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May 16, 2002
12:20 PM   Subscribe

Our Conscious Mind Could Be An Electromagnetic Field
posted by stbalbach (30 comments total)

 
Another attempt at explaining spirituality through that cold, lifeless doctrine called mechanism.
posted by aaronshaf at 12:34 PM on May 16, 2002


Okay, but then you;ll probably want to steer real clear of this guy.
posted by briank at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2002


Great read, this - "But neurons are connected so that when they fire together, they wire together, to form stronger connections. After practice, the influence of the field will become dispensable. The activity will be learnt and may thereafter be performed unconsciously." - seems to explain to me, aaronshaf's immediate dismissal of it though.
posted by bittennails at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2002


so robots count as conscious creatures?

very cool.
posted by clango at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2002


Another attempt at explaining spirituality through that cold, lifeless doctrine called mechanism.

Your use of the term "lifeless" here is utterly paradoxical.
posted by rushmc at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2002


How might one test this theory?
posted by kahboom at 1:02 PM on May 16, 2002


Another attempt at explaining spirituality

Well, no. It's a theory about consciousness, as the article and post title make plain. Are you just hostile toward any attempt at explaining the phenomenon? It seems to make for a brittle kind of faith.
posted by Skot at 1:03 PM on May 16, 2002


Does this mean if we stand really close to powerful magnets our souls will be scrambled?!?
posted by jzed at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2002


In the "Western Lands" Bill Burroughs sez the nuclear bomb was designed to disrupt the electromagnetic field that is the soul.

Kill 'em dead, I mean DEAD dead.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:13 PM on May 16, 2002


The brain's electromagnetic field is not just an information sink; it can influence our actions, pushing some neurons towards firing and others away from firing. This influence, Professor McFadden proposes, is the physical manifestation of our conscious will.

Interesting piece-but here's the rub-who and what is this "conscious will"? Consciousness is like the proverbial emperor. So the emperor's clothes are now electromagnetic fields? Good- He is exposed once and for all. We are still left to explain the fact of the emperor.
posted by quercus at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2002


One of the objections to an electromagnetic field theory of consciousness is, if our minds are electromagnetic, then why don't we pass out when we walk under an electrical cable or any other source of external electromagnetic fields?

That was certainly one of my questions. Their reponce: The answer is that our skin, skull and cerebrospinal fluid shield us from external electric fields, seems like a desperate kind of grasping. I don't buy it.
posted by willnot at 1:41 PM on May 16, 2002


A book I read recently that is all about this topic. In fact it title claims to simply answer the question.

Consciousness Explained

It was a good read. I reccomend it. If you find yourself bogged down in the verbage, plow through. He was very thorough and sometimes it's just best to trust his citings, and created jargon, to get to the point.
posted by folktrash at 1:45 PM on May 16, 2002


A book I read recently that is all about this topic. In fact it title claims to simply answer the question.

Consciousness Explained

It was a good read. I reccomend it. If you find yourself bogged down in the verbage, plow through. He was very thorough and sometimes it's just best to trust his citings, and created jargon, to get to the point.
posted by folktrash at 1:46 PM on May 16, 2002


whoops
posted by folktrash at 1:46 PM on May 16, 2002


Consciousness Explained Away is a more accurate title, but it is a great book.
posted by quercus at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2002


I should think the minimalists would love it.
posted by folktrash at 1:48 PM on May 16, 2002


This is getting closer to my own theory that humans are basically just walking TV sets-I have heard some smart things come out of my TV - but I know there is no intelligence inside. Our brains could just be gooey antennas with the programming beamed in. If "Metafilter"-the website itself-is conscious right now-it can't be said to have any independent intelligence. Everything is being supplied. Perhaps the thoughts in my head are so many little mefi posters clicking in from Galaxy Groovy-who knows. Although, As Russell said: The truth, if found, may prove uninteresting.
posted by quercus at 1:58 PM on May 16, 2002


if the feeling of self is just an illusion, then what is it i feel? and is i even an appropriate term?

(feeling that way)
posted by folktrash at 2:01 PM on May 16, 2002


it raises interesting questions doesn't it, like where does a decision come from? how can a decision arise spontaneously? through random action in the brain? if not the brain must simply be a complex feedback loop.
posted by mokey at 2:06 PM on May 16, 2002


who and what is this "conscious will"?

ahem.
posted by crunchland at 2:11 PM on May 16, 2002


at long last, i get to see a gentle joke, as it happened.

thank you crunchland, thank you.
posted by folktrash at 2:17 PM on May 16, 2002


clango: so robots count as conscious creatures?

