A physicist claims to have solved the mystery of consciousness

Scientists have developed a new conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic perspective.

According to the theory, all that is needed to solve the difficult 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 baffled people for millennia. The mystery of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has a subjectivity, with the capacity to feel, feel and think. Unlike being under anesthesia or in deep dreamless sleep, while awake we are not “living in the dark” – we are experiencing the world and ourselves. However, how the brain creates conscious experience and what area of ​​the brain is responsible for it remains a mystery.

According to Dr. Nir Lahav, a physicist from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, “It is quite a mystery because it seems that our conscious experience cannot come from the brain, and in fact cannot come from any process. physical.” As bizarre as it may sound, conscious experience in our brains cannot be found or reduced to neural activity.

“Think of it this way,” says University of Memphis philosopher Dr. Zakaria Neemeh, “when I feel happiness, my brain creates a distinctive pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern will perfectly match my feeling. aware of happiness, but it’s not my actual feeling. It’s just a neural pattern that represents my happiness. That’s why a scientist looking at my brain and seeing this pattern should ask me how I feel, because the pattern is not the feeling itself, just a representation of it. For this reason, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we feel, feel and think to brain activity. We can only find that 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 are not found anywhere in the brain (or body) and cannot be reduced to any neural complex activity?

This mystery is known as the difficult problem of consciousness. It’s such a difficult problem that until a few decades ago only philosophers talked about it. Even today, although we have made tremendous 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 magazine Frontiers in Psychology, Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh recently published a new physical theory that claims to solve the difficult problem of consciousness in a purely physical way. According to the researchers, when we change our assumption about consciousness and assume it is a relativistic phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally dissolves. In the article, the authors developed a conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic perspective. According to Dr. Lahav, the paper’s lead author, “consciousness should be studied with the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena.”

In order to understand how relativity solves the difficult problem, think of a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. Let’s first choose two observers, Alice and Bob. Bob is on a train that is moving at constant speed and Alice is watching him from the platform. There is no absolute physical answer to the question “how fast is Bob?” The answer depends on the observer’s frame of reference. From Bob’s frame of reference, he will measure that he is standing still and that Alice, along with the rest of the world, is backing away. But according to Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is the one moving and she is still. 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. Now Alice and Bob are in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that he has conscious experience, but Alice just 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 just has neural activity with no clues of his conscious experience.

Just as in the case of speed, although they have opposite measures, both are correct, but from different cognitive frames of reference. Accordingly, due to the relativistic 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 when 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 due to the process of physical measurement. In a nutshell, different physical measurements in different frames of reference manifest different physical properties in those frames, although those frames measure the same phenomenon.

For example, suppose Bob measures Alice’s brain in the lab as she experiences happiness. Although they observe different properties, they actually measure the same phenomenon from different points of view. Due to their different types of measurements, different types of properties manifested in their cognitive frames of reference.

In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he must use measurements of his sensory organs like his eyes. This type of sensory measurement manifests the substrate that causes brain activity – the neurons. Therefore, in her cognitive frame, Alice only has neural activity that represents her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself.

However, for Alice to measure her own neural activity as happiness, she uses different types of measurements. She does not use sensory organs, she measures her neural representations directly by interaction between a part of her brain with other parts. It measures its neural representations according to their relationships with other neural representations.

This is a completely different measure of what our sensory system does, and therefore this type of direct measurement manifests a different type of physical property. We call this property conscious experience. Accordingly, from her cognitive frame 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 Bob’s neural activity dynamics could be changed to resemble Alice’s neural activity dynamics, then the two 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 steps any cognitive system needs to create consciousness. The implications of such a 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 impaired consciousness are conscious, when a fetus or baby begins to be conscious, and which AI systems have already today a low degree (if any) of consciousness.

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

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