Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano has a take on the problem of consciousness he thinks may shed some new light on this puzzle. He calls his approach, the “attention schema theory” and sums it up as the idea, “consciousness is a schematic model of one’s state of attention.” Essentially, consciousness is the brain’s ability to create mental schemas of whatever the conscious entity is attending to, signal other parts of the brain to access the information, and create an output in the form of speech or writing that reports on the schema. He writes, “Consciousness isn’t a non-physical feeling that emerges. Instead, dedicated systems in the brain compute information. Cognitive machinery can access that information, formulate it as speech, and then report it. When a brain reports that it is conscious, it is reporting specific information computed within it. It can, after all, only report the information available to it.”
Readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument in which Searle argues that a system that can pass the Turing test (Graziano’s system?) is different than a conscious system. Computational models don’t map to conscious states because computation isn’t a sufficient condition for consciousness (one could have a computation system that functions exactly like a conscious being but isn’t conscious). Whether computation is necessary he leaves open. Searle’s argument has its critics but, in my view, his critics are missing the essence of the argument.
Thanks to Matt Snyder for the pointer.