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(io9)   Is consciousness quantum?   (io9.com) divider line 130
    More: Interesting, quantum, consciousness, Roger Penrose, historic preservation, anesthesia, classical mechanics  
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4577 clicks; posted to Geek » on 14 Sep 2013 at 9:43 PM (48 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-09-15 10:37:09 AM
I'm not against the idea of some quantum shenanigans going on in the brain but having read Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind I can't shake the impression Penrose believes this for no other reason that he strongly needs the human mind to be non-computational.  He comes across as terrified of the possibility of emulating this in computer hardware/software (AI) and simply refuses to acknowledge the possibility.  Therefore something non-computational must be going on in our brains, if we don't understand it now it *must* be quantum.  But his "evidence" all falls back on our not understanding how consciousness works whatever the method.  No, Penrose, we might just not understand its perfectly-classical workings.

Also, even if consciousness does require quantum trickery that doesn't mean we won't figure out how to emulate as well.  It might push the effort back to some degree but I refuse to believe that if evolution managed it we won't be able to manage it as well.
 
2013-09-15 10:57:48 AM

jamspoon: A casual Googling of the idea says "No". The main reason being a quantum computer has to be very cold to avoid quantum "noise" disrupting the process.

Nice idea though


But photosynthesis uses quantum tunneling. You can't explain that.
 
2013-09-15 11:22:48 AM

the opposite of charity is justice: I'm not against the idea of some quantum shenanigans going on in the brain but having read Emperor's New Mind and Shadows of the Mind I can't shake the impression Penrose believes this for no other reason that he strongly needs the human mind to be non-computational.  He comes across as terrified of the possibility of emulating this in computer hardware/software (AI) and simply refuses to acknowledge the possibility.   Therefore something non-computational must be going on in our brains, if we don't understand it now it *must* be quantum.  But his "evidence" all falls back on our not understanding how consciousness works whatever the method.  No, Penrose, we might just not understand its perfectly-classical workings.

Also, even if consciousness does require quantum trickery that doesn't mean we won't figure out how to emulate as well.  It might push the effort back to some degree but I refuse to believe that if evolution managed it we won't be able to manage it as well.


Pretty much this.

Penrose understands, correctly, that if the brain is computational (or equally, completely described by conventional biology => chemistry => physics), then there is no possibility whatsoever that anything remotely like "free will" or "choice" exists. And he finds this conclusion so unacceptable that he concludes that the premise is impossible. His reasoning is, of course, completely backwards.

However, as you rightly point out, attributing something in the brain to quantum effects does not make the problem go away. The fact that quantum effects contain randomness doesn't make them any better as an explanation for directedness, which is the essence of free will.

The most pessimistic worldview is that we are simply not equipped to understand consciousness. If free will is not an illusion, it may well require a physical theory entirely beyond QM, and it may be that the physical brains we are currently equipped with are no more capable of formulating the necessary understanding than a dog is of understanding quantum mechanics.

(Mind you, as a I mentioned above quantum effects might provide a way for actual directness, if such a thing exists, to interact with known physical laws without violating what we already know with great certainty about QM, and also without invoking any kind of mystical woo. Unfortunately, as I found out last time, the argument is too subtle for a Fark thread.)
 
2013-09-15 11:57:43 AM

Mister Peejay: DamnYankees: Bathysphere: Physicists and mathematicians have been know to be very spiritual people, and as an atheist, I'm curious to know what knowledge they have that provokes their spirituality.

Scientists, especially physicists, are WAY LESS spiritual than other people.

You're kidding, right?


He's right. Scientists are far, far more likely to be atheists than the average person.
 
2013-09-15 12:00:04 PM

czetie: The most pessimistic worldview is that we are simply not equipped to understand consciousness.


We are not.  It's not pessimistic, it's rational.  A classic idea with computing does apply, a rough paraphrase: a computer with software to build a virtual computer, the virtual model will never rival the original computer in performance.

