The Inner Light Theory
of Consciousness

by Steven W. Smith, Ph.D.
California Technical Publishing

ISBN 0-9660176-1-7 (2001)

An Overview of the Main Arguments

   The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness is based on an extraordinary assertion: human awareness exists within a manufactured reality, something that is distinct and separate from the external physical universe.  Our ability to dream shows that the brain contains the neural machinery to accomplish this feat.  Further, the nature of human perception provides strong evidence that this reality creating machine is activated whenever we are conscious, and that we can be aware of nothing but this artificial reality.  When we are awake, this inner reality is constructed to coarsely represent the physical environment around us. When we dream, the reality creating machine is running amok, creating an inner reality that is chaotic and unrelated to the outside world.   This mental architecture is consistent with evolutionary adaptation, the human perception of reality, and the nature of dreaming.  Perhaps most important, it provides a solution to the mind-body paradox, where the first-person and third-person perspectives see the mind as fundamentally different things. 

I.  Introduction
    The human mind appears to us in two completely different ways.  On one hand, science sees the mind as the operation of the brain, the electrochemical activity in a vast network of nerve cells.  But on the other hand, we each see ourselves as a conscious being, capable of thinking, feeling, and experiencing the world around us.  We see the redness of a rose, smell its fragrance, and appreciate its beauty.  We contemplate the meaning of life, and freely decide how to think and act.  These aspects of the mind seem to entail something beyond the physical world, something that is fundamentally different from the machine-like operation of the brain.  But how can this be? How can the mind appear as one thing from the outside, but as an entirely different thing from the inside? 
    The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness is directed at solving this paradox.  Our starting point will be an examination of how we understand reality, and why this results in the mind-body paradox being such a mystery.  Our task is to precisely identify the problem, and just as important, outline what would count as a solution.  The findings of this section are  absolutely critical to the overall theory.  Properly defining the question takes us more than halfway to the answer. 
    This is followed by discussing a strange situation that could exist in our universe, what we will call an Information-Limited Subreality.  This leads us to a key property of how we observe and understand reality, the Principle of Relative Reduction.  It is within this principle that we find the solution to the mind-body problem. However, there are consequences to this solution, requiring us to change the way we view reality and ourselves. The scientific evidence for these assertions is examined, from the origin and function of the human brain, to the strange world of our dreams.

II. How We Understand Reality
    The first step in understanding consciousness is to examine how we understand other things in the world.  The human mind inherently tries to understand complex things by breaking them into simpler components.   This is a basic strategy we have all used since childhood; it is a fundamental part of the way we think.  Analyzing problems in this way is called reduction, since it reduces something that is complex into something that is more elementary.  It is the single most important method used by both scientists and everyday people to understand the world around them. 
    As an example, suppose that we encounter a grandfather clock for the first time and want to understand it in the greatest possible detail.  We start by dismantling the clock piece-by-piece, taking great care to record how the individual components fit together.  This disassembly leaves us with a few hundred parts spread out on our work table, plus a notebook full of sketches and descriptions that indicate how the parts can be assembled into the original object. At this point we ask the question: "What is a grandfather clock?"  Our answer is simply: "A grandfather clock is the several hundred parts resting on the table in front of us, assembled in the way indicated by the notes we have taken."  In other words, we have reduced the original object to two things: (1) a set of smaller objects, and (2) the assembly instructions. 
    Being good scientists, we want to continue this analysis to its fullest conclusion. This means we need to consider each of the individual parts one-by-one, trying to reduce each to even more basic components.  For instance, we might find that the face of the clock is a steel plate with a white background and black numbers.  Accordingly, we stop thinking of the clock face as a single thing.  Rather, we begin to view it as a sheet of metal and two kinds of paint, assembled in a specific way that we write down in our notebook.
    As we continue this process, we eventually encounter objects that are composed of a single material, for instance, the glass window that the clock face is viewed through.  We can no longer reduce this type of object by simple mechanical disassembly; the chemistry of the materials must be examined. For this particular example, a chemist may tell us that the glass is composed of atoms of silicon and oxygen, combined in a certain molecular and physical way.  To fully reduce the object we must specify the type and exact location of each and every atom that forms the object.   In addition, we also need to specify the state of each of these atoms, such as how they are bonded to neighboring atoms to form molecules, as well as similar properties that chemists and physicists know about.
    Of course, this level of reduction is impossible for our current technology. The important concept is that the principle of reduction allows us to understanding the world by breaking it into smaller and smaller components.  But where does this end?  At what point can reduction no longer be carried out?  A simple answer can be given to these questions.  The method of reduction ends when the things being considered can no longer be broken apart; that is, when we have reached things that are irreducible. Identifying these irreducible things is one of the primary goals of science.  If you open an introductory textbook on physics you will find many irreducible things discussed.  This includes subatomic particles, such as electrons, protons, and neutrons, the components that form atoms.  It also includes forces, such as magnetism and gravity.  Even stranger, we must include the dimensions that we exist in, namely, distance and time. 
    Day-after-day we exist in something we call reality.  It is what we perceive with our five senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.  It is what we measure with our instruments, such as thermometers, rulers and clocks.  Reality is as familiar as anything can be.  But what is it?  The method of reduction is an attempt to answer this question by separating reality into two categories: (1) those things that are irreducible, which we will call the Elements-of-reality, and (2) the assembly instructions, which are Information.

