Model of Awareness

© 2003 Paul Cooijmans

As explained in my article The Verification Coordinate, awareness is needed to verify existence; only what can be verified by awares exists. A resulting question is then: How can awareness itself be verified? How can we know and prove it exists, and measure it?

I will first explain what I mean by awareness: the being aware of the fact that one, or anything, exists. Aware-ness. The sensation of sensation itself; sens-ation. The experience of experience itself. And yes, awareness is the same as consciousness; I just prefer the word awareness because it is easier to spell.

Although we do not know exactly how awareness works, we intuitively and through past research know quite a lot of its conditions and properties. It requires an intelligent system of a certain minimal complexity to occur; A stone or plant is not aware, humans and some animals with sufficiently advanced brains are. Maybe computers will be, once. It requires many elements, like neurons, which are connected in a network and pass signals on to each other, and somehow in the space-time structure of those events (the signals) the phenomenon of sensation, awareness, occurs. How exactly this is possible is the greatest mystery. Also required, most likely, is input, like sensorial signals or stimuli from either outside or inside the being.

I like to think about it this way: The event of a neuron firing - passing a small amount of transmitter to other neurons - has a location in space (three coordinates) and a moment in time (a fourth "coordinate"). It is a four-dimensional event. All those events going on in the brain form a 4D space-time structure of events. In that structure, awareness may occur, being something outside the four dimensions; It could be seen as a kind of 5D phenomenon, as I try to explain in my article The Verification Coordinate. And awareness, by verifying 4D events outside itself, may turn 4D events into 5D "truths", as I have called them. A "truth" is an event that is perceived and verified by one or, rather, more awares (Verification is needed because perception in itself may be hallucinatory or delusional). This distinction between events and truths solves many philosophical problems.

Let me say a little more on the way awareness occurs in the event-structure of the brain: Run a finger nail over the corrugated surface of a kitchen unit. At low speeds, you hear the bumps separately, but at higher speeds you hear them as a pitch. The faster, the higher the pitch. This is the phenomenon sometimes called Überordnung; At low frequencies you hear the separate waves of sound, and somewhere around 15 cycles a second this changes; You stop hearing them separately, and a new phenomenon, pitch, occurs, which contains the information of the lower level (frequency, amplitude, rhythm) but displays it in a "chunked" form, just like a graph displays numerical data without showing the actual numbers.

I imagine the emergence of awareness from the fast and structured firing of neurons in the brain is analogous to the emergence of pitch from sound waves. To avoid confusion, I am not talking about the famous "brain waves", classified as "alpha", "delta" and so on (Those are just rough patterns of activity). I mean the entire structure of individual firings of neurons in the brain; or at least in the cortex, the outer shell. In a primitive system, say a simple neural network in a computer program or the nervous system of a worm, there will be no occurrence of awareness, but when a brain reaches a certain level of complexity, efficiency and speed of processing, awareness emerges as a new higher-level phenomenon. It is worth giving this much thought, as it is the greatest riddle of all: It is the essence and cause of existence itself. Awareness is a higher-level chunked representation of an event-structure taking place in the brain. You do not notice the isolated neuron firings, just as you do not notice the isolated sound waves in a pitch.

Individual differences in awareness may result from differences in the quality of the brain, just as individual differences in intelligence do. Comparable to the phenomenon that, in digital music recording, a higher sampling rate gives a better sound quality. Relevant brain differences are things like number of connections between neurons, number of neurons, number of glia cells, quality of the insulation sheath around the axons (which prevents leakage of signal), etcetera. And even with a given brain, further differences in awareness are caused by differences in the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin; Those influence the ease with which neurons can send signals to other neurons, and thus directly influence the event-structure, and therefore awareness.

A complex system, although required for awareness, does not guarantee the occurrence of awareness. In other words, intelligence (in the broad sense) can exist without awareness, but not the other way around. I refer now to intelligence in the sense of "G" as explained in my articles Definition of G and Explanation of G. G is the sum of evolutionary ability. Plants, animals and humans all have G, but not all have awareness. Awareness occurs in the higher levels of G. I suspect the most primitive form of awareness is sensation of physical pain; After that come the emotions, then mental ability and self-awareness. Philosophical thinking is a high state of awareness, but a truly new level will only be reached when nature and role of awareness in existence are fully understood, which is what I am aiming for. And yes, I am aware that is the highest aim takable.

