According to the theory, all we need to solve the difficult problem of consciousness is to change our assumptions about it. When we realize that consciousness is a relative physical phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally vanishes.
How does 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 thousands of years. The secret of consciousness lies in the fact that each of us has a subjectivity, with the ability to feel, feel and think. As opposed to being under anesthesia or in a deep, dreamless sleep, while we are awake we do not “live in the dark” – we experience the world and ourselves. However, it remains a mystery how the brain creates conscious experience and what area of the brain is responsible.
According to Dr. Nir Lahav, a physicist from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, “This is quite a mystery because it appears that our conscious experience cannot originate from the brain, and in fact, cannot originate from any physical process.” Strange as it may sound, conscious experience in our brain, cannot be found or reduced to neural activity.
Dr. Zakaria Nehme, a philosopher from the University of Memphis, says, “Think of it this way, when I feel happy, my brain will create a distinct pattern of complex neural activity. This neural pattern will be completely associated with my conscious feeling of happiness, but it is not my actual feeling. It is just a neural pattern that represents My happiness. That is why a scientist who looks into my mind and sees this pattern must ask me what I feel, because the pattern is not the feeling itself, but merely a representation of it.” For this reason, we cannot reduce the conscious experience of what we feel, feel, and think in any brain activity. We can only find correlations for these experiences.
After more than 100 years of neuroscience, we have very strong evidence that the brain is responsible for shaping our conscious abilities. So how can these conscious experiences not be located anywhere in the brain (or in the body) and not be reduced to any complex neural activity?
This puzzle is known as the difficult consciousness problem. It is such a difficult problem that only philosophers discussed it until two decades ago. Even today, although we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, there is still a satisfactory theory that explains what consciousness is and how to solve this difficult problem.
in the magazine frontiers in psychologyDr. Lahaf and Dr. Nehme recently published a new physical theory that claims to solve the difficult problem of consciousness in a purely physical way. According to researchers, when we change our assumption about consciousness and assume that it is a relative phenomenon, the mystery of consciousness naturally fades away. In the paper, the authors develop a conceptual and mathematical framework for understanding consciousness from a relativistic viewpoint. According to Dr. Lahav, lead author of the paper, “consciousness must be investigated using the same mathematical tools that physicists use in other known relativistic phenomena.”
To understand how relativity solves the difficult problem, consider a different relativistic phenomenon, constant velocity. First, let’s choose two monitors, Alice and Bob. Bob is on a train moving at a constant speed and Alice watches 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 stationary and that Alice, along with the rest of the world, is moving backwards. But from Alice’s frame of reference, Bob is the one who moves and she is stationary. They have opposite measurements, but both are correct, only from different frames of reference.
We find the same situation in the state of consciousness because consciousness, according to the theory, is a relative phenomenon. Now Alice and Bob are in different cognitive frames of reference. Bob will measure that he has conscious experience, but that Alice has only brain activity without any sign of actual conscious experience. On the other hand, Alice will measure that she has consciousness and Bob has only nervous activity without any evidence of his conscious experience.
Just as in the case of velocity, although there are opposite measurements, both are correct, but from different cognitive frames of reference. As a result, due to the relative point of view, there is no problem with the fact that we measure 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 does not create our conscious experience, at least not through calculations. The reason we have conscious experience is because of the physical measurement process. In short, different physical measurements in different frames of reference show different physical properties in these frames of reference, even though these frames measure the same phenomenon.
For example, suppose Bob is measuring Alice’s brain in the lab while she is feeling happy. Although they observe different characteristics, they actually measure the same phenomenon from different points of view. As the types of measurements differ, different types of characteristics have appeared in cognitive frameworks of reference.
In order for Bob to observe brain activity in the lab, he needs to use measurements of his sensory organs such as his eyes. This type of sensory measurement shows the substrate that causes brain activity – neurons. Thus, in his cognitive framework, Alice has only neural activity representing her consciousness, but no sign of her actual conscious experience itself.
However, for Alice to measure her neural activity as happiness, she uses different types of measurements. She does not use the sensory organs, she measures her neural representations directly through the interaction between one part of her brain and other parts. It measures its neural representations according to its relationships with other neural representations.
This is a completely different measurement than our sensory system does, and as a result, this type of direct measurement shows a different kind of physical characteristic. We call this property conscious experience. As a result, from her cognitive framework of reference, Alice measures her neural activity as a conscious experience.
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 be like the dynamics of Alice’s neural activity, both would be in the same cognitive framework of reference and would have exactly the same conscious experience as the other.
Now Dr. Lahaf and Dr. Nehme want to continue examining the minimum number of precise measurements that any cognitive system needs in order to create consciousness. The implications of such a theory are huge. It can be applied to determine which animal was the first animal in the evolutionary process to have consciousness, which patients with disorders of consciousness are conscious, when a fetus or child begins to become conscious, and which artificial intelligence systems already have today’s low (if any) degree of consciousness.
Reference: “A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness” by Nir Lahav and Zakaria A. Grace, 12 May 2022, Available here. frontiers in psychology.
DOI: 10.3389 / fpsyg.2021.704270