Intelligent Design

Why a simulated brain is not conscious

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Rafi Letzler has written a fascinating article titled, Is a simulated brain conscious? in which he poses several interesting thought experiments. For instance, would a group of people standing together in a giant field, with each person obeying the rules that one of the 86 billion neurons in a typical human brain obeys, possess a collective group consciousness? What about a supercomputer that can simulate the entire brain of a human being? Or what about a Boltzmann brain, formed by atoms suddenly coalescing together at random in an exact replica of the atoms in a human brain? Dr. Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at MIT, offers his own thought-provoking answers to these questions, but in this post, I’d like to make a few observations of my own.

1. In a previous post, I argued that even if Moore’s law (that the number of transistors an integrated circuit can hold doubles every two years) continues to hold, there’s no way that the Internet could match the complexity of a human brain before 2115. In any case, Moore’s law will be dead by 2022, according to a leading expert in the field, Robert Colwell, who is director of the microsystems group at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). (See also this article.) I also cited an article by Dr. James Rose (who has researched the neural requirements of consciousness at considerable length) arguing that anything with a radically different structure from our neocortex would have a different function: whatever it would be capable of, it certainly wouldn’t be consciousness.

2. The Boltzmann brain problem is much-overhyped, in my opinion: there are excellent chemical reasons why it would simply be impossible for a bunch of atoms to suddenly coalesce into an arrangement which exactly duplicates the atoms in somebody’s brain. Neurons don’t just magically sit in place; they need to be held together by glial cells. In a nutshell: a Boltzmann brain would fall apart long before it had completed assembling itself.

3. The experiment involving people standing in a big group, with each one obeying the rules that a neuron obeys, is vulnerable to one major criticism: neurons don’t always behave deterministically. If non-deterministic behavior of neurons plays a vital role in consciousness, then attempts to recreate consciousness in this fashion are doomed to failure. The thought experiment also assumes that causality is always bottom-up and never top-down. Again, if irreducible top-down causality is a real fact of Nature then there are serious grounds for doubting the possibility of artificial consciousness.

4. In my post, Zombies, duplicates, human beasts and consciousness, I argued that conscious reflection is an activity that cannot, even in principle, be explained in materialistic terms. If my argument is correct, then the likelihood of anyone constructing a self-conscious entity out of physical parts is precisely zero. But that doesn’t rule out the theoretical possibility of someone creating an artificial structure with a capacity for animal consciousness but without a capacity for self-reflection.

And that’s all for today. Any thoughts from readers?

14 Replies to “Why a simulated brain is not conscious

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Dr. Torley you claim that “The Boltzmann brain problem is much-overhyped,”

    because,

    “in my opinion: there are excellent chemical reasons why it would simply be impossible for a bunch of atoms to suddenly coalesce into an arrangement which exactly duplicates the atoms in somebody’s brain.”

    But Dr. Torley, you are presupposing the existence of the laws of chemistry, atoms, not to mention the entire universe itself, to criticize the Boltzmann Brain problem. The Boltzmann Brain problem is an argument that arises from trying to explain why the universe came into existence in the first place with such an extraordinary 1 in 10^10^123 initial state of entropy. ,,, Thus you cannot use the universe, or the laws within the universe, to argue against the validity of the argument.
    To argue that “The Boltzmann brain problem is much-overhyped” because of atoms and chemistry is to miss the entire point of why the argument was made in the first place.
    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/
    Multiverse and the Design Argument – William Lane Craig
    Excerpt: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of our universe’s low entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are on the order of 1 in 10^10(123), an inconceivable number. If our universe were but one member of a multiverse of randomly ordered worlds, then it is vastly more probable that we should be observing a much smaller universe. For example, the odds of our solar system’s being formed instantly by the random collision of particles is about 1 in 10^10(60), a vast number, but inconceivably smaller than 1 in 10^10(123). (Penrose calls it “utter chicken feed” by comparison [The Road to Reality (Knopf, 2005), pp. 762-5]). Or again, if our universe is but one member of a multiverse, then we ought to be observing highly extraordinary events, like horses’ popping into and out of existence by random collisions, or perpetual motion machines, since these are vastly more probable than all of nature’s constants and quantities’ falling by chance into the virtually infinitesimal life-permitting range. Observable universes like those strange worlds are simply much more plenteous in the ensemble of universes than worlds like ours and, therefore, ought to be observed by us if the universe were but a random member of a multiverse of worlds. Since we do not have such observations, that fact strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. On naturalism, at least, it is therefore highly probable that there is no multiverse. — Penrose puts it bluntly “these world ensemble hypothesis are worse than useless in explaining the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe”.
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org.....n-argument

