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Split-Brain Patients, Confabulation, and the Nature of Consciousness

WinkyWinky Registered User regular
edited November 2011 in Debate and/or Discourse
Alright, as a fair warning this post will be a bit of an essay. I have a history of making threads that I think concern intensely interesting topics that no one else happens to be interested in, so let's hope that this thread doesn't meet a similarly unfortunate end. At the very least, it's an interesting topic that I think people will be interested to know about.

Ultimately I intend to propose a theory of consciousness and its actual role in human decision making, but some important exposition needs to be made before I get to that point. There are two major sources of evidence that I'm going to draw from here, one concerning the act of confabulation in neurophysiologically impaired individuals and the other concerning the apparent lag time between decisions and our conscious awareness of them. Luckily these happen to be rather interesting topics on their own so if you're not familiar you'll probably enjoy learning about them.

Split-Brain Patients
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain

For certain intractable forms of epilepsy the only way to help prevent potentially fatal seizures is through surgical extraction of portions of the brain. Essentially, a seizure is when miss-firing of neurons cause a cascade of undesirable and uncontrolled activity across the brain, the only way to stop this for sure is by disconnecting affected portions to prevent them from spreading (though even this is not completely effective). For very serious cases, the corpus callosum (which is a large bridge of axons stretching across between the two hemispheres of the brain) is severed entirely. Now, there are other points of connection between the two hemispheres, but the corpus callosum is by far the largest and most active pathway, in addition to being the most evolutionarily recent. Patients who undergo this procedure actually tend to lead completely normal lives. There is very little wrong with their behavior that is immediately apparent. In fact, for a time it seemed that the corpus callosum wasn't crucial to any sort of cognitive function and people theorized that it was just a structural feature in the brain. However, we end up seeing an incredibly different picture when we put these individuals in the laboratory.

Some background on our brain: the two hemispheres of our brain are actually symmetrical to a significant degree with a very large amount of redundancy. All the major structures are reflected on each side of the brain. There is, however, a few important differences. For instance, speech generation and grammar is usually almost entirely handled by the left side of the brain. Don't quote me on this, but I believe that the right side of the brain is more acute at visual-spatial tasks. Additionally, each half of space is mapped to a different side of the brain. Control of the right side of your body, feeling on the right side of your body, and the right side of your visual field (not to be confused with your right eye, as each eye is actually split into right and left visual fields at the optic chiasm) are all mapped to the left hemisphere of your brain, and likewise with the left side of space and the right side of your brain. Normally these two hemispheres communicate with each other and fire back and forth through the corpus callosum.

Now, the experiments worked like this: the patient would sit facing a screen and be told to stare at a point in the middle of it. Images or sentences would flash on either side of the screen so that they were entirely in only the left or right side of the patient's visual field. The experimenter would ask the patient questions or ask them to draw pictures based on what they saw. Here is where it starts to get wacky. Say that a picture of a pipe was flashed to the right the side of the visual field and then the patient would be asked to tell the experimenter what they saw, they would say they saw a pipe. Now, say that a picture of a pipe was flashed to the left side of the visual field, if asked to tell the experimenter what they saw they would say that they saw nothing. However, if asked to draw what they saw the patient would use their left hand to draw a pipe. There was a fundamental disconnect between what each side of the brain knew, and since only the left side of the brain can speak the person couldn't say what they saw, yet they were still able to draw it because the right side knew! It is as if there are two different minds inhabiting the same body. This never became a problem during normal life because it's very easy with a quick eye movement to deliver the same information to both sides of the brain, but in this laboratory setting the two sides of the brain were receiving different information. You could display two different objects on the right and left sides of the visual field, and then ask the patient to say what they saw and draw it with their left hand and they would say and draw two entirely different things!

This, in and of itself, is incredibly interesting and has a lot of psychological and philosophical implications, but this is not what is important to me. Rather, there's another thing that happens in this situation that I want to focus on. Namely, confabulation.

Confabulation

An even more interesting thing would happen if you showed an image to the left side of space, had the patient draw it with their left hand, and then asked them why they drew it. The left side of the brain had no idea, but the person wouldn't say that! The person would instead confabulate a reason! They would spontaneously generate a false reasoning behind why they drew the object. What's more, they would spontaneously generate this false reasoning and, as far as it is possible for us to measure this, they would actually fully believe it. One example is that they were testing a girl and they flashed an image of a nude man to the left side of her visual field, causing her to giggle. When asked why she giggled, she told the experimenters "Oh, it's just this silly machine." What's important here is that the subject's not lying, they are confabulating, it is actually a false memory of why they acted in such a way that the patient truly believes.

This phenomenon doesn't happen only with split-brain patients, there's other sorts of physiological damage that leads to this kind of confabulation. In anosognosia, a patient who suffered a stroke may be fully paralyzed on one side of their body but apparently completely oblivious to this fact. They are, due to brain damage, unable to reconcile the fact that they are paralyzed with their mental conception of their physical state. A patient may be completely physically unable to move their arm, for instance, but with certainty that their body is perfectly fine they will confabulate reasoning as to why they will not move it when asked.
"Oh, doctor, I didn't want to move my arm because I have arthritis in my shoulder and it hurts." Or this is from another patient: "Oh, the medical students have been prodding me all day and I don't really feel like moving my arm just now." When asked to raise both hands, one man raised his right hand high into the air and said, when he detected my gaze locked onto his motionless left hand, "Um, as you can see, I'm steadying myself with my left hand in order to raise my right."

