Thursday, June 26, 2008

The last enigma in mind-brain problem

The reader might accept all this but could well complain that I have talked all around the topic of consciousness, with more speculation than hard facts, and have avoided what, in the long run, is the most puzzling problem of all. I have said almost nothing about qualia--the redness of red--except to brush it to one side and hope for the best.

Francis Crick in The Astonishing Hypothesis

5-1 The last enigma in mind-brain problem

As I described in the prologue, the most profound enigma in considering the relation between the mind and the brain is that of qualia, the subjective sensory qualities. The redness of red, the "fluffy" feeling of the hairs of a kitten, the sensation you feel as you sit on a chair. The individual, very unique characters that accompany these sensations are so hard to understand, to be embed in the scientific world view. Compared to the problem of qualia, the rest are just details.
In the discussions from Chapters 1 to 4, I have avoided alluding to the problem of qualia directly. This might seem to be odd given the importance of qualia in the mind and brain problem and the refinement of our world view in general. There are two reasons for this particular treatment.
Firstly, there is no definite prescription for the solution of the enigma of qualia at present. If there is one nontrivial thing that we can be said about the neural origin of qualia, it is perhaps the principle of the "a priori correspondence of qualia", that we will describe later in 5-11. This is a kind of "meta-principle" which shows us how to investigate the neural basis of qualia, but still do not pin down the natures of specific qualia, such as the redness of red, or the hotness of the chili sauce.
Secondly, it was necessary for us to arm ourselves with some fundamental principles about the neural basis of conscious and unconscious perception in order to say something meaningful about qualia. We have been considering some aspects of the foundations of the neural basis of perception through chapters 1 to 4. These considerations were in a sense preparations to discuss the problem of qualia. Most importantly, now we have realized that the concept of response selectivity in analyzing neural activities and statistical approaches in general are inadequate for elucidating the neural basis of conscious perception. We have seen in chapter 2 that the de fact central dogma of response selectivity in neurophysiology today is based on a very fragile logical foundation indeed. In chapter 3, I argued that the statistical approach, which is based on the idea of an ensemble, should not be included in the foundation of the neural basis of perception. We therefore defined a percept (element of conscious perception) as an interaction-connected cluster of firing neurons. This definition of the percept is almost the only one which satisfies Mach's principle in perception. Then we went on to study the principle of interaction simultaneity, which is deeply related to the idea that our perception should be based on the interaction between neurons, and not on the statistical properties of an ensemble of neural firings.
Thus, by expelling the notion of response selectivity and other concepts based on statistics, we are at last ready to discuss the neural basis of qualia from the first principles. The essence of qualia can never be approached as long as we take the statistical picture. Under the statistical picture, there is no necessity to take a quale as an integral gradient of our perceptual processes (which it evidently is from our experience). Under the interaction picture, when we define the percept as interaction-connected cluster of neural firings, it becomes necessary to take qualia into the discussions of the very foundations of perception.
At the end of the day, the enigma of qualia is a very deep one. As Francis Crick remarked in his book "The Astonishing Hypothesis", the best attitude often seems to be "to brush it to one side and hope for the best". However, if we take the view that a scientific investigation of qualia is possible (which is indeed the view I take in this book) we need to analyze carefully what we can reasonably say about the neural basis of qualia at present, based on the empirical evidences, and following a strict logic.

Translated excerpt of Ken Mogi "Qualia and the Brain" (Nikkei Science, 1997). Translation of the original Japanese text by the author

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Darwin and consciousness

Any theory of consciousness, if it is to be a successful one, needs to be embedded in the known facts about the world.

As far as we can tell, consciousness is prima facie a biological phenomenon. Therefore, any model of consciousness needs to have robust biological foundations. It becomes thus necessary, in order to understand the wherefroms and whys of consciousness, to really tackle the biological phenomenon.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Theodosius Dobzhansky 1973). Charles Darwin's "On the origin of species" (1859) was a Magnum Opus aimed at explaining the origin of the multitudes of life forms to be found on the earth. It was the genius of Charles Darwin that he successfully accounted for the origin of the incredible variety of the life forms on earth from a universal, unifying principle of evolution through variations and natural selection.

In order for the universal principle to give rise to the multitude of life forms, a certain amount of the passage of time is necessary. The variety of life forms on earth has been nurtured by the long history of biology on this planet. Just like the tropical rainforest, consciousness is a rich culture developed over long years of human evolution. Within its phenomenology, many distinctive elements can be discerned. From this particular viewpoint, any naive form of protopsychism can be rejected, considering the long history of evolution that led to human consciousness.

