1

Do we live in a discrete world?

Today, I will share with you some recent thoughts I had.

Do you remember of analog chips (a.k.a linear integrated circuits)? These circuits are almost no longer in use and have been replaced by semi-conductors and discrete processing chips (digital ones). Some kind of analog signal processing still remains in use in vacuum tubes and may be soon integrated in some current devices thanks to recent improvements.

To sum up, we have the following kind of computers: analog, digital, quantum.

The ubiquitous type is digital computer (even your smartwatch is basically a computer). Analog almost disappeared (they are still in use in aircrafts) but may become more prominent due to interest in very-large-scale integration. Quantum ones are more theoretical than common.

I already mentioned that our universe behaviour is either mathematical or a quantum, perhaps both.

Nick Boström even suggested that we are most likely living in a computer simulation.  Some go further, hypothesizing in a thought experiment, that some of us may be p-zombies.

digital

The real nature of our universe is a prolific question in physics, philosophy, metaphysics, spirituality and even cognitive science since we extensively rely on our sensors and the perception of a physical world (a perception that is easily tricked, even at integration levels).

If the world is quantum, then it can be reduced to a quantum computational system. If it is analogous, it can be reduced to an analogous computational system. Both are not exclusive at all.

What if our universe were discrete?

The discrete option is really interesting in that it supports the metaphor of a computer and, ultimately, of a simulation. It is theorized in digital physics.

One can notice that if the universe processes information, then it can also generate and process knowledge. We know that information and knowledge spread in societies by well-known social processes and networks dynamics. Oriented and labelled graphs can organize knowledge just like ontologies in information science. I found the analogy quite interesting since both societies and ontology-based systems in computer science can generate knowledge.

Graph

In my humble opinion, it tends to extend the computer metaphor from the universe to societies: the same process underpinning the quantum level, the cognitive level and the social level. It explains why discrete graph models succeed to explain some levels’ information processing (1, 2). Information processing would be the essential nature of the universe and knowledge discovery (perhaps?) a goal for us. Enaction and embodiment taught us that this appropriation of knowledge is not necessarily academic but can be achieved from everyday life or manual work.

It also reminds me the Plato’s theory of Forms (and its limitations) and how to access the ultimate reality.

“We come here to a difficulty which has troubled many philosophic theologians. Only the contingent world, the world in space and time, can have been created; but this is the every-day world which has been condemned as illusory and also bad. Therefore the Creator, it would seem, created only illusion and evil. Some Gnostics were so consistent as to adopt this view; but in Plato the difficulty is still below the surface, and he seems, in the Republic, to have never become aware of it.”- Bertrand Russel, philosopher (sorry for the mention of a Creator, you can replace it by every concept that suits your beliefs).

social interaction

What is the intermediate level: human being. As you may already know, fractals are everywhere in our universe. The information processing is everywhere. So, it sounds interesting to explore the possibility that the same processes can be observed at all levels: from atoms to societies.

The point is that if our universe is discrete, then each level is discrete too.

Societies are discrete in the sense that information processing and knowledge spreading occurs temporarily by discrete steps. The processing speed is increased in our connected society.

Our brain is also discrete (a counterintuitive idea): from post synaptic potential triggering to time slices of perception as we recently discovered.

What about the quantum level?

Humanity might never be able to prove with certainty whether the universe is simulated, Chalmers said.

“You’re not going to get proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence that we get could be simulated.” – David Chalmers, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University

But we have evidences for a simulation since universe has probably error correcting codes, just like in computer science.

“Error-correcting codes are what make browsers work, so why were they in the equations that I was studying about quarks, and leptons, and supersymmetry? […] That’s what brought me to this very stark realization that I could no longer say that people like Max [Tegmark] are crazy.” – James Gates, a physicist at the University of Maryland

We may also be able to prove that our universe is discrete by nature. The question is, ultimately: is there a smallest unit of length, beyond which you can’t divide any further?

It will probably be possible to confirm soon Giovanni Amelino-Camelia observations of Hubble’s quasar shift in high frequencies.

Pi

We should even not be required to deeply observe the universe since discrete and continuous may be two sides of the same!

“The most significant level of interaction is when one and the same phenomenon appears
in both the continuous and discrete setting. In such cases, intuition and insight gained from
considering one of these may be extremely useful in the other.” – László Lovász, Microsoft Research
If all the phenomenons we observe can be modelled (and perfectly predicted) in both discrete and continuous mathematics then we are justified to ask whether the universe is discrete rather than continuous (due to the low possibility that discrete succeed at modelling every essential phenomenons).



Boundless consciousness?

I’m back with my second post of 2016 regarding consciousness. Hope it will be delightful.

Intelligences are multiple

Robot

Consciousness is not yet fully defined. As well as intelligence was until recently. The boundaries of intelligence were fluctuating across history and constantly redefined to ensure human superiority over other species. The tools to assess intelligence are often designed from our own abilities therefore fail at measuring other species intelligence.

