William R. KlemmWilliam R. ("Bill") Klemm is a professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University. He has written several books on the brain and mind, of which his most important for information philosophy is Making a Scientific Case for Conscious Agency and Free Will (Academic Press, 2016), a summary of evidence that humans have free will. He has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Notre Dame, so is well positioned to look at problems from both a scientific and philosophical perspective. Klemm's main thesis is that consciousness is something happening in our neural networks, specifically in what he calls circuit impulse patterns with the acronym CIP. He writes...
The ultimate holy grail of science may be discovering the mechanisms of conscious agency. The enigma may be unsolvable. What follows below, however, is at least a preliminary explanation of how consciousness could reduce to brain function and, moreover, gain the capacity to “do things.” Let us consider how sensory and motor realizations are represented in the brain. First, we must emphasize that sensory and motor realities are not literal realities inside the brain, but rather are abstracted and represented in the brain by patterns of nerve impulses in specified neural circuits. Such circuit impulse patterns (CIPs) are clearly the basis for unconscious processes involving sensations, feelings, and movement commands.Klemm also sees the CIPs as the basis for conscious processes,Making a Scientific Case for Conscious Agency and Free Will, p.31
My position reduces to one of certain neural activity patterns having executive control that can act as an agent of will because it is capable of the necessary facilitation/inhibition influence over decision making circuitry. This is the means by which the neocortical executive control circuitry functions as an autonomous avatar. This still leaves open the question of whether the avatar’s control can be freely exerted. But, at a minimum, we are not forced to reject free will on the grounds that there is some sort of dualistic “conscious mind” floating around the brain that directs willed choices.Here Klemm is criticizing the "dualist" idea, which goes back to René Descartes, of something immaterial as the basis of consciousness and particularly of free will. Klemm is a strong materialist and believes the mind can be understood entirely in material terms. Klemm believes strongly in free will, but his argument resembles the materialist reductionist models of many free-will deniers. Klemm's material mind is modeled on the computer, using many computer metaphors such as electrons flowing in integrated circuits, storage, rebooting, algorithms, and code. By opposing immaterialism, Klemm defends himself from perhaps the most common objection to free will, that it depends on something immaterial, think of the spirit or soul of many religious supporters of free will. But information is immaterial. It is neither matter nor energy, though it needs energy to be communicated (Klemm's impulses in the neural circuits) and matter to be embodied (stored in the "online hard drive" of Klemm's mind model).ibid., p.48
Anytime we are awake, the conscious avatar is active (on-line). When asleep, the avatar is stored in the “hard drive" of synaptic weightings in the set of circuits that contain the capacity for regenerating the impulse patterns that represent the conscious self. That self may undergo subtle changes as a result of each day’s experiences, and these in turn modify the impulse patterns of self and may produce lasting changes as those patterns are stored in modified synaptic weightings.Klemm is correct that there are "patterns" in our brains. They are our "ideas." Information is best thought of as the arrangement of the material particles in any "information structure." To extend the popular (but flawed) metaphor that man is a machine and the brain is a computer, ideas are often described as the (immaterial) software in the brain's (material) hardware. And Klemm might agree with this. He illustrates his model, starting with patterns in information structures...ibid., p.49
The avatar might be thought of as a virtual being that is rebooted each time a sleeping brain awakens. But it is not virtual. It is real, just as patterns of electrons flowing in computer circuitry are real, materialistic processes. And like electrons in integrated circuits, nerve impulses can do things. Those impulse patterns are a code, a code that if repeated enough to alter synaptic weightings, can change the very circuits from which it is being generated. In other words, the conscious mind can change its mind.In Klemm's diagram, we see immaterial information is the source for both conscious and unconscious actions. This is correct, but it is a bit more complex than simply saying the "nerve impulses can do things." The information is obviously communicated along the neural pathways. But this does not make the CIPs themselves Klemm's "conscious avatar." The key idea in free will is the agent's mind making choices between alternative possibilities, only some of which are ever actualized. The existential status of these unactualized possibilities is quite controversial, dismissed as merely immaterial "ideas" in a purely material world, often attacked as discredited "metaphysics." Klemm describes "top-down" decisions as conscious mind operations that produce voluntary results. He says they have a degree of freedom in selecting among "alternative options" (p.44). These options have been "programmed by experience," he says (p.97). So far, so good, but "programmed" suggests a programmer writing instructions. It is enough to show that diverse past experiences have been recorded, i.e., stored (not programmed). Klemm is correct that the options are "encoded," likely as the "synaptic weightings" of the neural networks and are thus available alternatives for consideration as actionable options in the agent's current situation. In our model of the brain as an experience recorder and reproducer, each option is a stored past experience, including all of the associated sensory inputs along with the emotional reaction to that experience. A past experience is reproduced, one might say "replayed," whenever something in the current situation resembles something in that past experience. Donald Hebb said "neurons that fire together wire together." We suggest that neurons wired together by past experiences will fire together when any part of the wiring complex is stimulated by something in the current experience. A vast number of past experiences may be regenerated, giving us the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of William James "stream of consciousness" and the audience members in the "Theater of Consciousness" of Bernard Baars' "Global Workspace Theory." Notice that Klemm's alternative options are pure information (Klemm sees them as "abstract patterns," which is correct). But the patterns are "embodied" in the matter of the neural network, else they would not be "available," as he calls them, to provide the options under consideration during a decision. Klemm knows that some options might not always "come to mind," a random element that adds the indeterministic element that prevents actions from being "predetermined." And Klemm knows that thinking often "imagines what does not exist" (p.63). This is the essential aspect of creativity, which Klemm says "by definition is not predetermined." He says "generating a creative idea is an act of will, and I would argue comes close to being prima facie evidence for free will" (p.65). This is excellent. Creativity gets to the heart of the much larger question of how new information is created in a universe in which information is constantly being destroyed by the inevitable increase in disorder and entropy. This is the central problem of information philosophy. . Normal | Teacher | Scholaribid., p.50