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machine brains

Michael Edelman mje at mich.com
Mon Mar 8 13:55:31 EST 1999

Malcolm McMahon wrote:

> On Mon, 08 Mar 1999 09:54:53 -0500, Michael Edelman <mje at mich.com>
> wrote:
> .
> >Quarks.
> Well, no, not leptons but that's not important.
> > And quarks in turn may be made of simpler constructs.
> Again, in that case the simpler constructs are the elementary particles
> and quarks are not.
> > All of the physical
> >world may in turn be a complex wave superimposed on the background of space and
> >time itself. The jury is still out on this one ;-)
> In which case the waves and space and time itself are the elementary
> phenomina. It doesn't matter. Reductionism can only take you so far then
> you have to accept you're reached the elementary.

Yeah, but now we're arguing metaphors. Conciousness and mind are not simple constructs
like leptons. You can't encapsulate everything about a particular conciousness with a
couple of (relatively) simple equations.

> >But then, I don't think of "conciousness" as a part of something- other than
> >being a part of the individual- but as a property that arises from the
> >interaction of other structures.
> >
> That seems to me more like a leap of faith than an explanation.

Rather an extension from observations of a great number of phenomena in the physical
world. Taking the favorite examples of the ant hill or the bee hive or the slime
mold,  we see how simple, predictable behaviors in the constituernt organisms react
with each other and with the environment and produce what looks like intentional
behavior. This seems liek a good model for the brain.

> >> Because it's not really _like_ any kind of mental processing. Thinking
> >> is something we _do_, consciousness is something we _are_.
> >
> >An arbitrary distinction, perhaps. "Thought" is a very general term. Thought is
> >what mediates mind. Mind is the sumtotal of all are thoughts, both those
> >available at the level of concious awareness as well as those below. Is
> >respiration a part of mind? It's centrally mediated, as are many reflexes.
> >
> Yes, I think the difference between reflex and thought is only one of
> complexity.

Except that thought is not just the sum total of conditioned responses of the cells.
The critical aspect- and I'm basically arguing for the connectionist stance here- is
the interaction. The number of possible states and possible arrangements gets really
big really fast. The number of possible states of the brain is, well, a huge number.
You couldn't enumerate them in the known lifetime of the universe.

> >But yes, a unique conciousness is what seems to differentiate us as individuals
> >from one another. Take a number of people communicating electronically, as we are
> >doing here. There is no evidence of a body here, no voice, no gesture- only a
> >symbolic exchange between minds. We still percieve the discussion as being
> >between a number of distinct and unique entities.
> >
> No, I don't think you see consciousnes in that. What you see is only
> egos, which is to say collections of beliefs and habits.

I would argue that you percieve an entity that appears to be not unlike yourself- and
since you believe that you have conciousness, you assume that the entity at the other
keyboard does as well, which is a reasonable assumption unless you want to argue for

> >> > Is consciousness yet a third thing, in addition to minds
> >> >and bodies?  I mean, the metaphysical problems in this area are in part
> >> >taxological, so the denial of a connection between consciousness & mind only
> >> >seems to make them worse.
> >>
> >> Yes, but consciousness exists, requires explaning and is not adequately
> >> explained by the mind.
> >
> > I don't see this. For one thing, we haven't even explained "mind", so it's
> >asking a bit much to have mind explain conciousness ;-).
> We haven't explained it in detail but I think we can make a fairly
> convincing case for the _kind_ of explanation which is possible.

I'll buy that.

> > But the point was that calling conciousness an elementary entity
> >serves no purpose other than to tell you to stop looking any further.
> Rather, what it does is to deal with those that say that nothing
> constructed of known particles can exist.

Are you taking a sort of vitalist stance here- that conciousness is a non-physical
substance? I'm not entirely clear as to your argument on this point.

> > And anyways,
> >conciousness is far too complex to compare it to an electron ;-)
> Now that's an interesting aspect. If you separate consciousness from
> mind, and ego then why does it need to be complex?

Re my earlier argument, which relies on a definition of complexity: How much
information does it take to describe? The amount of information needed to describe a
unique conciousness is far greater than that needed to describe a unique electron.

> I suspect consciousness is extremely simple.

Well if it is, what is it? ;-)

Michael Edelman     http://www.mich.com/~mje

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