One thing that has always fascinated us is our mind. It is the only thing that we can be certain of existing, yet we do not know what it is. This is in contrast to things outside the mind, which we cannot be certain that they really exist – they may be just illusions – yet, apparently, we know what they are. We also have a lot of information about them. For example, we can tell that an apple is a material object – a fruit with fairly round shape, red/green color, sweet smell, delectable taste, and a lot of nutrients. Even something that is immaterial, such as an electromagnetic wave, we can tell that it has the dual nature of being a wave and a particle, travels at the speed c regardless of measuring frames, can dislodge electrons from atoms, etc.; we can even write formulas to describe its properties. Moreover, for both things, we can answer the questions of why and how they occur. We cannot do such things to the mind. For the mind, what we know is only that it is non-material, can do various mental activities, such as sensing stimuli, thinking, and executing motor commands, and has some observable functional properties, such as being private, subjective, and representational [1-6]. But we do not know what its exact nature is, why it occurs, how it occurs, and why it is that, even if it is us, we cannot easily answer these questions. This theory attempts to answer these questions with scientific evidence and finds that the answers exist in the physical properties of the mind, qualia, and consciousness.
However, before the attempt to solve this puzzle can begin, it is to be noted that many specific terms will need to be used in the process but that some of them are ambiguous and can have varied meanings in the literature. To avoid confusion, these terms will be defined what they mean in this theory at appropriate points. All the definitions such defined are intended to be the working definitions just for use in this theory. Thus, caution should be exercised if these terms are compared with the same terms, which may have different meanings, in the literature. Some of the terms will be used from the beginning and throughout the theory and will be defined in this chapter as follows.
The mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can
– sense signals from its environment (such as light, sound, and tactile stimuli), from its own body (such as proprioception, vestibular stimuli, and pain from internal organs), and from within itself (such as emotion, thought, and memory);
– operate (such as integrate, store, and retrieve) signals, resulting in various mental processes, both conscious (such as solving problems, remembering things, and experiencing emotions) and unconscious (such as unconscious control of muscle tone and balance, unconscious control of breathing, and unconscious control of sweat secretion); and
– send signals between its parts (such as between the sensory perception parts, the emotion part, and the consciousness part) and to its effectors (such as striated muscles, smooth muscles, and glands) to control its own body functions and to respond to its environment.
An immature mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can do some, but not all, of the listed functions above because the animal is still in a developing stage, such as a fetus.
A partially-functioning mind is a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that can do some, but not all, of the listed functions above because the animal is being in a sleep stage, suppressed by a pharmacologic or toxic agent, or affected by a pathologic condition such as cerebral concussion, stroke, brain tumor, dementing disorder, or congenital brain defect.
This theory is about the mind as defined above. The eventual conclusions, implications, predictions, and other statements that are valid for this kind of mind are also valid for an immature mind and a partially-functioning mind, excluding the non-functioning part(s) of that mind, unless stated otherwise.
To be noted here is that this theory is about the mind as specifically defined – a non-material entity that exists in an animal with a nervous system and that has the capabilities listed above. The definition does not include possibly-existing, non-material entities that have the above-listed capabilities but reside in
– animals that do not have nervous systems, such as sponges and Trichoplax,
– other kinds of living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and plants, or
– non-living things, such as a rock, a computer, a robot, a weather system, and the dynamic photosphere of the sun.
Thus, even if sponges, Trichoplax, bacteria, plants, computers, robots, or some other entities above can sense signals from the environment, operate signals, and send signals to their effectors [7-13] and even if it is possible that there exist non-material entities in them that can perform these activities, these possibly-existing, non-material entities are not the kind of mind that will be discussed in this theory. The conclusions, implications, predictions, and other statements that are valid for the mind as specifically defined above are thus unproven to be valid for these possible entities.
D2. Mental process
A mental process is the mind’s part that performs a certain function listed above, that is, to sense, operate, or send signals. It can be a conscious mental process (that is, the mind can be aware of it consciously), such as the final-stage visual perception mental process, the emotion mental process, and the volitional movement mental process, or an unconscious mental process (that is, the mind cannot be aware of it consciously), such as the early-stage visual perception mental process, the mental process that controls muscle tone and balance, and the mental process that controls breathing.
