Sunday, January 12, 2014

Integrated Information as a Measure of Consciousness

The fourth FQXi international conference was held in Vieques Puerto Rico January 6-10, 2014 on the Physics of Information.

The first and primary focus was on information in the quantitative physical sense, as opposed to the epistemic sense, particularly as information is used in quantum mechanics. There are several objective measurable definitions of information such as Shannon information. Objective information and other mathematical and physics theories were also used to formalize definitions and distinctions between determinism, free will, and predictability, and intelligence versus consciousness.

Many talks and debates helped to sharpen thinking regarding consciousness, where we have been stuck with crude explanatory heuristics like ‘consciousness may be an emergent property of any sufficiently complex system.’ Interesting and provocative research was presented by Giulio Tononi and Larissa Albantakis from the Center for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin. They have an objective measure called ‘integrated information’ which is meant as the compositional character of experience (including subjective experience), and represents the causality amongst macro-level elements within a system. There could be systems that are complex at the macro level but have low integrated information if there are not extensive mechanisms with causal relations within the system. In other words, complexity does not necessarily confer consciousness, and the relevant factors to look for could be causality and experience. 

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