Posts tagged consciousness

Is the Universe a Simulation?

Mathematical knowledge is unlike any other knowledge. Its truths are objective, necessary and timeless.  


It seems spooky to suggest that mathematical entities actually exist in and of themselves. But if math is only a product of the human imagination, how do we all end up agreeing on exactly the same math? 


…one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used. [img: DVDP ]

Is the Universe a Simulation?

Mathematical knowledge is unlike any other knowledge. Its truths are objective, necessary and timeless.  

It seems spooky to suggest that mathematical entities actually exist in and of themselves. But if math is only a product of the human imagination, how do we all end up agreeing on exactly the same math? 

…one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used. [img: DVDP ]

wnyc:

Is There A Place For The Mind In Physics?
So I want you to do something for me. I want you to think of a blue monkey. Are you ready? OK, go! Visualize it in your head. Any kind of monkey will do (as long as it’s blue). Take a moment. Really, see the little blue dude! Got it? Great. Now, here is the question: Where did that thought fit into reality? How was it real? Where was it real?
Another way to ask this question is: Was the “blue monkey thought” just the electrical activity of your neurons? Was that all there was to it? If not, might your private internal screening of the blue monkey be something altogether different? Was it, perhaps, part of something just as fundamental as quarks and Higgs bosons?
This is the fundamental question behind philosopher Thomas Nagel’s controversial book: ”Mind & Cosmos: Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”. I’ve been slowly making my way through Nagel’s short (though, at points, dense) volume for a few months now. Back in October our own most excellent philosopher of Mind, Alva Noe, presented his own take on Nagel’s work. Yesterday, Tania Lombrozo extracted some real-world questions out of Nagel’s philosophy. Today I want to begin thinking a bit about what and where the Mind might be in relation to my own science of physics. CONTINUED. 

UmYuss. But not really. 

wnyc:

Is There A Place For The Mind In Physics?

So I want you to do something for me. I want you to think of a blue monkey. Are you ready? OK, go! Visualize it in your head. Any kind of monkey will do (as long as it’s blue). Take a moment. Really, see the little blue dude! Got it? Great. Now, here is the question: Where did that thought fit into reality? How was it real? Where was it real?

Another way to ask this question is: Was the “blue monkey thought” just the electrical activity of your neurons? Was that all there was to it? If not, might your private internal screening of the blue monkey be something altogether different? Was it, perhaps, part of something just as fundamental as quarks and Higgs bosons?

This is the fundamental question behind philosopher Thomas Nagel’s controversial book: Mind & Cosmos: Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”. I’ve been slowly making my way through Nagel’s short (though, at points, dense) volume for a few months now. Back in October our own most excellent philosopher of Mind, Alva Noe, presented his own take on Nagel’s work. Yesterday, Tania Lombrozo extracted some real-world questions out of Nagel’s philosophy. Today I want to begin thinking a bit about what and where the Mind might be in relation to my own science of physics. CONTINUED

UmYuss. But not really. 

What is all this? Rows I, III, and V show coronal slices of a healthy comparison brain and II, IV, and VI those of Patient B.
Pretty much every study relevant to me mentions the insula, as it’s well accepted that it’s involved in the processing of feelings like pain/pleasure and feelings of emotions. So I see activation in the insula and go yeahyeah, of course. 
But here’s a case study of a Patient B who presented with Herpes Simplex Type 1 encephalitis, that lead to complete bilateral insula damage. However, the rub is B was still able to express emotions and remain self aware/introspective. 
One of my favorite answers in the self awareness battery was when the researcher asks, “Am I aware of myself?” and B says, “You look very handsome. I think you know what to do here.”
Nice one. 
Anyway, the deal is this case study lends strong evidence to support the suggestion that the neural substrate of feeling states starts at a subcortical level then goes up to the cortical level. Layers people. Layers.  

Damasio A, Damasio H, & Tranel D (2012). Persistence of Feelings and Sentience after Bilateral Damage of the Insula. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991) PMID: 22473895

What is all this? Rows I, III, and V show coronal slices of a healthy comparison brain and II, IV, and VI those of Patient B.

Pretty much every study relevant to me mentions the insula, as it’s well accepted that it’s involved in the processing of feelings like pain/pleasure and feelings of emotions. So I see activation in the insula and go yeahyeah, of course. 

