Everything is a Computer

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  • #26
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
Yes and that flow of charge is always in discreet units because they are using a binary language.
Sorry I got to this thread late, I hope someone else didn't already cover this but...

Mumeishi, the brain also computes in discreet units: neurotransmitter, released across the synaptic space.

Naturally, I'm inclined to agree with most of what Mumeishi has said in this thread, but this point I just don't get, since even Dennett's theory of consciousness allows for "stupid homunculi" or the most discreet unit of computation.
 
  • #27
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
Whether determination is possible would seem to come from whether we can have a fully accurate description of the wave and whether we have equations to make accurate calculations from that description.
But the more accurate you get, the more chaotic the system gets. That's why (IIRC) non-commutative Matrix Mechanics are used, in Heisenberg's conception, to describe the characteristics (like momentum and position) of a particle. The more accurately you pin-point the position of a particle, the less accurate you can be on it's momentum. As far as philosophy of science goes, russ_waters is right, the particle is literally not in any one place at any given time.

Some philosophers (usually of the New Age, amateur variety) erronously use the UP to demonstrate that there is no external objective reality and everything is mind-dependent.
You are absolutely right, and I can't stand to read that kind of garbage, but it's even worse to try to exorcise such misconceptions from the minds of those who have never taken a look at the technical aspect of QM, but only at such "New Age" drivel like you mentioned.

Such exorcising was the purpose of "Clarification on QM", a thread by KL Kam, but this did not end well, as it remains logically wrong (no matter how convincing the evidence, and no matter what the consensus is) to say that something is "definitely this way".
 
  • #28
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Originally posted by Mentat
Sorry I got to this thread late, I hope someone else didn't already cover this but...

Mumeishi, the brain also computes in discreet units: neurotransmitter, released across the synaptic space.

Naturally, I'm inclined to agree with most of what Mumeishi has said in this thread, but this point I just don't get, since even Dennett's theory of consciousness allows for "stupid homunculi" or the most discreet unit of computation.
Interesting point, although I'm not sure that counts in the same way as a language. I'll have to defer to Tononi and Edelmann on this one - that book is a great read by the way.

I'm not sure I understand you last point (perhaps because I need to catch up on what Dennett jas been saying).
 
  • #29
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Originally posted by Mentat
But the more accurate you get, the more chaotic the system gets. That's why (IIRC) non-commutative Matrix Mechanics are used, in Heisenberg's conception, to describe the characteristics (like momentum and position) of a particle. The more accurately you pin-point the position of a particle, the less accurate you can be on it's momentum. As far as philosophy of science goes, russ_waters is right, the particle is literally not in any one place at any given time.
Okay. The common sense explanation I was exploring was explored and eliminated by the quantum pioneers, so my attempt was pretty well doomed from the start, but I just wanted to try to investigate the idea myself a little rather than take it on faith.


Originally posted by Mentat

You are absolutely right, and I can't stand to read that kind of garbage, but it's even worse to try to exorcise such misconceptions from the minds of those who have never taken a look at the technical aspect of QM, but only at such "New Age" drivel like you mentioned.

Such exorcising was the purpose of "Clarification on QM", a thread by KL Kam, but this did not end well, as it remains logically wrong (no matter how convincing the evidence, and no matter what the consensus is) to say that something is "definitely this way".
People love to believe this stuff with a quasi-religious fervour - they are emotionally bound to such philosophical rubbish. The mystically-inclined also like think that relativity shows that space, time and mass are subjective. I have nothing against spirituality, but to try to use it to understand the physical world is a confusion.
 
  • #30
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I moved this thread to Epist and Metaphysics, because it is about the nature of the universe....

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If you want to know anythig about the computer as a brain: Read Searle. I have always been a fan of Dennet, but Dennetts work on the brain is completely ripped apart by Searle. Dennett, like the entire field of Cognitivism, has completely missed the point of an analogy. The brain may have attributes similar to a computer: But that does not make the brain 'A computer'.

