Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Historical Marker - The Mind Body Problem

A recent anonymous visitor to this blog won many points with your humble blogger by reading Something Else and having the authenticity to express the opinion that the deeper aspects of the material eluded him even after considerable thought, signing his remark "Blind Man."

Well, he is anything but blind. He later remarked about Descartes, intuition and its ability to help both mouse and man navigate the maze. Well said.

Intuition happens.

How intuition happens is too difficult for today. First let’s entertain the easier difficult Mind Body problem that continues to perplex smart people.

Depending on how steep we like the terrain, we have Princeton University’s Steven Harnad’s academic paper as well as Robert Young’s friendlier but also rigorous discussion of the Mind Body problem. The dilemma has its roots in Rene Descartes notion that that the "thinking thing" with a soul at its root is separate from the physical body. I think Alex Byrne’s introduction of a world "close to ours" called w' and humorous and brilliant use of color is fantastic.

The academics are beyond the scope of this blog, and I point to them only. What I will say is that in the must read Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand writes, "Check your premises." I argue that one accepts a fictitious premise as soon as one acknowledges a mind body problem. It does not exist. We invented the mind body problem. It is our own creation.

As I write in Something Else, reality and consciousness are not countable. We cannot get to the Mandelbrot set nor human consciousness via Alan Turing's infinite but always countable Turing Machines. We are more than that. Yes, we are very mechanical, virtual robots. But we are not robots. Robots can be computed and programmed. Human beings can be manipulated, but they cannot be computed. At the border, distilled spiritual certitude cements this forever. Taste the other side and you can forget about forgetting.

You can pump that CPU as fast as you want and give it all the memory in the world. It will never experience wicked serious funny. In a matter of minutes, Sirocco and Liza can program the thing to make laughing sounds in response to certain input, but it’s not laughing. That box is not conscious and never will be.

We are 99.999% robot. 0.001% is Something Else. With effort, certain folks alter the percentages.


Blogger Sirocco said...

What are your feelings about the notion put forth by Stephen Wolfram and Seth Lloyd (among others) about the universe itself being a giant quantum computer?

If, in fact, the universe could be understood this way, then all integral parts of the universe, ourselves included, with all our emotions, intuitions, thoughts, memories, would also be computable.

Also, what about the work of roboticists such as Cynthia Breazeal? She (and others) are doing work on socializing machines, and already have one that can "learn" from watching the expressions of people, and then develop similar expressions of its own -- such as a shrug and puzzled look when it doesn't understand a question.

It's not hard to see sometime in the next 25 years a machine actually recognizing a joke and responding with a laugh, even though it was never actually programmed to "laugh", just to learn by watching people. Would that laugh then not be laughter?

8/01/2007 8:02 AM  
Anonymous the doctor said...

I visit this blog every day just for the pictures. They are awesome. I don't know how you do it.

You and Sirocco are obviously $#$%# geniuses that know just about everything.

If we had a x4mr/Sirocco ticket, the world might still suck, but we would at least have a deep and profound understanding of exactly why, how, and a fully "disaggragated" report of the sucking.

We would also be fully conscious of the sucking and have some sufi swami practice to more deeply appreciate the sucky nature of reality and whether or not the suck can be computed.

8/01/2007 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

Never is an awfully final word. One cpu is made up multiple other cpus in some cases, and of many tiny transistors. Those transistors are in turn are made up of molecules, atoms etc. Going the other direction, a cpu, while vital to a computer, is not the only part. Is a mind simply the software written upon the hardware of our neurons? Could our neurons instead be themselves 1's and 0's changing state based on input. One other thing to consider is that the mind is not necessarily seated in the brain exclusively.

Much of what sirocco refers to is outside my level of education. I will do my best to comment with what I have. The premise of the first idea seems to be that while there is a vast amount of information in the universe, it is nonetheless finite. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that whether it's true or not. It seems to imply predetermination.

I'm not familiar with it, but Cynthia Breazeal's work looks like the way to go. I've always felt that to get a real AI (if there is such a thing as "artificial" intelligence) would be to model it as closely as we could to ourselves.

I don't know, maybe I just like to cling to the idea that anything is possible. Is something else really something else? or is it that which lies beyond the border of our understanding. We (as a species) are always pushing the border of what we know vs. what we don't know further back. In time something else may be revealed, but I get the feeling that there will always be something else after that.