But here’s a case study of a Patient B who presented with Herpes Simplex Type 1 encephalitis, that lead to complete bilateral insula damage. However, the rub is B was still able to express emotions and remain self aware/introspective. 

One of my favorite answers in the self awareness battery was when the researcher asks, “Am I aware of myself?” and B says, “You look very handsome. I think you know what to do here.”

Nice one.

Anyway, the deal is this case study lends strong evidence to support the suggestion that the neural substrate of feeling states starts at a subcortical level then goes up to the cortical level. Layers people. Layers.  

ResearchBlogging.org

Damasio A, Damasio H, & Tranel D (2012). Persistence of Feelings and Sentience after Bilateral Damage of the Insula. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991) PMID: 22473895

Convinced that the son they know and love is still “in there,” Chris’s parents have spent the past three years searching for a way to bring him back out. So far, their best hope has come from an unlikely source: Ambien. A growing body of case reports suggests that the popular sleep aid can have a profound — and paradoxical — effect on patients like Chris. Rather than put them to sleep, both i and its generic twin, zolpidem, appear to awaken at least some of them. The early reports were so pronounced that until recently, doctors had a hard time believing them. Only now, more than a decade after the initial discovery, are they taking a closer look.

Think about it. "Inducing Disbelief in Free Will Alters Brain Correlates of Preconscious Motor Preparation: The Brain Minds Whether We Believe in Free Will or Not"

From the Neuroethics and Law blog:

Abstract

The feeling of being in control of one’s own actions is a strong subjective experience. However, discoveries in psychology and neuroscience challenge the validity of this experience and suggest that free will is just an illusion. This raises a question: What would happen if people started to disbelieve in free will? Previous research has shown that low control beliefs affect performance and motivation. Recently, it has been shown that undermining free-will beliefs influences social behavior. In the study reported here, we investigated whether undermining beliefs in free will affects brain correlates of voluntary motor preparation. Our results showed that the readiness potential was reduced in individuals induced to disbelieve in free will. This effect was evident more than 1 s before participants consciously decided to move, a finding that suggests that the manipulation influenced intentional actions at preconscious stages. Our findings indicate that abstract belief systems might have a much more fundamental effect than previously thought.   

Full paper.

"The controversial science of free will"
Q&A with Michael S. Gazzaniga

So it’s as though consciousness is distributed. Being conscious of something occurs because that sensation takes prominence over other brain activity at a particular time?
It’s absolutely distributed. I use an arcade game to describe it. Do you know the game Whack-A-Mole? It’s the same with consciousness. When you’re conscious, it’s as though a mole is popping up at one place in your brain. When one mole has popped up, the other is down. We might have a sensation of a unified integrated consciousness, but it’s actually individual sensations popping up with whatever you’re particularly conscious of in one moment.    Via    Image

"The controversial science of free will"

Q&A with Michael S. Gazzaniga

So it’s as though consciousness is distributed. Being conscious of something occurs because that sensation takes prominence over other brain activity at a particular time?

It’s absolutely distributed. I use an arcade game to describe it. Do you know the game Whack-A-Mole? It’s the same with consciousness. When you’re conscious, it’s as though a mole is popping up at one place in your brain. When one mole has popped up, the other is down. We might have a sensation of a unified integrated consciousness, but it’s actually individual sensations popping up with whatever you’re particularly conscious of in one moment.    Via    Image

Awareness detected in people in vegetative state

The highlights:

Scientists have used a portable device that tracks changes in brain waves to communicate with people in a vegetative state, some of whom have been locked in their bodies for more than a year.

The researchers instructed 16 people in a vegetative state to imagine they were making a fist with their right hand or wiggling their toes, and then measured brain activity while electrodes were attached to their scalp.

"It was possible to detect that these patients were actually aware" despite being diagnosed as being "entirely unconscious" using standard clinical assessments, said Professor Adrian Owen of the Center for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario. 

Curiously, three of the 12 healthy volunteers were not able to reliably activate areas in the brain used when making a fist or wiggling toes, even though they were very much aware of their surroundings.

Cruse said patients in a vegetative state may have been much more motivated to do the task because they were eager to show that they were aware of their surroundings. via

Something bizarre must be true about the mind, but which bizarre propositions are the true ones, we are in no good position to know.