D3. Neural circuit
A neural circuit is a functional group of neurons that are connected together in some specific pattern to process signals in its circuit [14-16], which is its principal function, such as to perceive visual sensation signals, to integrate various signals to form a decision, or to synthesize signals to control motor movement. Anatomically, a neural circuit may not be just a single group of connected neurons in one location but may be a network of scattered groups of connected neurons in different areas, such as the neural circuit of consciousness [17-25].
However, to be a certain neural circuit, all the groups of the circuit must be connected and function together to perform a certain neural function. A normal functional neural circuit is usually a complex 3-dimensional circuit and always has connections with other neural circuits and/or its sensor(s) and/or its effector(s) so that it can send/receive signals to/from them.
At present, there is a lot of evidence that, under a normal condition, a certain neural circuit is not a multi-functional circuit that performs various neural functions alternately. Instead, a certain neural circuit mostly, if not exclusively, performs only a certain function , such as perceiving visual sensation, thinking, or generating emotion. Different specific neural circuits reside in different, specific brain areas, such as visual perception neural circuits are in the visual cortex, thinking neural circuits are in the frontal cortex, and emotion neural circuits are in the amygdala. Currently, more than a hundred distinct functional brain areas can be identified by several methods [26-44].
D4. Neural process
A neural process is a part of a functioning neural circuit and is the part that performs the neural circuit’s principal function, that is, to process signals in the circuit. When a neural circuit is functioning, there are several parts in process: the signal-processing process, the metabolic process, the blood circulation process, and the structural modification process. But the part that performs the neural circuit’s principal function (to process signals) is the signal-processing process. Therefore, a neural process is the signal-processing process of a neural circuit.
How a neural circuit processes signals or how a neural process functions, can be briefly summarized as follows. When a neural circuit is processing signals, there are electrical or electrochemical signals circulating in its circuit. Generally, each of its neurons will receive signals from thousands other neurons at its post-synaptic junctions. Excitatory post-synaptic potentials (EPSPs) or inhibitory post-synaptic potentials (IPSPs) will occur at these post-synaptic junctions and spread via the dendrites to the neuron’s soma and to the initial segment of the axon. The EPSPs and IPSPs will summate while they travel and, when reaching the initial segment of the axon, will or will not result in an action potential, depending on the summation of the EPSPs and IPSPs (this summation is the integration of input signals that that neuron receives). If an action potential occurs, it will travel down the axon to the neuron’s pre-synaptic junctions, and the signals will be sent to thousands other neurons through these pre-synaptic junctions [45,46] This whole process takes place in each of millions of neurons in the circuit and results in a circulation of signals among its neurons in some specific pattern depending on the circuit’s anatomy and physiology. In this manner, the signals will be processed from neuron to neuron in some specific ways while they circulate in the circuit. The end result will depend on what the function of the neural circuit is. For example, the end result can be a processed signal to be sent to other neural circuits for further processing, a final sensory perception, or a final executing signal to command its effector.
A neural process is not an instantaneous process but takes some time to complete the process and generate the whole function, such as it takes some time (usually in milliseconds [45,47-49] for a visual perception neural process to create a perception of a face in the brain after receiving the visual signals [50-53].
D5. Signaling pattern (SP)
A signaling pattern (SP) is the pattern of signaling that a neural circuit sends to another neural circuit to convey its signals.
An SP is not a stationary 2-dimensional pattern (like a pattern of a static picture) but a brief, dynamic, 3-dimensional pattern because it takes some time to complete the SP, which involves complex signaling among millions of neurons in the 3-dimensional circuit. Because a neural circuit communicates its information with others via its electrical and/or electrochemical signals in the form of SPs [54-65], an SP that the neural circuit sends to another circuit must be the information that is to be sent. But for a neural circuit to be able to distinguish any particular information, the SP for that particular information must be unique – different from all others. For example, the SP for perceiving visual sensation must be different from that for perceiving auditory sensation. Also, the SP for perceiving a visual image of a letter “A” must be unique and different from the one for a letter “B” [66,67]. Stating otherwise, for neural circuits to communicate information between each other comprehensibly, a signaling pattern for each information must be unique and different from those of other information.
SPs are very important because every neural circuit sends/receives information to/from others by SPs and thus affects/is affected by others by SPs.
