Confabulation The Information Processing Operation of Thought

The vague notion that cognition employs some sort of "information-processing" has been around for millennia. Today, the understanding of the exact nature of this "cognitive information-processing" is roughly the same as it was in 350 B.C. - the time of Aristotle (arguably the first neuroscientist). Confabulation theory states explicitly and exactly that cognition involves only one information-processing operation - confabulation (see Fig. 1.6): a simple winners-take-all

Fig. 1.6. Confabulation - the only information-processing operation used in cognition. Here, a concrete example involving five thalamocortical modules is shown (for simplicity, each module is illustrated as a dashed green oval with a list of that module's symbols inside it). See text for details. Confabulation is the third of the four key elements of confabulation theory

Fig. 1.6. Confabulation - the only information-processing operation used in cognition. Here, a concrete example involving five thalamocortical modules is shown (for simplicity, each module is illustrated as a dashed green oval with a list of that module's symbols inside it). See text for details. Confabulation is the third of the four key elements of confabulation theory competition between symbols on the basis of the total input excitation they are receiving from knowledge links.

As seen in Fig. 1.6, the four modules on the left are each describing the attributes of one or more mental world objects by each expressing a single symbol: a, P, y, and S. Each of these four expressed symbols has a large number of knowledge links connecting it with symbols of the fifth module (of which four knowledge links, linking each expressed symbol to symbol e of the fifth module, are shown). The situation within this fifth module, which is about to undergo confabulation, is shown enlarged on the right. For illustration, symbol 4 of this module is receiving two knowledge links (one from symbol a, and one from symbol y), whereas symbols 9 and 126,007 are receiving knowledge links from all of a, P, y, and S. Each knowledge link is delivering a certain quantity of input excitation to the neurons of its target symbol.

The input excitations arriving at symbol k from different knowledge links are summed to yield the total input excitation for symbol k: I(k) (this summation is noted by the plus signs between the knowledge links in the enlarged illustration of module five). [As discussed extensively in this book, this additive knowledge combination property is one of the paramount reasons for the enormous information-processing power and flexibility of thought.].

Upon being commanded to do so (by a deliberate externally supplied thought-command signal - analogous to the motorneuron input to a muscle - illustrated by a blue arrow in Fig. 1.6), the symbols of the fifth module compete with one another (via a highly parallel, fast, neuronal attractor network function), yielding a final state in which all of the neurons representing the symbol with the largest input intensity I (in this example, symbol 9) are highly activated and all other symbol-representing neurons are not. This "winners-take-all" information-processing operation is called confabulation, and the winning symbol is termed the conclusion.

Confabulation is hypothesized to be the only information-processing operation involved in thought. In the Fig. 1.6 example, there is only one confabulation taking place. Ordinarily, confabulations on multiple modules take place together, with convergence to the winning symbol slowed somewhat to allow mutual interaction during convergence ("comparing notes" in order to arrive at a confabulation consensus of final conclusions). In such a multiconfabulation, often millions of items of knowledge, each emanating from a viable candidate conclusion, are employed in parallel in a "swirling" convergence process. (As discussed extensively in this book, this is another paramount reason for the enormous information-processing power and flexibility of thought.) Confabulation is the third of the four key elements of confabulation theory.

Confabulation is starkly alien in comparison with existing concepts in neuroscience, computational intelligence, neural networks, computer science, AI, and philosophy in general. For example, computer CPUs all follow the Turing paradigm: when commanded via a specific, digital, instruction code they execute a pre-defined logical or arithmetic instruction on specified variables. Thalamocortical modules, on the other hand, have only one information-processing "instruction" - confabulation. Further, the command to confabulate (termed the thought-control command - which is delivered to the confabulating module from outside cerebral cortex and thalamus) is not digital; rather, it is analog. Yet the result of a completed confabulation is digital: a single symbol. Very weird.

The ultimate challenge is to show that it is possible to explain Newton, Mozart, Einstein, and Crick using confabulation. That will probably take a while. Yet, the evidence presented in this book is intended to build confidence that this challenge will someday be met.

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