top of page

The Mystery of Consciousness

It appears that the human mind has some sort of secret sauce or magic which makes us sentient or conscious or thinking. To this point there has been no scientifically proven explanation of that consciousness is let alone how it is achieved.

The “Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness” which was proposed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi in 2004 proposed that consciousness comes from “the amount of integrated information”.

Phi, the symbol used for integrated information
Phi, the symbol used for integrated information

I tend to agree with this theory; in that, consciousness occurs from the number of interconnections within the brain, i.e. the brains neurons and connections are more than the sum of its parts.

I’m no neuroscientist, but my thoughts on the matter are that from the point where we have developed senses and a certain level of brain capability (even before we are born) we are beginning to “input” experiences from those senses and also beginning to form a vast amount of new brain connections.

By the time we’re one years old, those senses have input about 8760 hours of full-motion video, audio, smelling, tasting and feeling data and experiences through actions. All this is from whatever environment we have been brought up in and the people we’ve been around. Each minute of experience is another minute of interconnections our brains develop, and each experience that resonates with us the most form stronger and stronger connections. Our mental models are continually being updated from our experiences.

The way in which they connect individual neurons creates the network pathways. During development, the 100 trillion synapses in the human cortex form at a rate of an estimated 10,000 every 15 minutes! Together, all these synapses create a giant network. McAllister portrait

Continuing with my thoughts on this theory, with all the interconnections which are developed across 100 trillion synapses, consciousness is a super complex graph structure with branching connections which about 100 billion neurons each firing off 5–50 messages per second. With this much activity occurring to create thought and action, my belief is that consciousness is simply a result of the dense and (seemingly) infinite complexity.

This is a layman’s explanation.

Conversely, if you had a being that had a small and limited number of neurons and synapses (interconnections), the being may not have a complex brain structure enough to have consciousness — they have function. For example, bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, plants and certain animals.

Ants however have about 250,000 neurons which is not a lot compared to humans; but they are able to tie together memory, perception and other key elements of consciousness, and use it to decide what to do — like humans.

Also, I feel that we cannot think of a computer CPU in the same way even though a CPU, such as an Intel i9, consists of around 6 billion transistors [logic gates] and oodles of connections, which appear to have similarities to the human brain has a much richer entanglement of other functions for each neuron and synapse — or even an ant. Computer CPUs also don’t have the deep connection to sensory information or memory structure required to function as a brain.

To summarise, the mystery of consciousness comes down to the “emergence” of a monstrous amount of neurons and interconnections within the brain which in the very nature of the complexity and entanglement, giving rise to consciousness as we experience ourselves and the world around us.

bottom of page