My messages to the everything list about the role of consciousness according to Jeffery A. Gray, Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem
The term late error detection as such could be employed without consciousness indeed. Yet, Jeffrey Gray gives it some special meaning that I will try briefly describe below.
Jeffrey Gray in his book speaks about conscious experience, that is, exactly about qualia. Self, mind, and intellect as such is not there.
He has tried first hard to put conscious experience in the framework of the normal science (I guess that he means here physicalism) but then he shows that conscious experience cannot be explained by the theories within a normal science (functionalism, neural correlates of consciousness, etc.).
According to him, conscious experience is some multipurpose display. It is necessary yet to find how Nature produces it but at the moment this is not that important.
He considers an organism from a cybernetic viewpoint, as a bunch of feedback mechanisms (servomechanisms). For a servomechanism it is necessary to set a goal and then to have a comparator that compares the goal with the reality. It might function okay at the unconscious level but conscious experience binds everything together in its display. This binding happens not only between different senses (multimodal binding) but also within a single sense (intramodel binding). For example we consciously experience a red kite as a whole, although in the brain lines, colors, surfaces are processed independently. Yet we cannot consciously experience a red kite not as a whole, just try it.
Hence the conscious display gives a new opportunity to compare expectations with reality and Jeffrey Grayrefers to it as late error detection. That is, there is a bunch of servomechanisms that are running on their own but then conscious experience allows brain to synchronize everything together. This is a clear advantage from the Evolution viewpoint.
Jeffrey Gray considers consciousness from a viewpoint of empirical studies. Philosophical zombies so far exist only in the minds of crazy philosophers, so I am not sure if this is relevant.
As I have written, conscious experience offers unique capabilities to tune all running servomechanisms to the brain that otherwise it has not. This is what neuroscience says. When neuroscience will find zombies, then it would be possible to consider this hypothesis as well.
Clearly one can imagine that he/she is not zombie and others are zombies. But then he/she must convince others that they are zombies.
We do not know what kind of computing brain does. It well might be that at the level of neuron nets it was simpler to create a conscious display than to employ other means. On the other hand, the robotics has yet to prove that they can reach the behavioral level of for example mammals. This has not been done yet. One cannot exclude that the progress here will be achieved only when people will find a trick how a brain creates conscious experience.
>Display to whom? the homunculus?
No, he creates an interesting scheme to escape the homunculus:
p. 110. “(1) the unconscious brain constructs a display in a medium, that of conscious perception, fundamentally different from its usual medium of electrochemical activity in and between nerve cells;
(2) it inspects the conscious constructed display;
(3) it uses the results of the display to change the working of its usual electrochemical medium.”
Hence the unconscious brain does the job. I should say that this does not answer my personal inquiry on how I perceive a three dimensional world, but this is another problem. In his book, Jeffrey Gray offers quite a plausible scheme.
Science start with a research on a phenomenon. If to speak about a theory of consciousness then we are presumably close to the level when ancient Greeks would try to develop a theory of electricity. Yet, the phenomenon, for example lighting was already there and it was possible to describe it even then.
‘Conscious display’ is a metaphor, if you like then a placeholder. We cannot explain right now how brain produces consciousness and this is Gray’s point. Yet, this does not mean that the phenomenon is not there. We just cannot explain it. In this respect, Gray’s book is a very good example of empirical science, the theory of consciousness is however not there.
Gray’s book is not a theory of consciousness, this is rather an empirical research with an outcome that the modern science cannot explain observation in that research. Gray also confesses that
“There are no behavioral tests by which we can distinguish whether a computer, a robot or a Martian possesses qualia.”
At the same time, he shows how to bring consciousness into the lab:
“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.”