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Electromagnetic theories of consciousness

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The electromagnetic theory of consciousness is a theory that says the electromagnetic field generated by the brain (known for a long time, and measured by EEG's) is the actual carrier of conscious experience.

This theory was initially proposed by scientists such as Johnjoe McFadden, Susan Pockett and E. Roy John (For the recent account see Andrew and Alexander Fingelkurts). It is a tentative hypothesis as are all current hypotheses about consciousness and is an example of protoscience rather than pseudoscience.

The starting point for the theory is the fact that every time a neuron fires to generate an action potential it also generates a disturbance to the surrounding electromagnetic (EM) field (see electromagnetism). Information coded in neuron firing patterns is therefore reflected into the brain's EM field. Locating consciousness in the brain's EM field, rather than the neurons, has the advantage that it neatly accounts for how information located in millions of neurons scattered throughout the brain can be unified into a single conscious experience (sometimes called the binding problem): the information is unified in the EM field. In this way EM field consciousness can be considered to be 'joined-up information'.

The theory accounts for several otherwise puzzling facts, such as the finding that attention and awareness tend to be correlated not with the firing of individual neurons, but with the synchronous firing of lots of neurons. When neurons fire together their EM fields combine to generate stronger EM field disturbances; so synchronous neuron firing will tend to have a bigger impact on the brain's EM field (and thereby consciousness) than the firing of individual neurons.

The different EM field theories disagree as to the role of the proposed conscious EM field on brain function. In McFadden's cemi field theory, the brain's global EM field modifies the electric charges across neural membranes and thereby influences the probability that particular neurons will fire. In this way the EM field provides a feed-back loop that, it is proposed, drives our free will. However in the theories of Susan Pockett and E. Roy John, there is no causal link between the conscious EM field and our consciously willed actions.

If true, the theory has major implications for efforts to design consciousness into Artificial intelligence machines.

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