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Consciousness is possibly the most interesting phenomenon that exists, perhaps for the same reasons that it is so difficult to explain. It comes so close to the great mysteries of existence and of knowing, of living versus being dead or in a vegetative state, and of experience juxtaposed with the "contents" of experience. In a way, we think of consciousness as being everything to us, and yet as something that must be explained according to the phenomena which are not (normally) conscious and which only indirectly "become conscious to us."
Nevertheless, this is the short version of a model of consciousness which recognizes the importance of the transitive nature of many of the metaphors for consciousness and metaphors for electrical phenomena. For the truth of the matter is that phenomena involving forces "acting at a distance", such as various electromagnetic causes and effects, rely for understanding upon "strange" conscious effects which are more experienced than abstractly understood (although we typically do have adequate abstract models for dealing with, if not understanding, these), and in turn the "magic of consciousness" is often metaphorically discussed using electric modifiers.
Flashing lightning, glowing auroras like those pictured above, neon lights, and electric fields all seem to have a mysterious kinship with consciousness, and thus may appear to be "magical," as if electrical phenomena must be referred to the mysteries of life and consciousness to be recognized by us. And while "magic" and "magical connections" mean little except as matters which are not well understood, one would not do well to ignore the remarkable similarities between conscious experience and electric phenomena (magnetic phenomena may play a role as well in consciousness, however the relative strengths of the two phenomena in the brain would suggest that electric fields would be much more effective overall). To get an idea of the importance of these similarities, the aspects of consciousness which seem (to me) most essential to understanding consciousness are listed below, after which their possible explanability by aspects of electric fields and related phenomena will be discussed:
[Click here for the next modification of this list]
Some of these issues could probably be condensed, but as an example, the lack of overt intrusion of extraneous metabolic activity into consciousness leads ideationally to matters different from the concept that "consciousness consists largely in neuronal data" does. Other issues are important, but only indirectly to the descriptions and explanations of consciousness--like the fact that consciousness no doubt evolved. And some issues, for example qualia, are important yet very difficult matters with which to deal, partly because their meaning is uncertain. Nevertheless, even aspects of qualia seem to be understandable when they are explained by electric fields. Likewise, evolution, and our consciousness of chemo-electrically-encoded data, appear to be supportive of the electric-field model of consciousness.
The central nervous system has evolved to deal with information stably and without much trouble from information extraneous to the encoded data. That consciousness reflects this sort of information, and that this set of information is huge (thus not likely to be duplicated anywhere in the brain), might very well suggest that consciousness is directly involved with the "deliberate" electrical activity of the brain. The fact that information evidently interacts within consciousness would suggest "action-at-a-distance," and thus the kinds of forces for which electric fields are responsible. Association and interaction of the qualia, as well as the "other" conscious aspects, would thereby be well-understood if they were the results interacting discrete codes or sets of codes, which maintain their integrity via the robust propagation of action-potentials, while nonetheless combining into larger "conscious fields" by interacting through "physical" (the quote marks are because "physical" is fairly undefined where electric and conscious fields are hypothetically considered to be the same entities) electric fields.
This seems to answer what consciousness actually "does", then. Fields interact with each other, and the stronger and more extensive fields become the more conscious thoughts, impulses, perceptions, etc. (as long as they're acting across substantial potentials, that is, if within the fields there are truly forces acting through distances). Where this translates into action is at the timing and coordination of nerve-impulses, for it is the force of electric fields which trigger the voltage-gated channnels, thus producing the movement of nerve-impulses along a "nerve fiber." The action-potential (nerve impulse) itself provides the strongest electric field influencing the speed, form, and strength of its own movement, however the electric fields from other neurons, and even from other nerve impulses on the same neuron, would influence these, particularly the timing of the nerve impulse.
The unities that we experience consciously seem very plausibly to exist via dynamic interconnections being produced within the transient electric fields (one reason consciousness diminishes or disappears during sleep). One ought also to note that long-range conscious "data fields" would connect together through the relatively short-range activity of these electric fields, because the short-range effects "stitch together" larger electric fields continuously without having to have distant effects. Indeed, the electric fields associated with nerve impulses is an excellent explanation of consciousness precisely because their effects would be short-range, for only nearby nerve-impulses would contain related, contextual information.
