Cinema audiences will help make neuroscience history: For the first time, 1,000 human minds will be simultaneously connected via cloud technology while they watch MindGamers. An image of that mass mind-state will be captured from cinemas across the nation as audiences participate by wearing cognition headbands.
Starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and Tom Payne (The Walking Dead), the film follows a group of brilliant young students who create a wireless neural network with the potential to link every mind on Earth via a quantum computer. But they soon discover that their innovation is part of a greater experiment.
This once-in-a-lifetime event will open with introductory talks from leaders in technology, neuroscience, and collective consciousness. Following the immersive feature film, MindGamers, the event will conclude with a LIVE Q&A and reveal the world's first image of collective human cognition—created simultaneously by the audience.
Reality: The Ultimate Mind Game
Quantum physics and experiments in neuroscience over the years show us that human reality could be just subatomic sleight of hand.
By Aaron Dalton
A cognitive scientist and professor at the University of California–Irvine, Donald Hoffman has a calm, unhurried way of speaking that allows him to sound soothing even as he challenges your deepest assumptions about reality. Like most of the scientists in his field, Hoffman used to believe that our perceptions—smell, taste, vision, sound, and touch—were accurate representations of objective reality. Then his mathematical models started pointing to a disconnect between what we perceive and what is real.
That mismatch brought him to an essential question: How could we have survived and evolved in a world where our senses gave us inaccurate data about reality? “I wanted to find out the extent to which evolution shapes our perceptions,” Hoffman says.
Hoffman ran evolutionary game simulations with graduate students, and the results surprised him. In the simulations, organisms that perceived true reality went extinct again and again. They were outcompeted by organisms that did not perceive the “truth,” but rather were tuned to perceive “fitness payoffs” in the environment. To wit, just because our senses are useful, doesn't mean they are accurate. Hoffman says this finding was shockingly counterintuitive.
Although he freely admits that there is some kind of objective reality, he doesn't believe we can describe it in terms of space, time, or physical objects. “That's the wrong language,” he says.
Hoffman's findings align with research by quantum physicists showing that the universe really is much stranger than it appears in our day-to-day lives. Quantum scientists focus their investigations on the subatomic scale, where particles can also be waves (a phenomenon known as wave-particle duality), can exist in multiple states of being at the same time and can somehow be linked or entangled with other wave-particles far across the universe.
THE NEURAL NETWORK – BUILDING REALITY TOGETHER
Convinced that space, time, and physical objects are not real or fundamental, Hoffman has coined the term “Conscious Realism” to describe his mathematical models of conscious experiences. One of the theories that emerge from the model is the idea that multiple conscious agents can come together to create a shared reality—a sort of “mind meld.”
Hoffman points out that we have a precedent for the concept of mind melding. In the 1960s, neurosurgeons Joseph Bogel and Philip Vogel developed a technique to treated severe epilepsy by severing the corpus callosum—more than 200 million fibers that connect the left and right sides of the brain.
“What happened was remarkable,” Hoffman says. “The patients were pretty much cured of epilepsy, but experiments showed that the left hemispheres had separate consciousness from the right hemispheres. The two hemispheres had utterly different personalities!”
If mind melding takes place within individuals, it does so using hundreds of millions of nerve fibers inside our skulls. But could multiple people join minds within a larger neural network?
The upcoming movie MindGamers, produced by Terra Mater Film Studios, in part explores the idea of a neural network that can connect multiple minds and exchange motor-skills, in effect a kind of human shareware. According to the co-writer and director Andrew Goth, the concept of the neural network came from actual experiments.
On March 28th, Terra Mater will conduct its own neuroscience experiment during the premiere of MindGamers in theaters across the country. Some 1,000 audience members will be fitted with biosensor headbands that will transmit their brainwaves to the cloud. After the screening, a dynamic image representing this collected cognition will be beamed to cinemas, giving MindGamers audiences their first glimpse of a ‘mind hypernet'.