III. Definition of the Mind-Body Problem
 The method of reduction serves us well, but when we use it to examine consciousness we come to a disturbing contradiction.  This arises because we can observe the mind from two different perspectives, the third-person and the first-person viewpoints. The third-person view of the mind is from the outside, the objective world of science and medicine. In comparison, the first-person viewpoint is based on introspection, where the individual turns his attention inward to examine his own mind. 
    From the third-person view, the mind is nothing but the functioning of the brain, complex electrochemical activity in a massive network of nerve cells.  All of the things that we associate with consciousness, such as thinking, emotions, and memory, arise from machine-like operations in a mere three pounds of meat.  Science and medicine can find nothing more, and need nothing more, to explain our mental abilities. 
    Taking this a step further, we know that the brain is formed from ordinary materials assembled in an exquisitely complex way. For instance, consider the difference between a brain and a rock.  Using  reduction, we find that both objects are composed of the same Elements-of-reality, that is, the electrons, protons, and neutrons that form all ordinary matter.  The difference between a brain and a rock is in how this raw material is assembled.  The brain has an incredibly intricate biological and chemical structure, while the rock is relatively random and unorganized.  It is this difference in structure that allows the brain to support a mind, while the rock is a mindless lump.  Science sees the mind as arising from the structure of the brain, not the raw materials. In other words, the third-person perspective sees the mind as Information, and not an Element-of-reality. 
    On the other hand, the first-person view of the mind is nothing like neural activity or the operation of a machine.  We each see our own mind as a unified entity, a thing in itself, something that cannot be broken into components.  Other aspects of the mind are also readily apparent by self examination. We experience qualia, raw sensations such as the taste of an apple, the blueness of the sky, and the terrible feeling of pain.   Our thoughts are semantic, that is, they have a meaning or significance beyond mere words, definitions, and syntax.   Even further, we have vast control over our minds and bodies, with the free-will to think and act in the manner we choose. 
    These aspects of consciousness are very familiar to us; they are the things that define who we are and how we experience reality.  We refer to them in our everyday conversations, fully expecting that those around us will know what we mean.  The problem is, these introspective qualities defy objective definition, and are often contradictory to established scientific knowledge. For instance, science knows nothing of the "blueness" of blue or the "meaning" of an idea.  Even worse, when people speak of "mental unity" and "free-will," science cries hogwash!  From the viewpoint of science, the mind is the interaction of one-hundred billion individual nerve cells, all following the deterministic principles of classical physics.  The mind seen by science is far from unified or free. 
    The point is, the first-person view of the mind has many aspects that cannot be objectively defined or easily reconciled with science.  Nevertheless, these things are as real as anything we know; they define our reality; they are a fundamental part of what we are.  Even though they cannot be seen from the outside, their existence is self-evident through introspection.  Further, we find that these first-person mental qualities are irreducible, they cannot be broken into more basic components. Accordingly, such things as mental unity, qualia, semantic thought, and free-will are Elements-of-reality. 
    In short, our primary tool for understanding the world is the method of reduction, which divides reality into two categories, Information and Elements-of-reality.   From the third-person viewpoint, the mind is pure Information, nothing but the operation of the human brain.  In comparison, the first-person perspective sees the mind as one or more Elements-of-reality, such as mental unity, semantic thought, qualia, free-will, and so on.  This discrepancy is known in philosophy as the mind-body problem.  It is a classic paradox, two points of view that should agree, couldn't disagree more.  And when scientists and philosophers have tried to force them together in some way, the results are unsatisfying, and often in conflict with established knowledge. Something seems to be missing, a fact, an explanation, a property, or something else that provides understanding and unification.  This dilemma is presented to us each second of our waking lives.  We see the redness of a rose, smell its fragrance, and appreciate its beauty.  We contemplate the meaning of life, and freely decide how to think and act.  How can these things be nothing but electrochemical activity in nerve cells? 
    Of course, there are other mysteries about the brain's operation that are not included in the mind-body problem.  For instance, science does not yet understand how learning and memories come about from synaptic changes. However, this is a completely different category of problem; it is a mystery totally contained in the third-person perspective.  In other words, it is a matter of simple ignorance; we observe something and cannot immediately understand how to consolidate what we see with our previous knowledge.  In comparison, in the mind-body problem we seem to understand what we are observing, but those observations are inherently contradictory.
    There is one and only one issue in the mind-body problem: How can the mind be seen as Information from the third-person perspective, but as one or more Elements-of-reality from the first-person viewpoint?  This is the question we are seeking to answer, the heart of what puzzles us about consciousness. Furthermore, this also specifies what is required of a solution to this puzzle. Solving the mind-body problem is the same as explaining the discrepancy between the first and third-person observations. No more is required, and no less will suffice.

