Discussion about Jeffrey Gray’s book on consciousness




Linkedin 13.04.2012:

In his book, Jeffrey Gray starts with quite a mechanicstic approach, see slide 9


where his scheme of the brain is contrasted with an intelligent agent. The brain does interact with the environement by means of senses and muscles. This happens exactly as in some intelligent agent. I am not sure where you see the difference. This however happens unconsiously, again the same way as in an intelligent agent.

Yet, additionally we have conscious experience that is constructed by the unconscious brain. This is what is missing in an intelligent agent.

The word directly that you use is unclear. There are senses, they exite some neurons that in turn excite some other neurons. Finally the neurons activate muscles. What example would you give for the direct interaction?

Facebook 16.04.2012:

You are right that sometimes the book is philosophical. Yet, I would not agree about the chapters you have mentioned.

2. The Illusory narrative of consciousness

This chapter contains experimental results. The main statement here is that visual experience is constructed by the brain and it takes about quarter a second to construct it. I do not know what you mean by philosophy here.

4. Intentionality

Intentionality is tied with consciousness. It well might be that this comes from philosophers but this is not the main point. Jeffrey Gray just shows that one can find intentionality already at the level of unconscious brain. You may name it philosophy if you want it to but the author wanted to say that this is not the Hard Problem.

6. Enter Qualia

Jeffrey Gray takes the term from philosophers indeed. Yet, it uses it to define the phenomena described in the previous chapters. Hence this is just a term to describe empirical observations.

8. Creeping up on the Hard Problem

Here he summarizes his assumptions and hypotheses explicitly. If you call this philosophy, it is up to you.

9. Epiphenomenalism

This is a theory that could be found in neuroscience to state that even a consciousness exist, it has no casual power. Hence, in my view, it was quite logical to consider it.

Finally, if you believe that this is not a science, could you please give an example what is science of consciousness?

Linkedin 20.04.2012:

We do not know how unconscious processes in brain are working indeed. Yet, I guess AI can deal with this: sensor, processing, actor. It could be done this way, or that way, after all, what is the difference. Hard Problem however starts when you come to conscious experience. In AI seems there is no equivalent for that.

Linkedin 21.04.2012:

Do you have a link where your results are presented?

In general, I see some problems with physicalism. Let us imagine that your approach is working, in other words you put consciousness in the physicalism framework. That’s fine. Then what is mathematics? Is this some sort of special neuron spikes in a brain? To clarify my question, I have created an experiment with two mathematicians and Pi:

“Let us take a completely isolated bunker where the experiment begins. There are two mathematicians in the bunker and the initial conditions are enough so that mathematicians can comfortably work for awhile and prove the existence of Pi on a paper. Eventually the oxygen in the bunker will run over and both mathematicians die. What happens with Pi during this experiment?”

In more detail, including definition of physicalism


You can even replace two mathematicians by your creatures. What is the relationship between Pi and them?

Linkedin 21.04.2012:

We do not know exactly how visual system is working indeed. Yet, there is a lot of research on this and in his book Jeffrey A. Gray summarizes this research.

1) There is unconscious processing of visual information and conscious visual experience. This happens in different brain parts.

2) Unconscious processing, for example constant movement of eyes happens pretty fast, reactions times are about tens milliseconds.

3) Conscious experience is a slow process, it takes about a quarter second until we consciously see an effect of something.

4) Visual illusion happens in conscious experience, unconscious processing is free from visual illusions.

5) Unconscious processing could be understood in terms of feedback loops, but how conscious experience happens is Hard Problem.

Linkedin 21.04.2012:


Thank you for the link.

I agree that the best is just to try it out. Philosophy does not solve engineering problem indeed.

Said that, it is still possible formaly to classify your approach as computationalism (The Computational Theory of Mind) and I guess that this is a particular case of physicalism (Everything is Physical). Hence my question, I believe, was approapriate. This bothers me already some time, either Mind has created Mathematics, or Mathematics creates Mind.

By the way, according to Jeffrey Gray, we do not know yet the trick, how Nature creates conscious experience.

Linkedin 22.04.2012:

 I have a nice test for both your systems from the Jeffrey Gray’s book. Imagine you sit on the beach and enjoy sunset. How that feeling will be implemented in the computer? Do you mean that your systems will be able to enjoy sunset?

