top of page

First Grand Challenge: The Physical Basis of Consciousness

The goal of our first Grand Challenge was to devise a theoretical framework for understanding consciousness in accordance with physical laws – as a form of non-deterministic computation. 

Classically, the neuron is viewed like a transistor, either firing or not firing at any given time, encoding Shannon entropy. The new approach involves viewing the voltage of the cortical neuron membrane as the mixed sum of all component microstates, thereby encoding von Neumann entropy. So, rather than being considered a binary computational unit, always in an off-state or an on-state, the cortical neuron encodes the probability of shifting from an off-state to an on-state.

This new approach to modeling probabilistic signaling outcomes in cortical neurons naturally yields perceivable information content, the spontaneous emergence of a more ordered system state during predictive processing, and contextually-appropriate behaviors resulting from a system-wide non-deterministic (but fully mechanistic) decision process.

Izi Stoll kicked off this Grand Challenge by applying mathematical toolkits from the field of computational physics to model the voltage shifts in cortical neurons. The next step involves resolving this new theoretical framework for ambient-temperature quantum computation with the previously-established framework for active inference devised by Karl Friston. The goal of that effort is to fold Stoll's deeply mechanistic neural implementation into the overarching framework of Bayesian neural computation that has been laid out by Friston. The next step is testing the predictions of the new theory, in partnership with neuroscientists Dave Redish, Stuart Firestein, and Amy Wachholtz. The goal of this effort is to evaluate whether the theory holds up when tested in the laboratory, then to help clinical researchers develop improved treatments for their patients. Redish and Firestein are leading on assessing the neurophysiological predictions of this new theory, and Wachholtz is leading on the development of new treatments for patients struggling with pain and addiction. In addition, philosophers Asger Kirkeby-Hinrup, Christopher Viger, and Marco Nathan are exploring the philosophical implications of this theoretical framework, and evaluating its explanatory power, in an effort to bridge the gap between science and philosophy.

Grand Challenge Researchers

Izi Stoll_03.jpg

Izi Stoll

Karl Friston (Lancet).jpg

Karl Friston

Berkeley Lab Portrait - Head Shot - Low Res.jpg

Damian Rouson

David Redish (UMN Spence Lecture).jpg
David Redish
Firestein Photo_edited.png
Stuart Firestein
Amy Wachholtz
AKH Pic.png
Asger Kirkeby-Hinrup
Chris Viger_Photo_edited.jpg
Christopher Viger
Marco Nathan_Photo.jpg
Marco Nathan
Bala Parthasarathy_01.jpg

Grand Challenge Sponsors

Jason Palmer_02.jpg

Jason Palmer

Bala Parthasarathy


David Parker

bottom of page