According to the theory, all that is 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 does 3 kilos of brain tissue create thoughts, feelings, mental images and a detailed inner world?
The brain’s ability to create consciousness has puzzled people for millennia. The secret of consciousness is that each of us has a subjectivity capable of feeling, sensing and thinking. 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. However, it remains a mystery how the brain creates conscious experience and which area of the brain is responsible.
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.” For this reason, we cannot reduce the conscious experience we feel, sense, and think to any brain activity. We can only relate to these experiences.
After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very strong 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. This is such a difficult problem that only philosophers discussed it until a few decades ago. Even today, although we have made great progress in understanding the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is still no satisfactory theory of 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 hard problem of consciousness in a purely physical way. According to the researchers, when we change our assumptions about consciousness and assume that 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. 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. First, let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob. Bob is on a train moving at a constant speed and Alice is watching him from the platform. “What is Bob’s speed?” There is no physical answer to the question. 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 according to Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is moving and she is stationary. They have opposite dimensions, but both are true from different frames of reference.
We find the same situation in the matter of consciousness, because according to the theory, consciousness is a relative phenomenon. Now Alice and Bob are in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that he is having a conscious experience, but Alice just has brain activity with no sign of present conscious experience. On the other hand, Alice will measure that it is conscious and that Bob is just neural activity with no clue of 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. Consequently, within her cognitive framework Alice only has neural activity that represents her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself.
However, Alice uses different metrics to measure her own neural activity, such 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 based on 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.
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 Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh wants to continue to explore the exact minimal dimensions that any cognitive system needs to create consciousness. The implications of such a theory are enormous. This can be applied to determine which animal was the first conscious animal in the evolutionary process, which patients with disorders of consciousness are conscious, when a fetus or infant becomes conscious, and which (if) artificial intelligence systems are already at a low level. any) of consciousness.
Reference: “A Relativity Theory of Consciousness” by Nir Lahav and Zachariah A. Neemeh, 12 May 2022, Frontiers in psychology.