Is Consciousness Quantifiable and Computable?

Map of Neural Circuits in the Human Brain

Map of Neural Circuits in the Human Brain

This image is an actual photograph.  It is not a printout of the artwork your 9th grader brought home from school from their Apple computer software class. It’s a Map of Neural Circuits in the Human Brain performed by the Human Connectome Project.  You can view their fascinating work here.

This was a classic study confirming Intelligent Design Theory works when put to the test, as ID Theory always has withstood fierce scrutiny and testing in the past. ID Theory held up to all four of Michael Behe’s predictions of irreducible complexity in Darwin’s black Box (1996), and was confirmed many times after that. The most recent memorable occasion is when the predictions made by Jonathan Wells in his book, “The Myth of Junk DNA” was confirmed by the findings of the ENCODE Project in September 2012.

This time, it has not only been determined that information is quantifiable, which leads the way to further research started by William Dembski upon discovering “Complex Specified Information,” but now the ability to quantify consciousness itself has been realized. It’s an exciting era of the history of biology to be alive in to see this unfold in our lifetime. 

Wired Science covered this story here. It reads,

“There’s a theory, called Integrated Information Theory, developed by Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin, that assigns to any one brain, or any complex system, a number — denoted by the Greek symbol of Φ — that tells you how integrated a system is, how much more the system is than the union of its parts. Φ gives you an information-theoretical measure of consciousness. Any system with integrated information different from zero has consciousness. Any integration feels like something.

It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.”

Tononi

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s research leads the way in efforts to quantify consciousness and apply calcs factoring in consciousness in performing computations.

Giulio Tononi is a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who holds the David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine, as well as a Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science, at the University of Wisconsin.

More on Integrated Information Theory, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/science/21consciousness.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&.

Research paper on the subject,
http://www.architalbiol.org/aib/article/viewFile/15056/23165867

This takes William Dembski’s work to a new level of research. The breakthrough of the instant study is that the ability to quantify consciousness into measurable units gives us yet one more way to compare the difference of specified complexity from two different examples of design.

Quantifying specified complexity is important because it assists design theorists to be able to compare one sample of design in terms of CSI with other samples. Evolution is a process where a genome, (one dataset sample) increases in specified complexity to a more sophisticated configuration, or degree of design. The only scientists who seem to care about this quantifying ability are those who work in fields related to synthetic biology, bioinformatics, and intelligent design.

With respect to ID, the ease of testing CSI is dramatically improved upon being capable to compare different quantifies of complex specified information. This was a drawback in the earlier years of Dembski’s career.

Just recently, a quantum physicist by the name of Daegene Song commented on his research related to this topic.  Song asserts that strong Artificial Intelligence is key to answering fundamental brain science questions.  I agree with him.  However, Song goes on to conclude that consciousness does not compute, and never will.

Daegene Song (PRNewsFoto/Daegene Song)

Daegene Song (PRNewsFoto/Daegene Song)

Daegene Song obtained his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Oxford and now works at Chungbuk National University in Korea as an assistant professor. To learn more about Song’s research, see his published work: D. Song, Non-computability of Consciousness, NeuroQuantology, Volume 5, pages 382~391 (2007).

This latest report about Song’s comments that consciousness does not compute is misleading. Song is a quantum physicist doing research on quantum computing. The expertise required to comment on consciousness is outside these fields of study. It is neuroscience that is the field that researches consciousness. Song is not qualified to make the assertions he made, and I am entirely not satisfied he knows what consciousness is, or knows what he is talking about. 

I have confidence in Song’s specialties, but knowledge regarding consciousness is not one of his strong suits. Until these areas of science include neuroscientists as part of the research team, the conclusions are meaningless.

Song cited only books, and most of them are outdated. The most recent source he referenced is from 2004. Song is the single sole author of this paper. There are only 9 bibliographical references, and only one paper on neuroscience cited. 

I grant credit to Song that he at least referenced Giulio Tononi’s work, but the only actual science paper he referenced of Tononi is from 1998. I can understand needing to go back to 1998 to be able to cite a paper published in the prestigious Science journal, but when this is the only neuroscience documentation in Song’s final analysis then this is not just poor scholarship, but a lack of relevant research altogether.

This is very substandard scholarship even for a paper that dates back to 2008. Song’s work goes back to 2008 (last revision of his 2007 paper). We know far more now on this subject than we did in 2008.

Tononi does lead the way in quantifying consciousness, and inspiring research in the field of neuroscience to indeed apply the math and calculations. Based upon this paper by Song, we have no idea whether the unit of consciousness represented by theta θ will apply to quantum computing or not. This paper provides no new information than what we already knew before; his paper is outdated information. 