IV. The Information-Limited Subreality
    Now we will turn our attention away from consciousness for the moment. The central topic of this section is the Information-Limited Subreality, an objective and physical phenomenon that we can scientifically define and describe the properties of.  The well-known story of "the brain in the vat" is a good introduction to this concept. It goes something like this. One night while you are deep asleep, a scientist enters your bedroom, surgically removes your brain from your body, and carries it back to his laboratory. He plops it into a vat of nutrient solution to keep it alive, and then goes to work attaching electrodes to the ten-million or so neurons that enter and exit your brain.  In the morning you wake up and start your daily activities, completely unaware that all of your perceptions now originate from an electronic computer.  Everything that you see, hear, feel, touch, and taste is not real; they are nothing but computer algorithms generating the appropriate neural signals into your brain.  Even though you believe you are walking, talking, and otherwise moving your body, it is nothing but an illusion.  And the most amazing part, you can't tell that anything has changed in the night; everything seems the same as the day before. 
    But what if the scientist doesn't want you living the same life you had?  By typing a few commands on his computer keyboard, he can change everything that you perceive.  One moment you are sitting at your kitchen table enjoying your morning breakfast, and the next you are an astronaut exploring the surface of a distant planet, or a ballerina dancing across a stage.  In the next instant, you have no physical substance at all; you are a disembodied spirit floating effortlessly through the air, able to move yourself and objects around you by mere thought.  You are at the scientist's mercy; he can give you pleasures beyond imagination, or pain and horror exceeding your worst fear.  Even stranger, the physical laws in this inner reality are up to the scientist's whims; gravity may cause objects to fall upward, matches may burn before they are struck, and our bodies might be able to move through solid objects.   Even more bizarre, this inner reality may be composed of a different dimensional structure, say, four dimensions of distance, two dimensions of time, and one dimension of phase-shift (something that is completely alien and unknown to us).  The inner reality does not even need to be consistent; its characteristics might abruptly change for no apparent reason.  Indeed, the nature of this inner reality could be virtually anything. 
    Using the "brain in the vat" as a guide, we will now define the physical phenomenon called an Information-Limited Subreality. Two observers, which we will call the outer observer and the inner observer, exist in a physical universe. The outer observer has the ability to perceive this universe directly, without distortion or misrepresentation.  This means that the reality perceived by the outer observer is genuine; it originates from and represents exactly what it seems to, an external physical universe.  In comparison, the inner observer is in a much more complex condition, being totally unable to observe the physical universe. This handicap results from the information accessible to the inner observer being systematically distorted by some process.  Moreover, this distortion is not random, but has two key characteristics.  First, it blocks all knowledge of the physical universe to the inner observer.  Second, the distorted information is completely consistent with another physical universe, one that could exist, but doesn't.   Of course, the inner observer does not know that what he perceives is an illusion; it is as real to him as real can be. It is the only reality that he knows.  But the outer observer can see this situation as it truly is, a false reality that is generated by manipulating information.  For this reason, the outer observer would refer to the experiences of the inner observer as an Information-Limited Subreality.  Since this is such a long name, we will call it an "inner reality" for short.  Likewise, we will refer to the reality experienced by the outer observer as the "outer reality."  Of course, the inner observer would not use any of these terms; to him there is only reality. 
    The Information-Limited Subreality is a phenomenon that could logically exist in the physical universe as we know it. As such, it is something that we can examine, classify, and determine the properties of.   This brings us to The Inner Light, a story that allows us to understand the most extraordinary property of the Information-Limited Subreality, the property that is the root of consciousness. 

