Chapter 5. Anomalous Visual Qualia
In the previous chapter, I referred to the inability of some people (including me) to intentionally create visual qualia. It might be asked why this matters? The short answer is, it doesn’t; but this blog isn’t about short answers. The purpose is to interpret the Dao De Jing in a meaningful way, as more than paradoxical proverbs. Unifying the three-part body-mind system requires a method to improve communications between these components.
The motivation can be found in the name of the model: Tripartite Organismic Stimulus-response Cortical Augmentation. The packets of processed sensory data that I’ve been discussing are the primary stimuli for the conscious mind. Its response consists of qualia, like mental images. The TOSCA model is a tool to help us visualize the communication pathways that make up virtual networks. Thus, by focusing our attention on the qualia, we can apply standard learning techniques like repetition and elaborative learning to improve (augment) these virtual networks. Better communication may even improve functioning of brain regions responsible for different mental processes (e.g., memory, attention). That’s the long answer.
Before going any further, let’s review how visual images are processed in order to understand how visual qualia are generated. Recent research on how images are processed in the brain is summarized in an article in Science Direct.
Each brain hemisphere has a complete visual cortex that processes one-half of the visual field (from both eyes). The right hemisphere processes the left half of the visual field and the left hemisphere visual cortex processes the right half of the visual field. These two half-fields are compiled into a single full-field image somewhere in the cortex. I couldn’t find an answer to that question, so I will assume that this process is part of being conscious, i.e., qualia are created after visual processing is completed.
I have referred to symbolic versus pictorial mental images. A pictorial representation is like a bitmap, a one-to-one mapping of the visual field to neurons in early processing of visual input. This has been demonstrated in mammals and even people. Higher levels of visual processing add symbolic information (e.g., color, motion) before the output is sent to the prefrontal cortex. Everyone sees pictorial images when their eyes are open, but how this is done isn’t known (or else is being kept a secret because I couldn’t find anything about it). Let’s rack it up to being “conscious” again.
The visual pathway also includes feedback between higher and lower level functions (e.g., from an identified and classified image with attached memories etc. to the generation of a raw image of the retinal input). Several studies suggest that mental images are part of speeding up perception. They are created, or retrieved from memory (the mix isn’t known), by higher visual functions and passed to lower ones as a first-guess at what’s being perceived. Such mental images may well be created constantly and simply not used at times; for example, when the eyes are closed.
This brings up an interesting question: are mental images memories, or something new, created on demand? If they are memories, they should appear as something recognizable, even if distorted. On the other hand, if the mental images we perceive (eyes closed) are new, we would expect to experience something that is clearly not a memory. I’m not sure the distinction is important, however, because even a newly created quale would necessarily be influenced by our experience and thus memories. Either way, communications from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind is occurring when visual qualia are intentionally created.
I probably should have added a separate post for what I’ve said above. Nevertheless, we have the background to understand (at least qualitatively) how visual stimuli can be far removed from anything we see in the physical world, and how the qualia are created by our conscious mind.
In order to identify any changes in the response (visual qualia) to stimuli from the visual cortex (the packets transported on the virtual network), we need a baseline. I will use occurrences of visual qualia from my experience during intervals of mindfulness meditation (i.e., introspection) at the beginning of the study. For the record, I am of a sound mind and have never experienced auditory or visual hallucinations in my life (not even when I tried LSD in my youth).
I will characterize visual qualia using five parameters: 1) KIND (e.g., geometric shapes, people, things); 2) ORIGIN (e.g., location in the visual field, the way they appear, intentionality); 3) DURATION (estimated in seconds); 4) COMPLETENESS (e.g., entire objects, pieces of objects); 5) STABILITY (e.g., the degree to which they change in appearance).
These are subjective data and are based on memory. I will try and keep notes in the future. However, they aren’t subject to much change from one introspection session to another. There are probably some I missed.
KIND. Only objects were perceived. No landscapes, or movies, etc. They consisted of people, cars, geometric shapes, animals (cattle, bizarre chimera), unidentifiable objects reminiscent of totem poles, and colored blobs. There were also monstrous apparitions like deformed heads (see STABILITY below). The background was consistently black. The colors varied widely, with many bright hues, but also deep shadows. All objects were in sharp focus. No fuzzy edges. Colors for human and identifiable animal skin were normal. I didn’t notice any textures. The visual field contained more than one, often many, objects simultaneously.
ORIGIN. Most objects were moving, sometimes towards me and passing out of my visual field as if going past me. Other times they took the opposite trajectory, and passed me as if on a highway. All trajectories were straight with constant velocity. Most moving objects within a time frame of 1-10 seconds had the same velocity and trajectory. A few, mostly people and animals, appeared in the center of my visual field and didn’t move.
DURATION. No individual object remained within my view more than a couple of seconds, depending on velocity. The fixed objects were unstable and morphed (see STABILITY below).
COMPLETENESS. Nothing was complete. Some aspect of every object was missing. For people and animals, there might be only a head, sometimes with an irregular hole centered on the nose, sometimes one side seemingly melted away. The same applied to the animals. Pieces of cars consisted of grills, fenders, etc, but no complete cars. The blobs were smoothly irregular with no holes.
STABILITY. Any object that was either stationary or moving slowly transformed into something else, often radically different. For example, a human head melting and wobbling as it turns into a monstrous apparition. However, I don’t recall any animate object turning into an inanimate object. Nothing remained the same for more than a second. Even the transforming stationary objects dissolved within a few seconds, to be replaced by something moving through the visual field. Collisions caused morphing to occur, but mostly between moving and stationary objects. Moving objects did not collide with each other. It was like the Cirque de Soleil on steroids.
In the next post, I will discuss these anomalous visual qualia in terms of the TOSCA model and show their relevance to the objective of the blog – seeking a state of enlightenment through the Dao De Jing (The Great Way).