Even if Song is correct, his opinion only applies to quantum computing. Quantum computing is more closely related to computer science than it is quantum physics. Song’s unqualified and layman’s concept of what he thinks consciousness might be is inapplicable to actual research on the topic in neuroscience.

Until the correct team does this research right, with an increased effort to apply more comprehensive study of updated sources, then we will never know the correct conclusions of this report. 

Without at least one neuroscientist on that research team, then the study is a sham and it would be highly unlikely to pass peer review in any reputable science journal, of which this paper never did. NeuroQuantology is a very low impact journal. According to the 2013 Journal Citation Reports, the journal NeuroQuantology had an impact factor of 0.439, ranking it 240th out of 251 journals in the category “Neuroscience.”

The problem is you cannot arrive at that conclusion the MATH says that NEUROSCIENCE will NEVER be able to achieve it’s GOAL because that is a determination to be made by neuroscientists, not quantum physicists. It is irrelevant that consciousness is not produced by the brain. I hold that neither is intelligence limited to being produced by a brain either. The approach Song used is not consistent with Tononi’s work, and is based upon outdated research and unnecessary variables. 

To give you an idea of how futile Song’s opinion is, it would be like the Miller-Urey experiment. Song put his ingredients of what he thinks consciousness would look like expressed mathematically, ran the math, and the numbers failed to compute. That means nothing.

We did that all the time in first year engineering school. We kept on trying to write programs until we finally got them to run. Song made an attempt in 2007, and then arrived at a false conclusion. Moreover, the conclusion he arrived at is so far removed and different than the actual advances being made in neuroscience today regarding the topic that it is nonsense to compare them. It would be like trying to call a dolphin a fish because it looks like one.

If the math doesn’t work, you keep running calcs until it does work. That’s what Paul Davies is doing with origin of life studies at Ariz. St. Univ based upon information theory/bioinformatics; same field as William Dembski’s work. That’s what the string theorists are doing, too. You don’t quit and say it will never happen, that is not how science works.

It should be noted that Song never set out to vindicate efforts that consciousness can be factored into math calculations. He approached the task from an artificial intelligence application in quantum computing. The results Song desired to obtain was whether it is possible to develop some kind of AI software that inputs artificial consciousness into similar programming. His work ran into what he perceives to be a dead end. Maybe it is a dead end, we don’t know yet. 

It is a dead end as far as Song is concerned, but he based this conclusion on incomplete data from the field of neursoscience. I don’t criticize him for this; neursoscience is not Song’s area of expertise.

Consciousness is not the specialty of Song. He had to reference work done in neuroscience by expert researcher G. Tononi who still leads the work in quantifying consciousness to this very day. Song’s research was in 2008. There have been new discoveries and breakthroughs by G. Tononi since then.  As I mentioned above, this research is far from be over and complete. And, the most important point of all is that these two lines of research are so vastly different they cannot be compared.

Song found his efforts ran into limits, but only applied to quantum computing. That doesn’t stop new predictions being modified and researched. And, nothing about Song falsified subsequent research done by Tononi that contradicts the sensational title of the article that “Consciousness does not compute and never will.”  It appears to be a typical journalistic gimmick to capture the attention of readers and draw them to the article.  I have my suspicions that Song intended to represent the extremist opinion that is conveyed in the title of the article. 

I have several illustrations about math computations to make my point.  For example, the math that supports the Big Bang, math that supports string theory, math that supports origin of life predictions, and the math that supports Einstein’s theory of gravity.

It took decades for the math to be resolved in support of the Big Bang. While string theory has been around many years, the theorists are still working on the math to this very day. 

Origin of life conjectures have also been around decades, and scientists still have not been able to get the math to work, even though there most likely is a solution. If the math doesn’t run, then no mechanism is discoverable. If the math eventually does work for one of the models, then finally this would yield evidence that a mechanism exists and is discoverable.

Newton’s math regarding gravity was falsified by Einstein. It is possible Einstein’s math might be falsified yet again in the future We don’t know yet whether those calcs apply in black holes.

Regardless of which analogy I used to compare the math calcs used to support a scientific conjecture, each instance was the same in that it took scores of years to perfect the math, and working the computations is endless because new scientific discoveries add more variables to the equations. These are rigorous computations often involving several pages of proofs, theorems, etc. Not all the formulas and theorems are absolute. 

Song appears to oversimplify these vastly different research areas involving entirely different mathematical approaches and calcs to make it sound like there is one and only one possible short and sweet computation to solve.  His comments could be taken to suggest that the moment that this one solution to the math problem is obtained, that there is nothing left to do as if this is some ultimate invincible and irrefutable conclusion. That is a science stopper. That is not how science works. Scientists make new predictions, and investigate new methods to surmount barriers and hurdles. 

