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In the theater of consciousness

maandag 05 februari 2007 21:31

The Workspace of the Mind

I reread this book because it gives a global idea of the inner workings of the human mind and of human consciousness (in its functional aspects). The book handles Bernard J. Baars' Global Workspace Theory, which presents human consciousness as a theater. The most important points are:

  • The stage. Working Memory is the center of human consciousness. It contains about 5 verbal and 7 visual items. Working Memory can most likely best be modeled as a First In First Out structure of about 5 elements.
  • The spotlight. One of these items has focus. The items that have appeared under the spotlight form our stream of consciousness.
  • The audience. Items that appear in the spotlight trigger unconscious processes. These processes react by placing items in Working Memory themselves. There may be some time between the trigger and the response. This time differs from milliseconds to days, perhaps years. Theses processes are called contexts. They have expectations about what will appear in the spotlight, and place intentions into the spotlight.
  • The director. The self is the most important, long-lasting context of the human mind.
  • Intentions that are placed in the spotlight are automatically executed, if they are not suppressed by some other context. If we believe that Baars supports William James' ideomotor theory (consciousness is impulsive, barring contrary thoughts or intentions, conscious goal images and ideas tend to be believed and executed).
As a problem solver, this model is very powerful:
  • Current activities can be interrupted at any time, by more important problems, plans, and actions.
  • All kinds of problem solvers are constantly observing the current situation and jump in immediately if they recognize a problem pattern they are specialized in.
  • Problems that cannot be immediately solved are stored and will return to consciousness later if the mind is not occupied.
  • Possible solutions that are posed by one process may be inhibited by another process as soon as it appears under the spotlight. If that happens, the process will receive feedback from the other process. This is a form of learning.
  • Consequences of intentions are brought to conscious attention, if they are deemed important enough by the unconscious process.
cognitive architecture

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