Let us look at some properties of awareness; Obviously it must on the whole be beneficial for survival (or it wouldn't exist on large scale for hundreds of thousands of years), but still it has both positive and negative features.

Awareness may include an image of the self; self-awareness so to speak. It may also include the sensation of free will, of control over how to direct one's abilities, which may or may not be a delusion. For awareness itself is a mystery, but even harder to understand is how awareness, once occurred, could be able to influence its underlying event-structure! A good guess is that it does not; that all intelligent decisions and choices are made at a subconscious level, and awareness of them occurs afterwards. The delusion of having made the choice consciously apparently offers enough evolutionary advantage to persist. On the other hand, there may be some kind of feedback going on from awareness to subconscious processing that influences future choices; Such is in fact required to understand the role of awareness proposed further on in this article. Perhaps the subconscious processing uses our awareness as a tool for making choices?

Awareness also is the basis of suffering, of good and evil and of judgment. Without awareness and suffering, judgment makes no sense and there is no good or bad.

And from experimental psychology we know there is a kind of filter to awareness - "cognitive inhibition", which has been studied in its various forms - which determines what is allowed to enter awareness. This filter varies individually. If nothing enters awareness, there is no awareness. If too much enters, psychosis. The existence of such a filter implies there is intelligent processing going on on a subconscious level.

These individual differences in cognitive inhibition - in other words, the differences in what is entering awareness - appear to be related to one's dopamine/serotonin balance (Those are neurotransmitters; hormones that are used by neurons to send signals to other neurons). With a high ratio (much dopamine, little serotonin), cognitive inhibition is low, resulting in much being allowed into awareness, and therefore a wide associative horizon ("over-inclusiveness") and non-conformity which if paired to high intelligence lead to creativity (Criminality is possible too though, particularly if low cognitive inhibition is paired to somewhat below-average intelligence). If too high (the ratio), it results in psychosis, which is a state in which too much is entering awareness; hallucinations and delusions.

Note: From about this point on, this article is speculative and I am not certain if it is correct. Also below I refer to models of creativity and the like which I am replacing by other because I am no longer satisfied with them. I hope it is still possible to understand the reasoning though. The essence of what follows is: At the very highest I.Q. levels there is ever less "room" for deviance to occur. That essence still stands. The thoughts I give about "AQ" (awareness quotient) are an attempt to explain that, but it is not certain if that (AQ) will hold, if it is required to explain the state of affairs regarding intelligence, creativity and deviance. And if it is not required, Occam's razor dictates it must go.

With a low dopamine/serotonin ratio awareness is less inclusive, resulting in a narrow associative horizon, lack of originality and creativity, and presence of conformity. Also: being social, empathic and, in extreme cases, altruistic. The dopamine and serotonin levels by the way can be influenced with medication, like antipsychotics and antidepressants. They are also influenced, in the opposite direction, by caffeine and by many illegal drugs, the strongest perhaps being LSD, which causes instant extreme over-inclusiveness. Experimenting with such substances is highly dangerous because of the risk of psychosis, which is always destructive and may cause permanent damage.

As I said earlier, the role of awareness sketched here seems to imply that awareness does influence behaviour; that there is free will.

It appears that (the lack of) cognitive inhibition, as expressed in over-inclusiveness, non-conformity and psychiatric symptoms (so, in what I have called "deviance"), can be seen as a kind of measure of what is contained in awareness. So perhaps we can detect and measure awareness after all? I considered the possibility that deviance and awareness are the same dimension, but it didn't compute. What does seem to make sense is the following model:

Intelligence and awareness each have their own distribution in the population, and correlate positively but imperfectly. Each intelligence level has its own typical level of awareness, but people with awareness levels somewhat above and below that typical level exist too. The difference "awareness (a) minus intelligence (g)" I call deviance (D):

D = a - g

I imagine awareness as being expressed on a scale similar to the IQ scale, with the typical level of awareness for each IQ level being equal to that IQ. For instance, people of IQ 110 have on average an awareness of 110, but some have 115 or 105, fewer have 120 or 100, and so on.

A positive D value (relatively high awareness) results in over-inclusiveness, and the risk of psychosis (depending on how high D is of course). A negative D value (relatively low awareness) results in conformism, empathy, altruism, and ultimately perhaps in self-sacrificial and saint-like behaviour, as in people like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and so on.