Factor in the huge amount of variability, how different individual brains function and can even re-learn and re-assign tasks, and you've got an area of study that is hard to pin down with anything resembling precision.

There will never be an up to date "understanding it all out".  If we advance far enough we'll theoretically be able to figure out how we functioned today.  As I hinted at in my former post above, a complete understanding would have to come from an advanced intelligence, one advanced enough to contain ours(with all it's variables) within itself(and arguably with enough spare room to maintain its own individuality).

Sure, it doesn't hurt to try, because along the way you do discover useful things, but it is a natural limitation of studying one's self.

As to free will....you're(collective) mixing and matching philosophical terms and ideals, indeed whole schools of thought.  Makes it a matter of perspective.  I have the ability to choose what I type next, so I do have free will.  But I am also limited greatly by past experience, maybe to the point where that choice, with the theoretical(and nearly impossible) full understanding, makes that choice inevitable, even predictable.

Humanities(and other philosophical perspectives) don't mesh well with more technical and logical sciences for that reason.  There is no such things as "for all intents and purposes" universal things like "free will".  It's a concept that applies only to certain discussions/schools of thought.

It's a similar principle to the fallacy of equivocation.  X can equal 1, 2, and sometimes 3, but only in certain applications.  For the purposes of a real technical science, "free will" is about an irrelevant topic as God is a rational explanation for physics or math.

/Disclaimer: I am not trying to school anyone, just airing out my brain a bit.

I'm also not up on quantum science much at all, but to my limited understanding, it's no different than talking about reality on a specific scale.  If everything at base is a quantum mechanic, trying to explain human consciousness with it exclusively, as if it plays some unique role, is preposterous.  Akin to saying atoms and molecules explain our brains, as if they're not the building blocks for every physical object that we can see, touch, and feel.
 
2013-09-15 12:11:46 PM

StrangeQ: Good thing the brain doesn't really function anything at all like any computer we've build then.  When you add 2 + 2 in your mind, the processes you go through do not have any relation to this:


Doesn't really in a computer, either.  That design uses too many transistors.  And for inputs with a larger number of bits, a ripple carry adder is too slow.
 
2013-09-15 12:15:17 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: Okay, let's use your argument on something other than microtubules....

Humans have neurons, and are conscious. Jellyfish have neurons but are not conscious. Therefore neurons must not be involved in human consciousness.

I don't think that last statement is a valid leap. :)


It's also logically invalid (it's actually a non sequitor logical error) and not at all the argument I am making, as Martian_Astronomer pointed out. The better phrasing of the last part is "Therefore neurons are not sufficient to explain human consciousness". You have to look at the macroscale organization of the network of neurons and the cognitive processes so allowed, i.e. the brain and it's structures, not just the neurons.
 
2013-09-15 12:48:33 PM
As I understand it, the current mathematical theory shows the universe is composed of at least 11 dimensions. Most humans can comprehend 3-5 dimensions of reality. Why is it so hard to accept that those other dimensions could contain what we know as God and Heaven/hell? I believe most are coiled around themselves but as I know little mathematics the concepts of the upper dimensions elude me. We also accept the concept of the multiverse but deny the possibility of a higher being that could exist in some part of it. This strikes me as illogical.
 
2013-09-15 01:03:13 PM

arkansized: This is so...I can't even...
Does anyone else find it interesting that the Godhead's name in Hebrew is I AM ?


Or that he loves foreskins and hates bacon? Yeah, kinda...but the dude's clearly psychotic.
 
2013-09-15 01:11:01 PM

KiltedBastich: It's also logically invalid (it's actually a non sequitor logical error) and not at all the argument I am making, as Martian_Astronomer pointed out.


Martian_Astronomer corrected your argument, not mine.  It wasn't my argument to begin with.
 
2013-09-15 01:58:20 PM

omeganuepsilon: A classic idea with computing does apply, a rough paraphrase: a computer with software to build a virtual computer, the virtual model will never rival the original computer in performance.


