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Peer-Review Record

The Electromagnetic Will

NeuroSci 2021, 2(3), 291-304; https://doi.org/10.3390/neurosci2030021
Reviewer 1: Antonio J. Ibanez-Molina
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
NeuroSci 2021, 2(3), 291-304; https://doi.org/10.3390/neurosci2030021
Received: 24 July 2021 / Revised: 22 August 2021 / Accepted: 23 August 2021 / Published: 29 August 2021
(This article belongs to the Collection Neuroanatomy of Consciousness and the Will)

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

This is a review of the manuscript entitled “The electromagnetic will” written by Johnjoe McFadden.

The manuscript presents a review of the Conscious Electromagnetic Information Theory (cemi) and an extension of the theory of consciousness in which it is proposed that the EF has a causal power on voluntary behavior; and therefore, it could be related to the old problem of free will.

Although I believe that my review should be mostly directed to the free will problem because it is the main significant novelty of the work, I cannot avoid to make some comments, suggestions, or questions about the theory itself, or at least, on how it is presented here.

In general I think the manuscript is worthy to publish since it gives an important point of view about the understanding of consciousness.  

First, I would like to comment some aspects of the theory. This part is not very well developed in the manuscript probably because the main goal is the proposal about free will. In any case I consider that it would be appreciated by readers to include some comments or words about the theoretical framework:

  1. My opinion is that the theory deserves consideration since it would be evident to think that EM fields are good candidates for the seat of conscious perception (the job of neurons is to produce EM fields!). However, cemi does not seem to be one of the preferred theoretical frameworks used nowadays. One of the reasons might be that most theories consider consciousness a process, or a computation (as other cognitive processes such as working memory). From the perspective of the cemi, consciousness might be something more specific, a type of object of EM nature (of course this object is an abstract concept since the EM field is a theoretical construct itself). I would like to know the opinion of the author on this point, and add a couple of sentences if he considers that might deserve space in the body of the manuscript.
  2. Another related point is that I miss a deeper theoretical discussion in which cemi is related and contrasted with other existent models or theories. For example, Integrated Information Theory proposed by Tononi (e.g., Tononi, Boly, Massimini & Koch, 2016) is not considered or confronted with cemi. Personally, I believe that they have many interesting points in common. It would be possible that Tononi’s theory would be related with the description of consciousness as a complex integrated informational structure abstract in nature, and cemi just points what this structure would be in particular. The other evident theory to discuss would be the Global Workspace Theory proposed by Baars (e.g., Baars, 2005). This theory could also be related to cemi since it suggests a space of information availability or broadcasting as a mark for conscious percepts that can be related with the conscious stream proposed in the cemi.
  3. I also miss specific predictions of the theory that could be empirically addressed. If neural synchrony solves the problem of binding and gives a specific explanation of empirical findings, why do we need additional constructs as EM fields as the physical locus of consciousness? All in all a theory is just a construct that gives causal explanations of empirical findings or effects and makes specific predictions.
  4. Another interesting point to discuss would be if cemi has the possibility to implement any mathematical description or formalism to simulate and predict aspects of consciousness. This would be a very interesting step to take, if possible, since a computational model, for example, that includes EM fields with causal power in its global behavior would open the door to further predictions. These models are being used to find mathematical descriptions of theories related with consciousness (see for example Deco, Vidaurre and Kringelback, 2021).  

 

Finally, I would like to mention some aspects about the relationship between cemi and free will.

