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"Phi" as a Unit of Consciousness

Posted July 17, 2014 by dustproduction in Open

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commented on March 8, 2015
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."

  • 10 Comments  
  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Mar 08, 2015

    Our neurons are basically fancy photodiodes, producing electric bursts in response to incoming signals. But the conscious experiences they produce contain far more information than in a single diode. In other words, they reduce much more uncertainty. While a photodiode can be in one of two states, our brains can be in one of trillions of states. Not only can we tell the difference between a Chaplin movie and a potato chip, but our brains can go into a different state from one frame of the movie to the next.

    “One out of two isn’t a lot of information, but if it’s one out of trillions, then there’s a lot,” Dr. Tononi said.

    Consciousness is not simply about quantity of information, he says. Simply combining a lot of photodiodes is not enough to create human consciousness. In our brains, neurons talk to one another, merging information into a unified whole. A grid made up of a million photodiodes in a camera can take a picture, but the information in each diode is independent from all the others. You could cut the grid into two pieces and they would still take the same picture.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21consciousness.html?pagewanted=all

  • NoetPoet Jan 29, 2015

    An example might help to clarify what I'm getting at:

    Suppose you have a toy robot. This toy robot consists of a four-wheeled chassis, two photosensitive artificial eyes, a motor to power the chassis, and small on-board computer with a simple program. The program continuously reads information about the present amount of light hitting the eyes, and then based on that information instructs the motor to drive the chassis backwards (away from the light source) until the level of light detected by the eyes falls below a set level, i.e:

    If light level detected at present time "T" > X, then turn motor on if not on already
    If light level detected at present time "T" <= X, then turn motor off if not off already

    In the above case, the toy robot does *not* store any information about light levels at previous times (T-n), nor does it compare or cross-reference information about the amount of light hitting the eyes at different points in time.

    Now suppose that we add in a memory for the program to store information about previous light levels, and give the program the capability to compare and cross reference present light level with previous light levels. The toy robot now has a real-time 'stream' of information about the light levels and how they change from moment to moment.

    What I am proposing is that although the toy robot is a system which exhibits integrated information in both cases, it is only the latter case in which the toy robot can be considered to be conscious. This is not only because there is a greater quantity of integration happening in the latter case, but also because the latter case has a qualitative difference in that it integrates the information in a way which forms a real-time simulation of its environment.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jan 28, 2015

    The "Author Summary does say, "Integrated information theory (IIT) approaches the relationship between consciousness and its physical substrate
    by first identifying the fundamental properties of experience itself: existence, composition, information, integration, and exclusion."

    I take this "relationship" to be, "the system (telling) itself about itself and the information that it integrates."

  • NoetPoet Jan 27, 2015

    I agree with Tononi that integration of information within a system is a necessary condition for consciousness. However I also think the information needs to be integrated in a particular way. Specifically, the information needs to be integrated in such a way as to form an ongoing narrative which the system tells to itself about itself and the information that it integrates. This narrative need not be explicitly verbal or mathematical in nature; it could, for example, also be in the form of sensory impressions and feelings.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jan 27, 2015

    "Consciousness is such a private phenomenon that nobody can be 100% sure even that their human neighbors are conscious at any given moment. We know we are conscious. Other humans look and act more or less like us, so when they tell us they have a particular conscious experience, we give them the benefit of the doubt. But what about a bit of hardware? Even a novice software writer could produce a piece of code that typed “I feel hot” whenever a thermostat registered a high temperature, but not many people would believe the appearance of this message meant the thermostat was experiencing hotness. Hence, neither the idea that information or information processing is conscious, nor its logical extension panpsychism (the idea that everything is conscious), is in any obvious way testable."

    http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnsys.2014.00225/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Neuroscience-w5-2015

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jan 27, 2015

    Let's try once again:

    From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0

    http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003588&representation=PDF

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Dec 05, 2014

    Again, no takers when it comes to the discussion of worthwhile topics like this.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Nov 14, 2014

    Re: panpsychism

    I've finally read the book. Let's discuss it here.

  • 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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