The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"


Over the last few decades, psychologists have been deeply influenced by the architecture of the computer. When it appeared, it was immediately apparent that the computer was capable of performing sophisticated tasks that went beyond mere Arithmetic, although they were performed by a complex layering of arithmetic sub-tasks. The fact that the computer architecture was able to achieve so much with so little led to the belief that the human mind could also be reduced to a rational architecture of interacting modules and sequential processes of computation. 

In the second half of the 19th century, the German physiologist and physicist Hermann Helmholtz pioneered modern thinking about cognition when he advanced his theory that perception and action were mediated by a (relatively slow) process in the brain. The "reaction time" of a human being is high because neural conduction is slow. His studies emphasized that the stimulus must first be delivered to the brain and the idea of action must first be delivered to the limbs before anything can occur. Helmholtz thought that humans have no innate knowledge, that all our knowledge comes from experience. Perceptions are derived from unconscious inference on sense data: our senses send signals to the brain, which are interpreted by the brain and then turned by the brain into knowledge. Perceptions are mere hypotheses on the world, which may well be wrong (as proven by optical illusions). Perceptions are hypotheses based on our knowledge. Knowledge is acquired from perceptions. This paradigm became the "classical" paradigm of cognition.


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