V. The Inner Light
    The Star Trek movies and television episodes have become an icon of popular culture.  Their contribution has reached far beyond mere entertainment; they have provided unique commentary on social issues and helped to shape our vision of the future.  The Inner Light, Episode 125 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is one of the most highly acclaimed stories in these collective works, and it holds a special place in our search for the nature of consciousness. 
    The story begins with the starship Enterprise passing through an unknown region of space.  Its commander, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, stands diligently on the bridge, surrounded by his first officer and bridge crew.   The ship's sensors detect an alien probe of unknown design, and they approach it with caution. Without warning, the probe begins to emit a narrow nucleonic beam (a 24th century term) which engulfs the Captain, causing him to fall to the floor.   His first officer kneels over him to give care.  As Picard looks up from the deck he sees his world change; the face of his first officer fades away and is replaced by that of a young woman, obviously relieved to see him regaining awareness.  Picard looks around and finds he is no longer on the bridge of the Enterprise, but in the living area of an unfamiliar residence, wearing unfamiliar clothing.  As is common in his century, Picard believes he has been abducted from the Enterprise by a teleportation beam.  "What is this place?" Picard demands.  The woman seems genuinely confused by the question, as she tenderly responds, "This is your home, of course."  She pleads with him to remain calm, explaining that he has been feverish for over a week.  He ignores her advice, and leaves the residence in search of answers.
    Picard finds that he is in the small community of Ressic, on the planet Kataan.  The residents know him as their longtime friend Kamin.  The woman he awoke to is Eline, his wife of three years.   Those around him dismiss his claims of being a starship captain as delusions of the fever, stealing the memories of his true life.  Over the next days, weeks, and years, Picard struggles to find the reason he has been taken from the Enterprise, and to find where in the universe he is being held. But all is in vain; he can find no evidence to support his memories.  All that he encounters tells him that he is Kamin, an ironweaver in the community of Ressic, husband to Eline.
    Even after five years we find that Picard is still struggling with the memories of his former life.  But absent any evidence, and in deference to the wife he has grown to love, Picard puts these memories aside and accepts his new existence.  He becomes Kamin, and silences the inner voices that know him as Jean-Luc.  Over the next 30 years, Kamin lives a happy life with Eline.  He has children and grandchildren, becomes a member of the community's governing council, and spends his days in scientific pursuits and exploring the countryside.  He also experiences the human tragedies of life, the death of friends and family, unfulfilled dreams for those he cares about, and struggling against hopeless situations. 
    In one particularly poignant scene, Kamin tells Eline how realistic his memories still seem, even after many years.  He looks at her and the village around him, and softly utters, ‘It was real; it was as real as this is.’   Now, the viewer knows that this is a very strange statement, since  Picard hasn't gone anywhere; he is still laying on the deck of the bridge of the Enterprise.  The nucleonic beam is controlling his brain, making him perceive that he is a mere ironweaver from Ressic. Picard's mind is trapped in an Information-Limited Subreality.  His lifetime of experience as Kamin is being played out in only a few minutes, as the Enterprise's medical staff furiously labor to end the attack. 
    The other details of this story are not important to our investigation of consciousness, so we won't give the away the ending.  Suffice it to say that it is haunting and memorable.  In 1993, The Inner Light won a well-deserved Hugo Award for best dramatic science fiction presentation. 
    The aspect of The Inner Light  that makes it relevant to our present work is Picard's understanding of his reality.  In particular, Picard is a trained scientist, in addition to being a starship commander.  Not surprising, he carries his scientific methods and attitudes into his life as Kamin.   During his 30 years on Kataan, Kamin engages in a wide variety of scientific research, such as microbiology, astronomy, and climatology, to name just a few.   He carries out these activities as he would in his former reality, and the results are just as consistent and well behaved.   Kamin has as much ability to be a scientist as Jean-Luc Picard.
    The primary tool used by science is the method of reduction, which Kamin instinctively uses to understand his reality.  Just as in his former life, he finds that everything he observes can be divided into two categories, Information and Elements-of-reality.  While the Information he finds is not especially interesting to us, the Elements-of-reality are critically important. When Kamin examines his world he finds such things as elementary particles, electric and magnetic fields, and the dimensions of time and distance.  He observes these things to be irreducible, and therefore by definition, Elements-of-reality.  Of course, none of this seems strange or unusual to Kamin; it is the same as he has always known. 
    But now we must look at this from the perspective of the medical team working to free Picard from the nucleonic beam. They can also use the method of reduction to examine the situation.  If they are clever enough, they may even be able to tell what Picard is thinking, feeling, perceiving, and so on.  But from their vantage point, they will only observe Information, nothing but the activity in the nucleonic beam and Picard's brain.  Everything that Picard observes to be an Element-of-reality, the medical team observes to be pure Information.  And the reason for this is simple, the medical team sees the situation as it truly is, while Picard's observations are compromised by the Information-Limited Subreality.
    This example leads us to an inescapable conclusion: the method of reduction is relative. By this we mean that a phenomenon can appear as Information to one observer, but as an Element-of-reality to another observer.  Further, each of these observers is fully justified in their belief, having reached their conclusion through the most stringent rules of the scientific method and plain commonsense.  It should be emphasized that this result does not rely on any of the observers being "conscious."  This same answer would be found, for example, if the two observers were mindless computers, programmed to observe their environment and classify entities as Information or Elements-of-reality. 
    We will call this crucial finding the Principle of Relative Reduction.  In short, the inner observer of an Information-Limited Subreality will perceive Elements-of-Reality, while the outer observer will see these same things as nothing but Information.  This is a purely physical phenomenon, something that we can examine and understand in the finest detail.

