Summary: Consciousness cannot be reduced to neural activity alone, the researchers say. A new study suggests that the dynamics of consciousness can be understood through a newly developed conceptual and mathematical framework.
source: Bar Ilan University
How does 1.4 kg of brain tissue create thoughts, feelings, mental images and an inner world?
The brain’s ability to create consciousness has puzzled some for thousands of years. The secret of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has a subjectivity, something like feeling, feeling and thinking.
As opposed to being under anesthesia or in a deep, dreamless sleep, while we are awake we do not “live in the dark” – we experience the world and ourselves. But how the brain creates conscious experience and the area in the brain responsible for it remains a mystery.
According to Dr. Nir Lahav, a physicist from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, “This is quite a mystery because it appears that our conscious experience cannot originate from the brain, and in fact, cannot originate from any physical process.”
As strange as it may sound, conscious experience cannot be found in our brain or reduced to neural activity.
Dr. Zakaria Nehme, a philosopher from the University of Memphis, says, “Think of it this way, when I am feeling happy, my brain will create a distinct pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern will relate perfectly to my conscious feeling of happiness, but it is not my actual feeling. It is just a neural pattern that represents My happiness. That is why a scientist who looks into my mind and sees this pattern must ask me what I feel, because the pattern is not the feeling itself, but merely a representation of it.”
As a result, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we feel, feel, and think about in any brain activity. We can only find associations with these experiences.
After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very good evidence that the brain is responsible for shaping our conscious abilities. So how is it possible that these conscious experiences cannot be found anywhere in the brain (or in the body) and cannot be reduced to any complex neural activity?
This puzzle is known as the difficult consciousness problem. It is such a difficult problem that until two decades ago only philosophers discussed it and even today, although we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is still enough theory to explain what consciousness is and how to solve this difficult problem.
Dr. Lahaf and Dr. Nehme recently published a new physical theory in the journal frontiers in psychology He claims to solve the difficult problem of consciousness in a purely physical way.
According to the authors, when we change our assumption about consciousness and assume that it is a relative phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally fades away. In the paper, the researchers develop a conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic viewpoint.
According to Dr. Lahav, the paper’s lead author, “consciousness must be investigated using the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena.”
To understand how relativity solves the difficult problem, consider a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. Let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob, where Bob is on a train moving at a constant speed and Alice watches 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, he will measure that he is stationary and that Alice, along with the rest of the world, is moving backwards. But from Alice’s frame, Bob is the one who moves and she is stationary.
Although their measurements are opposite, both are correct, only from different frames of reference.
Because consciousness, according to the theory, is a relative phenomenon, we find the same situation in the state of consciousness.
Now Alice and Bob are in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that she has conscious experience, but that Alice has only brain activity without any sign of actual conscious experience, while Alice will measure that she is someone who has consciousness and that Bob has only neural activity without any evidence of his conscious experience.
Just as in the case of velocity, although there are opposite measurements, they are both true, but from different cognitive frames of reference.
As a result, due to the relative point of view, there is no problem with the fact that we measure different properties from different frames of reference.
The fact that we cannot find the 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 physical measurement process.
In short, different physical measurements in different frames of reference show different physical properties in these frames of reference even though these frames measure the same phenomenon.
For example, suppose Bob is measuring Alice’s brain in the lab while she is feeling happy. Although they observe different characteristics, they actually measure the same phenomenon from different points of view. As the types of measurements differ, different types of characteristics have appeared in cognitive frameworks of reference.
In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he needs to use measurements of his sensory organs such as his eyes. This type of sensory measurement shows the substrate that causes brain activity – neurons.
Thus, in his cognitive framework, Alice has only neural activity representing her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself. But in order for Alice to measure her nervous activity as happiness, she uses a different kind of measurement. She does not use sensory organs, she measures her neural representations directly through the interaction between one part of her brain and other parts. It measures its neural representations according to its relationships with other neural representations.
This is a completely different measurement than our sensory system does, and as a result, this type of direct measurement shows a different kind of physical characteristic. We call this property conscious experience.
As a result, from her cognitive framework of reference, Alice measures her neural activity as a conscious experience.
Using the mathematical tools that describe relativistic phenomena in 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, both would be in the same cognitive framework of reference and would have exactly the same conscious experience as the other.
The authors now want to continue examining the minimal, precise measurements that any cognitive system needs in order to create consciousness.
The implications of such a theory are huge. It can be applied to determine which animal was the first animal in the evolutionary process to have consciousness, when a fetus or child begins to become conscious, which patients with disorders of consciousness are conscious, and which artificial intelligence systems already have a low (if any) degree of consciousness.
About this awareness and news of physics research
author: Ilana Oberlander
source: Bar Ilan University
Contact: Ilana Oberlander – Bar Ilan University
picture: The image is in the public domain
original search: open access.
“Relativity theory of consciousnessWritten by Nir Lahav et al. frontiers in psychology
Relativity theory of consciousness
In recent decades, the scientific study of consciousness has greatly increased our understanding of this elusive phenomenon. However, despite the critical development in our understanding of the functional aspect of consciousness, we still lack a basic theory regarding the phenomenological aspect.
There is an “interpretive gap” between our scientific knowledge of functional consciousness and its “subjective” phenomenological aspects, which is referred to as the “hard problem” of consciousness. The phenomenological aspect of consciousness is the first person’s answer to the question “what is it”, and it has so far proven not to adhere to the direction of scientific research.
Proponents of naturalistic dualisms argue that they consist of a special, non-reductive, primitive element of reality independent of the functional and physical aspects of consciousness. Scammers, on the other hand, argue that it is merely an epistemological illusion, and that all that exists are ultimately physical and non-phenomenological properties.
We argue that both binary and delusional positions are flawed because they tacitly assume that consciousness is an absolute property that does not depend on the observer.
We develop a conceptual and mathematical argument for a relativistic theory of consciousness in which the system either has or does not possess phenomenological consciousness. Regarding some observers.
Phenomenal consciousness is neither private nor illusory, it is only relative. In a cognitive system’s frame of reference it will be observable (first person perspective) and in another frame of reference it will not be (third person perspective). Both cognitive frameworks of attribution are true, just as in the case of an observer who claims to be at rest while the other claims that the observer has a constant velocity.
Given that consciousness is a relative phenomenon, neither of the two positions of the observer can be privileged, since both describe the same underlying reality. Building on relativistic phenomena in physics, we have developed a mathematical formulation of consciousness that bridges the explanatory gap and solves the difficult problem.
Given that the first-person cognitive frame of reference also makes legitimate observations about consciousness, we conclude by argument that philosophers can make useful contributions to the science of consciousness by collaborating with neuroscientists to explore the neural basis of phenomenological structures.
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