Saturday, July 19, 2014

[q-bio.OT] An Integration of Integrated Information Theory with Fundamental Physics

Submitted to the arXiv by Adam B. Barrett on July 3rd, 2014.


My opinion:
This paper rings strongly of a physicist entering psychologists' territory in an attempt to steer the course of consciousness research to one of more physical and fundamental origin. Although no equations nor methods of measurement are provided in this paper, the author extends a theory with the intentions of spurring research into the quantitative measurements of fields with respect to consciousness. I was a bit uneasy with the importance placed on consciousness at first, but by the discussion section I was better able to understand the author's intentions.

My familiarity with subject: 5/10
Style: 8/10
Ease (for layman): 10/10
Length: 7pgs (excluding references and images)

Any arguments with opinions or analyses in this summary are warmly welcomed. This paper purports what I see to be a possibly controversial issue, and I will try to remain relatively neutral in my synopsis.


This paper deals with the subject of consciousness as an incarnation of complex underlying physical and biological mechanisms. Integrated Information Theory (IIT) states that consciousness is compounded information which acts above the sum of its parts. Since non-fundamental information cannot be intrinsic, descriptions of the information in a system depend on an observer's reference point. To surmount this problem, the author provides his solution -- field integrated information hypothesis (FIIH) -- which rests the intrinsic information of a system in the hands of fundamental, physical fields.

Fields in physics (as opposed to mathematics) are constructs that associate a mathematical object with every point in space and time. All particles have associated fields, and "all forces in nature can be described by field theories which model interactions" (page 4). Since FIIH goes to say that consciousness is a fundamental attribute of matter, the author claims a need to express its manifestation in the behavior of fields/particles.

To help quantify consciousness, "the amount of consciousness generated by a patch of field is the amount of integrated information intrinsic to it" (page 4). The quantification must be frame invariant. The author does not delve much further since determining the measurement equation is "beyond the scope of this present paper", but does "speculate" the formula is in terms of "thermodynamic entropy" (page 5).

Opponents of IIT criticize the fact that consciousness is produced by integrated information since this continuum approach implies that everyday objects have some consciousness. Since consciousness has multiple definitions depending on the individual, "the key point [...] is that on the theory discussed here, intrinsic integrated information is what underlies subjective experience at the most fundamental level of description" (page 6).

The author then continues in a discussion of similar theories of consciousness. One of which he follows with, "this is not however compatible with the laws of physics" (page 7). #rekt. The author goes on to say that although IIT and FIIH do not have yet equations for consciousness, the theories point in the direction of a more quantitative view of the subject.

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