New Theory in Physics Claims to Solve the Mystery of Consciousness – Neuroscience News

Summary: Consciousness cannot simply be reduced to neural activity alone, say the researchers. A new study reports that the dynamics of consciousness can be understood by a newly developed conceptual and mathematical framework.

Source: Bar Ilan University

How does 3 lbs of brain tissue create thoughts, feelings, mental images, and an inner world?

The brain’s ability to create consciousness has baffled some for millennia. The mystery of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has a subjectivity, something like feeling, feeling and thinking.

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. But 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.”

Strange as it may seem, conscious experience in our brain 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.

As a result, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we sense, feel, and think to brain activity. We can simply find correlations with these experiences.

After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very good evidence that the brain is responsible for creating our conscious abilities. So how come 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 is such a difficult problem that until a few decades ago only philosophers talked about it and even today, although we have made enormous strides in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is no There is still no adequate theory that explains what consciousness is and how to solve this difficult problem.

Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh recently published a new physical theory in the journal Frontiers in Psychology which claims to solve the difficult problem of consciousness in a purely physical way.

According to the authors, 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 researchers 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.”

To understand how relativity solves the difficult problem, think of a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. Let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob, where Bob is on a train moving at constant speed and Alice is watching him from the platform. there is no absolute physical answer to the question of how fast Bob is.

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 from Alice’s frame, Bob is the moving one and she is still.

Although they have opposite measurements, both are correct, just from different frames of reference.

Because, according to the theory, consciousness is a relativistic phenomenon, we find the same situation in the case of consciousness.

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 signs of the actual conscious experience, while Alice will measure that she is the one with consciousness and Bob just has neural activity without any index 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.

After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very good evidence that the brain is responsible for creating our conscious abilities. Image is in public domain

Therefore, in her cognitive frame, Alice has only neural activity that represents her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself. But, 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 conscious experience.

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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 the authors 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, when a fetus or baby begins to be conscious, which patients with impaired consciousness are conscious, and which AI systems already have consciousness today. a low degree (if any) of consciousness.

About this Consciousness and Physics Research News

Author: Elana Oberlander
Source: Bar Ilan University
Contact: Elana Oberlander – Bar-Ilan University
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness” by Nir Lahav et al. Frontiers in Psychology


A relativistic theory of consciousness

Over the past few decades, the scientific study of consciousness has greatly increased our understanding of this elusive phenomenon. Yet, despite the critical development of our understanding of the functional side of consciousness, we still lack a fundamental theory regarding its phenomenal aspect.

There is an “explanatory gap” between our scientific knowledge of functional consciousness and its “subjective”, phenomenal aspects, called the “hard problem” of consciousness. The phenomenal aspect of consciousness is the first-person answer to the question “what does it look like,” and it has so far proven reluctant to direct scientific inquiry.

Naturalistic dualists hold that it is composed of a primitive, private, and non-reducing element of reality that is independent of the functional and physical aspects of consciousness. Illusionists, on the other hand, argue that this is just a cognitive illusion and that all that exists is ultimately physical properties, not phenomenal ones.

We argue that the dualistic and illusionist positions are wrong 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 a system has or does not have phenomenal consciousness. towards some observer.

Phenomenal consciousness is neither private nor delusional, just relativistic. In the frame of reference of the cognitive system, it will be observable (first person perspective) and in another frame of reference, it will not be (third person perspective). These two cognitive frames of reference are both correct, just as in the case of an observer who claims to be at rest while another will claim that the observer has constant speed.

Since consciousness is a relativistic phenomenon, neither observer position can be favored, as they both describe the same underlying reality. Based on relativistic phenomena in physics, we have developed a mathematical formalization of consciousness that bridges the explanatory gap and solves the difficult problem.

Since the first-person cognitive frame of reference also offers legitimate observations about consciousness, we conclude by arguing that philosophers can usefully contribute to the science of consciousness by collaborating with neuroscientists to explore the neural basis of phenomenal structures. .

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