  1. I agree with the author about the theoretical perspective that is taken in the work. It is much more productive to focus on the possibility that EM fields have a causation role on voluntary behavior than a discuss involving more complicated concepts related with determinism.
  2. In this work it is suggested that EM fields cause voluntary thought and behavior. Physiological evidence seem to support or, at least, give room for this possibility. However, the important empirical findings needed would be those showing that indeed this is the case. In fact, even taking as a fact that EM fields have causal power on voluntary decision making, it would be possible that non-conscious activity indirectly influence these decisions as well. Consciousness could be just an ingredient influencing behavior in a certain proportion. Another way to see this is by considering Figure 1:  between option A and B it would be feasible to have intermediate situations in which the final output is a result on complex interactions between neural inputs and EM fields (why not?). Without empirical evidence one can imagine many plausible theoretical possibilities by abduction reasoning.
  3. Finally, I believe the issue of empirical evidence deserves a commentary itself. I would like to know the opinion of the author about this point since the absence of evidence could make a decision between a set of plausible competing hypotheses as undecidable.  

 

  

 

References

Baars, B. J. (2005). Global workspace theory of consciousness: toward a cognitive neuroscience of human experience. Progress in brain research150, 45-53.

Deco, G., Vidaurre, D., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2021). Revisiting the global workspace orchestrating the hierarchical organization of the human brain. Nature human behaviour5(4), 497-511.

Tononi, G., Boly, M., Massimini, M., & Koch, C. (2016). Integrated information theory: from consciousness to its physical substrate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience17(7), 450-461.

Author Response

Reviewer 1

This is a review of the manuscript entitled “The electromagnetic will” written by Johnjoe McFadden.

The manuscript presents a review of the Conscious Electromagnetic Information Theory (cemi) and an extension of the theory of consciousness in which it is proposed that the EF has a causal power on voluntary behavior; and therefore, it could be related to the old problem of free will.

Although I believe that my review should be mostly directed to the free will problem because it is the main significant novelty of the work, I cannot avoid to make some comments, suggestions, or questions about the theory itself, or at least, on how it is presented here.

In general I think the manuscript is worthy to publish since it gives an important point of view about the understanding of consciousness.  

First, I would like to comment some aspects of the theory. This part is not very well developed in the manuscript probably because the main goal is the proposal about free will. In any case I consider that it would be appreciated by readers to include some comments or words about the theoretical framework:

  1. My opinion is that the theory deserves consideration since it would be evident to think that EM fields are good candidates for the seat of conscious perception (the job of neurons is to produce EM fields!). However, cemi does not seem to be one of the preferred theoretical frameworks used nowadays. One of the reasons might be that most theories consider consciousness a process, or a computation (as other cognitive processes such as working memory). From the perspective of the cemi, consciousness might be something more specific, a type of object of EM nature (of course this object is an abstract concept since the EM field is a theoretical construct itself). I would like to know the opinion of the author on this point, and add a couple of sentences if he considers that might deserve space in the body of the manuscript.

Response: I completely agree with the reviewer on this point but I do not think it relates to the topic of this paper of how the cemi field theory provides what we experience as willed actions so is probably best left out of this paper.

 

  1. Another related point is that I miss a deeper theoretical discussion in which cemi is related and contrasted with other existent models or theories. For example, Integrated Information Theory proposed by Tononi (e.g., Tononi, Boly, Massimini & Koch, 2016) is not considered or confronted with cemi. Personally, I believe that they have many interesting points in common. It would be possible that Tononi’s theory would be related with the description of consciousness as a complex integrated informational structure abstract in nature, and cemi just points what this structure would be in particular. The other evident theory to discuss would be the Global Workspace Theory proposed by Baars (e.g., Baars, 2005). This theory could also be related to cemi since it suggests a space of information availability or broadcasting as a mark for conscious percepts that can be related with the conscious stream proposed in the cemi.

Response: I have included a new section on this topic.

 

  1. I also miss specific predictions of the theory that could be empirically addressed. If neural synchrony solves the problem of binding and gives a specific explanation of empirical findings, why do we need additional constructs as EM fields as the physical locus of consciousness? All in all a theory is just a construct that gives causal explanations of empirical findings or effects and makes specific predictions.

Response: I have discussed predictions of the cemi field theory and their testing in my earlier papers but I briefly review this point in a dedicated section of the revised paper.