VI. The Subreality Machine in the Brain
    Now we make the critical assertion regarding consciousness: the first-person and third-person perspectives view the mind differently because there is an Information-Limited Subreality separating them. The first-person view is inherently from the inside of this Information-Limited Subreality, while the third-person view is from the outside. Introspection is the inner observer, while the world of science is the outer observer. 
    On the face of it, this explanation has the general form to explain what is needed to be explained.  That is, it uses well understood scientific principles to show how introspection can see the mind as one or more Elements-of-reality, while science sees the mind as pure Information.  However, this explanation requires us to accept a most extraordinary claim: human consciousness exists within an Information-Limited Subreality. This is an unsettling notion, completely at odds with our everyday perception of how our minds operate. We instinctively believe that the mind is an observer of the physical world; we seem to be directly aware of objects and events external to ourselves.  But the Inner Light theory tells us that this is not true; everything that we perceive and experience has been created for us by manipulating information. And the perpetrator of this act is none other than our own brain.
    To begin the justification of this assertion, look around and concentrate on what you experience. Perhaps it is a warm summer day and you are sitting on an outdoor patio.  You see a deep blue sky and smell the fragrance of the flowers in bloom.  Wind blowing through the branches of a nearby tree provides a soothing melody.  You feel the texture of these papers in your hands, and can still taste the last sip of your beverage.  Of course, your experience will be different; you may be in a university library, at your desk at work, or relaxing on the couch in your home.  You may be smelling the fragrance of flowers, the sweetness of newly baked cookies, or the lingering odor of disinfectant.  You undoubtedly will be experiencing many things from your five senses, plus an introspective view of your mind's operation. These are the things you perceive, and are therefore the things that define your reality. 
    But now imagine that you suddenly awake and realize it was only a dream.   The things you had been experiencing can now be seen from an enlightened perspective.  Before you awoke, you justifiably believed that the sights and sounds you experienced were genuine, originating in an external physical universe.  The tree, papers and patio seemed more that just your perception of them; they were real objects with an independent existence. Or so you thought.   But now that you are awake you have gained a greater knowledge, the knowledge that your previous reality was not genuine.  The things that you had been perceiving exist only in your mind, and nowhere else. 
    The lesson here is extraordinary. Our unconscious mental activity has the capability of placing our conscious mental activity in an Information-Limited Subreality. We know this for a fact; it is clearly demonstrated to us each night as we dream.  It is undeniable that the machinery to accomplish this feat is present in each and every human brain. The nature and extent of this "subreality machine" remains for us to determine, but one fact is indisputable, it is there.

