What possible connection could there be between sleepiness, the Living Algorithm’s Decay Factor and Consciousness? Is it possible that the Decay Factor could regulate Consciousness in the same way that it regulates Attention? What is the relationship between Consciousness and Attention? Are there any real differences between them? Or are these just 2 words for the same phenomenon?
To investigate these questions, let’s differentiate Consciousness and Attention in the context of our Information Digestion Model. This conceptual model was developed to make sense of the behavioral synergy between the Living Algorithm’s mathematical system and multiple cognitive phenomena.
As long as an organism is Conscious, Attention is switched on. As soon as an organism is Unconscious, Attention is turned off. When activated, Attention, according to our conceptual model, roves from data stream to data stream, constantly searching for data stream acceleration. When Attention finds a pertinent acceleration, he attaches to it. When the acceleration naturally fades, Attention searches for another pertinent acceleration. This process of search and find only ends when Consciousness shifts into Unconsciousness and Attention is turned off.
There are a variety of scenarios related to this search and find procedure. Two basic scenarios stand out. The others are variations. In the first scenario, Attention doesn’t find an increasing acceleration and shifts regularly from data stream to data stream, constantly looking for a relationship. In the second, Attention finds and attaches to a data stream. If the data stream is consistent for a sufficient duration, Attention and the Data Stream form a relationship and give birth to an Experience.
This partnership generates an acceleration. This acceleration exhibits a pulse-like behavior, rising to a peak and then fading away. This pulse defines an Experience. Attention sticks around as long as the Data Stream has an acceleration. As soon as the acceleration ends, Attention jumps ship and renews his search for a fresh data stream with an acceleration. Attention is fickle in his relationships with data streams – alternating regularly from relationship to relationship after the rush of excitement (the acceleration) ends. This pattern is innate to the Attention/Data Stream Synergy and has nothing to do with lack of moral character.
As soon as Consciousness turns on, at whatever level of the biological hierarchy, Attention begins a series of monogamous relationships with a succession of data streams. Each of these relationships exhibits a similar pattern. Each exhibits a pulse-like behavior that defines an Experience. Accordingly, Consciousness consists of a sequence of pulses of Attention. On a basic human level, this might consist of breakfast, travel, work, lunch, and so forth.
In this sense, the words 'Conscious Attention' are an unnecessary redundancy. Consciousness is required for Attention, at least in our Information Digestion model. Although Consciousness and Attention turn on and off together, they perform unique functions. They are different words in the same sentence. The Mind/Life synergy, we speculate, regulates them both with the Living Algorithm's Decay Factor, but in different ways. In the Posner Attention article, we saw how Life might regulate Attention via the Decay Factor. This article elucidates how the Decay Factor could be employed to turn off Consciousness.
To provide context for the discussion, let’s review and extend our model for Living Information Digestion.
Life's urge to self-actualize gives birth to a Mind that wants to assist her to fulfill this quest. As such, Mind is the urge to help Life fulfill her urge. The Mind/Life synergy is the engine that drives the System - the core of our model. In a prior article, we likened Life to our 'emotional' brain (the inner limbic system – our 'lizard' brain) and Mind to our 'thinking' brain (the outer layer of neurons in our brain – our 'human' brain).
The Living Algorithm/Attention synergy links the Mind/Life synergy with the external world via the sensory environment. See diagram at left. The black and white core represents the Mind/Life synergy, while the large outer black and white area represents the Attention/Living Algorithm synergy. Attention combines with the Living Algorithm to generate a Pulse of acceleration. We maintain that this Pulse enables Life to ‘experience’ the information in a data stream.
Mind thrives on the Experiences provided by the Attention/Living Algorithm synergy. The reason is straightforward. Experiences transmit potentially significant Information. The Mind/Life synergy invests this Information with Meaning. This Meaning enables Mind to make better choices in his quest to assist Life to fulfill her potentials. As such, the craving for information is a significant essence of Mind's urge, or should we say Mind Intent. Life's urge manifests as a Mind that craves information.
Mind via Attention focuses upon information derived from the sensory environment. Mind's energy invests this information with meaning.
