The Deception of Perception
Flatlands, thinking outside the box, blue-sky thinking, all had their day, or so I thought until I read this week’s New Scientist magazine. It seems that the imagination of Edwin Abbott in 1884, is still sparking current research trends. In his novel, a world populated by two-dimensional shapes is wowed by the concept of a sphere, exploding their perception of the blinkered world in which they live.
Science fiction has spawned many wonderful real-world inventions. I mean, who didn’t want a hand-held telecommunications device from Star Trek when they were a kid? Thanks, Gene Roddenberry. Now it seems that some scientists are hell bent on creating conditions to mirror the artificial intelligence of Terminator movies, despite warnings from Stephen Hawking.
Henry Markram and his colleagues of the ‘Blue Brain Project’, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Lausanne), use complex maths to map pretty shapes of neural clusters in active brain segments. They give it the grand title of Algebraic Topography and claim that to discover how the brain works, we all need to examine higher dimensions.
Well, I got thoroughly excited, thinking that at last, they have discovered a method to tapping into the transmission of thoughts and memories, perhaps even located the seat of learning and where our consciousness might reside. Nope. This team has spent twelve years mapping rat and worm neuron clusters, only to conclude that neurons work in teams that form lovely seven to fifteen dimensional structures for a nanosecond or two, then collapse. Woohoo. Can they at least track the direction of transmission through the cluster, or clique, as they have determined the shapes must be named? Erm…not really, no. They can surmise through complex mathematical probability which way it might have travelled, but not conclusively.
So, how does all this help their drive to create the perfect AI? They now know that they need a bigger computer with more complex software. Really? Twelve years to decide that a computer is not big enough to mimic a fully functional human brain?
You can imagine my disappointment. The article concludes with the same premise with which it began, that to understand consciousness, you should look beyond those dimensions. What if, like in the Flatlands world, those neural shapes in multiple dimensions are merely physical manifestations of our higher reality? How do they propose to detect these higher realities of consciousness? More topographical maths!
I can see Edwin Abbott turning in his grave from here. Consciousness will go on eluding physical scientists and mathematicians, until they grasp the concept of our multidimensional, multi-levelled, energetic existence. If only Mr Spock could beam down and mind meld with them, to kick start a new chapter in the science of consciousness. Live long and Prosper, my friends.