Showing posts with label mind uploading/brain copying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mind uploading/brain copying. Show all posts

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Physics, Immortality, and the Afterlife

What does physics tell us about the possibility of immortality or an afterlife?

First, let’s address the elephant in the room.  To the physics community, “afterlife” often implies “religion” often implies “stupidity.”  Bullies like Richard Dawkins have made it very clear that anyone who even suggests the existence of God or an afterlife is intellectually inferior.  Oddly, this assertion directly conflicts with several arguments based on currently-understood physics (and often made, ironically, by atheists) that immortality is possible.  I’ll discuss below some of these arguments.  Importantly, any physicist who tells you with certainty that there is no afterlife is not only mistaken, but is ignorant of the direct logical implications of his/her own beliefs about physics.

Note: “Afterlife” and “immortality” are not technically the same.  Immortality might be interpreted as “never dying,” while an afterlife might be interpreted as “consciousness after one has died.”  However, from a physics standpoint, this is often a distinction without a difference.  For example, if mind uploading is possible, then it can be done before or after a person’s brain is dead.

Postponing Death

My close friend (and former MIT debate champion) once made the following (valid) argument:

·       Technology (e.g., medicine) is allowing humans to live longer and longer.

·       There is some tiny but nonzero probability 0<p<<1 that we will develop the technology to indefinitely postpone death.  For example, imagine that in the next 50 years we figure out how to make humans live to age 150, and in the following 50 years we figure out how to make humans live to age 200, and so on.  Then someone born today could indefinitely postpone death.

·       The universe will continue expanding forever.  (Most physicists believe that the universe has positive curvature.)

·       p * ∞ = ∞.

·       Therefore, the life expectancy of a person born today is infinite!

The argument applies equally to an afterlife as to immortality if we simply replace the second statement with “There is some tiny but nonzero probability 0<p<<1 that we will develop the technology to reanimate a dead person’s brain.”  (After all, that’s why the quacks at the Brain Preservation Foundation recommend cryogenic freezing of one’s brain, which I’m certain is not cheap.)  If we can agree that it is at least physically possible to indefinitely delay death (or to reanimate a dead brain), then physical immortality/afterlife cannot be ruled out.

Mind uploading

If you can upload your conscious awareness onto a computer, then you can live forever because a computer can be indefinitely operated and repaired.  Okay, okay, you still need energy to flow, which will stop when the universe experiences its predicted heat death in at least a googol years.  Even still, Michio Kaku in his fascinating book, Parallel Worlds, points out that conscious awareness would slow down commensurate with decreased energy transfer so that one’s subjective conscious experience wouldn’t notice.

Again, there’s no difference here between “immortality” and “afterlife” since the fundamental assumption of mind uploading (and algorithmic consciousness) is that a conscious state is just software running on a computer, and that can be done long after one’s death.  (It can also be done before one’s death, which leads to all kinds of ridiculous paradoxes that I discuss in this paper.) 

The problem is that I showed in this paper (and this) that consciousness is not algorithmic, which means it cannot be uploaded to or executed by a computer (whether digital or quantum).  Mind uploading is not physically possible.

Quantum Suicide

Max Tegmark, proponent of the wacky and unscientific Many Worlds Interpretation (“MWI”) of quantum mechanics, proposed the notion of quantum suicide (although really it’s just “quantum death” because it applies independently of intention) as an empirical test of MWI.  The idea is this:

·       Stand in front of a “quantum gun” that is designed so that when the trigger is pulled, whether a bullet actually fires from the gun (and kills you) depends on the outcome of a quantum mechanics (“QM”) event.

·       Universal linearity of QM – i.e., the assumption of U which I dispute here – implies that the quantum event entangles with the bullet, which entangles with you, to produce a Schrodinger’s-Cat-like state involving you in a superposition of states |dead> and |alive>. 

·       If MWI is correct, then both states actually occur/exist (albeit in different “worlds” that are exceedingly unlikely to quantum mechanically interfere).

·       Since you cannot consciously survive death – a huge assumption! – then the only state you can consciously observe is the one involving |alive>, which means that you are guaranteed to “survive” the pull of the quantum gun trigger.

·       You can repeat this as many times as you want, and every time you will be guaranteed to observe the outcome in which you are alive.

