[This is a work in progress. This page is not meant to explain anything. It’s only meant to put all the moving parts in one place.]
A. Stuff exists
B. Patterns are Real
C. Things Change
Everything that happens can be expressed as
input state of substrate(s) ⎯⎯> [mechanism] ⎯⎯> output state of substrate(s).
Input (x1, x2, … xn) –>[mechanism]–> Output (y1, y2, …ym)
This framework can also be described as a Markov blanket.
To exist is to be a mechanism for at least one process. To exist is to be able to interact with the environment.
Patterns are abstractions. They don’t “exist”, but they are real. All physical systems exhibit patterns. Physical systems can be recognized by the patterns of interaction with their environment.
Input, mechanism, output correspond nicely to Aristotle’s first three causes: material, efficient, formal. See below for the final cause. We say a mechanism causes the output when presented with the input.
C. (Mutual) Information.
Two physical systems share mutual information if knowing the state of one of them tells you something about the likelihood of the state of the other. Mutual Information is generated by physical processes. Specifically, the Output of any process necessarily contains mutual information relative to the input and/or the mechanism.
A computation is a physical process defined in terms of its information processing as determined by the mutual information of the output relative to the input. So, a COPY operation is one in which the mutual information in the output is (approx.) same as that of the input. The AND and OR operations integrate mutual information in the output.
There are some systems which, by their organization, tend to move the environment toward a particular state. These systems have been described as self-organizing, or cybernetic, or goal-oriented, and include lightning, vortexes, rivers, organisms, people, corporations, etc. Natural selection is such a system. Some systems create new mechanisms, which mechanisms contribute to the goal of the creating system. Such mechanisms can be said to have the purpose or function or goal of moving the environment toward the goal state associated with the mechanism-creating system. This goal is Aristotle’s final cause.
Mutual information is an affordance for responding to a distant (in time or space) pattern. If a system would benefit by responding to system x, and system y has mutual information with respect to x, then the goal can be achieved by responding directly to y. Meaning is determined by the response to y. Two different mechanisms can respond to y in different ways, and so each has its own meaning for y.
Representation is a combination of (at least) two processes. The first process creates a sign vehicle whose sole purpose is to carry mutual information. The second process takes that vehicle as input and generates a response which is valuable in light of the mutual information in the sign vehicle.
An experience is a representation, i.e., the combination of the creation of a sign vehicle and the responses to it. The total set of responses (and possibly sequellae) would constitute the “feeling” associated with the experience. This is what I call the psychule, the minimal unit of consciousness.
8. Pattern recognition (unitrackers)
A unitracker is a computational mechanism which looks for one target pattern given some number of inputs. The output of a unitracker is a sign vehicle (an affordance of representation) which carries mutual information with respect to the unitracker mechanism, and so too, to the target pattern of the unitracker.
9. Multi-pattern Medium.
A multi-pattern medium is a mechanism that can take inputs from one or more sources and generate a pattern of output which is unique to each combination of sources. The paradigm sources for purposes of this theory would be unitrackers. A multi-pattern medium would support the requirements of a Global Neuronal Workspace. The functionality of a multi-pattern medium has been demonstrated in biologically plausible neuronal networks by Chris Eliasmith (see semantic pointers.)
A thought is an experience where the input sign vehicle is generated by a multi-pattern medium. If the input to the thought is sensory, this would constitute a first order thought. If the input derives from some mechanism created by previous thought, this would constitute a higher order thought.
The qualia of an experience is the set of responses, the “feeling”, associated with that experience. When discriminating qualia, we refer to the unitrackers responsible for the experience.