Monday, April 14, 2008

Living in the Past.

Most of you here have read Blindsight. Some of you have made it almost to the end. A few have even got as far as the references (I know this, because some of you have asked me questions about them). And so you might remember that old study Libet did back in the nineties, in which it was shown that the body begins to act on a decision a full half-second before the conscious self is aware of having made the decision. A lot of Blindsight's punchline hung on this discovery— because obviously, whatever calls an action into being must precede it. Cause and effect. Hence, the johnny-come-lately sense of conscious volition is bogus. We are not in control. I mean, really: a whole half a second.

Half a second? Chun Siong Soon and his buddies piss on Libet's half a second. Nature Neuroscience just released a study that puts Libet's puny electrodes to shame; turns out the brain is making its decisions up to ten full seconds (typically around seven) before the conscious self "decides" to act.

Ten whole seconds. That's longer than the attention span of a sitting president.

It all comes down to stats. Soon et al took real-time fMRI recordings of subjects before, during, and after a conscious "decision" was made; then they went back and looked for patterns of brain activity prior to that "decision" that correlated with the action that ultimately occurred. What they found was a replicable pattern of brain activity that not only preceded the decision by several seconds, but which also correlated with the specific "decision" made (click a button with the right or the left hand). (Interestingly, these results differ from Libet's insofar as subjects reported awareness of their "decision" prior to the activation of the motor nerves, not afterwards. Whereas Libet's results suggested that action precedes conscious "decision"-making by a very brief interval, Soon et al's suggest that actual decision-making precedes conscious "decision"-making by a much longer one. Bottom line is the same in each case, though: what we perceive as "our" choice has already been made before we're even aware of the options.)

This isn't exactly mind reading. Soon and his buds didn't find a circuit that explicitly controls button-pressing behavior or anything. All they found was certain gross patterns of activity which correlated with future behavior. But we could not read that information if the information wasn't there; in a very real sense, your brain must know what it's going to do long before you do.

Obviously this can't be the whole story. If the lag between processing and perception was always that long, we would feel no sense of personal agency at all. It's one thing to think that you told your muscles to leap from the path of an approaching bus when the time discrepancy is a measly 400 millisecs; but not even organisms with our superlative denial skills could pretend that we were in control if our bodies had leapt clear ten seconds before it even occurred to us to move. So I would think this is more proof-of-principal than day-in-the-life. Still. As IO9 points out, given these results, how long before we can do without that stupid conscious part of us entirely?

Wired's online coverage is a bit more defensive. They bend over backwards to leave open some possibility of free will, invoking the hoary old "maybe free will acts as a veto that lets us stop the unconscious decision." But that's bogus, that's recursive: if consciousness only occurs in the wake of subconscious processing (and how could it be otherwise? How can we think anything before the thinking neurons have fired?), then the conscious veto will have the same kind of nonconscious precursors as the original intent. And since that information would be available sooner at the nonconscious level, it once again makes more sense to leave the pointy-haired boss out of the loop entirely.

But I'm going to take a step back and say that everyone here is missing the point. Neither this study nor Libet's really addressed the question of free will at all. Neither study asked whether the decision-making process was free; they merely explored where it was located. And in both cases, the answer is: in the brain. But the brain is not you: the brain is merely where you live. And you, oh conscious one, don't make those decisions any more than a kidney fluke filters blood.

(Oh, and I've figured out who the Final Cylon is. For real this time. Romo Lambkin's cat.)

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42 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

Well, 10 seconds does seem like a lot. I agree with you, though Peter: they didn't ask the right question, although you didn't either. The fact might be that the decision reaches higher level awareness seconds after it is initialized, but the open question is who initialized the decision process? To say we do not have free will would suppose that the brainstem (or something) is initializing the decisions that are made, but that wasn't the result of the paper.

April 15, 2008 at 1:06 AM  
Blogger Brenda said...

It's the brain rehearsing the contemplated action. Perhaps even several actions are modeled and then a final decision is made through a neural consensus.

And clicking a button is heavily rehearsed. I touch type and thank God I don't have to work out the details involved in hitting each and every button. But I really don't feel threatened by the knowledge that the task of clicking on buttons or performing repetitive behaviors is given over to a network of neurons in my head. I'm still here and my sense that I am more or less in charge of the important stuff still seems valid to me.

Peter tends to interpret things towards his own personal biases, just like we all do. However, we really don't know how consciousness "works" and if we don't know something then we don't know. I am the song my brain sings. I am the melody, not the notes and not the paper it's written on.

April 15, 2008 at 1:37 AM  
Blogger Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

Frakking awesome! I have always wondered what the hell was wrong with me when I did certain things and was left confused and pissed at myself.

But it cuts both ways. "I do not hit. It hits by itself." Oh, the speed. When the mind is out to lunch, the practiced body knows what to do.

Chun Siong Soon crossed the t's, dotted the i's, yes? He knows when the conscious choice was made? I read the pdf but my eyes glazed in parts. Surely some people didn't hit the button right away but hesitated a bit first. (Not all, and not for 10 seconds, I just want to know how he dealt with that.)

And *about* Blindsight: I just read Rainbow's End and it didn't deserve to win that Hugo. Nothing against Vernor Vinge - I hear smart people say good things of him. But Rainbow's End was just so.... unsatisfyingly happy.

Serenity was happy, but they earned their ending. They worked for it. Someone who (may have) voted for Rainbow's End, tell me what I (might have) missed! (Hypothetically speaking. Voting is private, yes.)

Oh, and the cows... If you've got cheap stargates, I can see interplanetary cow trading. If you don't, I'd rather radio the specs and build frozen embryos from a universal assembler. But Firefly was in a universe where it pays to space pirate bobble-headed dolls. (not much, but hey: people love those things!) I simply can't imagine the boundary conditions that make *that* make sense.

April 15, 2008 at 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lampkin's cat? nah too obvious.
his glasses on the other hand....
toaster through and through

gene

April 15, 2008 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger TheBrummell said...

...in the brain. But the brain is not you: the brain is merely where you live.

How is this different from old-school mind-body dualism? Why am "I" restricted to only the set of emergent properties above some arbitrary threshold? Am "I" not also more basic functions? Am "I" not also my mitosis, my circulation, my mitochondria?