Mind then employs this meaning to assist Life to fulfill her potentials. This cycle also enables Mind to fulfill his urge to help Life.
According to our model, Mind craves Information to fulfill his function of providing Life with assistance. Similarly, Body craves food to fulfill her function of providing Life with a home.
However, Body and Mind can only utilize food and information after they have been digested. This digestion process turns them into a more useable form.
To better understand information digestion, let us examine the process of food digestion. Employing biological digestion as a metaphor will clarify the important role that Consciousness plays in our Living Information model.
Let us first review the features of the food digestion system that are salient to our discussion. We decide which food to put into our mouth. We then chew and swallow the food. The swallowed food enters the stomach. Food is ingested more rapidly than the stomach can digest it. As such the stomach requires downtime to complete the digestion process. Only after the food is digested does it, provide nourishment for our Body. This nourishment contributes to the physical vitality of the Body/Life complex.
Let us see how this biological digestion process applies to information digestion.
Consciousness, in the Living Algorithm context, is defined as the ability to receive information. Mathematically, Consciousness is associated with the Active Pulse. Consciousness is the mouth by which sensory data streams enter Life's Information Digestion System. These data streams remain an assortment of meaningless instants until they are further digested.
The Living Algorithm digests these sensory data streams by transforming them into rates of changes, data stream derivatives. One of the derivatives is data stream acceleration. Organized data streams generate a pulse of acceleration – simply deemed the Pulse. According to our model, the Pulse must be completed for Life to ‘experience’ the data stream’s information. These Pulses are the food that nourish Mind's craving for information.
However, Mind does not just want any old information. He is not an information junky, but is instead a connoisseur of information. How does he decide which data streams to focus Attention upon? In terms of our analogy, how does Mind decide which data streams to swallow?
The Life/Mind synergy decides which data streams to swallow and which to reject or spit out. Mind’s Attention is only attracted to data streams with a growing acceleration. A growing acceleration indicates that the data stream is organized. The erratic acceleration of Random Data Streams is rejected as indigestible, inorganic material. The Attention/Living Algorithm synergy digests Organized Data Streams and rejects Random Data Streams.
Mind then decides which of the Organized Data Streams are most relevant to Life's urge for self-actualization. The rest of the data streams are spit out even though they are organized. Only the Relevant Data Streams are 'swallowed'. After they are 'swallowed', Relevant Data Streams become Life Experiences.
What does it mean 'to swallow information'? Or how does a Relevant Data Stream become a Life Experience?
Attention is initially attracted to data streams with growing accelerations. The rush of expansion excites her. However, this honeymoon phase doesn’t last. For mathematical reasons, the acceleration inevitably fades. To bolster flagging Attention, Mind must invest mental energy to keep her focused upon the Relevant Data Streams until the end of the Pulse of acceleration. This burst of mental energy sustains Attention and generates an ‘Experience’. The Mind/Life synergy only ‘experiences’ the information in the data stream, when the Pulse is completed. This final exertion of mental energy is what it means to ‘swallow’ a data stream. Sustaining Attention until the end of the Pulse and 'swallowing a data stream' are the same.
Mind generates an Experience by holding Attention upon a Relevant Data Stream until the end of the Pulse. This Experience (the transmission of information) transforms Life in some way, whether the firing of a neuron or a deep insight into the mystery of existence. An abundance of information enters the System via the mouth of Consciousness. However, only the Experiences generated by sustained Attention actually change the System. Just because the data stream enters the mouth doesn’t mean it will reach the stomach. Only data streams that reach the stomach nourish the System. To nourish the System means that Mind obtains the Information that enables him to make appropriate decisions that facilitate Life's urge for self-actualization.
The diagram at right summarizes these relationships. Note that they all center on Mind. When the mouth of Consciousness opens, Minds channels mental energy via Attention. The mental energy of Attention transforms Information into Food for the Mind. The transformation occurs via the Living Algorithm, Mind's Tool or Digestive Mechanism. This entire process is driven by Mind's love for Life. Without Life's urge to self-actualize there is no meaning. Mind has no purpose. Meaning is only in relation to Life's quest. Mind does not determine meaning independently.
