Free will, intelligence, AI and all that

by Neil Rickert

In a comment on an earlier post, Jeffrey Shallit asks “What is the definition of “free will” you are using here?”  Well, I don’t have a definition.  At best I can try to glean what other people mean.  So I’ll instead give my opinion on that.

Free will is usually associated with making choices or decisions, as in “I could have chosen otherwise.”  So before giving my opinion, let’s look at the kind of decisions that people make.

At times, we are faced with a decision on a proposition, and we normally want to decide whether the proposition is true or false.  Let’s call a judgment of true or false a veridical decision.  However, many of the decisions we make are not of that form at all.  That is, they are non-veridical.

If I am at a restaurant, I might be faced with the choice of whether to order cheese cake or chocolate ice cream for desert.  The waiter wants a “yes/no” answer, but it isn’t really a true false question at all.  It’s a question of personal taste, a question of what I might think will best satisfy me at the time.  So it’s a kind of pragmatic judgment.

Philosophy paints a false or misleadingly idealized picture of us.  It describes us as spending our lives making veridical decisions.  However, in real life, we are mostly making pragmatic decisions.

So here, in rough form, is how I see “free will” and intelligence:

  • “Free will” is the ability to make pragmatic decisions;
  • “Intelligence” is the quality of our pragmatic decisions.

When an agent makes a veridical decision, then the proper decision is determined by the state of the world.  So, if the agent is able to make that decision, then it is forced on that agent.  There is no real choice when making veridical decisions.

When making pragmatic decisions, the decision an agent makes can come from nowhere else but from that agent.  A pragmatic conclusion is not objective, but is dependent on the nature of the agent reaching that conclusion.  So it is properly credited as a choice made by the agent.

Traditional AI, or GOFAI (good old fashioned AI) is based on the assumption that all decisions are veridical, and that intelligence is one’s ability to make veridical decisions.  As I see it, AI misses the target of what we really mean by “intelligence.”

Logic chips can only make veridical decisions.  If all decision making is based on the use of logic, as philosophers often seem to be suggesting, then they are not even considering the pragmatic judgments that dominate our mental lives.  By contrast, biological systems seem quite capable of making pragmatic judgments.  Much as the logic gate is a core device for making veridical decisions, we should see the homeostatic process as a core system for making pragmatic judgments.  And biology is chock full of homeostatic processes.

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47 Comments to “Free will, intelligence, AI and all that”

  1. Neil Rickert:

    “Logic chips can only make veridical decisions. If all decision making is based on the use of logic, as philosophers often seem to be suggesting, then they are not even considering the pragmatic judgments that dominate our mental lives. By contrast, biological systems seem quite capable of making pragmatic judgments. ”

    If evolution is true, then there is good reason to suggest that biology started out making simple yes/no, then true/false decisions.

    Pragmatic judgments seem to be the result of a multitude of yes/no decisions when looked at from the view of discrete logic.

    There is nothing that prevents an “algorithm” from reaching pragmatic decisions in the same way that humans do.

    Note that I stress “algorithm” to show the separation between the running of the “intelligent processing apparatus” and its resulting “decision”.

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    • Evolution looks pragmatic to me. Whether decisions are discrete or continuous probably doesn’t matter. However, “survival of the fittest” looks pragmatic – doing what works.

      You can describe every pragmatic question so that it looks as if a true/false question is being answered. And you can describe every true/false question as if it were a pragmatic issue. But that’s just sophistry. When it comes to the basic evolutionary processes, no actual proposition is being examined. There’s just a raw behavior of nature that statistically favors what works.

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  2. I think the distinction you are trying to draw is nonsense. Consider a robot that has a chip that can only function within a narrow temperature range, say between 10 and 40 degrees C. It has a heater for when it gets too cold and air conditioning for when it gets too hot. It has a sensor for the temperature, and a circuit that turns on the appropriate heater or cooler when the temperature is outside the desired range. This chip is “veridical”, to use your terminology; yet the outcome is pragmatic.

    What “homeostatic process” is incapable of being simulated by a logic-based computer?

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    • What “homeostatic process” is incapable of being simulated by a logic-based computer?

      You can easily design a robot that can pass a very high level intelligence test. Simply program the robot with all of the correct answers. How’s that for a simulation of intelligence?

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  3. Neil,

    I think you are trying to make a distinction that doesn’t exist.

