Volume 4, Issue 1, 2006

Consciousness and Existence as a Process
Riccardo Manzotti, Institute of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Language and Communication, Milan, Italy

The problem of consciousness is traditionally understood as the difficult task of justifying the emergence of an inner world of experiences, qualia and/or mental representations from a substrate of physical things conceived as autonomously existing. I argue that an alternative approach is possible, but it requires a conceptual reconstruction of consciousness and existence as two different perspectives on the same underlying process. On this basis, I present a view of direct (conscious) perception that supposes a unity of the activity in the brain and the events in the external world. The underlying process is referred to as onphene. I will use the example of the rainbow as an intuition pump to introduce this new approach, which is eventually used to explain features of consciousness such as illusions, memory, dreams, and phosphenes. The proposed view shares some elements with neo-realism and process ontology, and it can be considered as a form of radical empiricism.

(Proto-) Consciousness as a Contextually Emergent Property of Self-Sustaining Systems
J. Scott Jordan, Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, USA, and
Marcello Ghin, Faculty of Cultural Science, Institute of Philosophy, University of Paderborn, Germany

The concept of contextual emergence has been introduced as a specific kind of emergence in which some, but not all of the conditions for a higher-level phenomenon exist at a lower level. Further conditions exist in contingent contexts that provide stability conditions at the lower level, which in turn afford the emergence of novelty at the higher level. The purpose of the present paper is to propose that (proto-) consciousness is a contextually emergent property of self-sustaining systems. The core assumption is that living organisms constitute self-sustaining embodiments of the contingent contexts that afford their emergence. We propose that the emergence of such systems constitutes the emergence of content-bearing systems because the lower-level processes of such systems give rise to and sustain the macro-level whole (i.e., body) in which they are nested, while the emergent macro-level whole constitutes the context in which the lower-level processes can be for something (i.e., be functional). Such embodied functionality is necessarily and naturally about the contexts that it has embodied. It is this notion of self-sustaining embodied aboutness that we propose to represent a type of content capable of evolving into consciousness.

Complementarity of Process and Substance
Hartmann Römer, Department of Physics, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

Process philosophy endeavors to replace the classical ontology of substances by a process ontology centered on the notions of change and transition. We argue that the substantial and processual approach are mutually complementary in the sense of a generalized quantum theory which is not limited to physical phenomena. From this point of view, restricting oneself to either substance ontology or process ontology would be as ill-advised as exclusively relying on position or momentum representations in physics. A new view on Zeno's paradox lends itself. The meaning of a "mental energy" observable, complementary to "internal time", and its relationship to acategorial states of the human mind will be tentatively discussed.

Pitfalls in Biological Computing: Canonical and Idiosyncratic Dysfunction of Conscious Machines
Rodrick Wallace, The New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, USA

The central paradigm of artificial intelligence is rapidly shifting toward biological models for both robotic devices and systems performing such critical tasks as network management, vehicle navigation, and process control. Here we use a recent mathematical analysis of the necessary conditions for consciousness in humans to explore likely failure modes inherent to a broad class of biologically inspired computing machines. Analogs to developmental psychopathology, in which regulatory mechanisms for consciousness fail progressively and subtly under stress, and to inattentional blindness, where a narrow "syntactic bandpass" defined by the rate distortion manifold of conscious attention results in pathological fixation, seem inevitable. Similar problems are likely to confront other possible architectures, although their mathematical description may be far less straightforward. Computing devices constructed on biological paradigms will inevitably lack the elaborate, but poorly understood, system of control mechanisms which has evolved over the last few hundred million years to stabilize consciousness in higher animals. This will make such machines prone to insidious degradation, and, ultimately, catastrophic failure.

Last revision: 4 May 2006