Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"The Brain" looks into non-biological platforms for consciousness

The Brain with David Eagleman” continued (maybe concluded) tonight on PBS with  “Who Will We Be?

The opening was less challenging sci-fi stuff, like teaching the brain to develop new senses.  In one experiment, a man wears a device that transfers vibrations to his chest to be associated with messages.  There is also a lot of coverage of robotics, as a woman learns to control a robotic arm just with thoughts, after transcranial magnetic stimulation.

But then the episode moves into the nature of human consciousness and identity.  It covers cryrogenics, and the practice of freezing the bodies or brains of rich dead people who are banking on the idea of coming back to life.  I could imagine a sci-fi scenario where this could even happen in a hospice.

Eagleman notes that when someone “dies”, all the information in his or her brain is lost (one brain contains about as many bytes as all the computers in the world now).  Maybe it goes onto the surface of a black hole, to be covered, but then maybe it can leak out in Hawking Radiation.  (That’s my theory, which gets interesting if you add other dimensions from string theory which allow for micro black holes.)  But what seems to produce consciousness is not just the brain, but the ability of the brain to integrate the information “correctly”

The findings are supported with a brain-mapping of a younger male.  This seems to be part of the Blue Brain Project with Dr. Telefont in Switzerland, where a complete simulation of a brain by 2023 is the goal. Eagleman suggests that if all the information in a brain is mapped and the “methods” (to use OOP language) are properly simulated, then maybe one person’s consciousness can be restarted without a biological body, which could be a way for future generations to do space travel.  It’s possible that alien civilizations could reproduce consciousness without biological bodies as we understand them, and that could be a natural process in the Universe.

Brain mapping has been theorized in some science-fiction, like in “The Matrix Trilogy”.  How do we know, Eagleman asks as he stands near a modern Metro station (I think it’s Shanghai) that we aren’t living in someone’s holographic simulation.  There is no way to prove we don’t.  Dreams (the Christopher Nolan movie “Inception”) provide the examination of consciousness with an interesting problem.

Maybe gender won’t matter and reproduction won’t matter.  The analogy of an ant colony or bee hive is mentioned, where it seems there is consciousness at the group level.  Among higher animals, it is possible that orcas or dolphins can “distribute” consciousness.  It seems that higher mammals (carnivores and primates, and some others like elephants, and cetaceans) do share the experience of mapping individuality to the brain.

Back in the 1990s, Omni Magazine had suggested downloading the brain to a computer as an alternative to death. Also, this evening,

Earlier this evening,  HBO gave a 12-minute featurette on the upcoming film "The Danish Girl" about a transgender woman (from man) int he 1920s, played by Eddie Redmayne. Sexual and gender identity present interesting problems for brain science.

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