V.S. Ramachandran believes that this confabulation is what happens when information that should be supplied to the conscious self-narrative process is not. In such a special case, he believes our consciousness will then confabulate in order to preserve and reconcile our actions. The difference between what I'm suggesting, however, and his account, is that I don't think that confabulation here is a special case. Clearly, in these cases the confabulation becomes obvious because there are limits to the amount of information that is available to the conscious process, but I don't think confabulation is some sort of failure of the system. In fact, I think confabulation is its specific purpose. However before getting into the meat of my argument I have one more bit of evidence to go over.

Unconscious Decision Making
http://www.mpg.de/567905/pressRelease20080414

I'm going to go ahead and post the article in full, since it is a better explanation than I could make, but the important point is this: decision making begins before we are conscious of it. What's more, it doesn't only begin but may actually completely make the decision before consciousness even enters into the equation, as evidenced by the fact that with data that comes before the conscious awareness it is possible to predict (with incomplete accuracy) the decision that will be made!
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their left or right hand. They were free to make this decision whenever they wanted, but had to remember at which time they felt they had made up their mind. The aim of the experiment was to find out what happens in the brain in the period just before the person felt the decision was made. The researchers found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take already seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. Normally researchers look at what happens when the decision is made, but not atwhat happens several seconds before. The fact that decisions can be predicted so long before they are made is a astonishing finding.

This unprecedented prediction of a free decision was made possible by sophisticated computer programs that were trained to recognize typical brain activity patterns preceding each of the two choices. Micropatterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex were predictive of the choices even before participants knew which option they were going to choose. The decision could not be predicted perfectly, but prediction was clearly above chance. This suggests that the decision is unconsciously prepared ahead of time but the final decision might still be reversible.

"Most researchers investigate what happens when people have to decide immediately, typically as a rapid response to an event in our environment. Here we were focusing on the more interesting decisions that are made in a more natural, self-paced manner", Haynes explains.

More than 20 years ago the American brain scientist Benjamin Libet found a brain signal, the so-called "readiness-potential" that occurred a fraction of a second before a conscious decision. Libet’s experiments were highly controversial and sparked a huge debate. Many scientists argued that if our decisions are prepared unconsciously by the brain, then our feeling of "free will" must be an illusion. In this view, it is the brain that makes the decision, not a person’s conscious mind. Libet’s experiments were particularly controversial because he found only a brief time delay between brain activity and the conscious decision.

In contrast, Haynes and colleagues now show that brain activity predicts even up to 7 seconds ahead of time how a person is going to decide. But they also warn that the study does not finally rule out free will: "Our study shows that decisions are unconsciously prepared much longer ahead than previously thought. But we do not know yet where the final decision is made. We need to investigate whether a decision prepared by these brain areas can still be reversed."

Now, I will acknowledge that there are alternate conclusions to be drawn from this. It certainly does not necessarily mean that consciousness is divorced from the decision making process entirely. And, in fact, the account of consciousness I would give allows it to have an effect on decision making even in the middle of the decision making process. However, depending on interpretation it can lead credence to that conclusion.

Consciousness

So, to finally get to the actual point:

I believe consciousness is a narrative process, by which we construct an explanation of what we are doing and the reasons we are doing it. However, and this is important, consciousness does not actually have privileged access to our decision making process. That is to say, the reasoning that we consciously come up with for our actions has no necessary relationship with the reasoning our decision making process actually uses. I think that the mechanism of our decision making processes are actually untranslatable, or so difficult to translate into a symbolic system that our brains have developed a system for looking at our perceptions, feelings, and actions in order to work backwards to the causes of these things. Essentially your conscious process is given access only to what we perceive, what we feel, and what course of action we have decided upon and then is forced to "confabulate" a reasoning behind it. You do not make conscious decisions, rather your consciousness is a sort of PR guy for your brain, attempting to come up with a communicable explanation for what it is doing. Your consciousness is only making its best guess of what is actually going on in your brain.

This isn't to say that consciousness is completely uninvolved in your decision making process, however. You clearly remember conscious thoughts, so whatever explanations your consciousness comes up with for your actions is available to your decision making process. In a more indirect way, it has a significant influence, but the differentiation is still crucial. What I'm saying is that you never just know why you are doing something, you can only infer. It opens up a lot of room for explaining how people can be so unaware of their own mind and drives. It clearly explains the difference between our conscious and our unconscious.

In the examples of confabulation I explained previously there is a disconnect in perception, the conscious process is not getting the whole story and so the reasoning it confabulates is wildly off base. However, like I said, the split-brain patients act absolutely normally under normal conditions. I think that this confabulation is actually the normal mechanism of consciousness.

So, yeah.

What do you guys think?