As a computer scientist, I'm not convinced this is a classic idea in computer science.  Why couldn't the computer just have instructions to build two (or more) of itself working inparallel. That does, certainly, outperform the original.

Also, this only applies if the computer is using algorithms.  Perhaps the instructions could instead be probabilistic - i.e.try something random, see if it works better, try something else random....  It's non-deterministic, but it is, after all, how evolution works.
 
2013-09-15 02:25:08 PM

Gunther: Mister Peejay: DamnYankees: Bathysphere: Physicists and mathematicians have been know to be very spiritual people, and as an atheist, I'm curious to know what knowledge they have that provokes their spirituality.

Scientists, especially physicists, are WAY LESS spiritual than other people.

You're kidding, right?

He's right. Scientists are far, far more likely to be atheists than the average person.


Atheist =/ spiritual.
 
2013-09-15 02:46:28 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: KiltedBastich: It's also logically invalid (it's actually a non sequitor logical error) and not at all the argument I am making, as Martian_Astronomer pointed out.

Martian_Astronomer corrected your argument, not mine.  It wasn't my argument to begin with.


No, it was your argument, as you tried to misrepresent what I was saying in a logically invalid manner. Come to think of it, that's also a straw man, not just a non sequitor. Martian_Astronomer got the point I was making immediately.
 
2013-09-15 03:31:40 PM

KiltedBastich: ThrobblefootSpectre: KiltedBastich: It's also logically invalid (it's actually a non sequitor logical error) and not at all the argument I am making, as Martian_Astronomer pointed out.

Martian_Astronomer corrected your argument, not mine.  It wasn't my argument to begin with.

No, it was your argument, as you tried to misrepresent what I was saying in a logically invalid manner. Come to think of it, that's also a straw man, not just a non sequitor. Martian_Astronomer got the point I was making immediately.


Hmmm. If it's any consolation, I didn't intentionally try to misrepresent it. Going back and re-reading I still don't think I did.

In any case, I still disagree that the objection refutes anything. Micro tubules being not sufficient to produce consciousness doesn't refute the idea that they are somehow involved in consciousness in some way. In other words, I don't think anyone claimed they are the sole generator and totality of intelligence, just that they are involved. You were trying to refute something no one said. (Which, btw, is definitively a strawman argument.)
 
2013-09-15 03:59:02 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: omeganuepsilon: A classic idea with computing does apply, a rough paraphrase: a computer with software to build a virtual computer, the virtual model will never rival the original computer in performance.

As a computer scientist, I'm not convinced this is a classic idea in computer science.  Why couldn't the computer just have instructions to build two (or more) of itself working inparallel. That does, certainly, outperform the original.


I don't really agree with the person you're responding to's whole post, but surely, if you're a computer scientist, surely you didn't miss that it was a "virtual computer"?  A virtual computer can never be more powerful than the computer simulating it, which is not so much a "classic" idea as a completely obvious one.

Anyway, even if he were talking about a physical computer, a computer by itself build another physical computer, it'd have to be controlling a robot or something.

All of this is beside the point.  Just because there are ineffible things in this universe doesn't mean consciousness is one of them.
 
2013-09-15 04:40:08 PM

aerojockey: ThrobblefootSpectre: omeganuepsilon: A classic idea with computing does apply, a rough paraphrase: a computer with software to build a virtual computer, the virtual model will never rival the original computer in performance.

As a computer scientist, I'm not convinced this is a classic idea in computer science.  Why couldn't the computer just have instructions to build two (or more) of itself working inparallel. That does, certainly, outperform the original.

I don't really agree with the person you're responding to's whole post, but surely, if you're a computer scientist, surely you didn't miss that it was a "virtual computer"?  A virtual computer can never be more powerful than the computer simulating it, which is not so much a "classic" idea as a completely obvious one.

Anyway, even if he were talking about a physical computer, a computer by itself build another physical computer, it'd have to be controlling a robot or something.

All of this is beside the point.  Just because there are ineffible things in this universe doesn't mean consciousness is one of them.


