A Model for Consciousness Based on the Sequential Behavior of the Conscious Actions
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A Model for Consciousness Based on the Sequential Behavior of the Conscious Actions F. ANCEAU CNAM - Paris anceau@cnam.fr http://lmi17.cnam.fr/~anceau. One possible story of awareness. The brain of primitive animals was a merging of independent and concurrent control functions.

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A Model for Consciousness Based on the Sequential Behavior of the Conscious Actions F. ANCEAU

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  • A Model for Consciousness Based on the Sequential Behavior of the Conscious Actions


  • CNAM - Paris

  • anceau@cnam.fr

  • http://lmi17.cnam.fr/~anceau

One possible story of awareness

  • The brain of primitive animals was a merging of independent and concurrent control functions.

  • A possible Darwinian evolution:

    • Under the pressure of the evolution (efficiency of hunting and escaping), high-level integrative functions begin to appeared.

    • In order to obtain a consistent behavior of these functions, A Synchronization Mechanism then appeared by the reuse of a part of the Attention Mechanism.

    • Using this Synchronization Mechanism very efficient high-level Functions (intelligence, memory,…) appear.

    • Awareness could be that Synchronization Mechanism.

A possible evolution of awareness

Evolution Stream

rising of awareness













fish ?

The starting points of the discussion (1)

  • We are talking about "basic" (pure) consciousness

  • Reductive approach:Pure consciousness is consciousness minus every things which are not absolutely necessary:

    • Intelligence

    • Long-term memory

    • Affects

    • Perceptions

    • ……..

  • Pure consciousness could be awareness

The starting points of the discussion (2)

  • Voluntary actions and thoughts are conscious ones.

  • They are fully sequential:

    • It is not possible to do several independent conscious actions in parallel (without any training).

    • training improve the efficiency of actions and allows their concurrent execution but such actions becomes automatic(i.e. less voluntary).

  • The sequentiality could be a basic property of the awareness(We will see that it could also provide a test for awareness)

Principles for consciousness

  • As in the other domains of science, we have to distinguish between:

    • The basic principles of a phenomenon(e.g. aerodynamics is the basic principles of flying)

    • Their instantiation in human or animals(e.g. the flight of a bird)

  • The principles for consciousness must be extracted by scientific investigation.

  • Probably, the consciousness of a computer will be as different of the human consciousness than the fight of an aircraft is different of those of a bird.

Specificity of this model of awareness

  • This model differs from the "standard" one:

    • Awareness is not giving meaning to perceptions.

    • Intentionality is not necessary.

    • Awareness is a (specific) process.

    • Sequentiality is the main property of this conscious process.

    • Awareness provides timing consistency to high-level mental functions (intelligence, reasoning,….).


How many:



7 Drawings

9 Blips


  • Sequentiality of conscious actions / perceptions seems a logical necessity.

  • It is not a constraint coming from a resource shortage!(primitive brain was massively parallel)

  • We have no idea about how we can think in parallel.

  • This explains why writing a parallel program is so difficult!

  • We can do parallel actions:

    • If they are automatic ones (possibly in parallel to a conscious one)

Automatic actions

  • Automatic actions are fully parallel.

  • They can be triggered by conscious thought.

  • By learning, a sequence of conscious actions becomes automatic (and parallel).

  • Automatic actions are more efficient and more accurate than conscious ones.

Conscious actions and sequential programming

  • The formalism of sequential programming can be used to describe conscious actions and thought:

    • sequence of actions

    • decisions branching

    • sub-routine call

    • interrupt

    • co-routine (simulating parallel execution by stepping)

  • We can also execute sequences of a set of simultaneous actions (strictly synchronized actions)

Being-in-the-world => Being-for-myself

Awareness is a (specific) process

  • Awareness could be seen as a (specific) process(W. James) which could be:

    • active (during wake-up state)

    • non-active (during sleep or coma)

  • This process can stay active, even when it receives no percept.

  • “Being-for-myself” could be a specific property of this process(First person perspective)

A process is….

