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machine brains

Michael Edelman mje at mich.com
Mon Feb 22 09:31:43 EST 1999

Ray Scanlon wrote:

> l'.
> Soul (mind) belongs to religion. I would say that most biologists think of a
> molecule as a deterministic structure of atoms, Molecules make a neuron,
> neurons make a nervous system. May we think of the brain as a deterministic
> structure? Why not?

Most scientists believe in a deterministic universe, yet most scientists also
believe in free will? Is this a contradiction? I don't think so.

Roger Penrose argues that mind is not Turing computable. I'm not sure I buy
this, but it's one way out of the conundrum.

And I still of course reject your equating mind with soul. By dragging in a term
from theology you attempt to define mind as something only meaningful in a
theological context.

But the common understanding of mind requires no theological elements- whereas
your behaviorist conception requires us to reject a common phenomenological
experience. I think your view has more theological baggage attached to it, as it
requires us to reject the common experience of self-awareness as nonexitent.
Defining away mind requires more assumptions.

The original motivation for the purely behaviorist stance was Positivism, which
stated simply that the only meaningful statements one could make were those
about the observable world. Surprisingly it took some years before someone noted
that the central tenet of Positivism was not, by its own definition, a
meaningful statement.

> The wiring, as set up by the DNA, follows a different plan. But if you are
> familiar with digital circuitry at the gate level it is possible to get some
> carry over. Of particular use is a good knowledge of the interplay between
> positive and negative logic. Neurons elsewhere activate neurons in the
> reticular nucleus of the thalamus. These, in turn. inhibit neurons in the
> thalamus, thus halting the flow of signal energy on its way to the neocortex
> and also halting motor programs form the basal ganglia and the cerebellum on
> their way to the motor and pre-motor cortex. The relationship between
> activation and inhibition on the one hand and positive and negative logic on
> the other and is fruitful.

But it still tells you nothing about meaning. You may argue that meaning is a
fiction, and functional relationships are the only real description of a system.
But that takes us back to our central issue of whether mind itself is

> The word "mind" is only a euphemism for "soul". It is for the use of people
> who are too nice to say "soul" in mixed company. One may investigate
> alertness through experiment. Awareness is for religion.

That appears to be your only argument against the existence of mind- correct me
if I'm wrong. But since we all have the *experience* of mind and self-awareness,
how can you say it doesn't exist?

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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