First published: 2016/04/28 (4 years ago) Abstract: Science is a crowning glory of the human spirit and its applications remain
our best hope for social progress. But there are limitations to current science
and perhaps to any science. The general mind-body problem is known to be
intractable and currently mysterious. This is one of many deep problems that
are universally agreed to be beyond the current purview of Science, including
quantum phenomena, etc. But all of these famous unsolved problems are either
remote from everyday experience (entanglement, dark matter) or are hard to even
define sharply (phenomenology, consciousness, etc.).
In this note, we will consider some obvious computational problems in vision
that arise every time that we open our eyes and yet are demonstrably
incompatible with current theories of neural computation. The focus will be on
two related phenomena, known as the neural binding problem and the illusion of
a detailed stable visual world.
I enjoyed reading this paper. However I have a problem with the core statement of the problem which is described by the following sentence.
"However, our visual experience is not at all like this. We experience the world as fully
detailed and there is currently no scientific explanation of this."
Who says we experience the world this way? I don't feel that I do at all. Let's say I'm looking at a large picture made of random pixels each of which is white or black at random. I first perceive the fact that I am looking at something with no real information. I know there are white and black pixels everywhere but I don't actually store which are white and which are black because I see no information in it and don't think it would be useful. I can focus on any small part of it and truly record what the arrangement is. If I close my eyes I can probably remember a 3x3 block accurately enough which is only 9 bits of information. If I practice for a long while, I could probably get a somewhat larger block. But I doubt I could get much higher than a 5x5 block of pixels.
If I look at the scene around me right now, I see my familiar living room scene. It's not random like before. Again I can focus on any part of it, say a book on my bookshelf, and read the title. And there are lots of books. I can do the same for any of them but not all of them at once. I know they are have titles but I am under no illusion that I see them all at once and record the information. I know my eye and brain is not taking a 64 Megapixel picture every second like a video recorder.
The other things in the room that show up in my peripheral vision can be summarized easily. I know there is a piano. It's large and brown and to the left side of the room. I know there are lamps and a beer glass. I can close my eyes and answer questions about the things in the room. I've compressed the useful information into a model and ignored the rest just as a JPEG or Autoencoder reduces the size of an image but keeps most of the relevant information. Perhaps my brain has approximately memorized the whole picture at low resolution. But I'm under no illusion that I'm really seeing it all at once at high resolution.
Whether my eyes are open or closed I have this reduced model of what I'm looking at. I know from experience that there is detail everywhere without seeing it all at once. Wherever I focus my gaze I do see the detail and so I come to believe there is indeed detail everywhere even if I can't see and store all of it at once.
The point is that there is no scientific problem here. Our brain very likely does something like what artificial neural networks do. They identify summarizing features which characterize most things at low resolution keeping at most only a small part of the field in high focus. Our brain being active can choose to query any other part of this to get higher resolution on that part. When it does it overwrites whatever it is that we were focusing on before.
So in summary, I think the problem arises only from a confusion between "knowing that a picture has high-resolution information everywhere" and "actually recording that information". I certainly don't see any need to propose a supernatural explanation of vision. We're only beginning to understand how the brain and other artificial neural networks process information and in the latter we are often surprised how well they can do.