TL;DR: GTFO

EDIT:
also your thread doesnt deal with the number 1 lame "but that doesn't explain consciousness" complaint which is

WAT ABOUT KWALIA?!

put kwalia r dum at the bottom of your post it will head them off at the pass

kwalia r dum
(Qualia is fairly irrelevant, I think, and my honest belief is that the conscious process has nothing to do with them any way you slice it, save for the fact that it is given access to our perceptions and feelings, hence why you would be conscious of such things)
EDITEDIT:
Actually, a couple more seconds thought give me a more complicated answer to the problem of qualia but, like I said, the existence of qualia is not a threat to my account.

Winky on
«13

Posts

  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I personally like the split brain theory the best because it makes me think consciousness is more than just "me" it's "us" that resembles a me.

  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    Dude I love this sort of thing, it's completely fascinating. I'm actually going for a PhD in cognitive science in large part due to this sort of thing piquing my interest!

    Another nifty thing related to confabulating sort of is hemispatial neglect. It's super weird!

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    I find these ideas appealing. I'll think about them.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • WinkyWinky Registered User regular
    bowen wrote:
    I personally like the split brain theory the best because it makes me think consciousness is more than just "me" it's "us" that resembles a me.

    This, I think, goes beyond just a "right and left hemisphere" thing, actually.

    A common belief is that the brain is organized into a large number of different self-contained "modules" that operate largely independently save for specified inputs and outputs. Our behavior, then, comes as a result of the interactions between these different modules. If you were to say that consciousness is trying to explain the operation of these modules in a sort of holistic sense without really being able to look into them, you get the same sort of "us that resembles a me" situation.

  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I would love to go back to school for this, as an aside.

  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    Oh yeah, it's neat. It brings up the question of how exactly you can subdivide consciousness.

    It also makes it clear that being "a person" may depend heavily on high-speed information transfer.

  • surrealitychecksurrealitycheck NONSTOP INFINITE CLIMAX POSTING you must go on i cant go on ill go onRegistered User regular
    it does

    observe alien hand syndrome in people with a severed corpus callosum

    it is possible to communicate with hemispheres of the brain separately, and the different sides will express different wishes, even for things like life goals - what do you want to be when you grow up, that kind of thing

    without the corpus callosum you can shatter into 2 halves, one mute

    obF2Wuw.png
  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    First: the Libet experiments (and those following him) are, I'm sure, interesting from a neurological perspective, but it is extremely difficult to see what philosophical ice they cut. I suppose they refute a certain sort of very strong Libertarian, who thinks that humans have contra-causal freedom such that they could, at the last moment, reverse a bodily movement which had otherwise been entailed by their previous physical states. But, as far as I can tell, very few people believe in that sort of contra-causal freedom anymore. The fact that Libet (and others) have pointed out, that human choices are (at least sometimes) predictable by way of causal antecedents, is fully compatible with the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free.

    Similarly, I don't think that Libet type experiments show that consciousness is uninvolved with making decisions. At best, they show that the role that consciousness will play in making a given decision is predetermined by antecedent factors. But that sort of hypothesis has been under active consideration at least since 1814, when Laplace asked us to consider an infinite intelligence which knew all physical facts at the present time and could thus project perfectly for us our entire future. So again, the philosophical upshot--regardless of neurological interest--is incredibly unclear.

    MrMister on
  • ronyaronya Arrrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    The Libet experiments suggest that action initiation occurs without conscious awareness, not that the role consciousness plays is predetermined by antecedent factors. Indeed Libet's own narrative goes that the action is initiated and then consciousness is provided an opportunity to veto after the fact.

  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I wonder, just as a thought experiment, if cutting pieces of brains from other people and stringing them together along those input/ouput pathways would create an entirely new consciousness, or, just an altered consciousness. Who would be the dominant one? Would there be one?

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    ronya wrote:
    The Libet experiments suggest that action initiation occurs without conscious awareness, not that the role consciousness plays is predetermined by antecedent factors.

    I'm not sure if you're disagreeing with my main point here, which is just that: when we read 'action initiation' as a causal process, I don't think there is any threat to free will (or the role of consciousness in decision-making) here--or, at least, no new threat to free will, over and above the one embodied in the first discovery of mechanistic physics. After all, we already knew that all of my actions were of course initiated before my conscious awareness of them, in the causal sense; all of my actions were intiated by the big bang. These action potentials in the brain are just a particularly proximate causal antecedent.
    Spoiler:

    MrMister on
  • WinkyWinky Registered User regular
    edited November 2011
    MrMister wrote:
    ronya wrote:
    The Libet experiments suggest that action initiation occurs without conscious awareness, not that the role consciousness plays is predetermined by antecedent factors.

    I'm not sure if you're disagreeing with my main point here, which is just that: when we read 'action initiation' as a causal process, I don't think there is any threat to free will (or the role of consciousness in decision-making) here--or, at least, no new threat to free will, over and above the one embodied in the first discovery of mechanistic physics. After all, we already knew that all of my actions were of course initiated before my conscious awareness of them, in the causal sense; all of my actions were intiated by the big bang. These action potentials in the brain are just a particularly proximate causal antecedent.
    Spoiler:

    As an aside, the stupidest attempt to rescue free will ever made was the one where people began exclaiming but what if our mental processes are probabilistic!?