...performing repetitive behaviors is given over to a network of neurons in my head.

And the other tasks, that some people like to lump under the heading "consciousness"? Do you feel comfortable giving those functions over to a network of neurons?

It's interesting that patterns of blood flow can be detected at significant time-distances from observable motor behaviour, but I don't see how this indicates that ALL decision-making by ALL humans is entirely the result of limbic-system processes. Brains are expensive: if the cerebral cortex is a self-deluding parasite, why is it so common among mammals?

April 15, 2008 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger korpios said...

I've accepted for some time now that "free will" is an impossibility. "We" are the result of chemical reactions in our brains; those chemical reactions follow physical laws. Every idea, every impression, every emotion — even the sense of agency — they're just a one-way television show that "you" don't get a say in.

April 15, 2008 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

So consciousness mirrors the function of today's corporate management. All the work is done unseen by the grunts. They then present the results to the Chief Executive Officer who takes credit for it.

April 15, 2008 at 1:11 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

brenda says:
It's the brain rehearsing the contemplated action. Perhaps even several actions are modeled and then a final decision is made through a neural consensus.

What she said.

If I read the article correctly, I gotta ask a question:

Okay, I'm asked to randomly press one of two buttons, then pick the letter (from among 4 choices) associated with the time I think I made the left/right button decision.

The researcher can predict my left/right choice based on fMRI, and the letter I associate with the choice appears after that prediction point.

Why could I not have subcontracted the actual left-v-right decision to parts of the brain that weren't occupied with the most salient and difficult task I've been asked to do - deciding what letter I was looking at when I made the finger move? Faced with a stream of letters, I don't pick out the associated letter until I am well into the twitch. From the POV of consciousness, pressing a button is one event, not the series of small muscle movements it requires, so to me, anywhere in the twitch is when I made the decision.

That's not lack of free will, that's routinizing or chunking some actions so that an overall "command" causes them to occur. You don't think about hitting the baseball, you use your eyes to guide the overall command to swing.

I mention this because I personally wouldn't sit consciously and think "LEFT!". For a really easy task like twitching my finger, I would have that on "auto-pilot" and decided to press a button, and let the brain pick the side and the moment. If you asked me to tell you later whether I pressed left or right, I might not know.

Try it with your keyboard full of buttons. You can command your right and left index fingers to press keys randomly and not be aware what key they picked, just that you commanded them to randomly press one. I'd like to see this big delay effect with less "chunkable" actions?

Also, there's lag time for seeing and remembering the letter, not a lot, but there is some, so I can never instantaneously tell you what I saw and when. We have to subtract seeing & remembering time from the delay, because it's a separate task.

Good and interesting article! I printed it and will read in-depth on the way home.

Thanks!

April 15, 2008 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

And does this really address activity that require more complex and ambiguous decisions over a long term such as writing a novel, playing a game or developing and engaging in any sort of strategic behavior - basically living a life?

April 15, 2008 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

I said "It's the brain rehearsing the contemplated action." before I had read the article. From what I understand, and I'm just an artist, they ruled that out.

"this prior activity is not an unspecific preparation of a response."

So no, my uninformed guess was wrong. On the other hand

"Thus, a network of high-level control areas can begin to shape an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness."

Presumably then, my ego is that network of high level control areas. I just can't shake my subjective experience that I have at least a modicum of control over parts of my life. It seems to me that ought not to be so easily discounted. After all, haven't we also shown that crows, crows!, can exhibit some reasoning ability? Doesn't it take some pretty high level thinking to look at a wire, bend it into a hook and then use that to fish a treat out of a glass? I remember when the idea that chimps or apes could meaningfully communicate was widely debunked. It's taken a good 25 years for people to accept that.

You could go the other way with all this. One could, and some do, argue that inanimate matter isn't so inanimate. That matter performs "calculations" and therefore one could think of the universe as one vast computer. Perhaps one that possesses a consciousness of a sort. Perhaps it even has a name for itself. Maybe something like YHWH?

Two can play at this game.

April 15, 2008 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger The Lake Fever said...

Bullshit. It's Hot Dog. Everyone knows that.

April 15, 2008 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Dan said...

I agree with you, though Peter: they didn't ask the right question, although you didn't either. The fact might be that the decision reaches higher level awareness seconds after it is initialized, but the open question is who initialized the decision process? To say we do not have free will would suppose that the brainstem (or something) is initializing the decisions that are made...

Depends on how you define "I". I'm not saying that the brain doesn't have free will (although I'm not saying that it does); I (and more importantly, the guys writing all these papers) are simply saying that going by the evidence, the decisions (free or not) are made by the nonconscious part of the brain. If you define yourself as all the circuitry in the meat, self-aware or not, then, yes: "we" are still making the decisions. But if you define yourself as the self-aware spark behind the eyes (which is what most people do), then no: all we do is get executive summaries of decisions that have already been made, and we mistake those summaries for our own volition.

Brenda said...

I'm still here and my sense that I am more or less in charge of the important stuff still seems valid to me.

Seems valid to me too, but I think the whole thrust of all this research is that what seems intuitively obvious isn't necessarily factually true. We simply can't trust our intuitions in these matters.


Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

Chun Siong Soon crossed the t's, dotted the i's, yes? He knows when the conscious choice was made? I read the pdf but my eyes glazed in parts. Surely some people didn't hit the button right away but hesitated a bit first. (Not all, and not for 10 seconds, I just want to know how he dealt with that.)

He did address all those concerns, yes— although I'll admit it didn't help that so much of his supporting documentation was online, not embedded in the pdf. I confess I haven't checked out that supplementary stuff.


Anonymous said...

lampkin's cat? nah too obvious.

Think about it: We know the cat can alter the very flow of time (see the way that time seemed to speed up when he fled the raptor?) We know that skin jobs cannot resurrect indefinitely— Cavil was complaining about intolerable blinding headaches on rebirth #5, to the point where death would be preferable— and cats, too, have a limited number of lives (nine, I think). Finally, cats need litter, i.e., soil, and what's a synonym for "soil" or "dirt"? Given their original machine programming, one can see how a certain literal-minded interpretation of that term would inspire the whole Cylon quest for "Earth".

TheBrummell said...

