Scientists have developed a new conceptual and mathematical framework to understand consciousness from a relativistic point of view.
According to the theory, all it takes to solve the difficult consciousness problem is to change our assumptions about it. When we realize that consciousness is a physical, relativistic phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness dissolves on its own.
How do 3 pounds of brain tissue create thoughts, feelings, mental images and a detailed inner world?
The brain’s ability 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 feel, feel and think. Unlike under anesthesia or in a dreamless deep sleep, while 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 which part of the brain is responsible.
According to Dr. Nir Lahav, a physicist from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said: “This is quite a mystery, because it seems that our conscious experience cannot arise from the brain, and in fact cannot arise from any physical process.” As bizarre as it may sound, the 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, “When I feel happiness, my brain will create a signature pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern will correlate perfectly with my conscious feeling of happiness, but it is not my actual feeling. It’s just a neural pattern that represents my happiness, so a scientist who looks at my brain and sees this pattern should ask me what I’m feeling, because the pattern is not the feeling itself, but a representation of it.” Because of this we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we feel, feel and think to any brain activity, we can only find correlations with these experiences.
After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very strong evidence that the brain is responsible for creating our conscious abilities. So how is it possible that these conscious experiences are nowhere to be found in the brain (or in the body) and cannot be reduced to some neural complex activity?
This mystery is known as the difficult problem of consciousness. It is such a difficult problem that until a few decades ago only philosophers talked about it. Even today, although we have made tremendous strides in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is still no satisfactory theory explaining what consciousness is and how to solve this difficult problem.
in the news Limits in Psychology, have dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh recently published a new theory of physics that claims to solve the difficult problem of consciousness in a purely physical way. If we change our assumption about consciousness and assume that it is a relativistic phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness will dissolve on its own, according to the researchers. In the article, the authors developed a conceptual and mathematical framework to understand consciousness from a relativistic point of view. According to Dr. Lahav, the paper’s lead author, “must examine consciousness with the same mathematical tools that physicists use for other known relativistic phenomena.”
To understand how relativity solves the difficult problem, you need to think about another relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. First, let’s choose two observers, Alice and Bob. Bob is in a train that is moving at a constant speed and Alice is watching him from the platform. There is no absolute physical answer to the question “what is Bob’s speed?” The answer depends on the observer’s frame of reference. From Bob’s frame of reference, he will measure that he is standing still and that Alice, with the rest of the world, is moving backwards. But from Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is the one who moves and she stands still. They have opposite dimensions, but they are both correct, just from different frames of reference.
With consciousness we find the same situation 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 who has consciousness and Bob only has neural activity without any idea of his conscious experience.
As in the case of speed, although they have opposite measurements, they are both correct, but from different cognitive frames of reference. As a result, from the relativistic point of view, there is no problem with us measuring different properties from different frames of reference. The fact that we cannot find the actual conscious experience while measuring brain activity is because we are 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 calculations. The reason we have conscious experience is because of the process of physical measurement. In a nutshell, different physical measurements in different frames of reference exhibit different physical properties in these frames of reference, even though these frames measure the same phenomenon.
For example, suppose Bob measures Alice’s brain in the lab while she is feeling happiness. Although they observe different properties, they are actually measuring the same phenomenon from different points of view. Due to their different types of measurements, different types of traits are manifested in their cognitive frames of reference.
In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he must use measurements from his senses, such as his eyes. These kinds of sensory readings manifest the substrate that triggers brain activity – the neurons. Consequently, in his cognitive frame Alice has only neural activity representing her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself.
However, in order for Alice to measure her own neural activity as happiness, she uses different types of measurements. She doesn’t use any senses, she measures her neural representations directly through interaction between one part of her brain and other parts. She measures her neural representations based on their relationships with other neural representations.
This is a very different measurement from what our sensory system does and as a result, this kind of direct measurement exhibits a different kind of physical property. We call this property conscious experience. As a result, Alice measures her neural activity as conscious experience from her cognitive frame of reference.
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 the dynamics of Alice’s neural activity, both would be in the same cognitive frame of reference and the exact the same conscious experience as the other.
Now want Dr. Lahav and Dr. Neemeh continues to explore the exact minimum measurements a 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 animal in the evolutionary process to have consciousness, which patients with consciousness disorders are conscious, when a fetus or baby begins to become conscious, and which AI systems are already low-grade. (the only one) of consciousness.
Reference: “A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness” by Nir Lahav and Zachariah A. Neemeh, May 12, 2022, Limits in Psychology.