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A new theory in physics claims to solve the mystery of consciousness

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Summary: According to the researchers, consciousness cannot be reduced to just neural activity. A new study suggests that the dynamics of consciousness can be understood with 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 inner world?

The brain’s ability to create consciousness has puzzled some for millennia. The secret of consciousness is that each of us has a subjectivity, something that feels, feels and thinks.

Unlike being under anesthesia or in deep sleep without 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 which area of ​​the brain is responsible for it remains a mystery.

According to Dr. “It’s quite a mystery, because it seems that our conscious experience cannot originate in the brain, and in fact cannot arise from any physical process,” said physicist Nir Lahav of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

As strange as it sounds, conscious experience in our brains cannot be found or reduced to some neural activity.

“Think about it this way,” says Dr. Zakaria Neemeh, a philosopher at the University of Memphis, said, “When I feel happy, my brain will create a different pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern would perfectly match my conscious feeling of happiness, but it is not my actual feeling. This is just a neural pattern representing my happiness. So a scientist who looks into my brain and sees this pattern should ask me what I feel, because the pattern is not the feeling itself, but just a representation of it.”

As a result, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we feel, feel, and think about any brain activity. We can only relate to these experiences.

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

This mystery is known as the hard problem of consciousness. It is such a difficult problem that until a few decades ago only philosophers discussed it, and even today, although we have made great progress in understanding the neuroscientific foundations of consciousness, there is still no adequate theory of what consciousness is and how it is. to solve this difficult problem.

Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh recently published a new physical theory in the journal Frontiers in psychology who claimed 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 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. “Consciousness should be investigated with the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena,” said Lahav, lead author of the paper.

To understand how relativity solves a difficult problem, consider a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. Let us choose two observers, Alice and Bob, where 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 of what Bob’s speed is.

The answer depends on the observer’s frame of reference.

Based on Bob’s reference frame, he will measure that he is stationary and that Alice is moving backwards with the rest of the world. But from Alice’s shot, Bob is moving and she is still.

Although they have opposite dimensions, they are both true from different frames of reference.

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

Now Alice and Bob are in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that she is having a conscious experience, but Alice will just have brain activity with no indication of current conscious experience, while Alice will measure that she is conscious and just neural activity with no hint of Bob’s conscious experience.

As in the case of speed, although they have opposite dimensions, both are correct, but from different cognitive frames.

Consequently, from a relativistic point of view there is no problem with us measuring different properties from different reference frames.

Our inability to find the present conscious experience when measuring brain activity is the reason 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 computation. The reason for our conscious experience is the process of physical measurement.

In short, different physical measurements in different reference frames show different physical properties in these reference frames, even though these frames measure the same phenomenon.

For example, suppose that Bob measures Alice’s brain in the lab while she is feeling happy. Although they observe different properties, they are actually measuring the same phenomenon from different perspectives. According to the different types of measurement, different types of properties were manifested in their cognitive reference frames.

In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he needs to use measurements from sensory organs such as his eyes. This kind of sensor measurement indicates the substrate that causes brain activity – neurons.

This shows the outline of the head
After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very good evidence that the brain is responsible for creating our conscious abilities. The image is in the public domain

Consequently, within her cognitive framework Alice only has neural activity that represents her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself. But Alice uses different metrics to measure her neural activity as happiness. He does not use his senses, but directly measures neural representations by interactions between one part of his brain and other parts. It measures neural representations by their connections with other neural representations.

This is a completely different measurement than what our sensory system does, and as a result such a direct measurement shows a different physical property. We call this ownership conscious experience.

Consequently, from a cognitive framework, Alice evaluates her own neural activity as a conscious experience.

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

Now the authors want to continue to explore the exact minimum dimensions that 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 conscious animal in the evolutionary process, which fetus or infant became conscious, which patients with consciousness disorders are conscious, and which AI systems are already low-level (if any). any) of consciousness.

Consciousness and physics research news about it

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

Original Research: Open access.
A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness” Nir Lahav et al. Frontiers in psychology


abstract

A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness

In recent decades, the scientific study of consciousness has significantly increased our understanding of this elusive phenomenon. However, despite critical progress in understanding the functional side of consciousness, we still lack a fundamental theory of its phenomenal side.

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

Naturalistic dualists argue that it consists of a primitive, private, non-reductive element of reality 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, non-phenomenal properties.

We argue that both the dualist and the illusionist positions are flawed because they assume consciousness as an absolute property independent of the observer.

We develop a conceptual and mathematical argument for a relativistic theory of consciousness with or without phenomenal consciousness of a system. relative to some observer.

Phenomenal consciousness is neither private nor illusory, but merely relative. An observable will be within the frame of reference of a cognitive system (first-person perspective) and will not be within another frame of reference (third-person perspective). Both of these cognitive frames of reference are correct, just as in the case of an observer claiming to be at rest, the other would claim that the observer has a constant velocity.

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

Given that the first-person cognitive framework also offers legitimate observations about consciousness, we conclude by arguing that philosophers can make a useful contribution to the science of consciousness by collaborating with neuroscientists to explore the neural bases of phenomenal structures.

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