How is this different from old-school mind-body dualism? Why am "I" restricted to only the set of emergent properties above some arbitrary threshold?

Admittedly, it's a matter of definition. And if you include all your nonconscious processes in the definition of I, then sure; I say as much above. But the question then becomes, if all these tasks can be done nonconsciously, what's the self-aware homunculus for? We know that "I" cannot exist without the rest of the brain; but is the reverse necessarily true? There is increasing evidence that it isn't.

I don't see how this indicates that ALL decision-making by ALL humans is entirely the result of limbic-system processes. Brains are expensive: if the cerebral cortex is a self-deluding parasite, why is it so common among mammals?

I think you misread the paper/posting: nobody said anything about limbic processes. All this decision-making happens up in the cortex— it just doesn't happen to involve consciousness.

bec-87rb said...

Why could I not have subcontracted the actual left-v-right decision to parts of the brain that weren't occupied with the most salient and difficult task I've been asked to do ...

... That's not lack of free will, that's routinizing or chunking some actions so that an overall "command" causes them to occur. You don't think about hitting the baseball, you use your eyes to guide the overall command to swing.

Good point, but then that actually is the point. Our brains routinely parcel out tasks, they outsource. The creepy thing about all this is not that our decisions have nonconsious elements, the creepy thing (to me, anyway) is that those nonconscious elements don't seem to leave anything substantial for the conscious parts to do! A lot of folks fall back on the whole "veto" role, but I don't buy that for reasons I explain in the original posting.

Try it with your keyboard full of buttons. You can command your right and left index fingers to press keys randomly and not be aware what key they picked, just that you commanded them to randomly press one.

That's pretty much exactly what Soon et al's test consisted of— except they only had two buttons, one for each hand. Can't say I see what is added by putting a bunch of buttons under each finger, if you're only supposed to be pressing them randomly anyway. Still comes down to nothing more complex than left vs. right. What am I missing here?


John Henning said...

And does this really address activity that require more complex and ambiguous decisions over a long term such as writing a novel, playing a game or developing and engaging in any sort of strategic behavior - basically living a life?

You know, it might. After all, Burroughs swore up and down that he didn't remember writing a word of Naked Lunch...


Brenda said...

Presumably then, my ego is that network of high level control areas. I just can't shake my subjective experience that I have at least a modicum of control over parts of my life. It seems to me that ought not to be so easily discounted. After all, haven't we also shown that crows, crows!, can exhibit some reasoning ability? Doesn't it take some pretty high level thinking to look at a wire, bend it into a hook and then use that to fish a treat out of a glass?

I think you might be confusing the terms here. I, too, am impressed by crows, and yes, there's hella complex thinking there. But nobody's arguing here about the complexity of the thought process; the question is whether it's conscious. And the fact that complex decisionmaking (not just this two-button shit, but other multivariable decision-making tests I've cited elsewhere in this 'crawl) happens without conscious involvement is the weird/scary insight.

You could go the other way with all this. One could, and some do, argue that inanimate matter isn't so inanimate. That matter performs "calculations" and therefore one could think of the universe as one vast computer. Perhaps one that possesses a consciousness of a sort. Perhaps it even has a name for itself. Maybe something like YHWH?

Sure. I've heard a couple of people over at the Perimeter Institute riff off the same claims. But the game here is not to play "what-if", cool as that may be. The difference here is that these guys have collected hard evidence to support their conclusions; big difference from plausible speculation.

April 15, 2008 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger Derek C. F. Pegritz said...

I absolutely LOVED Blindsight (in fact, I'm re-reading it right now!), but I still find the basic premise that an advanced, tool-using, language-processing species could evolve without self-awareness to be nothing more than science-fiction. It makes for reall cool aliens, yes...but when it comes to reality, it's simply that: fiction.

The "conscious" layer of the brain's functionality is always a step or two behind "unconscious" functionality, because "conscious deliberation" in moments of life-and/or-death decision-making (such as being jumped by a panther on the primordial plains of Africa) are far too vital to entrust to the "top-level" processing (perhaps even metaprocessing) that takes place in the "self-awareness" module of the brain. Sometimes the brain must simply react to stimuli instantly, without routing that information through higher levels of processing before reacting. That only makes sense. Self-awareness is an important thing that has contributed greatly toward the development of the human species; but self-awareness is only one of many, many brain functions.

I find the question of "free will" to be an absolutely moot point despite any and all data that indicates a "lag time" between the brain's decision-making algorithms and our conscious awareness of them. There simply is no free will at the basic instinctual level of brain processing: there is only a vast serious of stimulus/response rulesets designed to keep us alive in a variety of situations. "Free will" is a process enacted entirely by the self-aware "conscious mind" abstraction layer, which can formalize decisions and actions which are then passed down through the processing hierarchy to the rest of the brain to put into effect.

So, the ultimate answer to the question of free will is: we both have it and don't have it. The brain is not one single computer but a series of computers, each of which is responsible for processing a specific kind of information and reacting to it autonomously. The "conscious" abstraction/processing layer has evolved as a means of collecting as much output from these other routines/processors so that we may consciously correlate them and produce higher orders of behavior based on them to increase our chances of survival that much more.

Actually, I'm working on a review of Blindsight for my own blog which will expand into an essay on just this question of conscious-vs.-unconscious functions in the brain. So thanks for the link! It'll come in handy.

April 15, 2008 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

Peter Watts posted-
You know, it might. After all, Burroughs swore up and down that he didn't remember writing a word of Naked Lunch...

That is a great point really. I draw a fair amount and the images seem to come unconsciously - I don't consciously choose to envision the art entirely even though I use certain rules of composition. It mostly creates itself.

I imagine writers and other people have a similar experience where they feel like something is dictating the work.

April 16, 2008 at 12:49 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I suspect I need to think even more about this than I have, because it seems I can not work my way past one element in this type study.

Once a subject is told the nature of the task -- 'you must push a button'-- how can any data collected as a product of this request be 'untainted' by the foreknowledge of what the subject knows they are expected to do? (Does that sentence even make sense?)

Subjects and experimenters all know what is going to happen. How does this say anying about what the brain is doing 'first?'

One can't possibly argue that knowing what is expected of you still allows the brain to act in some sort of 'spooky' pre- conscious way that doesn't refer to the instructions given.

