Consciousness

ConsciousnessI started this writing project as a person challenge to improve my writing skills. I figured that if I had to write at these a page a day for a year I would have to show some improvement and I feel like I have done, at least a bit. But I had not anticipated was the improvement to my typing skills, which was simply an oversight on my part, it’s actually a pretty clear effect of writing all the time. Something I probably would not have see at all was that it would lead to an improved level of creativity. I am reminded of my post about being an artist, when I wrote about the imagination as a tumbling cage of ideas, and the more ideas you absorb the more interesting connection that can be made and the more original work can be produced.What occurs to me now is that the tumbler does just get filled with external ideas, its is also filled with the ideas that you yourself think of. In a strange way, because of the internal monologue that we all have we are all kind of witnessing our own lives.

Its instances like think that, I think, give us a window into the true nature of consciousness. If you take a look at swarm behaviors in the wild and at the patterns of emergent intelligence, what you see is that a system of thousands of individually simple instructions can lead to a complex intelligence that is capable of architecture, organization, and strategy. For example, in an ant colony, the average view of the hierarchy is that, there is indeed a hierarchy at all, that the queen rules over the drones instructing them to build here and scout there and to defend the colony and queen at all costs. But this view is false, the fact of the matter is that there is no leader, and the only difference between the queen and the drones is that she is capable of reproduction, if she a has any analogous rule to the human body, it is not to the brain, but to the ovaries.

All of the seemingly intelligent actions that are taken by a colony of ant comes out of a complex interplay of these extremely simple individuals. When I say simple, what i mean is that real ants are nothing like A Bugs Life or Antz, they do not have individual thoughts and that do not yearn for a more fulfilling life that walk around and respond to stimuli, the primary stimuli being pheromones. One trait that has been sighted in the past is the fact that any sometimes bury their dead, some species even have a kind of catacomb structure under ground, but what has come to be understood in the field is that the only way that the ant know that the ant they are burying is dead is the smell of him. Ants produce a pheromone upon death and that pheromone marks him, if you take the pheromone from a really dead ant and cover a live one with it that other ants, other ants being any ant that happens by and smells, with begin to carry the poor marked ant off to be buried struggling all the while. The ants only hope is that the pheromone be rubbed off in all the commotion, than the other will forget what they were doing and go about business as usual.

But to say that they will forget anything in a misnomer, because the ants would have to have something in mind to begin with in order to forget, in reality, they are simply responding the the pheromone signal. Over millions of years since the first ant came to be they have evolved, by trial and error, a complex system of pheromones and responses, it is entirely likely that the first ants did not live in colonies at all but that the were simple eating machines, each capable, or at least some significant fraction capable, of reproduction. and that the accidentally converted what might have started as most mammalian uses for pheromones; singling mating interest and signaling territory. The point here is that the intelligent does not live any where in the colony, it emerges from the interaction between the ants, like the hidden image in a magic eye emerging from the noise.

So, I seem to have gone on a pretty wild tangent, what do ant colonies have to do with human intelligence. Well, there is grow evidence to support the idea that human intelligence function in quite the same way, that each of our brain cells is equipped with the same very simple instructions, much simpler in fact then the individual ant; receive a signal, send a signal. The lien of thought is this, the sense of being, your thoughts and feelings and insights and your personality, even your memories are simply an emergent quality of the structure of your brain. To put it another way, “you” don’t live anywhere inside your brain, “you” emerge from the way your brain is wired, change the wiring, change the person. And in fact your “wiring” is always changing, you are always making and losing connection in you brain. Recently an experiment was does with the goal of making an audio representation of the human brain. the recording represented each firing of a synapse with a tick, the experimenters wanted to see if a pattern would emerge, which we could point at and say “Consciousness!”. When the recording was played back all that was heard was white noise, perfectly random and uniform. There is no constant state of “you”, “you” are the current structure of your brain cells, firing in response to receiving signal. In fact if your brain ever did produce a recognizable pattern, you would be having a seizure.

As I think of this analogy of the tumble receiving input from the outside and inside, I think that what I picture is that the tumbler is the emergent quality. That when we say that we “got an idea, out of thin air” it might be closer to the truth that we no. Our brains, or the firing of our brains cells, literally give us the idea. It would certainly explain the feeling that we all have the we are somehow not apart of our bodies, that we more than the just a collection of memory centers and sensory cortices. Our mind are literally more than the some of its parts, the “you”, the “I”… is just outside the structure of your brain, like an interference pattern, it’s made of a multitude of other simple signals, and can’t exist without them. It is somehow there and not there at the same time, like Schrodinger’s Cat… Anyways, here or not its pretty cool that we can think and feel and imagine, and create.

And that’s my take on consciousness.

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