Complexity and consciousness

Complexity and consciousness

There has been an interesting discussion going on in Scott Aaronson’s fabulous blog Shtetl Optimized where he is debating with Giulio Tononi about Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. Scott is a brilliant guy and I would say this is one of the best debates about any quantitative theory of consciousness that you’ll ever find online.  It starts here and continues here.  I highly recommend it if you’re interested in that kind of stuff.

In between those posts, Scott had an article about practical measures of complexity, which I happen to know is also totally relevant to the IIT discussion because of Tononi’s recent work on “zap-and-zip”, a system to “measure consciousness” by zapping the brain with TMS and then recording the electrical response in high density, and then measuring the complexity of the response by testing the compressibility with zip compression. I got a comment up on Scott’s blog saying this and presenting the links, here.  I’ll also paste the text below.

In the meanwhile, go read the main articles.  🙂

Hey Scott, you may not be aware but there is a tie-in between this topic and your IIT ongoing debate with Giulio Tononi. He is working on a “consciousness meter” based on the principle of stimulating the brain directly, recording its response pattern, and then estimating the complexity by looking literally at file size reduction under compression. They jokingly call it “zap-and-zip”. Here’s a paper on it:

And here’s a talk by, I think, Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi on the topic:

I’m a grad student at the University of Wisconsin and have seen him talk about this in person. The interesting thing about it is that it seems to empirically do pretty well in “paradigm cases” of consciousness, despite the shakiness of the theoretical foundation (as you have pointed out).