 

  1. Another interesting point to discuss would be if cemi has the possibility to implement any mathematical description or formalism to simulate and predict aspects of consciousness. This would be a very interesting step to take, if possible, since a computational model, for example, that includes EM fields with causal power in its global behavior would open the door to further predictions. These models are being used to find mathematical descriptions of theories related with consciousness (see for example Deco, Vidaurre and Kringelback, 2021).  

Response: I agree that this is a priority and I have included a short discussion on this issue in the newly-added Discussion.

 Finally, I would like to mention some aspects about the relationship between cemi and free will.

  1. I agree with the author about the theoretical perspective that is taken in the work. It is much more productive to focus on the possibility that EM fields have a causation role on voluntary behavior than a discuss involving more complicated concepts related with determinism.
  2. In this work it is suggested that EM fields cause voluntary thought and behavior. Physiological evidence seem to support or, at least, give room for this possibility. However, the important empirical findings needed would be those showing that indeed this is the case. In fact, even taking as a fact that EM fields have causal power on voluntary decision making, it would be possible that non-conscious activity indirectly influence these decisions as well. Consciousness could be just an ingredient influencing behavior in a certain proportion. Another way to see this is by considering Figure 1:  between option A and B it would be feasible to have intermediate situations in which the final output is a result on complex interactions between neural inputs and EM fields (why not?). Without empirical evidence one can imagine many plausible theoretical possibilities by abduction reasoning.

Response: A good point. I have added a few sentences at the end of section 2 to make this clear.

  1. Finally, I believe the issue of empirical evidence deserves a commentary itself. I would like to know the opinion of the author about this point since the absence of evidence could make a decision between a set of plausible competing hypotheses as undecidable.  

Response: A great deal of empirical evidence for the key prediction of the cemi field theory – that endogenous brain EM fields influence neural firing in the brain - is described in Section 3. I have also added a new section (Section 4) dedicated to predictions of the theory and how they have been tested. I also added a novel discussion on how the cemi field theory relates to the empirical experience of users of brain machine interfaces (BMI’s). The new Discussion also deals with empirical evidence.

 References

Baars, B. J. (2005). Global workspace theory of consciousness: toward a cognitive neuroscience of human experience. Progress in brain research150, 45-53.

Deco, G., Vidaurre, D., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2021). Revisiting the global workspace orchestrating the hierarchical organization of the human brain. Nature human behaviour5(4), 497-511.

Tononi, G., Boly, M., Massimini, M., & Koch, C. (2016). Integrated information theory: from consciousness to its physical substrate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience17(7), 450-461.

Response: references added.

Reviewer 2 Report

The manuscript submitted by Johnjoe McFadden, entitled The "Electromagnetic Will", is interesting. The theory presented by the author give new points of view. However this theory should be supported, by relevant studies (animal or human), that in the present article are not reported (the author mentioned some previous studies, that can not support  alone his theory). I would suggest the author to present this manuscript as review and not as article. The article submitted does not present material and method. The results (that are not present, are not discussed). I would reconsider the present manuscript after major revisions (the author should present as review and not as article).

Author Response

Reviewer 2

The manuscript submitted by Johnjoe McFadden, entitled The "Electromagnetic Will", is interesting. The theory presented by the author give new points of view. However this theory should be supported, by relevant studies (animal or human), that in the present article are not reported (the author mentioned some previous studies, that can not support  alone his theory). I would suggest the author to present this manuscript as review and not as article. The article submitted does not present material and method. The results (that are not present, are not discussed). I would reconsider the present manuscript after major revisions (the author should present as review and not as article).

Response: I did discuss this issue with the inviting editor prior to writing the paper. However, despite not presenting new data, the paper does provide novel discussions and insights into how the cemi field theory automatically incorporates and EM field the will or control of voluntary actions.

Round 2

Reviewer 2 Report

The author satisfied all my concerns improving the results and discussions. I propose the publication of the manuscript in the present form.

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