However, we all now agree on various form of animal intelligences even in the human species. It was a long road before it became a consensus, harder than believe in multiple personalities traits which is actually intrinsically related.

What about consciousness?

Consciousness is hard to define due to lack of consensus. The definition I prefer is sentience, i.e. feeling as distinguished from perception or thought. One could also add self-awareness to the definition.

So what beings are conscious?

Coral_polyps_in_symbiosis_with_unicellular_dinoflagellates

Basically all animals (including humans) are sentient and sometimes self-aware. Plants may also be conscious beings. Although that they don’t have neurons or glia, they possess structures that allow them to process information and react to environment or even plan actions.

“They have ways of taking all the sensory data they gather in their everyday lives … integrate it and then behave in an appropriate way in response. And they do this without brains, which, in a way, is what’s incredible about it, because we automatically assume you need a brain to process information.”; “that the line between plants and animals might be a little softer than we traditionally think of it as.” – Michael Pollan

More interestingly, we may have created artificial beings that are conscious. The neuroscientist Christof Koch speculated that the Web might have achieved sentience. Pretty freaky, right?

I personally consider that at least cluster of networked machines (with their software) or intelligent machines may be sentient. Especially ones that auto-monitor. Some people argue that any system that is unpredictable may actually be sentient.

The fact is that such system may fail at the Turing test because they are so different than us and their consciousness is so different than what we expect. Their sensory modalities may even not map what we see as inputs and outputs.

Since they process information and act, even particles may be conscious, by flashes. Hard to believe…

Are you talking about panpsychism?

laniakea

Most of living scientists consider that considering non-human beings as conscious is panpsychism thus discarding it as pre-science. Panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things (to some degree).

This century marked a renewed interest in these hypothesis. Max Tegmark (MIT) argues that mater may be intrinsically conscious and a more restrictive scale have been invented to measure levels of consciousness of artificial agents.

An interesting conclusion

Depending of what frame of reference we consider, we may:

  • Be surrounded by above suspicion conscious beings: from artificial intelligences (not that terminator-like we all think about those are maybe not conscious of us at all) and even superintelligences (if they exist) to inert chromosomes.
  • Be living in a vast conscious system with a lot of subconscious entities.

The second option may be plausible since supercluster processes a lot of information as a complex system.

But the light speed limit tends to suggest a long scaled consciousness (if it exists) or consciousness at early stages of structures self-organisation only… although quantum entanglement or shared routines in a computational universe may also allow long-distance rapid information processing.




Women and men do have the same brain

Brain

I often hear that “boys and girls doesn’t have the same brain”. In fact, it is not true.

Brain

In a recent study, the connectome “showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds” between women and men, explaining some observable general differences. Moreover, it does mean that the observable difference can neither be generalized to all women and men nor imputed to a biological determinism. In other words you can meet less than 5 girls out of 10 who have a “man’s brain” and less than 5 men out of 10 who have a “woman’s brain” (supposing that these typical brains exist…), these people are normal and not infrequent… and the mean difference is not necessarily due to a genetic or hormonal determinism.

Talking in my capacity as graduate in cognitive science and former master’s student in neuroscience, I can claim that the brain is mainly a social construct.

The brain is a social construct

social interaction

The first argument is that, like many scientists have proven, the biological sex should not be seen as a dichotomy but rather as a continuum. If typical women and men existed by essence then they would both have a functionally distinct brain. Fortunately, each cognitive functions can range between two extremes that are not determined by the biological sex.

For the second argument I can confirm that there is no anatomical difference between foetal brains. In the adulthood, the structural scheme of the brain is the same except for control structures of physiological functions and reproduction. You may find more differences between two male brains than between a female and a male brain (exactly like the genomic differences that are likely to be as numerous between two white people as between two randomly selected black and white people).

The third argument is: the only observable differences (that are statistically significant) are a social construct.

Remember the citation about the connectome? The difference appears by 14-17. It doesn’t seem to support the idea that the brains are wired differently from start.

So far, I have never seen an article claiming to prove a chemical or structural difference which doesn’t suffer from a bias. The only sexual differences are actually gender difference, socially induced in every species (read here and here)… which affects the way we behave. Humans are able to bypass genetic and hormonal determinisms.

If you make an effort, thanks to neural plasticity, you can unmake a learned difference. Think about it the next time you will consider a behavior as a natural one…




Home reading environment is beneficial to children

Reading at school

While we already know that reading fiction improves brain connectivity and function and its effects is long lasting, a new study proves that “listening to stories, greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension, controlling for household income”.

Reading at school

If you want smart kids, just don’t put your children in front of the TV for long hours. Give instead priority to active play and reading. They will develop better cognitive capabilities and be healthier.