Re: Serial consciousness

Crosby_M (
Sat, 28 Sep 1996 19:44:00 -0400

On Wednesday, September 25, 1996 3:46AM, Alexander Chislenko wrote:
"So consciousness evolved with, and *for*, exchange of experiences and
ideas in social interaction. To share some information on personal
experiences, and derived conclusions, one needs to generalize it beyond
just personal experience, and express it in some transportable and
common representation."

In the same chapter of Dennett's _Consciousness Explained_ that you
referenced, he makes the point that it is the hardware of the brain that
is parallel, while the mind (in particular the verbal, reasoning part of
the mind) is a *serial* virtual machine running on that hardware: "a
virtual machine is a temporary set of highly *structured regularities*
imposed on the underlying hardware by a program." (My emphasis)

Dennett even suggests that talking to ourselves ("rehearsal, rehearsal,
rehearsal") is fundamental to how we learn. I wouldn't disagree, but
would also think that there's an important role for associative
(parallel) thinking as well, especially in synthesis as opposed to

Alexander then asks: "I wonder what kind of consciousness we would
develop if we had a parallel output device - e.g., have the skin surface
work as a hi-res display."

When we use our whole body (along with all the associated body language
that we've learned), as in dancing, does that qualify as a parallel
output device?

Actually, there is a wonderful recent story by Amy Thomson, _The Color
of Distance_ (11/95), that explores several forms of parallel
communication in an alien species called the Tendu. The Tendu have
evolved from amphibians and are generally bipedal creatures. Their
technology is oriented toward bioengineering rather than the creation of
mechanical artifacts. Their language involves gestures and symbols that
they generate on their chameleon-like skin. But, their really neat
capability is a form of 'blood-linking' (through wrist spurs) called
'allua'. They are able (Thomson does not go into mechanisms) to link
with others of their species this way (and other organisms as well) to
share nootropic hormones, perform medical diagnosis and even guide
biotransformations. I imagine they do this through some type of
nanotech-like, software agents.

Linda Nagata's 1995 story, _The Bohr Maker_, goes beyond this to
envision people being able to release nanotech agents into the
environment from their pores, or special glands. The agents then
circulate in the environment, searching for whatever they've been
programmed to look for, and then returning to their host for
'uploading'. 'People' could also communicate using these nanofog

But, it's not clear whether complex ideas or data streams could be
exchanged in either of these ways without ultimately passing through a
sequencing routine in the person's mind where relevant information would
be time-stamped, categorized and sorted. But, it's a good question
whether some type of hypertext-like or 'mind-mapping' approach might
work just as well. I think that an interaction of both parallel routines
and serial routines are probably necessary for the type of experience
that we call consciousness.

Mark Crosby