When you look at microscopic pictures of neurons in the brain and telescopic pictures of the cosmic web there is a remarkable similarity which catches the eye.
Astrophysicist Franco Vazza, along with a neuroscientist colleague of his, recently published an article in Nautil.us (July 2017) describing the strange similarities in the structure and complexity of the brain and the universe. This was based on analytic studies they conducted to quantitatively compare these similarities.
Similarities in the Structure and Complexity of The Brain and The Universe
The peculiarities that they studied and presented are:
- The number of neurons in the brain is around 100 billion. This is exactly around the number of galaxies in the universe – a 100 billion.
- Doing a power spectrum analysis they conclude that the structural similarities between the brain and the universe are quantitatively significant. That is to say, they are not the result of human level perceptual illusions such as apophenia (though I think they actually meant pareidolia).
- The structural similarities are not spectral in nature (like has been shown for other complex systems like clouds, tree branches, water turbulence or plasma).
- The structural similarities are evident between the cerebellar (cerebellum) histology when observed at the scale of 0.1 to 1 mm and the cosmic web observed at the scale of ~ 100 billion light years.
- The structural similarities are also evident between the cortical (cerebrum) histology when taken at the scale of 0.01 mm and the galactic structure on the scale of ~ 100 thousand light years.
- The entirety of information stored in the human brain (around 2.5 Peta bytes) can just about also be stored into the distribution of galaxies in the entire universe (the estimated data capacity of which is around 1-10 Peta bytes).
The authors do bring to our attention that this does NOT mean there is a dynamic similarity between the two systems as well, especially with regards to the flow of information. This will be the focus of their future studies.
However, in the following discussion, people were suggesting this might indicate that the universe may be self-aware. As I critiqued the limitations of this (which I will discuss below), Franco Vazza gave me an insightful reply giving a sneak peek into their future article:
“That’s a perfect point! We could not write the derivation here, but according to our (still ongoing!) estimates, the Universe on the largest scales might have processed at most the same amount of information that a typical human brain can process in 0.1-1 seconds! Hence, at most, the cosmic web seems to be a “baby brain”.”
The Dynamic similarities between The Brain and The Universe
Although Franco Vazza et al. are still studying some of the dynamic similarities specifically with regards to information processing, there has been an earlier study on this phenomena by physicist Dmitri Krioukov and his team. This study was published in nature (2012). In comparing the growth dynamics and structure of the universe they found unexpected similarities to other complex networks such as biological networks (the brain), social networks and the internet:
“This equivalence suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of complex networks and spacetime in the universe, with implications to network science and cosmology.”
Does this mean the cosmos is a conscious brain?
Before getting into this I want to make it clear that neither of the study authors just cited make an explicit claim of this sort.
“By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,” – Dimitri Krioukov
Whereas Dimitri Kriokov makes this explicitly clear, Franco Vazza has hinted at the possibility of it being a “baby brain”.
Others, however, are not so shy to make that leap. Bernardo Kastrup, a computer scientist specializing in Artificial Intelligence, makes this exact claim in support of nondualism (philosophical idealism) on his blog post and his video presentation. As he claims that the brain like appearance of the cosmos suggests that we have a second person perspective to the first person experience of cosmic inner life. Similar to how a neuroscientist has a second person perspective to our first person conscious experience.
On the other hand critics like cognitive scientist Joscha Bach (who also has a special interest in Artificial Intelligence) point towards the potential fallacies of this approach in his blog post. He points out how image comparisons can be misleading and the fundamental limitations of the amount of information processing possible by the universe, given the speed of light is minuscule compared to the size of the cosmos. The latter argument is also the one I made on Franco Vazza’s Nautilus post. The first argument, however, seems not to hold up given that a quantitative analysis was done by researchers confirming the similarity.
In a rebuttal post, Bernardo contends:
“Indeed, I feel so confident in my refutation of Bach’s straw-man arguments that I will even expose myself by speculating: the conscious inner life of the cosmos as a whole is, experientially, comparable to a brief moment of human cognition, just as Bach argues.”
Such a claim appears to be consistent with what Franco’s speculative suggestion is as well (of the cosmos being a “baby brain”).
My personal criticisms and speculations
I think we can safely say that the cosmic inner life of Bernardo isn’t the same as the conscious human experience (as I think he also agrees). This is because although there seems to be a structural similarity between the two, they are not dynamically equivalent. The dynamic similarity presented by Dimitri Krioukov is of structural evolution and not of information processing. Franco Vazza is working on the information processing type of dynamic similarity but in this, their speculation is that the amount of information processed may be equivalent to 0.1-1 sec of brain processing.
I suspect that given the enormous distances between galaxies (hundreds of thousands to few million light years) any change brought about by their intercommunication would be tiny as compared to the local changes that would have occurred in them. For example, the size of the universe is ~ 100 billion light years, this means a communication between one end to the other (at light speed) would take a 100 billion years. This is 7 times the whole life of the universe itself, hence before the communication is made much more would have happened locally. This would limit the signaling to have any meaningful impact on the morphology. Compare that to the brain, the speed of communication (action potentials) is very fast as compared to its size, hence the communication is having meaningful impacts on the morphology.
The following is extremely speculative and represents my personal ponderings rather than opinions. For the most part these haven't been validated in mainstream science.
Given that the biggest obstacle to the universe being able to process information like the Brain seems to be the maximum speed of communication i.e. the speed of light, is there a way to overcome this?
Hypothetical ways to do this may be:
- By use of Tachyonic Antitelephones – These are based on a hypothetical particle in theoretical physics called the ‘Tachyon’ which can travel at speeds faster than the speed of life and hence enable communication into the past.
- If Psi research in Precognition is true as I discussed in my previous post. It would allow us to imagine a paradigm in which information can be communicated transcending the barriers of time and causality.
- Quantum entanglement could be utilized for instantaneous communication. This does not seem possible (as far as mainstream physics is concerned) as I did criticize in the Nautilus post. This is because quantum entanglement is based on random chance. However, I do see one way in which it could be possible, that is if some of the research in taking the mind outside the body is true. This will be a discussion for a later post.
So what do you think? Do the similarities in structure, complexity and specific dynamics of the Universe and Brain convey something profound?