    Thank god, I can now still live with myself knowing that I have all the causal freedom of a pair of dice.

    EDIT:
    And to address your larger point:
    The threat in this instance is not to free will (as the article mentions, I think, erroneously), nor necessarily to consciousness having a role in decision making, rather the threat is directly to our perceived mental transparency to ourselves.

    You could say that was under attack since Freud, but I'm saying it's not just that our mind is not completely transparent, but rather that it's almost entirely opaque except for some crucial inputs (perceptions, feelings, and actions in process).

    Winky on
  • ronyaronya Arrrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    MrMister wrote:
    ronya wrote:
    The Libet experiments suggest that action initiation occurs without conscious awareness, not that the role consciousness plays is predetermined by antecedent factors.

    I'm not sure if you're disagreeing with my main point here, which is just that: when we read 'action initiation' as a causal process, I don't think there is any threat to free will (or the role of consciousness in decision-making) here--or, at least, no new threat to free will, over and above the one embodied in the first discovery of mechanistic physics. After all, we already knew that all of my actions were of course initiated before my conscious awareness of them, in the causal sense; all of my actions were initiated by the big bang. These action potentials in the brain are just a particularly proximate causal antecedent.
    Spoiler:

    I am far from up-to-date on the literature but my impression was that theories on the physicality of the mind were far from a consensus acceptance that consciousness is a phenomenon that follows its physical manifestation in time rather than the converse.

    There is a difference, if you like, between having the causal chain flow as "big bang > material state of the world > input to consciousness > (deterministic) conscious decisionmaking > action" and "big bang > material state of the world > decisionmaking and action > brain sends an FYI to the process of consciousness", even if both are free and determined.

    We might not view deterministic causality to be damning but the arrow of time bit is a sticker

    ronya on
  • IncenjucarIncenjucar QA Tester -> Game Producer Seattle, WARegistered User regular
    Winky wrote:
    As an aside, the stupidest attempt to rescue free will ever made was the one where people began exclaiming but what if our mental processes are probabilistic!?

    Thank god, I can now still live with myself knowing that I have all the causal freedom of a pair of dice.

    <3

    freefallagentad_zps635a83ed.png
  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I guess saying I have no freedom is kind of in vain. Just because its subconscious freedom and not conscious freedom doesn't mean it's not freedom?

  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    MrMister wrote:
    First: the Libet experiments (and those following him) are, I'm sure, interesting from a neurological perspective, but it is extremely difficult to see what philosophical ice they cut. I suppose they refute a certain sort of very strong Libertarian, who thinks that humans have contra-causal freedom such that they could, at the last moment, reverse a bodily movement which had otherwise been entailed by their previous physical states. But, as far as I can tell, very few people believe in that sort of contra-causal freedom anymore. The fact that Libet (and others) have pointed out, that human choices are (at least sometimes) predictable by way of causal antecedents, is fully compatible with the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free.

    Similarly, I don't think that Libet type experiments show that consciousness is uninvolved with making decisions. At best, they show that the role that consciousness will play in making a given decision is predetermined by antecedent factors. But that sort of hypothesis has been under active consideration at least since 1814, when Laplace asked us to consider an infinite intelligence which knew all physical facts at the present time and could thus project perfectly for us our entire future. So again, the philosophical upshot--regardless of neurological interest--is incredibly unclear.

    I agree that the premise of consciousness as post-hoc rationalization of decision-making is not a direct attack on free will, or at least not any more so than your regular mechanistic determinism, but it is a pretty solid assault on notions of personhood and identity. It also sort of destabilizes the idea of any kind of "will" at all.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • E^(i Pi)+1=0E^(i Pi)+1=0 Registered User
    There was a young man who said though;
    It seems that I know that I know.
    What I would like to see is the I that knows me;
    When I know that I know that I know.


    The centipede was happy;
    until the toad said in fun,
    "Mind which leg goes after which;
    there's work to be done."
    After which he worked himself to such a pitch;
    He lay distracted in a ditch;
    Considering how to run.


    Love me.
  • JepheryJephery Registered User regular
    edited November 2011
    bowen wrote:
    I guess saying I have no freedom is kind of in vain. Just because its subconscious freedom and not conscious freedom doesn't mean it's not freedom?

    IMO, the question of free will has no practical implications. Either way our society and legal system has to treat people as if they're responsible for their actions, unless a sufficient reason otherwise is given.

    But this brain stuff is awesome.

    Jephery on
    }
    "Orkses never lose a battle. If we win we win, if we die we die fightin so it don't count. If we runs for it we don't die neither, cos we can come back for annuver go, see!".
  • OctoparrotOctoparrot Registered User
    edited November 2011
    MrMister wrote:
    First: the Libet experiments (and those following him) are, I'm sure, interesting from a neurological perspective, but it is extremely difficult to see what philosophical ice they cut. I suppose they refute a certain sort of very strong Libertarian, who thinks that humans have contra-causal freedom such that they could, at the last moment, reverse a bodily movement which had otherwise been entailed by their previous physical states. But, as far as I can tell, very few people believe in that sort of contra-causal freedom anymore. The fact that Libet (and others) have pointed out, that human choices are (at least sometimes) predictable by way of causal antecedents, is fully compatible with the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free.

