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A Model for Consciousness Based on the Sequential Behavior of the Conscious Actions F. ANCEAU CNAM - Paris [email protected] 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
one possible story of awareness
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
A possible evolution of awareness

Evolution Stream

rising of awareness













fish ?

the starting points of the discussion 1
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
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
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
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
  • 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
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)
awareness is a specific process

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
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






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
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
Mental processes
  • They are:
    • The Conscious Process (containing awareness)(fully sequential)
    • Many Automatic Processes(working in parallel)
conscious actions
Conscious actions
  • Conscious (voluntary) actions are triggered by the conscious process
  • "Reports" about these actions are returned to this process
voluntary versus conscious actions
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
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
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 mental surface

Metaphoric surface

Local resulting force

Attention point

Activation area

of an automatic


Metaphoric mental surface
synchronization mechanism
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 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 environment1
Awareness as an environment














automatic processes

(massively parallel)

lack of


a test for awareness
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!)