Back in 2014 at the University of Washington, researchers sought to demonstrate the possibility that humans can engage in direct, near-instantaneous brain-to-brain communication. In one of the studies, an electroencephalography (EEG) machine read brain activity in one participant, then sent electrical pulses over the Internet to a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil positioned over the brain of another person half a mile away. The setup allowed two people to act as one while playing a single computer game. The research team speculated that direct brain-to-brain communication could eventually lead to “brain tutoring” where knowledge could be transferred directly from one brain to another.
If you're feeling unsettled at this point, don't expect quantum physics to put your mind at ease. Quantum mechanics was created in large part to describe and explain how elementary particles, such as electrons and photons, could behave both as particles and as waves—a property known as wave-particle duality. Also consider that a team of physicists and astrophysicists from the UK, Canada, and Italy say they have the first observational evidence that our universe could actually be a gigantic hologram.
And then there is the quantum science thought experiment of a cat in a box that has since boggled minds for more than 80 years. It was devised by physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who studied the wave properties of matter.
Here's the gist of the experiment: Imagine that a demented scientist has placed a cat in an opaque, soundproof box with a vial of poison gas and a radioactive particle. If the radioactive particle decays, it triggers the destruction of the vial and releases the poison, killing the cat. The scientist forces you to observe the experiment. The box is closed and you have no way of knowing whether the particle has decayed. Is the cat alive or dead?
Quantum theory states that the particle would be in a state of “superposition”—meaning it would exist in multiple states at the same time, both decayed and non-decayed. And since the cat's fate is entangled with that of the particle, the cat would have to be both alive and dead at the same time. But that's not to say that Schrödinger believed the cat really was alive and dead in equal measure. Indeed, his writings suggest that he thought the idea was absurd, and that he used the absurdity to show that physicists did not yet have a clear idea of how their models related to reality.
In the 1950s, Hugh Everett proposed an idea that later came to be known as the many-worlds interpretation (MWI). He theorized that looking in the box caused the universe to bifurcate. In this model, the cat goes on living in one universe, while succumbing to poison in the other.
Some fanatics have toyed with the idea of a quantum suicide thought experiment in which the experimenter would essentially take the position of the cat in the box, repeating the experiment ad nauseum. Of course, in a nearly infinite number of worlds, the experimenter would die, thus disproving the MWI interpretation in all of those realities. But since the experimenter would be aware only of the world in which he lived, he would only be conscious of living in a world where MWI was proven.
THE COMING OF THE QUANTUM COMPUTER
For years, many physicists were so pleased with the practical results achieved through quantum physics that they preferred not to delve too deeply into its philosophical implications. It's quantum mechanics that underpins everything from transistors and microchips to lasers, MRI machines, and LED lights.
Andrew White, director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems, thinks that advances in quantum science will continue to drive amazing technological advances: sensing technology that allows us to detect buried pipes by the gravitational profile of the air they contain, MRI machines with up to 1,000 times better resolution, and even powerful quantum computers able to simulate complex problems in biology, chemistry and physics that are far beyond the capabilities of our most advanced digital machines.
According to White, the really interesting thing about Schrödinger's cat is that the animal's fate is supposedly tied up with the state of another particle. “In quantum mechanics, there's a subtle correlation between particles, in which the state you find one particle can depend on the measurement you make on another particle,” he says. “Entanglement is the first glimpse humanity had that the universe is far stranger than we thought.”
And that wouldn't surprise Donald Hoffman at all. “We seem to be born with a naïve belief that we see reality as it is,” he says. “Old guys like me have a tough time with the idea that we have to take our sensory data seriously, but not literally. But if we can reach children when they are young enough and teach them that our interface is not the truth, it could be very liberating. It could help spur the next level of scientific creativity.”
Our Weird Quantum World
Untangling Entanglement with Brian Greene
Renowned quantum physicist Brian Greene takes you on an animated journey through quantum entanglement, one of the vital ideas in MindGamers.
Our Weird Quantum World
Brian Greene and the Search for a Unified Theory
In this animated primer, physicist Brian Greene tells you about the weird world of quantum science and the hunt for a theory that unifies the quantum and physical worlds.