QR6.3.10 Consciousness Cascades

Brain synchronies develop in a sequence, from tiny nerve clusters to brain-wide synchronies. Microcolumns must synchronize first, to get the strength to merge into cortical columns, that then synchronize into macrocolumns. The constant pings of interneurons and the thalamic beat then help distant nerve areas to lock in phase in a global synchrony that allows consciousness.

We tune violins by varying notes slightly to achieve resonance, so a brain is like an orchestra tuning different instruments to the same frequency, except that nerves broadcast the same note, so they are tuning to obtain the same phase. This entangles them into an entity that can collapse at a point in their field in an observation.

If a local synchrony that gives a small observation is maintained by constant pings, it can merge with others into a bigger observation, by the same process. This takes time to achieve, so nerves constantly ping to allow observations that can synchronize further. The cascade culminates when distant brain areas of language, meaning, and memory merge into a global synchrony that integrates the decentralized brain in a single observation that is what I choose to attend to.

To recap, a photon wave collapsing at a screen point essentially chooses to observe there. When many nerves synchronize, their entangled field collapses to observe a chosen point that represents some neural combination. The microcolumn result is a flicker of an observation but if it then repeats, instead of collapsing alone it entangles with others that are doing the same with their sense data. Constant neural volleys sustain lower synchronies until they cohere into bigger ones, and the process repeats until it gives a global observation. The global ignition that correlates with consciousness is a series of observer choices that end in what we experience.

This cascade allows negotiation between higher and lower units. A result that doesn’t work at a high level can be repeated until it does, so an ambiguous figure seen one way can be redone differently. Computers struggle with low-level ambiguity but a brain based on choices at every level can ask for a rerun with different choices. Top-down links also let the global observer prime lower neural units to act alone, allowing instinctive response times as low as a tenth of a second.

Nerves that entangle by synchrony observe together, so they act as observer gates rather than transistor gates. Each observation is a choice, and lower choices precede higher ones, up to a global observer who also chooses what to observe. The choice of what we attend to isn’t defined by sense input nor is it entirely free, as the options available at the top level depend on choices made lower down. This isn’t a machine where each cog drives the next but a choice hierarchy, where lower choices define higher ones. The cause of human behavior, in brain terms, is choices all the way down. It follows that the social practice of making people responsible for their own behavior has a neural foundation.

Consciousness is like a spotlight that begins with millions of barely discernible point flickers blinking at different phases, that eventually synchronize into area flashes that wink separately until they also synchronize into a coherent beam directed at a target, which is our attention. It takes about half-a-second for the spotlight to power up, as each synchrony step leads to the next.

This model explains how we see one visual field when each hemisphere only sees half of it. Each hemisphere doesn’t send its half of the visual field to the other to let both see the whole, which is impossible by encapsulation and inefficient because it duplicates processing. Instead, callosal nerves synchronize matching areas into a consciousness that observes the entire field.

This suggests why, under anesthesia, beta-gamma waves stop and consciousness of the entire visual field doesn’t return until they do (John et al., 2001). The anesthetic makes us unconscious by interfering with brain synchrony, and only when the uncoupled hemispheres synchronize again, and brain waves return, does conscious vision also return. What observes the full visual field isn’t either hemisphere but the quantum entity that their entanglement creates.