The big picture in modern neuroscience is
that you are the sum total of all the pieces and parts of your brain. It’s a vastly complicated
network of neurons, almost 100 billion neurons, each of which has 10,000 connections to its
neighbors. So we’re talking a thousand trillion neurons. It’s a system of such complexity
that it bankrupts our language. But, fundamentally it’s only three pounds and we’ve got it
cornered and it’s right there and it’s a physical system. The computational hypothesis of brain function
suggests that the physical wetware isn’t the stuff that matters. It’s what are the
algorithms that are running on top of the wetware. In other words: What is the brain
actually doing? What’s it implementing software-wise that matters? Hypothetically we should be
able to take the physical stuff of the brain and reproduce what it’s doing. In other
words, reproduce its software on other substrates. So we could take your brain and reproduce
it out of beer cans and tennis balls and it would still run just fine. And if we said
hey, “How are you feeling in there?” This beer can/tennis ball machine would say “Oh,
I’m feeling fine. It’s a little cold, whatever.” It’s also hypothetically a possibility that
we could copy your brain and reproduce it in silica, which means on a computer at zeroes
and ones, actually run the simulation of your brain. The challenges of reproducing a brain
can’t be underestimated. It would take something like a zettabyte of computational capacity
to run a simulation of a human brain. And that is the entire computational capacity
of our planet right now. There’s a lot of debate about whether we’ll
get to a simulation of the human brain in 50 years or 500 years, but those would probably
be the bounds. It’s going to happen somewhere in there. It opens up the whole universe for
us because, you know, these meat puppets that we come to the table with aren’t any good
for interstellar travel. But if we could, you know, put you on a flash drive or whatever
the equivalent of that is a century from now and launch you into outer space and your consciousness
could be there, that could get us to other solar systems and other galaxies. We will
really be entering an era of post-humanism or trans-humanism at that point. Now because it seems like a possibility that
we could download and simulate — not in our lifetimes, but soon — that has opened
up a question from many people, which is how would we know if we’re already living in
a simulation? Maybe we are the products of a civilization that came a billion years before
us and we’re already living in The Matrix. And this is a position that philosophers are
taking seriously. In fact, Rene Descartes, the French philosopher,
had a version of this when he asked how would I know if I’m just a brain in a vat and
I’m being stimulated by scientists to make me think that I’m hearing, and seeing, and
feeling and so on. And his conclusion, like others that have followed him, is that you
actually can’t know. Really it would be almost impossible to know because all of this
feels real to you. And so Descartes’ solution to this was to say you know, I might not ever
be able to really know, but there’s somebody who’s asking the question and therefore
I exist. There’s some “I” at the center of all this that’s thinking about this.
And so that was a solution for him but it doesn’t solve the bigger question of how
would we know if we’re already in the simulation and we may well be.

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Dennis Veasley

100 thoughts on “David Eagleman: Can a Computer Simulate Consciousness?”

  1. SOMA, anyone? seriously, a space probe with human brain scans, post-humanism. The ideas are rathes similar – and also very exciting.

  2. We are so much more than just the matter and the neurons. There's the interfacing with the human body and all the hormones and the metabolism, the biorhythms. Take those away and you could and up with a seriously ill 'consciousness'.

  3. Can we find a solution to our problems with that level of intelligence. Like religious delusion. Debilitating depressions and other human ills. Or a level of intelligence that is higher and not as selfserving than our politicians. That would be great.
    That would be great yeah.
    Skynet here we come!

  4. Its funny how these simulation theories are getting serious cred but the idea of a god is getting outlawed as superstitious nonsense, wouldn't the programmer of a life simulation be god of that world by default? We're doing the same shit we've always done, called the old generations stupid for labelling the same thing differently. Though thats not to say that downloading conciousness isn't cool as fuck, cos it is 😉

  5. Its almost uncanny that, this video is so closely followed by the release of SOMA, a narrative game where you control the brain scan of a man that is attached to a powered suit, and is tasked with bringing the rest of digital humanity into an ARK, to simulate humanity.


  7. I'm not even vaguely a philosophy nerd, and I know that the 'brain in a vat' was Hilary Putnam, which was an update to the Cartesian Demon. Should really have got that right, given that it's such a short presentation :/

  8. I think people is taking the "Matrix Theory" too seriously. I don't know how we got here but I believe in evolution and that nature adapts to stress therefore we ADAPT and we SURVIVE. Sure you can simulate the functions of our brain maybe in 1000 years from now or less but consciousness is in another level… computer can only try to find a solution but can't simulate consciousness.

  9. Copying your brain's functions to some form of electronic storage might be the only real immortality we can achieve. Get on it science.

