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Thread: Is there a computational limit to how much information the brain can process at once?

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2012

    Default Is there a computational limit to how much information the brain can process at once?

    In a philosophical discussion I had recently, the question of whether or not consciousness itself is finite was brought up. In other words, is the set of all possible streams of brain activity and thus experience/imaginationfinite?

    I think that based on a simple reductionistic argument, the brains possible output states must be finite. Since the brain is ultimately a set of atoms of a finite set of types, with a finite set of possible simultaneous chemical reactions resulting in brain activity, doesn't the number of possible conscious experiences necessarily have to be finite as a result? The only argument for the infinity of consciousness would be to claim that, since the number of chemical possibilities with limited neurons is finite, the number of possible neurons and connections would have to grow to infinity and remain a functioning human brain. But isn't this impossible? Look at schizophrenia for example. When the brain is overflowed with connections, the function is impaired..wouldnt it eventually just stop working if the connections and neurons grew lets say, to be 10 times a schizophrenics? I know that all of this philosophical meandering seems like silly metaphysical babble, but in order to ask questions about all POSSIBLE brain states, one has to ask questions that go beyond any normal experience. So, is there any evidence that, based on what we know about the brain today, that theoretically the amount of input that the brain can handle at once, increasing input arbitrarily, is finite, and that at this finite point the brain would become overwhelmed with information, and would no longer be able to function like a normal human brain?

  2. #2
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2014


    I'm not sure about consciousness, I really think that is a separate discussion. But in terms of energy there are theoretical limits on the complexity of a brain. Also, as far as activity goes it tends to be the balance of inhibitory vs excitatory synapses that determines what works and what doesn't. Too many excitatory connections can produce excitotoxicity, so you will actually end up losing cells that make too many excitatory connections. Atrophy is likely to put a cap on the number of inhibitory connections that can exist.
    I would think that perhaps other brain states or other forms of consciousness are conceivable when the architecture of a brain is taken into account.

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