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Physicist Claims To Have Solved the Mystery of Consciousness


Ron Put
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Physicist Claims To Have Solved the Mystery of Consciousness

By BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY AUGUST 14, 2022

Brain Memory Intelligence Consciousness

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

According to the theory, all that’s needed to solve the hard problem of consciousness is to change our assumptions about it. When we realize that consciousness is a physical, 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 ability of the brain to create consciousness has baffled people for millennia. The mystery of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has subjectivity, with the ability to sense, feel, and think. In contrast to being under anesthesia or in a dreamless deep sleep, while we’re awake we don’t “live in the dark” — we experience the world and ourselves. However, it remains a mystery how the brain creates the conscious experience and what area of the brain is responsible.

 

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

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

After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very strong evidence that the brain is responsible for the creation of our conscious abilities.  So how is it possible that these conscious experiences can’t be found anywhere in the brain (or in the body) and can’t be reduced to any neural complex 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 discussed it. Even today, although we have made huge progress in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, still there is no satisfactory theory that explains what consciousness is and how to solve this hard problem.

In the journal 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 assumption 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 to understand consciousness from a relativistic point of view. According to Dr. Lahav, the lead author of the paper, “consciousness should be investigated with the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena.”

In order to understand how relativity dissolves the hard problem, think about a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. First, let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob. Bob is on a train that moves with constant velocity and Alice watches him from the platform. There is no absolute physical answer to the question “what is the velocity of Bob?” The answer is dependent on the frame of reference of the observer. From Bob’s frame of reference, he will measure that he is stationary and Alice, with the rest of the world, is moving backward. But from Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is the one that’s moving and she is stationary. They have opposite measurements, yet both of them 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 the actual conscious experience. On the other hand, Alice will measure that she is the one that has consciousness and Bob has just neural activity with no clue of its conscious experience.

Just as in the case of velocity, although they have opposite measurements, both of them are correct, but from different cognitive frames of reference. As a result, because of 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 while measuring brain activity is because we’re measuring from the wrong cognitive frame of reference.

According to the new theory, the brain doesn’t create our conscious experience, at least not through computations. The reason that we have conscious experience is because of the process of physical measurement. In a nutshell, different physical measurements in different frames of reference manifest different physical properties in these frames of reference, although these frames measure the same phenomenon.

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

For Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he needs to use measurements of his sensory organs like his eyes. This kind of sensory measurement manifests the substrate that causes brain activity – the neurons. Consequently, in his cognitive frame Alice has only 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 kinds of measurements. She doesn’t use sensory organs, she measures her neural representations directly by interaction between one part of her brain with other parts. She measures her neural representations according to their relations to other neural representations.

This is a completely different measurement than what our sensory system does and, as a result, this kind of direct measurement manifests a different kind 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 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, then both will 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 to examine the exact minimal 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, which patients with consciousness disorders are conscious, when a fetus or baby begins to be conscious, and which AI systems already today 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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Interesting, but I'll have to read it again a few times to grasp what it means.

My belief about consciousness is simpler: it is a metaphysical entity which uses the neural circuits of the brain as tools to manifest itself in the physical world. The entity/consciousness is influenced by biological processes since while using the brain-tool, it identifies itself with it. That's why narcotics can delete consciousness, at least for a while. And that's why chemical compounds (drugs) can influence one's consciousness, even if it is metaphysical.

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47 minutes ago, Ron Put said:

Because of this, we can’t reduce the conscious experience of what we sense, feel, and think to any brain activity.

This article is, IMO, junk.

  E.g., appropriate neural activity produces hormonal activity; our "conscious experience" is, IMO, is strongly related to the effects of the hormones, and other physical reactions in the body.

The article babbles about a "relativistic effect".  I've seen science fiction authors speculating that human thinking actually is a quantum phenomenon.

I am less claim to guru-ship than either of these two sources -- the "relativists" and the "quantum fiction writers".

(My best guess: the main control center for consciousness may be in the hypothalamus, or at least somewhere in the fore-brain.  But there's a better than 50% chance that I'm wrong.)

  --  Saul

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12 hours ago, Saul said:

(My best guess: the main control center for consciousness may be in the hypothalamus, or at least somewhere in the fore-brain.  But there's a better than 50% chance that I'm wrong.)

That's an interesting topic which deserves more details. Neuroscience sure has dove deep into it. My guess is that various regions of the brain control various manifestation of consciousness, but there might be a single region which sort of governs. The main switch of course is related to the presence or absence of manifested consciousness ( deep sleep, narcotization...). There is also a subconsciousness which manifests itself in the dreaming state and also governs the automatic activities of the brain, like walking, movements which we repeat continuously but without conscious commitment, and so on.

The complexity of the issue soon reaches pretty high levels.

Edited by mccoy
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Kinda funny when they don’t even KNOW what matter is and that’s the basis, according to physicists, for all of reality.


    * Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. Niels Bohr.
    * Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it. Niels Bohr.
    * If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it. John Wheeler.
    * If [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science. Albert Einstein.
    * I do not like [quantum mechanics], and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it. Erwin Schrödinger.
    * Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense. Roger Penrose. 
    * It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. Richard Feynman.

 

Edited by Mike41
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7 hours ago, Mike41 said:

Kinda funny when they don’t even KNOW what matter is and that’s the basis, according to physicists, for all of reality.


    * Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. Niels Bohr.
    * Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it. Niels Bohr.
    * If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it. John Wheeler.
    * If [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science. Albert Einstein.
    * I do not like [quantum mechanics], and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it. Erwin Schrödinger.
    * Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense. Roger Penrose. 
    * It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. Richard Feynman.

 

About the same time as the first CR Conference, there was a member who called himself "Quantum Mechanic".

😁

  --  Saul

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On 8/27/2022 at 10:15 PM, Ron Put said:

According to the new theory, the brain doesn’t create our conscious experience, at least not through computations. The reason that we have conscious experience is because of the process of physical measurement. In a nutshell, different physical measurements in different frames of reference manifest different physical properties in these frames of reference, although these frames measure the same phenomenon.

---

For Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he needs to use measurements of his sensory organs like his eyes. This kind of sensory measurement manifests the substrate that causes brain activity – the neurons. Consequently, in his cognitive frame Alice has only 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 kinds of measurements. She doesn’t use sensory organs, she measures her neural representations directly by interaction between one part of her brain with other parts. She measures her neural representations according to their relations to other neural representations.

To me, the above makes a lot of sense.

Saul, I am genuinely curious why you think its "junk" and it'd be great if you could elaborate.

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Prompted by this thread, I started to listen to podcasts about the consciousness problem. My latest interest was astronomy and astrophysics, there have been many recent developments, for example I had not the faintest idea there existed stars like the Thorne-Zytkow Object, a neutron star swallowed whole by a red supergiant.

Back IT, there is a lot to listen to, since this is a dual philosophic/physic issue, the spiritualistic versus the naturalistic aspects. To me, it is plausible that those aspects may occur together (a metaphysical entity driving a powerful, hypercomplex biological machine which is the brain, with an interactive mechanism - the metaphysical is influenced by the physical).

They even started to quantify the presence of consciousness. I listened to this podcast while driving, I'll have to watch it attentively, the last part is on perception but the first part is a good unbiased summary on the consciousness problem.

 

Edited by mccoy
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1 hour ago, Ron Put said:

Saul, I am genuinely curious why you think its "junk" and it'd be great if you could elaborate.

AFAIK, all the ironic comments on quantum mechanics by scientists who contributed to develop quantum mechanics refer to the absolutely counter-intuitive nature of the behaviour of small scale objects.

Some concepts appear so ridiculously unreasonable that Schroedinger himself invented his notorious cat, an illustration of a huge paradox, or the plain absurdity of the theory. But later on the Schrodinger cat has been discussed as a classic example of the weird behaviour of particles, in a fashion which probably Schroedinger never intended to be.

image.png.76e3c355d5eef70a2f898592a6bc477d.png 

Edited by mccoy
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7 hours ago, Ron Put said:

To me, the above makes a lot of sense.

Saul, I am genuinely curious why you think its "junk" and it'd be great if you could elaborate.

I don't agree.

On 8/27/2022 at 4:15 PM, Ron Put said:

So how is it possible that these conscious experiences can’t be found anywhere in the brain

Really?  We certainly don't understand the nature of consciousness.  It can simply be an illusion, brought about by evolution, that encourages us to survive and reproduce.  (Or, maybe there is a part of the brain where are conscious thoughts occur?)   When someone feels happy (as mentioned in the article), they're sure the feeling of happiness isn't located in their brain.

Yes -- the feeling of happiness is the result of hormones secreted by a thought, which probably does occur in your brain.

  --  Saul

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It may be as simple as consciousness is the basis of all reality. So the brain is merely a receptor or antenna that is able to pick up a part or thin slice of this reality. Aldous Huxley termed it the doors of perception. Our perception is limited by the brain just as the eye only perceives a very thin slice of light waves as so the nose and the ears. The brain like the eyes etc. is a sense organ rather than a source of consciousness. For some there is, with the proper use of psychedelics, meditation practice etc. a possibility of letting in a bit more of this all pervasive consciousness and we call that religious experience, enlightenment etc. it’s also a fact that consciousness can directly change the material factor of the brain. Andrew Newberg (sp) a famous time magazine 100 most influential person claims materialist science cannot explain this phenomenon 

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On 8/29/2022 at 10:24 PM, Saul said:

"So how is it possible that these conscious experiences can’t be found anywhere in the brain"

Really?  We certainly don't understand the nature of consciousness.  It can simply be an illusion, brought about by evolution, that encourages us to survive and reproduce.  (Or, maybe there is a part of the brain where are conscious thoughts occur?) 

Hm, I think Lahav and Neemeh are arguing precisely that consciousness is produced within the brain.

They simply posit that the reason a specific area has not been identified so far is because of the employed methods of measurement.

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Quote

According to the new theory... the reason that we have conscious experience is because of the process of physical measurement. In a nutshell, different physical measurements in different frames of reference manifest different physical properties in these frames of reference, although these frames measure the same phenomenon.

It sounds like they didn't solve the mystery of consciousness, they just gave it a new name.  😉

 

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The hard problem of consciousness. It is a scientific field in itself. I've just listened to a podcast from Mark Solms, a very eminent figure in this camp, who provides examples of how the brain and the personality are inextricably linked. But is personality the same as 'consciousness'? May be not. By the way, his latest book, the hidden springs, deals specifically with this issue. He contends that consciousness resides in the brainstem, not the cortex.

 

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