    If I have a single brain cell and a single transistor, what is the difference to a processing system?

    You can treat them as pure logic, a 1 or 0, or possibly analogue, where a value or charge are represented on a sliding scale.

    Or their own, they don’t represent anything, but in the billions, they represent a part of a process we consider intelligent, whether in a man-made computer or a biological brain.

    I don’t really see an insurmountable distinction between biological intelligence and man-made intelligence.

    It seems like that gap is closing every day.

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    • If I have a single brain cell and a single transistor, what is the difference to a processing system?

      Our disagreement is very different from what you think it is.

      A biological organism (such as a person) has to solve problems in order to get along in the world. You think that we are disagreeing about how to solve those problems. But, actually, our disagreement is over what kind of problem has to be solved.

      I am tentatively planning to be posting more about that during this year. But experience tells me that it isn’t easy to explain.

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  4. Neill: “But, actually, our disagreement is over what kind of problem has to be solved.”

    But that has nothing to do with whether the “processor” is of a biological origin or man-made.

    Provided the algorithm can be run, there is no difference.

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  5. Neil: “You are assuming that the kind of problem is one that can be solved by running an algorithm. That’s our disagreement already.”

    To me, an algorithm is the step-by-step process that we go through when problem-solving.

    Let’s instead use the word task.

    When faced with a need to make a decision, the processor executes a “task”.

    Depending on the task, outside data is processed resulting in a decision.

    While the “task” may change, (evolve), the data might differ each time and so the resulting conclusion may be different each time.

    If we understand the “task” that needs to be performed, it makes no difference if the processing elements are biological or man-made, providing the input data results in a consistent conclusion.

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    • A few comments back, I said “Our disagreement is very different from what you think it is.”

      That still holds. You are making an argument that I don’t see as even applicable.

      Depending on the task, outside data is processed resulting in a decision.

      You are taking it for granted that there is outside data. That’s where I am disagreeing. The problem is to get data in the first place. And that might even require invention.

      Most people are, in effect, treating perception as a magical system that delivers data. Since I don’t believe in magic, I have had to study the principles by which perception could work. And, as a result, I am questioning just about everything that is standardly taken for granted.

      It turns out to be very difficult to persuade people to question what they have been taking for granted for most of their lives.

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  6. Neil,

    This is your initial statement that I am addressing:

    Neil Rickert:

    “Logic chips can only make veridical decisions. If all decision making is based on the use of logic, as philosophers often seem to be suggesting, then they are not even considering the pragmatic judgments that dominate our mental lives. By contrast, biological systems seem quite capable of making pragmatic judgments. ”

    “Logic chips”, in a designed circuit, are in no way restricted in the types of decisions they can make.

    That was the claim that you made that I am contesting.

    You seem to be trying to equate single “logic chips” to a complete biological system such as a human being.

    You are jumping layers of protocol here.

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  7. I feel brave enough to make an attempt! 🙂

    As an analogy, you mention “spark plugs” and then make a comparison to a “complete car”.

    1) You can compare a “logic gate” to a “brain cell”.

    2) You can compare a human being to a robot.

    3) You can’t compare something in “1” to something in “2”.

    I am not addressing sensory input or how we go about getting it.

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  8. You can easily design a robot that can pass a very high level intelligence test. Simply program the robot with all of the correct answers. How’s that for a simulation of intelligence?

    Wow, what a devastating reply.

    Do you have an argument to make? ‘Cause I didn’t see one.

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  9. Neil Rickert: “Sorry, but I am not getting the point.”

    I am not getting why you appear to be so angry at people who ask relevant questions.

    Jeffrey Shallit raised a good point and you came back with what looks like a back-hand.

    You are not just comparing “apples” and “oranges” with your comparison of “logic gates” and “biological systems”, your are essentially comparing an “orange peel” with a complete “apple tree”!

    You claim to not be able to grasp a concept that is very similar to the ID’s crowd “micro” and “macro” evolution argument.

    If you route together a few billion logic gates with a run-time process, you should be able to simulate intelligence.

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    • I am not getting why you appear to be so angry at people who ask relevant questions.

      No, I am not at all angry. I’m laughing at the extent of the communication.

      Jeffrey Shallit raised a good point and you came back with what looks like a back-hand.

      No, he entirely missed the point. So I gave a very pertinent response. But, as expected, he missed the point again.