The simplest example I can think of to demonstrate exactly how a computer is nothing like a brain, is like this:

  • A computer is a syntactical manipulator. You put in variables, it does its magic internal thing, and spits out a response.
  • Other people seem analogous to this on a behaviourist level. You do something to them, we assume something internal to their brain happens, and we get a response.
  • We, on the other hand, personally know that there is more to ourselves than input output. There is something that it is like to be us. There is something that it is like to feel pain, there is something that it is like to think/see/hear etc. We 'EXPERIENCE' stuff.
Because of that fact, and because of our genetic relation to other people, it is reasonable to assume that their input output behaviours occur on account of their Psychical experiences of the world. A computer on the other hand, has not displayed such psychical experience of the world. The only resemblance between a computer and a human, is the behaviourist accounts of the two. Behaviourism though, is not an acceptable model of the mind (on account of the fact that we all know for a fact that there is more to us (individually) than our behaviours.)


So: Just because you ask a computer a question and it gives you the right answer, does not mean that that computer knows the answer to your question. The way things are today, it only means that teh computer has followed a good code.

Even if we exist in a deterministic universe that does not contradict the difference between modern computers and humans. Even if our brains are still just following ocde of some sort, there is nonetheless a difference. We still experience stuff, and we understand it. We have Semantics attached to our syntax. Computers are all syntax.

(Semantics = Meaning. Syntax = Symbols. We use symbols (words), but we use them with meaning. Computers just use words (which we humans then apply our semantics to, and claim that the computers are thinking!!!)
 
  • #31
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I agree, pretty much.

And I agree that Behaviourism is not an accepteble philosophy of mind. But is there an acceptable phi;osophy of mind? Is there a philosophy which has beeen broadly accepted because it answers all the problems without creating a bunch of new ones? I don't think so. Not even Dennett AFAIK (but I need to swot up on him).

But I don't think we need to rely on philosophy to show this, I think that the differences between the brain and a computer can be demonstrated physically.

This well-regarded book is about some of the ground-breaking discoveries that have been made in recent years. I hope the authors would forgive me for posting such a large section

THE BRAIN IS NOT A COMPUTER
Our quick review of neuroanatomy and neural dynamics indicates that the brain has special features of organization and functioning that do not seem consistent with the idea that it follows a set of precise instructions or performs computations. We know that the brain is interconnected in a fashion no man-made device yet equals. First, the billions and billions of connections that make up a brain's connections are not exact: If we ask whether the connections are identical in any two brains of the same size, as they would be in computers of the same make, the answer is no. At the finest scale, no two brains are identical, not even those of identical twins. Although the overall pattern of connections of a given brain area is describable in general terms, the microscopic variability of the brain at the finest ramifications of its neurons is enormous, and this variability makes each brain significantly unique.

These observations present a fundamental challenge to models of the brain that are based on instruction or computation. As we shall see, the data provide strong grounds for so-called selectional theories of the brain—theories that actually depend upon variation to explain brain function.

Another organizing principle that emerges from the picture we are building is that in each brain, the consequences of both a developmental history and an experiential history are uniquely marked. For example, from one day to the next, some synaptic connections in the same brain are likely not to remain exactly the same; certain cells will have retracted their processes, others will have extended new ones, and certain others will have died, all depending on the particular history of that brain. The individual variability that ensues is not just noise or error, but can affect the way we remember things and events. As we shall see, it is also an essential element governing the ability of the brain to respond to and match the countless unforeseeable scenes that may occur in the future. No present-day machine incorporates such individual diversity as a central feature of its design, although the day will certainly come when we shall build devices that are truly brainlike.

If we compare the signals a brain receives with those of computers, we uncover a number of other feataires that are special to brains. First, the world certainly is not presented tothe brain like a piece of computer tape containing an unambiguous series of signals. Nonetheless, the brain enables an animal to sense the environment, categorize patterns out of a multiplicity of variable signals, and initiate movement. It mediates learning-and memory and simultaneously regulates a host of bodily functions. The ability of the nervous system to carry out perceptual categorization of different signals for sight, sound, and so forth, dividing them into coherent classes without a prearranged code, is certainly special and is still unmatched by computers. We do not presently understand fully how this categorization is done but, as we discuss later, we believe it arises through the selection of certain distributed patterns of neural activity as the brain interacts with the body and the environment.

