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Human and Machine Consciousness

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David Gamez

10. Modification and Enhancement of Consciousness

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  • 1 James (1985, p. 388).

[…] our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness…
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience1

10.1 Heaven on Earth

1When we have understood the relationship between consciousness and the physical world we will be able to systematically modify and enhance our consciousness. We will achieve heaven on Earth without leaving home.

2Why blow yourself up for Allah when you can deflower ten virgins per hour in a scientifically constructed consciousness? Or you could stuff your face with roast pig without feeling sated or sick. You could dress in cloth of gold and drink from diamond cups without rising from your silver bed. Or give free reign to your wrath and watch your schoolmaster being rogered with a red hot iron while badly-dressed dwarves bludgeon your boss to death. The pain of envy would be eliminated in a consciousness in which you are supreme dictator of the world—a consciousness rich with the sensation of a vast and satisfying pride.

3The meek and mild might prefer the less earthy pleasures of prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity. Or scientists could engineer mystical ecstatic experiences in which acolytes are penetrated by darts of divine love. Family audiences might enjoy the rich radiance of a sunset or the emotions induced by the birth of a child.

4The modification and enhancement of consciousness has medical applications. Some people have damaged consciousness, a low level of consciousness or no consciousness at all. Other bubbles of experience are full of demons and intrusive thoughts. Some people have a sad sagging consciousness that they seek to escape through death. Many consciousnesses are permeated with relentless agonizing pain. A scientific approach to the modification and enhancement of consciousness would enable us to fix damaged consciousnesses, treat people with depression and eliminate pain. Some of the people who are diagnosed as schizophrenic might benefit from adjustments to their consciousness.

  • 2 A fused consciousness would be separately created in my brain and your brain—there would not be an (...)

5The modification and enhancement of consciousness could increase our empathy. I could experience things from your point of view. My consciousness could be merged with your consciousness when we make love.2

10.2 Types of Modification and Enhancement

6Virtually every aspect of our bubbles of experience can be changed. Some of the main modifications are as follows:

  • Level of intensity. The average level of intensity of a bubble of experience can be increased or decreased as well as the level of intensity of particular contents (Figure 10.1b).3
  • Contents. The contents of bubbles of experience vary widely. There are bubbles of experience filled with black limitless space and bubbles of experience filled with dirty headless singing chickens (Figure 10.1c).4
  • Body location. The location of our bodies in our bubbles of experience can be altered without changing the location of our physical bodies. This is known as an out-of-body experience. Suppose I am standing on a cliff looking out to sea. Without changing the location of my physical body, I can relocate my body in my bubble of experience, so that I am floating in the air and looking back at myself on the cliff (Figure 10.1d).5
  • Body size. The size of my body in my bubble of experience can be varied so that I am as small as a flea or as tall as the trees (Figure 10.1e).6
  • Body shape. I can become a crow or grow an extra head (Figure 10.1f).7
  • Emotions. The intensity of emotions can be increased or decreased.8
  • Space. Our bubbles of experience can be expanded or contracted to hold more or fewer things in greater or less detail (Figure 10.1g).9
  • Time. The present moment has a temporal thickness (the specious present), which could be expanded or contracted. Our short term memory could be increased or reduced and we could enhance our access to previous events (long term memory).10
  • Novel sensations. Our bubbles of experience are limited to five or six senses. It might be possible to experience novel sensations.11
  • Mystical states. Many of the states described by mystics can be interpreted as variations of the modifications that have already been described. For example, if our sense of body ownership is extended to our entire bubble of experience, then we experience a profound sense of oneness with our environment. A glowing vision of Jesus can be added to a bubble of experience. Mystical journeys can be interpreted as modifications of body location and contents. Our bubbles of experience could also be modifiable in completely novel and unimaginable ways (see Section 10.5).

7None of these modifications and enhancements involve spooky stuff. They can all be brought about by changes to the physical brain.

Figure 10.1. Modifications of a bubble of experience. a) Bubble of experience whose associated CC set is determined by sensory input from a lightly wooded landscape. b) Reduction of the average level of intensity. c) Change in contents. d) Change in the location of the body. e) Increase in the size of the body. f) Change in body shape. g) Spatial expansion of bubble of experience. Image © David Gamez, CC BY 4.0.

10.3 Scientific Modification and Enhancement of Consciousness

  • 12 We understand the link between changes in sensory input and changes in consciousness, but we do no (...)

