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Zenith Grant Awardee

H. K. Andersen

Simon Fraser University

Project Title

Temporal Structure in the Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness

Project Summary

Our consciousness is always moving through time. We cannot stop a moment, or change its direction, even though we can walk through space faster or slower. Whatever we are conscious of, we are conscious of it now. When we pay close attention, it seems like the present moment encompasses some short but noticeable length of time. A knock on a door lingers for a moment after it has stopped, hanging there in a just-passed way that is different than remembering it. What makes time so different from space, and so basic to conscious experience? Does consciousness have to have these features? Could there be a consciousness that encompassed a vaster range of time as ‘now’? Could we change the bounds of the present moment to be longer or shorter? There are powerful new tools for representing these questions in mathematically precise ways. This provides new traction to answering them in more detail than philosophers or scientists have been able to thus far. And it opens the possibility of finding ‘time signatures’ of consciousness, flags for which we could search to recognize possible conscious systems that may look very different than a human brain.

Technical Abstract

Consciousness is fundamentally located in time. What are the specifically temporal features of consciousness, and are they contingent or necessary? A recent account of consciousness offers a mathematical framework for understanding consciousness as integrated information. This theory promises the intriguing prospect of quantifying experience in various ways. But how does it quantify or measure various temporal features of experience? My work brings together the integrated information theory of consciousness (IITC) with various distinctively temporal structures or elements in consciousness. Features of temporal structures in experience, from the psychology and phenomenology of time consciousness, can be modeled in the mathematical framework of information theory to address these questions. It looks likely that the IITC can provide a mathematical explanation, rather than a merely mechanistic one, for at least some temporal elements of consciousness. The final goal is to derive a set of identifiable and mathematically formulated time signatures that are indicative of consciousness, which could potentially be used to identify new instances of consciousness. This allows us to use information theory to situate consciousness in the physical world, by deriving the temporal asymmetries of consciousness from time reversible equations in physics.

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