Nested Observer Windows (NOW): A Theory of Scale-free Cognition Justin Riddle , Shawn Irgen-Gioro; Jonathan Schooler (Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC ) C7
Research into the biological processes that underlie cognition finds causal evidence for the role of proteins, neurons, and brain nuclei in generating conscious experience. Despite progress in dedicated fields, investigations struggle to integrate across spatial and temporal scales. To address this gap, we propose the Nested Observer Windows (NOW) model that describes an information processing hierarchy based on recent evidence from cognitive neuroscience. In the NOW model, biological systems are formed via coherence and process information in rhythmic input-output cycles, or windows. These coherent biological systems share information laterally via synchronization to form interconnected networks. Critically, biological systems are nested such that each system is composed of subsystems. Bottom-up streams of information from subsystems are bound into abstract representations in the supervening system via cross-frequency coupling. By the same mechanism, top-down control signals are disseminated from larger-slower systems to their subsystems. We provide evidence that the three principles of the NOW model, coherence, synchronization, and cross-frequency coupling, are found at multiple spatial and temporal scales in biology. We discuss the correlation of these processes to cognition and their implication for subjective experience. Altogether, the NOW model accounts for the richness of human perception in that nested biological systems generate abstraction and further explains that intricate human behavior is initiated by simple action commands. The theoretical framework of the NOW model provides testable predictions and general principles to enable interdisciplinary study critical to the science of consciousness.