IIT 3.0 Central Axioms

From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0

The recent publication of new details for Tononi & Koch’s Integrated Information Theory includes the following central axioms, which are “taken to be immediately evident,”:

  • Existence: Consciousness exists – it is an undeniable aspect of reality. Paraphrasing Descartes, “I experience therefore I am”.
  • Composition: Consciousness is compositional (structured): each experience consists of multiple aspects in various combinations. Within the same experience, one can see, for example, left and right, red and blue, a triangle and a square, a red triangle on the left, a blue square on the right, and so on.
  • Information: Consciousness is informative: each experience differs in its particular way from other possible experiences. Thus, an experience of pure darkness is what it is by differing, in its particular way, from an immense number of other possible experiences. A small subset of these possible experiences includes, for example, all the frames of all possible movies.
  • Integration: Consciousness is integrated: each experience is (strongly) irreducible to non-interdependent components. Thus, experiencing the word “SONO” written in the middle of a blank page is irreducible to an experience of the word “SO” at the right border of a half-page, plus an experience of the word “NO” on the left border of another half page – the experience is whole. Similarly, seeing a red triangle is irreducible to seeing a triangle but no red color, plus a red patch but no triangle.
  • Exclusion: Consciousness is exclusive: each experience excludes all others – at any given time there is only one experience having its full content, rather than a superposition of multiple partial experiences; each experience has definite borders – certain things can be experienced and others cannot; each experience has a particular spatial and temporal grain – it flows at a particular speed, and it has a certain resolution such that some distinctions are possible and finer or coarser distinctions are not.

In looking at each of them, I can’t help but want to point out that the opposite of each axiom is also true in a sense. Consider:

Existence: Consciousness is a spectrum of qualities which appear to come in and out of existence. Some qualities of consciousness are ‘barely there’ or arguably resist being defined as existing. We can, for example, dream of a book in which there are sentences which appear to be made out of words and letters, but cannot be read. We might remember someone’s face in a way that seems specific, but when we reach for concrete details, we find that they do not ‘exist’.

Composition: Here too, if we look at other kinds of conscious experience, such as the flavor of a wine, it is not clear that there is an objective structure. We will not necessarily agree that there are earthy notes followed by floral notes, etc. The wine can be experienced as a gestalt which, while containing the potential for nuanced composition to be drawn out, does not necessitate any such formal realization in structure. We need not presume only a combination of discrete units, but we can also model a diffraction from top level simplicities downward.

Information: Conscious contents range from being highly informative to highly repetitious without materially altering their significance. Many addictive behaviors rely on the pure pleasure of the experience without any analytical dimension of uniqueness or learning behind them. Information may only pertain to communication and representation of conscious experience, not to the experience itself.

Integration: I agree fundamentally that in one sense, each experience stands on its own, however, in another sense, every experience is associated with ranges of other experiences to different degrees. If anything, it the modulation between qualities of being integrated, informing, composed, etc and their opposite qualities of disintegration, ignorance, decomposition, etc which are implicated in consciousness.

Exclusion: Here I fundamentally disagree. While any given experience can be isolated intellectually, that partitioning appears to me to be superficial. Experience builds on itself, and every waking moment implicitly contains the presence of all past experiences and hints at future possibilities. Experience can be read on many different levels, so that even though exclusion is a large part of the function of the intellect, that aspect of experience itself is floating on a sea of metaphorical, intuitive, and universal influences. Exclusion is easy to assume in a figurative sense, as far as our typical human attention seems to find a quality of focus whenever it focuses on itself, but I think that in a literal sense, exclusion is impossible.




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