I can't 'grok' beyond this point to give reasonable consideration to the results obtained in this type of research.

So someone help me...

April 16, 2008 at 2:49 AM  
Anonymous splittersturm said...

Just an anecdote that recently showed up in a German newspaper:

Celebrating her 50th birthday, German chancellor Merkel invited a neuroscientist to her party, say, in place of a stage magician. The guy gave a speech in which he declared that free will was an illusion, and decision making was a hard-wired process involving Neurons.

A German comedian duo reacted by issuing the statement:

"German elites were thrilled to hear that not Germans, but Neurons were responsible for the Holocaust. Why the Neurons decided this way back then is not yet known."

Sure, that's polemic, but it still illustrates the issue at hand quite well: if the human condition boils down to following a set of however complex "physical" rules, there is no justification for ethical behaviour, nor for punishment in the wake of "misconduct".

My personal feeling is that the current trend towards a "mechanical" explanation of our mental processes stems at least in part from our inability to wrap our heads around the complexity of it all, and the urge to categorize, simplify, which is also one the ideas presented in Blindsight.
That's not to say neuroscience is crackpottery - I just have a feeling that, especially in mainstream media, the matter has been somewhat oversimplified recently, and that there's still a long journey ahead of us.

April 16, 2008 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

splittersturm said...

Sure, that's polemic, but it still illustrates the issue at hand quite well: if the human condition boils down to following a set of however complex "physical" rules, there is no justification for ethical behaviour, nor for punishment in the wake of "misconduct".


Dude! Godwin's Law!

Besides that, this doesn't give us a reason to believe humans are free. It gives us a reason to pretend we believe humans are free. A legal fiction in order to justify revenge.

The problem with that reasoning is that if we want to do the crime and punishment thing, we can do it without reference to human freedom.

Example: Bush has committed crimes against the human race. He will, no doubt, continue to do so if given a chance. The human race should remove his ability to do damage.

We can even refer to a lack of human freedom. Example: Future presidents, watching Bush. learn their behaviors by watching how the world responds to him. The world should therefore demonstrate to future presidents that some ideas are really bad in order to make some of them behave better.

As for the justification for ethical behavior, I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

That said, I'm not sure this study debunks free will... if the subjects were 100% predictable 10 seconds before they made a conscious choice, that could simply mean the choice was unconscious and 10 seconds early. Otoh, if the experimenter was able to arrange the letters so I could roll 1d4 and say "make him pick 'd'" or something like that, then I would be highly amused, convinced, and creeped out.

Either way, let's find out for sure, shall we?

April 16, 2008 at 1:11 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

Peter says:

Can't say I see what is added by putting a bunch of buttons under each finger, if you're only supposed to be pressing them randomly anyway. Still comes down to nothing more complex than left vs. right. What am I missing here?


Not a thing! It's just a thing a person could do at the computer, to get the conscious experience of letting the fingers pick which button. I had been imagining I was the test subject.

The creepy thing about all this is not that our decisions have nonconsious elements, the creepy thing (to me, anyway) is that those nonconscious elements don't seem to leave anything substantial for the conscious parts to do!

I have to agree that it's creepy to think about how much happens outside of *direct* conscious control, but what about this:

The President of the Land of You is your consciousness. The President has many functionaries to carry out the tasks for the upkeep of You - a group of upper level management types, to whom the President delegates tasks, and they, in turn, have functionaries to whom the delegate, and so on.

The President can't meet every cell in You - who has the time? Plus, the citizen cells are born and die, so he has to assume that under his general edicts and broad mission statements, that they do their jobs. Likewise, the Pres can't meet every manager or functionary, either. He/She just sets priorities as best he can, makes adjustments where he/she must, and he gets a free ride in You in return for his organizational services. I mean, there is a reason they call work of the forebrain "executive functions."

I think the guys who did this clever study are using too crude a tool to localize "intent" and are demanding that the President go down and help run the backhoes and drive the articulated trucks, when his job is to decide the building needs building, give instructions to the right VPs, and maybe go to the ribbon cutting when it's completed.

Is your consciousness (yours specifically, you, Peter) less meaningful if it's an organizer and a manager, as opposed to the backhoe driver? It still got the work done, still played its part?

I think it's even creepier that all the consciousnesses of all your contributors are reaching out magically with electrons and photons and changing my consciousness.

I was thinking about this at supper last night, and talked about it with the Better Half - I was contaminating a loved one's consciousness with the contents of brains for which I have never even seen their boney containers. All you folks have had your metaphorical fingers in my brain.

That's deliciously creepy.

April 16, 2008 at 1:21 PM  
Anonymous splittersturm said...

Dude! Godwin's Law!

Oh my, it's true after all.

As for the justification for ethical behavior, I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

That's because i meant "reason" instead of "justification". That's what you get with english as a second language.

April 16, 2008 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger AR said...

Is it just me, or do there seem to be a lot of people, mostly religious, who are just absolutely itching to have free will disproven so that they can finally molest and murder without feeling guilty?

April 16, 2008 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger jmacclure said...

That the task of pushing buttons randomly doesn't require consciousness or intentionality doesn't surprise me. The act itself is meaningless. What would happen if the pushing of buttons determined the life or death of a convicted criminal? I think conscious deliberation would be required...

April 17, 2008 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger John Henning said...

Thinking a little more about this, there are many obvious examples of our everyday experience where our actions are out of our control but we don't think of it as abnormal. For immediate example, try to look at this text and not read it as words and letters. Also, I think Peter Watts brought this up elsewhere, the conscious human mind can't hear the word blue and not think of the color blue. We can look away from something or close our eyes, but we really can't choose not to see something we see. On the other hand, if you drop a needle onto a carpet, even though you the light from the needle is striking your retina and those signals are being processed in your brain, you won't "see" the needle until something unconscious recognizes it and puts it in front of your conscious mind.

Many tasks, typing and driving a familiar route seem to me to be done primarily unconsciously. I can leave work and end up at home with a pretty vague memory of the drive. In fact, I imagine most of us would have a hard time remembering much of our regular activities from just the day before. I think this is because much of the time we are already on autopilot.

I think this experiment more confirms what we pretty much experience much of the day but don't really "consciously" acknowledge.