The real explanatory work of electric fields is found not so much in unity ("binding problem") per se as in how consciousness is bound together, and in the properties that such "binding" gives to consciousness. This is where the "eery" similarity of the metaphors for electricity and those used for consciousness come into play again, as both sets of phenomena are "lightning fast." The differences, however, are crucial, for while lightning has chaotic aspects to it, the brain and consciousness faithfully create a reproductions that are mapped out by data recorded by the eyes.
There is no need to dwell overmuch on the accurate reproduction (from our perspective) of the lightning bolt in the brain, or even in consciousness. Clearly the circuitry of the brain works analogously (for our purposes) to CCDs and computers in handling the data, and consciousness simply must be close to, and constrained by, the neuronal signals recording those data. But the data encoded in the brain are as unconnected as the pixels recorded in a CCD, or as unconnected they are typically encoded in computers--aside from consciousness, that is. Consciousness unifies those data, and it does so "lightning fast," as previously stated. Thus we know something more than just that consciousness is characterized by unity. We know that it very quickly achieves this unity, and that very fast communications between neurons must therefore occur. Visual consciousness does not obviously lag behind the transmission of data to the visual cortex, almost certainly occurring far more quickly than any significant synaptic cross-interactions of the data can happen.
Consciousness effortlessly and fluidly joins (mental representations of) lightning bolts very nearly as fast as they are transmitted to the brain. These are held in place by the physical data, the nerve impulses, but join extremely fluidly within these constraints. While the scales do differ, the speed at which the uniting of consciousness occurs seems to be "electrically fast," just as the lightning is formed as a unity via the extremely rapid pace of action within electric fields. Two aspects of consciousness in such an event--unity ,and cross-interactions at speeds not believed possible through nerve impulses and synaptic transmissions--are thus understandable by the interactions of the electric fields known to exist inherently as the result of, and to contain essentially the same information as, the nerve impulses.
There is the possibility that consciousness could be considered to be "nearly epiphenomenal," not in the sense that consciousness has no effect on our thoughts and actions, but that consciousness is not the "source of action" that it is so often considered to be (rather, the primary sources of action are conscious via the electric fields). However, as mentioned beforehand, it would be unlikely that evolution would make NO use of the effect, and initially would make use of these interactions in order to manage the interference that electric fields would be likely to introduce into the central nervous system. Therefore, one should suppose that electric fields and their consciously-experienced interactions produce stability and coherence among nerve impulses, coordinating timing and reinforcing the "true" vs. the spurious nerve impulses (probably in conjunction with synaptic potentials). That is to say that extremely rapid reinforcing interactions in perceptual consciousness may themselves be responsible for some of the stability and coherence in the conscious brain. And especially in the case of very rapid perceptions like those of lightning, it adds the possibility of another layer of interactivity and control in the brain.
The advantages of such swiftly and broadly integrating forces for the conscious areas of the brain seem obvious, for something like visual processing has to make a great deal of use of contextual information to represent and to use visual data. What is perhaps not as clear is why unconscious regions of the brain exist, as they almost certainly do. A caveat is in order, for conscious regions unknown to science presumably could exist without the conscious knowledge of the other conscious regions. Nevertheless, there are apparently unconscious aspects of the brain directly causal of consciousness which seem to be unconscious, when they would seem to be consciously known were they actually consci ous. Furthermore, there is little or no evidence of consciousness in myelinated nerve masses(this is an educated judgment, but not total certainty, on my part), as would generally be expected if consciousness were due to forces interacting via electric fields .