What is so interesting is that the cerebrum has about 30 billion neurons and the cerebellum, has about 50 billion….but if we took out the neuron heavy cerebellum we would still be able to be the same person, we are still ‘there’ in terms of consciousness.
However, …if we removed the cerebrum, we would no longer exist…for all intensive purposes we would be a zombie.  -Psychiatrist/Neuroscientist, Giulio Tononi, via

This post reminded of a very short video from last year, featuring Tononi speaking with Alan Alda about human consciousness & vegetative state case studies at the World Science Festival. Giving weight to how we are just one slip or accident away from being…not ourselves.

What is so interesting is that the cerebrum has about 30 billion neurons and the cerebellum, has about 50 billion….but if we took out the neuron heavy cerebellum we would still be able to be the same person, we are still ‘there’ in terms of consciousness.

However, …if we removed the cerebrum, we would no longer exist…for all intensive purposes we would be a zombie.  -Psychiatrist/Neuroscientist, Giulio Tononivia

This post reminded of a very short video from last year, featuring Tononi speaking with Alan Alda about human consciousness & vegetative state case studies at the World Science Festival. Giving weight to how we are just one slip or accident away from being…not ourselves.

Scientific American Mind has an article co-written by Psychiatrist/Neuroscientist,  Giulio Tononi who works in the area of human consciousness who has been busy  coming up with tests to see if machines are conscious asks:

 ”HOW WOULD WE KNOW if a machine is conscious?”

… fascinating.

image

Scientific American Mind has an article co-written by Psychiatrist/Neuroscientist,  Giulio Tononi who works in the area of human consciousness who has been busy  coming up with tests to see if machines are conscious asks:

 HOW WOULD WE KNOW if a machine is conscious?

… fascinating.

image

Last thoughts and Consciousness
Does the brain remain aware after a guillotining? Are the seconds or minutes after the chop  agonizingly experienced by the heads that showed ”irregularly rhythmic contractions” of eyelids and mouths…or were they merely compulsive muscle spasms, left-over signals of a swiftly shocked but unconscious brain?

The subject was considered as early as 1796 in a French pamphlet,Anecdotes sur les Décapités, and again, briefly, in English, by John Wilson Croker in his History of the Guillotine (1853). Doctors, for the most part, insisted that the shock of the blade must cause immediate unconsciousness, and that loss of the blood supply to the brain brings on actual death a matter of seconds later – there is a cardiologists’ maxim that when a heart stops, the brain can retain consciousness for no more than four seconds if the person concerned is standing, eight if he is sitting, and 12 if he is lying down. via

So if oxygen is the problem, just pump some blood in. Here, anyone’s will do….Lord, no - not the cat.

In 1880, a doctor pumped blood from a living dog into the head of the murderer and rapist Menesclou three hours after execution. The lips trembled, the eyelids twitched, and the head seemed about to speak, although no words emerged.  via

So then…
That implies that any movements of a detached noggin’s eyes or lips “are merely convulsive, and that the severed head does not feel.” But, over the years, a small and frankly dubious body of evidence has accumulated to suggest this view is wrong, and that – in a handful of cases at least – the severed head remains aware of what has happened to it. via
Or does it?  Point is, Some experiments with severed heads is what you want to read. Various “medical” studies, skeptical retorts and other historical accounts of what turns out to be a very painful execution.
If you don’t feel like doing all that work, here’s the rub:  

…most modern physicians believe that the reactions described above are actually  reflexive twitching of muscles, rather than conscious, deliberate movement. Cut off from the heart (and therefore, from oxygen), the brain immediately goes into a coma and begins to die. According to Dr. Harold Hillman, consciousness is “probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of intracranial perfusion of blood”   Via

So even if the the docs from the 1800’s weren’t that far off, if signals are making muscles twitch, then pain might still be able to be “felt” and maybe thoughts are experienced, at least for those 2-3 seconds.  1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…that’s still a long time to be in pain - or not sure if there is any pain, which is why it’s no longer used as a execution device. 
Image: Guillotined Head, Antoine Wiertz, 1855

Last thoughts and Consciousness

Does the brain remain aware after a guillotining? Are the seconds or minutes after the chop  agonizingly experienced by the heads that showed ”irregularly rhythmic contractions” of eyelids and mouths…or were they merely compulsive muscle spasms, left-over signals of a swiftly shocked but unconscious brain?