The argument is wrong for several reasons that I point out in the Appendix of this paper.  One problem is that every chance event is fundamentally (amplification of) a quantum event, which means that essentially every death-causing event is akin to quantum suicide/death.  But that means that, if Tegmark’s argument is correct, then nobody can actually die

But the main problem is that the argument depends on the unjustified and irrational assumption of U.  If Schrodinger’s Cat and Wigner’s Friend can’t exist, then the quantum suicide experiment can never get off the ground. 

Boltzmann Brain

The Boltzmann Brain concept is the notion that, given enough time, every physical state will repeat itself.  Or: due to random quantum fluctuations, given enough time, every possible physical configuration that can fluctuate into existence will fluctuate into existence.  So, eventually, even trillions of years after humanity has gone extinct, the conscious state you are experiencing at this moment will be recreated (and presumably re-experienced) again.  And again and again. 

Whether such experiences count as immortality or afterlife makes no difference, because the Boltzmann Brain concept is impossible.  I showed in this paper that physical instantiations of the same conscious state cannot exist at different points in spacetime. 

Tipler’s Physics of Immortality

Frank Tipler is a Christian who was largely ostracized from the academic world for showing how what is currently understood about physics could support the notions of a Christian God and afterlife.  His book, The Physics of Immortality, is interesting but dense.  At the risk of oversimplifying his analysis, I think his fundamental argument is really the Boltzmann Brain in disguise.  He relies heavily on the Bekenstein Bound (which I discussed here) and the notion of Eternal Recurrence to show that consciousness cannot end.

His analysis is wrong for several reasons.  First, the Bekenstein Bound assumes the constancy of the informational content in a given volume (i.e., that Planck’s constant is constant, which may be false).  Second, and more importantly, it assumes that a conscious state is just a list of numbers (even if it’s a huge list) that must be contained within the volume of a brain, and therefore that consciousness is algorithmic, which I’ve shown is false.  If consciousness cannot be reduced to a set of bits (and/or their algorithmic manipulation), then the number of bits that can fit in a given volume is irrelevant.

Reversibility

If physical systems are truly reversible, then – at least according to some – it should be possible in principle to physically reverse a person’s death (or even some or all of a person’s life).  It’s certainly not obvious that constantly “undoing” someone’s death results in a meaningful kind of immortality.  Still, maybe the goal of reversing someone’s death is to copy their consciousness into another physical system or upload it to a computer.  But I’ve already pointed out several times that this is impossible.  Either way, the entire argument is moot because physical reversibility of large systems is a logical contradiction.

What do I actually believe?

First, let me point out the crazy irony of this blog post so far.  I, the crackpot who believes in God, am trying to explain why several physicists’ arguments for immortality or afterlife are wrong!  In fact, the only one of the above arguments that I can’t completely rule out is Postponing Death, even though I regard it as extremely implausible to postpone death indefinitely.

Having said that, we do not understand consciousness.  No physicist, neurobiologist, physician, psychologist, computer scientist, philosopher, etc., understands consciousness, and anyone who claims to understand it is likely introducing unstated assumptions.  For example, most scientists who academically discuss consciousness assume that consciousness is created entirely by the brain, which is why the hackneyed “brain-in-a-vat” thought experiment – the namesake of this blog – is so pervasive in the literature. 

After all, if consciousness is entirely a product of the brain (or, more generally, on a local region of spacetime that may enclose the brain), then the above arguments are a lot more tenable.  That is, if a conscious state supervenes on a physical state that is entirely (locally) contained in some volume, then Tipler’s argument based on the Bekenstein Bound seems to apply; the total information specifying that conscious state is finite and, as nothing more than a string of numbers, can be copied and uploaded to a computer; and so forth.

In fact, given so many physical arguments for immortality, one might even wonder what physical arguments there are against immortality.  There is only one: assume that consciousness is entirely a product of the (living) brain; then death of the brain ends consciousness.  And if that assumption is wrong, then there is literally no existing scientific evidence against immortality or an afterlife.

But that assumption is wrong.  Conscious states are not local and they cannot be copied to different places in spacetime.  (Stoica makes a related and fascinating argument here that mental states are nonlocal.)  If they’re nonlocal, then they must physically depend on nonlocal (quantum) entanglements among objects and particles throughout the universe.  That is, what physically specifies my conscious state logically must extend beyond my brain.  There is certainly no doubt that my brain affects my consciousness, but it cannot be entirely locally responsible for it.  The fact that events and physical relationships that extend far beyond my brain are at least partially responsible for my consciousness leads me to surmise that these conscious-identity-producing physical relationships will persist long after the atoms in my brain are no longer arranged in their current configuration.  This is the beginning of an as-of-yet undeveloped physical argument for immortality/afterlife.