We have also shown that the brain contains a special set of nuclei with diffuse projections — the value systems — which signal to the entire nervous system the occurrence of a salient event and influence changes in the strength of synapses. Systems with these crucial properties are typically not found in man-made devices, yet their importance for learning and adaptive behavior is well documented. Together with the morphological peculiarities of the brain and its neural connections with a specific bodily phenotype, these systems provide an animal with a large set of constraints whose role in fostering species-specific perceptual categorization and adaptive learning cannot be underestimated.

Finally, if we consider neural dynamics (the way patterns of activity in the brain change with time), the most striking special feature of the brains of higher vertebrates is the occurrence of a process we have called reentry. Reentry, which we discuss in detail in chapters 9 and 10, depends on the possibility of cycles of signaling in the thalamocortical meshwork and other networks mentioned earlier. It is the ongoing, recursive interchange of parallel signals between reciprocally connected areas of the brain, an interchange that continually coordinates the activities of these areas' maps to each other in space and time. This interchange, unlike feedback, involves many parallel paths and has no specific instructive error function associated with it.
Instead, it alters selective events and correlations of signals among areas and is essential for the synchronization and coordination of the areas' mutual functions.

One striking consequence of reentry is the widespread synchronization of the activity of different groups of active neurons distributed across many different functionally specialized areas of the brain. This synchronous firing of widely dispersed neurons that are connected by reentry is the basis for the integration of perceptual and motor processes. This integration ultimately gives rise to percept&al categorization, the ability to discriminate an object or event from a background for adaptive purposes. If the reentrant paths connecting cortical areas are disconnected, these integrative processes are disrupted. As we discuss in detail in chapter 10, reentry allows for a unity of perception and behavior that would otherwise be impossible, given the absence in the brain of a unique, computerlike central processor with detailed instructions or of algorithmic calculations for the coordination of functionally segregated areas.

Indeed, if we were asked to go beyond what is merely special and name the unique feature of higher brains, we would say it is reentry. There is no other object in the universe so completely distinguished by reentrant circuitry as the human brain. Although a brain has similarities to a large ecological entity like a jungle, nothing remotely like reentry appears in any jungle. Nor in human communication systems: Reentrant systems in the brain are massively parallel to a degree unheard of in our communication nets. In any event, communication nets are unlike brains, in that they deal with previously coded and, for the most part, unambiguous signals.

Edelmann & Tononi - A Universe of Consciousness
 
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  • #32
Another God
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As we discuss in detail in chapter 10, reentry allows for a unity of perception and behavior that would otherwise be impossible, given the absence in the brain of a unique, computerlike central processor with detailed instructions or of algorithmic calculations for the coordination of functionally segregated areas.
This is interesting to me. The only reason I really know anything about this is because I did one Philosophy of the Mind course, where I met my GF who is intensly into this stuff. So through her I have learnt a lot. One thing I believe she said just recently was a proposition that perhaps the perception isn't so unified as everyone claims it to be. Sure, it appears that our perception exists in unit, and that there is a single point of reference that is the mind etc, but the mind plays a lot of tricks on us which we are completely unaware of.

I won't take this any further though, because I would only serve to destroy her point rather than help her make it . I'm sure she'd be interested to come in and say something though (having fished her last exam....ohhh...in about 11 hours from now.)

Anyway, back to the point:
Here is an interesting thought: The re-entry of the brain seems to be similar to the ways a jungle may work. "Of course though, we don't think the jungle results in a mind" Isn't it possible that Jungle, Cities...ponds, whatever, do actualy result in the creation of 'minds'?

Remember: The only mind I really know of, is my own. Your mind is simply infered by your bodies behaviours. Without a body, a mind is only evident to itself.

but then, saying that: Does it matter? Whats the point of wondering if there are 'minds' all over the place which are completely withdrawn from any sort of interaction?