The prior section delineated parallels between biological digestion and information digestion. It seems that Life requires 2 systems: one to digest the food for the Body and the other to digest information for the Mind. Just as a Body craves food, so does the Mind crave information. In both cases, the craving is based in the service of Life. Body requires sustenance to provide a home for Life and Mind requires information to provide Life with guidance.
Just as the appropriate organic material provides food for the Body, Pulses of Experience provide food for the Mind. Just as the stomach needs downtime to complete the digestion of biological food, Mind also needs downtime to complete the digestion of mental food. When sated on these Pulses of Experience, the mouth of Consciousness closes and Mind enters the Unconscious state of Sleep. The Unconscious state of sleep provides Mind with the necessary downtime to complete the digestion process. Let’s see how.
According to our information model, Consciousness is the mouth of the Information System. When Life is Conscious, Mind employs Attention to invest fresh Information with mental energy - meaning. When Life is Unconscious, Attention shuts down. Mental energy no longer invests fresh Information with Meaning. Mind at last has time to integrate and organize all the Experiences that were generated via Attention. To accomplish this task, Mind employs/recycles the backlog of leftover mental energy that accumulated during Consciousness. What does this mean?
In a prior article, we developed the notion that Attention provides data streams with 'substance'. This understanding is incomplete. According to our extended model, Mind focuses mental energy via Attention upon sensory data streams. It is Mind's mental energy that provides data streams with 'substance'. Mind only channels mental energy through Attention while Life is Conscious. As such, it is reasonable to say that mental energy focused via Attention drives the Conscious cycle.
These relationships are shown in the diagram at right. The black and white inner core represents the Mind/Life synergy. The black and white external core represents the Attention/Living Algorithm synergy. When Life is Conscious, the Information System is open to the sensory environment, indicated by the break in the outer circle. Fresh mental energy enters the System bringing in equally fresh information.
As mentioned, the Attention/Consciousness synergy turns on and off together. When Attention is 'on', fresh mental energy and information enters the Information System. When Attention is 'off', no mental energy or information enters the System. When Life is Conscious, only part of this mental energy is employed. The Unconscious cycle of Sleep gives the System time to digest and organize the leftover mental energy that was generated during the Conscious state. In the same way that fresh mental energy drives the Conscious cycle, leftover mental energy drives the Unconscious cycle.
These relationships are shown in the diagram at right. The outer core represents the synergy of the Living Algorithm and the leftover energy. Without the leftover energy accompanied by the undigested information, the Living Algorithm has no energy for digestion. Life requires the leftover energy from the Conscious cycle to drive the Unconscious cycle. When Life is Unconscious, the outer circle is closed to the external environment. No information or energy enters the System.
In other words, Life's Information Digestion System, according to our conceptual model, is open to fresh energy and information when Conscious, and closed to this same external input when Unconscious. This periodic opening and closing of Life's Information System to the external world refreshes the alternate cycles in succession.
This leads us to our next question and the topic of this article. By what mathematical mechanism does Life turn Consciousness on and off? Is it possible that regulating D, the Decay Factor, is the switch for this everyday occurrence? We will devote the remainder of this article to establish how this could be so.
What happens when we get sleepy? I don’t think that anybody would disagree that our attention fades. No matter how hard we try, we can’t expend any more of Attention’s mental energy on road conditions, the words of a lecture, the notes of a concert, or even our posture. It is as if our source of mental energy has dried up. Attention fades fast. Before we know it, our head is on the pillow and we quickly enter the state of unconsciousness called sleep.
Let us propose an explanation from the perspective of our model. Mind is the source of mental energy. When we are conscious, this mental energy is expended. Simultaneous with the expenditure of mental energy, a residue of undigested energy accumulates. When this accumulated, undigested, leftover energy reaches a particular threshold, the system begins an orderly shut down. This is the state of sleepiness.