Artificially building a system that possesses consciousness is a daunting problem, as it amounts to retracing the whole history of the evolution of the biological systems which finally lead to the human brain as we know it today (not necessarily implicating that it is at the "pinnacle" of biological evolution.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The origin of non-locality in consciousness

Lecture Records

Ken Mogi
The origin of non-locality in consciousness

Quantum Consciousness conference.
18th July 2007
University of Salzburg, Austria

Lecture followed by questions and answers.

sound file(MP3, 27.2MB, 30 minutes)

Department of Natural Sciences, University of Salzburg.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The origin of non-locality in consciousness

This week, I am going to travel to Salzburg, Austria to attend the Quantum Mind conference.

Here's the abstract of my presentation.

The origin of non-locality in consciousness

Ken Mogi

Sony Computer Science Laboratories & Tokyo Institute of Technology

Quantum mechanics, being an inseparable element of reality, naturally enters into the consideration of every phenomenon that occurs in the physical universe. As far as consciousness is an integral part of the reality as we understand it, quantum mechanics needs to be ultimately involved either directly or indirectly in its origin. In particular, the apparent non-locality and integrity in the phenomenology of consciousness and its physical correlates is suggestive of a quantum involvement.
Here I examine the nature of non-locality in the physical correlates of consciousness and its relation to quantum mechanics. The concept of the neural correlates of consciousness (Crick and Koch 2003), when pursued beyond the currently prevalent role as a practical framework in which to analyze neuropsychological data, logically necessitates a non-trivial emergence through the mutual relation between physical entities and events that constitute cognitive processes in the brain (Mach's principle in perception, Mogi 1999). Since from this standpoint the spatio-temporal histories sustaining the cognitive processes, including, but not necessarily restricted to, the action potentials of the neurons are the essential correlates of consciousness, non-locality becomes a logical necessity in the ingredients of consciousness.
Non-locality has been known to be an essential property of quantum mechanics since its early period (e.g., Einstein, Podolsky, & Rosen 1935). However, the combination of high temperature and large number of degrees of freedom involved in brain activities are usually regarded as definitely precluding any possible quantum effects. However, there exists possible routes of quantum involvement in macroscopic and "warm" phenomena such as brain processes. The key is in the fact that macroscopic objects, although ostensively obeying equations of Newtonian dynamics, rely on quantum effects for the very stability that makes them classic objects in the beginning.
Analysis of an information processing system usually starts from the assumption that its essence can be captured by following those parameters explicitly covarying with the information the system supposedly handles. Quantum mechanical effects hardly enter the picture when only explicitly varying parameters are considered. On the other hand, the implicitly sustaining structures that do not covary with the processed information can contribute to the phenomenal aspects of information, such as qualia and self-awareness.
The ubiquitous role of metacognition, the origin of subjective time, and the way spatio-temporally distributed activities are "compressed" into percepts in conscious experience, are discussed in the context of the implicit and explicit in cortical information processing.


Einstein, A., Podolsky, B., and Rosen, N. (1935) Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete? Phys. Rev. 47 777-780.
Mogi, K. (1999) Response Selectivity, Neuron Doctrine, and Mach's Principle. in Riegler, A. & Peschl, M. (eds.) Understanding Representation in the Cognitive Sciences. New York: Plenum Press. 127-134.
Crick, F. and Koch, C. (2003) A framework for consciousness. Nat. Neurosci., 6, 119-126.
Taya, F. and Mogi, K. (2004) The variant and invariant in perception. Forma, 19, pp.25-37.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Interaction Simultaneity

Chapter 4 Principle of Interaction Simultaneity

"One thing should be remarked here. Such a mathematical description is physically meaningless unless the way we construct time is made clear. All our judgments about time is one about events that occur simultaneously. "

Albert Einstein, in his first paper on special relativity (1905)

4-1 Physical time and psychological time

What is time? This is one of the most profound of all scientific or philosophical questions. We humans are mortal. Our life has been likened to be "a preparation for death". Death is an inevitable change that visits all living organisms eventually with the flow of time. The enigma of death cannot be separated from that of the flow of time.

It is one of the most fundamental challenges in the so-called mind-brain problem to clarify how the psychological flow of time arises. What is the fundamental reason why we remember only the past, and not the future? How is it that does that we are apparently able to change the events in the future to some extent with our "free will" (or, in a more scientifically tractable term, "agency") but not events in the past? How "long" in terms of physical time is the psychological present? Why is it that the psychological time seems to flow continuously from the "immediate past" to "now", and then on to the "immediate future?"

