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Sort of a jumping-off point from my last question, I speak of the "binding problem" that currently plagues neuroscience and cognitive studies, and which plays a large role in debating AI and whole brain emulation. It has its own wikipedia article, but for those looking for a shorter summation, the binding problem can be split into roughly two separate, smaller problems. The first is the segregation problem, which is the question of exactly how the brain can process sensory stimuli and segregate it into separate objects (i.e. "there is a blue square and a yellow circle" instead of "there is a blue circle and a yellow square" or "there is a square, a circle, the color blue, and the color yellow" etc.). The second is the combination problem, which deals with how the brain combines all of these background elements, abstractions and emotional features into one single, distinct experience (or more simply, how input is transformed into conscious qualia).

Now my question is, could a society still perform high-resolution scans that copy a person's mind to a computational substrate as data if they still haven't figured out how to solve the binding problem? Could you have a world where human brains can be copied and reproduced down to the most minute detail, but they aren't able to experience or even simulate consciousness unless their neural patterns are printed onto a "blank" organic human brain rather than emulated on a computer? Or does the technology required to perform these high-fidelity scans which enable resurrective immortality via mind-cloning also necessitate that a society have solved the binding problem?

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    $\begingroup$ I think a related question that you may need to explore soon is the malfunctioning teleporter problem. In this thought experiment, you have a teleporter that operates by scanning you, then recreating your body somewhere else (say Mars). Then, once it is certain you have a new body, it destroys the old one. What happens if, one day, it fails to destroy the old one? How do you handle the assignment of "identity?" The next interesting version involves the teleporter accidentally duplicating you twice, one on Mars one on Venus, and then destroying the original body. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 29 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ This is a known open problem in philosophy, which means we really don't have an answer one way or the other. You can pick the answers that are meaningful to you in your story, and run with them. I point out the problem because it distils the real issue down quite succinctly, and once you have the answer to this one, the answers to all of your other questions become much simpler to explore within the universe you are creating. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 29 '17 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ if this question is related to another question then please link to that other question. Also if you talk about wikipedia pages and other sources please, again, link them. Link everything. It will makr your question more approachable than two paragraphs of plain-text... $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Mar 29 '17 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ A photocopier doesn't need to know how to read to make copies of documents. The copies of documents will read just the same as the original, as long as no detail has been lost. The same goes for physical vs digital copies. I see no reason to expect brains to be any different, except for the problem of getting a precise enough copy. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 29 '17 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ all I would say is bare in mind that you will probably need a warehouse full of ROM to be able to store all this data $\endgroup$ – Alex Robinson Mar 29 '17 at 18:43
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Since we don't know how it works, I think it's safe to say that you could just say that's how your technology operates.

However, if you're looking for realism, then I would have to point out that mapping any sort of data to a hard-drive (of some sort) requires that you have intimate knowledge of just what that data is, and how to "put it back together".

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  • $\begingroup$ Unless your story revolves around the binding problem you could just say "We solved the binding problem years ago." if for some reason it is necessary to explain how brain uploading works in the first place. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Mar 29 '17 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I still think it'd be possible to map it without knowing how it works, but I suppose I agree it'd be vastly easier to just take the time to understand what corners you can cut instead of inventing a device that can map fundamental particles and energy. All I'm trying to say is that if you had the latter device, you could emulate the brain without knowing how it works (though you would probably have to know almost exactly how the universe works). $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 29 '17 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM OP did mention in his question a '"blank" organic brain' which led me to believe it's a working system. If the new blank brain is fully working and the data from the brain scan can be printed into the new brain with no problems, it would be very similar to cloning a hard drive and plugging it into a new computer. $\endgroup$ – Visfarix Mar 29 '17 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM isn't that what the mapping is for? Well if the brains are not physically identical, then I think I agree with you. Of course if the brains aren't identical, then wouldn't it no longer be an accurate mapping? $\endgroup$ – Visfarix Mar 29 '17 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @visfarix - that's essentially what I was saying. The brain is too complicated to simplify it to the idea of an image to be copied onto a blank slate. I think that such a process would, at the very least, involve building the brain according to the blueprint in the "image". Because yes, the synaptic connections we form are physical in nature, and brains are quite different based on the knowledge and things we learn/do. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 29 '17 at 18:34
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Your issue isn't that you need to understand how the brain works, you just need a brain you have available to work on a different platform. This is a problem of Emulation, not of Creation.

Brain in a Jar

Not literally, but you are essentially creating a virtual brain in a jar. You don't need to understand how it works, you just need to recreate it within your virtual realm. You then "hook it up" to inputs from virtualized sensory organs (heck, these can even be "parts in a jar" that are also emulated). Maybe over time you can understand how the brain works, and be able to make one "from scratch" but right now, you can just recreate it identically.

Cargo Cults

I'm going to mention this, just because it's one of my favorite real world oddities. Throughout history, there have been indigenous peoples who worship things brought to their homelands by more advanced foreigners. During WW2, some of these people witnessed first-hand the most technologically advanced war fought between the US and Japan in front of their very eyes. They saw men like them create landing strips, and "gods" bestow upon them gifts of "cargo" from above. When the soldiers left, these natives then built their own landing strips, and hoped for "cargo" to come from the gods. To the point they built mock control towers and even mock aircraft.

These natives, obviously, do not understand how the whole process works, but they created things that could be recognized as parts of a working airfield. You could, theoretically, even land a (robustly built) plane at these airfields. This is effectively what you will be doing with these brains. You recognize the forms that need to be created (from brain scans/uploads) but do not understand how to create it all from scratch (the inner knowledge of why it works).

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If you want some realism you could handwave something involving Computronium as being able to overcome the binding problem. It is a substance that could imitate the neural networks that our brains are built upon.

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Mind-cloning is a physical problem, not an informational one

A problem I see a lot in scifi with mind-cloning is that it treats the brain like a computer: you "read" the information out of it, then "write" that information into another brain as if brains were hard disks.

Brains don't work like that.

Basically everything about the brain is "stored" in the structure of the brain. This neuron is present: how many neurons is it connected to? What are those neurons? How do the associations between those neurons influence the thinking of the individual?

To clone a mind, what you need to do is clone the exact physical structure of the brain, which gets extra difficult because it's constantly in motion. My best guess would be to record something like an hour of brain scans from the host, then try and hit the structural target at the same time you hit the "velocity" target for how the neurons are interacting at a specific point in time within that hour. You'd probably have your "state" at the start of the hour, then prod the brain in various ways until it reached a matching velocity near the end of the hour. (Or two hours. Or a day. Or whatever.)

So, no, you don't have to solve the binding problem; you just have to figure out how to scan, and then form, the structure and motion of a brain at a specific point in time.

That being said...

If you have the technology to fully scan every neuron in a brain in motion, you'll solve the binding problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not just the neurons and how each intersects. But also the state (quantity and location) of all the hormones, signalling compounds, and etc.) floating around the neurons, since some of these represent signals in motion or inhibitors to prevent signals. $\endgroup$ – CaM May 23 '17 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @CM_Dayton Yes, that's what I meant by "velocity". $\endgroup$ – Azuaron May 23 '17 at 17:00

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