Consciousness is not a thing, but a process of inference

"The key difference between consciousness and more universal self-organising processes, then, appears to be the imperatives for selection. In non-conscious processes, this selection is realised in the here and now; for example, with selection among competing systems (such as phenotypes in evolution) or the evocation of reflexes (such as chemotaxis in simple organisms, in which they move towards or away from a higher concentration of a chemical). Conversely, the sort of selection we have associated with consciousness operates in parallel but within the same system – a system that can simulate multiple futures, under different circumstances, and select the action with the least surprising outcome. The conscious self is simply a way of capturing these counterfactual futures, in a way that facilitates active inference."


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