Mind Neuroscience News

We’re all just meat puppets, right?

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Which is why the brain is so “difficult to crack”:

A Chaos of Codes

Already we’re beginning to discover clues about how the brain’s coding works. Perhaps the most fundamental: except in some of the tiniest creatures, such as the roundworm C. elegans, the basic unit of neuronal communication and coding is the spike (or action potential), an electrical impulse of about a tenth of a volt that lasts for a bit less than a millisecond. In the visual system, for example, rays of light entering the retina are promptly translated into spikes sent out on the optic nerve, the bundle of about one million output wires, called axons, that run from the eye to the rest of the brain. Literally everything that you see is based on these spikes, each retinal neuron firing at a different rate, depending on the nature of the stimulus, to yield several megabytes of visual information per second. The brain as a whole, throughout our waking lives, is a veritable symphony of neural spikes—perhaps one trillion per second. To a large degree, to decipher the brain is to infer the meaning of its spikes.

But the challenge is that spikes mean different things in different contexts. It is already clear that neuroscientists are unlikely to be as lucky as molecular biologists. Whereas the code converting nucleotides to amino acids is nearly universal, used in essentially the same way throughout the body and throughout the natural world, the spike-to-information code is likely to be a hodgepodge: not just one code but many, differing not only to some degree between different species but even between different parts of the brain. The brain has many functions, from controlling our muscles and voice to interpreting the sights, sounds, and smells that surround us, and each kind of problem necessitates its own kinds of codes.

One reason such questions about the brain’s schemes for encoding information have proved so difficult to crack is that the human brain is so immensely complex, encompassing 86 billion neurons linked by something on the order of a quadrillion synaptic connections. Another is that our observational techniques remain crude. The most popular imaging tools for peering into the human brain do not have the spatial resolution to catch individual neurons in the act of firing. To study neural coding systems that are unique to humans, such as those used in language, we probably need tools that have not yet been invented, or at least substantially better ways of studying highly interspersed populations of individual neurons in the living brain.

We are informed that there is some cause for hope.

But is the computer even the right image?

8 Replies to “We’re all just meat puppets, right?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News, old story. Blind, GIGO-limited cause and effect chain computation is simply categorically distinct from self aware, insightful, meaning and relationship inferring rational contemplation; just ponder Searle’s Chinese Room thought exercise. But materialism seemingly blinds many tot he difference as those who drink the juice think that all directions collapse into heading g=forever west. Going West may get you moving in circles but it does not get you North. KF

  2. 2
    nightlight says:

    It is already clear that neuroscientists are unlikely to be as lucky as molecular biologists. Whereas the code converting nucleotides to amino acids is nearly universal, used in essentially the same way throughout the body and throughout the natural world,

    Not quite as simple as that. The same proteins have different roles in different contexts, just as the same spikes have different roles in their different contexts. Further complication is that the same nucleotides serve as elements of templates for different proteins depending on the context as well.

    Hence, the present science is equally in the dark, with only few scattered sparks of light captured, in either field.

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    Kairosfocus, Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment only refuted symbolic AI. That’s pretty much gone now, as AI research has moved on from its GOFAI days. It is possible to infer semantic meaning from a stream of discrete sensory signals by discovering their temporal correlations. In fact, this is precisely how the brain works, by observing the timing of sensory spikes. From these correlations alone, it is possible to create an accurate model of one’s environment. So, although I believe that mind consists of spirit+body, I also believe it is possible to have intelligence without consciousness. A differently flavored intelligence for sure, but intelligence regardless. I have no idea where your GIGO argument fits in.

  4. 4
    Robert Byers says:

    I don’t think the brain is that complicated.
    More importantly i think they have it all wrong.
    Sights, smells, etc are not processed by the brain but , I think, instead they are processed my the memory.
    Our soul simply reads the memory and uses it for everything.
    One should exalt the memory machine in our head and diminish this brain theory thing.
    I don’t think we have a brain as much as simply a memory machine. just a computer except we have a soul.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Mapou, The Chinese Room also sharply shows the difference between understanding and blind execution of steps. KF

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    This,,,

    One reason such questions about the brain’s schemes for encoding information have proved so difficult to crack is that the human brain is so immensely complex, encompassing 86 billion neurons linked by something on the order of a quadrillion synaptic connections.

