opportunity of the binding problem

The so-called "binding problem" of psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, metaphysicians and other horse-thieves relates to the proposition that some aspects of reality are processed in some parts of the brain, and other aspects in other parts of the brain. It's a Problem because the neuromancers cannot explain how datasets from different parts of the brain combine to form an integrated, holistic consciousness--whatever that is.

(The data is said to originate in sensory perception, but in my view there is another place where data originates, and that is in the mind itself. Data originating in sensory perception can only ever be inputs to cognitive processes. In contrast, some data--eg thoughts, ideas and emotions--are the outputs of cognitive processes, and can also be inputs, eg where a thought is part of a cognitive process that outputs another thought. Data that can only ever be inputs I refer to as ‘primary data’; data that can be inputs and/or outputs I refer to as ‘secondary data’.)

According to Revonsuo and Newman (1999)* the binding problem is "…the problem of how the unity of conscious perception is brought about by the distributed activities of the central nervous system."

For instance, say that Jon sees a red balloon floating across a room. The quality of "redness" is said to be processed in one part of Jon's brain, the shape of the balloon in another, the size in another, and the movement in yet another. Where then, and how, are these qualities or qualia combined to form the unified experience ("red-balloon-floating") in Jon's consciousness?

A more complex example of the Problem involves the combination of data-sets created via multiple types (modalities) of sensory input, eg olfactory, visual and auditory (as in looking at a person, hearing zem speak, smelling zor body odour and chunking it all up into one discreet piece or lump of consciousness).

An even more complex example relates to memory. How do we access an integrated tightly bound-up element of consciousness relating to the past, ie not happening now? How do we access a discreet element of consciousness consisting of multiple data sets derived in the past from multiple inputs from multiple and different sense perceptions? And what about imagination (the combination of data sets relating to things/events that may not yet have occurred in the ‘real world’ and/or may never occur)?

In my view the Binding Problem is not a Problem but rather an opportunity (apologies for using a management consulting meme). What does the process of binding up bits and pieces into one holistic lump remind you of? Creating reality, that's what it reminds me of: the ‘new age’ idea that a person creates zor own reality. Isn't that exactly what the ‘binding’ part of the Binding Problem is: a person taking bits and pieces of primary and secondary data and binding them all up together to form a unified consciousness of reality?

What else does it remind you of? It reminds me of what quantum physicists believe about the role of the observer in determining the nature of reality (eg the wave-particle duality of light and matter)---in other words, that observers create realities.

Quantum physicists believe reality can never be fully known. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle dictates that some data is always gained at the cost of making other data unattainable. Physicists believe that at the quantum level, things have the potential to be different things at once---a wave and a particle, here and there, now and then, up and down, and all around, etc. They believe a cat can be potentially alive and dead at the same time.

They believe the act of conducting an experiment (ie observing) actuates or crystallizes the cloudy confusion of quantum potential into the superficially sure, steady, solid reality we all know and love, where a cat is alive or dead but not both at the same time. (In fact, Einstein’s theories of relativity demonstrate there is no such thing as the ‘same time’). Physicists interpret the act of observation as"collapsing the wave-function". From stochasticity to specificity, you might say. Or from stochasticity to casuistry. Or as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars."

For me, reality creation is a job for ETI. And the fact that people are part of ETI means… (but that is for another day).

* Revonsuo, A and Newman, J. (1999). Binding and Consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 8, 123-127


Words, images and audio copyright © S R Schwarz 2007. All rights reserved.

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