The constraint of "virtual" on the second machine is entirely arbitrary. A zygote has instructions to build a human brain. But certainly a zygote can't be considered conscious, or more intelligent than a human. Also the resulting human is not a virtual entity inside the zygote.


@All of this is beside the point.

This part I completely agree with. It's kind of what i was saying above. People keep introducing rather vague and hand wavey objections to....something.
 
2013-09-15 04:40:50 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: Hmmm. If it's any consolation, I didn't intentionally try to misrepresent it. Going back and re-reading I still don't think I did.

In any case, I still disagree that the objection refutes anything. Micro tubules being not sufficient to produce consciousness doesn't refute the idea that they are somehow involved in consciousness in some way. In other words, I don't think anyone claimed they are the sole generator and totality of intelligence, just that they are involved. You were trying to refute something no one said. (Which, btw, is definitively a strawman argument.)


The point is that if this is the case then consciousness isn't special, certainly cannot be a trait unique to humans, and all the rest of the woo brought up in the article is just so much malarkey.

If quantum effects in microtubules were all you needed, everything with such microtubules (a.k.a all animals from jellyfish on up) should evince consciousness. If they are not all you need for consciousness, then they are simply an antecedent condition to consciousness in that literally every animal with neurons has them, and you have reduced the claim of quantum microtubules as the source of consciousness to the utterly trivial claim that "consciousness requires neurons" to which the average highschool biology student will reply with "duh!" At that point you are back to looking a the macroscale interactions of those neurons, from neural nets to the CNS, for the source of cognition and consciousness, just with a modified understanding of how neurons work.

The goal here is not to dismiss the possibility of quantum effects in neurons. It is to dismiss the idea that this is somehow special and mystical, a claim which gives rise to the rest of the woo in the article about quantum souls and so on.
 
2013-09-15 04:42:01 PM

aerojockey: A virtual computer can never be more powerful than the computer simulating it, which is not so much a "classic" idea as a completely obvious one.


The russian doll is very classic.  It is obvious, yet also an idea that gets bandied about a lot in variable forms.

IE if we were in The Matrix, we'd never know.
Sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic

It's all based on the same principle, we would almost need a great advancement in understanding reality as we know it.

Yes, we can trace a route out on a given computer, follow a signal, and link those individual memories together, but rare is the ability to envision the mechanics of the whole thing at once, if it exists at all.

It is the same way we learn about our environment.  First, we learn the area around us, then we widen our range and learn a new area and link it to the first.

Anyone who plays modern 3d video games grasps the concept.  I use that as an example because one needs not even to leave mom's basement.

Any given system we study we slowly develop a familiarity with it, but we can only observe so much at once.  Electronic schematics to the way our vision itself functions with focus and peripheral vision.

This is how man has learned as much as he has, as I mentioned above, it's largely associations.  The signals you use to move your fingers to type are all very similar, for example, we don't consciously do it, it's mostly muscle memory.

It is how we function with everything, we give a general notion, and there's a processing of information through informational and physical means, that decompresses it in a way we still cannot puzzle out.  We can grasp some of the general notions, but a complete understanding simply requires better hardware and software.

Same way you can't play, say, Halo 4 on windows 3.1.  Without upgrades in both departments, we're pretty much shiat out of luck.

The way we actually process information is alien to our own established logical thinking.  All animals do as we do without anything but the most rudimentary logic(X hurts, so avoid it.  Y feels good, do it as much as possible).

I'm not saying it's impossible to completely understand consciousness, only that its impossible for humans as we are today.  Much the same way an ant, dog, or butterfly will never truly understand itself.

If our minds are "computers", our understanding, the "virtual computer" will never be as powerful.  We can know certain things about how certain things work, but given human limitations, some things are just beyond our capabilities.  Some subjects are simply so complicated that most people cannot understand most of it's parts, much less the whole thing.
 
2013-09-15 04:55:21 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: The constraint of "virtual" on the second machine is entirely arbitrary


No, you're just a little bit dense.  Here, i'll break it down for you.