Linkedin 22.04.2012:

This was exactly my question. Will your system be able to ‘enjoy’ something or will your system enjoy something?

I mean that one can definitely find a symbolic representation for a state of ‘being enjoying something’. However this respresentation in my view is not equivalent to ‘being enjoying something’.

Linkedin 22.04.2012:

Let us imagine that you have accomplished your development and put the developed mind in a robot. Now there is a human being enjoying sunset and a robot enjoying sunset. Do you mean that the feeling in the robot will be similar?

Or let me put it this way. I would say that if it is possible to convince patients that experienced pain is just a representation of pain, this would change the medical care system drastically.

Linkedin 22.04.2012:

I agree that there is no behavioral test to distinguish a human being from a philosophical zombie. By the way, Schrödinger has some interesting thoughts on The Oneness of Mind

“The doctrine of identity can claim that it is clinched by the empirical fact that consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. Not only has none of us ever experienced more than one consciousness, but there is also no trace of circumstantial evidence of this ever happening anywhere in the world.”

Some more quotes from Schrödinger to this end at


>”As I said before: it IS possible to model qualia.”

As for modeling, I would be carefull. It is possible to model sex, but I am afraid that there is still difference between the sex model and sex by itself.

Linkedin 23.04.2012:

If to talk about empirical science, then it starts from researching a phenomenon. In this sense, the phenomena of conscious experience are undeniable. In addition to examples that I have already given, consider music or just reconstruction of the 3D world that your perceive. By the way from a phenomenal viewpoint, perception belongs to conscious experience. When a sensor (or retina) gets signal from the external world, this is not yet perception.

If to talk about theoretical foundations of normal science, then you are right, consciousness is more an embarrassment in this case, as normal science does not have place for it. Jeffrey Gray makes a comparison as follows. Imagine that ancient Greeks would need to define electricity scientifically. This definitely would not work. The same happens now with consciousness and modern science, as it cannot define what consciousness is. Yet in my view, this does not mean that we should neglect the phenomenon.

The book of Jeffrey Gray is a good example of empirical science where it demonstrates that for example

“These experiments demonstrate yet again, by the way, that the ‘privacy’ of conscious experience offers no barrier to good science. Synaesthetes claim a form of experience that is, from the point of view of most people, idiosyncratic in the extreme. Yet it can be successfully brought into the laboratory.”

Hence, I would recommend to read his book or at least browse my slides


Then you see, that it is a big question if a robot can enjoy sunset. And definitely there is no scientific theory yet that can say definite “yes”.

Linkedin 23.04.2012:

Jeffrey Gray says that

“But we can, I believe, safely assume that mammals possess conscious experience.”

A short description of an experiment from his book that proves that a monkey has visual conscious experience


So, I would not be surprised if a rabbit enjoys the sunset indeed.

Linkedin 25.04.2012:

Let me start from ancient Greeks. The electrical and magnetic phenomena have been known at that time. People have been trying to work with them, to classify them, to give explanations. This may look awkward from the current viewpoint, but this is the reason why we have electricity now.

The same concerns consciousness. Even if we cannot develop a theory for it right now, it is good to keep trying. Otherwise nothing will happen.

Jeffrey Gray states that consciousness is conscious experience. Now you have a noun. He classifies conscious experience into three groups, feeling, private cognitive conscious experience (thoughts), and public conscious experience, that is, the reconstruction of the 3D world. Then he states that for Hard Problem it is enough to consider feelings and the reconstruction of the 3D world. Cognitive processes adds nothing to that, so they are not considered in his book.

I have already listed the phenomena of conscious experience. What is wrong with my examples?

If we consider the brain, it is clear that there are unconscious processes and conscious processes. For example, you eyes are constantly moving, but this happens unconsciously and your 3D vision remains stable. This shows that the interaction of electromagnetic waves with the retina is not yet perception. What is on the retina constantly changes but you do not mention it. This is way a sensor by itself does not perceive, it just gets a signal, conscious experience is not there.

You have just to look at the literature on the human vision system, there is a lot of results to this end. For example, the signals from retina independently go to two different brains area, one of them for conscious visiual experience, another one for unconscious processing.

Linkedin 25.04.2012:

Jeffrey Gray is a neuroscientist. Psychology as such is not his book, as he does not consider intellect and mind. He consider instead for example visual illusions and pain.