Matryoshka World

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A New Theory of Consciousness

In an article published in Aeon Magazine, Michael Graziano presents a new theory of consciousness.  His theory is that the evolution of attention was a useful data handling mechanism in brains that became more complex over time.  Further, "Attention requires control. In the modern study of robotics there is something called control theory, and it teaches us that, if a machine such as a brain is to control something, it helps to have an internal model of that thing."  Graziano proceeds to explain his theory:

The brain will attribute a property to itself and that property will be a simplified proxy for attention. It won’t be precisely accurate, but it will convey useful information. What exactly is that property? When it is paying attention to thing X, we know that the brain usually attributes an experience of X to itself — the property of being conscious, or awareof something. Why? Because that attribution helps to keep track of the ever-changing focus of attention...I call this the ‘attention schema theory’. It has a very simple idea at its heart: that consciousness is a schematic model of one’s state of attention. Early in evolution, perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago, brains evolved a specific set of computations to construct that model. At that point, ‘I am aware of X’ entered their repertoire of possible computations.

Link to the article in Aeon Magazine

Michael Graziano is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. His latest book, Consciousness and the Social Brain, is scheduled for release in September.