[Fis] "the mother of information"--MINI-BRAINS

Pedro C. Marijuan pcmarijuan.iacs at aragon.es
Tue Jan 29 19:28:34 CET 2019

Dear FIS Colleagues,

An interesting twist on what could be the minimal requirements for 
consciousness has recently arisen (Nature News, 15 Nov. 2018). Lab-grown 
mini-brains, or better, brain organoids obtained from stem cells and 
coaxed to form cortical tissue, show amazing properties of structure, 
connectivity, and synchronicity of their neural discharges. Up to the 
point that ethical questions have been raised. The neural types, the 
genes expressed, and the "EEG records" are surprisingly similar to those 
seen in real human brains of preterm babies. The organoids themselves 
have been in culture for 10 months. How close could they be to a primary 
form or say to a pre-emergence of consciousness? Although grown for 
medical purposes, if these organoids, or more complex ones, are hooked 
to organoid forms of sensory organs (eye, hear) what would happen? Would 
these sensory organoids open real windows to these mini-brains towards 
the external world? Could they be sort of an instantiation of Putnam's  
"brain in a bat"? Too many questions one can formulate...


El 22/01/2019 a las 13:25, GUEVARA ERRA RAMON MARIANO escribió:
> Dear colleagues,
> I have some comments on the question by Krassimir. In our paper we 
> talked about consciousness but I think the results can also be 
> interpreted in a wider sense.
> Indeed, with open or closed eyes, a person is not more or less 
> conscious than with closed eyes, also seems to me. There is simply 
> more sensory input with eyes opened, and presumably more information 
> processing.
> So, going back to our paper, we measured the information content in 
> the brain network, and see that in some states there is more 
> information content than in others. Now, if you are unconscious, in a 
> medical sense, say you fainted or you are in coma, the information 
> content is very low. But also if you switch off part of the sensory 
> input. In both cases what you measure is information processing.
> In other words, our measure is good at revealing the amount of 
> information processing in large scale brain networks. Incidentally, it 
> serves to contrast conscious and unconscious states as consciousness 
> is related to information processing. But not only, it also serves to 
> contrast states with different sensory input, as in the eyes opened/ 
> eyes closed case, even when both seem to be conscious states.
> It would be interesting to see results from an experiment where 
> subjects have sensory deprivation.
> Regarding consciousness, I don't know of a method to quantify it 
> behaviorally. Actually, even the definition is elusive. Without a 
> behavioral quantification, all we can do is to rely on an empirical, 
> medical use of the concept and say "this state is more conscious than 
> that state".
> I agree with Karl , this question is very important, weather something 
> is alive or not, and is perhaps related to the question of begin 
> conscious or not.  They may be examples of "major evolutionary 
> transitions" (Maynard Smith and Szathmary). In this sense I have a 
> comment. There seems to be a believe in certain communities that 
> intelligence and /or consciousness would appear as a result of the 
> accumulation of processing units, with networks of sufficient 
> complexity. So, an artificial intelligence could appear if we have a 
> very complex and large set of artificial neurons (it could even be a 
> simulation, it doesn't have to be physical). I disagree with this 
> optimism on historical grounds. There was a similar  wave of optimism 
> after the Miller - Urey experiment on the origin of life, long time 
> ago, and look where we are now. As long as I know, a self-replicating 
> artificial cell cannot be created from inorganic molecules.  I think 
> this is the case because, of the large amount of possibilities that 
> gives molecular combinations, chemical reactions, etc, only a few can 
> be qualified as "alive". And the more the system is complex, the more 
> there are combinations. Is the selection of the correct combinations 
> that is difficult. One could say the same about the brain, where in 
> this case the units are neurons. There is a nice argument in one of 
> Penrose's books about this. The cerebellum and the cerebral cortex 
> have the same order of magnitude neurons. However, we don't tend to 
> believe that the cerebellum is the material basis of consciousness.
> Best,
> Ramon
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Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group

pcmarijuan.iacs at aragon.es

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