While conclusive evidence is rather lacking at this time, plausible reasons for unconscious regions of the brain may be considered. For while accuracy, precision, and agreement with context are crucial within conscious perceptions, "statistical" effects, and the need to have independent inputs summed up, seem to be important in much of the unconscious brain. It may be best to prevent many body signals from becoming correlated prior to the "computation" of various states of the body. This suppression of correlation through the electric fields could be produced by various means, such as through the previously-mentioned myelination (which also speeds up transmission), through non-parallel arrangements of unmyelinated neurons, or simply by codes and timings which would tend to prevent correlations of adjacent data. Likewise, when signals become too few and too scattered to interact significantly, consciousness would decline, or even disappear (one could argue that this is a mode of inducing unconsciousness by anaesthetics' enhancements of GABA inhibitory receptors).
In any case, explaining unconsciousness is part and parcel of explaining consciousness, for any model that "explains" consciousness had better be able to explain why so much of the brain is apparently unconscious. This particular electric model of consciousness certainly provides adequate possible explanations for both, and thus is in principle testable and "falsifiable". There is no denying that the necessary research and testing has mostly not been done, but then again this is why models are proposed, so that they may guide research.
Why consciousness "seems different" from other phenomena has been touched upon, with the proposed answer being that it is an electric field phenomenon, and furthermore that it is an electric field phenomenon as experienced "from the inside." We do not know what it is like to "be anything" except as our own conscious selves. Even "external" electrical phenomena must be understood abstractly, regardless of the fact that many of their properties seem similar to consciousness. Human consciousness is a particular sort of highly complex electrical phenomenon, in this hypothesis, with evolutionarily-refined forces and resistances provided by genetic, chemical, mechanical, and electrical means. The point is not that all electrical phenomena, or even any outside of animal brains, are conscious, but that human consciousness curiously involves electrically-encoded information which also "happens" to interact with the speed and consequent unities that we might expect the electrical fields attending electrical nerve impulses to produce. That these correspondences between consciousness and the predicted activities of known electric fields would be merely coincidental, and not physically correlated, seems to be a fantastical conclusion.
Reasonable causes for the issues in consciousness previously listed here have been considered, or at least touched upon, in this short discussion of the model of electric consciousness. Now the former list will be reordered and rewritten to put the elements of consciousness together where they apparently fit. So below, the fluidity and stability of consciousness come under "unity," for they appear to involve the processes which allow for, and give properties to, conscious unity. The rest follow a similar logic:
To sum up, the next lists (table) group the same issues in cells to reflect the groupings given above, while the paragraphs to the right of these groups integrate the explanations that this electric field model of consciousness promises. However, this time the issue of evolution will be left out, for although it is important, it is not particularly diagnostic of the causes of consciousness.
Integrations and Explanations of these Issues
||What consciousness "does" is to unify data which otherwise would exist separately on different nerves. The nerve impulses provide stability, which conscious electric fields enhance by reinforcing contextual signals. The electric fields allow for three dimensional interactions which are fluid, provide parallel interactivity, and are very much faster than the nerve signals themselves. Associations, qualitative and otherwise, are also made possible by allowing forces to thus interact and to register. Consciousness may be considered the register of these forces.|
||That we are conscious of the information encoded in nerve impulses, and it is otherwise mostly unaffected by metabolism and other brain processes, points strongly toward consciousness being a state of dynamic interaction within the electric fields. Not only are these interactions the only reasonable substrate for the properties of consciousness, the proper configurations and densities would from these considerations be recognized as necessary to support consciousness, which may therefore explain the lack of consciousness of brain regions in time and space.|
||Consciousness no doubt is substantially different from other phenomena. However, the huge "difference" that people perceive is probably due to the fact that consciousness simply is the "phenomenon itself," and not a representation of sensory phenomena like "everything else" is.|
The summary above makes the shortest case for electric field interactions as the basis of consciousness that I know how to make. The fact that these fields are inevitable and provide properties similar to what we experience in consciousness, from unity itself, to conscious fluidity and ample scope for lack of consciousness, ought to be considered to be powerful evidence in favor of the hypothesis. Certainly the entire scope of qualia, why we experience sounds, colors, and other sensations as we do, remains mysterious. However, electric fields provide the interactions necessary for qualia, and seem to explain some of their aspects.
The match between cause and effect elucidated on this page and in the summary would itself call for explanation, if indeed electric fields were able to be shown not to be the explanation.
More discussion of these matters can be found at my old website. Click here.
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