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Ideas of G Edelman / G Tononi, by Text

[, fl. 2000, Edelman a professor of neuroscience, winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize. Tononi works at Edelman's institute.]

2000 Consciousness: matter becomes imagination
p.42 Concepts and generalisations result from brain 'global mapping' by 'reentry'
     Full Idea: When you get maps all over the brain signalling to each other by reentry you have what Edelman calls 'global mapping', and this allows the system not only to have perceptual categories and generalisation, but also to coordinate perception and action.
     From: report of G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000]) by John Searle - The Mystery of Consciousness Ch.3
     A reaction: This is the nearest we have got to a proper scientific account of thought (as opposed to untested speculation about Turing machines). Something like this account must be right. A concept is a sustained process, not a static item.
Pref p.-3 Consciousness involves interaction with persons and the world, as well as brain functions
     Full Idea: We emphatically do not identify consciousness in its full range as arising solely in the brain, since we believe that higher brain functions require interactions both with the world and with other persons.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Pref)
     A reaction: Would you gradually lose higher brain functions if you lived entirely alone? Intriguingly, this sounds like a neuroscientist asserting the necessity for broad content in order to understand the brain.
Ch. 3 p.23 The three essentials of conscious experience are privateness, unity and informativeness
     Full Idea: The fundamental aspects of conscious experience that are common to all its phenomenological manifestations are: privateness, unity, and informativeness.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch. 3)
     A reaction: Interesting, coming from neuroscientists. The list strikes me as rather passive. It is no use having good radar if you can't make decisions. Privacy and unity are overrated. Who gets 'informed'? Personal identity must be basic.
Ch. 3 p.29 A conscious human being rapidly reunifies its mind after any damage to the brain
     Full Idea: It seems that after a massive stroke or surgical resection, a conscious human being is rapidly "resynthesised" or reunified within the limits of a solipsistic universe that, to outside appearances, is warped and restricted.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch. 3)
     A reaction: Note that there are two types of 'unity of mind'. This comment refers to the unity of seeing oneself as a single person, rather than the smooth unbroken quality of conscious experience. I presume that there is no point in a mind without the first unity.
Ch. 6 p.69 Brains can initiate free actions before the person is aware of their own decision
     Full Idea: Libet concluded that the cerebral initiation of a spontaneous, freely voluntary act can begin unconsciously, that is, before there is any recallable awareness that a decision to act has already been initiated cerebrally.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch. 6)
     A reaction: We should accept this result. 'Free will' was always a bogus metaphysical concept (invented, I think, because God had to be above natural laws). A person is the source of responsibility, and is the controller of the brain, but not entirely conscious.
Ch. 9 p.102 Concepts arise when the brain maps its own activities
     Full Idea: We propose that concepts arise from the mapping by the brain itself of the activity of the brain's own areas and regions.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch. 9)
     A reaction: Yes. One should add that the brain appears to be physically constructed with the logic of a filing system, which would mean that our concepts were labels for files within the system. Nature generates some of the files, and thinking creates the others.
Ch.11 p.126 Information-processing views of the brain assume the existence of 'information', and dubious brain codes
     Full Idea: So-called information-processing views of the brain have been criticized because they typically assume the existence in the world of previously defined information, and often assume the existence of precise neural codes for which there is no evidence.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.11)
     A reaction: Fodor is the target here. Searle is keen that 'intrinsic intentionality' is required to see something as 'information'. It is hard to see how anything acquires significance as it flows through a mechanical process.
Ch.11 p.136 Brain complexity balances segregation and integration, like a good team of specialists
     Full Idea: A theoretical analysis of complexity suggests that neuronal complexity strikes an optimum balance between segregation and integration, which fits the view of the brain as a collection of specialists who talk to each other a lot.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.11)
     A reaction: This is a theoretical point, but comes from a leading neuroscientist, and seems to endorse Fodor's modularity proposal. For a philosopher, one of the issues here is how to reconcile the segregation with the Cartesian unity and personal identity of a mind.
Ch.11 p.136 Dreams and imagery show the brain can generate awareness and meaning without input
     Full Idea: Dreaming and imagery are striking phenomenological demonstrations that the adult brain can spontaneously and intrinsically produce consciousness and meaning without any direct input from the periphery.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.11)
     A reaction: This offers some support for Searle's claim that brain's produce 'intrinsic' (rather than 'derived') intentionality. Of course, one can have a Humean impressions/ideas theory about how the raw material got there. We SEE meaning in our experiences.
Ch.12 p.139 Consciousness arises from high speed interactions between clusters of neurons
     Full Idea: Our hypothesis is that the activity of a group of neurons can contribute directly to conscious experience if it is part of a functional cluster, characterized by strong interactions among a set of neuronal groups over a period of hundreds of milliseconds.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.12)
     A reaction: This is their 'dynamic core' hypothesis. It doesn't get at the Hard Questions about consciousness, but this is a Nobel prize winner hot on the trail of the location of the action. It gives support to functionalism, because the neurons vary.