So, what do I really believe about an afterlife?  I won’t mince words.  I am certain that my consciousness is eternal; I am certain that my consciousness awareness will not permanently end if/when my brain dies.  In future posts, I will give logical and physical arguments to support these assertions, but I wanted first to devote a blog post to what currently-understood physics implies. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

The Folly of Brain Copying: Conscious Identity vs. Physical Identity

The notion of “identity” is a recurring problem both in physics and in the nature of consciousness.  Philosophers love to discuss consciousness with brain-in-a-vat type thought experiments involving brain copying.  The typical argument goes something like this:

i)          The brain creates consciousness.

ii)         It is physically possible to copy the brain and thereby create two people having the same conscious states.

iii)        Two people having the same conscious states each identifies as the “actual” one, but at least one is incorrect.

iv)        Therefore, conscious identity (aka personal identity) is an illusion.

I spent a long time in Section II of this paper explaining why questioning the existence of conscious identity is futile and why the above logic is either invalid or inapplicable.  Yes, we have a persistent (or “transtemporal”) conscious identity; doubting that notion would unravel the very nature of scientific inquiry.  Of course, you might ask why anyone would actually doubt if conscious identity exists.  Suffice it to say that this wacky viewpoint tends to be held by those who subscribe to the equally wacky Many Worlds Interpretation (“MWI”) of quantum mechanics, which is logically inconsistent with a transtemporal conscious identity.

I showed in Section III of the above paper why special relativity prevents the existence of more than one instantiation of a physical state creating a particular conscious state.  In other words, at least one of assumptions i) and ii) above is false.  For whatever reason, the universe prohibits the duplication or repeating of consciousness-producing physical states.  In Section IV(A) of the same paper, I suggested some possible explanatory hypotheses for the mechanism(s) by which such duplications may be physically prevented, such as quantum no-cloning. 

Nevertheless, the philosopher’s argument seems irresistible... after all, why can’t we make a “perfect” copy of a brain?  If multiple instances of the same conscious state are physically impossible then what is the physical explanation for why two consciousness-producing physical states cannot be identical?  I finally realized that conscious identity implies physical identity.  In other words, if conscious identity is preserved over time, then physical identity must also be preserved over time, and this may help explain why the philosopher’s brain-copying scheme is a nonstarter.

I’d been struggling for some time with the notion of physical identity, such as in this blog post and this preprint.  The problem can be presented a couple ways:

·         According to the Standard Model of physics, the universe seems to be made up of only a handful of fundamental particles, and each of these particles is “identical” to another.  For example, any two electrons are identical, as are any two protons, or any two muons, etc.  The word “identical” is a derivative of “identity,” so it’s easy to confuse two “identical” electrons as being indistinguishable and thus having the same (or indistinct) identities.  So if all matter is made up of atoms comprising electrons, protons, and neutrons, then how can any particular clump of atoms have a different identity than another clump made of the same type of atoms?

·         Let’s assume that consciousness is created by physical matter and that physical matter is nothing but a collection of otherwise identical electrons, protons, and neutrons.  In the above paper I showed that if conscious identity exists, then conscious states cannot be copied or repeated.  And that means there is something fundamentally un-copiable about the physical state that creates a particular conscious state, which would seem odd if all matter is fundamentally identical. 

·         Consciousness includes transtemporal identity.  Assuming physicalism is true, then conscious states are created by underlying physical states, which means those physical states must have identity.  But physics tells us that physical matter comprises otherwise identical particles.

I finally realized that this problem can be solved if particles, atoms, etc., can themselves have identity.  (I do not mean conscious identity... simply that it makes sense to discuss Electron “Alice” and Electron “Bob” and keep track of them separately... that they are physically distinguishable.)  An object’s identity can be determined by several factors (e.g., position, entanglements and history of interactions, etc.) and therefore can be distinguished from another object that happens to comprise the same kind of particles.  Two physically “identical” objects can still maintain separate “identities” to the extent that they are distinguishable.  And we can distinguish (or separately identify) two objects, no matter how physically similar they may otherwise be, by their respective histories and entanglements and how those histories and entanglements affect their future states. 

