed that the gap between inanimate and living matter resulted from “a process equivalent to quantum measurement that began with self-replication at the origin of life.”  In other words, subjectivity was born with life, not with consciousness, which was a later elaboration.  He stated, “Duality is a necessary and inherent property of any entity capable of evolving” and “if we want to understand the idea of consciousness, something fully formed in evolved living systems, we must first understand what makes a living system alive and evolvable in the first place.”

“Any living thing that ‘records’ information is introducing a form of subjectivity into the system.”  A symbol is arbitrary, so while natural laws are inexorable and universal, rules that apply to symbols can be changed and are arbitrary.  Pattee asserted that “it is precisely this natural symbol-matter articulation that makes life distinct from non-living physical systems.”

Biosemiotics is the semiotics of living systems.  Semiotic systems pair signs and meanings with a code which is included within the system itself, and not imposed externally.  Such assignments are arbitrary, like sounds for meanings in language, and came into existence through random molecular resorting.  In other words, matter can self-organize in another way besides the laws of physics or evolution.  “In its informational (subjective) mode, DNA follows rules, not the laws of physics.”


“There can be no self-awareness without a self.  The first steps must be toward a delimited self.”  Consciousness of such a self is further down the road, and is a relatively simple matter of perceiving an already existing self.  Thus consciousness depends upon discrete living systems.

“Living matter is distinct from inanimate matter because it has taken an entirely different course.  Inanimate matter abides by physical laws.  Life from the get-go has thrown its lot in with rules, codes, and the arbitrariness of symbolic information.”  Pattee asserted, “Our models of living organisms will never eliminate the distinction between the self and the universe, because life began with this separation and evolution requires it.”

“Neural circuits are structures with a double life: they carry symbolic information, which is subject to arbitrary rules, yet they posses a material structure that is subject to the laws of physics.”  With competing modules comes selective awareness, or selective signal enhancement through attention by means of a control layer.

So the machine metaphor no longer works to explain consciousness.  “Brains aren’t like machines; machines are like brains with something missing.  Polanyi pointed out that humans evolved through natural selection, whereas machines are made by humans.  They exist only as the product of highly evolved living matter, and are the end product of evolution, not the beginning.”

TL;DR to answer the original question: Life was the self-organization of matter into information using its own arbitrarily assigned rules, above and beyond physical laws. It was from life that consciousness emerged, not directly from the determinism of such laws. Consciousness is an extension of that information processing. I'm not altogether comfortable with the way the author brought quantum mechanics into the conversation, but my interpretation of what he meant is that the universe consists of both determined and chance events, and chance events afforded potential life the ability to load the dice in its favor through a number of self-organized strategies, including consciousness.

Or at least that is as far as I can understand it at this point.
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#23

Consciousness
(11-01-2019, 04:32 PM)Alan V Wrote: @DLJ

I promised you a summary of a book I was reading, but thought I would post it in a new string rather than continuing in the free will discussion.

This is a short summary of points from the book Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience by S. A. Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.  The professor calls his hypothesis the “attention schema theory.”

1) Early in the book, the author describes the evolution of the brain in some detail:

The tectum was “evolution’s first central controller of attention in the vertebrate brain,” where visual information was sorted into a literal map. 

Signal boosting and lateral inhibition developed to sharpen visual images, and laid the basis for global sorting and competition among separate signals.

The ability to overtly orient sense organs to stimuli developed early on in jawless fish. 

Covert attention – which developed in reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals – was the ability to focus selectively internally, regardless of overt orientation.  The cortex enables covert attention. 

Predators developed computationally intensive attention.

2) Here are a few definitions which the author scattered throughout the book:

Consciousness “is an ancient, highly simplified, internal model, honed by evolution to serve two main useful functions.”  These include a self model to help control one’s own attention, and an ability to model attentional states to predict behaviors in others, as a catalyst for social cognition.

“Consciousness is related to the massive integration of information throughout the brain.”  In other words, the author is describing an “information-adjacent” idea of consciousness as “an inevitable by-product of processing information,” which only requires models of objects in the world, a model of the self, and an attention schema (model) which computes the relationship between the self and the objects around it.

“Attention is a layered set of mechanisms – a data-handling method – whereas consciousness is an inner experience that we claim to have.”