      I did say that there’s a lot of talking past one another.

      If you route together a few billion logic gates with a run-time process, you should be able to simulate intelligence.

      Simulate intelligence, in the sense of carrying out activity that we normally associate with intelligence – sure. But it still depends on the intelligence of the human programmers. But that’s really the same thing as I said in my earlier reply to Jeffrey Shallit, the one you called a back-hand.

      Somewhere around 1986, I listened to a talk on the CYC project. I think the speaker was Doug Lenat, though I’m not certain about that. The speaker illustrated how CYC would work, making logical deductions from its knowledge base. And, as an example, he explained how it could conclude that frogs don’t live in deserts. I laughed to myself, for in fact there are desert frogs.

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    • When I said above that I am laughing, I should have been clearer that I am laughing at myself for not anticipating the degree of miscommunication that would occur.

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  10. Neil Rickert: “Simulate intelligence, in the sense of carrying out activity that we normally associate with intelligence – sure. But it still depends on the intelligence of the human programmers.”

    Biological intelligence is also a result of programming, in the form of feedback from the environment, in other words, evolution.

    The premise you have asserted, that “logic gates” don’t decide like “biological systems”, is not valid simply from their positions in their respective systems.

    A “logic gate” is a very small part of a information-gathering and processing system, while a “biological system”, is just that, a complete system.

    In effect, you are comparing something like the simple operation of a photo-sensitive electronic diode to the way an eagle relies on eyesight for its survival.

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    • In effect, you are comparing something like the simple operation of a photo-sensitive electronic diode to the way an eagle relies on eyesight for its survival.

      No, I am not doing that at all.

      If you look at my earlier posts about purpose you might get an idea of what I see as the significant difference between logic gates and homeostatic processes.

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  11. Neil Rickert: “If you look at my earlier posts about purpose you might get an idea of what I see as the significant difference between logic gates and homeostatic processes.”

    Homeostatic systems have feedback and compensation, while simple logic gates don’t.

    You are trying to point out the “significant difference” between things that belong to different “sets”.

    setComponents[] = { resistor, logic gate, capacitor };

    setProcesses[] = { human being, snake, circulatory system };

    You cannot directly compare anything across sets.

    As components, logic gates can be incorporated into systems that we would consider to be intelligent.

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    • Homeostatic systems have feedback and compensation, while simple logic gates don’t.

      Quite right.

      You are trying to point out the “significant difference” between things that belong to different “sets”.

      No, I was taking that as obvious. I wasn’t pointing it out.

      As components, logic gates can be incorporated into systems that we would consider to be intelligent.

      So what? I have not said anything contrary. I have said that the intelligence does not come from the logic gates. I haven’t suggest that they can’t be use as part of a system.

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  12. You’ve said it here:

    Neil Rickert:

    “Logic chips can only make veridical decisions. If all decision making is based on the use of logic, as philosophers often seem to be suggesting, then they are not even considering the pragmatic judgments that dominate our mental lives. By contrast, biological systems seem quite capable of making pragmatic judgments. ”

    I read that as, “Logic chips make one type of decision and biological systems make different types of decisions”.

    The second sentence binds “logic” to philosophers, implying that philosophers make the type of decisions that logic chips do.

    The problem with that, is that philosophers themselves, are biological systems, and thus understand the human condition and the judgments we need to make, quite well.

    You seem to not want to accept the possibility, that real intelligence can be built with non-living material.

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    • The second sentence binds “logic” to philosophers, implying that philosophers make the type of decisions that logic chips do.

      There’s no such implication in anything that I wrote.

      You seem to not want to accept the possibility, that real intelligence can be built with non-living material.

      You are making up stuff. Homeostatic processes can be built with non-living material.

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  13. Then I have admit that I don’t understand the point of this post.

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  14. That should be:

    Then I have to admit that I don’t understand the point of this post.

    Like

  15. I apologise that I didn’t mind to register to get proper tools for quoting. I’m quoting the post on January 5, 2012 at 2:56.

    ———————————————————-
    Neil Rickert:

    “Logic chips can only make veridical decisions. If all decision making is based on the use of logic, as philosophers often seem to be suggesting, then they are not even considering the pragmatic judgments that dominate our mental lives. By contrast, biological systems seem quite capable of making pragmatic judgments. ”
    ———————————————————–
    Toronto:

    “I read that as, “Logic chips make one type of decision and biological systems make different types of decisions”.

