What are the links that are proposed between consciousness and computation? I.e. what are the theories of how computation creates consciousness?

  • Such a general and controversial philosophy of mind topic depends on your understanding of what's computation and what's really "consciousness", ie, your strict definition of them in your framework of scientific language and logic per Carnap. If you believe in the invincible explanatory gap in the hard problem of consciousness, then perhaps you'll find very little links between them, if any at all.. Jun 20 at 18:43
  • @Double Knot IMO philosophers did not succeed in presenting a general accepted definition of 'consciousness'. Often therefore neuroscicentists themselves have to present a working definition of 'consciousness' as part of their approach. The situation concerning the term 'computation' seems more satisfying. Do you agree?
    – Jo Wehler
    Jun 20 at 19:58
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    @JoWehler I believe it's ethical to not to blame philosophers in general who already tried their best and what else they can do? Maybe such "philosophical" definition is really "hard"... By the way Indian philosophers produced lots of definitions and theories about consciousness as a topic in Yoga and Yogacara since ancient as they believe in such an internal world. If you're versed in Yogacara, perhaps you'll see much similarity with contemporary cognitive sciences in the philosophical sense to one's satisfaction... Jun 20 at 20:28
  • @Double Knot One can always attemp to excuse not solving an issue by declaring it a hard ‚problem‘. What about the conclusion that the problem of consciousness cannot be solved alone by introspection and philosophy? Also philosophy has to recognize its boundaries. Therefore I expect significant progress only from interdisciplinary work in neuro- and cognitive sciences. – Can you name any real world problem solved by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or by Buddhist Yogacara? At most I see some points of contact between Nagarjuna and contemporary natural science.
    – Jo Wehler
    Jun 20 at 21:04
  • @JoWehler interdisciplinary is a modern jargon, in fact top philosophers from ancient almost always mastered several fields, if not all (the last universalist?). Of course in modern society one can hardly achieve so, but truly good contemporary philosophers are still learning relevant specific field knowledge whenever is possible. In the same way, for a neuroscientist to solve some really hard theoretical or technical problems, she must know the right philosophy to tackle, there's no contradiction or tension of philosophy at any times in any specific field... Jun 20 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


See James A. Reggia: The rise of machine consciousness: Studying consciousness with computational models. Neural Networks 44 (2013) 112–131 - The paper surveys some of the currently discussed models namely

  • Global workspace
  • Information integration
  • Internal self-models
  • Higher-level representation
  • Attention mechanisms

I can send you the paper on request.

  • Thanks I manged to access it. That is exactly the type of info I was after.
    – pandita
    Jun 21 at 10:51

links ... between consciousness and computation ...

...assumes the reasonableness of the brain~computer analogy in the first place.
And although that's a widely accepted analogy, I'd suggest it's almost certainly very, very wrong.

Firstly, recall that up till the 1930s, or so, people generally accepted the brain~telephone-exchange analogy, i.e., the brain collects lots and lots of signals from all over the body, and then sends lots and lots of signals back out to the body. And while all this is quite true, it's a very, very incomplete description of what the brain does. But it was the only (or at least the best) kind of analogy people had before computers. See, e.g., https://books.google.com/books?id=yRyETy43AdQC&pg=PA118 (Of course, Charles Babbage invented and built a more-or-less mechanical computer in the mid-1800s, but I guess those 1930s people didn't generally draw any kind of brain~babbage analogy.)

Secondly, and even way earlier, classical Greeks had the Archimedes screw for raising water, but it wasn't until the ~1500s when the mechanical pump, as we know it, was invented. And only then did it become clear that the heart's a pump. Before that, it had been considered kind of "magical", e.g., https://tranquilitysecret.com/before-the-pump-was-invented-what-did-the-heart-do-7ce24234429d (but there are probably better online discussions about that than this).

So finally, considering the above two points, who's to say that today's electronic computers are really good, analogous models of the brain? I'd personally agree that the brain is ultimately physical, and therefore could be simulated on a computer. But if such a simulation needed to descend to the molecular level, even today's fastest computer would take longer than the age of the universe before it could consciously say "good morning". So it's more than likely that computers are only slightly better brain analogies than telephone exchanges.

Brains are still, like hearts were, "magical". We're still in the pre-pump era when hearts were magical, and we have yet to invent an adequately analogous brain device. At best, saying brain~computer would be like saying heart~Archimedes-screw. So any "links proposed between consciousness and computation" will be very, very shaky, at best.

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