    Similarly, I don't think that Libet type experiments show that consciousness is uninvolved with making decisions. At best, they show that the role that consciousness will play in making a given decision is predetermined by antecedent factors. But that sort of hypothesis has been under active consideration at least since 1814, when Laplace asked us to consider an infinite intelligence which knew all physical facts at the present time and could thus project perfectly for us our entire future. So again, the philosophical upshot--regardless of neurological interest--is incredibly unclear.

    I agree that the premise of consciousness as post-hoc rationalization of decision-making is not a direct attack on free will, or at least not any more so than your regular mechanistic determinism, but it is a pretty solid assault on notions of personhood and identity. It also sort of destabilizes the idea of any kind of "will" at all.

    Call me a goose but it seems to me that "decision-making" is the result of previous conscious events. I laughed at the naked man because I have previously been educated on social mores, nudity, and humor. I'm trying to think of contrary examples and cannot think of any.

    I see it kind of just miring us further into, as MrMister explained it, "the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free."

    Octoparrot on
    the GOP shouldn't give a rats ass about them since they won't vote for them. If someone won't vote for you they might as well not exist.
  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    ronya wrote:
    There is a difference, if you like, between having the causal chain flow as "big bang > material state of the world > input to consciousness > (deterministic) conscious decisionmaking > action" and "big bang > material state of the world > decisionmaking and action > brain sends an FYI to the process of consciousness", even if both are free and determined.

    We might not view deterministic causality to be damning but the arrow of time bit is a sticker

    This is actually something else that I had reservations about in the OP: what merits saying that the decision comes before the process of consciousness? As far as I can tell, there is an inference here being made from 'it was causally determined at time t that x choice would be made' to 'the decision occurred at time t.' But this is the precise inference I'm saying is invalid. It can be settled whether one will pick red or blue, perhaps by quasi-computational physical processes in your body, in advance of anything that it would make sense to call a decision.

    In other words, I am not sure I accept the idea of a wholly non-conscious process which could be properly called decision-making. Decisions and choices occur in 'the space of reasons;' they at least sometimes proceed according to reasons, they can be given the semantics attendant to a propositional structure (including incorporating the logical constants like and, not, or, etc.), and so on. If you point to a particular neurophysical event, prior to conscious awareness, and which is not conceptually or propositionally articulated, and call that the real decision-making process, then I suspect a confusion between the causal antecedents of a decision and the thing itself.

    MrMister on
  • ronyaronya Arrrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    Octoparrot wrote:
    MrMister wrote:
    First: the Libet experiments (and those following him) are, I'm sure, interesting from a neurological perspective, but it is extremely difficult to see what philosophical ice they cut. I suppose they refute a certain sort of very strong Libertarian, who thinks that humans have contra-causal freedom such that they could, at the last moment, reverse a bodily movement which had otherwise been entailed by their previous physical states. But, as far as I can tell, very few people believe in that sort of contra-causal freedom anymore. The fact that Libet (and others) have pointed out, that human choices are (at least sometimes) predictable by way of causal antecedents, is fully compatible with the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free.

    Similarly, I don't think that Libet type experiments show that consciousness is uninvolved with making decisions. At best, they show that the role that consciousness will play in making a given decision is predetermined by antecedent factors. But that sort of hypothesis has been under active consideration at least since 1814, when Laplace asked us to consider an infinite intelligence which knew all physical facts at the present time and could thus project perfectly for us our entire future. So again, the philosophical upshot--regardless of neurological interest--is incredibly unclear.

    I agree that the premise of consciousness as [/b]post-hoc rationalization of decision-making[/b] is not a direct attack on free will, or at least not any more so than your regular mechanistic determinism, but it is a pretty solid assault on notions of personhood and identity. It also sort of destabilizes the idea of any kind of "will" at all.

    Call me a goose but it seems to me that "decision-making" is the result of previous conscious events. I laughed at the naked man because I have previously been educated on social mores, nudity, and humor. I'm trying to think of contrary examples and cannot think of any.

    I see it kind of just miring us further into, as MrMister explained it, "the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free."

    it's the difference between consciousness being the black box between a material state of the world and decision-making, versus consciousness being one of the outputs of some such black box, i.e., that something laughed at the naked man because it was educated on social mores, nudity, and humor, and then let you 'know' about it having done so (so to speak).

    ronya on
  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    The thing is, we don't question whether it's useful to call a body a body just because we know it's made of trillions of autonomous cells. The fact that "I" am the sum of parts is obvious, applying it to mental events just freaks people out because it impinges on the notion of a single ghostly soul that can flit between various physical forms.

  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    Of course; your conscious experiences shape your mind, including whatever pre-conscious mechanisms determine your decisions or actions.