3) Here is what the attention schema theory asserts:

Someone who has lost a limb can experience a phantom limb because he still has an operating model for that limb in his brain.  (British admiral Lord Nelson, who lost an arm in the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, took his own phantom limb as proof that he had a soul or a ghost.)  The reverse is also possible.  People who have strokes which damage their brain’s model for a limb may suffer from somatoparaphrenia, or the loss of sensation from the limb.

“I see a close analogy between a phantom limb and consciousness – between the body schema and the attention schema.  One is the ghost in the body and the other is the ghost in the head.  They are both simulations.  They belong to different ends of the same object – a multipart model of the self.” [It should be noted that although the body schema has been proven to exist, the attention schema is still hypothetical.]

“The attention schema theory is a kind of illusionism.  In the theory, the most perplexing property of consciousness – its ethereal, metaphysical nature – is not real.  We think we have that property only because we are misinformed by an imperfect internal model.”

“In the attention schema theory, the whole point of awareness [consciousness] is to give the brain a running account of attention.”  It monitors attention.  “By treating attention as a relational property of the world that is worth modeling, the brain constructs a central connector, the attention schema, to which all other information sets in the range of your attention will necessarily attach.”  The attention schema is therefore a simplified model of the self in the world, a “naive self model.”

The author proposes that the temporo-parietal junction (inferior parietal lobe) is the most likely location for the attention schema because it is involved with computations about consciousness.  “It is part of a network that builds a construct, a model, that informs the brain about what consciousness is.”  Attention-related networks include the dorsal attention network, the ventral attention network, the salience network, the control network, and the theory-of-mind network.

The theory makes the following predictions: If the part of the brain with the attention schema was surgically removed, it would result in an inability to regulate attention, an inability to build social models of others’ minds, and an inability to understand questions about consciousness.  The results would be similar to hemispatial neglect, when people stop perceiving half of their visual field and even can’t perceive the lack.

“If the attention schema theory is correct, then consciousness as we humans understand it probably appeared early, maybe as early as 300 million years ago.”

4) The book is best when it is providing miscellaneous information from neuroscience.  For instance:

The prefrontal cortex is “a natural candidate for the theater of consciousness.”  It is “an extremely high-level processor of information.”  It is highly flexible.  “Prefrontal neurons can take on any properties, depending on the task at hand.”  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is “the ‘working memory’ part of the brain.”  The cortex is an attention machine.  Information moves through hierarchical levels of increasingly selected information.  However, it’s damage doesn’t result in the loss of consciousness, but rather in difficulties planning and switching between tasks.

Complete consciousness requires an interaction between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex.  The thalamus is the gateway to the cortex.  Together they are called the thalamo-cortical system.
    
With our theory-of-mind ability, “we attribute emotions, intentions, agendas, beliefts – the whole range of mental content – to each other.”  It arises with the need to understand others’ covert attention in social groupings, and includes the abilities to interpret focus, cues, knowledge, body language, facial expressions, words, and so on.  “Our ability to have a subjective experience of anything at all and to attribute subjective experience to others, is of such basic utility that it may be shared across a vast range of the animal kingdom.”

According to psychologist J. J. Gibson, opportunities for action in our environment, which draw our attention in particular, are called “affordances.”  “Intentional stance” is the conceptualization Daniel Dennett used.

In the 1980s, Bernard Baars came up with the global workspace theory of consciousness, which was later elaborated on by Stan Dehaene.  Consciousness was considered “fame in the brain” as Daniel Dennett described it.  The theory defines the information in the workspace as in consciousness, but the author sees this as merely descriptive rather than explanatory.  “You need an internal model that describes cortical attention.”  The author asserts that complexity, covert attention, and the global workspace are not enough.

Blindsight studies show that attention is a different property than consciousness.  “Attention could exist when the mechanisms of consciousness were broken.”  However, “in the absences of awareness, attention does not seem to work entirely normally, consistent with it losing a part of its control mechanism.”  For this reason, it’s hard to pry consciousness from attention.  

Similarly, emotions can be experienced outside of consciousness.  The hypothalamus, amygdala, and bottom-most part of the prefrontal cortex are all involved in creating and interpreting emotions.

“The human brain contains about 86 billion neurons.  It may contain about 100 trillion synapses, possibly even 10 times as many.”  “The brain contains hundreds, possibly thousands of different kinds of synapses.”  “The brain is packed with other cells that outnumber neurons 10 to 1,” and the functions of those cells are not yet well-understood.  “Glia turn out to have properties directly related to the processing of information.”

