What it is like to be a bit: an integrated information decomposition account of emergent mental phenomena.


A central question in neuroscience concerns the relationship between consciousness and its physical substrate. Here, we argue that a richer characterization of consciousness can be obtained by viewing it as constituted of distinct information-theoretic elements. In other words, we propose a shift from quantification of consciousness-viewed as integrated information-to its decomposition. Through this approach, termed Integrated Information Decomposition (ΦID), we lay out a formal argument that whether the consciousness of a given system is an emergent phenomenon depends on its information-theoretic composition-providing a principled answer to the long-standing dispute on the relationship between consciousness and emergence. Furthermore, we show that two organisms may attain the same amount of integrated information, yet differ in their information-theoretic composition. Building on ΦID's revised understanding of integrated information, termed ΦR, we also introduce the notion of ΦR-ing ratio to quantify how efficiently an entity uses information for conscious processing. A combination of ΦR and ΦR-ing ratio may provide an important way to compare the neural basis of different aspects of consciousness. Decomposition of consciousness enables us to identify qualitatively different 'modes of consciousness', establishing a common space for mapping the phenomenology of different conscious states. We outline both theoretical and empirical avenues to carry out such mapping between phenomenology and information-theoretic modes, starting from a central feature of everyday consciousness: selfhood. Overall, ΦID yields rich new ways to explore the relationship between information, consciousness, and its emergence from neural dynamics.