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machine brains

Ray Scanlon rscanlon at wsg.net
Thu Feb 18 15:11:14 EST 1999

Joe Kilner wrote in message <7af13g$9rn$1 at pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>...
>I think the point being made here was that we don't know what is salient
>what is simply coincidental.  If you dismiss the inner workings of neurons
>you may well be throwing out a particularly important baby with the

What is salient is that the neuron is active with degree. At our level of
analysis this is far more important than any molecular activity within the
neuron. Confer Hubel and Wiesel and all the work that has taken place since
their first recordings. Of course the activity of the neuron is based on
molecular biology but that is far too fine grained for brain explanation.

Possibly you have the notion that there is some particular molecule that
allows awareness to be coupled with the brain. This is like the quantum
people who wish to find awareness in the microtubules. Disabuse yourself.

>>These are all just excuses for a return to contemplation of our beautiful
>>thoughts, our marvelous soul (mind).
>You have a habit of redefining the words people use to suit your arguments!
>When people say you can't explain thought without mind you say that thought
>is a purely mechanical process, while here you are implying that thought is
>a property of the mind.  The meaning of words is particularly important in
>science - an electron means an electron and nothing else - and neuroscience
>should be no different.  If you want to speak of two different types of
>thought then give (or use) two different names to them otherwise all you do
>is confuse.

Not so. The brain thinks, the soul (mind) is aware of the thoughts. A
thought is an active constellation of neurons. Awareness is not to be dealt
with scientifically.  There is no confusion as long as you remember that it
is the brain that thinks. How it is that our soul (mind) is aware is a
subject for theology.

>>You misunderstand me. First we are to understand how the brain works, then
>>we are to speak of designing a thinking machine (if we wish). Note that we
>>talk only of design, no one should be so foolish as to think of actually
>>implementing such a machine.

>I think the point being made here is that you might _want_ to model the
>brain, but how do you know that you have done it?  What are your success
>criteria?  A machine that appears to exhibit a mind?  Something you can
>to?  And why would no one want to implement it?

If a neuroscientist looks at your explanation and says, "Yeah, that's
reasonable", that is your criterion of success, there is no other. A
thinking machine cannot exhibit a soul (mind) anymore than a man can.

A machine design of a thinking machine can not be implemented because of
considerations of money, time, and material. The Defense Department could
not afford it, the world could not support it, the universe does not have
the time.

>I've not heard anyone else here retreat to religion!  Every time someone
>mentions mind or soul in a non-dualist sense you dismiss this and say that
>mind/soul (your equality) is a matter for religion.  Just saying that we
>don't know enough at the moment to explain the mind scientifically does not
>mean we never will!

It's not that we don't know enough, it's that we know nothing, absolutely
nothing objective about the soul (mind). It's not that our knowledge is
infinitesimal, it's ZERO. Don't bring up Bernard Baars, he is confused, he
is of the opinion that the soul (mind) does the thinking.

>>Artificial Intelligence has nothing to do with the brain. AI is concerned
>>with the mechanization of the manipulative algebra of the sentential
>Ooooohhhhh.... long words....... ;)  As far as I'm concerned it's just
>another lecture course....

This is my definition of what John McCarthy does. If yer knows a better one,
hop to it.

>>Explanations of the soul (mind) belong to religion. I say that theology
>>should be put to one side until the brain is explained. When this is done
>>one may turn to religion and talk about the soul (mind).
>Why do you keep on relegating questions of the mind to religion?  Just
>because the most prevalent theory happens to mean that the mind can't fit
>into scientific thinking doesn't mean that you should always dismiss any
>theories that _do_ allow the mind to be a scientific object  Untill you
>a decent reason to dismiss such theories then could you at least accept the
>possibility that mind may be an area reachable by rational thought.  I
>like to think about the mind and how it interacts with / is part of the
>brain without feeling that I am turning into a religious nut.

I know you enjoy it and I am all for your enjoying it. I just like to point
out that the soul (mind) has no part in a brain explanation. When the brain
is explained you are welcome to add all the soul (mind) that you wish. In
the mean time let us stick to talking about the brain.

>I think what we need here is a language we can all agree on.  It is, I
>think, quite clear that we are talking about different "brains" "minds" and
>"souls" to eachother, and I think that is where most of the argument /
>misunderstanding stems from.  Within Ray's view of the soul / mind  then
>arguments make perfect sense but if you have a different view of the soul
>and a different view of the mind (as I do) then his arguments no longer
>much ground and quickly become self refferential (and of course vice
versa -
>I would not dream of claiming that my arguments have any kind of God given
>So what we need to have are several words for mind / soul / brain / thought
>so that we can all know what we are infact talking about!  Rather than
>complicating matters I think you will find it suddenly makes all our
>arguments go away as we discover that we are talking about totally
>things.  From this point we can then try to see which system fits our
>observed real world best and from that draw conclusions about the progress
>non-progress of a scientific understanding of the brain with or without the

Consciousness has two aspects: One, objective, is alertness; the other,
subjective is awareness.

I am aware. My dog is alert. She says she is aware and I believe her but I
cannot see it.

Mind in the O.E.D.

17 The seat of a person's consciousness, thoughts, volitions, and feelings;
the system of cognitive and emotional phenomena and powers that constitute
the subjective being of a person; also, the incorporeal subject of the
psychical faculties, the spiritual part of a human being; the soul as
distinguished from the body.

This is the view of the soul (mind) as homunculus. The homunculus selects
from the data proffered by the brain, manipulates the data, reaches a
conclusion, and forwards this decision to the brain for execution. It is
difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile this view with materialism.

I prefer to view the soul (mind) as observer without causal powers. I am
aware of a particular constellation of active neurons in my brain as a
thought. I am aware of another active constellation as an emotion. When the
reticular nucleus of the thalamus is inhibited I am aware of having decided.
Most would probably call this epiphenomenalism...dualism anyway without

The O.E.D. equates mind with soul and so would I.

The brain is an artificial but useful division of the nervous system. The
nervous system is composed of
individual neurons and I deny that it is in any sense a syncytium.

Those interested in how the brain works might look at

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