Look at this picture then read the following.

static.urbantimes.co

The big one will NEVER fit into the smallest one.  If you do manage, it takes a LOT of work, grinding it up, but then it's not functional, not even a russian doll at all anymore.

Your DNA argument is irrelevant, you're talking about pieces of code involved in what is a physical process at root, not whole computers processing information.

You use one byte, one instruction, one single bit of data for anything but the virtual machine, you've now got less resources than you need to fully replicate said machine.
 
2013-09-15 05:02:51 PM
KiltedBastich:

I don't necessarily disagree with what you just posted.

But, what I am saying is that my post that you were originally responding to was only about the possibility that consciousness involved quantum phenomena.  That's all.  None of the woo about incorporeal intelligences.  Simply put, there were some people before 6am, making objections based on false assumptions.  ("quantum transitions in that ensemble will be so freaking tiny as to be physiologically meaningless.") I corrected that fallacy, factually, and by citing credible references.  You responded to my correction with something that appeared, to me at least, to be completely tangential to my post.  Thus the misunderstanding.  Cool?

I
 
2013-09-15 05:10:12 PM

omeganuepsilon: Your DNA argument is irrelevant



Hmmmm.  DNA is not relevant to a discussion of human consciousness, but somehow Russian dolls are?  :)

That plus the childish insults tell me there's probably not much point in trying to have a rational discussion with you.
 
2013-09-15 05:19:33 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: I don't necessarily disagree with what you just posted.

But, what I am saying is that my post that you were originally responding to was only about the possibility that consciousness involved quantum phenomena. That's all. None of the woo about incorporeal intelligences. Simply put, there were some people before 6am, making objections based on false assumptions. ("quantum transitions in that ensemble will be so freaking tiny as to be physiologically meaningless.") I corrected that fallacy, factually, and by citing credible references. You responded to my correction with something that appeared, to me at least, to be completely tangential to my post. Thus the misunderstanding. Cool?


Fair enough. As I said in my Boobies, I have no real problem with the idea that quantum effects might occur in biology. They've been documented in photosynthesis, and there's really no reason to assume that evolution could not take advantage of quantum effects. That said, as far as I know, the more recent work on microtubules has shown the specific proposed mechanisms to be impossible, although I no longer remember the reference for that claim so I can't be certain.

Overall I am just saying that the claims made in TFA about quantum consciousness amount to woo for some reasons that should be blindingly obvious to anyone who stops to think about humans in the context of their evolutionary history and relation to other life forms, and that those claims should be treated accordingly.
 
2013-09-15 05:40:06 PM

KiltedBastich: Overall I am just saying that the claims made in TFA about quantum consciousness amount to woo for some reasons that should be blindingly obvious to anyone who stops to think about humans in the context of their evolutionary history and relation to other life forms, and that those claims should be treated accordingly.


Gotcha.  I ignored the woo, and focused on the headline which was just a question of biological quantum processes.  Most early objections seemed to focus only on the quantum aspect.  My admonition was, Penrose, being who and what he is, the quantum aspect is probably the one thing he got right, so try a different angle of attack.   Like - "Why would a quantum process in the brain, supposing there is one and regardless of what exactly it is,imply or even remotely allow for non-material intelligent systems?"
 
2013-09-15 05:54:04 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: "Why would a quantum process in the brain, supposing there is one and regardless of what exactly it is,imply or even remotely allow for non-material intelligent systems?"


Yep, this is the essential flaw in Penrose's argument. His answer, as near as I can tell, is "the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate" -- which, it has to be said, is not much of an argument.
 
2013-09-15 06:02:43 PM

jamspoon: A casual Googling of the idea says "No". The main reason being a quantum computer has to be very cold to avoid quantum "noise" disrupting the process.

Nice idea though


Yeah, the idea isn't totally crazy (and it's been around a looong time), but this is basically the problem with it.

I love that we live in a world where someone can come up with a pretty good answer to such an esoteric question with "a casual Googling".
 