    ,,reminds me of this,,

    Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth – November 2010
    Excerpt: They found that the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study: …One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-2708.....2-247.html

    That is, simply put, humbling! But for Darwinists, who have yet to explain how a single neuron of that complexity originated, it is, apparently, no big deal.

    Moreover, all that computational power in the brain is maintained at an amazingly low level of power consumption:

    Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? – By Ferris Jabr – July 2012
    Excerpt: Unlike physical exercise, mental workouts probably do not demand significantly more energy than usual. Believing we have drained our brains, however, may be enough to induce weariness,,,
    Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of energy our bodies expend in one very lazy day of no activity.,,,
    —Resting metabolic rate: 1300 kilocalories, or kcal, the kind used in nutrition
    —1,300 kcal over 24 hours = 54.16 kcal per hour = 15.04 gram calories per second
    —15.04 gram calories/sec = 62.93 joules/sec = about 63 watts
    —20 percent of 63 watts = 12.6 watts
    So a typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts—a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt lightbulb. Compared with most other organs, the brain is greedy; pitted against man-made electronics, it is astoundingly efficient.
    http://www.scientificamerican......d-calories

    THE EFFECT OF MENTAL ARITHMETIC ON CEREBRAL CIRCULATION AND METABOLISM
    Excerpt: Although Lennox considered the performance of mental arithmetic as “mental work”, it is not immediately apparent what the nature of that work in the physical sense might be if, indeed, there be any. If no work or energy transformation is involved in the process of thought, then it is not surprising that cerebral oxygen consumption is unaltered during mental arithmetic.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....4-0127.pdf

    Appraising the brain’s energy budget:
    Excerpt: In the average adult human, the brain represents about 2% of the body weight. Remarkably, despite its relatively small size, the brain accounts for about 20% of the oxygen and, hence, calories consumed by the body. This high rate of metabolism is remarkably constant despite widely varying mental and motoric activity. The metabolic activity of the brain is remarkably constant over time.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/99/16/10237.full

    Also of interest,,,

    Scaling of Brain Metabolism and Blood Flow in Relation to Capillary and Neural Scaling – 2011
    Excerpt: Brain is one of the most energy demanding organs in mammals, and its total metabolic rate scales with brain volume raised to a power of around 5/6. This value is significantly higher than the more common exponent 3/4 (Quarter Power Scaling) relating whole body resting metabolism with body mass and several other physiological variables in animals and plants.,,,
    Moreover, cerebral metabolic, hemodynamic, and microvascular variables scale with allometric exponents that are simple multiples of 1/6, rather than 1/4, which suggests that brain metabolism is more similar to the metabolism of aerobic than resting body. Relation of these findings to brain functional imaging studies involving the link between cerebral metabolism and blood flow is also discussed.,,
    General Discussion Excerpt:
    ,,It should be underlined that both CBF and CMR scale with brain volume with the exponent about 1/4 which is significantly different from the exponent 1/4 relating whole body resting specific metabolism with body volume [1], [2], [3]. Instead, the cerebral exponent 1/6 is closer to an exponent,, characterizing maximal body specific metabolic rate and specific cardiac output in strenuous exercise [43], [44]. In this sense, the brain metabolism and its hemodynamics resemble more the metabolism and circulation of exercised muscles than other resting organs, which is in line with the empirical evidence that brain is an energy expensive organ [10], [17], [18]. This may also suggest that there exists a common plan for the design of microcirculatory system in different parts of the mammalian body that uses the same optimization principles [45].,,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....MC3203885/

    The preceding experiments are very unexpected for materialists since materialists hold that ‘mind’ is merely a ’emergent property’ of the physical processes of a material brain. But why should ‘thought’ which is presupposed to be result of, and subservient to, the material processes of the brain constrain the material brain to operate at such a constant and optimal metabolic rate whereas the rest of body fluctuates in its metabolic activity? The most parsimonious explanation for such a optimal constraint on the brain’s metabolic activity is that the material brain was designed, first and foremost, to house the mind and give the mind the most favorable metabolic environment possible at all times.

