The brain cannot be simulated? Questionable conclusions

Yesterday I’ve watched a Singularity 1-on-1 interview with Miguel Nicolelis and Ronald Cicurel about their theory of the brain and its implications:

It’s an interesting and thought provoking theory. It suggests that simulating human minds might be significantly more difficult than for example Ray Kurzweil and Henry Makram think it is. They make their point rather plausible.

Their conclusions, however, seem to stretch out a bit too far: That we won’t be able to simulate the brain at all, and that there will be no “technological Singularity” (in the sense of an intelligence explosion or otherwise). If they are right about their technical arguments, can can be concluded is that purely digital computers will be insufficient to capture all the salient details of the human mind (including consciousness). So, what about hybrid digital-analog computers which simulate all the different levels of computation in the human brain? What about adding additional components to the human brain? What about interlinking human brains with each other? All of these would still be viable paths to create some kind of superhuman mind.

What do you think?


I don’t buy their theory. Humans can already create computer models that acurately predict the behaviour of atoms and molecules. Since the brain is made of atoms and molecules it seems to me that we already have the building blocks necessary to simulate it.

I know that the human mind is imensly complicated, and it’s true that nowdays we can’t create set of algorithms which acurately predict its behaviour, but that doesn’t that those algorithms don’t exist.

There are mathematical padrons everywhere in nature, why should things be different with the brain?

I’m no neuroscientist and I haven’t read their book, but, judging by this interview and some other stuff I read online, I think Nicolelis and Cicurel’s theroy is grounded on the idea of human exceptionalism and not on real scientific evidence.

Anyway, even if they’re right there are, as you say, many other ways of reaching a singularity.
I’ve actually come up with an interesting idea about that for the Fractal Cosmos project. It involves the creation of and entity named ORSI (ORganic Super-Inteligence), which is basically a gigantic brain created through genetic engineering and massive injection of hormones and other substances that make it grow. ORSI would be as intelligent as most ASIs, but it would be organic instead of mechanic.

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very great and plausible discussion for me, because i have the opinion for many years myself. i think that qualia is something of a new emergence that is irreducible. in a way they always refer to qualia when they talk about emotions and the allegory of the cave. the mary´s room experiment convinced me to remain sceptical about physicalism.

it seems so…but what about a dead body? if we would ever be able to replicate it…or even if not, we will have a perfectly built brain in that body. but how to activate it?

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Some human exceptionalism may be involved, but I’m not certain about the extent of that. It seems to me that they actually found out some phenomena that suggest that it’s really really complicated to properly simulate a human brain. Which doesn’t mean that we can’t do amazing things with AI that are not exactly working like human brains.

That is an interesting thought experiment. My own thinking was going more towards some kind of “cyberbrain”: A computational device that works quite similar to the human brain, simulating its computations an all different levels, but is made artificially.

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I think that Mary’s room argument appeals too much to emotion and too little to reason. If Mary truly knew everything about color before she left the black-and-white room she would already know what the “qualia” of watching the blue sky would be like.

The reason why many people belive that there’s something special and ethereal about the human mind is because they desperately want to think that way. They don’t like the idea of being nothing but a meat-bag with a turing machine inside their heads, so, they start claiming that they have something magical and irreducible inside them, which they call qualia or soul.

We can feel that we are special and different, but doens’t mean that we actually are. Personally, I prefer to stick to scientiffic evidence.

I’m not sure, but, if the brain is truly perfectly built and it’s already being irrigated by blood I soppose the chemical reactions that make the brain start working would naturally take place.

Anyway, the only way we could be sure about that would be experimenting and maybe investigating how fetus’ brains are activated.

We have allways known it was complicate, but that doesn’t mean it’s a theorectical impossibility.

Yeah, that’s also interesting. We can’t be stuck to computers in it’s current form


we are now on the level of the most important philosophical question of humanity. if you are right, it is only a question of time in technology, to realize immortality. if i am right, materialism and the human capabilities are limited and could only change with a change of consciousness.

maybe you have a argument here, but i really like the idea, building an android with qualia and realizing immortality.

on a deeper level “what we feel” is the only “scientific evidence” we have. when we begin with our methods, we start observing through our eyes (qualia) and interpreting with the help of our templates ( like mathematics or the scientific method) - an order that has grown because some people in the past began to feel that this is the right way to go an teach it to others…we depend on our qualia, to come up with something like science. but this is nothing more but only one template for our perception, there could be many others.
“We have a closed circle of consistency here: the laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it.” -roger penrose

what i meant was something else. there is a point when the brain is declared dead - and this is the criterion for a persons death - and could not be revived, although there is technically a perfect brain available.

It’s true that scientific evidence is based on our perception of reality, but that doesn’t mean we can take all what we see and feel as a scientific evidence.

The whole basis of modern science is questioning things and trying to look at them in the most unemotional way possible.

Reasoning and trusting our guts may not be very different on very a deep level, but humanity’s progress has only been possible because we assume that there is a substancial difference between these two methods.

There has allways been a war between science and comon-sense and think history has made pretty clear that science is a lot better at predicting how things behave than comon-sense, even is science is ultimately based on comon-sense templates.

If the brain is dead it’s because the cells are dead and, in that case, the brain is not functionable. The structure may be intact but it just doesn’t work because the celular mechanisms that allow a person to feel and think are not functioning. There are no electrical impulses traveling through the neurons and no neurotransmitters to perform chemical synapses.

Reviving the brain would imply bringing all cells back to life and that’s just not possible with current medical technologies.