Book Reviews of Being Yourself: The New Science of Consciousness by Anil Seth

Book Reviews of Being Yourself: The New Science of Consciousness by Anil Seth

IN Being you, Anil Seth offers us a comprehensive tour of the science of consciousness, drawing on the most up-to-date data, lessons and theories in this field. “This is a compelling book that will leave readers wondering if new technologies and thoughtful experimental designs can further deepen our understanding of the mind,” writes Man Tung Ho.

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Being Yourself: The New Science of Consciousness. Anil Seth. Faber. 2021.

Exploring the Real Problem of Consciousness

Being you Anila Seta provides state-of-the-art data, lessons and theories in the emerging field of the science of consciousness. The author provides a brief but comprehensive review of the scientific literature on consciousness: from basic philosophical views to discoveries about different levels of consciousness, the content of consciousness, representation and perception of oneself, and, finally, reasonable guesses about conscious experiences. in non-human beings such as octopuses, as well as in machines.

Seth’s first step is to reject the important and difficult problem of consciousness, according to which science will never be able to explain how the phenomenological properties of consciousness arise from material mechanisms. Seth suggests that it is more useful to accept the real problem of consciousness, which states that the goals of the science of consciousness are to explain, predict, and control the phenomenological properties of consciousness.

This approach underlies Seth’s analysis and discussion of theories and experiments in Being you. By dividing consciousness into smaller, measurable, conscious experiences, then finding their neural correlates and corresponding theories to explain those experiences, Seth believes that the greater mystery of consciousness will eventually disappear. Perhaps one day we will be able to explain why consciousness exists at all.

Seth introduces us to various theories that attempt to establish a dimension to the level of consciousness. The two most prominent theories outlined in the book are the perturbation complexity index (PCI) measurement and the theory of consciousness as an integrated information processing (IIT). The first measures the algorithmic complexity of the brain electrical signals recorded by the EEG device when the brain is subjected to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). We learned that researchers found a very high level of correlation between PCI values ​​and a variety of conscious experiences. In healthcare settings, PCI is used to save people suffering from locked-in syndrome from the misdiagnosis of a vegetative state. It is also interesting that studies of consciousness and brain activity show that the use of psychedelics resulted in a higher PCI than the base level of wakefulness, while measurements of PCI in sleep or disturbances of consciousness indicated a decrease.

Another well-known theory of consciousness, IIT, suggests that “a system is conscious to the extent that its whole generates more information than its parts.” Seth introduces us to Φ, the Greek letter phi, which is the IIT’s measure of consciousness. More precisely, Φ measures the amount of information generated by the system as a whole, compared to the amount generated by each of its parts, which explains the logic of understanding consciousness as integrated information.

Consciousness is information because each conscious experience is unique compared to other conscious experiences, and it is integrated because our conscious experience is unified so that we don’t perceive, for example, a view of a mountain as separate experiences of color, shape, and size. Instead, we experience all of its perceptual characteristics as a whole. We learn about the lively debate around IIT and its success in explaining some empirical observations, as well as its strange consequences.

Book Reviews of Being Yourself The New Science of Consciousness | lifefromnature

Moving from levels to contents of consciousness, we are introduced to one of the most exciting theories of perception: the “controlled hallucination viewpoint.” The central statement is that we perceive the world not as it is, but as it is useful to us, which embodies a deeply evolutionary logic. For example, according to this view, color is not a property of things in themselves and, therefore, our perception No about reading such properties; rather, color is a tool that helps us track objects in changing lighting conditions. Thus, a white cat will always be perceived as white, whether indoors or outdoors.

What contradicts this view is that our perception is not a process reading sensory signals from the world, but a continuous process minimizing top-down prediction errors. Prediction errors are the differences between what the brain expects to perceive and what it receives at each level of processing. Seth explains that the idea of ​​minimizing prediction errors is based on Bayesian statements about what the brain should do with sensory data, and suggests that the brain is getting closer to doing so. bayes rule minimizing forecasting errors anywhere, anytime. For example, if we are walking down the street, our brain forms Bayesian assumptions about what it expects to see: houses, trees, people, vehicles, etc. Such expectations cause the brain to expect certain types of perceptual cues in terms of color, movement, temperature. these objects, and so on. If the sensory data differs from what the brain expects, we will be surprised.

