How can we confirm the validity of the electromagnetic field theory of consciousness?
October 14, 2007 11:36 PM   Subscribe

How can we confirm the validity of the electromagnetic field theory of consciousness?

The paper explaining the theory and consequent assumptions is located here...

I lack the education to conduct meaningful study without education in electrical engineering and advanced neuroscience. (btw the spellchecker highlighted neuroscience, rather ironic eh?)

First, how would one be able to quantify a unified brain-state in any terms? (I am ignorant.)

What philosophical problems would be solved regarding phenomena (again, with the assumption that we would be able to interpret a subjective brainstate and *know* it.)
posted by Dayvan_Cowboy to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
a) Given that he's a professor of genetics, I'd take all of this with a grain of salt initially, until I hear what some neuro folks have to say

b) From skimming the paper, he talks about a variety of methods for quantifying brain state, like EEG, fMRI, etc
posted by chrisamiller at 12:48 AM on October 15, 2007

I haven't read that entire article, but there is a general answer to your question for scientific theories:

(i) You don't confirm them, so much as not refute them (yet).

(ii) To refute a theory, you examine the predictions it gives for various experiments. Then you do the experiments. If they don't match up, the theory is refuted.

To apply these to the article/theory you're interested in:

(i) Examine the theory to see what predictions it makes for what experiments. (If some parts of the theory don't seem to make any predictions, they aren't actually part of the theory in the scientifically-useful sense and you ignore them.)

(ii) Enquire with the literature or relevant experts about whether those experiments have been done before (or could be done soon).

A final remark, and please do remember: I haven't read the entirety of this particular article:

Many scientific articles are "crackpottery", that is, based on conceptual errors that are obvious (to an expert (or sometimes just a student) in the field). "Consciousness" is perhaps the quintessential topic for crackpottery.
posted by hAndrew at 1:54 AM on October 15, 2007

Best answer: IANRANSY (I am not really a neuroscientist yet), but this seems like a bit of a crackpot paper to me. The guy has clearly read a lot, and the things he talks about (synchronous firing, possibly the EM field in general) are likely to be part of some final theory. But he's just hand-waving. He doesn't give any detailed proposal, and he doesn't do any tests of that proposal. I'm thinking things like detailed computer modelling (pick a part of the brain, model the individual neurons doing a particular task, add in this field effect you're talking about, see how that changes their ability to do the task) or specific experimental predictions (new predictions, not just "this agrees with previous predictions.")

I can't say for sure he's wrong -- just that there are an awful lot more wrong ideas out there than right ones, and until you do the work, you can't tell which is which. This guy hasn't done the work.
posted by wyzewoman at 4:07 AM on October 15, 2007

A major crackpot flag for me in this article is that the author never defines "consciousness" or "awareness," two terms that he uses in nearly every sentence and which form the foundation of the theory he seems to be proposing. Another term which is found in the paper and not defined is "neuronal computation."

Minor quibbles include his failure to address some serious flaws in predictions made by his theory: such as the fact that comatose people can have normal-appearing EEGs, and the fact that people can enter into very high magnetic fields - 4 Tesla MRI is routinely used these days - without disruption of their "conscious awareness," whatever that is.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:06 AM on October 15, 2007

Take a magnet and run it past your head. It will induce an electric field in your brain.

Now, are you aware that you are doing this? Ok, his theory is wrong.
posted by dsword at 10:22 AM on October 15, 2007

almost all theories of "consciousness" involve a lot of cracked pots because there is no commonly accepted definition of what "consciousness" is.

People who do more legitimate science in this area generally use better defined terms such as "attention", "self-awareness", "internal-monologue", etc.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2007

This is crackpottery, as others have mentioned.

While EM fields can contain a lot of information, they DO also contain a ton of noise and other interference. And to operate on an EM field requires structures that apparently do not exist in nature - high frequency antennas, filters, transmitters, etc.

Furthermore, forget magnets. You are bathed in wildly fluctuating EM noise on all frequencies but the deadliest on a constant basis. Do your thoughts change passing under a power line, or when a computer turns on or off? Does your ability to think change when the sun sets?

If you're interested in this stuff, you might want to check out Penrose's quantum electrodynamic model of consciousness, which is only slightly less lunatic than this.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:15 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Who ever knew that asking the metafilter was akin to getting bitch slapped by the collective mind?


Gumby & Gumby M.D.
posted by Dayvan_Cowboy at 5:35 PM on October 15, 2007

All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on October 16, 2007

I'd like to add that people who write about "consciousness" often seem to be treating it as one's "soul" (e.g. the part of you that is said to exist to exist after you die) and often times have a hidden aggenda.

On the other hand, for a really whack theory see Julian Jaynes and his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

Jaynes puts forth that consciousness in humans may have only recently evolved, maybe 3000 years ago. His theory of concious also includes that little voice in your head that tells you it is not nice to torture puppies.

Basically his theory is that language evolved first and people had tape recorders in their heads that would replay the spoken words of wise elders in the appropriate situations. Eventually people evolved to become aware of their own thoughts and memories and to not hear disembodied voices.

While a whack theory, it is not a crackpot one.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:45 PM on October 16, 2007

« Older How do I learn to survive grad school?   |   Giving/Gaining Turst Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.