I've strayed hopelessly from the point I initially wanted to make about communal organisms. To shorten that up some, watch an ant colony some time. Are you really watching separate ants? or multiple parts of the same organism. I was hoping to connect that thought with the make-up of all multicellular organisms, especially ourselves. A brain is meaningless without a body to support it, and feed it information. Likewise a hand is meaningless without a brain to direct it.

I feel comfortable enough now to drop the psuedonym. I had intended it mostly as a play on words anyway, and had not intended to get so swept up in the dialog here. I'm glad I did, lurking only takes you so far. Not only was I blind to the point of "something else", but I used to play blind man's bluff professionally.

8/01/2007 10:19 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Okay. I have complete respect for the computer science field and work such as Cynthia Breazeal’s and others in the AI field. Yeah, I know. Never say never. I stand by my assertion that no matter how sophisticated the robots become, no matter how well they pass the Turing test, they remain zombies.

Regarding Wolfman, Lloyd, etc. I’ve not read the New Science book, but I’m familiar with it. That something very simple can lead to something very complex is hardly profound. What I do find very impressive is the Principle of Computational Equivalence. I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but I doubt it is relevant to the consciousness material that interests me, which is the very real experience of consciousness itself.

I have read Penrose “Emporer’s New Mind” and for some reason none of these “machines can become conscious” believers seem to grasp the significance of the distinction between a countable set and an uncountable set. You are clear countable has nothing to do with infinite. Again, I don’t care how much memory, how many cpu’s running how fast, it is still countable. You have all the zeroes you want. It remains countable.

Instead of turning a machine into a human, consider turning a human into a machine. This conversation is rich. If, one by one, we replace each neuron and synapse with a mechanical equivalent, as we replace more and more, when does the person cease to be conscious? If we replace every single brain cell, and the result is still conscious, then de facto a conscious machine is possible.

That can play with your head, but it does not resolve the hard problem of consciousness.

The best academic material I have read is the work of Dr. David Chalmers. He was at the University of Arizona here in Tucson for quite awhile. Brilliant. At the link I just provided is a rich body of material if you are interested. You can also note at the sidebar my link to the Center for Consciousness Studies. When I get some time I hope to put a bunch of stuff at the Web site.

Oh, and Ken Wilber’s Brief History of Everything is fascinating.

Navigation is another subject not found in academia.

8/01/2007 2:17 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Whoops, forgot to actually address your question about the universe being a quantum computer. The real discussion has to get clear about semantics.

What is a computer? What is a quantum computer? The question gets murky real fast if we start messing with the meaning of "compute."

If by computer you mean something that can be created with a countable number of Universal Turing Machines, then I have a strong answer. NO WAY!

Not only is it impossible for the universe to be a countable set of UTM's, I assert it's impossible for such a set to have consciousness.

8/01/2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Apologies. Senior moment. Two comments and I still forgot to make my most important point.

The x4mr/Sirocco ticket would not do well. The Sirocco/x4mr ticket is much stronger. Sirocco has the intellect and excellent debating skills, and as Liza noted from the photo with the daughter at Stanford, I've got the sexy good looks to attract the female vote.

8/01/2007 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

Now that you mention the human to machine conversion, I remember this one concept from science fiction novels that involved copying a person's mind into a computer to prolong life. I always wondered if there was any actual transferrence going on there. It seemed to me the person would wake up after the procedure no better off, as they were only copied. You would have to kill the poor guy or something. But I digress.

Aren't cells countable? I'm assuming that Conciousness resides in the body at least, if not the brain.

8/01/2007 3:45 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Lots to come back to ...

I am not sure I agree with your assertion that nothing which can be constrained as a countable set can contain consciousness. In fact, I find myself leaning the other way. At least theoretically, I don't see why some very large, but still countable, number of quantum bits wouldn't be sufficient to describe everything in the universe.

Of course, inherent in this thought is the notion that things which address "consciousness" (memories, thoughts, feelings, etc.) can ultimately, in some way, be defined as a series of quantum bits. I don't see this as impossible. Even though our "thoughts" and "memories" may consist of electrochemical processes that somehow are able to interact with our physical selves, its still true that those same electrochemical processes are ultimately defined by how they interact with (admittedly extremely small) pieces of matter.