  • Basic view:

    • A basic unit of sequential behavior

    • It contains:

      • a state (valid at each time)

      • a means to change this state

        • next state depends on:

          • current state

          • inputs of the process

    • e. g. an automaton







Awareness is the kernel of Consciousness

Consciousness = Awareness + High-level Functions


  • It contains the "Mystery" of consciousness (Chalmers' hard problem)

  • Awareness could be the same for many animals and human.

  • We will suggest a model for awareness

High-level Functions

  • The complexity of the high-level mental functions makes the difference between human and animals

  • These functions could be approached by engineering:

    • Intelligence => Artificial Intelligence

    • Memorization => Data Bases

    • Deduction => Inference systems, Automatic provers

    • Giving meaning => Semantic systems

    • ……..

  • They are automatic ones

    • We do not feel how they work! Their behavior is non-conscious.

Mental processes

  • They are:

    • The Conscious Process (containing awareness)(fully sequential)

    • Many Automatic Processes(working in parallel)

Conscious actions

  • Conscious (voluntary) actions are triggered by the conscious process

  • "Reports" about these actions are returned to this process

Voluntary versus Conscious actions

  • Non-Voluntary actions are automatic ones

    • They are triggered by automatic processes

      • directly by external stimuli(e.g. burning sensation)

      • from a global order given by the conscious process(e.g. running)

    • But "Reports" about these actions are returned both:

      • as feed-back to the automatic processes for control purpose

      • as global report to the conscious process

  • We cannot distinguish between Voluntary and non-Voluntary actions on their feed-back from actions!

(serial) control level
















basic automatic processes (drivers)



Awareness and Attention

  • We are conscious of the stimuli on which we are paying attention.

  • The moving of the "focusing point" of the attention scan sequentially our environment.

    • We pay attention on one thing at a time.

    • We call "Attention point" the focusing point of the attention.

  • Then, we can unify the notions of "Attention point" and Awareness.

  • During the process of the evolution, Awareness could have been derived from the Attention Mechanism.

Attention point movement

  • A metaphor:

    • The global conditions (affects, intentions, needs, external events, etc..) could be seen as twisting a metaphoric mental surface where the attention point moves like a ball.

    • The Attention Point moves on this surface.

    • It triggers automatic processes when it reaches their ”sensitivity areas”

    • It contains nothing else!

  • We can suggest a neural correlate for the Attention point

  • or an electrical realization using formal neurons.

Metaphoric surface

Local resulting force

Attention point

Activation area

of an automatic


Metaphoric mental surface

Synchronization mechanism

  • They need a synchronization mechanism to have a consistent behavior of the high level funcions.

    • Notions of "before", "after", etc…

    • The massively parallel structure of the brain do not provide directly such a synchronization mechanism.

  • The massively parallel computers need also such synchronization mechanism

    • Global semaphore, global dating system……

  • It is not trivial to build a synchronization mechanism on a massively parallel computer.

Awareness as an environment

  • Awareness could be seen as an environment for high-level functions.

  • This environment makes possible the very existence of high-level brain functions (intelligence, long-term memory, reasoning..) by providing synchronization mechanism to them.

  • Being-for-Myself could be a by-product of this environment.

  • The evolutionary advantage of this synchronization mechanism justify its existence.

Awareness as an environment














automatic processes

(massively parallel)

lack of


A test for awareness

  • Look (by functional RMI) for the brain behavior for two different conscious separate stimuli (e.g. sounds and images) without training!

  • Locate the main brain dipoles responsible of theses responses.

  • Check (by magneto-encephalography) if the brain gives parallel or sequential answer for a simultaneous stimulation.

  • Sequential answer => existence of a sequential monitor => existence of awareness.


  • All of this is only a set of hypothesis!

    • Experimental verifications are necessary

    • This model of awareness is very simple

      • to understand

      • to implement (e.g. in a computer)

    • This point of view can give idea to AI developers:

      • Importance of sequentiality

      • The necessity to use of a sequential environment for synchronizing high-level functions

    • But, this simplicity leave a taste of "something is missing"……. (the Hard Problem!)

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