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machine brains

Malcolm McMahon malcolm at pigsty.demon.co.uk
Sun Mar 7 06:21:39 EST 1999

On Sun, 07 Mar 1999 05:39:13 GMT, ZZZghull at stny.lrun.com (Jerry Hull)

>On Sat, 06 Mar 1999 10:00:06 GMT, malcolm at pigsty.demon.co.uk (Malcolm McMahon)
>>On Sat, 06 Mar 1999 02:03:47 GMT, ZZZghull at stny.lrun.com (Jerry Hull)
>>I think it's a pretty clear notion. Composite things are made of more
>>elementary things combined in various ways. You can say, if you like,
>>that electrons are made of themselves (though I don't see where the
>>making comes in). If so why can consciousness not also be made of
>The notion of being "made of" has a number of different interpretations, some
>of which clearly do NOT apply to "mental" things the way they apply to
>material things.  In particular, there is no mental analog for the sense in
>which water is "made of" of oxygen & hydrogen.  Mentally, there are only
>analytic -- as contrasted with synthetic -- forms of composition, as it were.

Oh, I can't agree with that. There's at least as much synthesis as
analysis going on in the brain. Complex ideas are made of simpler ideas.
When we examine the scene before our eyes what are we doing? We're
recognising elements of that scene and composing a model of our
surroundings in terms of objects we're familiar with. Exactly the same
with hearing speach or reading a paragraph. Perhaps the "elementary
particle" of thought is the firing of a neuron.

>>> It would be most proper to say that both consciousness and mind
>>>are made of BRAINS, &c.  That is, surely Descartes was wrong to suppose that
>>>mentality involved a different kind of SUBSTANCE that things could be composed
>>>of, separate from physical things.
>>With the knowledge of his own time he could just have easilly been
>What's wrong is wrong always, even tho people at some particular time may be
>confused or mistaken.

Let's not be too arrogant. Descartes had a model which fitted the facts
he was aware of, we have models which also fit facts he wasn't aware of.
50 years from now you can count on their being more facts.
>>>This supposes that everything mental is "processing".  But why believe this?
>>>It is obviously arbitrary.  Mental things include moods, desires,
>>>dispositions, states of belief, fundamental convictions, twinges, sensations,
>>>intentions, proclivities, attitudes, &c. &c.  Some of these things obviously
>>>involve processes, but not all of them.  There are also states, capabilities,
>>>properties, &c.
>>Most of them seem more me to be processes which are sometimes suspended.
>>A human belief isn't a passive input or parameter. It's a kind of
>>internal advocate for it's own possition which will leap forward and
>>defend itself if challenged.
>>The human ego is like a committee of monomaniacs.
>Or Lorenz's "parliament of instincts".  Sometimes beliefs are active,
>sometimes they are passive states; both are valid senses of the term 'belief'.
>It's just arbitrary to assume that 'mind' must refer to a process, & say this
>excludes consciousness because it isn't a process.
>Consciousness pretty much DEFINES what 'mental' is customarily taken to mean.
>That is why it is so perverse to suggest that the two should be separate.

No, I don't agree that mental processing is either necessary or
sufficient for consciousness to be present. A computer vision system or
an expert system, I would argue, perform functions we would characterise
as mental if an animal was doing them, yet we don't imagine that such
systems have consciousness.

Because thought is what we (and especially philosohpers) think we excell
at we tend to exagerate it's significance. We'd like to believe that
consciousness in things exists in direct proportion to their
ressemblence to us.
>>This relates to the idea that the mind is "pure software". A kind of
>>program which could be uploaded from one brain and instanciated in a
>>computer, or in some other brain.
>Since we obviously cannot do this with minds, maybe they aren't like software
>after all?  This analogy begs all the interesting questions.
>>But a particular mind dictates (or is instanciated) as more than the
>>electrical state of the brain. It's written into the actual
>>microsturture. To make a new instance of a mind you'd have to actually
>>physically duplicate, or fully model the physical brain (or at least
>>crucial parts of it).
>When you find out how this is done, please let the rest of us know.

Oh, it's easy enough to see how it might be done in principle. It's just
beyond our present technology. I'd give it 50-100 yeare.

You'd inject vast numbers of nano-machines into the CS fluid. These
nanites would spread throughout the CNS, following and tagging neural
processes, examining the state of pre-synaptic membranes in order to
measure the "gain" on the different synapses. Each nanomachine would
record a few neurons in detail together with information about other
nano-machines and their tags encountered. When they'd been in for long
enough you'd "lure" them out of the body with some kind of marker
chemical. Between them they'd cary an almost complete picture of the

We already model very simple neural networks on ordinary computers or
specialised hardware.

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