Volume 3, Issue 2, 2005

Can Mind Affect Matter Via Active Information?
Basil J. Hiley, Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom,
Paavo Pylkkänen, School of Humanities and Informatics, University of Skövde, Sweden

Mainstream cognitive neuroscience typically ignores the role of quantum physical effects in the neural processes underlying cognition and consciousness. However, many unsolved problems remain, suggesting the need to consider new approaches. We propose that quantum theory, especially through an ontological interpretation due to Bohm and Hiley, provides a fruitful framework for addressing the neural correlates of cognition and consciousness. In particular, the ontological interpretation suggests that a novel type of "active information", connected with a novel type of "quantum potential energy", plays a key role in quantum physical processes. After introducing the ontological interpretation we illustrate its value for cognitive neuroscience by discussing it in the light of a proposal by Beck and Eccles about how quantum tunneling could play a role in controlling the frequency of synaptic exocytosis. In this proposal, quantum tunneling would enable the "self" to control its brain without violating the energy conservation laws. We argue that the ontological interpretation provides a sharper picture of what actually could be taking place in quantum tunneling in general and in synaptic exocytosis in particular. Based on the notions of active information and quantum potential energy, we propose a coherent way of understanding how mental processes (understood as involving non-classical physical processes) can act on traditional, classically describable neural processes without violating the energy conservation laws.

Fields in Current Models of Consciousness: A Tool for Saving the Hard Problem?
Michael Lipkind, Kimron Veterinary Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Beit Dagan, Israel, and International Institute of Biophysics, Neuss-Hombroich, Germany

The field concept has an attractive potential for addressing  the so-called hard problem of consciousness. Existing theories employing the field concept are reviewed and critically assessed: (1) those based on established electromagnetic fields (John, McFadden, Romijn, Pockett) and quantum fields (Penrose and Hameroff), and (2) those based on autonomous fields irreducible to  fundamental physical fields. The explanative power of physical field theories is limited to revealing the physical basis of neural correlates of consciousness, contributing to a solution of the hard problem via elucidating the binding problem. Current autonomous field theories are purely symbolic, i.e. they lack specifications of the nature of the field, and result in tautological definitions (Libet), metaphoric descriptions (Searle), or esoteric speculations (Sheldrake). An alternative option for using the notion of an autonomous field is indicated where the field is postulated as an extra ingredient (à la Chalmers) beyond brain and consciousness.

The Hebbian Synapse: Progenitor of Consciousness
Willard Miranker, Department of Computer Science, Yale University, New Haven CT, USA

A multi-paradigm approach to consciousness is presented utilizing dualistic and reductionistic elements. A dual construct is introduced that employs Hebbian synaptic dynamics and the basic notion of measurement in science to bridge the so-called explanatory gap between first person consciousness and third person science. The  unconscious processing by neural circuitry characterizes (i) the neuron as the measuring instrument and (ii) the neural signal as the quantity to be measured. The neural net mechanism of Hebbian synaptic dynamics that effectuates the storage of information implements the role of an observer of a measurement outcome. The approach is reductionistic in the sense that it extends physical  renormalization, as applied to phase changes, to biology. This leads to the proposal of  a ramification process in neural systems (brains) from a primitive form of sensation associated with the Hebbian synapse toward the more elaborate experiential forms of consciousness (feelings, qualia) that are associated with hierarchies of neuronal assemblies. The characterization of sensation as a form of mutual information at the synaptic level implies that consciousness can be conceived  as related to phase changes of information.

On Epistemic and Ontological Aspects of Consciousness: Modal Arguments and Their Possible Implications
Bettina Walde,  Department of Philosophy, University of Mainz, Germany

Anti-materialist thought experiments as, e.g., zombie arguments, have posed some of the most vexing problems for materialist accounts of phenomenal consciousness. I doubt, however, that arguments of this kind can refute the core thesis of materialism. Although I do not question that there is something very special about an adequate explanation of phenomenal consciousness, and although I accept the epistemic irreducibility of phenomenal consciousness, I deny that modal arguments reach far enough to establish essentialism about consciousness. I will draw upon a relativistic conception of modal space and suggest to strictly separate between varieties of metaphysical possibility -- depending on which world is considered as actual, and depending on accessibility relations. It is shown that the modal argument cannot endanger the reductive explanation of the mind-brain relation if one distinguishes carefully between possibility according to primary intensions (epistemic possibility) and possibility according to secondary intensions (metaphysical possibility). Modal arguments are strong enough to make an epistemological point but not an ontological one.

Last revision: 1 December 2005