April 17, 2008 at 11:29 AM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

john henning says:

I think this experiment more confirms what we pretty much experience much of the day but don't really "consciously" acknowledge.

Right, that's what I'm saying - when dealing with huge complex events, the brain organizes it into manageability - filters, chunks, and otherwise makes incredible tasks easy,

You can't be consciously aware every second what every muscle is doing, just like you can't make sense of all the photons hitting your eyes without the organizational and filtering tasks that begin at the retina and continue as the message tunnels back into the brain.

I love that the software works so well, and I think the task of deciding and pressing the button begins as soon as you explain to the subject s/he is going to press a button, which precedes the "prediction point" the researchers discovered. Per teresa's comment:

Once a subject is told the nature of the task -- 'you must push a button'-- how can any data collected as a product of this request be 'untainted' by the foreknowledge of what the subject knows they are expected to do? (Does that sentence even make sense?)

Yes, it makes sense to me.

April 17, 2008 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Teresa said...

Once a subject is told the nature of the task — 'you must push a button'— how can any data collected as a product of this request be 'untainted' by the foreknowledge of what the subject knows they are expected to do?

In this case, the instruction was not merely "push a button", but "you must decide which button to push, then push it." That decision-making process thus happened further downstream, and was not set in stone at the outset— and the preceding MRI results reflected differences depending on which path was taken.


splittersturm said...

"German elites were thrilled to hear that not Germans, but Neurons were responsible for the Holocaust. Why the Neurons decided this way back then is not yet known."

Brilliant.

Sure, that's polemic, but it still illustrates the issue at hand quite well: if the human condition boils down to following a set of however complex "physical" rules, there is no justification for ethical behaviour, nor for punishment in the wake of "misconduct".

And then AR chipped in further down with...

Is it just me, or do there seem to be a lot of people, mostly religious, who are just absolutely itching to have free will disproven so that they can finally molest and murder without feeling guilty?

And to both points I would say, no problem. Because if those who offend have no choice but to commit the offense, then the rest of us continue to have no choice about the punishment we inflict upon them for their crimes. It all balances out.


Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

Either way, let's find out for sure, shall we?

Yes. I think we shall, before too long.

bec-87rb said...

The President of the Land of You is your consciousness. The President has many functionaries to carry out the tasks for the upkeep of You - a group of upper level management types, to whom the President delegates tasks, and they, in turn, have functionaries to whom the delegate, and so on...

Okay, I can see where you're going with this (mainly because I skipped ahead and read where you were going with it before I wrote this), and the problem I have with it is that your comparison assumes that the Delegator sets the priorities up front. So far, the evidence seems to be that the priorities are getting set before the Delegator even knows about them.

But it's worth emphasizing yet again, because a lot of people here and elsewhere are still getting creeped out about this: this is not about free will, no matter what kind of sexy phrasing the authors used in their intro. This is about where in the brain the decision gets made. Saying that the decision is made by nonconscious elements is not the same thing as saying the decision is not freely made; why can't the nonconscious parts of the brain choose as freely (or as deterministically) as the conscious ones? As has been said before, the question is how you define "I"; as the whole brain, or just as the conscious part. (There's an extended post over at "Mixing Memory" (which is at http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/2008/04/this_is_your_brain_on_free_cho.php, but this stupid fucking blogger app doesn't allow embedded links in comments for some reason) that also deals with this stuff, both in relation to Soon's paper and a couple of others that have shown up on the 'crawl over the past year or so.)


jmacclure said...

That the task of pushing buttons randomly doesn't require consciousness or intentionality doesn't surprise me. The act itself is meaningless. What would happen if the pushing of buttons determined the life or death of a convicted criminal? I think conscious deliberation would be required...

I actually get the sense that most folks' stands on things like capital punishment (and abortion, and religion, and even whether or not you like someone upon meeting them) probably are done unconsciously. From what I can tell, most of the time we base our initial opinion purely on gut feeling. Then, when asked to explain our decision, we just retrofit a plausible rationale onto what we feel in our gut.

The great social philosopher Stephen Colbert has a word for this: truthiness.

April 17, 2008 at 11:24 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

Okay, I can see where you're going with this (mainly because I skipped ahead and read where you were going with it before I wrote this)

Hee hee! I laughed aloud.

... the problem I have with it is that your comparison assumes that the Delegator sets the priorities up front. So far, the evidence seems to be that the priorities are getting set before the Delegator even knows about them.

I didn't see that in this experiment - we told the button pusher that s/he was going to push a button, then made the predicting measurement about left v right, didn't we?

The Delegator absorbed the idea of button pushing, decided, yep, I will push buttons, and sent the order for the automatic pushing buttons to begin, whenever you fingers are ready? Isn't that what happened?

this is not about free will, no matter what kind of sexy phrasing the authors used in their intro.

I feel you're right. The big deal is cause and effect, and what events are causing which other events.

Saying that the decision is made by nonconscious elements is not the same thing as saying the decision is not freely made; why can't the nonconscious parts of the brain choose as freely (or as deterministically) as the conscious ones?

Delicious - a really cool point, plus, you and I are agreeing, in a round about way.

The Land of You analogy still works? The different parts of the government can and do make independent decisions, often under *general* directions from above, or from lateral or even sub-offices, if overall goals are being pushed.

So (man, this analogy is getting stretched!) while the Executive makes general policy and major actions decisions, some of the overall goals are set without his input. In the case of a person, there is an overall goal of reproducing, yes? So there are departments of the brain that are dedicated to that goal.

When I ovulate (sorry to get personal for a moment, but this is my RL experience of this Land thing) there are a-verbal parts of my brain carrying out the directive to reproduce - they send up pictures and even short movies of what that dept. advises we ought to be doing right now? Stop typing, and read this mental picture we're sending up of hot sex - look, we even picked out someone in your office you could have hot sex with and put him in the photo?

So, a dept. made an independent assessment that typing is bogus when there are eggs ready for fertilization, then the Executive made a decision that accomodated the needs of the various depts in light of overall conscious goals.

I don't have problems with parts of my unconscious brain taking initiative on larger goals, although it is inconvenient when the Executive doesn't get at least a memo on what's going on, as courtesy to him/it.

What I hear you saying is: parts of my brain acting independently and unconsciously is creepy to the conscious parts.

