Infographic – Why does consciousness exist? Hierarchical Construct Theory (HCT)

Posted: 2014/10/17 in Uncategorized

Author: Mark Pharoah | Mind.Phronesis@Live.Com | September 5th, 2014
infographic hierarchical construct theory
Mind Phronesis – The Hierarchical Construct Theory HCT

Super High definition 7Mb version of HCT infographic
“Why does consciousness exist” is an infographic of The Hierarchical Construct Theory of consciousness (HCT). It details 4 categories, each with its uniquely specific and characteristic representational, Intentional, and informational features (see below). A complexity cycle illustrates that evolution of form takes place within each category. Ultimately, increasing complexity leads coincidentally to an emergent transition; a transition that defines the subsequent category in the hierarchical sequence. This emergent transition is transcendental, meaning, that it leads to unique representational, Intentional, and informational characteristics and features. Thus with each transcendent emergence, one has a new hierarchical level of representation, Intentionality, and informed construct forms. Whilst the hierarchical layers relate to and are reliant on the stability of the hierarchy, the dynamic processes operate on different levels of interactivity.

What follows is a brief expose of how HCT relates to the philosophy of Intentionality and representation (specifically in regard the contributions of John Searle, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Tye) and information (with regard to the Jackson’s Mary Knowledge Argument). Alternatively, read the detailed 10k word exposition of HCT, ‘On the Emergence and Evolution of Consciousness‘

HCT’s take on Intentionality and Representation

In philosophy, the term ‘Intentionality’ is typically used in regard the feature of human mentality to be about, to represent, or to stand for things, and is often directed at mental states such as believing, desiring, experiencing, feeling, hoping, intending, knowing, perceiving, and remembering.

John Searle’s view (‘Intentionality‘, 1983), is that there is a nonreductive “Network” of Intentional mental states that are reliant on a nonrepresentational and nonintentional “Background” of skills, assumptions, presuppositions, practices, and habits (see my illustration below). Translating this terminology into the HCT model (see infographic above) one can say that the “Network” are features pertaining to the #4 construct and the “Background” might be construed as features pertaining to constructs #1, #2, and #3. Searle’s idea of Intentionality is that it is constituted by the #4 construct of human conceptual facilities and that it cannot be reduced to more primitive features of nature.
Searle intentionality Network Background illustration

Notably, despite his formal nonreductive stance and rigid interpretation of representation, Searle does appear to make a significant concession in a footnote on p. 141 of his book,

“I am discussing human Intentional states such as perception, beliefs, desires, and intentions. Perhaps there might be more biologically primitive Intentional states which do not require a Network, or perhaps not even a Background.” (‘Intentionality’, 1983)

In terms of HCT, these two sentences are the most significant in Searle’s book in its admission of vulnerability to a hierarchical theory. Some form of hierarchy is suggested by many writers. In comparing his stance with Searle, Michael Tye (1995 – Ten problems of Consciousness) states explicitly (p. 131) that he breaks away from the philosophically orthodox position on Intentionality and representation. In his view, the features of constructs #2, #3 and #4 from Hierarchical Construct Theory are representational (labelled in my illustration of his so called “PANIC” theory below as 1, 2, and 3 – sorry for the confusion), however, his thesis does not tye them together in a unified theory in the way HCT does and it does not extend outside mentality further to account for the representational nature of HCT’s #1 forms. (For further analysis, see my critique of Michael Tye’s, representational theory of the phenomenal mind)

Michael Tye — PANIC Representational Theory of Mind
The PANIC Theory
Dennett reacts against the view that humans are privileged in having mentality with special characteristics and features, which cannot be either explained, replicated artificially, or extrapolated to less sophisticated organisms or non-mental processes. Consequently, he advocates that Intentionality is, to all intents and purposes, an illusion – merely by degree – of complex function. From this position, an artefact that responds to the environment such as a thermostat (responding to temperature) differs from the brain exclusively in virtue of its limited degree of representational complexity.
Intentionality Intensity Gradient
However, Dennett’s stance on Intentionality fails to identify distinction in the constitution of complex constructs (c.f. my analysis of Dennett’s stance on Intentionality). With Dennett’s stance, one arrives at the position of believing that only functional complexity is relevant in the creation of characteristics that might assume the features of Intentionality. I argue that complexity or processing sophistication in itself, does not provide the necessary explanatory details, although I would concede that complex function can potentially mimic the features of intrinsic Intentionality, representation, and information.

