The evidence that we all exist in base reality – or at least a Basic reality – begins to pile up.
A team of researchers from the US and UK recently conducted a groundbreaking study of the neurological conditions of two people living without a sense of touch.
Most people orient their conscious existence with the world through a combination of our five senses. We can see a ball fly towards our head, we can feel the ground beneath our feet, we can hear a car rush by, and we can smell delicious food before we try it.
The researchers focused their study on two people living without a complete sense of touch. One was identified as a man named Ian who lost the sense of touch in most parts of his body after an illness. And the other was identified as a woman, Kim, who was born without the ability to feel touch.
According to the team’s research:
In this article, we contrast two very rare but related neurological conditions: the acquired loss of proprioception and touch in adulthood and the total innate lack of these senses. We compare individuals with these two conditions with each other and with normal controls to shed light on how representations of the body can be made and maintained without somatosensory input.
In other words, the study shows how the human brain can develop a physical sense of self – an internal representation of our body, the space we live in, and a detailed knowledge of where the boundaries lie between us and that not we are– Even if we can’t feeling our body or the outside world.
A press release from the University of Chicago describes how the experience of simply waking up in the morning and realizing reality differs for people with a neurodivergent sense of touch:
This hypothesis is further supported by Kim and Ian’s own accounts of what it feels like to wake up in the morning. As Ian goes through a process of body restoration each morning, Kim “simply welcomes the world back into its embodied self” rather than describing the need to restore her body awareness.
The study explains that this is likely because, even though your brain is unable to physically feel its place in the world, it can still form an internal image of physical embodiment.
The research is compelling and almost certainly an important step in understanding how the human brain processes and uses sensory input. Most noticeable, however, was the closing paragraph of the UofC press release:
“What we can learn from this is that you may not do it like others do, but you will find a way to create a body schema,” Mason said. “You will find a way to understand yourself. Kim found a way. It’s not the way you or I do it or how anyone on earth could do it, but it’s absolutely important to have that confidence. You have to be somewhere We are not brains in vats! “
While this part of the news is clearly anecdotal, and not part of the research itself, it is an amazing conclusion for a scientist to come to. If we rule out being brains in vats, we must rule out many other popular theories of consciousness and reality.
What if there are no pills?
Nick Bostrum’s simulation hypothesis, perhaps the simplest of the alternative reality theories, states that the probability that we will live in a computer simulation is greater than zero. Basically, it looks like this: we have to assume any future society that is able to create a computer simulation powerful enough to fool us that it is our reality that either would or would not be able to do so is able to.
There are numerous similar theories, ranging from the idea that we’re all just brains in vats in huge warehouses, or, according to the hit movie The Matrix, that we’re living batteries that an AI species can exploit.
There are also religious concepts like “Last Thursdayism” and “Creationism” which believe that the earth and everything on it was created last Thursday and that the earth was created 6,000 years ago.
Still others believe that our bodies are channels for souls that persist after we leave. Hence, this reality is an illusion or a test to determine our ultimate destiny.
However, this is one of those cases where it is currently outside the scientific framework to prove a negative. There is no way to do it demonstrate that we don’t currently live in The Matrix.
We can only look at the evidence.
Exhibits A and I.
Artificial intelligence is a tide that is raising all ships when it comes to the various scientific communities that care about the human brain. The better we understand machine learning and automation, the closer we will get to isolating and understanding the properties of living organisms that qualify them as intelligent. And the better our understanding of … whatever it is that is what makes man so special among all living things.
Interestingly, AI lives in a world that is far closer to the “brain in a vat” philosopher than anything we’ve seen in psychology or neurology.
When an AI system creates something on its own that otherwise would not have existed, such as a novel image or text, it does not translate thoughts into actions, but hallucinates.
AI doesn’t interact with the world. It has no senses; it cannot see, taste, touch, hear, feel, or smell. It interprets data. When you run a robot with AI, the robot has no senses. It only interprets data.
When AI is trained to generate novel results, such as an AI that creates unique Van Gogh-style paintings, it actually doesn’t paint a picture. It hallucinates new data interpretations based on previous data sets. The goal of such an AI is to accurately imitate the style without reproducing original paintings. Hence, only a range of data is merged until a satisfactory output is obtained.
What AI does in these cases is not far from infinite apes knocking on infinite typewriters to eventually produce Shakespeare. It’s just easier for the AI because it’s supposed to produce everything but Shakespeare as long as it reads like Shakespeare.
AI cannot magically walk into our world and see what we are talking about, or experience a painting the way we would. Hence, it is relegated to a perpetual hallucination until we figure out how to make it sentient.
Humans, on the other hand, are incredibly adaptable. We have five senses and myriad neural ways in which we can process them, but our idea of basic reality remains unconstrained by the loss of one or more of our senses. Those born or living without eyesight can still visualize things, those without hearing can still process information in time, and even Ian and Kim who cannot sense touch have a developed sense of physical embodiment.
Reality, but more realistic
The human brain obviously does not exist as a separate control unit, embedded in an available mass of bone, blood and flesh. At least not, if you agree with the researcher who concluded that we are not brains in vats.
According to the evidence presented in the above research report, the human brain paints a self-internalized worldview that includes our entire body and not just our perspective. This creates the impression that our minds are adjusting and orienting themselves to what most of us would consider “normal” no matter how we are forced to look at reality.
Our brains still manage to sustain consensus reality even when the tools most of us use to confirm they are being taken away. That may not be proof that we are living in a fundamental reality, but it is proof that we could know a fake if we saw it.
On the other hand, the robots that created The Matrix might want to believe just that.
Published on February 16, 2021 – 21:26 UTC