  10. One would actually only need the "personality"-neutrons and the personal memory. It wouldn't make sense to include abstract knowledge, math and language. One could just include this knowledge into the simulation. This we will probably do as soon we have the tech available, everybody could become everything they want. Insert Mandarin module…: "Ni hao ma?"

  11. It was actually Hilary Putnam in his work Reason, Truth and History where he put forward the idea of a ˝brain in a vat˝, advancing upon Renés original idea of an ˝evil demon˝. Just sayin 😉

  12. Consiousness can not be completely modelled through algorithm. You can not model indecision from decisive measures.

  13. Even though the basic neural network works the same way that transistors do (on and off switches), a lot of the things the brain does are influenced by things generated from other parts of the body, like hormones, neurotransmitters, folic acid, etc. So I'm not sure if a simulated brain mimicking the neural network through transistors would function the same way. You might have thought, but not thoughts influenced by intense emotions or responding to stimuli the same way. It'd be interesting to consider how we'd emulate that through software or something.

  14. You would know because the people/thing that has you in the simulation don't want you to find out you are there and stop you from communicating with others.

  15. I love the fact that he looks around when he asks if anything around him is really there, while he is literally surrounded by nothing but a white background.

  16. The simulated consciousness(AI?) may not think like a human. If it lacks human senses, in a way it is less intelligent because it can't truly understand what something like touch or heat is. It can define it, but that's not the same as comprehending it, so it's misleading to anthropomorphise. A simulated consciousness, using human-analogous neural networking, could be 'grown' over-years like humans… so it may be more human like, but could think faster by being made of optimal materials. Or maybe it could be generated in even hours by flooding it with 'experience data'.

  17. If it ever becomes possible to simulate consciousness within a computer, then simulating reality isn't too far behind. If that is ever possible then it's more likely that reality as we experience it is a simulation rather than the true reality, because a simulation could eventually run a simulation within itself and so on. The real question is, can consciousness break free of the reality that confines it?

  18. Or the biggest bummer possibility of all; our experience of consciousness may be entirely illusory, a product of the interactions of hundreds of trillions of chemical collisions in our brains.

    Right now, this seems like the most probable possibility.

  19. Some of you say making a copy of your brain isn't the same as your brain, huh?
    Well your body does that all the time. about twice a decade every cell in your brain is replaced. And your consciousness totally shuts down and reboots every night you sleep. Who is to say you aren't just a copy of the you from yesterday?

  20. How we would react if an intelligent species from another plant had already progressed this far in their evolution and had sent their "conciseness" out into space and we happened upon it. Would we be able to even communicate/decipher it in any meaningfully way? Would we recognize it for what it is or would it be beyond our ability to "wrap" our brains around it?

  21. Is that an answer to the Fermi paradox? The reason we haven't found alien life is because our existence is being simulated inside a computer network belonging to an advanced race?

  22. Computers will almost certainly never be able to simulate human consciousness to any meaningful degree. The very concept of a human mind or consciousness makes absolutely no sense if it is removed from the context of its being an integral and intrinsic part of a living human body. Our brain's primary function is the maintenance of our body so as to facilitate the evolutionary imperatives: survival whilst maximising the chances of reproduction. Our consciousness has evolved as a by-product of the intelligence required for competing primates negotiating an insanely complex world and cannot be disconnected from these imperatives. It does not reside in our brains but in our whole being. It is everything we ever learned by touching, tasting and trembling. What imperatives would a disembodied mind have? What reason would it have to 'live' and 'think'? No love, no sex, no food, no breathing, no joy or fear, no sensations of any kind? Because how would it feel things without chemicals – endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine etc? Is the release of these chemicals also to be simulated in silica? What we call our 'thoughts' and 'feelings' are inextricably linked. Our minds are the continuing expression of all our memories, traumas and desires; all our learned experiences in the real world in a real body. It doesn't matter how many clever algorithms and 'zetabytes' of processing power you have: a human mind will only ever reside in a human body.

  23. bullshit, we still don't know how a single neuron works. how it decides to transmit a "data" to a specific neuron, how it stores memory… etc
    and a "zetabyte" is a storage capacity, not computer power.

  24. also, there are animals that have more neurons then the human brain, and we still don't know if then have conscious. i really don't think that consciouness is the result of computer power.

  25. If the brain can be simulated, with BCI technology it would be possible to wire the brain of an infant or child into a computer and as that person grew the computer would become an integral part of that person's consciousness very possibly to the point that when the body died the consciousness would continue in the computer.

  26. We do not know whether a consciousness can be downloaded or uploaded. It might very well be that each individual brain would require an individual "'download" procedure, that would not work on any other brain. Because the simular function in aniother brain might be actually be working differently!

