Einstein’s Brain, Mathematics and Ghosts

An example of the interface between consciousness and mathematics.

Ignore for the moment any vague notions of consciousness being some mysterious spiritual entity and ponder the ramifications if we limit ourselves to a simple materialist view. In particular, let us look at a computational setup entitled: Einstein’s Brain.

We begin with (a metaphorical) Einstein upon whom we are about to perform this interesting philosophical experiment. What we are going to do is gradually replace his brain cells with microcomputers that mimic them perfectly through a series of equations that are solved for input and output of each brain cell. Slowly, his brain is to be changed from an organic computer to one based on silicon circuitry. The contemporary materialist view is that there would be no noticeable change in his thoughts or behavior. It is just the old software running on new hardware, and the hardware is not important. Each time we make a change we ask: “Are you conscious”, to which Einstein answers “Yes”.

Now we take it another step into absurdity, although a totally logical though impractical absurdity. We decide to run the software manually by writing down in a big book the equations for every cell and working through it by hand with a pencil. What we have is a program that is basically a very big series of mathematical statements, whose solutions are Einstein’s mind and consciousness. If we ask the “book brain” the question: “Are you conscious” all we do is solve the equations and out pops the answer: “Yes”. So where is consciousness in all this? Can a mere book be conscious once it is complex enough? Or is it the act of solving the equations that generates mind?
It is this latter position which is the most common one, but what does “solving the equation” actually mean? When is an equation solved? Is it only when we actually record the answer somewhere — if so, does 1+1=… have no solutions until it is written down? If one answers that such a solution exists even if we do not know the answer, we are into the Platonic Realms. The question that then arises is why do these mathematics have to be written anywhere at all in order to be a valid consciousness? If truth, at least to the extent of mathematical truth, lies “out there” somehow external to our universe and yet interacting with it then all possible equations and their solutions somehow exist independent of us, or of time and space. It means all possible consciousness’ exist in the Platonic Realm, that this realm is a sea of timeless consciousness eternally waiting to be incarnated into the world of matter and energy. Or, if Tegmark is correct with the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, they are already incarnated somewhere.

Finally, such a book represents a frozen consciousness with all of its potentialities. The only difference between its mind and our mind is that it depends for its life on an external agency reading it, doing the sums and writing the results in the book — something the matter in our brains does for us automatically — so we assume, possibly erroneously.

But what about Quantum Mechanics (QM) I can almost hear you thinking…

Well, Quantum Computers (QC) can emulate/simulate any quantum system, so replace the neural structures with QCs and the argument proceeds from there. With one difference. The mathematics does not result in the same answer every time we do the calculation. There is a “random” element that corresponds to the reduction of the quantum wavefunction to a definite value from a slew of possibilities. So, this is where “the soul” or whatever comes in? Maybe, except for a couple of problems. The first is that there is no evidence that quantum processes are used by the brain. The second is that the reduction of the wavefunction is esentially random, albeit with a statistical skew towards various outcomes. Does having something in your brain that tosses a zillion coins a second really matter? Probably not. On the other hand, if there is some kind of “consciousness receiver” then it must be skewing the statistics at the quantum level and no mechanism is known that could do that. It would mean the breakdown of QM, and again there is no evidence for that at all, either theoretical or expeimental. And if there were… we could build it into our QCs and mathematical models.

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Dirk Bruere

R&D Scientist and Engineer, Transhumanist, martial artist and Asatru. Zero State