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    correction: Dr. Torley you claim that

    “The Boltzmann brain problem is much-overhyped,”

    because,

    “in my opinion: there are excellent chemical reasons why it would simply be impossible for a bunch of atoms to suddenly coalesce into an arrangement which exactly duplicates the atoms in somebody’s brain.”

    But Dr. Torley, you are presupposing the existence of the laws of chemistry, atoms, not to mention the entire universe itself, to criticize the Boltzmann Brain problem. The Boltzmann Brain problem is an argument that arises from trying to explain why the universe came into existence in the first place with such an extraordinary 1 in 10^10^123 initial state of entropy. ,,, Thus you cannot use the universe, or the laws within the universe, to argue against the validity of the argument.

    To argue that “The Boltzmann brain problem is much-overhyped” because of atoms and chemistry is to miss the entire point of why the argument was made in the first place.

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    Multiverse and the Design Argument – William Lane Craig
    Excerpt: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of our universe’s low entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are on the order of 1 in 10^10(123), an inconceivable number. If our universe were but one member of a multiverse of randomly ordered worlds, then it is vastly more probable that we should be observing a much smaller universe. For example, the odds of our solar system’s being formed instantly by the random collision of particles is about 1 in 10^10(60), a vast number, but inconceivably smaller than 1 in 10^10(123). (Penrose calls it “utter chicken feed” by comparison [The Road to Reality (Knopf, 2005), pp. 762-5]). Or again, if our universe is but one member of a multiverse, then we ought to be observing highly extraordinary events, like horses’ popping into and out of existence by random collisions, or perpetual motion machines, since these are vastly more probable than all of nature’s constants and quantities’ falling by chance into the virtually infinitesimal life-permitting range. Observable universes like those strange worlds are simply much more plenteous in the ensemble of universes than worlds like ours and, therefore, ought to be observed by us if the universe were but a random member of a multiverse of worlds. Since we do not have such observations, that fact strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. On naturalism, at least, it is therefore highly probable that there is no multiverse. — Penrose puts it bluntly “these world ensemble hypothesis are worse than useless in explaining the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe”.
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org.....n-argument

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    In any case, science has zero competence for this question. At least, until it understands the nature and implicitly origin of life, itself. A little reflection will indicate that life, consciousness, volition are all bound up together.

    As a matter of fact, the soul comprises the memory, will and understanding, although presumably their absence under anaesthetic would not entail the soul’s annihilation.

    It seems on the other hand, that the soul is very much more alive during NDE’s than in waking consciousness.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Axel:

    Dr. Oz – Glimpsing Heaven, Pt 1 – video – Sept. 18, 2014
    Dr. Oz and investigative journalist Judy Buchrach discuss death travelers, people who have died and come back to life.
    http://www.doctoroz.com/episod.....en-you-die

    Glimpsing Heaven: The Stories and Science of Life After Death – Judy Buchrach – Book – published Sept. 2, 2014
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ.....c700969-20

  5. 5
    Axel says:

    Thanks a million for those BA. Urgent things to do at the moment, but can’t wait to watch them!

  6. 6
    Mapou says:

    I agree that computers will never be conscious but I don’t think the demise of Moore’s law has anything to do with it. We can continue to increase the complexity of our computing systems indefinitely even if Moore’s law comes to an end. In fact, it has already come to an end commercially since processor manufacturers no longer try to increase the speed of their processors. Instead, they now focus almost entirely on energy savings and massive parallelism. With parallelism, complexity can continue to grow unimpeded. Just recently, Dr. Andrew Ng built a 16,000 core parallel computer at Google that was programmed to run a deep learning algorithm which managed to learn to recognize cats on its own without supervision. No big deal really but it’s a case in point.

