Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 32 — RR in the Brain, Insight, and Consciousness (Summary & Notes)

“A lot of the phenomenology of your consciousness is explained along with the functionality of your consciousness.”

  • When neurons are firing together they’re doing something like compression (efficiency, assimilation)— synchronous firing is when a connection is made, “ah-ha” moments etc.
  • (There’s also increasing evidence that when human beings are cooperating in joint attention and joint activity their brains are getting into patterns of synchrony)
  • Important point: all of this is scale invariant. In many levels of analysis you will see this process happening. Remember: relevance realization (RR) is something that needs to be happening locally and globally — it has to be pervasive, all-encompassing — so this is suggestive that this neuronal synchronization has something to do with RR
  • Neurons will synchronize and then go out of sync and back again in a rapidly oscillating manner. This is something called self-organizing criticality (SOC), which traces back to the work of Per Bak and the “sandpile.” Sand grains dropped on a surface naturally self-organize into a mound until, at some point, it enters a critical phase. This is means it’s on the edge of breaking down, and one grain sets on an avalanche downward in the entire system and it collapses. (Some argue that civilizations collapse in similar ways due to general systems failure)
  • However, what also happens is the sandpile spreads out after the avalanche and that introduces variation. Now there’s a bigger base, and a new, large mound can form. It has a new capacity that didn’t exist in the previous system.
  • This is what’s happening in the brain. Compression ⇄ Particularization. In milliseconds it’s evolving moment-by-moment. complexifying its structural-functional organization — its sensory-motor fittedness to the environment. It’s doing RR.
  • Vervaeke argues that RR can be implemented by SOC. And again, he has also argued that RR is what we know as our General Intelligence (g). If correct, we should be able to see measurable relationships between g and SOC.
  • Thatcher et al. found that there is a strong relationship between measures of self-organization and how intelligent you are. Specifically, the more flexible you are between synchrony-asynchrony the more intelligent you are. It demonstrates a kind of dynamic evolvability. (Not conclusive though)
  • “We also need to think about not just how neurons are firing but how they’re wiring — what kind of networks they’re forming”
  • Graph theory or network theory has emerged as a way we can study networks, and it’s gotten very complex. But basically there are 3 kinds of networks:
  • Small World network is between the two. It’s optimal. It optimizes for efficiency and resiliency. It turns out there is increasing evidence that Small Worlds networks are associated with the highest functionality in your brain.
  • Again: firing & wiring. Firing is Self-Organizing Criticality and wiring is Small World Networks. The more it fires via SOC the more it wires via SWN. And vice versa. They mutually reinforce each other’s development.
  • We also know there are suggestive relationships between consciousness and SOC. (work of Cosmelli et al., 2004 — binocular rivalry experiments, similar to the Necker Cube, where people’s interpretation of an image flips back and forth between alternatives). As the person flips back and forth between the experiences, different areas of the brain are going into synchrony or asynchrony.
  • Another set of experiments done by Monty et al. in 2013 involved giving people an anesthetic and observing their brain as they pass out of consciousness and back into consciousness. They found that as a brain passes out of consciousness it loses its overall structure as a Small World network and breaks down into more local networks. And vice versa. So consciousness seems to be strongly associated with the degree to which the brain is wiring as a Small World network.
  • Let’s bring all this back to the machinery of insight via the work of Stephen and Dixon, where they found a way of measuring how much entropy is in people’s processing when they are trying to solve the insight problem. Remember that entropy goes up right before the insight and then it drops? This is plausibly evidence of self-organizing criticality. You’re breaking frame with the neural avalanche and then you’re making frame, like with the new mound that forms, as you restructure your problem-framing.
  • Schilling has a mathematical model from 2005 linking insight to Small World networks. She argues that what you can see happening with an insight is that people’s information is initially organized in a regular network, but what can happen is that a long distance connection can form, which means you lose some resiliency but you gain a massive spike in efficiency.
  • Featurization feeds up into foregrounding which feeds up into figuration
  • RR is your participatory knowing. This feeds up into your salience landscaping which si your perspectival knowing, which gives you dynamic situational awareness. This opens up an affordance landscape for you, which gives you affordance obviation, and this is the basis of your procedural knowing — knowing how to interact. (We’ll come back later into how propositional knowing relates to all of this)
  • If all this is the case, you can think of your salience landscape as having 3 dimensions to it:
  • Centrality is the “here-ness,” time is the “now-ness,” and aspectuality is “together-ness”
  • “A lot of the phenomenology of your consciousness is explained along with the functionality of your consciousness.”
  • Read Montague argues that what makes us fundamentally different from computers is we are caring about our information processing and caring about the information processed therein.
  • Read Montague — Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mark Mulvey

Mark Mulvey


Arts • Investing • Games • Tech • Philosophy • Bitcoin