Where does physical identity come from?  It is a necessary consequence of the laws of physics.  For instance, imagine we have an electron source in the center of a sphere, where the sphere’s entire surface is a detector (assume 100% efficiency) that is separated into hemispheres A and B.  The detector is designed so that if an electron is detected in hemisphere A, an alarm immediately sounds, but if it is detected in hemisphere B, a delayed alarm sounds one minute later.  The source then emits an electron, but we do not immediately hear the alarm.  What do we now know?  We know that an electron has been detected in hemisphere B and that we will hear an alarm in one minute.  Because we know this for certain, we conclude that the detected electron is the same as the emitted electron.  It has the same identity.  The following logical statement is true:

(electron emitted) ∩ (no detection in hemisphere A) à (detection in hemisphere B)

But more importantly, the fact that the above statement is true itself implies that the electron has identity.  In other words:

[(electron emitted) ∩ (no detection in hemisphere A) à (detection in hemisphere B)]

à (the electron emitted is the electron detected in hemisphere B)

(On retrospect, I feel like this is obvious.  Of course physical identity is inherent in the laws of physics.  How could Newton measure the acceleration of a falling apple if it’s not the same apple at different moments in time?)

So if electrons can have identity, then in what sense are they identical?  Can they lose their identity?  Yes.  Imagine Electron Alice and Electron Bob, each newly created by an electron source and having different positions (i.e., their distinct wave packets providing their separate identities).  The fact that they are distinguishable maintains their identity.  For example, if we measure an electron where Electron Bob cannot be found, then we know it was Electron Alice.  However, electrons, like all matter, disperse via quantum uncertainty.  So what happens if their wave functions overlap so that an electron detection can no longer distinguish them?  That’s when Bob and Alice lose their identity.  That’s when there is no fact about which electron is which.  (As a side note, Electron Bob could not have a conscious identity given that when he becomes indistinguishable with Electron Alice, even he cannot distinguish Bob from Alice.  This suggests that conscious identity cannot even arise until physical identity is transtemporally secured.)

This realization clarified my understanding of conscious identity.  My body clearly has an identity right now in at least the same sense that Electron Bob does.  What would it take to lose that physical identity?  Well, it wouldn’t be enough to make an atom-by-atom copy of the atoms in my body (call it “Andrew-copy”), because Andrew-copy would still be distinguishable from me by nature, for example, of its different location.  Rather, the wave functions of every single particle making up my body and the body of Andrew-copy would have to overlap so that we are actually indistinguishable.  But, as I showed in this paper, that kind of thing simply can’t happen with macroscopic objects in the physical universe because of the combination of slow quantum dispersion with fast decoherence.

What would it take for me to lose my conscious identity (or copy it, or get it confused with another identity, etc.)?  Given that conscious states cannot be physically copied or repeated, if conscious identity depends only the particular arrangement of otherwise identical particles that make up matter, then we need a physical explanation for what prevents the copying of that particular arrangement.  But if conscious identity depends on not just the arrangement of those (otherwise identical) particles but also on their physical distinguishability, then the problem is solved.  Here’s why.  Two macroscopic objects, like bowling balls, will always be physically distinguishable in this universe.  Bowling Ball A will always be identifiably distinct from Bowling Ball B, whether or not any particular person can distinguish them.  So if my conscious identity depends at least in part on the physical distinguishability of the particles/atoms/objects that create my consciousness, then that fact alone would explain why conscious states (and their corresponding transtemporal identity) cannot be copied.

Let me put this another way.  Identity is about distinguishability.  It is possible for two electrons to be physically indistinguishable, such as when the wave states of two previously distinguishable electrons overlap.  However, it is not possible, in the actual universe, for a cat (or any macroscopic object) and another clump of matter to be physically indistinguishable because it is not possible for the wave states of these two macroscopic objects to overlap, no matter how physically similar they may otherwise be.  A cat’s physical identity cannot be lost by trying to make a physical copy of it.  It is not enough to somehow assemble a set of ≈10^23 atoms that are physically identical to, and in a physically identical arrangement as, the ≈10^23 atoms comprising the cat.  Each of those constituent atoms also has a history of interactions and entanglements that narrowly localize their wave functions to such an extent that overlap of those wave functions between corresponding atoms of the original cat and the copy cat is physically impossible.  (See note below on the Myth of the Gaussian.)