    Of course, complexity/intelligence has nothing to do with consciousness and does not require it. But true creativity does, IMO.

  7. 7
    Mapou says:

    Let me add that intelligent behavior can be easily confused with consciousness. When truly intelligent machines become a reality (it won’t be too long now), people will swear that the machines are conscious and will demand that laws be enacted to give them legal rights like humans. It’s scary.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    As to this comment of yours Dr. Torley,,,

    “In a previous post, I argued that even if Moore’s law (that the number of transistors an integrated circuit can hold doubles every two years) continues to hold, there’s no way that the Internet could match the complexity of a human brain before 2115.”

    2115??? Why are you being so generous to the materialistic position Dr. Torley? 🙂 We won’t even be able to realistically model a single neuron by 2115, much less the entire brain!

    “Complexity Brake” Defies Evolution – August 2012
    Excerpt: “This is bad news. Consider a neuronal synapse — the presynaptic terminal has an estimated 1000 distinct proteins. Fully analyzing their possible interactions would take about 2000 years. Or consider the task of fully characterizing the visual cortex of the mouse — about 2 million neurons. Under the extreme assumption that the neurons in these systems can all interact with each other, analyzing the various combinations will take about 10 million years…, even though it is assumed that the underlying (computer) technology speeds up by an order of magnitude each year.”,,,
    Even with shortcuts like averaging, “any possible technological advance is overwhelmed by the relentless growth of interactions among all components of the system,” Koch said. “It is not feasible to understand evolved organisms by exhaustively cataloging all interactions in a comprehensive, bottom-up manner.” He described the concept of the Complexity Brake:,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....62961.html

    Verse and Music:

    Psalm 139:14
    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

    Luminate – Banner of Love
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPm_dbg1_Zs

  9. 9
    Mapou says:

    In my opinion, over 99% of the complexity of the neuron (or the brain) has nothing to do with intelligence.

  10. 10
    wright_pete@yahoo.com says:

    BA77 – I believe Kurt Godel proved conclusively that consciousness cannot be simulated by anything but consciousness itself. QED.

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    wright_pete@yahoo.com, I agree completely that consciousness is not reducible to the brain, and hope I did not give the impression otherwise. I just wanted to emphasize the unfathomable complexity being dealt with in the brain.,,

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine”
    – Kurt Godel

    Kurt Godel and Alan Turing – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video
    https://vimeo.com/92387854

  12. 12
    vjtorley says:

    Hi bornagain77,

    Thanks for that link regarding the Complexity Brake. I hadn’t realized that a single neuron contained so many proteins. Thanks again.

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    Dr. Torley, this may interest you:

    New Study Favors Quantum Mind – Quantum coherence in brain protein resembles plant photosynthesis – 18-Sep-2014
    Excerpt: Photosynthesis, the ubiquitous and essential mechanism by which plants produce food from sunlight, has been shown since 2006 to routinely utilize quantum coherence (quantum coherent superposition) at warm temperatures.
    Back in the brain, microtubules are components of the cytoskeleton inside neurons, cylindrical lattice polymers of the protein ‘tubulin’.,,, now it appears quantum mechanisms eerily similar to those in photosynthesis may operate in tubulins within microtubules.
    In an article published September 17,, a team of scientists,, used computer simulation and theoretical quantum biophysics to analyze quantum coherence among tryptophan pi resonance rings in tubulin, the component protein in microtubules.
    (They) mapped locations of the tryptophan pi electron resonance clouds in tubulin, and found them analogous to (the quantum coherent superposition of) chromophores in photosynthesis proteins.,,,
    Along with recent evidence for coherent megahertz vibrations in microtubules, and that anesthetics act to erase consciousness via microtubules, quantum brain biology will become increasingly important.,,
    http://www.newswise.com/articl.....sone_share

  14. 14
    Querius says:

    The fact that consciousness can alter QM effects by collapsing probabilities seems to indicate QM involvement in consciousness and a (admittedly undefined) self-aware will behind it all.

    One also wants to know the origin of those probabilities in the first place.

    It would be interesting if the attentions of a non-human consciousness, let’s say those of a cat, can also affect QM phenomena.

    -Q

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