Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mind vs. meat vs. computers - the differences

Some thoughts from Roy Abraham Varghese, co-author of There IS a God:

Why our minds are not meat:
"Beyond consciousness, there is the phenomenon of thought, of understanding, seeing meaning. Every use of language reveals an order of being that is innately intangible. At the foundation of all of our thinking, communicating and use of language is a miraculous power. It is the power of noting differences and similarities and of generalizing and universalizing- what the philosophers call concepts, universals, and the like. It is natural to humans, unique, and simply mystifying. How is it that, from childhood, you can effortlessly think of both your dog Caesar and dogs in general? You can think of redness without thinking of a specific red thing (of course redness does not exist independently, but only in red things). You abstract and distinguish and unify without giving your ability to do these things a second though. And you even ponder things that have no physical characteristics, such as the idea of liberty or the activity of angels. This power of thinking in concepts is by its very nature something that transcends matter." (There Is A God, pp. 176-177)

Make no mistake, this problem - called the problem of "qualia" by philosophers of mind - is a big, unsolved, unsolvable* problem for materialist theories. By the way, for fun, share the aliens' amazement at the way, on this planet, "meat" can think

Why our mind/brain complex is not a computer:
Many misconceptions about the nature of thought arise from misconceptions about computers. But let's say we're dealing with a supercomputer like the Blue Gene, which does over two hundred trillion calculations per second. Our first mistake is to assume that Blue Gene is an "it" like a bacterium or a bumblebee. In the case of the bacterium or the bumblebee we're dealing with an agent, a center of action that is an organically unified whole, an organism. All its actions are driven by the goals of maintaining itself in existence and replicating. Blue Gene is a bundle of parts that jointly or severally perform functions "implanted" and directed by the creators of the collection. Second, the bundle of parts does not know what "it" is doing when "it" performs a transaction. Supercomputer calculations and mainframe transactions performed in response to data and instructions are purely and simply a matter of electrical pulses, circuitry, and transistors. The same calculations and transactions performed by a human person, of course, involve the machinery of the brain, but they are performed by a center of consciousness that is conscious of what is going on, understands what is being done, and intentionally performs them." (There Is A God pp 178-179)

Sometimes, articles in popular media are written in a misleading way, so that we are led, for example, to assume that a computer is playing a grandmaster at chess. In fact, a programmer has programmed the computer, in anticipation of the grandmaster's moves. The computer is not playing the grandmaster; the programmer is - working through a software design that the programmer hopes will cover enough bases to win. Sometimes the programmer wins and sometimes he doesn't. As Mario and I say in The Spiritual Brain,
... a powerful computer program is capable of considering many more strategies at once than a human being can. Generally, a chessplaying computer relies on its enormous parallel processing power to sort through a vast memory to evaluate millions of moves and choose the best one. Deep Junior powered through up to 3 million possible moves per second. Kasparov probably evaluated only two to three moves per second. Well, that raises an obvious question: Why does Kasparov ever win? Shouldn’t he always lose?

The answer seems to be that what Kasparov is doing when he is thinking about his next play is different in kind from what Deep Junior is doing. Kasparov himself said, “Whatever [programmers] Shay and Amir say about Junior’s ability to run through millions of possible strategies, I, by contrast, might consider only a few strategies in any one game. But you can bet your life they will be the very best ones.” As philosopher and chess enthusiast Tim McGrew, of Western Michigan University, puts it: “Something is going on in the grand master’s mind that is not only radically different . . . but also inconceivably more efficient. It is a kind of computational miracle that humans can play chess at all.” (P. 22)

*Problems become unsolvable when the operative assumptions are wrong, but are insisted on anyway.

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