A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Month: October 2014

How can the brain be computer simulated?

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogA computer simulated human brain – that undoubtedly sounds like science fiction. But the EU flagship project, the Human Brain Project, actually has computer simulation of the brain as an objective.

What will be accomplished during the ten years that the project is financed will presumably be simulations of more limited brain functions (often in the mouse brain). But the proud objective to simulate the human brain has now been formulated in a serious research project.

But what does “computer simulation of the brain” mean?

In an article in the journal Neuron Kathinka Evers and Yadin Dudai discuss the meaning of simulation of the brain. Kathinka Evers from CRB leads the philosophical research in the EU Project and Yadin Dudai is a neuroscientist from the Weizmann Institute of Science who also works in the project.

The article combines philosophical and scientific vantage points to clarify the type of simulation that is relevant in neuroscience and what goals it may have. Several of the questions in the article are relevant also for the simulation of more limited brain functions. For example, the question if the ability to make a computer simulation of a brain function means that you understand it.

The most thought-provoking questions, however, concern the big (but distant) goal to simulate a whole human brain. Is it possible in principle, given that the brain is embedded in the body and is in constant interaction with it? Is it possible, given that the brain interacts not only with the body but also with a social environment?

Does simulating the brain require that one also simulates the brain’s interaction with the body and the social context in which it operates? Kathinka Evers thinks so. The attempt to simulate the brain is too limited if one does not start out from the fact that the brain is in constant interaction with an environment that constantly changes it.

The brain must be understood (and simulated) as an “experienced brain.”

Suppose that one day one manages to simulate an experienced human brain in intensive interaction with a bodily and social environment. Has one then simulated a brain so well that one created consciousness?

The questions in the article are many and breathtaking – read it!

Pär Segerdahl

We like challenging questions - the ethics blog

The Ethics Blog soon as a book

PÄR SEGERDAHL Associate Professor of Philosophy and editor of The Ethics BlogAs you may have noticed, I have for some time not posted quite as often as before. That is because I’m right now compiling previous posts, turning the Ethics Blog into a book.

I thought it would go quickly to make a blog book. But it takes time to choose appropriate texts and arrange them around different themes. And then edit the texts so they are nice to read in printed form.

Actually, I’m working on two books. There is a Swedish version of the Ethics Blog: “Etikbloggen” (link in the right margin). The text for the English book was sent to a graphic designer just a while ago. It will be exciting to see the results!

Both books will be printed in December. Hopefully we can also make them available in PDF format.

Now you know! Perhaps posting will be a bit sporadic for a few weeks, while I continue to work with the text for the Swedish blog book.

Pär Segerdahl

We like ethics : www.ethicsblog.crb.uu.se