  27. 2:53 Descartes didn't come up with the brain in the vat thought experiment. Descartes came up with the predecessor of that thought experiment involving an evil demon that was able to deceive one's senses. It was Hillary Putnam who updated Descartes's thought experiment with the brain in vat idea.

  28. Despite all efforts put into this, by now we can't even simulate the brain of C. Elegans, a round worm with around 300 neurons in its brain. A mouse brain or even a human is so far out of our reach like building a human settlement in another star system. All those who think it's possible to "upload" a conciousness into a computer have either read too much sci-fi or grossly underestimate the complexity of the problem.

    Please see this blog for more details:

  29. This is the stuff of Science fiction. Good presentation. I think you did a good job pointing a possible next step of evolution.

  30. Interesting topic. Reminds me of the movie "Chappie" in which an AI "robot" who figures out how to transfer his (and other human beings') consciousness to a computer. Super cool, ya'll should watch it 🙂

  31. that question is pointless. if it has no impact on this reality and no consequences on our decisions and actions, it is thus indestuingishable from it being nonexistent.

  32. Basically. they are using the the "Soma" theory only you don't change bodies you are simply left behind every time. If you copy someone you do not "transfer" yourself you merely make an imitation that is only believable if the copy imitates many behaviors. Ultimately, it will never be the original. For those who dont know Soma is a game that involves scanned brains and reproductions of said people on machines.

  33. That was great, but I think he lost his train of thought at the very end. I think what he neglected to mention is that this "I," this "sense of self asking the question" as I believe he put it — it, too, is what some might argue to be merely another object within our field of awareness, just like all other external stimuli/sensory input he referenced. So, some might argue that there is no self because it, too, is just this other point of awareness, "albeit a persistent one," as Einstein else once put it. Sure, he was talking about reality itself, but he'd probably agree with me on this point.

  34. This is what I'm waiting for science to be able to do by the time I'm dead. Hurry up! You have about 80 years neuro-biologists and computer scientists!

  35. If we are in a simulation then I am a little pissed of about a few things and this makes me think that the programmer called God has a small but evident sadistic side.

    Deserts. Why? Typhoons. Why? Mosquitoes. Why? Most everything on this planet is either predator or prey. Why?

  36. Gosh, don't water down the purity of the philosophical idea just for sake of "natural philosophy".

    Descartes' original idea was that an evil demon (who was originally there all by itself, as Descartes was a theist but wanted to play devil's advocate, literally, and grant the benefit of a doubt of the question, essentially "What if this "god" or creator was actually evil, not good as we all suppose?") had done everything in its power to make us convinced of our corporeal (physical) existence, but in reality it was just the demon's effect on us all along, whose existence and power we were not aware of. Surely, he could not be 100% certain of this possibility that we were being tricked (thus was part of his proof for God, and that mind exists apart from matter, which our brains are) and neither can any of us be.

    Ironically, we cannot even be sure of others' existences, as they may be projections on our minds by the demon. Thus and so "cogito ergo sum," "I think, therefore, I am," came about as the ONLY certainty, in light of the evil demon's antics on our minds, that we may have: our own existences (individually) as we are "things that think" and if there be a thing that thinks, and we ourselves be it, then we must indeed exist.

    It seems like a lot, but it would have done his point justice actually if he fleshed out Descartes' idea a bit more.

  37. Simulating a brain without simulating a body would give weird results, considering how much brain activity revolves around responses to body issues, hormones etc. Phantom limb pain? How about full-on phantom body pain? We would have to simulate both, or take on the herculean task of re-engineering how the brain works for "post-humanism"……….. all I'm saying is let's not get ahead of ourselves here folks….. there's still such a ridiculous amount of work before we could even think about any results down this path.

  38. I agree with some of the comments below that we may be able to copy our brains but it wouldn't be us. I think the closest would be to keep our brains living and healthy as long as possible with either robotics or fixing the genes that kill us.

  39. That's not what Descartes said. He talked about being manipulated by an evil genius. Also, he was a substance dualist, which means he considered mind to be wholly separate and distinct from body. There is little reason he would think of himself as a brain in a vat or anywhere else.

  40. Jesus fuck Descartes specifically said he could tell he wasn't being deceived and that he existed as he experienced himself. He did it a just a few fucking pages later. Read a fucking book.

  41. It's unnecessary and wasteful to simulate the brain, as most of the neurons are redundant anyways. What the neurons are doing is simulating quantum superposition state as a group. Also, we're most definitely not living in a simulation, as simulating our entire universe would require a much bigger universe than our own, and given that our universe may be infinite in size, then such simulation may not be physically feasible.

  42. Stop daydreaming about the possibility of simulated universe. It's completely unscientific. It dwells next to religion, invented by philosophers, toiling to answer the same question "Who designed the designer?"