VII.  The Origin of our Conscious Experience
    The Inner Light theory takes this a step farther, asserting that this "subreality machine" is also activated during our waking hours, just as during our dreams.  The unconscious processes that create our dream reality, also create our waking reality. This is not to suggest that the external physical world is an illusion.  On the contrary, when we are awake and perceive an apple, we have every reason to believe that the universe contains such an object.  However, we do not, and cannot, experience the physical apple directly. The best we can do is to capture clues about the object's nature.  These clues come in the form of light photons, sound waves, molecules of various chemicals, and mechanical interactions.  These are the physical principles that underlie our five senses, resulting in neural signals being sent to the brain.  These indirect clues are all we know about the physical universe, and the only things we can know about it. 
    But of course, our conscious perception of an apple is nothing like photons, sound waves, or neural activity. We see an apple as red, feel it as smooth, and taste it as sweet. This is our introspective experience, because this is the representation that the subreality machine has created for us.  Our unconscious mental processes fused the multitude of sensory data into the thing we recognize as an apple.  Everything that we are conscious of has been created in this way.    Our consciousness exists in this inner reality, not the physical world.   When we are awake, the inner reality is constructed to mimic our external surroundings.  When we dream, the inner reality exists on its own, without regard for anything outside of our brains.   But either way, all we can consciously experience is the subreality created for us by our unconscious mental activity.
    We know that our brains contain the machinery required to place our conscious activity in an Information-Limited Subreality.  This is proven by our ability to dream.  But is their evidence that this same machinery is also activated when we are awake?  The answer is yes; experiments show that the world we are conscious of is far more than can be explained by what enters our senses.  For instance, human perceive that their vision is a faithful and true representation of the world around them, much like a high-quality photograph or motion picture.  We seem to see all that there is to see, from our friends around us, to the mountains in the distance. Our conscious experience is that vision provides us a complete and unbroken picture of the world. 
    The problem is, experiments clearly show that we cannot possibly see what we think we see.  For instance, the human eye is blind in quite large areas of its field-of-view, a result of blood vessels and the optic nerve disrupting the surface of the retina. Even more dramatic, experiments show that humans are often unable to detect large-scale changes in the scenes they are viewing, a phenomenon known as change blindness. In short, much of what we seem to see does not correspond to the physical world around us, but has been created from within ourselves.  This is strong evidence that at least some aspects of the "subreality machine" are active when we are awake. 
    But there is a far more compelling argument that the subreality machine is fully switched on whenever we are conscious.  This can be shown by examining the structure of the three different realities that humans deal with. The first of these realities is the physical universe.  This consists of all the things that scientists study, such as force fields, particles, distance, time, plus all the entities that can be created by combining them.  This is the unfeeling and uncaring world that activates our sense organs, such things as light photons, sound waves, molecules of various chemicals, and mechanical interactions. 
    The second reality we must consider is that of our dreams. As we know, this reality is constructed by the unconscious activity of the brain, and has little or no correspondence to the structure of the physical universe.  In fact, its characteristics are nothing like those of the physical universe.  Rather, its Elements-of-reality are the entities such as qualia, mental unity, semantic thought, and free-will.  This is the reality where we see an apple as red and taste it as sweet, we feel love and anger, and experience our thoughts as having meaning. 
    The third reality to be examined is that of our normal waking consciousness, the reality you are experiencing at this very moment. The question is, where is this third reality coming from?  Is it being generated by the subreality machine, or does it correspond to the external physical universe?  The answer to this could not be more clear. The reality of our waking consciousness is virtually identical to the reality of our dreams, but is totally dissimilar to that of the physical world. In other words, reality three is the same as reality two, but completely different from reality one. The conclusion is straightforward; the subreality machine within us creates not only our dreams, but all of our conscious reality. When we are awake, this inner reality is constructed to mimic our external surroundings.  When we dream, this inner reality exists on its own, without regard for anything outside of ourselves. 

VIII.  The Function of the Subreality Machine
    For us to understand why the brain contains a subreality machine, we need to understand the survival advantage of this mental architecture. How can the creation of an inner reality facilitate our finding food, attracting mates, or escaping enemies? Just what problem did evolution overcome by endowing humans with a subreality machine?  And of all the different information processing architectures that could have developed in the brain, why do humans have one that generates a seemingly detailed and elaborate inner reality?
    Our focus will be on sensory analysis, consolidating the multitude of neural signals from the senses into a consistent representation of the immediate environment.  As well know by computer scientists, this is an enormously difficult task.  For instance, imagine that a blind person gives you a photograph and asks to you tell him what it is about.  Without apparent effort, you immediately recognize the people in the picture, the activities they are engaged in, and their general surroundings. Now suppose that we ask a present-day engineer to construct a computer to perform this same task, that is, to look at a photograph and describe what it is about.  Can the engineer help us?  Not even close; current computer systems cannot begin to match the sensory analysis abilities of the human brain.  Given our current rate of learning, this is the kind of task that technology might be able to tackle in 50 to 100 years.
    How does the brain achieve such astonishing performance?  To answer this, imagine that you walk into a new room and see a chair.  You recognize the object as a chair very quickly, perhaps a tenth of a second.  But how long would it take you to recognize it as one very specific chair, say, one that was part of your family's furniture when you were growing up?   Since this is a more difficult task, it will take much longer, perhaps a few seconds.  This is important because we live in a world where critical movements need to be made in a fraction of a second. If it took you a few seconds to identify a nearby alligator, you would be his lunch! The point is, the brain must identify its general environment in a fraction of a second, the timescale that critical events happen in our world.  Within this key time constraint, the brain can sort objects into general categories, but not recognize specific entities, or search for particular characteristics.
    However, the brain requires detailed information about nearby objects in order to move its body in a productive way.  It needs to know what the objects are for, what their characteristics are, how they are used, their potential dangers, and so on.  Since the brain is not powerful enough to deduce this information in real time, it is forced to rely on its own memory, what it has previously learned about objects in these particular categories. In this example, the brain would retrieve its accumulated knowledge concerning "chairs" and assume that this particular chair has the same characteristics. While these stored generalizations may not be accurate, they are the best that the brain can do, given the time constraint it is working under. 
    The end result of this sensory analysis is an idealized representation of the local environment that can be used by the brain in planning and executing movements. Given that sensory analysis is extremely difficult, it is reasonable to expect that this representation is composed of two parts, coarse information about a few key elements in the nearby environment, with the remaining details filled in from stored memories. In short, the subreality machine creates an inner reality that is consistent with previous memories, and is free from noise, interference and ambiguity. When we are awake, this inner reality is constructed to coarsely represent the physical world.  When we dream, the subreality machine is running amok, creating an inner reality that is disconnected from the outside universe. 

