Consciousness, mind, memory and universe

Scientific conversation between two of the characters of the novel El infierno secreto, which was not included in the final edition.

—Henry… — Victor, the engineer, was more thoughtful than usual that morning—. I wonder about the future of our experiments. Don’t you think it might be harmful to humanity?

It gave him pause for thought.

—For the moment, we are working with low emissions. Keep in mind that our unknown brain is a perfect antenna, with a natural ability to generate, absorb and process a wide range of frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, you know, alpha, beta, theta waves… Stimulating it externally in an artificial way simply induces effects typical of human nature. From anxiety and pain to peace and well-being. Without surgery, with no implants and painless. It is already being applied today to treat various conditions or disorders: Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, epileptic seizures… —he specified passionately—. Ours does not exceed this type of proven practices.

—I didn’t mean exactly that, I’m going further… Couldn’t that quantum entanglement between two different brain masses have long-term consequences?

He realized what Victor was getting at and for the first time sensed the discomfort he had felt in developing his own machine, he hadn’t imagined it.

—Don’t worry, it’s harmless for the moment. You should know that we are not pioneers, nature uses this property in different ways. —Henry knew what he was talking about, his memory had returned almost completely—. Quantum entanglement plays a vital role in the photosynthesis of plants, which are able to recover more than ninety percent of the sun’s energy, when, for example, humans with solar panels do not reach an efficiency of more than thirty percent. This property also occurs in the instantaneous and rhythmic movements of large fish shoals and certain huge flocks of birds. They move unconsciously as a single organism, a single synchronized consciousness. Like the cells in our body, in fact.

—So some animals naturally synchronize thoughts?

—Tell me, Victor, what is a thought to you? —he answered with another question.

The engineer had hit just the right key to capture Henry’s atention.

—An idea generated by the brain.

—Good answer, but don’t you think it’s more than just ideas? —The question remained in Victor’s brain for a couple of seconds—. Today we know that thoughts are energetic patterns different for each individual that can interact with matter like any other type of energy. For example, one of the achievements of the last few years has been to successfully send through the global communications network the thought of one person so that another, hundreds of kilometers away in another country connected to electrodes, would move the arm unconsciously. Move the arm of another distant person with your own thought! Do you understand what I’m talking about? The future is very promising.

—Sounds like cyborgs and that sort of things.

—But, in spite of everything, we still do not know the most important thing: where these thoughts, what we would call memory, are stored, and, therefore, where consciousness resides. If we could find these two crucial elements, we would have the key to the universe.

—In the brain, that’s easy.

—Here starts the problems for a neuroscientist… The hippocampus plays an important role in memory, but to what extent is still unknown. I’ll give you an interesting fact: a research done with mice consisted of teaching them to do a new task. Lowering a handle to receive food, finding a certain hidden place, and so on; something they did not know how to do without prior learning and memorization. Then, we tried to locate in which part of the brain they stored that information. To do this, a different fragment of the brain mass was sectioned from each one of them. The aim was to find out which of them would stop succeeding with what they had learned. Do you follow me?

He nodded.

—Well, the amazing and even more puzzling thing was that not a single one of them forgot what they had learned. You can remove any area of the brain, no matter what it is, and it will still retain its memories. Do you see? It seems as if memory is not actually located in our central processor.

Victor was beginning to follow him on his journey into the impossible.

—I’ll go further… A paramecium is composed of a single cell, evidently it has no neurons, and yet it achieves logical behaviors. It is able to detect its predators, reproduce, choose one direction or another based on external stimuli, and so on. Basic actions that require a minimum of processing and, above all, memory. How do they do it?

—Okay… You’re suggesting that consciousness is external to us and, therefore, we could implant it in a robot, for example.

Henry smiled in a clear gesture of being very far from achieving that. That reminded him of his own past experience that led him there.

—A robot is capable of reasoning, but it does not generate thoughts. Thoughts are always associated with a feeling, and machines are not capable of feeling. We all know that the best stored memories are always those associated with strong emotional circumstances. If neurons functioned simply as a robot and activated and deactivated only as if they were ones and zeros, there would be no such thing as consciousness. Neurons must do something else that still eludes us. Connect to an unknown element —he acknowledged without blushing—. For that reason, renowned scientists assure that a machine will never be able to acquire consciousness, no matter how precise or perfect it is created and no matter how much artificial intelligence it is endowed with…

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