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Can the Human Mind Work Better than a Quantum Computer? A Chess Problem May Prove Just That


The brain’s amazing ability to solve problems exceeds even the most powerful computers.

Progress in computer science, and technologies deriving therefrom, has certainly been surprising. Even from its earliest beginnings in the 18th and 19th centuries, there’s been a problem that neither old nor new computers – nor even the development of modern Artificial Intelligence – has been able to solve: the possibility of “thinking” outside of pre-determined limits.

Superficially, computers can operate within well-specified limits. In other words, they follow precise rules which simply cannot be ignored and otherwise their operation is unsustainable.

When compared with such machines, one of the great qualities of the human mind is that it’s capable of completely dismissing these supposed “limits” within any field of thought. The expression “to think outside the box” that’s recently become so popular is still one of the best metaphors for this characteristic. In effect, the mind is capable of overrunning the framework to which any problem belongs, to its rules, to the allowed procedures, and to other limits, thus, to imagination, to creation and to proposing alternative answers.

If computers can’t operate this way, it’s because up until now it hasn’t been possible to know how the human mind is capable of making such leaps in such a short time (often, in mere seconds). Even at our own moment in technology, a computer might arrive at a “creative” solution only after a long time spent on an immense number of processes. All of these follow the binary logic of “zero” and “one,” on and off, error and success. If we needed to know, through every thought that occurs to us, which derivation is a zero and which is a one, we would certainly not have come very far as a species.

Does the human mind operate in quantum? In a sense, that’s the only way to explain complex processes such as parallel thinking, occurrences, memory, creative thinking, and the ability to elaborate metaphors and more.

Recently, the Penrose Institute announced a call for information to allow one of its research teams to learn more about the topic. It’s a challenge that will undoubtedly interest many, and it begins with this image:

Chess Illusion

As you can see, it’s an extremely difficult chess situation for the White side and decidedly advantageous for the Black. According to the researchers who designed the problem, it’s also a completely feasible board layout within a game of chess.

At first glance, a best recommendation to the White player might be to agree to a tie or to forfeit the game. But we also know that one of the main attractions of chess is that it offers the possibility of overcoming adverse circumstances, some of them even seemingly impossible.

In the case of this problem, what’s interesting is that any computer will immediately discard any favorable solution for White. Not even the most powerful device is capable of performing all of the calculations triggered by the presence of those three black bishops.

Not so for the human brain. In fact, although researchers know a solution to the enigma, they’ve not made it known in the hope of receiving multiple proposed solutions from around the world, along with detailed descriptions from respondents about the way in which they arrived at their solutions. Thus, armed with more data, they may be able to better understand the human mind’s admirable capacity for performing mass calculations within very brief periods of time.

If you’re interested in participating in the experiment, send your proposed solution to [email protected].

Also on Faena Aleph: Vladimir Nabokov’s 18 Chess Problems

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