The physicist claims to have solved the mystery of consciousness

Brain Memory Intelligence Consciousness

Scientists have developed a new conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic point of view.

According to the theory, all that is needed to solve the hard problem of consciousness is to change our assumptions about it. When we realize that consciousness is a physical and relativistic phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally dissolves.

How do 3 pounds of brain tissue create thoughts, feelings, mental images, and a detailed inner world?

The brain’s ability to create consciousness has puzzled people for millennia. The mystery of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has subjectivity, with the ability to feel, feel and think. Unlike being under anesthesia or in deep dreamless sleep, while awake we are not “living in the dark” but experiencing the world and ourselves. However, it remains a mystery how the brain creates conscious experience and which area of ​​the brain is responsible.

According to Dr. Nir Lahav, a physicist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, “This is quite a mystery, since it seems that our conscious experience cannot arise from the brain, and indeed cannot arise from any physical process.” Strange as it may seem, the conscious experience of our brain cannot be found or reduced to neural activity.

“Think of it this way,” says Dr. Zakaria Neemeh, a philosopher at the University of Memphis, “when I feel happiness, my brain will create a distinctive pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern will correlate perfectly with the my conscious feeling of happiness, but it’s not my real feeling. It’s just a neural pattern that represents my happiness. That’s why a scientist looking at my brain and seeing that pattern would have to ask me what I’m feeling, because the pattern it is not the feeling itself, but a representation of it.” Because of this, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we hear, feel, and think to any brain activity. We can only find correlations with these experiences.

After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very strong evidence that the brain is responsible for creating our conscious abilities. So how is it possible that these conscious experiences cannot be found anywhere in the brain (or body) and cannot be reduced to any complex neural activity?

This mystery is known as the hard problem of consciousness. It is such a difficult problem that until a couple of decades ago only philosophers were talking about it. Even today, although we have made enormous progress in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is still no satisfactory theory that explains what consciousness is and how to solve this difficult problem.

in the newspaper Frontiers in Psychology, Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh recently published a new physical theory that claims to solve the hard problem of consciousness in a purely physical way. According to the researchers, when we change our hypothesis about consciousness and assume that it is a relativistic phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally dissolves. In the paper, the authors developed a conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic point of view. According to Dr. Lahav, the paper’s lead author, “consciousness should be investigated with the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena.”

To understand how relativity solves the hard problem, consider a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. First, let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob. Bob is on a train moving at a constant speed and Alice is watching him from the platform. There is no absolute physical answer to the question “what is Bob’s speed?” The answer depends on the observer’s frame of reference. From Bob’s frame of reference, it will measure that it is stationary and that Alice, with the rest of the world, is moving backwards. But from Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is the one moving and she is stationary. They have opposite measurements, but both are correct, just from different frames of reference.

We find the same situation in the case of consciousness because, according to the theory, consciousness is a relativistic phenomenon. Alice and Bob are now in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that he has conscious experience, but Alice only has brain activity with no sign of actual conscious experience. On the other hand, Alice will measure that she is the one with consciousness and Bob has only neural activity with no idea of ​​his conscious experience.

As with speed, although they have opposite measures, they are both correct, but from different cognitive frames of reference. As a result, due to the relativistic point of view, there is no problem with measuring different properties from different frames of reference. The fact that we cannot find actual conscious experience while measuring brain activity is because we are measuring from the wrong cognitive frame of reference.

According to the new theory, the brain does not create our conscious experience, at least not through calculations. The reason we have conscious experience is because of the process of physical measurement. Simply put, different physical measurements in different reference frames manifest different physical properties in those reference frames, even though those frames measure the same phenomenon.

For example, suppose Bob measures Alice’s brain in the lab while she is happy. Although they observe different properties, they actually measure the same phenomenon from different points of view. Because of their different types of measures, different types of properties have been manifested in their cognitive frames of reference.

In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he must use measurements from his sensory organs such as his eyes. This type of sensory measurement reveals the substrate that causes brain activity: the neurons. Consequently, in her cognitive framework, Alice has only neural activity that represents her consciousness, but no sign of her own actual conscious experience.

However, because Alice measures her own neural activity as happiness, she uses different kinds of measures. It does not use sensory organs, it measures its neural representations directly through the interaction between one part of its brain and other parts. She measures her neural representations according to their relationships with other neural representations.

This is a completely different measurement than our sensory system makes, and as a result this type of direct measurement manifests a different type of physical property. We call this property conscious experience. As a result, from her cognitive frame of reference, Alice measures her neural activity as conscious experience.

Using the mathematical tools that describe the relativistic phenomena of physics, the theory shows that if the dynamics of Bob’s neural activity could be changed to be like the dynamics of Alice’s neural activity, then both would be in the same cognitive frame of reference and would have the exact same conscious experience as the other.

Now Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh want to continue examining the exact minimum measures any cognitive system needs to create consciousness. The implications of this theory are enormous. It can be applied to determine which animal was the first animal in the evolutionary process to become conscious, which patients with disorders of consciousness are conscious, when a fetus or infant becomes conscious, and which AI systems already have a low degree (if any) of consciousness.

Reference: “A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness” by Nir Lahav and Zachariah A. Neemeh, 12 May 2022, Frontiers in Psychology.
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.704270


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