April 18, 2008 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

Here's an interesting article on research into the effect of a belief in Free Will on people's actions:

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2008/vohs.cfm

Vohs and Schooler set out to see if otherwise honest people would cheat and lie if their beliefs in free will were manipulated.

The psychologists gave college students a mathematics exam. The math problems appeared on a computer screen, and the subjects were told that a computer glitch would cause the answers to appear on the screen as well. To prevent the answers from showing up, the students had to hit the space bar as soon as the problems appeared.

In fact, the scientists were observing to see if the participants surreptitiously used the answers instead of solving the problems honestly on their own. Prior to the math test, Vohs and Schooler used a well-established method to prime the subjects' beliefs regarding free will: some of the students were taught that science disproves the notion of free will and that the illusion of free will was a mere artifact of the brain's biochemistry whereas others got no such indoctrination.

The results were clear: those with weaker convictions about their power to control their own destiny were more apt to cheat when given the opportunity as compared to those whose beliefs about controlling their own lives were left untouched.

Vohs and Schooler then went a step further to see if they could get people to cheat with unmistakable intention and effort. In a second study, the experimenters set up a different deception: they had the subjects take a very difficult cognitive test. Then, the subjects solved a series of problems without supervision and scored themselves. They also "rewarded" themselves $1 for each correct answer; in order to collect, they had to walk across the room and help themselves to money in a manila envelope.

The psychologists had previously primed the participants to have their beliefs in free will bolstered or reduced by having them read statements supporting a deterministic stance of human behavior. And the results were just as robust. As reported in the January issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, this study shows that those with a stronger belief in their own free will were less apt to steal money than were those with a weakened belief.


Regardless on the existence of free will, I wonder how changing your belief in free will causes a change in the choices you, consciously or unconsciously, make.

April 18, 2008 at 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In conversation with someone I knew, they had spoken three words, comprising at the most three seconds. I immediately replied with an improvised, made up ad lib, much like everyday talk, and not of the 'How are you?' variety.

Given that I'd never heard the line before, and my reply was immediate, with no time lag, I'd made a decision in a far faster time frame then what was offered by the study-my reply was short, as well, three words.

April 19, 2008 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

bec-87rb said...

I didn't see that in this experiment - we told the button pusher that s/he was going to push a button, then made the predicting measurement about left v right, didn't we?


Quite right. I was talking about cumulative evidence to date, from a variety of studies; search the crawl for "neuro" tags and some of them will come up.

The Land of You analogy still works? The different parts of the government can and do make independent decisions, often under *general* directions from above, or from lateral or even sub-offices, if overall goals are being pushed.


Just to clarify: what are you thinking of when you say "general decisions"? 'Cause to me those might include, get laid... find food .... avoid predators ....ooooh, sugar! and so on. And those are all pretty basic, subcortical priorities. And I would argue that a lot of the things we use our neocortices for -- war, religion, art, porn, various-mixtures-of-the-above -- ultimately arise from those basic decisions. Ultimately, I guess I'm suggesting, the brain stem is still in control.


John Henning
said...

Here's an interesting article on research into the effect of a belief in Free Will on people's actions:

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2008/vohs.cfm

That's just one of a number of studies along the same vein (I'm pretty sure some have been mentioned here), all of which have come out over the past few months; using words like "honesty" in a conversation makes people less likely to cheat. Telling people that a ghost has been recently seen on campus makes people less likely to cheat. It's really kind of depressing how easy we are to manipulate...


Anonymous
said...

In conversation with someone I knew, they had spoken three words, comprising at the most three seconds. I immediately replied with an improvised, made up ad lib, much like everyday talk, and not of the 'How are you?' variety.

Given that I'd never heard the line before, and my reply was immediate, with no time lag, I'd made a decision in a far faster time frame then what was offered by the study-my reply was short, as well, three words.

There's no question that we can make conscious decisions way faster than the mean times reported in this study. We'd be extinct if we couldn't. But the study ain't claiming that all decisions contain such time-lags; the study used decisions with extended time lags to show that the system knew what it was going to do before the conscious subroutine did.

April 20, 2008 at 4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The experiment is flawed, or, shall we say, that it's an experiment that primarily demonstrates that people, in a situation of limited input, and choices thereof, relegate certain neural activity to parts of the brain below conciousness. For instance, in athletics, there are commonly moments wherein an athlete is confronted, within anywhere from a portion of a second, to a couple of seconds, with an oppositions move, that said athlete was not prepared for, and must then make a decision, within that time frame. The experiment does not cover this. It does not cover the flexibility of the brain or mind, in said situations. For instance, when biking, I am aware of two mental states of awareness and decision making-one, where I have looked up the street, and planned a route, based on whatever traffic is occurring, and the other, when I have to make a decision upon which way to move, in the face of an unpredictable action.

At best, the most the scientists should say, is that given an environment with specific stimuli-instructions, buttons, freedom of choice and the letters, that they can predict, at leisure, the choice, based on a persons fMRI readings. And only under those conditions. To extend the results of a single study, with no variables (such as different timing restraints, randomized button choices, decision processes based upon the delivery of disturbing stimuli, such as flashing lights and such, also based on button or letter choice)smacks of bias.

Or how about this: In Ninpo,there is a test, to move from 4th level Dan, to 5th Level Dan. The sensei stands behind the testee, taps the testee once on each shoulder and head with the wooden sword, says "stop", and then the student goes still, and, at the students choosing, moves-always into a roll, one is supposed to avoid the sword blow without use of limbs. The student has no way of knowing when the sensei will strike. No way of preparing, even though he/she knows very well what the instructions are. The button test doesn't cover that kind of thing at all-indeed, it only covers what happens within the booth, with the buttons, and with the letters.

I certainly wonder where the Godan test sits, in terms of 'freewill' or lack of. The word being bracketed, as mapping systems have not yet adequately identified, and perhaps never will, what, exactly, 'freewill' is. Fascinating, that we are so certain of our tests, surrounding an uncertain term.

April 20, 2008 at 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should clarify a couple things here-first, that I have a suspension of belief concerning the words 'freewill' and determinism', given that General Semantics quite nicely demonstrates that the mapping systems we have, to comprehend those two words, have not been adequately agreed upon-essentially, the words themselves, and the meanings and maps we have for them, are almost meaningless-in spite of dictionary definitions. Well, perhaps that should be described as my own opinion.

