Archive for October, 2013

October 28, 2013

Thoughts on computationalism

by Neil Rickert

Recently, Massimo Pigliucci hosted a discussion of the computational theory of mind on his Rational Speaking podcast, with an accompanying post on his blog:

That blog post has a link to the podcast.  I listened to that podcast this morning, and will comment on it in this post.

I have been clear that I am skeptical of computationalism.  And Pigliucci is equally clear that he, too, is a skeptic.  But I don’t plan to repeat those earlier posts here.

Analog computation

What surprised me about the discussion, was that O’Brien emphasized analog computation.  Perhaps O’Brien is conceding that there might be problems with computationalism in the form of digital computation.

I remember, perhaps around 15 years ago, somebody argued for analog computation rather than digital computation.  This was in a usenet post, and possibly the poster was Stefan Harnad.  I remember, at the time, that my response was something like:

October 21, 2013

Macro level determinism is false

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his site, Jerry Coyne writes:

But physics does not have to be complete for us to accept determinism on a macro level.

Clearly, Coyne believes that there is determinism at the macro-level, which I take to be the level of ordinary objects such as we use in our everyday lives.  He is not alone in that belief in determinism.  It is a view I often hear.

That view is false.

The evidence from physics is clear.

October 20, 2013

Politics and religion don’t mix

by Neil Rickert

This post is mainly to suggest a few links worth reading.

The shutdown

Frank Schaeffer has some ideas on what was behind the shutdown.  Whether or not he is correct, they are worth reading or listening to.

I’ll note that Schaeffer is also pushing his recent book.  I don’t have much to say about that.  I did buy the book (the inexpensive kindle edition), but I have not finished reading it.  I’m still half-way through the opening paragraph.  Evidently, reading that book is not one of my high priorities.

Here are the two Schaeffer posts that I recommend:

On abortion

Samantha, at her blog Defeating the Dragons, has a multi-part series on how her views on abortion evolved.  She has a summary post, “Ordeal of the Bitter Waters” which summarizes the six parts and provides links to them.  The summary post is an excellent place to start.

If you are familiar with the biblical reference alluded to in the title, you can probably guess where her posts are going.  Early on, she was persuaded by the “pro-life” arguments.  But then real life happened to her, and she began to understand that the issue was far more complex than the pro-life folk would have you believe.  She is now pro-choice.

As part of her journey, she discovered that the Christian Bible does not condemn abortion.  Quite the contrary, in some circumstances it commands abortion.

October 14, 2013


by Neil Rickert

A photograph on a Panda’s Thumb post brought back memories.  It’s a picture of a grass tree.  I’m not sure of the copyright status, so you will have to visit that PT post to see the picture.  The lighting is what makes this photography particularly startling.

I grew up in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, so grass trees are very familiar.  Almost anywhere out in the bush, we would see them.  We called them blackboys, which is probably a politically incorrect term these days.  The ones that I saw were most likely Xanthorrhoea preissii, which are the common grass trees of that part of the country.

October 8, 2013

Can AI be made more human?

by Neil Rickert

According to a recent news report in The Boston Globe,

there is a research effort beginning at MIT, aimed at coming up with some of the more human elements that have, up till now, been missing from AI projects (h/t Walter).

So here is my prediction.  This project will fail.  The project may come up with a lot that is interesting and perhaps valuable.  It may be deemed to have been worth the cost.  But I expect that it will fail to achieve the stated goal.  In a way, this is an easy prediction.  Thus far, AI research has a 100% perfect record of failure, when it comes to producing something that looks like human intelligence.

From the report:

At a new center based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers will seek to craft intelligence that includes not just knowledge but also an infant’s ability to intuit basic concepts of psychology or physics.

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October 2, 2013

Brain and mind

by Neil Rickert

What’s the relation between brain and mind?

That question came up yesterday, in a post on Jerry Coyne’s blog website.  Jerry was discussing a recent “60 Minutes” segment on schizophrenia, and took exception (Jerry called it a quibble) about the wording used:

After seeing this, the pair have this exchange:

Kroft: This is really a disease of the brain, and not a disease of the mind.

Lieberman: Absolutely.

That’s not good; for the mind is, as Pinker says, “what the brain does.” In the case of schizophrenia, if there is a genetically (or environmentally) based pathology of the brain, it also causes a pathology of the mind: racing thoughts, voices in the head, and desires to harm.  So it’s a disease of both the brain and the mind. Television shouldn’t perpetuate this duality.

Okay, it was only a quibble.  But it seems a rather strange quibble.