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machine brains

Michael Edelman mje at mich.com
Fri Feb 19 11:35:37 EST 1999

Ray Scanlon wrote:

> ...Rather than purpose, say "function". The central function of the brain is
> to
> maintain homeostasis of the DNA in an unfriendly universe. To this end it
> seeks food and water and a safe resting place. It avoids the predator and,
> in the interest of long term homeostasis, it seeks a mate. If these needs
> are satisfied, the brain is idle.

The brain is *never* idle.

> It's output, such as metaphysics or
> mathematical demonstrations, are pretty but unneeded.

Yet they exist, and if they are uneeded, why would an organism directed towards
homeostatis expend energy on unneeded activities? That would be the equivalent
of an animal running in circles when it's not hunting or feeding.

> In my opinion the purpose of the model is to show that a brain without a
> soul (mind) is possible in a materialistic universe. I think this will be
> carried out in the first half of the next century. When this project is
> complete, man will say, "This is not enough, there is a spiritual universe
> to consider". Man will turn to religion.
> My complaint is that you are premature by fifty years.

So you're actually a hard-edged dualist. You're looking to show that living
organisms are all automotons, and only privileged ones- humans- may be inhabited
by souls. Or so it seems.

> >That's silly. We're all self-aware. You aren't an automoton. Who am I
> >debating
> >with? What are dreams?
> If you were debating with a machine brain, such as Hal, how could you
> possibly tell the difference? This is just Turing's Test.

You cite Turing's thought experiment as if it were some proof of intelligence.
It's not. It's just an idea he came up with that defines intelligence
operationally, which does fit in with your notion of brain. I would say that the
"Turing test" only shows that a machines has fooled a human in a narrow context.

And at the same time I would maintain that an intelligent, self-aware entity may
not be able to pass the test. Even two humans lacking a common language would
fail each other by that measure. I would argue that the great apes are most
probably self-aware, and there's certainly no common language there.

> A dream is a
> sequence of constellations that shows up under long term activation of the
> reticular nucleus by the locus coeruleus.

That's like saying life is a continuous autocatylizing reaction, or that a car
is a large metal device that turns hydrocarbons into heat and complex compounds.
It descibes some aspects of intelligence without identifying what's important
about those aspects. Why is it meaningful to have certain nuclei active? Suppose
I say that language is a series of arbitrary symbols with production rules. Does
that tell you what language actually is?

> >You'll never explain brain without explaining mind. Can you describe the
> >function of a computer in the absence of the existence of any software?
> A properly designed computer simply spins on a no-op sequence in the
> micro-program, awaiting the arrival of an instruction. In earlier times
> (prior to the middle fifties) there were no micro-programs. The computer, on
> being powered up, simply stood by until an instruction was keyed in. This
> can be embroidered but I think you get the point.

Yes, but I think you're glossing over mine. Computers were designed with the
idea that they would run programs. What is the meaning of a computer in a
universe without a program?

> Ray
> Those interested in how the brain works might look at
> www.wsg.net/~rscanlon/brain.html

Michael Edelman     http://www.mich.com/~mje
Telescope guide:    http://www.mich.com/~mje/scope.html
Folding Kayaks:     http://www.mich.com/~mje/kayak.html

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