Cognitive Brain Hardware and Software

The four key functional elements of confabulation theory described in Sect. 1.3 constitute the "information-processing hardware" upon which confabulation theory contends thinking is implemented. But what about the "software" of thought (the procedures, called thought processes, for using the hardware)?

A central hypothesis of confabulation theory is that thinking is a phylogenetic outgrowth of movement. Animals began moving over a billion years ago. The mechanisms for flexible, adaptive control of movement emerged early and expanded rapidly. As animal movement complexity and capability grew, a new design possibility emerged: the elaborate machinery already developed for controlling movement could be applied to brain tissue. In particular, discrete brain structures, modules, emerged that could be controlled exactly like individual muscles. By manipulating these modules in properly coordinated "movements" (thought processes), information-processing could be carried out - thereby further enhancing competitive success.

As discussed in Sect. 1.3.3, each human thalamocortical module has a single thought-command input signal that tells it when to "contract." This is analogous to the roughly 700 muscles of the human body, each of which has a single input signal (motorneuron input) that commands it to contract. Just as with a muscle, the thought-command input to a module is an analog signal: it can range from a low level ("contract a little") to a highest level ("contract with maximum force"); where "contraction" corresponds roughly to the rate of convergence, from multiple candidate conclusions to a single conclusion, of a module's confabulation competition.

In effect, the human brain thinks by maneuvering subsets of 4,000 digital processors (the thalamocortical modules) through smooth, graceful, thought maneuvers. These thought processes are learned, stored, and recalled just as movement processes are learned, stored, and recalled. At higher hierarchical levels, closely related movement processes and thought processes are often stored mixed together in the same knowledge links.

Just as the repertoire of human movement can be vast (walking, writing, running, cartwheels, uneven parallel bar routines, pole vaulting, etc.), so the repertoire of thought can contain a vast variety of different ways of using thalamocortical modules. However, at the present time, confabulation theory has only identified a few of these ways. And only two of these, a single isolated confabulation (crudely analogous to flexing of a single muscle) and multiconfabulation swirling (crudely analogous to walking - the most basic and useful of human movements), have received significant study. All of the remaining chapters of this book discuss these two types of basic thought process.

As is discussed in detail in the video presentation, brains carry out a multitude of functions in addition to cognition. Quite a few of these interact intimately with, and are required to implement, thought processes. However, these other brain functions are poorly understood and are only briefly mentioned in this book. The thought processes considered here (single confabulations and multiconfabulations) are implemented using an external thought controller executing a crude, contrived thought process. The only feedback that a thought controller gets from the thought process being executed on the involved collection of modules is knowledge of when a module has reached a conclusion (in effect, an action command output, as in Sect. 1.3.4). This feedback can be used to trigger recall and playback of a different "canned" thought process. While this approach only implements a tiny subset of the capabilities of real brain thought and movement control, as the reader will see, it is still possible to achieve interesting results.

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