So I’m reading physicist Brian Greene’s new book, “Till the End of Time”, and in it he references Michael Graziano’s schema-based theory of consciousness, under a nicely succinct subheading “The Mind Modeling The Mind”. The theory is, basically, when a conscious mind is contemplating an object (in Greene’s example, a Ferrari), it creates a simplified model of that object and its attributes, but furthermore, it creates a model of a conscious mind paying attention to that object. This model of the mind is what give us the feeling of being conscious.
That made me think (and I’m trying to remember if it was discussed in Graziano’s book) that the defining characteristic of being conscious is the temporal concept of “now”. That is to say, a subjective (to me, myself, and I) moment in time that moves through a narrative, a story of what’s happening right now to that model of myself paying attention to something. It’s this concept of “now” that can then process any “then” (not now) – in other words, the past and the future. The now, the conscious present, can dive into the data of the recorded past (in my brain) to project a simulation of the future.
Sounds exhausting. That’s probably why we need to sleep, or lose consciousness, periodically, during which we lose all concept of now (unless we are consciously dreaming). Our brains clearly need rest from this exhausting effort of modeling our current moment in time, all the time.
Interesting news item from IEEE Spectrum reports on the first prototype of a Tricorder medical scanning device. I was unaware that a Tricorder X Prize competition (in the same family as Space X for commercial space flights) was in progress.
I absolutely love this video of Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station, singing “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a long time, well, go for it:
I watched this for the first time at the end of 2013, actually (not 2014). That marked a period in my life where I was super stressed, super overworked (like 80 hours a week), so I had not been following the great work Commander Hadfield had been doing on the ISS, tweeting with schoolkids and posting fun videos in Zero-G (This is how I brush my teeth in space, kids!).
So when I finally got around to taking the few minutes to watch this, I found it spellbinding. I even got a little verklempt.
It got me started devouring the rest of his videos on YouTube and I later read his book (not the best written biography in the world, but full of interesting details nonetheless). Inspiring guy, and he’s done a great thing for science education.
Have a read, and let me know what you think. There is already a slightly humorous, somewhat serious debate and public discourse about this idea. I haven’t gone into all of it, but if you go to the root website in the link above, you can follow along as well.
It brings to my mind the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, an obscure novel called “The Jesus Incident”, and of course, The Matrix.