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MLU: You have pointed out that all aspects of your cemi field theory are testable. Has any progress been made on this front?
JM: The cemi field theory predicts that synchronous firing of neurons will have a greater influence on our actions than asynchronous neuron firing. This is because synchronous activity will generate in phase em field disturbances that will have a greater chance of influencing neuron firing patterns. So a major experimental prediction of the model is that willed actions and awareness will correlate with synchronous neuron firing. In my papers I describe lots of experiments that have demonstrated this in animal models and human studies (eg. EEG studies). Since then there have been lots of additional studies that support this coupling of synchrony and neuronal activity. For instance:
Womelsdorf T, Schoffelen JM, Oostenveld R, Singer W, Desimone R, Engel AK, Fries P. (2007) Modulation of neuronal interactions through neuronal synchronization. Science. 2007 Jun 15;316(5831):1609-12.
Abstract: Brain processing depends on the interactions between neuronal groups. Those interactions are governed by the pattern of anatomical connections and by yet unknown mechanisms that modulate the effective strength of a given connection. We found that the mutual influence among neuronal groups depends on the phase relation between rhythmic activities within the groups. Phase relations supporting interactions between the groups preceded those interactions by a few milliseconds, consistent with a mechanistic role. These effects were specific in time, frequency, and space, and we therefore propose that the pattern of synchronization flexibly determines the pattern of neuronal interactions.
Published in the most recent issue of The Journal of Consciousness Studies, the theory (PDF) faces an uphill battle for acceptance among cognitive scientists. Scientific study of consciousness has only recently begun to gain acceptance as a legitimate scientific discipline, and some think field theories like McFadden's are pseudo-science that threaten their hard-worn legitimacy.
"No serious researcher I know believes in an electromagnetic theory of consciousness," Bernard Baars wrote in an e-mail. Baars is a neurobiologist and co-editor of Consciousness & Cognition, another scientific journal in the field. "It's not really worth talking about scientifically."
I thus learnt my first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men, admittedly sane and honest. The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong.
That concept of information encoded as an electromagnetic field is actually a very familiar one. We routinely encode complex images and sounds in em fields that we transmit to our TV and radio sets. What I am proposing is that our brain is both the transmitter and the receiver of its own electromagnetic signals in a feedback loop that generates the conscious em field as a kind of informational sink. This informational transfer, through the cem field, may provide distinct advantages over neuronal computing, in rapidly integrating and processing information distributed in different parts of the brain. It may also provide an additional level of computation that is wave-mechanical, rather than digital; one that drives our free will. This is the advantage that consciousness provides: the capacity to make decisions.
MLU: I want to ask you about the particulars of your work, but before I do, perhaps we should first touch on some of the problems cognitive scientists face when trying to construct a viable theory of consciousness. The so called "binding problem," for instance, refers to how neurons associated with different aspects of perception are able to combine to form a united perceptual experience. The "mind-body problem" deals with the question of how the mind is able to move our physical bodies. Please tell us more about the difficulties one faces when trying to construct a cohesive model of consciousness.
JM: The basic problem is that our subjective experience of consciousness does not correspond to the neurophysiology of our brain. When we see an object, such as a tree, the image that is received by our eyes is processed, in parallel, in millions of widely separated brain neurons. Some neurons process the colour information, some process aspects of movement, some process texture elements of the image. But there is nowhere in the brain where all these disparate elements are brought together. That doesn’t correspond to the subjective experience of seeing a whole tree where all the leaves and swaying branches are seen as an integrated whole. The problem is understanding how all the physically distinct information in our brain is somehow bound together to the subjective image: the binding problem.
Originally posted by DragonsDemesne
Wouldn't this possibly imply the reverse, if true, that EM fields existing in nature or artificially created ones by electronic devices could be conscious? Now that would be weird, and have a lot of ramifications.
I don't really find this theory very convincing, but it is a scientifically testable theory, assuming anyone is willing to fund research into it, which apparently they are not, according to the author. I suppose it is possible, and it would definitely be worth checking out.
Starting from a population of random configurations, the hardware was evolved to perform a task, in this case, distinguishing between two tones. After about 5,000 generations the network could efficiently perform its task.
When the group examined the evolved network they discovered that it utilized only 32 of the 100 FPGA cells. The remaining cells could be disconnected from the network without affecting performance. However, when the circuit diagram of the critical network was examined it was found that some of the essential cells, although apparently necessary for network performance (if disconnected, the network failed), were not connected by wires to the rest of the circuit.
According to the researchers, the most likely explanation seems to be that these cells were contributing to the network through electromagnetic coupling -- field effects -- between components in the circuit. It is very intriguing that evolution of an artificial neural network appeared to capture field effects spontaneously as a way of optimizing computational performance.