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The binding problem: how do our brains assemble perceptual inputs into consciousness?

The "binding problem" occupies scientists and philosophers attempting to understand consciousness, but the term can mean different things to different people and in actual use is often poorly defined (Wikipedia covers some interesting nuances). The term binding is used broadly in our context to refer to the integration of multiple perceptual inputs that occurs in the brain to produce a unified sensation of experience in conscious awareness that we call consciousness. The problem is that we don't understand how this binding occurs and so don't know where to look for it. Somehow all the inputs to consciousness are "bound" together more or less seamlessly to produce sequential scenes of meaningful experience. A bluebird may be experienced as a unity in its size, shape, movements, color, and song, and be an integral part of a larger scene. A beach provides many inputs via vision and hearing and smell which together make for a unified experience. Associative inputs from memory and unconscious conditioning may color a scene in serenity and love or anxiety and fear, as well as many other things. Such inputs are all somehow brought together somewhere to contribute to the gestalt of consciousness. The big question is HOW does this binding of neural inputs to consciousness happen(?), the inference being that if we could understand binding we would be hot on the trail to understanding consciousness too.

Binding is dynamically switched to different inputs when falling asleep and awakening

When waking consciousness transitions into sleep, external sensory inputs and awareness fade away until dreaming occurs, when some aspects of consciousness return and internally generated (pseudo) sensory inputs commonly predominate. Pseudo-sensory experiences presented to dream-awareness (flying dreams, for example) clearly differ in their source from the sensory inputs attended to while awake. Or at least we hope so.

It remains a great mystery how and where brain mechanisms cause various inputs to bind to one another and to consciousness to contribute to a seamless scene in experience. The binding must be a dynamic process, because waking consciousness cycles on and off daily throughout life. Cycling off, sensory inputs to awareness seem to become disconnected from our externally-oriented sensorium as the transition is made to an internally-oriented sensorium and sleep begins. Later there is a coupling of internally generated pseudo-sensory signals to dream-awareness. Vision, hearing, touch, balance, probably all the senses undergo this external disconnection and recoupling to internal sources. Upon waking, the reverse occurs: the internal sensorium is lost and external sensory inputs take over. It appears that waking consciousness binds anew each day.

Auditory binding is detectable upon awakening

The many inputs to consciousness must all have their separate pathways before they become bound to the final common pathway of experience in consciousness, and we assume binding occurs through discrete mechanisms presently unknown but discoverable. Different inputs may or may not have differing mechanisms for binding but in our case we are focusing on the binding of the auditory system to consciousness only. It has been observed by the author that the binding of the auditory system to consciousness upon awakening can produce an artifact perceivable by consciousness as a brief low-intensity sound. The auditory artifact has a characteristic nature and is highly reproducible under conditions favorable for its detection. It may one day be detectable in the EEG or other method (interested potential research collaborators please contact me) but at this time it is entirely subjective, another example of a first-person limitation on the scientific exploration of consciousness.

Detecting the auditory binding artifact can be learned by trial and error under very quiet conditions although it is presently unknown whether everyone is capable of either experiencing or learning how to experience it. I came upon it somewhat accidentally when conditions were very favorable. It's an interesting internal phenomenon to observe and I think I can show you how to do so by more or less retracing my steps.

Instructions are provided in the form of an experiment to try to teach you how to detect the auditory binding artifact. The experiment is designed to measure the proportion of people who are able to detect it and to get some handle on how its perception may vary among different people. You are invited to participate and hopefully you will become one of the first people to ever uncover this subtle aspect of your own consciousness that you probably never imagined you had.