Addressing something Dustin brought up, I don't see the notion of describing the universe as being "computable" as being tantamount to predestination. I can see it more as describing the current state of the universe and what led to it, without necessarily having any thing to say about the next "decision point". This would be especially true if one adheres to the notion of a "multiverse".

I've always felt intuitively, since I first learned of them, that some combination of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Schrodinger's cat went a long way toward knocking down determinism anyway. It's been a long time since my philosophy classes though, and it's not a field I keep closely up to date with.

Coming back to x4mr, it's also been something like 20 years since I read Atlas Shrugged, and I probably should reread it -- I suspect I would get a lot more out of it now. Still, I recall at the time thinking there was a lot I found appealing about Objectivism, some stuff I didn't like, but ultimately if Rand herself was what resulted from living a life by its tenets I was less than impressed. Despite her expressions of opposition to cultist belief, there is no question there were decidedly cult-like aspects to her interactions with adherents.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, any ticket would be much better off with x4mr heading it. As he said, he has the good looks and brains, plus original ideas, whereas I do better providing reason, logic and rigor in pushing forward the ideas of others. Plus, he's six or eight years older, and can play the "experience" card.

I do think an x4mr/sirocco administration would have done a lot better the last 6+ years than Bush/Cheney have done. Alas, we will never know.

Thanks for all the links x4mr, both in the original post and here. I won't get to them until this weekend, but it gives me something to read Saturday and Sunday. :)

8/01/2007 5:07 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


You definitely want to explore the links I provided for some additional scoop, and I am not suggesting I know something you don't, but I think you will find them useful in clarifying, not necessarily changing, your inclinations.

As might be obvious, I place a TREMENDOUS emphasis on countability, and very smart and highly educated people do not adopt this view. Still, I have personal experience and my own gut about this concept.

I completely agree on the significance of Shroedinger and Heisenburg, and both play a role in the convergence of the conversations regarding physics and consciousness, and I'll skip the particle/wave stuff but it matters.

The film has flaws, but What the Bleep? contains material worth considering. Consider what is valuable and discard the rest.

I'll close this remark by noting that observer and observed cannot be separated, and Sirocco, I guess we have arrived at our first significant having to agree to disagree issues:

1. You would be better at the head of the ticket.
2. All that occurs cannot be explained by what is countable.

8/01/2007 7:20 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I'll get a start on the recommended this weekend. :)

I thoroughly enjoyed What the Bleep ... in the back of my mind I have been wondering if you had seen it. Your comment about actually clarifies some things for me.

8/01/2007 8:11 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

Terrific thread. The mouse maze image is just phenomenal. I assert it provides a good metaphor for you to consider in helping distinguish between the countable and uncountable. Do you agree?

The academics are SO cerebral. You have more patience than I. They read about the swimming pool of consciousness. They talk about it. They contemplate ideas, think a lot, apply logic and reason.

Navigators toss the books and jump into the pool.

If you truly publish your book in formal fashion, that image with the mouse in the maze should be the front cover. That picture caused me to tear up. It is that good.

To use a word you like, that picture is Something Else "distilled."

8/01/2007 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

I watched what the bleep within the last year, and there were a few parts that really provoked me. I'm not so sure I believe that thinking happy thoughts does anything other than improve one's disposition. Schrodingers cat always struck me as similar to the tree falling in the forest question. Granted I have a layman's (if that)understanding of quantum mechanics, but are experiments changed because we watch them? of because we simply don't have the ability to measure every little thing.

I was especially taken by the part about extra dimensions. That blew me away. I have the quantum edition, and it has some extra features I thought were better than the movie. The extras feature the full interviews with the experts.

8/02/2007 7:30 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...


Variations of the classic two-slit experiment, with 0, 1 and 2 detectors, would seem to indicate pretty conclusively (to me at least) that experiments can be changed solely by our observing them.


I like the notion "Navigators toss the books and just jump in the pool." Sadly, such an approach just doesn't seem to be part of my makeup.

8/02/2007 8:13 AM  
Anonymous dustin said...

sirocco, I agree that it's solid. My only question concerns quantifying the role of the observer, not necessarily the science itself. I must admit it's hard to do that when you can't measure an unobserved experiment. My understanding is that even the act of reading the data "collapses the probability wave" and resolves the outcome. I'm not by any means trying to dipute the science, just understand what it means.

8/02/2007 9:24 AM  

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