“It doesn’t take much to disturb the normal balance of the brain.  Just a tract of certain drugs can cause pain, confusion, hallucinations, and seizures.”

5) Chapter 8 was titled “Conscious Machines” and Chapter 9 “Uploading Minds”:

Just as scientists have mapped the human genome, they may someday map the human “connectome” in enough detail to mechanically or virtually reproduce the brains of individuals, although at great expense and difficulty.

Having defined consciousness as an over-simplified model of the brain, really the brain just telling itself it is conscious when it really isn’t, the author saw no real barriers other than technical problems in creating conscious machines and even in uploading minds to mechanical or virtual systems.  “Sooner or later, probably later, people’s minds will be lifted from the biological brain and migrated to an artificial format.” 

The last few chapters of his book therefore read like ideas for science fiction novels, with possibilities of spaceships traveling to other planets but manned by uploaded humans who can either live in a virtual environment or in mechanical bodies which can be turned off for the long periods of time involved.  The author also imagined a scenario in which a wealthy individual paid to have his mind uploaded to a machine and woke disappointed from the failed procedure even while his duplicate was elated by its success.

6) My critique:

I personally think philosopher John Searle already convincingly argued against the idea that consciousness is nothing but a concomitant of information processing with his Chinese Room thought experiment.  Graziano takes the metaphysical interpretation of consciousness as a biologically-based over-simplification rather than as a culturally-based misinterpretation of the subjective experiences of consciousness.  He failed to understand how subjective experiences bootstrapped evolutionarily important responses in living creatures, and therefore failed to appreciate how life was necessary for their existence.


That is a lot to chew on.  I've read it over a couple times.  I share your and Searle's skepticism toward the workability of uploading consciousness to machines.  That does make me curious why he thinks otherwise.  It is getting late but I shall come back to reread this again.
"Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I'll kiss you for it. To go wrong in one's own way is better than to go right in someone else's. 
F. D.
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#24

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 11:11 AM)Dom Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 11:06 AM)EvieTheAvocado Wrote: More complex consciousness evolved from more simple consciousness .... and there's no reason to think that the simplest forms of consciousness developed from total non-consciousness when total non-consciousness is something that (a) we have no evidence of even existing  (b) we can't even distinguish from the simplest forms of consciousness from our third-person perspective.

So you think a rock might be conscious? That would explain the pet rock phenomenon.  Smile

No, I don't think a rock might be conscious.

Just because each player in a team of football players is conscious doesn't mean that the football team itself is conscious. It's not as if a rock is actually a separate entity .... everything is just part of the universe and what we see as a rock is just a perceptual construct. What our brains perceive to be reality is obviously a gross simplification in order to more easily make sense of the world. We didn't have to evolve to see reality as it actually is ... obviously. We only have to see what is relevant to our reproduction and survival. Who knows what reality is like outside of our perceptions ... but quantum mechanics is already an example of how bizarre reality can be when it isn't relevant to our survival or reproduction.

And, besides, "not relevant to us" and "bizarre" is kind of related.
My Argument Against Free Will Wrote:(1) Ultimately, to control your actions you have to originate your original nature.

(2) But you can't originate your original nature—it's already there.

(3) So, ultimately, you can't control your actions.
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#25

Consciousness
(11-02-2019, 12:35 PM)Alan V Wrote:
(11-02-2019, 11:06 AM)EvieTheAvocado Wrote: More complex consciousness evolved from more simple consciousness .... and there's no reason to think that the simplest forms of consciousness developed from total non-consciousness when total non-consciousness is something that (a) we have no evidence of even existing  (b) we can't even distinguish from the simplest forms of consciousness from our third-person perspective.

Every morning within just a couple hours, I am unconscious in deep sleep, partially conscious in dreaming, then fully conscious when awake.

It's not possible to have evidence of 100% non-consciousness when ALL evidence requires consciousness. Something has to be evident to someone in order for it to be evident.

Furthermore .... brain activity is even shown in coma patients. And just because you don't remember something doesn't mean it didn't happen to you.

And obviously OTHER people don't have to be conscious of something in order for the consciousness to be there. Hell, other parts of your brain could be conscious and what you see as 'you' isn't necessarily the totality of it. Are you familar with split brain patients?
My Argument Against Free Will Wrote:(1) Ultimately, to control your actions you have to originate your original nature.

(2) But you can't originate your original nature—it's already there.

(3) So, ultimately, you can't control your actions.
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