After a weekend of transistorized baseball, it’s time to get back to wandering through pondering consciousness. I laid down a few cobblestones last week; time to add a few more to the road. Eventually I’ll have something on which I can drive an argument.
There are a number of classic, or at least well-known, arguments for and against computationalism. They variously involve Pixies, different kinds of Zombies, people trapped in different kinds of rooms, and rock walls that compute. (In fact, they compute rooms that trap Pixies. And everything else.)
Today I’m going to ruminate on the world’s most unfortunate file clerk.
When it comes to consciousness, one of the top challenges is defining what it is. (Some insist it doesn’t even exist, which makes defining it even more of a challenge.) Part of the problem is that there is no single correct definition. There never really has been.
There is also that there is sentience (essentially the ability to feel pain as pain) and there is sapience (roughly: wisdom). Lots of animals are sentient, but sapience seems to be a property of human consciousness.
Which raises the question: Are humans just a point on a spectrum, or is there some sort of “band gap” between higher and lower forms?
On the one hand, a main theme here is theories of consciousness. On the other hand, it’s been almost eight years blogging, and I’ve covered my views pretty well in numerous posts and comment threads. Our understanding of consciousness currently seems stuck pending new discoveries, either in answering hard questions, or in providing entirely new paths.
A while back I determined to step away from debates (even blogs) that center on topics with no resolution. Religion is a big one, but theories of mind is another. Your view depends on your axioms. Unless (or until) science provides objective answers, everyone is just guessing.
But it’s been three-and-a-half years, and, well,… I have some notes…
A while back I realized I had an Engineer’s Mind. I’ve always had a sense of that. What I realized was the significance of the Engineer’s Mind category. And of other categories of Mind — for example an Artist’s Mind (which I didn’t discover I also had until high school; see My Life 2.0).
Having a given Mind doesn’t mean one is necessarily good at something (skill takes practice), but it does suggest a predisposition or talent for it. Our minds seem to come pre-wired in two ways: core wiring that makes us human; and “flavor” wiring that gives us (some of our) basic traits. For instance, some people have — or strongly do not to have — a Math Mind.
I’ve found Mind a useful metaphor as well as a game to play.
Over the last few weeks I’ve written a series of posts leading up to the idea of human consciousness in a machine. In particular, I focused on the difference between a physical model and a software model, and especially on the requirements of the software model.
The series is over, I have nothing particularly new to add, but I’d like to try to summarize my points and provide an index to the posts in this series. It seems I may have given readers a bit of information overload — too much information to process.
Hopefully I can achieve better clarity and brevity here!
Last time I introduced four levels of possibility regarding how mind is related to brain. Behind Door #1 is a Holy Grail of AI research, a fully algorithmic implementation of a human mind. Behind Door #4 is an ineffable metaphysical mind no machine can duplicate.
The two doors between lead to physical models that recapitulate the structure of the human brain. Behind Door #3 is the biology of the brain, a model we know creates mind. Behind Door #2 is the network of the brain, which we presume encodes the mind regardless of its physical construction.
This time we’ll look more closely at some distinguishing details.
Last week we took a look at a simple computer software model of a human brain. (We discovered that it was big, requiring dozens of petabytes!) One goal of such models is replicating consciousness — a human mind. That can involve creating a (potentially superior) new mind or uploading an existing human mind (a very different goal).
Now that we’ve explored the basics of calculation, code (software), computers, and (computer software) models, we’re ready to explore what’s involved in attempting to model a (human) mind.
I’m dividing the possibilities into four basic levels.
If you have read this blog much, you know that a topic that interests me greatly is the nature of consciousness. How is it that a three-pound clump of cells, a brain, gives rise to the rich experience of consciousness, our minds? Cognitive scientist David Chalmers termed this “the hard problem” of consciousness, and as it stands we really have no idea what consciousness is (and yet we all experience it all the time).
Back in 1979 cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book that attempts to answer the question. GEB, as it became known, was a large book most took as a random tour of interesting scientific ideas. But GEB did have a theme, so 25 years later Hofstadter wrote another (much shorter) book to re-state his case.
That book is called I Am a Strange Loop, and it has much worth considering!