“Five stories from the brain”: can we localize our consciousness?

How can there be a feeling of life from this 1.3-kilogram organ with a consistency close to tofu? “On the border between organics, technological progress and philosophical questions film”Five stories from the brain, in theaters March 16, 2022, leads us on the trail of our conscience. After overcoming the crisis substandard or even populism in Switzerland, director Jean-Stefan Bron explores the limits of our brain this time around. Following the research of various scientists, the film reveals the secrets of this organ in all their depths. The documentary attempts to draw a line between man and machine by comparing human intelligence and artificial intelligence.

Over three and a half years of filming, the team found a way to piece together five stories that interact with each other and question our place as human beings without getting into the technical details of the study. “I knew that the great difficulty is to present a science that cannot be represented. Science in action is thousands of people doing the same thing every day. Laboratory assistant, programmer: for them, the experience is inherently repetitive, even if in our imagination it is all very spectacular“explains Jean-Stefan Bron Science and the future.

Blurring the boundaries between man and machine

However, the brain has what it takes to be impressive, and the documentary does a brilliant job of showing the incredible efforts of science trying to understand it. With 70 million neurons, its functioning is far from being fully understood. To try to study it better, researchers sometimes turn to machines, more specifically artificial intelligence.

Some, such as Alexandre Pouget, professor of computational neuroscience at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, believe that algorithms open up new possibilities for us. “We are not trying to recreate an artificial brain to see how our own brain works.he explains. We are trying to create computer models, artificial intelligence, that can act intelligently.“But the combinations that need to be coded to recreate the human brain are too many.”On the other hand, artificial intelligence can be taught to perform a task even if it does not understand it.This raises the question of the limits that must be placed on this technology, of which we do not yet fully understand how it works.

The film then goes in search of the physical manifestations of our consciousness, elusive by definition. The camera lands on neuroscientist Christoph Koch in Seattle, USA, where he attempts to describe the traces that consciousness leaves on our brains by studying the interconnections of our synapses. But does it really have a physical substrate in our cranium? And vice versa, others try to transfer this consciousness to an artificial support, outside of us. Researcher David Rudrauf aims to “inhale the spark of life“machines and create artificial consciousness in them to enable them to explore new things without us. A potentially dangerous transhumanist game that some researchers are playing today.

An unrivaled and unreproducible organ

The most impressive intrusion takes us to the psychologist and neuroscientist Nils Birnbauer, who is trying to give voice to patients suffering from locked in syndrome. This disease is characterized by complete paralysis of the patient, who is unable to speak or move, but is still fully awake and conscious. Through the interface of a machine, an Austrian researcher is trying to penetrate the unknown of this neurological condition, in which cognitive abilities remain intact. Tremendous hope for families of patients and an exciting dive into heart mechanisms that are still not understood.

This is perhaps the most important lesson of this documentary: although people study the brain from all sides, many of its mechanisms still elude them. It is enough to take a simple pen, and a person will immediately know which movement is the most suitable, without even exploring the many possibilities available to him. “Why do people try to do what works and give up on what doesn’t work?asks Prof. Aude Billard, a Swiss physicist who specializes in human-robot interactions. It is hard for us to explain the complexity of the world with mathematical formulas.” Simulate a hand and especially capturing life with computer programs is still very difficult.

What makes us human? Perhaps the fact is that we are the only ones who seek to understand ourselves and the world around us. “Five stories from the brain brings us to the cutting edge of what science is doing today. Watching this movie, we finally look at ourselves. If it doesn’t answer the questions it posed, the documentary deserves to open up reflections on our place in the world and our future as a species.

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