Imagine that someone has claimed to have made a “perfect copy” of me in order to prove that conscious identity is just an illusion.  He claims that Andrew-copy is indistinguishable from me, that no one else can tell the difference, that the copy looks and acts just like me.  Of course, I will know that he’s wrong: even if no one else can distinguish the copy from me, I can.  And that alone is enough to establish that Andrew-copy is not a perfect copy.  But now I understand that my conscious identity implies physical identity – that my ability to distinguish Andrew-copy from me also implies physical distinguishability.  There is no such thing as a perfect physical copy of me.  Even if the atoms in Andrew-copy are in some sense the same and in the same configuration as those in my body, and even if some arbitrary person cannot distinguish me from Andrew-copy, the universe can.  The atoms in Andrew-copy have a history and entanglements that are distinguishable from the atoms in my body, the net result being that the two bodies are physically distinguishable; their separate physical identities are embedded as facts in the history of the universe.

So if the universe can distinguish me from Andrew-copy, then why should it be surprising that I can distinguish myself from Andrew-copy and that I have an enduring conscious identity?  The question is not whether some evil genius can make a physical copy of my body that is indistinguishable to others.  The question is whether he can make a copy that is indistinguishable to me or the universe.  And the answer is that he can’t because making that copy violates special relativity. 

 

Note on the Myth of the Gaussian:

Physicists often approximate wave functions in the position basis as Gaussian distributions, in large part because Gaussians have useful mathematical properties, notably that the Fourier transform of a Gaussian is another Gaussian.  Because the standard deviation of a Gaussian is inversely related to the standard deviation of its Fourier transform, it clearly demonstrates the quantum uncertainty principle whereby the commutator of two noncommuting operators is nonzero.  An important feature of a Gaussian is that it is never zero for arbitrarily large distances from the mean.  This treatment of wave functions often misleads students into believing that wave functions are or must be Gaussian and that: a) an object can be found anywhere; and b) the wave states of any two arbitrary identical objects always overlap.  Neither is true. 

Regarding a), physics students are often given the problem of calculating the probability that his/her body will quantum mechanically tunnel through a wall, or even tunnel to Mars; the calculation (which is based on the simple notion of a particle of mass M tunneling through a potential barrier V) always yields an extremely tiny but nonzero probability.  But that’s wrong.  Setting aside the problem with special relativity – i.e., if I am on Earth now, I can’t be measured a moment later on Mars without exceeding the speed of light – the main problem is physical distinguishability.  The future possibilities for my body (and its physical constituents) are limited by their histories and entanglements. 

While some electron may, due to quantum dispersion or being trapped in a potential well, develop a relatively wide quantum wave packet over time whose width “leaks” to the other side of the wall/potential barrier, this requires that the electron remain unmeasured (i.e., with no new correlations) during that time period.  But the particles and atoms in a human body are constantly “measuring each other” through decoherence so that their individual wave packets remain extremely tightly localized.  In other words, my body doesn’t get quantum mechanically “fuzzy” or “blurry” over time.  Thus none of the wave packets of the objects comprising my body get big enough to leak through (or even to) the wall.  More to the point, the QM “blurriness” of my body is significantly less than anything that can be seen... I haven’t done the calculation, but the maximum width of any wave packet (not the FWHM of a Gaussian, which extends to infinity, but the actual maximum extent) is much, much, much smaller than the wavelength of light. 

As I showed above, physical distinguishability is an inherent feature of the physical world.  An object that appeared on the other side of the wall that happened to look like my body would be physically distinguishable from my body and cannot be the same.  That is, there is no sense in which the body that I identify as mine could quantum mechanically tunnel to Mars or through a wall – that is, there is ZERO probability of me tunneling to Mars or through a wall.  If I have just been measured in location A (which is constantly happening thanks to constant decohering interactions among the universe and the objects comprising my body), then tunneling to location B requires an expansion of the wave packets of those objects to include location B – i.e., my tunneling to B requires a location superposition in which B is a possibility.  But past facts, including the fact that I am on Earth (or this side of the wall) right now have eliminated all configurations in which my body is on Mars (or on the other side of the wall) a moment later.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why Special Relativity Prevents Copying Conscious States

I was honored to be asked by Kenneth Augustyn to present to the 3rd Workshop on Biological Mentality on Jan. 6, 2020.  The talk was entitled, “Why Mind Uploading, Brain Copying, and Conscious Computers Are Impossible.”  While the talk addressed work in my earlier papers, it offers a clearer argument explaining why Special Relativity prevents the existence of physical copies of conscious states -- specifically, why two instances of physical copies of conscious states located at different points in spacetime, whether spacelike or timelike, would require either superluminal or backward causation.  I also show that because conscious states cannot be copied or repeated, consciousness cannot be algorithmic and cannot be created by a digital computer.  I mention some possible explanatory hypotheses, several of which are related to quantum mechanics, such as Quantum No-Cloning.  Finally, I touch on my related work of whether conscious states are history dependent.