8We modify our consciousness all the time by changing sensory input, imagining and ingesting chemicals. These techniques require no knowledge of the relationship between consciousness and the physical world.12

9Scientific research on consciousness will enable us to modify and enhance our consciousness. Once we have identified the relationship between consciousness and the physical world, we can use this knowledge to create desired states of consciousness. This is a multi-stage process:

  1. Generate a c-description, cd6, of the desired state of consciousness.
  2. Use a reliable c-theory to convert cd6 into a p-description, pd6, of the associated CC set.
  3. Realize this CC set in the human brain.

10This is illustrated in Figure 10.2.

Figure 10.2. A reliable c-theory is used to realize a desired state of consciousness. 1) The desired state of consciousness is specified in a formal c-description, cd6. 2) A reliable c-theory converts the c-description into a formal description of a physical state, pd6. 3) The brain is modified using optogenetics, electrodes, etc. (see Section 10.4) so that it contains the CC set described in pd6. Image © David Gamez, CC BY 4.0.

  • 13 We would be unlikely to remember some of the conscious states that could be induced in us. Episodi (...)

11Suppose I want to sleep with the Queen. First I generate a formal detailed description of this state of consciousness. Then I use a reliable c-theory to convert this c-description into a p-description of the state of the physical world (the CC set) that is associated with this state of consciousness. Finally I use the methods described in Section 10.4 to put my brain into this state. I realize my dream—I am tucked up in bed in my PJs with the Queen.13

12This approach could be used to modify an animal’s consciousness. My guinea pig’s conscious body could be enhanced with an extra leg. Or I could reduce its pain when I exploit it for meat.

  • 14 This technology is dramatized in the 1995 film Strange Days. It is different from a virtual realit (...)

13This technology could be commercialized. In the distant future we might have designers of consciousness, who work with a customer to generate a c-description of the consciousness they want to achieve. The designers would then realize the corresponding CC set in the customer’s brain. People could experience the consciousness of Jenna Jameson or John Malkovich. Instead of watching a film, we could experience it from a first-person perspective—we would really feel the actors’ pains and pleasures.14

10.4 Methods

  • 15 Patterns in electromagnetic fields, glia and blood can be indirectly manipulated by changing the n (...)

14To modify and enhance consciousness we need to realize CC sets in the brain. The methods that we will use for this will depend on the CC sets—if they consist of neuron activity patterns, then we will need to manipulate neuron activity patterns. We will need different methods if CC sets contain electromagnetic fields, glia or haemoglobin.15

  • 16 See Legon et al. (2014).

15The non-invasive methods for manipulating neuron activity and electromagnetic fields include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Transcranial focused ultrasound (tFUS) uses the mechanical effects of sound waves to modify neuron activity.16 These techniques crudely alter the activity of tens of thousands of neurons, so they are unlikely to play much of a role in the modification of consciousness based on c-theories.

  • 17 For example, electrodes have been used to modify the memories of mice (de Lavilleon et al. 2015; R (...)
  • 18 For example, see Nikolenko et al. (2007). Electrodes and optogenetics are unlikely to be able to i (...)
  • 19 Chen et al. (2015) have developed a method for brain stimulation that uses magnetic nanoparticles. (...)

16Invasive technologies provide detailed control over the firing behaviour of individual neurons. Electrodes can control up to a hundred neurons at a time;17 optogenetics can potentially control thousands of neurons.18 In the longer term nanotechnology might lead to higher resolution methods for brain control.19

17Chemicals are usually delivered to the brain through the blood, which exposes the entire brain to the chemical. In the future it might be possible to target chemicals more precisely. We could develop drugs that are specific to CC sets, inject chemicals directly into the brain or genetically engineer neurons to make them more selectively responsive to chemicals.

  • 20 This might be required if we want to expand our spatial and temporal consciousness.
  • 21 Whether a synthetic neuron is a valid member of a CC set will depend on how neurons are p-describe (...)
  • 22 Additional neurons would only alter consciousness if CC sets consist of neuron activity patterns o (...)

18More tissue could be added to the brain,20 which could self-organize in response to stimulation patterns. Synthetic neurons could be implanted (if they were valid members of CC sets).21 These could have enhanced properties, such as a higher firing rate.22

  • 23 For example, Yin et al. (2013) have developed a wireless electrode interface that is implanted bel (...)

19Some of these methods might require implanted silicon chips.23 These would not form part of the CC sets or be associated with consciousness by themselves. The link between implanted electronics and consciousness is part of the research on machine consciousness, which is covered in the next chapter.