In the previous chapter, we discussed the "interaction picture" as opposed to the "statistical picture", in which elements of perception are formed as an interaction-connected cluster of neural firings. In this process, we arrived at the idea of the principle of interaction simultaneity, which states that when two neural firing events are interaction-connected, there is no passage of proper time along the world-line of interaction.

I argue below that the principle of interaction simultaneity is instrumental in accounting for several apparent properties of
our psychological time. The relation of interaction simultaneity to the concept of causality, a fundamental assumption behind all natural laws, will be looked into. Then I would discuss how this principle can account for some characteristics of the psychological flow of time, such as the duration of the specious moment, and the apparently smooth flow of time from the past to the future.

(Translated from the Japanese text of Ken Mogi's "Qualia and the Brain" (Nikkei Science, Tokyo, 1997) by the author)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Dog and the violet

Let us take a specific example. Suppose I was watching a dog. I observe that the dog has white hair, that the ground below the dog is covered with violets, and that the dog's ears are triangular. Here, I presume that the dog, hair, violets, etc. are out there, and I am perceiving something that is outside me. I presume, that I perceive these things as a result of the causal connection that begins with the reflectance of sunlight from the surface of these objects, via the activation of photoreceptors in my retina, and finally the firing of the neurons in my brain.

In a sense the statement "I perceive something that is outside me" is true. But in another sense, this statement is misleading. Everything that I perceive, the dog, the white hair, the violets, are nothing but phenomenological "apparitions" caused by the neural firing in my brain. Thus, the bottom line is, the perceived image of the dog is not outside me, but "within" me. Everything I perceive, even the image of a star billions of light years away seen through a telescope, is nothing but the result of neural firing in my brain.

Even if there is a "dog" standing in a field of "violets", if the neurons in my brain do not fire in an appropriate way, I would not perceive the dog nor the violets. Conversely, even if the "dog" and "violets" were not there, if the neurons in my brain fired in an appropriate manner, I would have a perception of the dog and the violets. We thus come to a very important conclusion. The entities outside me, and my perception of these entities, are in principle separate things. It is only that in normal circumstances, a highly reliable correlation is expected between the external entities and my perception of them. (Otherwise there would be no survival value for perception!) In principle, my perception could be independent of the actual external objects that normally invoke it.

Here, it is important to note that we are not discussing merely a distinction between the real and the virtual. To be sure, if we remain in the domain of anecdotes and analogies we will be unable to deduce any scientifically meaningful conclusions. It is only when we begin to address the serious questions about the neural basis of perception that we realize how much is at stake. In the following argument, it will be shown that the thesis "my perception is a part of me" is something more than a harmless philosophical analogy. It has implications that cuts deep into the very foundations of neuropsychology as is understood today.

(Translated from the Japanese text of Ken Mogi's "Qualia and the Brain" (Nikkei Science, Tokyo, 1997) by the author)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Feeling as if eternal

In youth one feels that one's life would extend for ever. In actuality, however, as we all know, the mortality rate for humans is 100 percent. "Memento Mori" said an old Latin phrase. The young are happily and sometimes tragically oblivious of this warning.

The psychology of this forgetfulness is rather poignant. In good health, we feel as if there's always a "next" day. Just as in natural numbers you can always conceive the "next number" no matter what number is given, in life it feels as if there is always the next day. In the finer scale, you feel as if there's always the next moment. Thus, in mathematical terms, a virtual potential infinity is incurred. The young and healthy can forget the inevitable death because they are living in the potential infinity.

Protention and retention are the basic building materials of our sense of the passage of time. It is interesting to speculate how the phenomenal experience of the specious present is somehow converted into an illusory feeling of eternity. In fact, it is probably the case that the very notion of the infinite or the eternal originated from the sense of potential infinity that accompanies the phenomenal experience of the psychological moment.

As it stands, thoughts about the potential infinity is not sufficiently separated from that of actual infinity. An argument must somehow be found which explains why a virtual potential infinity is incurred in the human psyche although in real terms the life span is necessarily very finite.

There is a potential infinity even in the course of a day, although in this particular case we have a cognitive process of imaging the "end of the day" through our past experience. It is the lack of the knowledge about when one's end is going to come that makes the potential infinity associated with the whole life qualitatively different from the one associated with a particular day.