To clarify the other statement, I was thinking of situations more complex than the button pushing, where there are stimuli, unpredicted, that require a complex response-almost a thinking things through, though at a high speed. I'm pretty sure this would, in a lab situation, give a much different type of reading, given the much shorter time frame in which the complex decision must be made.

My own personal feeling / unscientific belief, personal statement would have to be something along the lines of A: coinage of a word containing aspects both of freewill and determinism, given what little knowledge we have of either word or state, and that the brain and/or mind (in my view, quite interchangeable, though not in the usual mind is by-product of brain function, nor quite the other) and B: that a possibility exists that the brain/mind or mind/brain exhibits qualities and activities that encompass aspects of both free will and determinism, in order to provide greater flexibility. Imagine, if you will, a molecular scaled computer, that exhibits traits of independent decision making, and of deterministic decision making-that appears simulataneously, a mix of concious, and unconcious. To repeat-qualities, and or traits, both of freewill, and of determinism.

April 20, 2008 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Anonymous said...

...in athletics, there are commonly moments wherein an athlete is confronted, within anywhere from a portion of a second, to a couple of seconds, with an oppositions move, that said athlete was not prepared for, and must then make a decision, within that time frame.


Yes. exactly. And those split-second decisions are made nonconsciously. Every athlete, every concert pianist, every dancer knows that the surest way to fuck up the moves is to think about them. Hell, Tiger Woods claims to not be able to remember making the putt — he goes into a Zen fugue whenever he walks onto the green — and golf is hardly a high-speed, split-second activity.

Remember, the ball we're keeping our eye on here is not fast-vs.-slow, but conscious-vs.-nonconscious. Lag time in this study was not the point of the exercise, but merely the means to the end.

The experiment does not cover this. It does not cover the flexibility of the brain or mind, in said situations. For instance, when biking, I am aware of two mental states of awareness and decision making-one, where I have looked up the street, and planned a route, based on whatever traffic is occurring, and the other, when I have to make a decision upon which way to move, in the face of an unpredictable action.

Another classic case in point; people driving (or biking) from A to Z without consciously thinking about any of the steps or waypoints navigated between.

To extend the results of a single study, with no variables (such as different timing restraints, randomized button choices, decision processes based upon the delivery of disturbing stimuli, such as flashing lights and such, also based on button or letter choice)smacks of bias.


I'm guessing you may have come across the 'crawl fairly recently, yes? This posting is just the latest in a whole series regarding a variety of studies exploring the utility (or lack thereof) of consciousness. We're not extending the results of just this one study; we're regarding this study as one more piece in a growing puzzle. Other pieces suggest that complex decision-making is enhanced when conscious cogitation is prevented, and that consciousness itself serves no adaptive purpose. Browse entries with the neuro tag— also, go back to the old version of the newscrawl and just do a standard search on "consciousness"— and you'll see some of the larger context.

April 20, 2008 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger John Henning said...

I have to agree that in studies of athletic performance and the testimony of high performing athletes themselves, consciousness or self-awareness actually inhibits performance. The common experience of "choking" is usually explained as the performer become "too conscious" of what they are doing. Trying "too hard" to control their action rather than letting them "flow."

The entire new performance science of "flow" is based on letting go of awareness to allow the unconscious mind to act since it acts much faster and more reflexively than the conscious. The faster the response, the more likely it was formed UNconsciously since conscious cognition, as we all know, takes longer since it requires our conscious attention.

For more on this check out Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's book FLOW or Tim gallwey's The Inner Game Of Tennis.

April 21, 2008 at 12:20 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

Peter says:

Quite right. I was talking about cumulative evidence to date...; search the crawl for "neuro" tags and some of them will come up.

I think we may be in agreement here? That this *particular* intriguing study has the confound that it can't definitively eliminate the Delegator as having made the decision to start pushing buttons, that what was measured might be the delegated systems executing their instruction from before to "push some button"?

search the crawl for "neuro" tags

Color me impressed - I see like 15 of them. Whew. I love your blog, but I'm too lazy and short of time for a thorough review of your review of the literature, as much as I appreciate the invitation.

Can't we wait until the neuropsych professionals review the literature looking for studies that don't have a Delegator confound?

(My Laziness subroutines are already gearing up in anticipation of a Delegator Decision from the frontal lobes; they're sending up a movie of me with my feet up, and holding a frosty glass of some refreshing beverage.)

Just to clarify: what are you thinking of when you say "general decisions"? ... get laid... find food .... avoid predators ....ooooh, sugar!...all pretty basic, subcortical priorities.

I was thinking more like "Drive to work" or "read a book." My personal sense of consciousness is that getting laid, eating sugar, and avoiding predators are suggestions from the departmental layers down the line - they make suggestions all the time, interactively with each other and the Delegator. It's an interplay between sometimes competing priorities.

And I would argue that a lot of the things we use our neocortices for -- war, religion, art, porn, various-mixtures-of-the-above -- ultimately arise from those basic decisions.

I don't know - war and art are complex. The component mental tasks that go into them are multitudinous, and may be spread across many brains.

Even if I believe that suggestions for my next action came from my amygdala, say, there is interplay between the amygdala and other limbic structures, the rest of the temporal lobe, etc, way before I actually, idk, sign up for the Marines?

Ultimately, I guess I'm suggesting,the brain stem is still in control.

Making war can have multiple motivations, and require the executing of hundreds of subroutines in multitudes of mental departments before I can actually level my neighbor's house with a rocket. So my amygdala can't do it alone. Definitely my brain stem can't.

Now, if you're suggesting, *probabilistically* speaking, the limbic system is more likely to alter the final physical outcome - I sign up for the Marines or I don't - on average .... I can't say. Could be. Great and intriguing question, I think.

Maybe in the interplay between brain functions, the lower brain parts are the 800 pound gorilla, and the frontal lobes are the poor schmoe who has to wrestle him?

April 21, 2008 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Keippernicus said...

Oh my god my fingers are moving on the keyboard and I can't seem to stop them...why oh why...oh wait, now I've got it...I was going to say something cutesy to distract my brain from the awful realization that even my illusion of control has been stripped away.

