Tononi’s IIT: an ecumenical scalpel for experience ?

The fundamental edifice of Tononi’s IIT theory is nascent from a radix where experience is equated to consciousness. There, Tononi dissects experience into its irreducible conceptual structures, proposing the axioms, which are then corroborated with their corresponding physical postulates. Thus, Tononi’s theory assumes that all experience lies within the framework of conceptuality, and this is extended to what is arguably consciousness itself. Whether there is any facet of consciousness beyond conceptuality, or beyond the ambit of ‘experience’, is not a domain explored by IIT, and a reader cannot be sure if these matters are refuted by IIT.

The axioms of IIT are stated to be ideally universal to all experiences, complete, consistent, and independent. It is interesting to note that their validity, independence, and completeness is left open, in this paper, thus indicating a future of open directions for IIT. Such a stance allows a reader to draw back from a grave criticism of IIT, in that it accepts there is room to improve, accommodate and evolve. Whether its evolution would allow IIT to truly broaden its ambits and molt its current limitations, however, is dubitable.

IIT’s phenomenological axioms are intrinsic existence, composition, information, integration, and exclusion. These however, in at least the information provided in the paper, fail to capture dynamicity of experiences, and of even these axiomatic facets themselves.  Thereon, IIT propounds the corresponding physical postulates of the axioms. Tononi distinguishes these as “properties that physical mechanisms must have to support consciousness”. There appears to be some overlaps and intersections between these categorical dissections of the postulates, at least in the reader’s interpretation.

The central identity of IIT states that an experience is indistinguishable from its conceptual structure that is “maximally irreducible intrinsically”. Here, the enigmatic term ‘quale’ is throned to represent such a conceptual structure. Thus, the quale or conceptual structure is stated to demarcate both the quantitative and qualitative specifications of a given experience. Its quantitative aspects measure by the ‘phi max’, and its qualitative aspects depicted by the ‘shape’ of the structure which emanates from the constellation of conceptions and their overall shape. There is an element of palpable abstraction in this central identity, which make dealing with IIT an involute process.

IIT is able to offer various predictions, and a primary example being the loss and recovery of consciousness emanating from lack or presence of information integration. This has been corroborated with TMS and EEG in conditions where loss of consciousness is indicated. IIT is also able to offer explanations in relation to the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), and why consciousness does not emanate from an intricate structure such as the cerebellum but from certain parts of the cerebral cortex which are relatively lower in neuronal number. IIT shows that this is due to the lower value of phi max of the cerebellum in comparison with the very high phi max of the cererbral cortex, enabling the nascence of consciousness. IIT is able to make predictions with regards to which systems are able to have experiences. It makes the following implications: that consciousness is graded, that aggregates are not conscious, and that strictly feedforward systems cannot experience, no matter how complex they may be. This allows solutions for questions related to brain damaged patients, infants, and others such as complex machines.

Tononi’s strides in the direction of consciousness are indeed valorous and commendable (and necessary for the parched sections of the scientific world), in that he dares to head where other neuroscientists seldom rove.  One may regard IIT as a scalpel that dissects experience, into its irreducible facets, and attempts to unravel the ubiquitary. Whether IIT is truly an ecumenical scalpel, is dubitable, if (and as) it is bound within the ambits of conceptuality. It appears also to be a static scalpel, that may not keep up with the dynamicity and dances of experience; how precise would its cuts be upon a moving target?

One may also ask if this scalpel that can serve to create the smallest of perforations of the aconceptual, which could be argued to be crucial to consciousness. And what of that which lies beyond what is “experience”?