  • 24 A further problem is that invasive technologies are only allowed under very specific conditions on (...)

20We are a long way from realizing specific CC sets in the human brain. It is possible that the technology for realizing CC sets will have substantially improved by the time that we have reliable c-theories and good formats for c-description and p-description.24

21Some modifications of the human brain can be done in natural experiments. For example, many foods and most sensory inputs do not jeopardize the status of normally functioning adult human brains as platinum standards. If A1-A6 apply to the modified brain, then we can measure its consciousness to check that we have created the desired bubble of experience.

22Other methods preserve the physical context of the brain that is being modified. For example, optogenetics and electrodes modify the activity of a small number of neurons and have little effect on the rest of the brain. If the physical context is preserved, we will be able to conservatively deduce that the desired state of consciousness is present.

23Some methods change the physical context when they realize a CC set in the brain. These include chemicals delivered through the blood and crude methods for modifying brain activity, such as TMS, tDCS and tFUS. Under these conditions we can only make liberal deductions about the presence of a desired state of consciousness.

10.5 Beyond What We Can Imagine

  • 25 Huxley (1965, pp. 71-2).

It is difficult, it is all but impossible, to speak of mental events except in similes drawn from the more familiar universe of material things. If I have made use of geographical and zoological metaphors, it is not wantonly, out of a mere addiction to picturesque language. It is because such metaphors express very forcibly the essential otherness of the mind’s far continents, the complete autonomy and self-sufficiency of their inhabitants. A man consists of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness and, beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds—the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious, with its flora of symbols, its tribes of aboriginal archetypes; and, across another, vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience.
Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell25

24The Romans could have built steam engines, but they had no idea about this technology. They did not imagine it and did not build it. When I was two I had no inkling about my adult life. We cannot imagine the consciousness of fish or bats.

25We use previous experiences to imagine how our consciousness could change. But the most interesting modifications and enhancements probably cannot be imagined by us. Mystics and hippies have peered into these realms. Many more states and modifications might be possible.

26C-descriptions can help us to understand what lies beyond the limits of our imagination. If we had a good c-description format, we would be able to generate c-descriptions of all possible states of consciousness. We might be able to glimpse aspects of them in virtual reality. To enter these unknown regions we need reliable c-theories and better methods for realizing CC sets in the brain.

10.6 Summary

27When we have reliable c-theories we will be able to modify and enhance our consciousness in different ways. Eventually we will be able to write down a c-description of a desired state of consciousness, use a reliable c-theory to map the c-description onto a p-description, and then modify the human brain so that the subject experiences the desired state of consciousness.

28At the present time we do not have reliable c-theories and we have not solved the problems of c-description and p-description. We have a very limited ability to realize CC sets in the brain. The scientific modification and enhancement of consciousness has great potential, but we might have to wait 50, 500 or 500,000 years.

Notes

1 James (1985, p. 388).

2 A fused consciousness would be separately created in my brain and your brain—there would not be any merging of our actual consciousnesses.

3 As explained in Section 2.5, the overall level of consciousness is something like the average level of intensity of the properties and objects in a bubble of experience. This can be reduced with anaesthetics, such as propofol, or by a blow to the head. Chemicals, such as caffeine or LSD, can increase the overall level of intensity. It can also be increased by emotionally intense situations, such as a car crash.

4 Sensory input is the main method that we use to change the contents of our consciousness. If I want an elephant in my bubble of experience, then I go to the zoo and look at an elephant. Hallucinogenic drugs have a strong effect on contents and we have some control over contents in lucid dreams and imagination.

5 This type of experience is well documented (Crookall 1972) and it can be induced through body trauma, mental exercises (Harary and Weintraub 1989; Ophiel 1970), or chemicals, such as ketamine (Wilkins et al. 2011). Out-of-body experiences can also occur in brain-damaged patients (Blanke and Arzy 2005) and psychology experiments can induce the illusion that part or all of our bodies are in a different location (Ehrsson 2007). There is no compelling evidence to suggest that people who are having an out-of-body experience can report information about the physical world that has not been obtained through the senses of their physical body (Alvarado 1982; Blackmore 2010).

6 Sensory manipulation can alter the perceived size of our body in relation to our environment (van der Hoort et al. 2011). Muscimol (found in the mushroom Amanita Muscaria) is reported to be capable of this.

7 Castaneda (1968) describes how he used a combination of mental control and hallucinogens to transform his conscious experience of his body into a crow (the truth of his account has been disputed). Phantom limbs demonstrate that our experiences of our bodies are linked to brain activity and are distinct from our actual physical bodies (Gamez 2007, pp. 57-60; Melzack 1990; Melzack 1992). This suggests that the shape of our consciously experienced bodies can be altered by modifying our brains.