    The second sentence binds “logic” to philosophers, implying that philosophers make the type of decisions that logic chips do.

    The problem with that, is that philosophers themselves, are biological systems, and thus understand the human condition and the judgments we need to make, quite well.

    You seem to not want to accept the possibility, that real intelligence can be built with non-living material.”
    ———————————————————-

    Rilx:

    Biological systems (e.g. brains) don’t use formal “philosophical” logic. They use open feedforward processes like selection and discrimination. Characteristically these systems lack the essential laws of closed formal logics, like non-contradiction and exluded middle. Those laws belong to the realm of minds only.

    Unfortunately neither brains nor minds are intelligently desingned: there’s no strict borderline between them. The fundamental biological logic occasionally penetrates into our philosophical minds. Don’t we all sometimes think why other people behave illogically?

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    • I apologise that I didn’t mind to register to get proper tools for quoting.

      I don’t think there are any “proper tools.”

      When I make a post to this blog, then there’s a visual format which gives me tools for quoting and other things. But when I am commenting, I have to directly use HTML tags. For example, I used the “blockquote” tag to quote you.

      Biological systems (e.g. brains) don’t use formal “philosophical” logic.

      I agree with that.

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  16. Hi Rilx,

    Logic is logic. Philosophical logic just dresses up binary logic so that it can be used in natural language based arguments. Binary logic is the bee’s knees. Information theory relies on distinction for any information at all, and the simplest representation of distinction is, conceptually, binary logic, which is represented variously by 0/1, true/false, etc.

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    • Logic is logic. Philosophical logic just dresses up binary logic so that it can be used in natural language based arguments. Binary logic is the bee’s knees.

      Fair enough.

      I don’t see neurons as doing binary logic.

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  17. Hi Neil,

    Getting back the the quoted point (on logic), if I’ve understood it, the distinction that’s important isn’t about whether logic is used or not, but about the nature of human behaviour – that is, the behaviour of the human brain. The significant distinction is that it’s so complex and so influenced by concurrent external and concurrent internal events, that it is, to us, indeterminate. In other words, human decision making looks messy and at times rational, at other irrational, and yet others as if there’s no decision making going on whatsoever.

    Neil, you may want to label this as ‘pragmatic’, but that’s merely our view of this indeterminate messy system. With all due respect I don’t think your original point “Logic chips can only make veridical decisions…” (quoted several times) succeeds in making a point. As messy as our ‘pragmatic’ thinking can be, there is still logic at the bottom of it, and when all the messiness propogates up to the top we sometimes make logical decisions (which may be incorrect, or correct, or both correct and incorrect on various weighted counts concurrently – do I take a medication that will prolong my life, but with side effects that will make it of lower quality?).

    The pragmatic nature of our decision making, as you explain it, already presumes we have the free-will to make decisions, rather than decisions perculating to the top and becoming apparent decisions.

    For immediate decisions: Oh, that’s what I actually did, so I must have decided to do it.

    For ‘planned’ decisions: Oh, that’s what my brain has decided I should do, so, it appears that’s what I’ll be attempting to do [until some counter decision perculates to the top in response to other external/internal events].

    By the way, I’m not sure the term ‘veridical’ helps here. It’s one that has made its way into information theory, but to me seems a bit of a side-step that’s trying to solve a similar problem that exists in epistemology with JTB. It seems to be taking us round in circles. There’s this apparent need to be neat and tidy that seems unnecessary to me. Universe, and our use of science to examine it, seems like a messy contingent effort, limited by our own human fallibilities, and by logical limits on the acquistion of knowledge. The purity of thought sought by philosophy seems misplaced.

    Like

    • Getting back the the quoted point (on logic), if I’ve understood it, the distinction that’s important isn’t about whether logic is used or not, but about the nature of human behaviour – that is, the behaviour of the human brain.

      I’m not sure about the “that is” part. Human behavior is not identical to brain behavior, and there are questions about the relation between the two.

      The significant distinction is that it’s so complex and so influenced by concurrent external and concurrent internal events, that it is, to us, indeterminate.

      This is why we need good theory. Reverse engineering by studying the neurons cannot do it alone.

      Neil, you may want to label this as ‘pragmatic’, but that’s merely our view of this indeterminate messy system.

