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Archive for the ‘An Artificial Brain?’ Category

The mind : from a science of learning to read to a science of learning ethical behaviour. Can your thoughts really “recycle” and change your brain?

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Recycle Bins img
Although the debate regarding whether it is mind that activates the human brain or whether it is the brain that activates the mind has fascinated humankind for centuries, a new study published in the prestigious scientific journal Science seems to suggest that the mind and thoughts can indeed change the structure of the brain. So what they say is true – we really are what we think and should not underestimate the power of our thoughts!

It has become increasingly clear in recent times that the mind and thoughts do shape and modify human brain function but a recent study by Stanislas Dehaene, a French cognitive neuroscientist at the College de France and research by other groups have shed even more light on this process.
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Dr. Fenwick weighs in on the “artificial brain”

Friday, July 31st, 2009
The recent media announcement that an artificial brain is 10 years away from being constructed is an exciting possibility. The neuroscience community has been waiting some time for a realistic brain to be designed and made. The importance of this brain project is that it uses software modules to mimic each brain cell. They also note that the software is extremely complex as:  for  each cell a laptop is required to do the processing, and hence the need for a supercomputer with the power of 10,000 laptops.
Does this mean that they are any closer to finding out how the brain may actually work and to building a realistic model?. To answer this question it should be split into two, , firstly are they trying to simulate consciousness, that is the subjective awareness that we all have in our everyday life, or are they trying to simulate some of the brain’s mechanical processes. As far as the first question goes there is as yet no understanding in the neuroscience community as to what consciousness actually is. One can say a lot about the correlates of consciousness for example what brain cells come into action during a certain experience or during a certain function but you cannot get from those brain correlates to consciousness itself. I thus feel that it’s highly unlikely even with an artificial brain of this complexity that we will get any closer to an understanding of consciousness.
Secondly will this new computer be able to mimic some of the functions of the brain? The answer to that must be yes as neuroscience already has a good understanding how many of the circuits work and how they can work together. It is thus highly likely that the new computer will throw up more answers in the domain of trying to understand brain mechanism.
The philosophical question what is consciousness is bound to remain. There  are essentially two main sets of theories, the first are the  materialistic ones which suggest that brain is in some way related only to matter, the second set of theories suggests that matter is not primary that consciousness is primary and the matter is dependent upon consciousness. There is a third possibility and that is that matter and consciousness together make up the brain as we understand it. Unfortunately without  a better understanding of what consciousness is. as we have very little empirical data, it is impossible  to choose between any of these philosophical theories.
Dr. Peter Fenwick

Human, Mammal, Frankenstein?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Prof. Markram et al discuss how an “artificial brain” might be less than 10 years away.  The Blue Brain project states that it could advance neuroscience and philosophy; I see how it would challenge humankind as to what would we do with a brain created from “scratch?” I mean, where are we going to put this thing? I cannot but think of this endeavor as a new version of Frankenstein! But wait, what happens if they put a human brain into a mammal? Will the mammal suddenly have moral instincts and the ability to rationalize? What I’d like to know is: will the creation of the artificial brain include research and insights that are coming from other sections of scientific communities? The “new brain” (the neocortex) of animals includes complex cognitive functions but does it include the parts of the brain that account for the emotional life of animals? On July 8, an article ran in the NY Times, “Watching Whales Watching Us,” by Charles Siebert.  Besides a pretty convincing story that lays the groundwork for whales having an intellectual and emotional life, doesn’t this give pause to what sort of complete artificial brain is being created? I will refer to the emotional and intellectual aspect of “being” as “consciousness” for simplicity sake; however, I understand that even “consciousness” needs to be better defined as more information is revealed on its nature (AWARE Study). Is the artificial brain going to include what I call “consciousness”? I must admit to being a long time follower of Penny Patterson and Koko the lowland gorilla. She taught Koko how to communicate using American Sign Language.  Koko often is able to communicate feelings – remember her sadness and grief when her kitten died? I remember the 1996 book and documentary, “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals.”  In it, I watched elephants mourn their dead. Besides the whales, elephants and gorillas, what about our own human consciousness?  Are artificial brains going to incorporate consciousness? How can we create an artificial brain when we don’t yet know what consciousness is? If “consciousness” continues past the period of death (past brain or heart activity), what is The Blue Brain project creating? Hugh Fisher

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