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Introduction to Integrated Information Theory

Page history last edited by Dmitry Sokolov 3 years, 9 months ago


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Craig Weinberg, Consciousness ConjecturererAnswered Nov 13, 2015


My understanding of IIT isn't complete by any means. I'm not qualified to speak on its technical content, nor do I understand it very well. I do however think that I get the gist of it. It is easy enough to access the formal publications of IIT online, as well as some critiques, but in the words of the theory itself, Integrated information theory (IIT) is

"an attempt to characterize consciousness mathematically both in quantity and in quality".

Continuing with some selections from the text, I find that the theory strives to provide a rigorous model of the relation between phenomenal experiences and information processing. This model has to do with the production of conceptual structures (qualia) by mechanical 'complexes', which are  more than than the sum of their informational parts.

Further, the mathematical characterization of quantity and quality is plotted in a graphic schema which can be tested against neurological and/or computational evidence.

"the  quantity or level of consciousness corresponds to the ΦMax  value of   the quale; the quality or content of the experience  corresponds to the   particular constellation of concepts that constitutes  the quale – a   particular shape in qualia space."


Synchronisation of Associative Networks, Unified Conceptual Space


Qualia space: If a set of elements forms a complex, its concept space is called qualia space.



The theory maps the conceptual structures to concpetual space, which supervenes on lower dimension cause-effect relations within the system. The qualia are constellations or shapes within this 'space' which can be said to crystallize or collapse the sum of possibile causes and effects within a given state.

Cause-effect repertoire: The probability distribution  of potential past and future states of a system as constrained by a  mechanism in its current state.


Concept space is a high dimensional space, with one axis for each possible past and future state of the system.

I can think of this like a manual transmission, where the gear shifting 'clutch' function would correspond to the quale - a way of grabbing many different processes to allow the option of suspending some processes and selecting others.


IIT is a theory of intrinsic consciousness rather than emergent consciousness,

meaning that it is not a product of mechanisms but an irreducible property of complex mechanical states.

"An experience is thus an intrinsic property of a complex of mechanisms in a state."

IIT provides a method to assess the probability and quality of consciousness associated with a given system. The results claimed are that while consciousness is an intrinsic property, it is not pervasive in the universe. IIT allows some unexpected possibilities, such as conscious systems which are inactive, conscious systems which are very simple components, and  'zombie' systems, which produce functionally equivalent results to conscious systems but are not conscious.

I find the overall theory to be a bold step in the right direction, although I would quibble with some of the axioms as I think that they rely too much on normative states of consciousness and do not question the fundamentals of metaphysics deeply enough. I accept, however, that at this moment in history, the inclusion of such considerations would likely be academically untenable and result in an undesirable 'philosophical' labeling. I especially admire the approach of beginning with phenomenological axioms rather than neurological functions, as I think that it is a more honest and modest view of our own understanding consciousness and metaphysics.

In particular, I question the primacy of information and semantics in driving phenomenology, as I see a clear gap between the roles of conceptual structures in bridging causes and effects and the actual aesthetic content associated with those relations. In other words, just because there is a difference between red and green, and that difference serves a causal function in mechanism doesn't justify the existence of redness or greenness. In the axioms, I see a conflict between the first:

Existence: Consciousness exists – it is an undeniable aspect of reality. Paraphrasing Descartes, “I experience therefore I am”.

and the third:

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.

By saying that consciousness is informative, we dilute the initial assertion that consciousness exists. The fact that we do not need to contrast the existence of our own consciousness with any differences can serve as evidence that the consciousness runs deeper than information and difference. Aesthetic qualities are certainly enriched by differences, but aesthetic qualities are also unilaterally self-evident as well. It is true that red, green, and blue are all different, and that those colors can be used with spectacularly effective results as informative labels, however that informative virtue in and of itself is neither necessary nor sufficient to manifest the experience of seeing red, green, or blue.

To my mind, the shortcomings of IIT are that it does not go far enough in questioning the relation between existence, information, and consciousness. It is ultimately seduced by the current idioms of digital networking and allows communications semantics to arbitrarily cook up the phenomenal texts of reality.


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