      It quickly became clear that other commenters were not looking at “pragmatic” the way I was. And, sure, I agree that it is messy.

      The pragmatic nature of our decision making, as you explain it, already presumes we have the free-will to make decisions, rather than decisions perculating to the top and becoming apparent decisions.

      There’s also the difficult question of what does it mean to make a decision. I have some earlier posts on “purpose” (from around Jan 2011) which are related to this.

      One of the reasons (perhaps the main reason) that I started this blog, is that I wanted to have a way of talking about my own (theoretical) investigation of human cognition. It has led me to conclusions that have turned out to be very difficult to explain to others (hence the name of the blog). Much of my own thinking has changed as a result of my investigation. I probably held fairly conventional views at the start, but I have been forced to change them as my understanding of cognition has developed.

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  18. On Free Will…

    You say you don’t define free-will, but then you say: “‘Free will’ is the ability to make pragmatic decisions”

    “If I am at a restaurant, I might be faced with the choice of whether to order cheese cake or chocolate ice cream for desert….” [my emphasis. See later.]

    This is already several layers above where the argument is elsewhere. Your non-definition, and your discussion of choice are both compatible with either of the predominant positions:

    a) What is variously called ‘real’ free-will, ‘metaphysical’ free-will. That which is independent of the material world to the extent that it is one of the following: (i) a soul, (ii) a dualist’s mind, or (iii) some other unexplained notion beloved by some atheists naturalists who still can’t stomach the consequences of a physicalist notion of mind.

    b) A physicalist mind: a bahaviour of the brain, which is indistinguishable from any other matter in the universe in terms of low level physical behaviour, but yet is different in overall behaviour to the extent that it has significance to us. The error is to think that this distinct behaviour makes it into something other than dynamic matter.

    I’d say that most scientists and philosophers that reject (a) are really arguing about what (b) is. But it leaves some to argue as if they still have a foot in camp (a) because, for various reasons, such as the fear of loosing their humanity (whatever that is), or the fear of the consequences for law and order (misguided fears I think), they can’t quite bring themselves to accept we are dummies, automata – so they invent (aiii) without any real conviction. Try reading Raymond Tallis for this latter kind of atheist naturalist. Some try to rescue some semblance of free-will by invoking quantum fluff: Björn Brembs.

    You said in comments that we should challenge our thinking. This is what we need to do whenever we even contemplate using the ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘we’ in a statement about free-will, along with ‘decision’ or ‘choice’: what is this ‘I’? Your restaurant ‘choice’ already seems to be letting (aiii) in by the back door.

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    • You say you don’t define free-will, but then you say: “‘Free will’ is the ability to make pragmatic decisions”

      A definition is something that I expect others to use. An opinion is just a personal view that I don’t expect others to follow. My comment about free will as pragmatic decision making was opinion, not definition.

      What is variously called ‘real’ free-will, ‘metaphysical’ free-will.

      I am skeptical of all metaphysics. And where physicists seem to be making metaphysical claims, I am skeptical of that, too.

      A physicalist mind: a bahaviour of the brain, …

      I don’t agree with that. The behavior of the brain is real, while I see the mind as a metaphor. So I don’t think they can be tightly connected.

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  19. Thanks for the tip on your other posts on ‘Purpose’, I’ll look at those.

    “One of the reasons (perhaps the main reason) that I started this blog, is that I wanted to have a way of talking about my own…”

    I appreciate that, and that’s very much my own reason for writing on my blog; and I too have changed my opinions through interaction with others. Your point is appreciated. I found your blog only recently and it’s the coverage of topics that has caught my interest and prompted me to comment on several of your posts in quick succession. Though we disagree on a few things I hope it isn’t coming across as too negative. I do agree with a lot of what I’ve read, but naturally it’s more interesting to get stuck into the bits where we don’t agree.

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    • Though we disagree on a few things I hope it isn’t coming across as too negative.

      Not at all. I actually appreciate the feedback. It is hard to get good thoughtful comments when I am taking unconventional positions.

      I probably won’t respond individually to each of your more recent comments. I’m treating them as food for thought. My ego doesn’t require that I always have the last word.

      Treating them as food for thought, perhaps they will stimulate a new post from me.

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  20. “Human behavior is not identical to brain behavior, and there are questions about the relation between the two.”

