a model of consciousness Nov 5, 2020
i make some simplifications for the sake of abstraction.
the components of mind
there are four parts: awareness, senses, imagination, and the unconscious.
there is awareness,
which is the central processor.
it has access to all the information from the senses,
and focuses on only one thing at a time.
there are senses,
which are like video cards in reverse,
that feed information to the awareness about the world and the body.
they do various amounts of work
to process the raw data into abstractions.
there is imagination,
like the registers in a processor,
which hacks the senses, allowing the mind to inject ideas.
there are valves which control whether the imagination holds an image,
or updates from the unconscious.
the senses (and thus the imagination, and ultimately the unconscious)
can control the valves of the imagination,
and output to muscle control.
there is the unconscious,
which is a database full of abstractions:
memories, skills, habits, beliefs, preferences, etc.
(everything that makes you a mentally unique personality)
it is updated over time, in reaction to what the mind thinks.
it is queried by awareness and outputs to the imagination.
there is a cache of recently used ideas.
the unconscious is by far the most complex part of the mind,
but exploring it deeply is beyond the scope of this writeup.
"world/body" -> senses -> "muscle control" -> "world/body";
senses -> awareness -> unconscious -> imagination -> senses;
senses -> valves -> imagination;
how does the mind store ideas?
the first way is in the unconscious,
where ideas are stored long-term as networks of neurons.
these are the 'actual' ideas, but they are not consciously accessible.
these ideas are constantly working to integrate new ideas.
the second way is in the imagination,
where ideas are stored temporarily as images created from the unconscious.
this is the only way we can access our ideas consciously.
the imagination as an evolved hack
imagine a simpler system without the awareness, unconscious, or imagination:
sense input directly controls muscles.
then we get a simple form of the unconscious, which allows more complex responses.
then we get awareness, which lets us pick out the most important sense data.
then we get imagination, which lets us respond to inputs separated in time.
then the unconscious develops further, allowing ever more complicated responses.
this is why the senses control the muscles
(think about being tickled or seeing something frightening)
and why the senses control the imagination valves
(both because the senses need to be able to override the imagination,
and so the imagination can control itself)
what is thought?
thought is emergent from the interaction of the components of mind.
it is more an action than an object.
the senses (and thus also the imagination) are attenuated by awareness,
and the result queries the unconscious, which then updates the imagination.
this feedback loop allows iteration of thought.
thought is like sonar.
whatever we think about creates a ping.
the ping goes out into our unconscious.
it comes back with an image.
the image is not fixed on a piece of paper,
as though it were taken from a filing cabinet.
it is strongly shaped by the ping,
like photographs of an object from different angles.
we think "cat", and get an image of a cat.
we think "back of cat", and get an image of the back of a cat.
we think "big red cat with a banana", and get an image of it.
this image was not found directly in the unconscious mind,
but generated from pieces and synthesized into a complete image.
the imagination allows thought to synthesize.
here i use words mapping to visual images,
but the process generalizes to other senses.
on the speed of thoughts
what is the fastest that you can think?
frequently, we think so quickly that a sequence of thoughts
feels to us as if the last thought "came out of thin air".
we have to slowly reconstruct our steps to figure out how we arrived at it.
and even then we may not be completely sure.
something like 5--20 Hz?
examples of senses
- space, performs spatial reasoning, allowing us to imagine objects in 3D space.
- time, tells us how much time has elapsed. becomes distorted by excitement and boredom.
- sight, perceives light from the world, and analyzes this data into objects. related to the sense of space. also used for reading.
- sound, perceives vibration in the air, and analyzes it into sounds. also used for hearing words.
- touch, perceives pressure on the body.
- emotion, perceives moods in the body.
- smell, perceives substances in the air.
- taste, perceives substances in the mouth.
- sound, replays sound in the mind. also used for talking to oneself.
to be continued
it would probably be super helpful to have a neuron-scale map of how signals flow through the brain, and to try to trace a discrete thought through the loop. this would be a bit like trying to reverse engineer a microprocessor by watching it in operation. it seems that current imaging technologies detect blood flow, and there isn't something which can trace the actual signals through neurons. yet.
in some meditations, you reach a state where "awareness looks at itself". i'm not convinced awareness can actually do this in a strict sense, but this may refer to the state of emptying the imagination and the senses so that the awareness has nothing to focus on, and so is "empty".
while researching, i found this neat paper ("A Standard Model for the Mind" by Laird, Lebiere, and Rosenbloom, 2017). they slice things differently but i think it fits pretty well, though it gets deeper into the unconscious part and has a far more technical lean (e.g. they use the word "buffer" instead of "imagination").
a model of consciousness