Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

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Peter Grant (September 15, 2009, 20:43:21 PM):
Are you sure? This quote from Wikipedia seems to say the opposite:…
Yes I am, and not really, respectively. The first thing to realise is that the terms “chaos” and “chaotic behaviour” have precise mathematical meaning.


OK, went and read up on Chaos theory and it IS about a deterministic mathematical model which shows that "tiny differences in the starting state of the system can lead to enormous differences in the final state of the system".

Chaotic behaviour is a real phenomenon, observed in natural systems like weather and, I would propose, analogue circuits.

Second, “chaos” does not imply indeterminism or non-computability or some such.


If used in the mathematical model sense, no, but when applied to a real life observation, why not?

Third, the phrasing of the cited Wikipedia excerpt is a little misleading because true chaotic behaviour can always be digitally simulated to arbitrary precision.


This is where chaos theory seems to fall short of observed chaos. Considering the exponential growth of error in a chaotic system, how can a digital simulation ever be precise enough?

If it were not so, then, for example, the Mandelbrot set would come out looking differently every time it is computed. It’s just a question of how long you wish to wait for answers, as well as of the capability of the resources at your disposal.


They look kinda pretty, but I'm betting that they take long to compute and they still look digital. Imagine what cool wavy patterns an analogue computer could make, and in a fraction of the time.

That things happen essentially simultaneously in an analogue circuit of a certain kind also does not in principle preclude digital simulation. It is not a good reason at all. For example, in brittle failure modes (which are mathematically chaotic), things like stress redistributions and strain-energy releases also happen essentially simultaneously, yet we can model such scenarios quite satisfactorily on powerful digital machines. I think that what the article means to say is really just what I wrote earlier, namely that while analogues are fully deterministic in theory, it is an enormously difficult task to predict or model certain types’ behaviour in practice – so much so that it is fair to call them intractable or even infeasible. The important difference to bear in mind here is the distinction between “practically undoable” and “impossible even in principle.”


Agreed but it takes longer. That is why this quantum consciousness was proposed originally, wasn't it?

Also with an analogue simulation it is possible to manipulate the variables and see the results in real time. With digital you have to run the algorithm again from scratch.

They have designed programmable analogue computers, but they still use punch cards! I'm talking about miniaturization and bringing the complexity up to that of today's digital computers. As to finding analogues of problems, as with digital computing, one breaks them down into components.
Yes, true enough all around. However, the observation that your suggestions haven’t been happening much should tell you a few important things: for reasons of physics, analogues do not generally lend themselves well to miniaturisation; the individual components are very limited in their capabilities and ranges of application; assembling a solution involves a hands-on approach to arranging the components in a particular way according to some design (sort of like using bits and pieces from a programming library, except that the analogue constituents are palpable); constructing a general-purpose machine that automatically assembles an analogue and runs it according to some schematic concept merely shifts the problem back by one level; and so on. In short, the limitations of analogues and the practical difficulties of implementing and using them are daunting. That is not to say, however, that they do not find good use in certain dedicated niches, nor that these difficulties are technically insurmountable.


Still think it would be easier than constructing quantum computers.

BTW did you get a chance to check out that [paper]?



Isn't [composite integer factorisation] one of those BQP problems?
Yes, I’ve read the analogue factorisation paper – thank you for locating it. It’s a very interesting theoretical exercise that has as much to say about complexity theory as about integer factorisation. As for what complexity class the problem of general integer factorisation is, it’s still unknown. Most number theorists are reasonably sure that it is squarely NP. Certainly, all known algorithms place it there, but definitive proof is still lacking. If it is indeed NP, it probably falls outside the scope of the BQP class (because it is also not entirely clear just how far the BQP class extends).

'Luthon64

Still not too sure I get this P complexity thing. Is the analogue solution not at least as plausible as the quantum one?
Mefiante (September 15, 2009, 22:44:52 PM):
Chaotic behaviour is a real phenomenon, observed in … [some] … analogue circuits.
Yes, correct, but don’t confuse “chaos” with “unpredictability.” They’re not the same thing.



[W]hen applied to a real life observation, why [does “chaos” not imply indeterminism or non-computability or some such]?
We have been talking about simulations all along, have we not? And simulations are by definition not the real thing.



This is where chaos theory seems to fall short of observed chaos.
How so? I don’t follow. Perhaps you should define “observed chaos” separate from mathematical chaos as relevant to the cited passage, in particular how one might distinguish the one from the other.



Considering the exponential growth of error in a chaotic system, how can a digital simulation ever be precise enough?
Very simply by defining the initial and governing conditions with sufficient accuracy to meet the precision requirements of the model in question.



