Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Would You Be the First Person to Use a Star Trek Transporter? (Consciousness Studies)

Everyone is familiar with the Transporter from whichever version of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk is down on a planet open up his communicator and says "beam me up Scotty".  There is that familiar sound and glimmering of lights, Kirk disappears and then you see him reappear in the Transporter Room on the Starship Enterprise.  Would you be the first person to ever use such a device?  I talked about this in an earlier post.   Lets say the physics and engineering of a transporter type device is known. (The physics part would be amazing considering the quantum mechanical questions.)  Earlier devices were thoroughly tested.  Simple life forms were later tried, no problems.  Then various complex forms of life were tested, dogs and cats when transported knew their names and owners.  Chimpanzees were transported and they could perform the same on all intelligence tests.  They seemed like the same chimps.   Everything appears normal and ready to go.  Would you be the first human to use this machine?  The question I'm getting at is when you are transported does your consciousness also get transported?  Is it the same you that get transported?  Would you even be able to tell?
   Consciousness is an interesting topic for physicists to talk about.  I discussed it as part of an earlier post. It pops up in various areas like in discussing the concept of what is now?  The March 2014 Physics Today  has David Mermin commentary entitled "What I Think About Now".  One of my favorite physics bloggers Sabine Hossenfelder has The Problem of Now discussed in her blog Backreaction.   I made a comment in the Backreaction Now post where I asked basically "do we have to bring consciousness into physics?".  I didn't get any replies.
     Sometimes I wonder if Consciousness is a "bad" topic to discuss since it seems to be in the area of New Age Philosophy.  I think lots of Physicists got pissed that New Agers tried to use quantum mechanics to help bolster their philosophy. Lee Smolin in his new book "Time Reborn" talks about the "really hard problem of consciousness" in the epilogue. He has a comment of  he mentions that there is only one person he allows to talk to him on this subject.  Smolin thinks that consciousness is beyond science at this present time. Which makes me wonder is that statement true?
   The December 2013 Physics Today has a short piece entitled "The Brain is Big Science".  The piece describes the new Obama BRAIN initiative which has $110 million for 2014.  You know when the government has a new initiative in research that this is an established field that shows great promise, its just that this known promise started years ago..  It seems that brain research is at a point similar to physics research.  As said by a Kavli Foundation vice-president "We know the microscale of single neurons, and we know how large patches--the macroscale of brain light up in fMRI......but we are lacking [knowledge about] how the brain works on the mesoscale level.".  The human brain has around 100 billion neurons, each with many connections.  The article has a cool image that shows an image from data of pathways of neural wiring in a living human brain.  It shows that "the fibers of the brain to a surprising extent form a [regular] three-dimensional grid."  This is from data.  The article then switches to discussing European initiatives on computer simulations. They have a goal of simulating the human brain.  One group uses "microelectronics to build physical copies of brains cells, connections and synapses."  Brain research as in particle physics is generating huge data streams to be analyzed so again big data rears its head.

Will brain simulations either in a computer or in analog circuits ever reach consciousness?  How would researchers know? How would a computer simulations consciousness be known?  This gets back to the old Turing test.  Could a machine think?  Again more questions, and of course wikipedia Philosophy of Artificial Intellligence.

Many questions.  So I Googled "Physics Research and Consciousness".  Lots of hits, there is a Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona.  They are having a conference this week, April 21-26 on "Toward a Science of Consciousness-20th Anniversity the Tucson Conference".  Lots of talks, there's a preconference workshop with Roger Penrose and others discussing

Microtubules and Quantum Biology                  MADERA         
.quantum vibrations in microtubules support the controversial Orch OR theory, and provide a basis for EEG
as ‘beat frequencies’ of intra-neuronal dynamics

I'd heard of the Orch OR theory from some surfing a few months ago, but don't know much about it.  This is an example of a well known living physicist involved in consciousness studies.  There is also the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation of the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics.

But would you be the first person to use a Star Trek Transporter?  This is clearly another path down the rabbit hole.

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