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Consciousness, Reorganization and Polyviscosity, Part 2 (mini-ramble)

By Bbenzon @bbenzon

As I explained previously – Consciousness, reorganization and polyviscosity, Part 1 – William Powers identified consciousness with the process of reorganization, which is responsible for learning and the formation of memories in his model. Ever since I read that (in his 1973 Behavior: The Control of Perception) I have adopted that as my preferred account of consciousness, though I have read other accounts on principle. I like it because it follows naturally from his overall model, which David Hays and I adopted though with modifications, and seems to match the phenomenology of consciousness.

Yet I had one problem: It implied that reorganization is constant as long as we are awake. But Hays was comfortable with that, though I forget just how he phrased it, and so I accepted it. Now that I’m thinking of the nervous system as simultaneously operating on several levels of viscosity, that makes sense. (I know, a lousy formulation. I’m just making it up.)

Conscious is, in effect, “negotiating” between these different levels. We must be ready to change, to commit something to memory, at any moment. But we can’t always anticipate these changes. So connectivity is always a bit fluid. Some synapses are always in “change” mode, but the potential changes are not necessarily committed. Commitment represents a retrospective judgment.

This is consistent with a query I put to Walter Freeman some years ago: Does consciousness allow for ‘instantaneous’ global change, as in the startle reflex? Freeman thought that was a sensible suggestion.

Consciousness is what allows for mental “fluidity.” Neural circuits are not passive switches like ordinary electrical switches. They are active.

Experience can “flow” through us without setting any change in motion. The moment, however, that the experiential flow meets resistance, the flow becomes turbulent and that turbulence initiates reorganization.

My guess is – and that’s all it is, a guess – is that we are now dealing with molecular mechanisms operating at the synaptic level. These mechanisms maintain interneural space. Synapses are not just empty gaps. They are structured gates. The molecular mechanisms maintaining that structure give rise to polyviscosity.

(Like I said, I’m just making this stuff up.)

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