Saturday, October 22, 2016

Brain entropy said to explain consciousness

PhysicsWorld reports:
Consciousness appears to arise naturally as a result of a brain maximizing its information content. So says a group of scientists in Canada and France, which has studied how the electrical activity in people's brains varies according to individuals' conscious states. The researchers find that normal waking states are associated with maximum values of what they call a brain's "entropy". ...

The latest work stems from the observation that consciousness, or at least the proper functioning of brains, is associated not with high or even low degrees of synchronicity between neurons but by middling amounts. Jose Luis Perez Velazquez, a biochemist at the University of Toronto, and colleagues hypothesized that what is maximized during consciousness is not connectivity itself but the number of different ways that a certain degree of connectivity can be achieved.

Perez Velazquez's colleague Ramon Guevarra Erra, a physicist at the Paris Descartes University, points out that there is only one way to connect each set of neurons in a network with every other set, just as there is only one way to have no connections at all. In contrast, he notes, there are many different ways that an intermediate medium-sized number of connections can be arranged.

To put their hypothesis to the test, the researchers used data previously collected by Perez Velazquez showing electric- and magnetic-field emissions from the brains of nine people, seven of whom suffered from epilepsy. ...

Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an "emergent property" of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain's bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.
Maybe consciousness is an emergent property. Maybe it can be related to how neurons form connections. Maybe these researchers are on to something. But calling it brain entropy seems like a stretch.

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