From the point of view of controlled hallucination, another counterintuitive fact follows that action and perception are inseparable, while our intuition dictates that our interaction with the world follows the order of feelings, thoughts and actions. Here Seth introduces the concept of active inference proposed by Karl Friston to understand how action helps to minimize prediction errors. Active inference is defined as the process by which the brain collects sensory data “in order to make its perceptual predictions come true” through the generation of actions. Generative models are critical to active inference: for active inference to work, it must depend on conditional predictions based on the ability of generative models to predict the sensory consequences of actions. The idea is that the brain needs to know, among the myriad of possible actions, which actions can reduce sensory prediction errors.

Informed in terms of controlled hallucination, Seth presents a series of original experiments that provide empirical support for the theory, from how we perceive the world (colors, shapes, time) to how we perceive ourselves (our will, body ownership). Many of the experiments involve subjects wearing virtual reality headsets and interacting with virtual objects that either behave like they would in the real world or not. Readers will learn what the controlled hallucination viewpoint predicts, experimental results, and how those results are interpreted.

The discussion of these empirical experiments is easily confused with the discussion of well-known puzzling real-world phenomena such as spinning snake illusion, white or blue dress mystery, out-of-body experience, and the fact that our experience of being ourselves seems to remain largely stable over time. They show us that all perceptions are inferences about the causes of sensory data coming from the world, and that there is a “deep perceptual structure” that we can explore scientifically.

Toward the last part of the book, Seth presents his bestial machine theory of consciousness, exploring our interoceptive experience of being an embodied living organism. Drawing on active inference theories, a view of controlled hallucinations, and cybernetic theories, Seth argues that interoceptive signals (heartbeat, body temperature, etc.) must be addressed to a certain range of desired values ​​expected by the brain as signs of physiological vitality. . As such, moods, emotions, feelings of valence or arousal, and our formless sense of life can be seen as “control-oriented perceptions that govern the basic variables of the body.” Seth concludes: “We are not cognitive computers; we are sentient machines. It all boils down to the idea that our brains are not designed for abstract thoughts; rather, its primary function is to move the body in such a way as to maintain a healthy balance of its physiological resources, the idea behind Lisa F. Barrett’s theory. constructed emotion theory.

Central to this theory is that our conscious experience emerges from our material reality, made up of flesh and blood, made up of cells whose imperative is to protect their physiological integrity. Based on this point of view, Seth intends to discuss the scientific evidence and the possibility of consciousness in other animals and machines. Here we are confronted with strange islands of consciousness, such as those of octopuses, and the fact that not a single monkey passed the mirror test (a test of self-knowledge that only some great apes, dolphins, killer whales and elephants passed).

Based on theory and knowledge of perceptual experiences such as body ownership or color perception, Seth analyzes how the decentralized nervous system of an octopus would perceive the world. For example, an octopus “sees” with the skin no less than with the eyes, given the light-sensitive skin cells. He can distinguish between what is and what is not himself, but cannot distinguish where his body is in the world, as his suckers act as semi-autonomous.

In terms of the possible mind of a machine, the logical conclusion from the theory of animal machines is that the physical substrata of machines have no self-preservation tendencies. Unlike the cells in the body of any animal, Seth finds it hard to believe that computers as we know them can achieve consciousness. Much of his discourse on machine consciousness aims to unravel the confusion between intelligence and consciousness.

In general, Seth Being you successfully presents a compelling story of the emerging science of consciousness. Readers are left to speculate about an exciting future in which new technologies and clever experimental designs could further deepen our understanding of the mind. It is important to note that as Seth analyzes theories and experiments based on the principles of the real problem of consciousness, readers begin to think of consciousness not as a giant mystery of the universe, but as a scientific problem that can be divided into solvable problems and explored sequentially. . ingenious ways. How mind is all we have, we better believe that mature science of mind will gradually shed light on one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, our inner light, thus providing the tools we need to improve our well-being.

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