2013-09-15 06:08:10 PM

ThrobblefootSpectre: omeganuepsilon: Your DNA argument is irrelevant


Hmmmm.  DNA is not relevant to a discussion of human consciousness, but somehow Russian dolls are?  :)

That plus the childish insults tell me there's probably not much point in trying to have a rational discussion with you.


The discussion within the thread you are talking about(supposedly as a computer scientist) is computing, where in you miss the entirety of the russian doll reference(here's a hint, it's a widely used symbology in the computing world and in science fiction, even in math AND physics).  Do try to keep up.

Not only do you lie about your career(or grossly fail at it, or grossly mislabel it, I'd believe you may be a receptionist who uses a computer on occasion, but that's really about it. ), you can't even follow a fark discussion.

References:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/29/nesting-computers-minecra ft -hardware/
http://www.cloudcomputingexpo.com/node/2773353
http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc4127
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/mathematical-matryoshka-counti ng -numbers-integers-.html
http://website.acternity.com/?page_id=20">http://website.acternity.c om/?page_id=20
http://matrioshkaworld.blogspot.com/2011/02/physical-limits-of-infer en ce.html
http://diglib.eg.org/EG/DL/LocalChapterEvents/TPCG/TPCG07/097-105.pd f. abstract.pdf
http://www.csupomona.edu/~ftang/courses/CS240/lectures/recursion.htm

But by all means, continue to talk as if you know what you're talking about.
 
2013-09-15 06:29:14 PM

omeganuepsilon: Not only do you lie about your career(or grossly fail at it, or grossly mislabel it, I'd believe you may be a receptionist who uses a computer on occasion, but that's really about it. ), you can't even follow a fark discussion.


Omega, I've seen you be rational and constructively contribute to other science threads.  So I am going to refrain from being dragged into a ITC insult fight, while you are in an insulting and emotionally combative mood.  Perhaps tomorrow, if you calm down, we could meet up in this thread again.
 
2013-09-15 08:04:28 PM
Sure, play it all off as me being juvenile(or whatever ITC means, unless you meant ITG), and you wonder why I resorted to that in the first place.

If you refuse to be rational and honest, there's no point in picking up tomorrow. Re-read the thread if you don't believe you were in error.  Do your own research on the relevance of matryoshka dolls.  You will see where you made your errors if you've an iq over 90 and are not deluding yourself.  I don't even care if you admit it, you're just some random stranger on the internet among thousands, you're easily replaceable so I've got no need to conform to your standards of behavior(Welcome to Fark![and the internet at large]).  I'm simply happy knowing I was in deed technically correct.
 
2013-09-15 08:59:14 PM
1) Anyone who doesn't think there are scientists who are spiritual/investigate the spiritual need to get out more often

2) Unless you are describing a train whistle, using the word "woo" in normal conversation makes you sound retarded.
 
2013-09-15 10:15:22 PM
No matter which model you ascribe to, everyone should at least acknowledge how fragile cognition is in the first place. We need to get over the anthropocentrism of cognition. We consider ourselves special but we used to claim we were the only species which used toos and that vanity has been smashed to pieces.

It doesn't take a lot to derail cognition: disease, trauma, chemicals, lack of sleep, even simple viral ideas can derail critical thought. Vision is 2.5D not 3D and we fill-in the missing data where our blind spot is. We fill in speech when we can't hear entire words, etc. look at what it takes to derail a life when memory-loss hits... it's all a massive, fragile, con game of filtered data which we call "cognition".

Like photosynthesis uses quantum tunneling to break up CO2, I wouldn't e aurised that we have low-level quantum effects working at the nuron/synapse level but that's not what drives the illusion of cognition. I think it's due to the act we can multi-task a bit better then ther animals because we're domesticated and don't have to use all our bandwidth for survival. We can waste time thinking about higher subject matter and we have the physiology to act on it. For all we know whales and dolphins are smart but their bodies and ecosystem limit their ability to act on their higher brain functions.

I don't know. I'm drinking.
 
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