If the arch bridge cannot be built, then try beams. If beams don’t work, then try cables. If a cable bridge cannot be built, then try a trestle bridge. If that doesn’t work, perhaps a suspension bridge will work. Each bridge will have different engineering calcs. Each approach changes the math, as the entire math computation is completely different. 

Someone who could take Song’s comments to falsify Tononi make it sound like I am saying if you try to add 2 + 2 + 3 for a long enough time then maybe someday you might get a different answer than 7 after the millionth try. I never represented any kind of absurdity of the like. There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to express consciousness mathematically. When one treatment doesn’t fit, then try a different approach, which has an entirely different application and computation to resolve. I never suggested keep trying to solve the same identical math problem as before.

Song’s paper was last revised in 2008. Most of Tononi’s breakthrough discoveries in quantifying consciousness is more recent research. I made this point several times above already. You can’t have an older paper refute a more recent paper; it’s the other way around.

Although I already linked to it above, here is the Tononi paper again. Keep in mind that in order for Song to have a paper to cite from neuroscience, Song’s only neuroscience paper referenced was Tononi’s work from 1998. And, I repeat, Song’s paper was published in 2007. This paper from G. Tononi is 2012.

While some people might conclude otherwise, Mr. Song no way, no how ran into a roadblock for being able to compute consciousness. His computation was one of an infinite amount of approaches to consciousness in the field of artificial intelligence. Moreover, his research has nothing to do with the advances made in neuroscience. This is an argument about apples and oranges. These different fields have different goals, objectives, methodologies, and areas of expertise.

Song’s work attempted to perform a computation, one of an infinite amount of approaches to MIMIC consciousness in the field of artificial intelligence.  That objective is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT GOAL that the areas of research in neuroscience that investigate the role of neurons and many other topics related to consciousness and intelligence. 

On the ID-Theoretical Biology, there is not nearly one day that goes by where there are posts that are connected with these subjects. Yes, AI is an extremely important field of study of interest to Intelligent Design, but AI is an applied science. The theories it is based upon comes from other academic disciplines such as computer science.

Song’s focus was to achieve some watershed breakthrough for AI in the area of quantum computing. That is an isolated direction of countless leads to advance these study areas. To choose one road and arrive at a dead end is meaningless. Just turn around, go back to the intersection and follow a new direction of research. That is how science works.

SUMMARY AND RELEVANCE TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN:

I see ID Theory as described and defined by the Discovery Institute to be an entirely fit scientific theory of which although it is falsifiable, it has not yet been falsified after 19 years.

I could assert several plausible arguments for why I hold ID Theory to be legitimate science. But, the relevant argument I adhere to, specifically, is that it is a DESIGN-inspired prediction based upon ID Theory that an INTELLIGENT CAUSE is a BETTER EXPLANATION for the origin and diversity of life than natural selection. Is that true or false? Is this testable or not?  Many conclude intelligent design is not testable. I say yes, it is testable. I assert this prediction based upon advances being made in neuroscience where there is surfacing a workable and testable definition of intelligence in the SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE thanks to that field. 

I insist that these processes of natural genetic engineering (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-a-shapiro/epigenetics-iii-epigeneti_b_1683713.html; http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/2006.ExeterMeeting.pdf) and cell cognition are intelligent-like, and it will just be a matter of time that studies in fields related to neuroscience will be an ultimate deciding factor in determining whether the multiple coordinated mutation events that change allele frequencies in biological populations, and the processes that cause them, are being performed by the work of an identifiable and observable intelligent agency. This prediction remains to be seen. More research is required.

Just as INTELLIGENCE itself is a study of interest to design theorists so likewise is consciousness. These are not the only target topics of study. Add to the list other properties associated with intelligence aside from consciousness. Add decision-making, communications networks, problem-solving, self-awareness, cognitive activity, and the list goes on. 

It is the field of neuroscience that leads the way in these study areas. There are about 250 science journals related to the field of neuroscience. It is a significant and growing area of scientific research.

I just took one prediction out of countless thousands. I simply chose as an example the work of Giulio Tononi, who has made promising gains in the area of quantifying consciousness.

I do not have a problem for anyone being a fan of ID because they feel ID validates their personal theology. But, what ID means philosophically beyond the scope of science has nothing to do with the contribution ID makes to actual science. 

What I love about ID Theory is there really does exist a condition called irreducible complexity, and no scientist can take credit for the discovery because Michael Behe beat them to it. There really does exist a mathematical definition of design, but no information theorist or bioinfomatics expert can take credit for it because William Dembski already scooped them. 

CONCLUSION:

Mr. Song cited Tononi 1998 in order to support the conclusions in Song 2007, a paper published in Nature. Tononi’s work is published at least to 2012.  As such, Song never falsified Tononi.  This is a very much ALIVE and ACTIVE research field.

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