    What I really meant there was that human behaviour is consequent on brain behaviour to such an extent that for most purposes we treat them as the same. You do so yourself in your restaurant choice examples – where your choice is influenced by bodily desires of hunger, taste preferences, all co-ordinated by the brain and expressed as motor behaviour instigated by the brain.

    “Reverse engineering by studying the neurons cannot do it alone.”

    Who said it did? This is often the cry of the anti-reductionist who doesn’t get that reductionism is a prerequisit of building better models of the whole system. The failing of psychology for most of its practice has been down to the fact that it’s a black box art – effectively guessing what’s wrong with the brain be observing external behaviour only. Multiple external behaviours can be caused by single brain states in different circumstances, and multiple brain states can cause a single behaviour. Reductionism is necessary. But again, who claims that it’s all that’s required?

    “Physicalist mind” – Yes, I should have said ‘Physicalist brain’. I accept the mind as metaphor for brain behaviour.

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  21. Hi Ron,

    I’ve been reading your blog, primarily in order to understand your position right. I hope I understand it now reasonably well.

    Reductionism is a tool for engineering, not for science. If we don’t know how a system works, we don’t know how to construct it even though we’d know all its physical elements. We know genomes of several animals, can we construct any of them? No way. Except the genome, we know the whole neural network – the connectome – of a little worm, [i]Caenorhabditis elegans[/i], completely: all neurons, all synaptic connections. But do we know what it is like to be a [i]C. elegans[/i]? Of course not. If we don’t know how a system works, we don’t even know what its functionality basically needs. Even if it was reducible to some simple elements, we wouldn’t know what they would be.

    Logic is a modelling tool, a language. It can only describe reality, better or worse. All depends on how a modeller logician understands the reality she is modelling. Logic (or language) itself can never become reality. That kind of beliefs exist only in metaphysical idealism and religions. ”In the beginning was the Word”.

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  22. Ron Murphy : “Multiple external behaviours can be caused by single brain states in different circumstances, and multiple brain states can cause a single behaviour. Reductionism is necessary. But again, who claims that it’s all that’s required?”

    Agreed.

    I think some people need something unexplainable about life that they can attribute to a special purpose for humanity.

    I believe that’s why barriers are put up to simple explanations that lead to a “wrong”, (in the sense of unacceptable), conclusion.

    All the thinking I do is in my physical brain as are all my memories.

    I’d expect to see evidence from anyone who claims the contrary.

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    • All the thinking I do is in my physical brain as are all my memories.

      With enough programming effort, I could program my desktop PC to emulate a 1980s era mainframe computer. Then I could take software for that 1980s mainframe, and run it on the emulator. So there’s some kind of computation being done.

      I won’t find that computation being done in my computer. I have to know about the emulated computer and look there. Maybe the mainframe computation solves a differential equation. I won’t find a program natively running on my desktop PC that has anything to do with that differential equation. I have to discover the emulation, then look for that computation in what is happening in the emulation rather than what is directly happening in the computer.

      When I say that thinking is done by the person, not the brain, I am saying something analogous. I am not appealing to dualism. I am saying that if you look in the brain, you won’t find that thinking, though you might find some correlates. You have to look at what makes the person, and the brain is very much involved in that. But then you have to look at the person, not the brain, as doing the thinking.

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  23. Neil,

    My coding assumption for italics seemed to fail. Can I find a code book somewhere?
    Hey… is it instead of []? Test: italics

    To find support to the ideas in my earlier (Jan 8) post I recommend Edelman&Tononi’s “A Universe of Consciousness”:

    Selectionism and logic. The physics and evolutionary assumptions make explicit claims about what comes first and what follows. In other words, they force us consider what is historically, pragmatically, and ontologically prior and what is derivative. Logic is, for example, a human activity of great power and subtlety. If the evolutionary assumption is correct, however, we can conclude that the workings of logic are not necessary for consciousness. Logic is not necessary for the emergence of animal bodies and brains, as it obviously is to the construction and operation of a computer.
    – – –
    To encapsulate our position: Selectionism precedes logic. Later, we suggest that selectionist principles and logical principles each underlie powerful modes of thought. Now, however, it is essential to grasp that selectionist principles apply to brains and that logical ones are learned later by individuals with brains. Only with such notions in mind can one avoid the paradoxes that result from attempts to explain consciousness solely in terms of computation.