It's a good thing I live for this shit or I'd be reaching for the hemlock right about...oh fuck there goes my hand!!!

April 21, 2008 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Paul C said...

Every athlete, every concert pianist, every dancer knows that the surest way to fuck up the moves is to think about them.

That's for sure, but part of the process of becoming an athlete / concert pianist / dancer is consciously building the muscle memory that enables you to do this. These experiences suggest that it takes a lot of conscious practice to get to a non-conscious response.

In the case of button-pressing, it would seem obvious (to me, at least, without having had a chance to read the research itself) that "button pressing" is something that most people in a computerised society have consciously "trained in" to their minds. Try repeating this exercise with somebody without exposure to buttons and you can be damned sure that they're going to be thinking much more consciously about it - until it gets "trained in".

Just to be clear, I accept that there's a lot of action going on non-consciously, but I think the delegation model is a far more likely description for many of our actions - although not for reactions, and granting that the line between the two can be blurred. I'm going back to re-read the research and previous posts now, in order to realise just how far behind I am in this discussion.

April 22, 2008 at 3:23 AM  
Blogger cjames745 said...

I realize I'm coming late in the game and this comment is likely to be ignored, but I feel as though I have something to contribute to the discussion. I was contemplating this issue (or so I tell myself?) and I realized that this seems to come down to an issue not only of what purpose consciousness serves, if any, but what it actually IS.

We tend to think of consciousness as a decision making process. But this is odd, because it contradicts the very nature of how we use it in a sentence. We do things all the time without being conscious of it. What we mean is that we are AWARE of it. But what does that mean?

Here is my hypothesis.

It means it has been relegated to memory.

If I make a decision and don't remember it, we call that an unconscious decision. If I remember the decision, we call that a conscious decision.

That seems to settle the issue for me.

Consciousness is not, as Bush would say, the decider. It is the book keeper. The decision has already been made. But a second decision has to be made. Was this decision relevant? Does it bring anything new to the table? Is it worth writing down?

Maybe this isn't as glamorous a role for "I" as we would like. But it is nevertheless important. Without this vital feedback, the brain wouldn't learn or adapt. And it wouldn't be intelligent.

May 18, 2008 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger cjames745 said...

Blogger Paul C said...

That's for sure, but part of the process of becoming an athlete / concert pianist / dancer is consciously building the muscle memory that enables you to do this. These experiences suggest that it takes a lot of conscious practice to get to a non-conscious response.

I hope you don't mind if I use this as an example. When you are training to become an athlete you are "conscious" of every little move you make because you are learning. Every decision must be cataloged. We store these decisions to memory so we can weigh them against the outcomes of those decisions.

We become "unconscious" of these decisions when we have built a neural net to cope with these activities and no longer need to relegate these decisions to memory.

May 18, 2008 at 10:04 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

cjames745 said...

I realize I'm coming late in the game and this comment is likely to be ignored,

Well, aren’t you lucky I’m looking for some way to avoid work today…

We tend to think of consciousness as a decision making process. But this is odd, because it contradicts the very nature of how we use it in a sentence. We do things all the time without being conscious of it. What we mean is that we are AWARE of it. But what does that mean?

Here is my hypothesis.

It means it has been relegated to memory.

If I make a decision and don't remember it, we call that an unconscious decision. If I remember the decision, we call that a conscious decision. That seems to settle the issue for me.


Not for me, and here's why: you don’t simply mean "relegated to memory" at all, since that would qualify any motherboard containing a RAM chip as conscious. You mean "relegated to conscious memory", as you make clear in your follow-up. And the problem with that is that you're qualifying "memory" with the very concept — "conscious" — that you're trying to define. So your definition is circular: Conscious decisions are decisions that we consciously remember.


When you are training to become an athlete you are "conscious" of every little move you make because you are learning. Every decision must be cataloged. We store these decisions to memory so we can weigh them against the outcomes of those decisions.

We become "unconscious" of these decisions when we have built a neural net to cope with these activities and no longer need to relegate these decisions to memory.


This is true. This is how we learn things, for sure. But does that mean that conscious awareness is the only means to that end? We already have software that learns from experience— we have neural nets that learn to drive vehicles through sheer experience, and not through any set of innate programmed rules. We have software that can see a problem in a set of data, formulate a hypothesis based upon it, and actually design the experiment to test that hypothesis. These are all activities that you or I would do consciously; but does that mean that DARPA cars are self-aware?

Futhermore, research done just within the past couple of years shows that conscious processing actually results in worse decisions than unconscious processing does; there simply isn't enough room on the scratch-pad of self-awareness to hold all the variables necessary for complex calculations. People forced to cogitate nonconciously on complex problems (containing upwards of 7 variables) actually do better than those who are allowed to think consciously about the same problem. So it seems to me not only that consciousness isn't necessary for learning, but that nonconscious alternatives actually do the job better.

May 24, 2008 at 10:16 AM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

People forced to cogitate nonconciously on complex problems (containing upwards of 7 variables) actually do better than those who are allowed to think consciously about the same problem. So it seems to me not only that consciousness isn't necessary for learning, but that nonconscious alternatives actually do the job better.

Citation? Or at least journal?

May 26, 2008 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

I can do better than that. Here's the actual paper, from Science.

May 26, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger cjames745 said...

Actually, it's funny that you brought up RAM, because the more I thought about this, I realized that thinking of consciousness as RAM was a very good analogy.

How many times have you thought of something and had no idea why? Maybe your brain is just storing that image in your head because it needed it to process some calculation.

The RAM of a computer stores no information about anything that's hard wired. The RAM is also completely uninvolved in the decision making process. And the brain is just a computer that can rewire itself.

Furthermore, anything hard wired is going to run faster and more reliably than software. So the more hard wired something is, the less the RAM is involved, and the better the performance.

And I don't have any problem thinking of the RAM of a computer as its consciousness, or self-awareness (whatever that means), provided the computer is intelligent.

May 26, 2008 at 3:19 PM  
OpenID bec-87rb said...

I can do better than that. Here's the actual paper, from Science.

W00t!

I'm going to read you, lil paper, on the ride home. heh heh. Come here, lil paper....

June 2, 2008 at 5:00 PM  

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