Michio Kaku: Feedback loops are creating consciousness
Our ability to make predictions about the future distinguishes our level of consciousness.
MICHIO KAKU: In the entire universe, there are two great unsolved problems. The two greatest problems in all of science, first of all, is about the very big. It's about the origin of the universe. Why did it bang? Why do we have an expanding universe? And I personally work on something called the multiverse, which we think is the dominant source of theories that gives us the universe before creation itself-- the multiverse. But there is also the mystery of inner space, not outer space.
And that's the human mind. Where does consciousness come from? And I think that in my book, The Future of the Mind, I try to make a stab at what is consciousness? First of all, let me explain my theory. I have my own theory of consciousness. I think consciousness is the sum total of all feedback loops necessary to create a model of yourself in space, in society, and in time. Now, I'm a physicist. We like to measure things and quantify things. I think there is a unit of consciousness. If consciousness is a sum total of all feedback loops necessary to create a picture of yourself in space, in society, and in time, then the unit of consciousness is a thermostat.
A thermostat has one unit of consciousness, because it has one feedback loop-- measures temperature. Now, a plant has maybe five units of consciousness, because plants have to regulate temperature. They have to regulate humidity, the direction of gravity, when to sprout. So there are maybe five or so feedback loops in a plant. Then we go to alligators. The alligators are masters of the back part of the brain. And then you have maybe several hundred feedback loops that govern space. That's what alligators are very good at.
Their brain, if you look at the parts of the back of the brain, we, too, have the reptilian brain that governs our understanding of space, where we are in space. And then, going forward in time, evolution gave us the monkey brain, the center of the brain, the limbic system. And the limbic system, in turn, governs society. It governs where we are with respect to our elders, our children, other human beings. Pack mentality, wolves, all of them have a developed central part of the brain, the monkey brain. And then the front part of the brain is what distinguishes us from the animals. It is the temporal brain that constantly simulates the future.
Animals don't do that. In fact, animals don't even have much of a memory. When you look at a brain scan of what is the brain doing when it's thinking, thinking hard? What is the brain doing? You find out that the prefrontal cortex is active, and it is accessing memories of the past. You see, animals don't do that. Animals have not much of a memory. They don't see the future, because there's no necessity to see the future. There's no necessity to have much of a memory. In fact, the purpose of memory could be to simulate the future. Animals don't need it.
Why didn't the dinosaurs become intelligent? Well, they didn't need to become intelligent, because we humans sometimes overexaggerate the importance of intelligence. Intelligence is not necessary to live in the forest, but we are maladapted to live in the forest. We don't run very fast. We can't fly. Our skin is very fragile. We're not very strong. We have only one thing going for us -- our brain. And what separates us from the animals? We see the future. We plot. We scheme. So that's my theory of intelligence. And then you can then categorize animals. You can categorize machines on the basis of this category.
Level 1 would be alligators. Level 2 would be monkeys -- I mean, not monkeys, but social animals, like wolves. Level 3 would be just us. OK, we have the third level of consciousness. And then what about robots? What do robots have? Robots will be level 1. They can barely see what's around them and start to make some changes. They don't have emotions. They don't see social hierarchy. They can't interact socially with humans. And of course, they certainly don't see the future in all its forms.
Now, they can simulate parts of the future. They could model airflow on an airplane wing, for example. So robots can see the future in one direction. We see the future in all directions. So robots would be level one in conscious. OK? Plants would be level zero, that is, just a few feedback loops. We're the highest. We see the future. And then I think this will replace the IQ exam.
I think the IQ exam measures one aspect of intelligence, and that is clerical skills. Yes, I think IQ exams measure something. They measure how well you do on IQ exams. And what is it that IQ exams test you for? Clerical skills. So I personally think that clerics and maybe lawyers, who score very high on an IQ exam-- but that doesn't mean they are, quote, "intelligent." Intelligence, to me, is seeing the future in all its forms, whether you're a bank robber, whether you are a physicist, whether you're a gymnast, whatever. That, I think, is what intelligence is.
- One of the great questions in all of science is where consciousness comes from.
- When it comes to consciousness, Kaku believes different species have different levels of consciousness, based on their feedback loops needed to survive in space, society, and time.
- According to the theoretical physicist, human beings' ability to use past experiences, memories, to predict the future makes us distinct among animals — and even robots (they're currently unable to understand, or operate within, a social hierarchy).
- Did we evolve to see reality as it exists? - Big Think ›
- The universe may be conscious, say prominent scientists - Big Think ›
- What is panpsychism? Talking consciousness with Ben Goertzel ... ›
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
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Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
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Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.