Despite their polar opposition, Searle and Dennett agree about the following: some kind of process, some kind of neural mechanism instituted by the brain, creates the phenomenon of consciousness (Searle: “On my view mental phenomena are biologically based: they are both caused by the operations of the brain and realized in the structure of the brain. Intentionality p.ix) What HCT explains is that it is not just cognitive mechanism that is responsible for consciousness (the clue is in the fact that cognitive mechanism is itself dependent on neurone function which is an evolved biochemical mechanism). Rather, consciousness exists because of the evolution of several transcendent layers of hierarchically related complexities working in tandem, namely, interacting matter, innately acquired qualitatively relevant physiologies, realtime cognitive assimilation, evaluation, and prioritisation capabilities, and complex principles of association that generate the first person phenomenally rich, moving landscape of experience that us humans interpret as our conscious identity.

The impact of HCT on the The knowledge argument

Frank Jackson’s argument against physicalism (1986, ‘What Mary didn’t know‘) has the same issue as Searle’s stance on Intentionality but does so in relation to the notion of ‘Knowledge’. Jackson’s approach is indicative of the view that physicalism is encapsulated by only the #4 construct features of conceptualised interpretation.

Jackson knowledge argument illustration

The Mary Argument goes as follows. Mary is a neurophysiologist who has been deprived of seeing colour her entire life. However, she has learned all possible facts that can be learnt about physics, chemistry, neurophysiology and the physics of colour, colour vision, the brain and how it works with regard to colour etc. In spite of this exhaustive and complete ‘knowledge’ of physical facts, she does not know all there is to know, for when she is taken from her drab colourless existence into the real world, she ‘experiences’ colour for the first time and in doing so learns something new about colour: she learns what it is like to experience the phenomenal character of colours. Jackson infers that this additional experiential quality is non-physical information and thereby concludes that not all information is physical. Accordingly, physicalism is false.

All the knowledge that Mary acquired in her drab world by reading books and studying is conceptually represented knowledge about physical reality: all languages, including mathematics, use symbolised conceptual representation to confer conceptual interpretations about physical reality. In Jackson’s words; Mary “knows all physical facts” (p. 291) [italics added].

Jackson does not consider the possibility that there are other types of informed construct, or one might say, he does not recognise that there are other classes or categories of knowledge that are not conceptual in the way they are constructed. (see section below on Rovelli and his relational quantum mechanics) These other classes, in not being conceptual, cannot be analysed, expressed, or explored directly through concepts; they are ineffable (c.f. Carruthers, 2000 – ‘Phenomenal Consciousness‘). Languages, which are the vehicle for the expression of conceptual constructs, can only draw descriptive analogies to convey equivalent interpretations about phenomenal consciousness. Conceptualising is impotent at relating directly to these other types of informational construction because concepts do not invoke phenomenally realised experiential understanding: there is a transcendent gulf between one form of knowledge-type construct and the next in virtue of the different dynamic mechanisms that give rise to them. In essence, Jackson’s error is in assuming that knowledge is only a feature of the category #4 mental conceptual process.

HCT explains exactingly, that there are different types of knowledge whose constructs are informed in virtue of their particular and specific dynamic relation to environmental interaction. For example, the capacity to experience colour, as a qualitative phenomenon, is derived from a knowledge that is in part physiological in construction. Biochemical physiologies are environmentally informed because they are responsive to environmental pressures having been acquired over generations due to their survival relevancy: colours and their object profiles have realtime qualitative and survival relevancy. Thus, such biochemical complexities are representational of the qualitative relevancy of environment and in being so are informed about qualitative aspects of environmental conditions. Importantly, in relation to the knowledge argument, innate biochemical biomechanical knowledge is transcendentally removed from the kind of cognitive mechanisms that facilitate realtime assimilative and evaluative processes, and conceptual thought.

When one understands the hierarchy of constructs – why they evolve and emerge – one comes to realise how phenomenal experience is physical and can be explained by physical principles and yet cannot itself be invoked by conceptual interpretations of reality and expressed directly with physical facts (facts being, conceptual representations of physical relations). Physicalism is not shown as false. Rather, conceptual knowledge can be recognised as just one type of representation – an interpretative translation if you will – of interactive reality with which humans make sense (conceptual sense) of the world. Other formats of representation possess alternative types of informational constructs, or alternatively, different types of knowledge that make a different kind of sense (qualitatively relevant sense) of the world.