This 36-minute video is probably my clearest video explanation so far as to why mind uploading and conscious computers are inconsistent with Special Relativity.




Friday, June 21, 2019

Is It Possible to Copy the Brain?

The science fiction plot involving copying brains or uploading minds onto computers or fighting conscious AI or teleportation yada yada yada is everywhere.  Black Mirror wouldn't even exist without these fascinating ideas.

Every one of these plots depends on the assumed ability to copy brains or consciousness, or on the assumption that consciousness is algorithmic, like software running on a computer.  These are very related assumptions: all algorithms can be copied and executed on any general-purpose computer, so if consciousness is algorithmic, then it should be possible to copy conscious states and/or duplicate brains.

Let me be blunt: every science nerd on the planet (including me) has, at some point, wondered about and been intrigued by the possibility and implications of "brain copying."  (Although really I mean the more general notion that one's consciousness can be copied, whether by digitizing consciousness, physically copying the brain, whatever.) 

But here's something weird.  VERY few scientists have actually questioned the assumptions that conscious states can be copied or that consciousness is fundamentally computational.  For instance, if you Google the exact phrase "impossible to copy the brain" a total of ZERO results are found, but if you don't question the possibility of brain copying, then the exact phrase "copy the brain" yields over a MILLION results.  Does it seems strange that despite our fascination with AI, teleportation, mind uploading, and so forth, that this particular post might be the very first in the entire history of the Internet to state, in these words, that it might be impossible to copy the brain?  Really?!  No one has ever said that phrase on the Internet before?  (BTW there are lots of other such phrases, printed at the bottom of this post.)

These assumptions are so ingrained within the scientific community that most young physicists, neurobiologists, engineers, etc., don't even realize that they are making such assumptions, and those that do are unlikely to question them.  Famed philosopher John Searle once pointed out that "to deny that the brain is computational is to risk losing your membership in the scientific community."  Entire industries are even being launched (mind uploading, digital immortality, etc.) on the underlying supposition that it's just a matter of time before we'll be able to digitize the brain, or create a conscious computer, or create a perfect duplicate of the brain.  Are these assumptions valid?

Sir Roger Penrose (Oxford) argues that consciousness cannot be simulated on a computer because, he claims, humans are able to discover truths that cannot be discovered by any algorithm running on a Turing machine.  However, despite his eminence in the fields of mathematics and physics, he is still criticized by the "mainstream" scientific community for this suggestion.

Scott Aaronson (U. Texas @ Austin) asks in his paper, "Does quantum mechanics ... put interesting limits on an external agent's ability to scan, copy, and predict human brains ... ?"  He says he regards this "as an unsolved scientific question, and a big one," and then gives one possible explanation of how physics might explain that conscious brains can't be copied (if in fact they can't).  In a blog post, he points to an empirical fact "about the brain that currently separates it from any existing computer program.  Namely, we know how to copy a computer program ... how to rerun it ... how to transfer it from one substrate to another.  With the brain, we don't know how to do any of those things."  In both works, he is careful not to offend the majority, with self-deprecating comments about expecting to be "roasted alive" for his dissension from "the consensus of most of my friends and colleagues."

There are a few other scientists who cautiously suggest that brains can't be copied or that brains aren't computers (one example here).  I myself have written a paper (preprint here or related YouTube videos herehere and here) that argues that consciousness is not algorithmic and can't be copied, in part because consciousness correlates to quantum measurement events that occur outside the body.  But, let's face it: for the most part, very few scientists question these assumptions.

I assert that the following assumptions pervade academia and popular science, and that they are unfounded and unsupported by empirical evidence:
a) That consciousness is computational/algorithmic;
b) That consciousness can be duplicated; and
c) That brains can be copied.

Here is my question: What empirical evidence do we currently have for making any of these assumptions?  I think the answer is "none," but I could be wrong. 