IX.  The Definition of Consciousness
    The human brain performs an enormous amount of information processing.  Although much of this activity is poorly understood by present-day science, we have every reason to believe that these mysteries will eventually be solved.  In other words, we can confidently say that the third-person viewpoint is capable of understanding the complete and full functioning of the brain. 
 On the other hand, most of the brain’s operation is hidden from the first-person perspective.  Introspection allows us to see selected high-level mental activities, but tells us virtually nothing about the vast low-level processing being carried out.  Specifically, we are aware of the idealized representation of the world that is created by the brain, but not the raw data or methods used in its construction.   Introspection sees the end result of the brain’s sensory analysis, but is completely blind to the foundation upon which it is built. Human consciousness exists within an inner reality because evolution had no need for us to know anything more.
    To understand this better, imagine that a group of scientists constructs an artificial person, an android that mimics human thought and behavior.  They give their creation a body that appears very human-like from the outside, even though it is made from mechanical and electrical components, not biological tissue. The android's “brain” is an advanced computer, carrying out algorithms, programs, neural networks, and other sophisticated information processing techniques.  The android can perceive the world around him by means of his camera-eyes and microphone-ears.  Further, he can understand what this sensory data means, being able to recognize objects in the environment and reconcile them with previously learned concepts.  He can understand and generate speech, with the ability to carry on intelligent conversations. In short, the scientists design their creation to interact in the world the same way as you and I.
    But most important, the android is designed such that he can monitor everything about his internal information processing. He knows the exact status of each and every digital bit and analog signal. He can observe the raw information gathered by his electronic senses, monitor its consolidation with previous memories, and examine how it affects his current mental status. There is nothing about his internal computational activities that he does not know.  If you offer the android a cup of tea, he will send it away with a wave of his hand, and then apologetically tell you that he does not drink. But then he can discuss with you in the finest detail the billions of computer operations that were needed to carry out these actions.  This is what we will refer to as a fully-aware being, a computational machine having a complete and detailed knowledge of its internal states.  The question we want to pose and examine is this:  Is this android conscious?
    The “traditional view” of consciousness tells us no, there is nothing contained within this android that could result in it being conscious. According to this view, consciousness is something above and beyond computations and information processing; it is something “extra” that must be added.  To complete their creation, the scientists must open the android's head and pour in a quart of "consciousness stuff," so to speak.  Without this extra ingredient the android is nothing but a collection of mindless gears and cogs.  The rationale behind this view is very straightforward.  The world of science sees the brain as a machine.  In contrast, introspection sees a mind that cannot be reduced to machine operations.  In fact, the mind has aspects that cannot be reduced to anything; such things as qualia, mental unity, and semantic thought are irreducible. Therefore, according to the traditional view, consciousness must be something in addition to the machine-like operation of the brain. 
    Of course, this is where the bottom falls out. The problems associated with this traditional view are severe and deep.  For instance, if consciousness is something beyond information processing, why is there not the slightest scientific evidence for this “extra thing?”  Worse yet, how can something that is not detectable by science interact so easily with the human body?  And just as troubling, why should we have this "consciousness stuff" at all?   If information processing is sufficient to control our behaviors for mating, escaping enemies, and finding food, why would evolution give us consciousness in the first place?  The traditional view is filled with these types of seemingly unsolvable problems.  The more you try to grasp the thing, the more it slips through your fingers. 
    And here is the reason why; the traditional view of consciousness is based on a flawed assumption. Consciousness is not some entity beyond full-awareness.  Rather, it is a limitation, a deficit in one’s ability to perceive and understand oneself.  Introspection sees the mind as being irreducible because of these limitations, not because an extra entity is present.  Consciousness is not created by adding something to full awareness; it is created by taking something away. 
    As an example of this, our fully aware android perceives the world through his camera-eyes and microphone-ears.  Just as in humans, this raw sensory information must be processed before it is meaningful.  For instance, the visual field must be broken into regions of similar color and texture, these regions grouped together into objects, and the objects recognized.  Lastly, the relevance of the objects must be evaluated.  Is this a face?  Whose face is it?  Is this an enemy or a friend?  Hearing and the other senses have a similar hierarchy of information processing. The important point is that our fully-aware android can perceive and understand each and every step in this process.  He can perceive it all, from the raw data, through the intermediate stages, to the final result.  If we show him a picture of George Washington, he will not only recognize it, but can tell us in the finest detail how he recognizes it.  By definition, this is what it means for our android to be fully-aware. 
    But now we want to give our android a human-like mental experience.  We do this by blocking his ability to perceive the lower stages of this information processing.  We  allow him to experience the result of the process, but not the process itself.  To test our modifications we show him the picture of George Washington and ask him what he sees.  As before, he tells us that the face is of the first president of the United States.  But when we ask him how he knows this, we receive a blank expression.  He does not know how he knows, only that he does know.   The experience of seeing and recognizing the face has come to him without explanation, support, or evidence; it just appears in his mental processes.  The experience that “this is George Washington” is now an irreducible part of his world.  While our fully aware android saw the event as nothing but Information, our “conscious” android experiences it as an Element-of reality.  This is the Principle of Relative Reduction in its most basic form, a blockage of Information flow resulting in pure Information becoming an Element-of-reality.
    The Inner Light Theory tells us that human consciousness is something less than full-awareness, not something more.  If we were fully-aware beings, we would know each and every operation being carried out by our brains, from the firing of individual nerve cells in our sensory organs, to the large-scale patterns of neural activity that represent our higher thoughts.  There would be no mystery to our minds whatsoever; introspection would provide a complete and detailed understanding of exactly what we are. 
    But of course, this isn’t our nature. Our physiology does not allow us to be fully-aware; the information in our brains is segmented into local groups without global accessibility.  The low-level workings of the brain cannot be examined by the high-level workings.  We do not know how we recognize a face, experience pain, or develop a thought, only that we can do these things.  Our internal mental world appears to us as results without process, conclusions without justification, and things that exist in themselves without a supporting structure.  Therefore, all of these things appear to the first-person perspective as irreducible.  However, this is not because they are entities above and beyond the brain’s activities, but because of the brain’s limited ability to perceive its own operation. 
    This leads us to a formal definition: Consciousness is the irreducible entity a computational machine perceives itself to be, as the result of (1) an ability to observe its own high-level workings, and (2) an inability to observe its own low-level workings.