The subject was considered as early as 1796 in a French pamphlet,Anecdotes sur les Décapités, and again, briefly, in English, by John Wilson Croker in his History of the Guillotine (1853). Doctors, for the most part, insisted that the shock of the blade must cause immediate unconsciousness, and that loss of the blood supply to the brain brings on actual death a matter of seconds later – there is a cardiologists’ maxim that when a heart stops, the brain can retain consciousness for no more than four seconds if the person concerned is standing, eight if he is sitting, and 12 if he is lying down. via

So if oxygen is the problem, just pump some blood in. Here, anyone’s will do….Lord, no - not the cat.

In 1880, a doctor pumped blood from a living dog into the head of the murderer and rapist Menesclou three hours after execution. The lips trembled, the eyelids twitched, and the head seemed about to speak, although no words emerged.  via

So then…

That implies that any movements of a detached noggin’s eyes or lips “are merely convulsive, and that the severed head does not feel.” But, over the years, a small and frankly dubious body of evidence has accumulated to suggest this view is wrong, and that – in a handful of cases at least – the severed head remains aware of what has happened to it. via

Or does it?  Point is, Some experiments with severed heads is what you want to read. Various “medical” studies, skeptical retorts and other historical accounts of what turns out to be a very painful execution.

If you don’t feel like doing all that work, here’s the rub:  

…most modern physicians believe that the reactions described above are actually  reflexive twitching of muscles, rather than conscious, deliberate movement. Cut off from the heart (and therefore, from oxygen), the brain immediately goes into a coma and begins to die. According to Dr. Harold Hillman, consciousness is “probably lost within 2-3 seconds, due to a rapid fall of intracranial perfusion of blood”   Via

So even if the the docs from the 1800’s weren’t that far off, if signals are making muscles twitch, then pain might still be able to be “felt” and maybe thoughts are experienced, at least for those 2-3 seconds.  1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…that’s still a long time to be in pain - or not sure if there is any pain, which is why it’s no longer used as a execution device. 

Image: Guillotined Head, Antoine Wiertz, 1855

Anyone home? A few thoughts on (un)consciousness and shades of grey matter.

The image of Daphne the nymph changing into a plant while running away from Apollo to save her virginity, is often used to illustrate the vegetative state: the notion of being a responsive, conscious human being at one moment and not being one the next. We either are or we aren’t. The idea that once we are in a vegetative state, we are no longer ‘here’ has been assumed for a long time, in fact up until recently we might have been declared dead:

Little more than 40 years ago, a partially functioning brain would not have gotten in the way of organ donation; irreversible cardiopulmonary failure was still the only standard for determining death. But during the 1970s, that began to change, and by the early 1980s, the cessation of all brain activity — brain death — had become a widely accepted standard. Via

Recent time specifications have been assigned psychological states defined as disorders of consciousness such as coma, permanent vegetative state (PVS), persistent vegetative state and brain dead, making each a distinctive diagnosis, are especially relevant in neurolaw applications. But even if someone is diagnosed in a PVS, or ‘brain dead’ does that mean that person is no longer in there, somewhere? How do we show someone is aware? The legal definition of brain dead is:

Brain death is considered an irreversible coma. A patient is diagnosed as brain dead when there is no detectable brain activity. (…) Brain death is not the same as a vegetative state, but the two are often confused. A vegetative state is when a person can seem to be awake, have their eyes open, yet they are not aware of anything and their brains are not functioning. Via

In the case of a 23 year old woman that was in a PVS after a car accident, which means she was “awake but unresponsive”, researchers were able to determine she was still ‘in there’.  By using fMRI and asking her questions about playing tennis and to think about walking around her house, the same areas were active as with control healthy brains, showing she could hear and respond to the question.

The healthy brain (l) showed the same activity as the patient’s (r) via

Marvin Minsky, Professor of Cognitive Science at MIT and one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence states that there are over 26 definitions of consciousness, therefore the word ‘consciousness’ is a wastebasket. We cannot get anywhere in this argument since we are misusing and trying to assign a term to a problem that covers too much area…that the term consciousness is “…a wastebasket for 26 different problems in psychology that [we] do not understand.” Via

So, instead of it being black or white, consciousness or unconsciousness, it turns out to be a multitude of states, a multitude of little psychological mysteries.