Tuesday, 11 March 2014

What is consciousness? And how does inanimate matter, gives rise to consciousness?

Of course we don’t know the answer to this. But can we say anything about it? I think how consciousness arise, must be very similar to how any complex structure or system arise in nature. Consciousness must follow the natural laws applicable to other natural phenomenon.

Broadly speaking, it is contextual similarly to asking “ how order arise out of chaos” or simply put does how does “complexity arise out simplicity”?

All of nature works/creates with very simple rules. Like

A. Self Organization- is a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system.
Ability of a system to spontaneously arrange its components or elements in a purposeful (non-random) manner, under appropriate conditions but without the help of an external agency.

B. Self Similarity- is just self similar, replicating. This is how river tributaries form or how a tree branches.

C. Evolution (feed back loops)

These are very simple but very powerful tools, and are responsible for the complex world we live. They can explain everything in nature, and I think these simple laws can also help explain the problem of consciousness.

Consciousness is very mysterious to us, I suspect this might be because its so deceptively simple. We experiential and naturally know it, but its impossible to describe. Consciousness is also a very common phenomenon, everything from bacteria to humans have it.  Meaning its very easy to create for nature, and its critical for life.

I think of consciousness as inter-relation between sets of complex information, self-organizing it self to an optimal condition. Much like an operating system running on a computer. "An operating system (OS) is a collection of software that manages computer hardware resources and provides common services for computer programs." So in this view, we have individual softwares like a software to interpret visual sensory information coming from eyes, and software for interpreting auditory sensory information from ears, these are hardwired in the brain. The interplay/inter-relations between two or more softwares , into a singular platform where it can be experienced. In this view our consciousness would be like an OS, thats connecting/managing all the individual softwares into a singular experience. A conscious experience. Strings of these conscious experiences happening very moment, is what we collective understand as consciousness.

A highly evolved management system/OS, perfected by nature(evolution/feedback) over billions of years. Running in everything, from the most common microbes to us. Build upon a hard ware designed by self-organisation, self-similarity and evolution.

Consciousness being like an OS, would also imply that consciousness would be very hard to pin down in the brain. And would exist as a diffused coherent network of inter-relations between data sets of memory and other softwares (sensory information processing softwares). That consciousness is not a “physical thing”, something very subtle, immaterial like information.

I’ve had this thought haunting me for many years, I am not proposing any theories or saying this is what is happening. Just sharing my explanation to the problem of consciousness and consciousness it self. And would love to hear, what people think of this idea/thought..

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Free Will

                                                   Free Will or Not So Free Will !!!

From a scientific point of view, I am not sure whether free will exists or not. I'm divided over it. From a spiritual point of view, I know there is no free will, what so ever, considering there is no “me” to have free will in the first place. But from the scientific view, there is no way of being certain about it. Having thought and read about it, I must admit I believe there isn't any free will. It is definitely not "free", seems like it is under the influence of many things. 

From subjective experience, I can say for certain that I don't really have a choice in believing there is no free will, it’s how I feel given the information I have. Just as I have no control over whom I fall in love with, whom I hate, which car I like, what color I like, my favorite movie or even who I am.. It just happens to be so; I didn't really pick one thing over another. There was no conscious decision, that I made/was aware of making, to like or not like a certain thing. It appears to be "my will", yet "I didn't will it so". I am not in control of the thoughts I have; they latch on from one thing to another. I see apples and think it so red, from red comes a thought about the color of my current car, to thinking I need a new car, from that comes thought of money, which leads to thought of my rich relative, whom I think my grandpa doesn't like, which leads to thinking of my grandpa and calling him. Where is my control in all this? From apples to car to calling grandpa… It flows from one thing to another. Science tells me it is due to how information in my brain is structured, but once again I am not in control of structuring the information in a certain way. In my brain, the neuro-net is wired up in a certain way, where neurons encoded with memories of apples are connected closely to neurons encoded with red, which in turn is connected to my car and eventually leading to my neurons encoded with grandpa. The entire brain is inter-connected, lets say 1 neuron has 10 or 15 connections, with 100 billion neurons, putting the total number of connections at a mind boggling 10^15(or 10000000000000000 or in words 10 with 15 zeros behind it, that's a monstrously large number). I have no choice in how all those neurons are inter-connected. Thankfully it is not in my control. Or I would make a bloody mess, I suppose that's why I don't have "free will" when it comes to the important things, can you imagine consciously willing to take each breath, we would suffocate ourselves every time we go to sleep or get distracted. It is for good reason that sub-conscious is in control of all the above. 

But is there anything beyond the control of the sub-conscious? What is in my conscious control? When in comes to Doer-ship, it seems I have free will. I can choose to run, jump, smile or write this article. I might not have the free will of liking chocolate, but I seem to have control over whether I put it in my mouth or not. Surely, this is some sort of free will; once again it turns out, it is not really "free".

Science has been very concerned and focused on this sort of free will; It is testable and has been tested. First explored by Libbet in 1991, his experiment has been re-created and confirmed hundreds of times. There was a new similar study, using much better technology; it has shed much more light on the topic and also re-confirmed Libbet's findings.

Libbet’s experiment, in which he asked each subject to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he measured the associated activity in their brain (in particular, the build-up of electrical signal called the readiness potential). Although it was well known that the readiness potential preceded the physical action Libbet asked how the readiness potential corresponded to the felt intention to move. To determine when the subjects felt the intention to move, he asked them to watch the second hand of a clock and report its position when they had felt the conscious will to move. Libbet's findings suggest that decisions made by a subject are first being made on a subconscious level and only afterwards being translated into a "conscious decision", and that the subject's belief that it occurred at the behest of his will was only due to his retrospective perspective on the event.

2008 Study by Masao Matsuhashi and Mark Hallett
"Scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice. These and other findings have led some scientists, like Patrick Haggard, to reject some forms of "free will"."

Both these studies suggest that the sub-conscious brain, is responsible for making decisions, and then these decisions are translated to "conscious awareness" which creates the appearance of it being a conscious decision. So this form of free will is an illusion. 

There are 2 major criticism of these studies : One suggests that rather than sub-conscious brain making the decision, the decision is made spontaneously prior to conscious awareness, and then is picked up by conscious brain. Even if this is to be believed, it doesn't prove free will, but rather just removes the sub-conscious from the decision-making. The other criticism argues that both these studies were done using finger movements, and may not necessarily generalize to other actions such as thinking, or even other motor actions in different situations. Once again even if this is to be believed, it doesn't prove that free will exist, only that the results might not apply to other activities.

Testing free will when it comes to thinking is tricky and not really testable. It comes down to subjective experience. 
Personally I think the case for free will for thinking is even weaker, than for actions such as finger movement. As discussed above I have no control over what thoughts come to me, I can think of specific things (or so it appears; maybe it’s the subconscious commanding to have that thought), but how I think depends on how the information is structured in my neuro-net, which is definitely out of my control. 

My preferences are not free willed either, as discussed above I have no control over what I like or love or hate, it seems these decision are already made without my conscious involvement.  

So my actions, thinking, preferences aren't really in my control, the case for free will is quite weak. I hope I have some free will, but the evidence and experience points otherwise. 

The only kind of free will that does exist is what scientist call "free won't/veto".
Which means that unconscious impulses to perform a volitional act (like walking or moving fingers) are open to being vetoed by the conscious mind.  I might not have the free will to move my finger, but I have the veto power to not go through with it. Which isn't really free will, because I don't have control over doing something, but rather have control over not doing something.