There is a sexy new theory of consciousness in your feelings
Yes, then, you are a homeostat, a happy little organism that tries to maintain homeostasis, a basic level of comfort, in a terrifying world. For all the rest of this sentence, it’s hard to know how much it matters to a “general reader” that Solms writes. Basically, it seems that Solms is expected to step by step on information theory, a small betrayal of his promise to revive neuroscience. He gives many chapters on statistical physics, thermodynamics, and Karl Friston’s principle of free energy, especially the so-called Markov blankets. A Markov blanket is a barrier that sets you apart from who you are not. It senses your inner needs, and can act in an external environment to address them. Any conscious being does this naturally. Solms ’question is: how? Where does consciousness come from? What is to feel to maintain your existence? His response, again, is very simple, but also extraordinary, and the thing we are here for is: He feels feelings of consciousness.
Humans (and animals) have many feelings. The basic seven, some say, one of them, lewdness, stimulated Freud. But every emotion is a valid experience. Say it hurts your back to sit at the table all day. What causes you to relieve pain, restore a balanced vertebrae? Negative emotions related to pain, to begin with. Then get a little angry with yourself for not treating your body better. Also, maybe Solms would call him “looking” to get out of the house. The work of survival, therefore, is “regulated by feelings.” And feelings, Solms says, are “how good or bad you are in life.” They shape the way you meet your needs.
To do this, you can reasonably oppose: But sometimes I’m less conscious, less in control, when I’m dependent on my feelings. In fact, consciousness, in these situations, feels the effort it makes pass feelings. The reason, and the effort you’re talking about, is a rational way of making decisions, a higher level of thinking. Humans do it constantly, and it happens in the cortex of your brain, in the largest layer. This is why brain researchers — before, including, and after Freud — have always identified it as the seat of cortical consciousness. Solms, who calls this a “cortical fallacy,” points to a simple fact: say peel a rat, and you can’t immediately tell the difference. Or observing children’s hydrocephalus. They are born without cortex, but they laugh, cry, and move around the world with what can only be called intentionality. Destroy the trunk of the brain, on the other hand, and consciousness disappears. Automatic comma. And what does this core control, specifically the “reticular activating system,” a bit known as the “hidden spring” called Solms? “It creates affect,” Solms wrote. Mine. Fear. Looking for. Anger. It controls feelings.
In a way, the answer to the “hard problem” of centuries of consciousness called Solms is not to make it so hard for itself. It promotes a level of awareness, from thoughts to emotions. Or rather, it raises emotions to the level of thought, to dignity. You cannot think without feeling, the appearance of which in regulating our homeostatic ego through the Markov blanket equaled the birth of consciousness. Finally, there is nothing subjective or “fictional,” Solms writes about emotions.
This last statement, strange as it may seem, is the clearest slip in the book. Of course, emotions are fictional, in the best possible way. Look at science fiction, a genre that often deals with the issue of consciousness. Among humans a robot is judged above all things: not by his mind or his physical skill, but by what he feels. Some of them, remote cold calculators, are hardly excited; others seem inseparable from human friends, and these are the ones we make them aware of. Martha Wellsen’s Deep Murderbot, for example. Or Becky Chambers ’Cider, mixed with the human body. Then Klara, this year Clara and the Sun., Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. In it, an artificially intelligent “friend” is born, serves a human being, and learns those emotions, those “impulses and desires,” writes Ishiguro, which seem to make him more human than the people around him. It’s a weird book, with ugly phrases, like them, like Solms, but the lack of fiction, paradoxically, makes it impossible. It makes the theory come true. Read on Done is to see Hidden Spring come to life.