    The components of decision may not be preconscious, but the assembly of those components is.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I like the confabulation example too. I wonder if there would be a way to isolate the brain to such a point you could determine which part of a person personalities each lobe of the brain is responsible for, or if the personality exists on both side?

  • OctoparrotOctoparrot Registered User
    ronya wrote:
    Octoparrot wrote:
    MrMister wrote:
    First: the Libet experiments (and those following him) are, I'm sure, interesting from a neurological perspective, but it is extremely difficult to see what philosophical ice they cut. I suppose they refute a certain sort of very strong Libertarian, who thinks that humans have contra-causal freedom such that they could, at the last moment, reverse a bodily movement which had otherwise been entailed by their previous physical states. But, as far as I can tell, very few people believe in that sort of contra-causal freedom anymore. The fact that Libet (and others) have pointed out, that human choices are (at least sometimes) predictable by way of causal antecedents, is fully compatible with the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free.

    Similarly, I don't think that Libet type experiments show that consciousness is uninvolved with making decisions. At best, they show that the role that consciousness will play in making a given decision is predetermined by antecedent factors. But that sort of hypothesis has been under active consideration at least since 1814, when Laplace asked us to consider an infinite intelligence which knew all physical facts at the present time and could thus project perfectly for us our entire future. So again, the philosophical upshot--regardless of neurological interest--is incredibly unclear.

    I agree that the premise of consciousness as [/b]post-hoc rationalization of decision-making[/b] is not a direct attack on free will, or at least not any more so than your regular mechanistic determinism, but it is a pretty solid assault on notions of personhood and identity. It also sort of destabilizes the idea of any kind of "will" at all.

    Call me a goose but it seems to me that "decision-making" is the result of previous conscious events. I laughed at the naked man because I have previously been educated on social mores, nudity, and humor. I'm trying to think of contrary examples and cannot think of any.

    I see it kind of just miring us further into, as MrMister explained it, "the dominant account of free will, which holds that people are both determined and free."

    it's the difference between consciousness being the black box between a material state of the world and decision-making, versus consciousness being one of the outputs of some such black box, i.e., that something laughed at the naked man because it was educated on social mores, nudity, and humor, and then let you 'know' about it having done so (so to speak).

    Sorry man it just currently seems about as thought provoking as a doctor putting a mallet to the knee. I guess maybe I should get in a real hurly burly with someone "confabulating" to prove it's something more to myself.

    the GOP shouldn't give a rats ass about them since they won't vote for them. If someone won't vote for you they might as well not exist.
  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    bowen wrote:
    I like the confabulation example too. I wonder if there would be a way to isolate the brain to such a point you could determine which part of a person personalities each lobe of the brain is responsible for, or if the personality exists on both side?

    I think that implies something that doesn't really necessarily make sense. Like, if you amputate a leg, you don't wonder what part of the personality was contained in the leg. The difference is between a whole functional system and a different whole system, I don't know that you could subtract out. Though I would enjoy it if I could find an examination of, for instance, a person with a split-brain wearing an eye patch for a week on each eye, see how they interacted with things with minimal information transfer.

    I think that's really the takeaway, that "a person" is both a combination of parts and the speedy transfer of information between those parts.

    I like the book "natural born cyborgs" by Andy Clark as a discussion of how this might relate to human-machine interfaces, and why being a Borg is a silly way to imagine transhumanism.

  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    I could see our eventual transformation into a collective though. That is basically what the internet is, except its voluntary and not on all the time.

  • ronyaronya Arrrrrrf. the ivory tower's basementRegistered User regular
    MrMister wrote:
    [...] If you point to a particular neurophysical event, prior to conscious awareness, and which is not conceptually or propositionally articulated, and call that the real decision-making process, then I suspect a confusion between the causal antecedents of a decision and the thing itself.

    Don't Libet-type experiments that include decisionmaking also find decision-specific neurological signals preceding, rather than coinciding with or following, reported awareness of the decision?

    There's no call for running about screaming Ia! Ia! Free will is dead! of course; so consciousness as she is experienced lags consciousness as she is materially manifested a bit. This might not dent a well-designed theory of mind; I think it is fair to say that it is not self-evident or trivial, though.

  • PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    For the longest time we believed that mental functions were restricted to discrete areas of the brain because we noticed that damaging a specific area resulted in specific symptoms, but now we know that isn't true, and the brain is not only plastic enough to pick up the slack but generalized enough so most functions, especially higher functions, have lots of overlap. Maybe that's true with consciousness; maybe it's not a higher entity but rather a contribution from multiple processes.

    Perhaps we are only capable of understanding consciousness as sentience because we're wired to perceive it that way, and actually sentience does not exist - the body is simply communicating needs that the brain fulfills and the garbage from this random complexity turns into a realization of self possibly in order to evolutionarily experiment with new networks and abstract processes that may possibly help the brain help the body. Whatever.