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  24. Neil Rickert: “I won’t find a program natively running on my desktop PC that has anything to do with that differential equation. I have to discover the emulation, then look for that computation in what is happening in the emulation rather than what is directly happening in the computer.”

    If you have 4 Gig of RAM in your PC, your emulator and the program it is running will be located somewhere in this 4 Gig, which is inside your PC.

    The CPU in your PC will be executing the instructions of your emulator not an external CPU.

    When the OS switches to another task, it will be the same CPU that executes that new task even though it may have nothing to do with your emulation.

    Your PC is responsible for 100% of the activity required for your emulator and its app and this analogy does nothing to show that any outside processing is required.

    Neil Rickert: “But then you have to look at the person, not the brain, as doing the thinking.”

    Your analogy has shown the exact opposite, in that one single CPU, (whether multi-core or not), is responsible for all the “thinking” in that PC regardless of whether it is an “OS” or “application” process.

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  25. Hi Neil,

    Still going through your blog from the start. Really enjoying it. Some agreements I want to expand on, and obviously some disagreements. I’m continuing with that, so that I can do the following:

    – Write my own post, if too long or if it’s a point I want to take up on my blog
    – Consolidate comments (okay, I ramble, hence the title of my blog)

    So, for now I’ll just answer existing points as they come up.

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    • So, for now I’ll just answer existing points as they come up.

      No problem.

      I am not intending to reply to every comment. If I don’t have something significant to add, then I just leave the comment there. And I am checking your blog, though so far I haven’t had a comment that significantly adds to what you have already posted. An “I mostly agree” comment doesn’t seem worth making in most cases.

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  26. Hi Rilx,

    Thanks for popping over there.

    “Reductionism is a tool for engineering, not for science.”

    I don’t see how it isn’t for both. Might want to qualify that by saying current science uses current technology, and sometimes invents new technology, in order to get at data in order to do the reductionist work.

    “Except the genome, we know the whole neural network – the connectome – of a little worm, [i]Caenorhabditis elegans[/i], completely: all neurons, all synaptic connections. But do we know what it is like to be a [i]C. elegans[/i]? Of course not.”

    Where is it written that you have to know what if feels like to be something in order to understand it. The Bletchly Park code breakers didn’t know what it was like to be an Enigma machine to come to understand it enopugh to reverse engineer it. The C. elegans example, like all current biological examples, is simply a gap in our current capacity to achieve what we conceptually think we can.

    “If we don’t know how a system works, we don’t even know what its functionality basically needs. Even if it was reducible to some simple elements, we wouldn’t know what they would be.”

    You’ve switch from don’t to wouldn’t (couldn’t). On what basis?

    “Logic is a modelling tool, a language.” – Yes.

    “It can only describe reality, better or worse.” – Only?

    “Logic (or language) itself can never become reality.” – What is reality? Describe, using reality, not words or language of any kind. What is language? Describe, using words or language, not reality (i.e. no ink, sound, visual clues of any kind).

    I don’t see how, in the final analysis, you can separate them.

    Representation = Physical Implementation

    Symbolic logic is our way of representing distinction, and reality is based on distinction in a whole lot of nothingness. So, information, data, reality, are conceptually synonymous, and possibly there is no distinction whatsoever.

    It’s on this basis I see the links all the way down, from complex human concepts, right down to states of matter in the brain. Without this I see that you have a disconnect between the actual world and the abstract world of ideas. I see this as part of the cause of the confusion that leads to the primacy of thought – as if ideas have a pure existence of their own, apart from physical reality.

    What we see as completely different representations are only superficial differences under encoding transformations: the transformation form a brain state representing an idea, expressed, encoded, transformed into, the language of speech by the person, heard by another, and transformed back into an idea, as brain state, in the other. With such complex transformations, and the implementation is such messy evolved systems as brains, it’s no wonder we misunderstand each other so much; and no wonder we have to go round the loop a few times to grasp what someone is trying to tell us.

    In this sense encoding/decoding are interchangeable and arbitrary. I can consider thought-to-speech as an encoding of thought in speech, or a decoding of thought into speech.

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    • But do we know what it is like to be a C. elegans? Of course not.

      I don’t know what it’s like to be Ron Murphy. For that matter, I’m not at all sure that I know what it’s like to be Neil Rickert. To me, this “what it’s like to be X” issue seems deeply confused.

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