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"Phi" as a Unit of Consciousness

Posted July 17, 2014 by dustproduction in Open

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commented on July 18, 2014
by dustproduction

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Let us start with this recent TEDTalk by David Chalmers. In his talk he mention a theory on consciousness put forth by Giulio Tononi.

"A really exciting thing is in recent years a neuroscientist, Giulio Tononi, has taken this kind of theory and developed it rigorously with a mathematical theory. He has a mathematical measure of information integration which he calls phi, measuring the amount of information integrated in a system. And he supposes that phi goes along with consciousness. So in a human brain, incredibly large amount of information integration, high degree of phi, a whole lot of consciousness. In a mouse, medium degree of information integration, still pretty significant, pretty serious amount of consciousness. But as you go down to worms, microbes, particles, the amount of phi falls off. The amount of information integration falls off, but it's still non-zero. On Tononi's theory, there's still going to be a non-zero degree of consciousness. In effect, he's proposing a fundamental law of consciousness: high phi, high consciousness."

http://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness

Also see, "Phi – A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul" by Giulio Tononi

I've been meaning to read the book and the talk has encouraged me to do so, sooner rather than later. But lets discuss this concept of "phi."

  • 2 Comments  
  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jul 18, 2014

    There are footnotes for the talk that include links"

    ""The second crazy idea is that consciousness might be universal."

    See the articles on panpsychism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and also my article "Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism." Christof Koch's article "A Complex Theory of Consciousness" explores the idea from a scientific perspective. David Skrbina's book, Panpsychism in the West, explores the history of the idea."
    http://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness/citations

    "A really exciting thing is in recent years a neuroscientist, Giulio Tononi, has taken this kind of theory and developed it rigorously with a mathematical theory. He has a mathematical measure of information integration which he calls phi, measuring the amount of information integrated in a system. And he supposes that phi goes along with consciousness. So in a human brain, incredibly large amount of information integration, high degree of phi, a whole lot of consciousness. In a mouse, medium degree of information integration, still pretty significant, pretty serious amount of consciousness. But as you go down to worms, microbes, particles, the amount of phi falls off. The amount of information integration falls off, but it's still non-zero. On Tononi's theory, there's still going to be a non-zero degree of consciousness. In effect, he's proposing a fundamental law of consciousness: high phi, high consciousness. Now, I don't know if this theory is right, but it's actually perhaps the leading theory right now in the science of consciousness, and it's been used to integrate a whole range of scientific data, and it does have a nice property that it is in fact simple enough you can write it on the front of a t-shirt."

    ""Wherever there is information processing, there is consciousness."

    For my version of this idea, see Chapter 8 of The Conscious Mind. For Giulio Tononi's information integration theory, see his book, Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, and Christof Koch's article. For the full details, see Tononi's articles "Consciousness as integrated information: A provisional manifesto" and "From the phenomenology to the mechanisms of consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0." See also Scott Aaronson's recent critique."

  • NoetPoet Jul 17, 2014

    So is he saying that information integration = consciousness, or is he saying that information integration is a predictor of the degree of consciousness?

    The idea sounds reasonable on the face of it, but we should be careful not to interpret it as evidence of some kind of universal consciousness. As with quantum physics, the precise use and definition of terminology is going to be very important here.

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