D6. Signaling state (SS)
A signaling state (SS) is the state of signaling of a neural process, with signals circulating in its circuit in a certain pattern at any certain moment. Because the signals that are circulating in a neural process at any moment is the information that is in the neural process at that moment, a signaling state is the information that is in the neural process at that moment. For example, after the primary visual perception neural process has received early-stage visual signals of a house from the lateral geniculate nucleus, it will be in the signaling state that is the information of the early-stage visual perception of the house, and after the final visual perception neural process has finished the process of perceiving the vision of the house, it will be in the signaling state that is the information of the final visual perception of the house.
In this theorem, for conciseness, the clause “that is the information of” will sometimes be replaced by “that signals”. Thus, the examples in the preceding paragraph can be stated as: after the primary visual perception neural process has received early-stage visual signals of a house from the lateral geniculate nucleus, it will be in the signaling state that signals the early-stage visual perception of the house, and after the final visual perception neural process has finished the process of perceiving the vision of the house, it will be in the signaling state that signals the final visual perception of the house.
In this theory, information is an abstract entity that describes something. For example, signals in the optic nerve are information about the visual aspect of something that one looks at – this information describes visual aspects (color, brightness, shape, dimension, velocity, etc.) of that thing, and signals in the auditory nerve are information about the auditory aspect of something that one hears – this information describes auditory aspects (pitch, timbre, loudness, etc.) of that thing. Things that have different descriptions thus have different information, and vice versa. This definition of information makes it a kind of semantic information [68-71].
Information can be carried by several kinds of carriers such as electromagnetic waves, sound waves, mechanical forces, chemical substances, or specific molecules. In the nervous system, it is carried by electrical/electrochemical signals in neural circuits in the form of signaling patterns (which are information that is to be sent or is sent to other neural processes) and signaling states (which are information that is in the neural processes). Thus, the signaling patterns and signaling states are information about something. For example, when the visual perception neural process has finished the process of perceiving a vision of a house, it will be in the signaling state that is the information of the visual perception of the house and, when it communicates this information with other neural processes, it will send signaling patterns that are this information to other neural processes via its synapses.
Because an entity is identified by its information, or descriptions, entities that have different information, or different descriptions, are different. For example, because red and blue have different information (different descriptions), such as different wavelengths, different positions in the light spectrum, and different results when mixed with yellow, red and blue are different. Also, because the perception of the color red alone and the perception of the color red with the conscious experience of what the color red is like occurring have different information (different descriptions), the two perceptions are different*.
Because in the nervous system, information is in the form of signaling patterns and signaling states, different information has different signaling patterns and different signaling states. For example, because red and blue have different information, they have different signaling states in the neural processes and different signaling patterns when sent to other neural processes. Also, because the perception of the color red alone and the perception of the color red with the conscious experience of what the color red is like occurring have different information, they have different signaling states in the neural processes and different signaling patterns when sent to other neural processes*.
(*These last two examples are important examples; they will help us understand the effects of consciousness and the phenomena called qualia.)
Registered and unregistered information
In this theory, the information that has entered into the nervous system and is processed by neural processes is called registered information. Because it is processed by neural processes, registered information has a signaling pattern and a signaling state representing it in the nervous system. And because it has neural processes functioning for it, registered information has some physical effects on the nervous system. This is different from unregistered information. For example, the visual and auditory signals that enter into the nervous system are processed by neural processes and are registered information; they have signaling patterns and signaling states representing them in the nervous system and have effects on the nervous system.
Unregistered information is the information that does not entered into the nervous system and is thus not processed by neural processes. Therefore, unregistered information does not have a signaling pattern or a signaling state representing it in the nervous system. Because it does not have neural processes functioning for it, unregistered information does not have any effects on the nervous system. For example, in humans, magnetic information and radiation information in the environment or even in our body cannot enter into our nervous system because we do not have sensory organs to detect these kinds of information. Therefore, they are not processed by neural processes, do not have signaling patterns or signaling states representing them in the nervous system, and thus do not have effects on the nervous system. Similarly, all other unregistered information is not processed by neural processes, has no signaling pattern or signaling state representing it, and thus has no effects on the nervous system. Phenomenal characteristics that may occur in the nervous system but that are not read by any neural processes are also unregistered information; therefore, they are not processed by neural processes, have no signaling patterns or signaling states representing them, and thus have no effects on the nervous system. This last fact is important in understanding the physical effects of phenomenal characteristics that are read (such as qualia) vs the physical effects of phenomenal characteristics that are not read.
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