Human Creativity and Consciousness: Consequences of the Brain’s Extraordinary Energy Efficiency?

Creativity and consciousness are two of the key characteristics of what it means to be human. It is speculated that these are both (unintended) consequences of the human brain’s evolution to become extraordinarily energy efficient as manifest by its ability to do exascale data processing using six orders of magnitude less power than will be needed to run a next-generation exascale supercomputer. Such an ability has arisen through the extreme miniaturisation of neuronal components, and this in turn appears to have led the brain to operate in two fundamentally different modes: one where available energy is focussed on a subset of neurons (with others largely inactive), allowing these neurons to perform computations repeatably and reliably; the other more common mode where available energy is spread more uniformly across the neuronal network, making individual neurons susceptible to quantum physical processes. In this talk I discuss the characteristics of creativity, free will and consciousness from the perspective of this cognitive dichotomy, closely linked to Kahneman’s System 1 and 2. In so doing, a novel definition of consciousness is proposed in terms of an implicit awareness of counterfactual states in state space. I will conclude with novel perspectives on Penrose’s claim that human cognition is non-computational, and on why we humans believe that quantum physics is seemingly incomprehensible.

Seminar by Prof. Tim Palmer