    Practically, though, we can override confabulation and subconscious decision making with logic and restrained thinking. If you take your time in deciding whether to wear a long sleeved shirt or a short sleeved shirt by going online to check the weather and thinking to yourself "does it really serve me to stay warm or cold during this weather?" then you are dictating the terms of your decision entirely consciously, like a computer program. Phineas Gage and alcohol have shown that there is an area of your brain that keeps a leash on impulses and may block these subconscious signals that the rest of your brain has carefully prepared and tried to sneak by your consciousness. I'd argue that you can totally, consciously reject any action the rest of your brain tells you to do if you keep track of your decision making down to every detail, at least for decisions that don't have to be made immediately.


    However, if you whittle the brain down to its component molecules and electrical processes, then there really is no decision making going on at all, just neurochemical thresholds being broken or not broken. A program, after all, doesn't actually make decisions; it just does what it's programmed to do. It might be that we mistakenly assume we are in control of our own decision making, which is a lie not because our subconsciousness takes care of it, but because decision making is an invention of abstract philosophy and has no part in the real world - neurons get stimuli and they go on chaotically determined paths, and we mistake this great complexity and variation in these predefined neural pathways as individual identity and consciousness. Perhaps if philosophers had taken a different tack in history, we wouldn't believe in things like souls and independent thought and free will, but would instead believe in the luck of the draw as far as personal reaction to stimuli is concerned. Perhaps that would have been closer to the truth.

    Marty: The future, it's where you're going?
    Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    ronya wrote:
    Don't Libet-type experiments that include decisionmaking also find decision-specific neurological signals preceding, rather than coinciding with or following, reported awareness of the decision?

    There's no call for running about screaming Ia! Ia! Free will is dead! of course; so consciousness as she is experienced lags consciousness as she is materially manifested a bit. This might not dent a well-designed theory of mind; I think it is fair to say that it is not self-evident or trivial, though.

    I don't know the neurological literature in here at much depth at all so I can't attest to the specifics. I would be suspicious, though, of 'decision-specific neurological signals.' What does that mean, and how did they identify them as such? There is a significant amount of background philosophy that goes into the interpretation of neurological results; it may be, that in categorizing these pre-conscious signals as constituting decisions, they have already assumed the philosophical conclusion that they were setting out to establish.

    There are philosophers of a certain bent (popular at Pittsburgh) that would categorically insist on the irrelevance of these sorts of neurological results. And there is an easy recipe for doing so. They would simply insist on the features of decisions that I earlier mentioned--(possible) responsiveness to reason, and propositional and conceptual articulation. They would then have an easy recipe for rejecting and sort of pre-conscious signal as constituting a decision. They would just say for any such signal identified: 'is it propositionally or conceptually articulated? No. Therefore, it is not a decision. It may be a causal antecedent to a decision, but that is another thing entirely.' And this insistence is not unmotivated. It proceeds from the highly natural thought that our decisions, thoughts, and so on are capable of entering into justificatory and logical relations which are, strictly speaking, only able to obtain between propositions. For instance, something can deductively follow from the proposition that "my hairbrush is bristly," but nothing deductively follows from my hairbrush.

    I think that attitude, at least when taken to its extreme, is undesirably dogmatic. But I nonetheless think that it is a useful cure to those who are too quick to move from a neurological result to some philosophical claim about consciousness, the self, decision-making, and etc. Neurological results are of a very different kind from the items in the latter category. This may not be a deep or ultimate difference, as we are most likely constituted by our neurophysiology. But there is no guarantee that said constitution proceeds in a straightforward way, and there is a lot of opportunity to simply see reflected back in the neurophysiology the philosophical prejudices with which you approached it.

    MrMister on
  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    Paladin I think you're right. I am very aware of my thought processes so the idea that I'm not in control of what actions I pick is a little off putting. But it's hard to judge that this wasn't inadvertently forced by my brain regardless and that no matter what I did I still have no control over the answer as the brain is responding to certain stimuli.

  • surrealitychecksurrealitycheck NONSTOP INFINITE CLIMAX POSTING you must go on i cant go on ill go onRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    i don't see why the mind being deterministic is a problem

    i think it's only a problem for people who have gone for the most intuitively obvious and least sense-making version of "free will"

    also, what does
    A program, after all, doesn't actually make decisions; it just does what it's programmed to do.

    mean, paladin?

    there's very good stuff written on this by dennett which, even if you disagree with him, gets a lot of the nastiness of conventional thinking about free will out there - elbow room, i think it was called

    surrealitycheck on
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  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    MrMr: I'm on my phone, but a few things.

    - presumably any signal or combination of signals that can be identified as a preconscious "decision" can be propositionally articulated.

    - there are non-propositional ways to classify a decision event; for example, a neurological state that resolves the question, and by its occurrence precludes further changes to that choice. Although, I suppose this could necessarily mean it can be articulated as a proposition if the decision in question is so articulated.

