On animal consciousness

Carruthers (1998a,b, 2000) has argued to this effect based on his ‘higher-order thought’ theory, according to which, phenomenal consciousness requires the capacity to think about, and therefore conceptualize, one's own thoughts... other theorists such as Armstrong (1980), and Lycan (1996) have preferred a higher-order experience account, where consciousness is explained in terms of inner perception of mental states...

For me, introspection and capacity for thought seem binary, as qualia (that I am never any less acquainted with my actual mental states, and without the capacity to think I lose personal identity). But that qualia itself isn't binary: when e.g. I gradually fall into a deeper asleep...

One metaphysical question that is more directly relevant for the question of the phylogenetic distribution and evolution of consciousness is whether possessing it (i.e. being conscious) is binary (i.e. on/off, all-or-nothing), or admits of degrees. Several authors have, for quite different reasons, denied what they take to be a common but problematic assumption — that “Consciousness is an on/off switch; a system is either conscious or not,” as Searle — who endorses the thesis puts it (quoted by Lycan 1996, who denies the thesis).

Which would suggest, if the intuitions are right, anyway, that qualia, phenomenal consciousness, are neither just the capacity to think, nor just inner perception. The simplest resolution seems to be that we need the capacity to think about inner perception to have qualia.

So yeah, do we need a "theory of mind" for that?


This sounds very similar to a theory of Roger Orpwood's here that Qualia (or the illusion of qualia in the sense that some philosophers see it) is simply the result of re-entrant feedback in pyramidal neurons. Essentially, the sense message itself is an initial input, but pyramidal neurons are able to re-process their own output resulting from the processing of that message as if it were a new input. The concious part of the brain receiving these new outputs is unaware that they have been re-processed and perceives them as identical to un-altered sensory input.

In essence, certain neurons are examining the sensory input (say a red wavelength of light), triggering other neurons as a result (which might eventually lead to meaning or emotion; a favourite red blanket, the meaning of a stop light) and the crucially, they are feeding this output back to themselves as if it were new sensory input i.e they are giving the appearance that these meaning values from other neurological activity are attached to the sensory input prior to processing, when in fact they are not.

This would explain why, for example, the supposedly immutable qualia can be altered by brain damage in areas of layer 5 of the frontal cortex or in selective brain anesthesia, and why visual masking experiments, such as the one here show such a highe level of variability in theses types of neurons when certain images alter from one which has the same properties of light, but makes no 'sense', to one which makes 'sense'.

Using Ockham's Razor we only need a theory of mind involving an non-physical definition of qualia whilst the experience of reality cannot be fully explained by the objects we can perceive. Systems such as those described by Grossberg can now be shown capable of exactly the type of self referential feedback required to explain the experience of qualia, and so such dualist theories are no longer required.

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