Your brain could be a quantum computer that hallucinates math

Your brain could be a quantum computer that hallucinates math

Quick: what is 4 + 5? New no? A little slower: what is five plus four? Still new, right?

Alright, let’s wait a few seconds. Bear with me. Feel free to stretch quickly.

Now, without looking, what was the answer to the first question?

It’s still nine o’clock, isn’t it?

You have just performed a series of advanced brain functions. You made calculations based on prompts designed to appeal to entirely different parts of your brain, and showed the ability to recall previous information when queried later. Good work!

This may sound like old hat to most of us, but it’s actually an incredible feat of brainpower.

And, based on some recent research by a pair of teams from the University of Bonn and the University of Tübingen, these simple processes could indicate that you are a quantum computer.

Let’s do the math

Your brain is probably not wired for numbers. It’s great at math, but numbers are a relatively new concept for humans.

Numbers first appeared in human history around 6,000 years ago with the Mesopotamians, but our species has been around for around 300,000 years.

Prehistoric humans still had things to count. They didn’t randomly forget how many children they had just because there was no bespoke language for numbers yet.

Instead, they found other methods of expressing quantities or tracking objects, such as raising their fingers or using representative models.

If you were to track dozens of caverns, for example, you could carry a pebble to represent each one. As people arrived from a hard day of hunting, gathering and so on, you could move the pebbles from one container to another as a method of accounting.

It may sound suboptimal, but the human brain doesn’t really care whether you’re using numbers, words, or concepts when it comes to math.

Let’s do the research

The aforementioned research teams have recently published an exciting paper titled “Neural Codes for Processing Arithmetic Rules in the Human Brain”.

As the title suggests, researchers have identified an abstract code to process addition and subtraction inside the human brain. This is important because we really don’t know how the brain handles math.

You can’t just stick electrodes on someone’s scalp or stick them in a scanner machine to understand the nature of human calculus.

Math happens at the level of individual neurons inside the human brain. EKG readings and CT scans can only provide a general picture of all the noise our neurons produce.

And, since there are some 86 billion neurons buzzing around in our heads, these types of readings aren’t what you’d call “exact science.”

The Bonn and Tübingen teams got around this problem by conducting their research on volunteers who already had subcranial electrode implants for the treatment of epilepsy.

Nine volunteers met the criteria for the study and, due to the nature of their implants, they were able to provide what may be the world’s first insight into how the brain actually handles math.

According to the research paper:

We found abstract and rating-independent codes for addition and subtraction in neural populations.

Decoders applied to time-resolved recordings demonstrate a static code in the hippocampus based on persistently selective neurons, in contrast to a dynamic code in the parahippocampal cortex originating from neurons carrying rapidly changing rule information.