They look kinda pretty, but I'm betting they they take long to compute and they still look digital. Imagine what cool wavy patterns an analogue computer could make, and in a fraction of the time.
Where to begin? Appearance is nothing in this context, merely exciting the sensibilities about an intriguing pattern. Mathematically, though, they’d be useless and – much worse – mostly uninformative because of the accuracy issues plaguing analogue computation. Then, there’s the question of recursion and iteration which analogues are quite clumsy at. Once you understand the mathematical nature of the Mandelbrot set, you should have no trouble seeing that high precision computation is the only way to generate it for any purpose beyond the aesthetic.



Agreed but it takes longer. That is why this quantum consciousness was proposed originally, wasn't it?
Not really. The Copenhagen interpretation (CI) of QM implies that nothing is definite until it is observed by a conscious entity. This led Schrödinger to propose his dead-alive cat thought experiment in order to illustrate the apparent absurdity of this conception. Based thereon, Roger Penrose much later hypothesised that quantum wave function collapse (reduction) – the technical term for finding a particle or group of coordinated particles in a definite state – is missing some essential ingredient that is perhaps also instrumental in manifestations of consciousness. Penrose conjectures that this is to be found in a proper quantum gravity formulation (still conspicuously lacking), and calls it “objective reduction” (OR), as opposed to the “subjective reduction” done by conscious observers. A neuroscientist, Hameroff, proposes that OR on a (relatively speaking) large coordinated scale within neural microtubules accounts for consciousness. That’s the picture painted in very broad strokes.



Still think it would be easier than constructing quantum computers.
At present, undoubtedly so, but quantum computers aren’t just some theoretical possibility that excites only nerds. If achievable, these machines will revolutionise computation as surely as the digital one has, and probably in ways we can barely imagine today.



Is the analogue solution not at least as plausible as the quantum one?
I’m not sure what to make of “plausible” in this context. Sure, the analogue variety is doable with today’s technology. After all, historically it precedes the digital kind, but the analogue computer is not a general-purpose machine for attacking a significant cross-section of real-world problems using a single device. That kind of flexibility is reserved for the digital computer and accounts in large part for its huge growth and success. The basic issue is that analogue computers are deterministic, extremely limited and very cumbersome to implement. In truth and in light of the above responses, I am beginning to be somewhat doubtful whether you appreciate fully the severity of these objections and constraints. Moreover, (and not that analogue and quantum computers are properly comparable – it would be a bit like comparing an abacus with an IBM Roadrunner), assuming that the technical difficulties with quantum computers are soluble, these machines have the potential to obviate many of the limitations of both analogue and digital computers. That we don’t have them yet is perhaps the most frustrating thing in all of this.

'Luthon64
Peter Grant (September 16, 2009, 14:56:35 PM):
Yes, correct, but don’t confuse “chaos” with “unpredictability.” They’re not the same thing.


But wouldn't the observed chaotic behaviour in the final state ultimately be influenced by quantum unpredictability in the starting state?

We have been talking about simulations all along, have we not? And simulations are by definition not the real thing.


OK, but digital simulations are less real. Analogue simulations are real physical processes which operate on real numbers, the results of which we can observe.

How so? I don’t follow. Perhaps you should define “observed chaos” separate from mathematical chaos as relevant to the cited passage, in particular how one might distinguish the one from the other.


Mathematical chaos is a deterministic model which shows that "tiny differences in the starting state of the system can lead to enormous differences in the final state of the system". When it is used to model a real chaotic system digitally, each iteration is performed on an approximation of the real values. Each of these approximations, in turn, is itself a tiny difference which can lead to enormous differences later on. Even if we are to increase the precision down to the quantum level, at enormous cost in processing time, we are still left with further unpredictability.

Very simply by defining the initial and governing conditions with sufficient accuracy to meet the precision requirements of the model in question.


But through those digital iterations we loose the intrinsic unpredictability in a naturally chaotic system. Analogue computers may not be as precise, but they perform the calculations themselves far more accurately than a digital computer could given a reasonable amount of time.


Where to begin? Appearance is nothing in this context, merely exciting the sensibilities about an intriguing pattern. Mathematically, though, they’d be useless and – much worse – mostly uninformative because of the accuracy issues plaguing analogue computation. Then, there’s the question of recursion and iteration which analogues are quite clumsy at. Once you understand the mathematical nature of the Mandelbrot set, you should have no trouble seeing that high precision computation is the only way to generate it for any purpose beyond the aesthetic.


OK, will read up more on these Mandelbrot sets, but I think my comment still applies to CGI generally.