    Also of interest to the fact that ‘A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth’ is that computers with many switches have a huge problem with heat,,,

    Supercomputer architecture
    Excerpt: Throughout the decades, the management of heat density has remained a key issue for most centralized supercomputers.[4][5][6] The large amount of heat generated by a system may also have other effects, such as reducing the lifetime of other system components.[7] There have been diverse approaches to heat management, from pumping Fluorinert through the system, to a hybrid liquid-air cooling system or air cooling with normal air conditioning temperatures.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....chitecture

    Yet the brain, though having as many switches as all the computers, routers, and internet connections, on earth does not have such a problem with heat.

    One of the reasons computers have such a problem with heat is that a certain percentage of the heat generated by computers is because of something known as Landauer’s principle.

    Landauer’s principle
    Of Note: “any logically irreversible manipulation of information, such as the erasure of a bit or the merging of two computation paths, must be accompanied by a corresponding entropy increase ,,, Specifically, each bit of lost information will lead to the release of an (specific) amount (at least kT ln 2) of heat.,,,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L....._principle

    Landauer’s principle implies that when a certain number of arithmetical operations per second have been exceeded, the computer will produce so much heat that the heat is impossible to dissipate.

    Quantum knowledge cools computers – Published: 01.06.11
    Excerpt: The fact that computers produce heat when they process data is a logistical challenge for computer manufacturers and supercomputer operators. In addition, this heat production also imposes a fundamental limit on their maximum possible performance. According to the so-called Landauer Principle formulated by the physicist Rolf Landauer in 1961, energy is always released as heat when data is deleted. Renner says, “According to Landauer’s Principle, if a certain number of computing operations per second is exceeded, the heat generated can no longer be dissipated.” Assuming that supercomputers develop at the same rate as in the past, this critical limit will probably be reached in the next 10 to 20 years.
    http://www.ethlife.ethz.ch/arc.....u/index_EN

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Thus, the brain is either operating on reversible computation principles that no computer (or computer engineer) can come close to emulating (Charles Bennett; IBM), or, as is much more likely, the brain is not erasing information from its memory, as the material computer is required to do during arithmetical operations, because our memories are stored on the ‘spiritual’ level rather than on a material level. This argument has been developed more formally here:

    Sentient robots? Not possible if you do the maths – 13 May 2014
    Over the past decade, Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues have developed a mathematical framework for consciousness that has become one of the most influential theories in the field. According to their model, the ability to integrate information is a key property of consciousness. ,,,
    But there is a catch, argues Phil Maguire at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth. He points to a computational device called the XOR logic gate, which involves two inputs, A and B. The output of the gate is “1” if A and B are the same and “0” if A and B are different. In this scenario, it is impossible to predict the output based on A or B alone – you need both.
    Crucially, this type of integration requires loss of information, says Maguire: “You have put in two bits, and you get one out. If the brain integrated information in this fashion, it would have to be continuously haemorrhaging information.”,,,
    Based on this definition, Maguire and his team have shown mathematically that computers can’t handle any process that integrates information completely. If you accept that consciousness is based on total integration, then computers can’t be conscious.
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....3LD5ChuqCe

    also of note:

    A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
    Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories (information) inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,So we need a functioning brain to receive our consciousness into our waking consciousness.
    http://www.nderf.org/vonlommel.....sponse.htm

    To support this view that ‘memory/information’ is not being stored in the brain, one of the most common features of extremely deep near death experiences is the ‘life review’ where every minute detail of a person’s life, every word, every deed, is reviewed in the presence of God:

    At the 17:45 minute mark of the following Near Death Experience documentary, the Life Review portion of the Near Death Experience is highlighted, with several testimonies relating how every word, deed, and action, of a person’s life (all the ‘information’ of a person’s life) is gone over in the presence of God:

    Near Death Experience Documentary – commonalities of the experience – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTuMYaEB35U

    Verse and Music:

    Matthew 12:36-37
    “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    Sidewalk Prophets – “The Words I Would Say” with Lyrics
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t9u-LOa3OI

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    If we are all just meat puppets, how would we know and why should we care?

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