In theory...

A robotic brain could therefore be constructed that is functionally equivalent to a human brain that would experience subjective qualia, if it incorporated a cemi field. It will however have a very different informational
processing architecture than current electronic computers that are constructed to minimise field effects.


Quoting from the paper, which can be found on Mcfadden's website. Interesting theory. This is a development of some ideas that McFadden had tossed out at the end of his book Quantum Evolution, about the role QM in the development of consciousness.
posted by vacapinta at 2:22 PM on May 16, 2002


I read an article once about a group who used evolutionary algorithms to design a chip. I don't remember what the chip did, something simple I'm sure. They were very surprised at the end of their experiment, because they had a very difficult time explaining how the chip was managing to work, though it obviously was. The point being, that evolution tends to optimize any factors that have direct influence, even those that seem very obscure, slight, or unlikely. While consciousness might not actually be entirely in (of?) the EM field of the brain, I would be very surprised it that field did not play some role in it.
posted by Nothing at 2:46 PM on May 16, 2002


So two behaviorists make love. Afterwards, one says to the other, "It was great for you. How was it for me?"

I don't want to go off on the guy before I read his paper, but I have a deep suspicion of people who connect QM with consciousness. It seems to amount to: let's explain the least understood aspect of nature using the second-least unknown. And, ideas about consciousness have been discussed for hundreds of years before we had any inkling of QM. If you'd like to use the word, please try to connect with what people have been getting at ALL these years, not just since we invented the computer.

We'll have a decent theory of consciousness just as soon as we can change the meaning of the word enough.
posted by Wood at 3:43 PM on May 16, 2002


As described, it lacks enough specificity to be proven right or wrong. It may as well be creation science. Besides, it's really not saying anything new because we already know (and can calculate) that wherever there is charge in motion there is a magnetic field of specific polarity and magnitude. Since we know our minds exist somewhere in the tiny chemoelectric currents in our brain, then saying it is in the magnetic fields we already know are intrinsic to the system doesn't narrow it down much.

There may be some damping/enhancing effect on the current of a neuron by the magnetic field created when firing an adjacent neuron, but if proven to be non-trivial, this interaction would still just be another type of signal pathway - not necessarily a step closer to pinpointing the mind.
posted by plaino at 4:12 PM on May 16, 2002


oh, my! how thought provoking this post was.
posted by quonsar at 6:41 PM on May 16, 2002


hey i just saw this article on technology review about magnetic stimulation of a "small area of the brain that is underactive in depressed patients" to help treat severe depression. so i guess it stands to reason consciousness is affected by electromagnetism somehow at least. synthetic zero also had some thoughts on mind and consciousness today btw.

a group who used evolutionary algorithms to design a chip

evolutionary electronics at sussex! "Thompson has evolved a circuit that distinguishes between two tones, two electric signals that, if fed into a stereo speaker, would produce two notes. One has a frequency of 1 kilohertz, the other 10 kilohertz." here's a new scientist link and the best explanation i've heard of it on slashdot:
But the evolutionary algorithm was not constrained in any fashion to make use of this ideal digital model only. It can and will make use of the full available degrees of freedom the physical system, that the fpga device is, offers.

With the result that there might evolve analog cuircuits (which use more than 0 or 1 values), or that we might have electro-magnetic signal transport (Thompson reported some spiral structures which might work as electro-magnetic wave guides), yes it might even employ some quantum mechanical effect that could explained by advanced semiconductor physics only.

One might say that the approximation process that the evolution algorithm is, has started in the domain of digital devices and converged out of that domain into the wider domain of physical devices.
also don't miss mr tickle interloping into the mind of m. c. escher :)
posted by kliuless at 7:03 PM on May 16, 2002


Another attempt at explaining spirituality through that cold, lifeless doctrine called mechanism.

Yes, spirituality is far too preoccupied with itself to ever try to explain the mechanical. Imagine if it did! There would be utter nonsense like magic words creating the universe. Let there be light, and stuff like that.

Seriously, though. I wonder, do electromagnetic pulses have an affect on people? If not, then I'd say we're in the debunk zone...
posted by holycola at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2002


Those Thompson links are fascinating. Thanks, kliuless.
posted by nikzhowz at 7:59 PM on May 16, 2002


how can a decision arise spontaneously? through random action in the brain? if not the brain must simply be a complex feedback loop.

I'm not sure the two are mutually exclusive. How about "a complex feedback loop with some error in the signal"?
posted by walrus at 7:01 AM on May 17, 2002


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