Not really. The Copenhagen interpretation (CI) of QM implies that nothing is definite until it is observed by a conscious entity. This led Schrödinger to propose his dead-alive cat thought experiment in order to illustrate the apparent absurdity of this conception. Based thereon, Roger Penrose much later hypothesised that quantum wave function collapse (reduction) – the technical term for finding a particle or group of coordinated particles in a definite state – is missing some essential ingredient that is perhaps also instrumental in manifestations of consciousness. Penrose conjectures that this is to be found in a proper quantum gravity formulation (still conspicuously lacking), and calls it “objective reduction” (OR), as opposed to the “subjective reduction” done by conscious observers. A neuroscientist, Hameroff, proposes that OR on a (relatively speaking) large coordinated scale within neural microtubules accounts for consciousness. That’s the picture painted in very broad strokes.



Mefiante on September 07, 2009, 15:46:49 PM


At present, undoubtedly so, but quantum computers aren’t just some theoretical possibility that excites only nerds. If achievable, these machines will revolutionise computation as surely as the digital one has, and probably in ways we can barely imagine today.


I don't doubt it, but isn't an analogue computer more likely to evolve naturally than a quantum one?

I’m not sure what to make of “plausible” in this context. Sure, the analogue variety is doable with today’s technology. After all, historically it precedes the digital kind, but the analogue computer is not a general-purpose machine for attacking a significant cross-section of real-world problems using a single device. That kind of flexibility is reserved for the digital computer and accounts in large part for its huge growth and success. The basic issue is that analogue computers are deterministic, extremely limited and very cumbersome to implement. In truth and in light of the above responses, I am beginning to be somewhat doubtful whether you appreciate fully the severity of these objections and constraints. Moreover, (and not that analogue and quantum computers are properly comparable – it would be a bit like comparing an abacus with an IBM Roadrunner), assuming that the technical difficulties with quantum computers are soluble, these machines have the potential to obviate many of the limitations of both analogue and digital computers. That we don’t have them yet is perhaps the most frustrating thing in all of this.

'Luthon64


I guess what I mean is, is the proposed analogue solution sufficiently efficient to explain our brain's computational speed?

I agree it would be seriously cool if we built quantum computers. ;D
Mefiante (September 16, 2009, 16:21:14 PM):
Sorry, but I’m somewhat confused. Is there a specific point, or more than one, that you wish to make? Or are you just whipping up conversation for the interest of it? Because truthfully I’m beginning to feel just a little beset and harassed over matters that are either trivial, only peripherally relevant or misconstrued, or all of the above – matters that you could easily do research on by yourself.

Do you think that, failing a quantum computer, the analogue kind is the answer to our computing needs and consciousness, maybe? Or that in reality analogues are quasi-quantum computers, maybe? If so, then reality and the computing status the world over resoundingly refute that stance. Of course, you are welcome to persist in such beliefs (if indeed you hold them), but it would in my view be unwise to do so, considering these rather imposing countermanding indications.

It’s quite simple, really: For a variety of technical reasons already given, analogue computers are not the answer. If they were, we’d all be using them already.

'Luthon64
Peter Grant (September 16, 2009, 19:55:39 PM):
Sorry, but I’m somewhat confused. Is there a specific point, or more than one, that you wish to make? Or are you just whipping up conversation for the interest of it? Because truthfully I’m beginning to feel just a little beset and harassed over matters that are either trivial, only peripherally relevant or misconstrued, or all of the above – matters that you could easily do research on by yourself.

I'm really sorry, that was not my intention at all. If you come to the next Skeptics in the Pub I'll buy you a drink to try and make up for it.

I'm genuinely interested in artificial intelligence and, I must admit, somewhat disappointed by the lack of progress in this field. I'd hate to have to wait for quantum computers before we can build machines that can think and feel, so I'm looking for alternatives.

As for doing more research myself, I have been. Reading up on QM and responding to your posts has been taking up most of my free time lately.

Do you think that, failing a quantum computer, the analogue kind is the answer to our computing needs and consciousness, maybe? Or that in reality analogues are quasi-quantum computers, maybe? If so, then reality and the computing status the world over resoundingly refute that stance. Of course, you are welcome to persist in such beliefs (if indeed you hold them), but it would in my view be unwise to do so, considering these rather imposing countermanding indications.

I'm more concerned with consciousness, and how we could simulate it artificially. We already know that the human brain has both digital and analogue components. The digital is obviously insufficient considering we are starting to reach the limits of this technology and haven't found a solution yet. Analogue computing, however, hasn't really progressed much in the last 40 years.

Concerning my understanding of quantum mechanics: It seems logical to me that if everything is based on quantum mechanics, then the entire universe is essentially one big quantum computer. This isn't a belief I hold, I just don't know what else to think. What is it I am missing?

It’s quite simple, really: For a variety of technical reasons already given, analogue computers are not the answer. If they were, we’d all be using them already.

'Luthon64

But if everyone though that way, no one would ever invent, or just imagine in my case, anything! Also, considering how closely scientific and technological progress has been tied to digital computing over the last few decades it might simply be a lack of interest or focus.

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