Ch.12 p.144 Consciousness is a process (of neural interactions), not a location, thing, property, connectivity, or activity
     Full Idea: Consciousness is neither a thing, nor a simple property. ..The conscious 'dynamic core' of the brain is a process, not a thing or a place, and is defined in terms of neural interactions, not in terms of neural locations, connectivity or activity.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.12)
     A reaction: This must be of great interest to philosophers. Edelman is adamant that it is not any specific neurons. The nice question is: what would it be like to have your brain slowed down? Presumably we would experience steps in the process. Is he a functionalist?
Ch.12 p.152 A conscious state endures for about 100 milliseconds, known as the 'specious present'
     Full Idea: The 'specious present' (William James), a rough estimate of the duration of a single conscious state, is of the order of 100 milliseconds, meaning that conscious states can change very rapidly.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.12)
     A reaction: A vital feature of our subjective experience of time. I wonder what the figure is for a fly? It suggests that conscious experience really is like a movie film, composed of tiny independent 'frames' of very short duration.
Ch.12 p.152 Consciousness is a process, not a thing, as it maintains unity as its composition changes
     Full Idea: The conscious 'dynamic core' of the brain can maintain its unity over time even if its composition may be constantly changing, which is the signature of a process as opposed to a thing.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.12)
     A reaction: This is the functionalists' claim that the mind is 'multiply realisable', since different neurons can maintain the same process. 'Process' strikes me as a much better word than 'function'. These theories capture passive mental life better than active.
Ch.13 p.159 Cultures have a common core of colour naming, based on three axes of colour pairs
     Full Idea: We seem to have a set of colour axes (red-green, blue-yellow, and light-dark). Color naming in different cultures tend to have universal categories based on these axes, with a few derived or composite categories (e.g. orange, purple, pink, brown, grey).
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.13)
     A reaction: This confirms my view of all supposed relativism: that there are degrees of cultural and individual relativism possible, but it is daft to think this goes all the way down, as nature has 'joints', and our minds are part of nature.
Ch.13 p.167 The sensation of red is a point in neural space created by dimensions of neuronal activity
     Full Idea: The pure sensation of red is a particular neural state identified by a point within the N-dimensional neural space defined by the integrated activity of all the group of neurons that constitute the dynamic core.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.13)
     A reaction: This hardly answers the Hard Question (why experience it? why that experience?), but it is interesting to see a neuroscientist fishing for an account of qualia. He says three types of neuron firing generate the dimensions of the 'space'.
Ch.13 p.174 The self is founded on bodily awareness centred in the brain stem
     Full Idea: Structures in the brain stem map the state of the body and its relation to the environment, on the basis of signals with proprioceptive, kinesthetic, somatosensory and autonomic components. We may call these the dimensions of the proto-self.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.13)
     A reaction: It seems to me that there is no free will, but moral responsibility depends on the existence of a Self, and philosophers had better fight for it (are you listening, Hume?). Fortunately neuroscientists seem to endorse it fairly unanimously.
Ch.13 p.174 Systems that generate a sense of value are basic to the primitive brain
     Full Idea: Early and central in the development of the brain are the dimensions provided by value systems indicating salience for the entire organism.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.13)
     A reaction: This doesn't quite meet Hume's challenge to find values in the whole of nature, but it matches Charles Taylor's claim that for humans values are knowable a priori. Conditional values can be facts of the whole of nature. "If there is life, x has value..".
Ch.15 p.196 Prior to language, concepts are universals created by self-mapping of brain activity
     Full Idea: Before language is present, concepts depend on the brain's ability to construct 'universals' through higher-order mapping of the activity of the brain's own perceptual and motor maps.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.15)
     A reaction: It should be of great interest to philosophers that one can begin to give a neuro-physiological account of universals. A physical system can be ordered as a database, and universals are the higher branches of a tree-structure of information.
Ch.15 p.197 A sense of self begins either internally, or externally through language and society
     Full Idea: Two extreme views on the development of the self are 'internalist' and 'externalist'. The first starts with a baby's subjective experience, and increasing differentiation as self-consciousness develops. The externalist view requires language and society.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.15)
     A reaction: Edelman rightly warns against this simple dichotomy, but if I have to vote, it is for internalism. I take a sense of self as basic to any mind, even a slug's. What is a mind for, if not to look after the creature? Self makes sensation into mind.
Ch.17 p.210 Physicists see information as a measure of order, but for biologists it is symbolic exchange between animals
     Full Idea: Physicists may define information as a measure of order in a far-from-equilibrium state, but it is best seen as a biological concept which emerged in evolution with animals that were capable of mutual symbolic exchange.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.17)
     A reaction: The physicists' definition seems to open the road to the possibility of non-conscious intentionality (Dennett), where the biological view seems to require consciousness of symbolic meanings (Searle). Tree-rings contain potential information?
Ch.17 p.214 Consciousness can create new axioms, but computers can't do that
     Full Idea: Conscious human thought can create new axioms, which a computer cannot do.
     From: G Edelman / G Tononi (Consciousness: matter becomes imagination [2000], Ch.17)
     A reaction: A nice challenge for the artificial intelligence community! I don't understand their confidence in making this assertion. Nothing in Gödel's Theorem seems to prevent the reassignment of axioms, and Quine implies that it is an easy and trivial game.