After Unconscious sleep has replaced Consciousness, the Mind has sufficient time to digest the backlog of leftover mental energy. At the beginning of the Pulse when leftover energy is low or non-existent, Mind Intent is focused upon accumulating environmental input. At the end of the Pulse, the backlog of leftover energy is at capacity. The desire for new input is replaced by the need to complete the digestion process, perhaps organize and assimilate the new material.
When leftover energy is at a maximum, Mind no longer craves information. As such, Mind no longer needs Attention to accumulate new information. The resulting shift of Mind Intent drains Attention’s energy. Without Attention, Consciousness shuts down and we go to sleep. In similar fashion, we eat food until our stomach is full, at which time we lose our appetite for more and stop eating. In this sense, the amount of leftover energy in the System is the trigger for Mind's appetite for fresh information.
This explanation leaves some questions unanswered. How does Attention fade out? Why is the shutdown orderly rather than abrupt? Do we have any control over the shutdown process?
This is where the Living Algorithm’s Decay Factor comes in. But first a new theory.
Oh no! Not another theory.
We’re just attempting to come up with some plausible reasons that might account for the universal experience of sleepiness.
The theory holds that the lower the Decay Factor, the more mental energy is expended extracting information from the environment and vice versa. Decay Factor down; Mental energy expenditure up.
We offer Posner’s well-established Attention Model as evidence in support of this theory. The first phase of Posner’s initial network (the Arousal Network) is the resting state of conscious living systems. This initial phase (Intrinsic Awareness) consists of a general state of attention to the overall environment. Because this is the default state, we assume that the least amount of mental energy is consumed. The system is in a state of readiness, just waiting for action. The basketball player crouches awaiting his next move.
According to our speculation, chronicled in the Posner article, the Decay Factor is high (the sedentary range) when our Attention is in the state of readiness. Conversely, when Attention moves into Posner’s 2nd phase (Phase Alertness), the Decay Factor drops into the volatile range. In this state, Attention focuses upon specific details due to some significant changes in the environment. The deer hears the crack of a branch and freezes. We assume that the increased focus of Attention requires a greater expenditure of mental energy than a more general level of Attention required by the 1st phase. Decay Factor down – Mental Energy expenditure up.
Let us apply this theory to the Sleepiness Phenomenon. During full consciousness when there is an abundance of mental energy, we can alternate between conserving energy in general Attention or spend it in focused specific Attention. We can regulate the ebb and flow of both mental and physical energy. It seems reasonable to say that a state of readiness allows us to spend the least amount of energy, physically and mentally. Note the athlete in any sport. They regularly alternate a resting state with an active state. Even the soccer player runs and then sprints – slows down and then spurts. The relative speed is pulse-like rather than regular.
The state of sleepiness is distinctly different. In contrast to regular consciousness, we have no reservoir of mental energy left to draw upon. Further each new byte of incoming information generates more leftover mental energy. This redirects Mind Intent to the unconscious organization of information rather than conscious accumulation. Our only refuge is to crank up the Decay Factor. Mental energy falls, due in part to the accumulation of undigested leftover energy. The Decay Factor rises simultaneously to account for the diminished supply. Decay Factor up; Energy Expenditure down.
As mental energy falls, the Decay Factor naturally rises in response (despite our best efforts to the contrary). As the Decay Factor rises, the contours of our environmental accelerations flatten out. Then at some threshold, the contours become flat lines. Definitions are blurred and indistinct. One is unable to differentiate reality. No changes can be recognized. No more energy is expended and we enter the state of micro-hibernation called sleep.
Posner's Attention Model, Sleepiness, and the Decay Factor are bundled in a tight little package. It is bound by the notion that there is a limited amount of mental energy available. Mental energy is required to fuel Attention. Without mental energy, there is no Attention. Could it be that, in similar fashion to physical energy, there is a fixed amount of mental energy?
If the amount of mental energy available at any instant is fixed, what are the implications for Split Attention? More importantly, is it possible that we can over utilize our mental energy just as we can overdo it physically? What are the consequences of overuse? What does our Living Algorithm-based model say about these features of Attention? For some preliminary answers, check out the next article – Split Attention and the Living Algorithm.