If you are going to answer this question, please consider these guidelines:
*  Please provide actual empirical evidence to support your point.  For example, if you think that brains can be copied, then linking to a bunch of papers in which neurobiologists have sliced rat brains (or whatever) is inadequate, because that says nothing to support the assumption that brains can be copied over the assumption that brains cannot be copied.   And extrapolating into the future ("If we can slice rat brains today, then in 50-100 years we'll be able to digitize them and copy them...") is not evidence for your point.  On that note...
*  Please do not talk about what is expected, or what "should" happen, or what you think is possible in principle.  (The phrase "in principle" should be banned from the physicist's lexicon.)  Please focus on what is actually known today based on scientific inquiry and discovery. 
*  Please do not bully with hazy notions of "consensus."  Scientific truth does not equal consensus.  I don't care (and nor should you) what a "majority" of scientists believe if those beliefs are not founded on scientific data and evidence.  Further, considering that anyone who openly questions these assumptions has to apologetically tiptoe on eggshells, for fear of offending the majority, it's difficult or impossible to know whether there really is any consensus on this issue.
*  Please be aware of your own assumptions.  For example, if you reply that "consciousness must be capable of being simulated because it is part of the universe, which is itself being capable of being simulated," note that the latter statement is itself an unproven assumption.



Additional comments:
The following search terms in Google yield either zero or just a few results, which underscores how pervasive the assumptions about brains and consciousness are:

“impossible to copy conscious”
“impossible to copy consciousness”
“not possible to copy consciousness”
“possible to copy consciousness”
“possible to copy conscious”
"cannot copy conscious"
"cannot copy consciousness"
"impossible to duplicate conscious"
"possible to duplicate conscious"
"possible to duplicate consciousness"
"impossible to duplicate consciousness" 
"cannot duplicate consciousness" 
"cannot duplicate conscious"
 “not possible to copy brain”
“impossible to copy the brain”
“not possible to copy the brain”
“cannot copy the brain”
"cannot duplicate the brain"
"impossible to duplicate the brain"
"possible to duplicate the brain" 
 “consciousness cannot be algorithmic” 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Why Mind Uploading and Brain Copying Violate the Physics of Consciousness

I just finished creating a video, now posted on YouTube, that attempts to prove why the laws of physics, particularly Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, prohibit the copying or repeating of conscious states.  This time, I introduce the Unique History Theorem, which essentially states that every conscious state uniquely determines its history from a previous conscious state.  If true, then the potential implications are significant: consciousness is not algorithmic; computers (including any artificial intelligence) will never become conscious; mind uploading, as well as digital immortality, will never be possible; and teleportation and any form of brain copying or digitization will remain science fiction.

The video, which lasts about an hour and a half, is here:




However, if you want a brief SUMMARY of the two main videos, a 17-minute video is posted on YouTube here:




Please keep in mind that the above summary video is a great introduction to the proofs and arguments in the main videos, but that the arguments themselves are truncated.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Can Physics Answer the Hardest Questions of the Universe?

At some point during an intro to philosophy class in college, I was first exposed to the classic "Brain in a vat" thought experiment: how do I know I'm not just a brain in a vat of goo with a bunch of wires and probes poking out, being measured and controlled by some mad scientist?  That was a few years before The Matrix came out, which asked essentially the same question.

So -- are you a brain in a vat?  And how could you know?

This is just the tip of the iceberg; once we start down this path, we come face-to-face with more difficult questions.  "What creates consciousness?"  "Can consciousness be simulated?"  "If I copy my brain, will it create another me, and what would that feel like?"  And once we've fallen down the rabbit hole, we see that there are a thousand other seemingly unanswerable questions... questions about free will, the arrow of time, the nature of reality, and so forth.

I think physics can help answer these questions, and in fact I think I have answered a couple of them to some degree.  For example, I don't know (yet) whether I'm in a simulation, but I think I do know whether or not I am a simulation.  Here is my first YouTube talk in which I explain why consciousness cannot be algorithmic, conscious states cannot be copied or repeated, and computers will never be conscious:




If you prefer a written explanation, here is a preprint of my article, "Refuting Strong AI: Why Consciousness Cannot Be Algorithmic."

I am also working on another proof of the same conclusions from a different angle.  Here is a preprint of my article, "Killing Science Fiction: Why Conscious States Cannot Be Copied or Repeated."  I'll post a link to a YouTube talk on this paper as soon as it's available.