8 Sensory input, such as looking at fearful or beloved objects, changes our emotional states. Chemicals, such as cocaine or Prozac, alter the intensity of our emotional states on short or long time scales.

9 The current size of our bubbles of experience is probably linked to the size of our brains. More brain tissue is likely to be required to expand our bubbles of experience without loss of resolution.

10 Chakravarthi and VanRullen (2012) describe experimental evidence for the discrete nature of conscious perception. VanRullen and Koch (2003) have a more general discussion of this issue. There are well-documented examples of people with expanded long term memories—a condition known as hyperthymesia (Parker et al. 2006). Borges’ (1970) Funes the Memorious is a fictional example.

11 Animals with different senses (for example, bats and fish) are likely to have different sensations. I have suggested elsewhere that conscious sensations might be linked to the neural patterns caused by sensory input, and that our conscious perception of a three-dimensional world could be linked to a combination of sensory and sensorimotor patterns (Gamez 2014b). If this is the case, then a novel sensory pattern would be associated with a novel sensation.
Attempts have been made to create novel sensations. For example, the feelSpace belt gives subjects information about the location of North (Nagel et al. 2005) and magnetic fingertip implants enable people to feel magnetic fields. However, it is not clear whether these devices give people new conscious sensations. This is probably because the novel sensory input is processed through the existing senses, instead of being directly fed into the cortex.

12 We understand the link between changes in sensory input and changes in consciousness, but we do not understand how changes in sensory input lead to changes in the brain that are associated with an altered consciousness. The same is true for imagination and the ingestion of consciousness-modifying chemicals.

13 We would be unlikely to remember some of the conscious states that could be induced in us. Episodic memories regenerate earlier states of our brains. This might not be possible if a CC set is not the consequence of the brain’s own activity.

14 This technology is dramatized in the 1995 film Strange Days. It is different from a virtual reality system, which only mimics the sensory input produced by an environment and has little effect on our conscious experience of our body.

15 Patterns in electromagnetic fields, glia and blood can be indirectly manipulated by changing the neuron activity.

16 See Legon et al. (2014).

17 For example, electrodes have been used to modify the memories of mice (de Lavilleon et al. 2015; Ramirez et al. 2013).

18 For example, see Nikolenko et al. (2007). Electrodes and optogenetics are unlikely to be able to increase a neuron’s firing rate beyond a certain point because of metabolic constraints.

19 Chen et al. (2015) have developed a method for brain stimulation that uses magnetic nanoparticles. Seo et al. (2013) have outlined a design for a wireless brain interface that uses thousands of biologically neutral microsensors to convert electrical signals into ultrasound that can be read outside the brain. This could potentially be extended to deliver signals to the brain.

20 This might be required if we want to expand our spatial and temporal consciousness.

21 Whether a synthetic neuron is a valid member of a CC set will depend on how neurons are p-described (see Section 5.1).

22 Additional neurons would only alter consciousness if CC sets consist of neuron activity patterns or if the additional neurons altered CC sets in some other way—for example, by changing the electromagnetic fields.

23 For example, Yin et al. (2013) have developed a wireless electrode interface that is implanted below the skin.

24 A further problem is that invasive technologies are only allowed under very specific conditions on human subjects. This may change if the safety of these techniques is demonstrated and there is demand or demonstrable benefits. A workable technology will also be appropriated by the public at large regardless of the safety issues or legal constraints. For example, you can buy tDCS kits on the Internet.

25 Huxley (1965, pp. 71-2).

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 10.1. Modifications of a bubble of experience. a) Bubble of experience whose associated CC set is determined by sensory input from a lightly wooded landscape. b) Reduction of the average level of intensity. c) Change in contents. d) Change in the location of the body. e) Increase in the size of the body. f) Change in body shape. g) Spatial expansion of bubble of experience. Image © David Gamez, CC BY 4.0.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5573/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 402k
Légende Figure 10.2. A reliable c-theory is used to realize a desired state of consciousness. 1) The desired state of consciousness is specified in a formal c-description, cd6. 2) A reliable c-theory converts the c-description into a formal description of a physical state, pd6. 3) The brain is modified using optogenetics, electrodes, etc. (see Section 10.4) so that it contains the CC set described in pd6. Image © David Gamez, CC BY 4.0.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5573/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 103k

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