POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Simulate Your Brain

The New Scientist has an article about a new project to attempt to simulate the human brain in silicon. The article is a fascinating look into The "Blue Brain" project between IBM and a group of Swiss researchers. The hope of the project is described as:
The hope is that the virtual brain will help shed light on some aspects of human cognition, such as perception, memory and perhaps even consciousness...It may also help in understanding how certain malfunctions of the brain’s “microcircuits” could cause psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression, he says.
A super computer will be set up now to mimic the functioning of the brain. Due to my background in computer science, this is an interesting process. The goal is said to be "set up a virtual brain" that will "shed light" on aspects of human cognition. Yet to build a brain simulator you must be able to already do several things in order to know that your simulator in any way will actually simulate the brain:
  1. Know how to map out the brain in hardware. A complete mapping of the physical structure of the brain in corresponding hardware
  2. You must already know how that hardware should interact so as the brain will function as a brain. This "intelligence" then must be programmed into the hardware and software of the system so that the functionality will be as a brain should function.
It seems that you must set it up to produce certain behaviors in the system - this seems to require knowledge of how human cognition works in order to set it up. What then is our assumption of how human cognition functions. Are we not making a philosophical assumption, that consciousness, congnition, etc. is no more than certain electrical patterns in brains that can be mimicked...it seems the latter faith may be involved in such brain simulations. Here arises a philosophical problem. When we observe the electrochemical interactions of the brain, we have no knowledge as to what these reactions are producing in the mind of the person. For this we must ask somone - namely the one who is having a first person experience of his own mind. Thoughts and their correlated brain states are not identical - they have different properties. Take for example the truth that 2 + 2 = 4. If you don't think this is true, please consider it again - you are scaring me. Now think of that truth just for a moment. When you did your brain did certain electrochemical gymnastics. Now is you thought of 2 + 2 = 4, the same as my thought of this? If you say yes, and if you are a materialist (thoughts are only electrochemical processess in the brain) you have a problem. Your thought and my thought had completely different brain matter involved, different hunks of matter/energy - they are not indentical...so our thoughts of this truth must somehow not be equated simply with brain chemistry. Our thoughts of truths must be thoughts of something that is "not in your brain" It is a welcome thing to understand brain function better, to be able to treat maladies and injuries to the brain in more effective ways. But let us remember that thoughts and consciousness are different than the hardware in which these things work out in the physical world. To do otherwise is to make a philosophical blunder - and we will misunderstand human cognition if we only look at brains - real or virtual. Out...