intervals, we encounter a difficulty: If the "point" of view of the observer is spread over a rather largevolume in the observer's brain, the observer's own subjective sense of sequence and simultaneity bedetermined by something other than a unique "order of arrival" since order of arrival is incompletely defined untilwe specify the relevant destination. If A beats B to one finish line but B beats A to another, which result fixessubjective sequence in consciousness? (cf. Minsky, 1985, p.61) Which point or points of "central availability"would "count" as a determiner of order, and why?
logical must experienced
Consider the time course of normal visual information processing. Visual stimuli evoke trains of events in thecortex that gradually yield content of greater and greater specificity. At different times and different places, various"decisions" or "judgments" are made: more literally, parts of the brain are caused to go into states thatdifferentially respond to different features, e.g., first mere onset of stimulus, then shape, later color (in a differentpathway), motion, and eventually object recognition. It is tempting to suppose that there must be some place in thebrain where "it all comes together" in a multi-modal representation or display that is of the content of conscious experience in at least this sense: the temporal properties of the events that occur in that particular locus of representation determine the temporal properties--of sequence, simultaneity, and real-time onset, for instance--of the subjective "stream of consciousness." This is the error of thinking we intend to expose. "Where does it allcome together?" The answer, we propose, is Nowhere. Some of the contentful states distributed around in thebrain soon die out, leaving no traces. Others do leave traces, on subsequent verbal reports of experience andmemory, on "semantic readiness" and other varieties of perceptual set, on emotional state, behavioral proclivities,and so forth. Some of these effects--for instance, influences on subsequent verbal reports--are at least symptomaticof consciousness. But there is no one place in the brain through which all these causal trains must pass in order todeposit their contents "in consciousness".
The brain must be able to "bind" or "correlate" and "compare" various separately discriminated contents, but theprocesses that accomplish these unifications are themselves distributed, not gathered at some central decision point,and as a result, the "point of view of the observer" is spatially smeared. If brains computed at near the speed of light, as computers do, this spatial smear would be negligible. But given the relatively slow transmission andcomputation speeds of neurons, the spatial distribution of processes creates significant temporal smear--ranging, aswe shall see, up to several hundred milliseconds--within which range the normal common sense assumptions abouttiming and arrival at the observer need to be replaced. For many tasks, the human capacity to make consciousdiscriminations of temporal order drops to chance when the difference in onset is on the order of 50msec(depending on stimulus conditions), but, as we shall see, this variable threshold is the result of complexinteractions, not a basic limit on the brain's capacity to make the specialized order judgments required in theinterpretation and coordination of perceptual and motor phenomena. We need other principles to explain the waysin which is composed, especially in cases in which the brain must cope with rapidsequences occurring at the limits of its powers of temporal resolution. As usual, the performance of the brain whenput under strain provides valuable clues about its general modes of operation.
subjective temporal order
Descartes, early to think seriously about what must happen inside the body of the observer, elaborated an idea thatis superficially so natural and appealing that it has permeated our thinking about consciousness ever since andpermitted us to defer considering the perplexities--until now. Descartes decided that the brain have a center:the pineal gland, which served as the gateway to the conscious mind. It is the only organ in the brain that is in themidline, rather than paired, with left and right versions. It looked different, and since its function was then quiteinscrutable (and still is), Descartes posited a role for it: in order for a person to be conscious of something, trafficfrom the senses had to arrive at this station, where it thereupon caused a special--indeed magical--transaction tooccur between the person's material brain and immaterial mind. When the conscious mind then decided on acourse of bodily action, it sent a message back "down" to the body via the pineal gland. The pineal gland, then, islike a theater, within which is displayed information for perusal by the mind.
Descartes' vision of the pineal's role as the turnstile of consciousness (we might call it the Cartesian bottleneck) is
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