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Noton (2019-09)
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A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience

by Graziano, Michael

Neuroscientist and psychologist Michael Graziano puts forward a groundbreaking new theory of the origin of consciousness. Focusing attention can help an animal find food or flee a predator. It also may have led to consciousness.

Tracing evolution over millions of years, Michael Graziano shows how neurons first allowed animals to develop simple forms of attention: taking in messages from the environment, prioritizing them, and responding as necessary.

Then covert attention evolved - a roving, mental focus separate from where the senses are pointed. To monitor and control covert attention, Graziano posits in his attention schema theory, the brain evolved a simplified model of it - a cartoonish self-description depicting an internal essence with a capacity for knowledge and experience. In other words, consciousness. That self model not only gives us our intuitions about consciousness, but makes us empathetic social beings as we attribute consciousness to others. The theory implies that uploading the data structure of consciousness into machines is possible, maybe even inevitable, and he discusses what artificial consciousness will mean for our evolutionary future.

Michael S. A. Graziano, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, is author of four previous neuroscience books. He has written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Aeon, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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