Michio Kaku, one of the most famous theorists of physics and futurist of today, explains how incomprehensible human intelligence is and presents his new theory of the quantity of consciousness.
In the entire universe, the two greatest scientific mysteries are, above all, the origin of the universe itself, and the other is the origin of intelligence. Believe it or not, this thing on our shoulders is the most complex object that Mother Nature has made in the universe we know. You have to go at least 24,000,000,000,000 miles to the nearest star to find a planet that may have life and intelligence on it. On the other hand, our brain consumes about 20-30 watts of power, and makes better calculations than any huge supercomputer. So he is a mystery. How is the brain networked? If we can figure it out, how can we use that discovery to improve our mental abilities?
When you look at the brain and all its parts, they don’t seem to be connected at all. The visual part of the brain is far behind, for example. Why is the brain made this way? Is this just a coincidence of evolution? Well, one way to look at it is through evolution. That is, the back part of the brain is the so-called reptilian brain. The oldest primitive part of the brain that maintains balance, territoriality, mating. Thus, the most distant part of the brain is also the type of brain that we find in reptiles. When I was a child, I went to the science museum, sometimes I looked at snakes, and they in turn stared at me. And I would ask myself: What are they thinking about? – Well, I think I know now. What they were thinking was: Is this lunch?
Then, we have the central part of the brain that goes forward, which is the so-called monkey brain – mammalian brain, emotion brain. The brain of social hierarchies. Then, finally, the front part of the brain is the human brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. There is a rational opinion. When you ask yourself where I am at all, the answer is right behind your forehead. There you really are.
I have one theory of consciousness that tries to cover all that. About 20,000 works have been written about consciousness, but there is no agreement. Never in the history of science have so many people devoted so much time to such a small effect. I am a physicist, and when we, physicists, look at some mysterious object, the first thing we try to do is make a model – a model of this object in space. Then we hit the play button and speed it up in time. That is how Newton managed to come up with the theory of gravity. That is how Einstein came up with the idea of relativity.
So I tried to use this in terms of the human brain and evolution. What I am saying is that I have a new theory of consciousness based on evolution, and that is that consciousness is the number of loops in feedback that are necessary to model your position in space in relation to other organisms and finally in relation to time.
Consider the consciousness of a thermostat. I believe that even a low thermostat has one unit of consciousness – more precisely, it senses the temperature around it. Then we have a flower. The flower has perhaps ten units of consciousness. He must understand temperature, weather conditions, humidity, direction of gravity. Then we finally go to the brain of the reptile that I call the first level of consciousness. Reptiles also understand their position in space practically well, especially because they have to throw themselves at the victim and grab her. Then we have another level of consciousness – ape consciousness. Awareness of emotions, social hierarchies, the place we occupy in relation to the tribe, and then where we are as human beings.
As human beings we are on the third level. We perform simulations of the future. Animals obviously don’t do that. They do not plan to hibernate, they do not plan what they will do tomorrow, they do not have a concept of tomorrow – as far as we know.
But that’s what our brain does. Our brain is a machine that predicts. When we look at evolution from the reptilian brain, through the mammalian brain to the prefrontal cortex, we realize that it is a process of understanding our position in space, having regard for others – that is, emotions – and finally stimulating the future.