Michio Kaku interviewed Nobel Prize Winner Gerald Edelman on the subject of consciousness, brain function, structure, and evolution. Professor Edelman has written a book titled Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. The conversation between Kaku and Edelman begins at the 30-minute mark of the video below.
Gerald Edelman told Michio Kaku the human mind was unlike any other structure.
“The brain is the most complex object in the known physical universe.”
Even with all the talk about a singularity, Gerald Edelman holds that the human brain has no equal, and arguably never will in the machine world. Michio Kaku and many others agree the human perception of consciousness would be hard for a machine to equal.
Michio Kaku and Gerald Edelman pondered the question of whether consciousness arises from the physical structure of the brain, or if consciousness might be the product of something greater or at least other than the physical brain.
Gerald Edelman believes the mind and consciousness are exclusively a product of the physical brain structure. Michio Kaku did not state his personal opinion, but many people feel consciousness and creativity may transcend the physical form.
Apart from the conversation between Michio Kaku and Gerald Edelman, Subhash Kak, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, wrote in Singularity Hub about the debate, about machine consciousness compared to human consciousness.
“I can say that researchers are divided on whether these sorts of hyper-aware machines will ever exist. There’s also debate about whether machines could or should be called “conscious” in the way we think of humans, and even some animals, as conscious. Some of the questions have to do with technology; others have to do with what consciousness actually is.”
Consciousness would be especially hard to replicate since it remains undefined by those who experience it daily. However, it remains clear that consciousness is far more than mere awareness of one’s surroundings, but involves intuition, inner narratives, dreams, and visions, as Singularity Hub points out.
“Some scholars have argued that the creative moment is not at the end of a deliberate computation.”
Michio Kaku and Gerald Edelman are aware that other differing scientific, philosophical, and spiritual theories of consciousness have been held by some of the greatest minds in history. No one can be certain which theory of consciousness is correct.
Many great discoveries have been attributed to dreams, visions, intuition, or even spiritual revelation, rather than basic computation, as pointed out by Subhash Kak on Singularity Hub. Do these intuitions arise entirely from the mind as Gerald Edelman hypotheses?
Do all visionary perceptions arise from the brain’s structure as Gerald Edelman explained to Michio Kaku or are they an example of the mind’s ability to tap into something other than itself.
While Gerald Edelman feels confident in his assertion, that consciousness arises completely from the mind, what about subconsciousness and superconsciousness? No one understands the human mind well enough to be certain what happens in such experiences, and perhaps Michio Kaku was wise to remain silent on the subject.
Michio Kaku asked about various theories of the evolution and development of the human brain. Is it not the development of the cerebral cortex that made the human brain so powerful?
Gerald Edelman told Michio Kaku that although the cerebral cortex is often considered the most important aspect when considering consciousness and intellect, he feels it is more accurately the connections between various parts of the brain that are most important to consciousness. After all, consciousness involves many perceptions brought to the cerebral cortex via the entire nervous system.
Gerald Edelman’s explanation on Michio Kaku’s video might be enriched by this quote from a new paper appearing in Frontiers in Psychology, by David A. Oakley and Peter W. Halligan.
“In particular, we argue that all “contents of consciousness” are generated by and within non-conscious brain systems in the form of a continuous self-referential personal narrative that is not directed or influenced in any way by the “experience of consciousness.”
Oakley and Halligan, in line with the theories of Michio Kaku’s guest Gerald Edelman, are contending that the mind does arise from the brain, but it is the sum and total of all the various parts that work, somehow apart from general awareness. These systems work as a “continuously updated personal narrative” arising from “selective internal broadcasting.” The narrative springs from non-conscious executive systems.
As Gerald Edelman explained, it is the capacity of the cerebral cortex to connect with the more primitive sensory regions of the brain, as well as countless connections within the cerebrum that yield the multidimensional thoughts and feelings human beings call consciousness. Perhaps this includes more than conventional consciousness related to awareness, as suggested in Frontiers of Psychology.
Michio Kaku asked Gerald Edelman if the human brain is a type of computer, to which Edelman replied it was not similar to a computer at all.
The evidence is overwhelming that it has none of the properties of what people in the computer business call a Turing machine, after Alan Turing the great British mathematician who wrote a theorem. Gerald Edelman quoted this theorem describing computer processes to Michio Kaku in the video above.
“He can carry out any set of effective procedures or algorithms that you can name as long as they are unambiguous. What he had to do is call upon a tape which has binary arithmetic theories.”
Gerald Edelman told Michio Kaku that each human brain is unique, unlike computers that are built on an assembly line. Edelman joked with Michio Kaku saying manufacturing each computer as a unique individual would not be a good way to run a computer company.
Michio Kaku’s guest Gerald Edelman indicates that human beings are rarely presented with unambiguous data in the real world. Most of the time information enters the human mind in bits and pieces and conclusions must be drawn. It is these intuitive and often subjective conclusions, drawn from insufficient data, which artificial intelligence might find very difficult to master.
Gerald Edelman explained to Michio Kaku humans don’t have the luxury of being fed consistent and unambiguous data.
“The world is not a piece of tape… The machine is an instructive system, but the brain is a selectional system. It already has a huge number of possibilities and you pick amongst them to strengthen one or the other.”
Gerald Edelman explained to Michio Kaku that each human embryo develops its own patterns while in the womb. Even embryonic brains can be observed developing unique features before birth, which are not necessarily genetic.
“Neurons that fire together wire together. It’s not genetic at all, It isn’t pre-fixed. Certain things are but most things are not. So every individual brain is indeed individual.”
Michio Kaku has expressed in the past that he does not feel singularity is near. Professor Kaku feels robots and artificial intelligence are a very long way from rivaling a human mind, much less surpassing it.
Gerald Edelman explains to Michio Kaku that human beings are intuitive and use a selective process when problem-solving, that is vastly individual. Computers cannot even weigh the kind of data that humans rely on every day. It is possible that computers can mimic human behavior and thought, but Gerald Edelman makes it clear, human brains process data very differently than a computer.
Michio Kaku, Gerald Edelman, and others seem to agree, for better or worse, artificial intelligence will not be exactly like human consciousness.