In his Seed article Questioning Consciousness, author Nicholas Humphrey asserts that if we are to understand the phenomenon of consciousness, we must begin to formulate better questions.  Humphrey has written on the problem of consciousness and has been be promoting some new vocabulary and arguments to address this challenge.

The basic question that people have struggled with is this: How does the brain elicit consciousness? Obviously, this is a very hard question to answer. It requires the brain to reason about its own function and within the very constraints of those brain functions.

Naturally people want to find a mechanistic picture and the notion that the brain is a processing system that accepts inputs and delivers outputs is normal. But outputs to what? Well, your consciousness- your eternal, first person, live on the scene, internal-telecast of stimulus and response.

Humphrey defines “Sentition” as real world brain activity. Presumably this includes the sum of electrical and chemical activity that operates within the brain’s distinctive architecture.  Humphrey goes on to define more language to describe our perception of sentition-

The real-world brain activity is the activity that I call “sentition.” In response to sensory stimulation, we react with an evolutionarily ancient form of internalized bodily expression (something like an inner grimace or smile). We then experience this as sensation when we form an inner picture—by monitoring the command signals—of just what we are doing.

Sentition has been subtly shaped in the course of evolution so as to instill our picture of it with those added dimensions of phenomenality. Sentition has, in short, become what I call a “phenomenous object”—defined as “something that when monitored by introspection seems to have phenomenal properties.”

While it may seem trivial, the definition of appropriate terms to describe key attributes of consciousness is critical to how we think about it. New terms may be better as they are not burdened with common usage that distract from the problem.

This article in Seed is not a seminal work. It is a short essay on consciousness and an introduction to some interesting ideas for hackers like myself who realize that the field is very significant. I believe that a comprehensive theory of consciousness is as important as the ToE the physicists are looking for- Theory of Everything.

Advertisements