Thoughts on Consciousness

So yesterday, I  went to a lecture about consciousness by a neuroscientist called Murray Shanahan, from Imperial College. It was about how consciousness is constructed within the brain, how networks of neurons connect together to create hierarchies of thought and other such clever stuff.

To be honest, most of it went right over my head. Total mindfuck.

There was, however, an interesting thing about the way in which networks in the brain resemble social networks. The structure it follows is what is known as a modular network (see below). I won’t go into it in too much detail, as this will only display how little I know, but essentially, this works in the brain by having separate modules of neurons that are all linked together by highly influential neurons which act as hubs.

This isn’t the best diagram in the world, but it hopefully helps explain how it works a bit. So basically, in a real world social network, the connector “hub” neurons are highly sociable and influential people, who move between different social groups and link them together.

Its interesting to see how, whether by accident or design, we have come to create online networks that so closely resemble the processes that go on within our own brains.

In the questions at the end of the lecture, one guy asked that if this system was how consciousness is created, then why is a social network such as Facebook, that relies on a very similar system, not itself a conscious entity?

Shanahan’s answer, from what I remember, was pretty much “well its just not.” Fair enough.

It got me thinking about Twitter though. The thing that makes Twitter interesting, and crucially different to Facebook, is the the way everyone’s tweets are collated into a vast web of trends, moods and feelings on a global scale. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Twitter has a consciousness per se, but I think it might be the first social network we have created that has something resembling one.

As a timely example, I read a amazing story a couple of days ago about how the global mood on Twitter can predict the rise and fall of the stock market by about four days. With an accuracy of 86.7 per cent. That’s mental. I chatted with Henry about this, and we wondered if somehow Twitter could be infiltrated to lift the global mood, almost like a guerrilla happiness spreading campaign. This would then act as an economic stimulus to help the recovery.

Worth a go. Surely better than what this guy‘s doing anyway.

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