Information, Rovelli’s RQM and its impact on Philosophy

As I argue consistently in various articles on this website, for anything to be responsive to its environmental conditions is for it to have some mode of relating to its environment. In this way, there must be some aspect to its dynamic construction that can be deemed representational and there must be some aspect to its dynamic construction that is informed by virtue of its differing responses to alternative environmental conditions. Consequently, HCT is consistent with the relational quantum mechanics interpretation proposed by Carlo Rovelli (1996 – “relational quantum mechanics”) – see also Mauro Dorato (Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics, monism and quantum becoming). Bas van Fraassen (2010 – Rovelli’s World) writes the following:

“Rovelli takes it that any system can in principle have information about any other, due to a previous interaction, for he equates the having of information in its physical sense with a correlation that has been effected by such an interaction:” p.4
“Rovelli describes not the world, but the general form of information that one system can have about another – namely as the assignment of states relative to a given system on the basis of information available to that system:

there is no implication of possible specific information about what there is which is independent of any point of view, but there can be knowledge of the form that any such information, relative to a particular vantage point, must take.
So we have here a transcendental point of view. Rovelli offers us this knowledge of the general form, the conditions of possibility. We must take very seriously the fact that as he sees it, quantum mechanics is not a theory about physical states, but about (‘about’?) information. The principles he sees at the basis of quantum mechanics are principles constraining the general form that such information can take, not to be assimilated to classical evolution-of-physical-state laws.” p.9 – Bas van Fraassen (2010)

A brief appraisal of HCT

i) Consider atomic elements/compounds, replicating organisms, animal consciousness, and human awareness, each as examples of distinctive types of construct.
ii) A construct can be defined as a coherent whole that is conditionally constituted by non-aggregate parts that are continually interacting dynamically.
iii) A construct is identified as a coherent whole merely by virtue of its temporal stability.
iv) Constructs that are not stable within any given environment tend to dissipate, whilst those that are stable tend to predominate.
v) Thus, constructs that are stable tend toward temporal longevity necessarily proliferating at the expense of those that do not.
vi) Consequently, one might say that “Mother Nature” is, by default, in the business of the proliferation of coherent constructs through the maintenance and enhancement of temporal stabilities (c.f. Jerry Fodor – Against Darwinism).
vii) Indeed, for whatever reason, Newton’s Laws of Motion are fundamentally concerned with this characterisation of stability acquisition and maintenance: all colliding bodies negotiate a compromise toward a stable equilibrium state. (However, it is a vexing question as to how bodies ‘know’ how to negotiate equitably, for example, in regard their relative masses)
viii) Environmental interaction tends to lead to variety of construct forms due to the reconstitution of stability following the destabilising effects of interaction.

A. I argue, that the Intentionality of all types of constructs, can be broken down to the seeking toward the maintenance of dynamic stability – which, for an aware human, amounts to maintaining stable dynamic conceptual interpretations regarding the phenomenon of qualitative conscious experience; for a conscious animal, amounts to maintaining stable realtime assimilative, evaluative, and prioritising understandings with regard the qualitative relevancy of experience; whilst for a replicating organism, amounts to maintaining stable and therefore qualitatively relevant physiological adaptations.
B. I also argue that the various types of construct are all hierarchically related, in so far as their structural forms evolve in complexity, and that this evolution of complexity of form, ultimately leads to the transcendent emergence of the subsequent hierarchical construct-type.
C. In some respects, one might say that Hierarchical Construct Theory (HCT) reductively explains emergence. HCT achieves this by showing how each type of construct, firstly, obeys Newtonian principles, and secondly, relates hierarchically.
D. Finally, HCT explains that any given structure pertaining to any particular construct type, is informed about its environment and that this informedness constitutes a distinctive type of representation about its environment. HCT explains why causal mechanics create the particular types of complexities that realise particular types of features and characteristics in the natural order of things i.e., in the nature order of physical interaction. HCT reductively explains the physics of evolution and of the transcendent emergence of novel kinds of constructs in a way that closely correlates with our understanding of evolution. Through the extrapolation of the hierarchical model, phenomenal consciousness is explained, although I am willing to accept David Chalmers proposal that there may be more to reality than the four fundamental forces of nature and that there is no reason to concluded from HCT that a fundamental psychophysical entity did not come into existence with, one might suggest, early hominids 13.7 billion years following the Big Bang. After all, it is worth noting that according to HCT extrapolations, a transcendent construct, #5, is yet to emerge from human consciousness.
E. Finally, there is one more point worth emphasising. An advocate of HCT may or may not be a dualist. HCT does not address this issue at all for it leaves a certain puzzle entirely untouched. This puzzle I express with the following:

The first time you looked at yourself in a mirror was a unique event in the 13.7 billion year history and the 100 trillion year future of the universe. It was unique, not in so far as it was some individual looking at themselves in a manner that can be characterised by the phrase, the ‘first-person perspective’. Rather, it was definitively and personally “you” – “You” had never done it before. How is it possible to provide a physicalist explanation of such a profound and uniquely individual self-identity-event?


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