Awareness of awareness

I have been reading Michael S. A. Graziano’s book “Consciousness and the Social Brain“, where Graziano explains his theory of what consciousness might be and how a brain might construct it. I now try to explain the gist of the theory with the following mental exercise: Consider that you are looking at a green apple. Your visual senses are providing your brain information about the apple, among many other things. Your brain now ignores the many other things by preforming attention on the information concerning the apple. Attention creates a representation of the apple in your brain, which is cognitive information that is stored as well as the sensory input was. This representation is your awareness of the apple: It is green. It has a stem. It is somewhat roundish.

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At this point, in your brain there is the awareness (the cognitive information) of the “greenness”. It is not information of the original visual input of the apple skin, but of your cognitively processed concept of “green”, which is a composition of what you are currently visually perceiving, and what past experiences you have of greenness.

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Now, consider that your brain changes it’s attention to this cognitive information of greenness. A representation of this is created as a part of the (cognitive) process. You are aware that: 1) there is the awareness of greenness, 2) that you are paying attention to it, and 3) that there is a thought (of greenness).

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There is once again new cognitive information available in your brain: The thought of a thought. Awareness of awareness.

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Now, you once again shift your attention focus into this new information of “thought”/”awareness” in this representation your brain has created.

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We now have a loop. Apparently D. R. Hofstader has coined in 1979 a term “strange loop”, which he thought might be at the root of consciousness. Graziano seems to agree and has neurological data to back up his theory.

Graziano recalls with slight mock the names:”chi”, “ectoplasm”, or “res cogitans”, given by peole for whatever there would be as a more remarkable (and at least close to supernatural) source of sentience. Should Graziano’s theory stand any and all scrutiny in the academic community, and render such source inplausible, it would appear devastating to my position of denying the convenience of the term “human computer interaction” (HCI).

In my blog entry “Communication with and without presence” I discussed mediated communication. I explained, how communication with non-sentient objects would appear silly as a concept. I have argued that there can only be meaningful interaction between two beings that are at least somewhat sentient. What is considered as HCI, is typically just “computer mediated interaction”, where the creator of the computer system is indirectly interacting with the users and the computer is just the mediator.

If the human sentience is just a mundane materialistic process, on the ideological level any object could just as well be considered to interact and even communicate with any other object. Indeed, I have no reason to believe that human mind would be anything more than material in this way. Maybe here I have a remnant of superstition in my thinking, or at least arrogance: Being sentient, conscious and experiencing this reality that my brains construct for me, it appears inconceivable for me that the existence of me were just a result of an infinite loop.

I may still be able to hold on to my argument, by requiring that for meaningful communication and interaction, the participants need to have sufficient capability for this strange loop of awareness. I could draw the line between “mere interaction” and “sentient interaction” or “meaningful interaction”.

All I can really state now is that this is interesting. Mesmerising, even.

4 thoughts on “Awareness of awareness

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