I recall my model of creativity (C):

C = gD

So, creativity is the product of intelligence and deviance. Immediately, it is clear that as one approaches the very highest intelligence levels in this model, there will be ever less room for positive deviance to occur, and hence for creativity, genius and psychosis. This fits with research results as e.g. reported by Eysenck in his book "Genius"; Eysenck writes studies of genius have shown geniuses typically have high, but not the highest intelligence. People with the very highest IQs are typically not geniuses. My current Questionnaire for High Scorers (not reported on yet) too appears to show that those with the very highest IQs have low deviance scores as measured by my GAIA questionnaire, and no psychiatric disorders.

For genius one needs high intelligence, but not so high that there is no room for high positive deviance to occur. For normal social functioning, near zero deviance is probably best.

But to return to the original problem of verifying awareness; when it is defined as D + g (this follows from the first equation I gave), we basically have a measure. g is the general factor in mental ability, which can be estimated with IQ tests. D can be estimated with personality scales, although a minor problem is then to scale it so that it fits this model; that it is expressed in the equivalent of IQ points (and awareness points). Another problem is that my GAIA questionnaire I think focuses on the positive deviance, while for this model the negative range should be tested too.

With a deviance scale from low negative to high positive, we could at least determine the population average in deviance, which would be called zero in my model, and such a zero score would imply an awareness level equal to that person's IQ. The deviance distribution would then have to be expressed in units that match IQ points to get an exact measure of awareness. A method I see for that is to first compute preliminary awareness scores by adding the (positive or negative) deviance scores to the IQs; these preliminary scores can then be made to match the range (or mean deviation or standard deviation) of the IQs of those testees (assuming that the awareness scores of a given group will have the same range [or mean deviation or standard deviation] as their IQs) by multiplying by the appropriate factor. That same factor can then be applied to the raw deviance scores to turn them into deviance scores that fit this model.

I have done this with the GAIA scores in my possession from persons with known IQs. For their IQs I used for each the IQ from that test which is highest in the correlation matrix of my tests. The 25 IQs had a mean of 151.7 (SD=15). The GAIA scores a mean of 16.9. The correlation IQ-GAIA was -.38. The GAIA mean of this sample may not be representative for the total population, but it will have to do.

I converted the GAIA scores to raw deviance scores by subtracting 16.9, and added those to the IQs to obtain raw awareness scores. The raw awareness scores had a mean of 151.6 and correlated .44 with IQ. Then I looked at the mean deviations of the IQs and raw awareness scores; those were 8.79 and 10.45. So I concluded the awareness scores had to "shrink" by the factor 8.79/10.45 = .841 to make them match with the IQ scale.

I computed the new awareness scores - let's call them AQ - with this formula:

AQ = IQ + .841(GAIA - 16.9)

The resulting AQs had again a mean of 151.6. The correlation IQ-AQ was .61. The correlation AQ-DQ (DQ is deviance quotient, AQ minus IQ) was .45. The correlation IQ-DQ was -.38 (same as with raw GAIA scores). The correlation of DQ with the mean of IQ and AQ was .1.

This was a very high sample; the IQs ranged from 138 to 177, the AQs from 127 to 172, and the DQs from -13 to 20. The creativity scores, so the product of DQ and IQ, ranged from -2301 to 3000, the lowest being from the person with the highest IQ ! I may have to reconsider the formula for creativity; perhaps instead of the product of DQ and IQ, it is better represented by their sum, so by AQ; that is, by awareness itself? I will not decide about that now, but conduct further studies when possible.

A brief recapitulation of the model: intelligence and awareness, expressed on similar scales IQ and AQ with mean of 100 and SD of 15, correlate positively but imperfectly, in the order of .6 or .7. Their difference, AQ minus IQ, is called deviance or DQ.

We can measure IQ and DQ and thus compute AQ. I suspect DQ correlates zero with the mean of IQ and AQ. I also suspect IQ and AQ have a partial overlap in their genetic basis, resulting in the positive correlation, but there are also genes that contribute only to IQ or only to AQ (actually, genes controlling the dopamine and serotonin levels have been identified already).

I am not certain of this model. Maybe awareness and AQ are superfluous, and intelligence and deviance alone suffice. As support for the model "D = a - g", I regard my recent observation that people with very high IQs tend to have low deviance scores, and the finding reported by Eysenck that geniuses typically have high, but not the highest IQs. Both make sense because at the very highest IQ levels there is simply no room for much positive deviance to occur. It will depend on my further studies, like the Questionnaire for High Scorers, if this model holds.