Friday, August 29, 2014

Consciousness as a computing process

Consciousness As Computing Process

By Deepak M Ranade
Posted on Jul 25, 2014 at 06:08 pmComments 187 | 8549 Views

The human brain is the most highly advanced data processor in terms of the speed volume and complexity of the data it processes. One could therefore say that it is the epitome of the evolutionary process. At any given moment the brain is exposed to a deluge of data. The sense organs are generating terabytes of data each moment, being constantly shovelled into the brain real time by transmitting pathways or neurons.

What determines prioritisation of data processing? Which data is to be assimilated and which is to be discarded?  Cognition can fluctuate between a general background unfocused awareness to sharp focusing on a specific target.
The brain has the amazing ability to process and sieve through this incoming barrage of data. One of the mechanisms deployed is called Latent Inhibition. Data (LID) that is repetitive in nature.

Signals Transmission
LID causes neurons carrying this data to suppress adjacent neurons carrying the same information. These neurons are deployed to transmit other signals or at least not transmit "more of the same." An adaptation by neural pathways which narrows the bandwidth and accords a lower priority or inhibits data is meant to prevent crowding on the cognitive horizon.

An example is the tactile sensation of clothes touching the skin which is constantly being relayed to the brain. The neurons keep this data in a "Standby" mode, relegating its transmission to a lower priority.  This phenomenon becomes even more important in increasing the accuracy of visual perception.

Our Perceptions
Different photoreceptors in the eye respond to varying degrees of light. When one cell activates in response to light, its activity impairs or prevents neighbouring cells from getting activated. This causes the edges between light and dark areas to appear more prominent than they would otherwise. In the absence of lateral inhibition, the border between a black tile and a white tile would appear less obvious. Perception is greatly impacted by the content of the delivered data.

When the filtered data arrives on the cognitive screen, the data is tagged with an emotion- byte. This emotion- byte is unique to each individual. This emotion tagged data is transcribed into samskaras or anagrams for encryption, storage and subsequent retrieval.  This emotion- byte tagged database (samskaras) is unique to each individual.

Stored Samskaras
This emotion tag could be pain, fear, grief, pleasure or joy and becomes vritti or the software- that determines one's inclinations or aversions.

The concept of vritti is central to the main definition of Yoga- "yoga chitta vritti nirodha" given in Sutra 1.2 of the Yoga Sutras by the great sage Patanjali.

Vrittis refer to the different tendencies, or psycho-physical propensities.  They are an expression of stored anagrams or samskaras. Collectively they represent motivation, behavioural patterns, desires, repulsions, predispositions and complexes.

Eightfold Path
The software thereafter not only shapes or personalises but also operates the hardware, the physical form with its identity.  The eightfold path of  Ashtanga Yoga aims to disconnect (nirodha) this database (vritti) from the personalised consciousness (chitta) to effect a pure, impersonal awareness. It ceases the generation of new software obviating the need for any appropriate hardware -- liberation "from" the person rather than "of" the person. 

Are we conscious or is consciousness impersonating us?

Scientists have for the first time separated a particle from one of its physical properties - creating a "quantum Cheshire Cat".
The phenomenon is named after the curious feline in Alice in Wonderland, who vanishes leaving only its grin.
Researchers took a beam of neutrons and separated them from their magnetic moment, like passengers and their baggage at airport security.
The researchers used an experimental set-up known as an interferometer, at the Institute Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, France.
A neutron beam was passed through a silicon crystal, sending it down two different paths .
By applying filters and a technique known as "post-selection", they were able to detect the physical separation of the neutrons from their magnetic moment - as measured by the direction of their spin.
"The system behaves as if the neutrons go through one beam path, while their magnetic moment travels along the other," the researchers reported.
This raises issues serious issues about the 'measurement paradox'.
On one hand we have the  Lockean “realist” account according to which perception involves the creation of an “inner reflection” of an independently existing external reality, and, on the other hand, a Kantean “anti-realist” concept of the “veil of perception.”Separation of matter and it's characteristics, attributes or qualities will be an important landmark in our understanding of the phenomenon of consciousness.
Consciousness is traditionally attributed to an emergent quality of neural networks. It is  very intriguing to note that even a single celled creature like the amoeba is conscious and takes appropriate measures to feed and avoid any hostile milieu exterior. Does consciousness operate necessarily through mediation by  a  biological matrix? Could it be all pervading like a magnetic field with the organic or biological substrate serving  as merely a receiver and or processor?
Could consciousness be merely a form of energy that manifests in different forms by modulating it's  frequency and amplitude?
Can perception, be merely a play  of consciousness, a phenomenon that simultaneously projects and  comprehends the external world as a holographic reality? The separation and distinction of the  objective world is because of the external appearances. If the elementary fundamental constituent is the ubiquitous atom, then the perceived difference of the external form may just be a program of the subject's perception. Rather than different particles carrying the information of matter and it's qualities, it could be that different loci in the brain might be activated to perceive matter and it's qualities simultaneously.
Monists like Spinoza adhere to the position that there is some  neutral substance, of which  both matter and mind are properties. The Advaita or non duality too believes in a non-numerical holistic all pervading unity that simultaneously manifests as the subject and the object.  The object and therefore all its qualities and attributes might just be a projection of a self referencing subject that generates  an apparition of separation as well as perception.

Dr. Deepak M. Ranade.