    - the question of propositionally articulating a preconscious neurological event can be a matter of ignorance or imprecision. We might simply be unable, as of yet, to determine the propositional content of a neurological event, even though it may be possible to articulate it as such.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    i don't see why the mind being deterministic is a problem

    i think it's only a problem for people who have gone for the most intuitively obvious and least sense-making version of "free will"

    also, what does
    A program, after all, doesn't actually make decisions; it just does what it's programmed to do.

    mean, paladin?

    there's very good stuff written on this by dennett which, even if you disagree with him, gets a lot of the nastiness of conventional thinking about free will out there - elbow room, i think it was called

    If a computer is hooked up to a scale, and you put a package on the scale and asked it if the package was light enough to send via express mail and the computer said no, then on face it would appear the program had made a decision, when in reality you could trace the weight signal from the scale to a function that compared the value to a table of package weight limits. This is further deconstructed to stored numbers and logic expressions prearranged into a specific pattern, which is further deconstructed to logic gates arranged in a specific sequence, which is further deconstructed to electrons in a wire in one position that force other electrons to move through the wire in another position. The computer has practically made a decision, but in reality its answer was a foregone conclusion as a result of the input and output in its programming.

    Our total external input to our body stimulates certain neurons to carry an electrical signal to other neurons or other cell types. No neuron has any sort of decision making property - if it receives sufficient signal, it sends that signal down its axon, and the nature of the signal is determined by the source of the signal and structure of the neuron. Therefore, a bundle of neurons connected together will have a finite and predictable reaction to external signals. Extrapolate that to the whole brain - given the structure and state of the brain, you can achieve predictable signal. There is a lot of state variation involved and confounding factors, but these impart complexity and nothing else. Nothing in the laws of matter accounts for a unique, self empowered reaction - every reaction is preceded by an action entirely determined by the laws of physics, predicted by the universe if not by humans.


    When you get right down to it, the universe is just a bunch of matter and energy bouncing around in a vastly complex pattern. There is no difference between a person and the air and a drinking straw, because they're all made out of the same matter whose only job is to take up space and transfer energy. There really is no room for sentience in this view of the universe, because everything can be broken down to "matter and energy bounce around or radiate or whatever and sometimes goes one way when it was supposed to go another way, whoops," and every construct, no matter how complex, can be broken down to matter and energy, whose only job is to follow the laws of physics and bounce around and take up space. A computer is broken down to "send an electric current this way or the other way" so in the end, no matter how complex a computer is, its entire purpose can be boiled down to "send electrons this way or the other way" and further to "take up space and transfer energy."

    So yeah, maybe there is no such thing as a decision. logic gates don't decide to open, neurons don't decide to fire; they do so when the correct stimuli is given. If that's true for one neuron, that's true for several neurons in a line, then neurons both vertically and laterally connected, then neurons interacting with fluctuating and rapidly changing networks, then neural networks affected by general environmental potentials and signaling molecules and cyclical feedback, then ????, then ????, then ????, then ????, and then the brain, which boils down to molecules knocking about in the shape of a brain.

    Or maybe there is such a thing as a decision and a self and our knowledge of how the universe works is incomplete in a way that doesn't jive with the current laws of physics.

    Marty: The future, it's where you're going?
    Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
  • Gandalf_the_CrazedGandalf_the_Crazed Vigilo ConfidoRegistered User regular
    I knew I should have taken more of the "bio" psychology courses and fewer of the applied psych courses. I'd never heard of the split-brain thing, that is fucking fascinating.

    PEUsig_zps56da03ec.jpg
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    There is clearly such thing as a decision. The word is not meaningless. It refers to an event that occurs; the question is not its existence but its nature.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • surrealitychecksurrealitycheck NONSTOP INFINITE CLIMAX POSTING you must go on i cant go on ill go onRegistered User regular
    edited November 2011
    oh, we're using decision as a shorthand for "special sauce of consciousness"

    fair nuff

    because by all of the normal definitions computers are capable of taking decisions.

    surrealitycheck on
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  • PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    yeah like maybe 1% of the stuff that's going to be talked about in here is practical. Which is too bad.

    Marty: The future, it's where you're going?
    Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
  • IncenjucarIncenjucar QA Tester -> Game Producer Seattle, WARegistered User regular
    Nah, it's perfectly useful if you apply it to people. Knowledge of the human brain structure is an excellent tool. Knowing how an individual reacts to certain events under certain conditions (which can basically block off other parts of their personality) allows you to get the proper reaction from them. It also allows us to accept that the better or worse parts of an individual do not encompass their entire being, which can be of great benefit.

    freefallagentad_zps635a83ed.png
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    You can test the confabulation bit without having to chop anyone's brain up.

    The OP reminds me of another experiment I remember reading about a while back. Two groups of people were given a list of word-pairs to memorize, ostensibly to test short-to-medium term memory. The control group got a bunch of random words. The experimental group got a bunch of random words with the pair "moon-ocean" thrown in somewhere.

    Then, after testing the memorization of the word pairs (nearly all of the experimental group remembered "moon-ocean"), each group was asked to name the first brand of laundry detergent that came to mind. The control group had a fairly even distribution. The experimental group overwhelmingly replied with "Tide".

    Then they were asked why they picked that one. (This was the real experiment, to see, basically, if introspection was useful.) With only a couple exceptions none of the experimental group even thought of the word pair they had been given earlier. They'd mention seeing a TV ad or whatever.

    I'm still formulating what I think this whole thing says about consciousness and such, though perhaps I've already decided.

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