Artificial Consciousness/Neural Correlates/Functional Models/Executive Function

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Executive Function[edit]

One of the problems with Theater of the Mind type theories, is that it assumes that there has to be one place where all the information is projected onto the mind. One of the problems I have with Bernard J. Baars Global Workspace Theory, is that it is a theater of the mind theory, and demands that there be somewhere in the mind that all the information comes together to broadcast across his Global Workspace Network.

While there are areas like the DorsoLateral PFC that connect to a lot of different parts of the brain, the connections do not have the bandwidth for them all to be projecting onto a single stage. Furthermore the PFC is not sophisticated enough to be doing actual homonculus type activities, instead we are probably looking at something a lot more like a switching or gating array than a homunculus.

So when people start talking about the Executive Functions of the brain, I start looking over my shoulder. I don't see an executive sitting at the middle of a spider web of information systems, making decisions so much as a telephone exchange directing calls.

This is the problem with trying to use the folk psychology with our current understanding of the brain, Folk Psychology has so many wonderful metaphors, that no longer make sense once we begin to look deeper into the nature of the brain. When David LaBerge introduced the concept of the Triangular Attention system, he was criticized for the fact that his PFC theory was not specific enough, and that lobotomy experiments had shown no loss of intelligence despite the damage to the PFC caused during the operation.

The assumption was that the PFC was responsible for intelligence, if it was the seat of the Top- down attention system and thus the seat of the Executive Functions. But if the DorsoLateral PFC is just a switching center, Intelligence would remain intact even with damage to the switching center.

To understand how a simple switching system can double for an executive function, we need to understand Motivation as it works in the brain. In Bernard J. Baars Global Workspace Theory, Modules of processing capability compete with each other for the right to complete their processes. This is a multi-agent approach to processing, and has been simulated using Pandemonium, a Theater type arena where agents bid to do a job, and observers bet on who will be allowed to do it. This isn't how I see the DorsoLateral PFC working.

Instead I see strategies of action competing on an emotional stage. Where each emotion is an attempt to bias the system towards doing something or not doing something else. Hunger makes you want to eat, and feeling full makes you stop. Pleasure makes you want to repeat an act, and Pain makes you want to stop. you get the picture. At the bottom of this system lies the needs, which are the strongest biases, Abraham Maslow charted these in his Hierarchy of needs. Then come the emotions, and then lastly come the feelings.

What the DorsoLateral PFC probably does is a search across the combination space attempting to maximize the number of needs, emotions and feelings met by each strategy it adopts. This allows it to prioritize processing so that it maximizes the gain, for the use of each resource it controls. after that it is purely a switching matter to direct the system into following the strategy chosen.

I don't think that most senior executives would consider that they could be replaced with a simple search and switching system. Which might be why this particular interpretation is not more popular with senior scientists.