X.  Is There Something More?
    This paper endeavors to make two general points.  First, the human brain is extremely limited in its ability to perceive its own operation.  Second, these limitations are  completely sufficient to account for the human description of conscious experience.  That is, everything we think, say and write about consciousness can be explained by examining the information flow within the brain.  This is essentially a description of consciousness from the third-person perspective. 
    Now we want to look at these arguments from the first-person viewpoint.  Deep inside your mind you ask the question, is this really what I am?  Even if you accept the ideas in this paper, your instinctive reaction may be to assert that your consciousness consists of something more.  ‘My mind is different,’ you might say, ‘it involves an awareness that cannot be explained by these information processing concepts.’  You may further claim that this knowledge is intrinsic and self-evident, based on first-hand experience, something that you just know.  The question we want to examine is this: Are you justified in believing this assertion? 
    The answer to this question is no. To be justified in believing that your mind consists of something more than information processing, you must be able to distinguish between the two cases.  That is, you must be able to divide the entities of your introspective world into two different categories: (1) things that are irreducible because of limitations in the available information, and (2) things that are irreducible, but not explainable as an information limitation.  In other words, we are not trying to directly determine whether your assertion is true or false.  Rather, we are examining your credibility to make such a claim. Specifically, if you cannot tell the difference between these two categories, your contention that consciousness involves entities from category 2 is baseless and without merit. 
    Fortunately, we know the answer to this; introspection cannot distinguish between these categories.  In fact, it is logically impossible for any observer to have this ability.  By definition, if a thing is perceived as irreducible, its underlying structure is totally unknown. Therefore, the first-person claim that consciousness arises from something beyond information processing must be rejected, because the first-person perspective has no ability to make this determination.

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