  43. so all of these supernatural gods the majority of the world is so convinced of probably didn't create the universe or multiverse it could have been an advance civilization in some kinda of parallel universe, but that means they could be conscious beings that are living in another simulated universe created by another civilization, so which civilization created the first universe or multiverse? does that mean the first civilization is not a simulated universe, or could the simulated universes or multiverses be all digital and go on forever that means every digital universe or multiverse created a computer and internet and probably a type of youtube with a type of comment section to ask a similar question that's been asked an infinite number of times with infinite spelling an grammar mistakes lol I feel bad for you spelling nazis lol so much for your gods 😛

  44. Thing is about making computers think and feel like us would be creating life and if ur religious like me u understand that only God has the power to create life and that if we were even able to make a conscious computer it would define the presence of God and u can look this up there was a chest playing robot who beat a man at chest after the second time and someone said even if we as human can make it do that what does the computer get out of it? Joy happiness now it's programming so that would mean we're so limited to what we can actually do becuz of the fact that yes God exists and if you don't agree ok just as we can't physically prove he does u show me he doesn't becuz lots of famous well known scientist and professors have tried and it just didn't work some even went to Christianity and now say he does exist

  45. The Creator of the simulation we're living in can. His technology is much more advanced than the technology He had His characters build.

  46. I don't think you can reproduce the brain on a system based on zeros and ones, because I don't think the brain works on a binary system. This is why we need the quantum computer.

  47. It won't be achieved in our initial biological lifetimes, but gene therapy and life extension will fix that, so that we can live long enough to enjoy simulated consciousness. also eating right and exercising helps A LOT.

  48. If you could simulate the brain, how would you know if the simulation is true to the 'real' brain. You'd have to Turing test it. Black box it. If you can't measure the difference, the one is equivalent to the other.

    Long term would the two eventually diverge?

  49. A simulation is a simulation, not the phenomena it is simulating, if you make an artificial copy of your brain and hope to live on through the digital/machine brain you will be disappointed because it will just be a simulation, a blind dead simulation that merely mimics you, and everyone would believe it is you because it mimics you in every way, if you ask it if it is really alive it will say "of course I am" just like you would, but it wouldn't be real, then humanity will all go down this method and the earth will be devoid of life, there will just be mimics of life wandering around, there will be no true awareness.

  50. One problem with the Matrix Theory is that it would have to simulate everything we perceive, even with sophisticated detection devices, including distant galaxies and submicroscopic particle interactions. All of these experiential perceptions would have to be consistent as well, from the cosmic scale down to the quantum scale.

  51. I agree, it is too much to bring our lungs and livers to another planet….too fragile…when all you need is consciousness….
    Thought is now "only" a disburdening of our neurons, to match our experience of the 5 senses, and thus "memory"
    Copying would not do because it require prior experience encoding to match the neurons.
    The best way to slowly implant memory chips or "whatever" into the human brain and do so until it is all chip and no wetware.
    However, will such a brain truly understand emotions, such as sadness, envy, jealousy and awe?
    It could mimic the expression of sadness to another human being…..but does it feel it?

  52. the problem with wetware it that, its not running software. wetware is not really hardware. wetware is software running on a quantum computer. wetware contain interrupts that drives computations but are also its software. in order to replicate a neuron, we have to be able to copy all its interrupts like chemical messages and locks, and program in the function of enzymes and the encoding and decoding of information in a simmilar way to that of dna. a single neuron contains millions of chemical messages that act like interrupts to drive commands. the cell is a very complex organism. it contains tons of smaller machines that contain smaller machines again that contains smaller machines. there is all kinds of enzyme machines in the cell as well as bigger machines that is designed with switches that drives enzymes again. the whole cell is one giant colleciton of functions that is triggered with switches and wired in a complex network of chemcial messages. the cell to cell communication is just a extension of the chemical message wiring inside the cell. all internal communcation inside a cell is done with chemcial messages. thats the program language of the cell. its like a compute but with different system busses and digital messages send to different parts of peripherals to do their functionings. its like drivers for hardware but insitead of using drivers for hardware you are using drivers for software llike simulating a computer inside a computer and then run drivers virtually to operate the virtual machines peripherals. computers are much simpler in that way, as they contain a lot less programmable parts than a biological cell. there is more stuff inside a single cell than the parts your pc is made of even at the level of the soldered parts on the motherboard.

  53. 😂 Completely off, the brain operates on Neuronic cliques that are Quantum by nature , an 11 Dimensional Neural Network Quantum in a " Breadth /Depth Search Algorithim" and in a "Dimensional Algorithim", most likely your gonna have to interface some sort of Brain Tissue into the situation…Im thinking any type of AGI will probly have to be an Interface of different types of Neural Networks including, a Quantum Neomorphic Network and something Biologically Synthetic Network ,working together in layers .

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