Hmmm...its all a bit too strange for me.

That books sounds interesting though.
 
  • #33
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
Interesting point, although I'm not sure that counts in the same way as a language. I'll have to defer to Tononi and Edelmann on this one - that book is a great read by the way.
I haven't been able to find it, for some reason. I'll keep looking though.

I'm not sure I understand you last point (perhaps because I need to catch up on what Dennett jas been saying).
Well, Dennett got rid of the homunuculun problem by his theory of the "question/answer game", as the producer of consciousness. However, he admits that this "game" must be played between what he calls "stupid homunculi", or specific neurons (or sets thereof) with very minor tasks that play a role in the "higher" tasks.

I'll have to get back to this later, cuz I have to get off-line now.
 
  • #35
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The Other God,

If you read accounts of experiments with split-brain patients and the apparent fact that they have no sense of having a divided consciousness (which they demonstrably do), the idea that our consciousness may sometimes (or always) be divided into subsets seems more plausible.

Does it matter? Whats the point of wondering if there are 'minds' all over the place which are completely withdrawn from any sort of interaction?
I think the conception of minds which are separated from the rest of reality in any sort of fundamental way is mistaken.
 
  • #36
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by Mentat:
As far as philosophy of science goes, russ_waters is right, the particle is literally not in any one place at any given time.
Its easy make declaritive statements that ignor alternative perspectives... I challlenge you to find a logical error in my criticisms of russ_water's intitial position. The trajectory of his thoughts are indeterminable from his lack of response.
 
  • #37
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Although QM is certainly fascinating and deeply wierd I think we should be cautious about the conclusions we draw since it is an incomlete theory and not really understood by anyone. Perhaps the insights gained from a deeper theory (like M-Theory) will shed some virtual photons on it.

Of course, I'm not suggesting you shouldn't look for alternative explanations though Ogb. What sort of name is that anyway?
 
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  • #38
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I agree with the idea that we shouldn't start relying our metaphysical beliefs on Qm just yet....

But then, I'm not a Qm Physicist, so I could just be biased.
 
  • #39
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Originally posted by ogb p
by Mentat:

Its easy make declaritive statements that ignor alternative perspectives... I challlenge you to find a logical error in my criticisms of russ_water's intitial position. The trajectory of his thoughts are indeterminable from his lack of response.


I will reply to your criticisms of russ in a moment, but first I want to point out that I wasn't saying there wasn't any determinism in the subatomic realm. However, the basic mathematics (the basic theory altogether, really) of QM describe all those "weird" phenomena in terms of this assumption (that reality is probabilities).

I also never said that no scientists believed in the deterministic idea of subatomic particles. I said that the philosophy of the science of QM, as it currently stands, doesn't allow this, but instead relies on superpositions of the particle. It's been this way ever since the EPR experiments.
 
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  • #40
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Is this what you are referring to, ogb?

Originally posted by ogb p
Ok, after more thought I will agree with you that HUP does not state that it is based on the limitations of human beings. I did not mean to say that, but after re-reading my post I can easily see how it could be interpreted that way.

What I meant to say is that HUP does not contradict the possiblity of other theorectical models, including deterministic ones, because it is a theory created by humans and verified by experimental data that is ultimately collected by humans.
Who else did you expect to formulate the theory, aliens? :wink:

Besides, it was discovered by humans, not "created by them.

If you begin with the assumption that there are objects in the universe whose exact position in time and space are unknowable to humans, then the next logical step in dealing with those objects would be to create a mathematical model in which exact points don't exist.
There is, of course, the wave mechanics...which, IIRC, deals with the probabilities of a particle's position or positions (as in the case of entanglement).

Determinism, as theory, is still alive because the Classical Model of Physics, which is deterministic, is still used extensively in engineering and mechanics; there are many scales on which quantum effects and relativity are not worth computing.
They may not be "worth computing", but they are still real. And the probability still exists, however negligible, that some enormous bit of matter will suddenly disappear due to quantum uncertainty on the part of all of its constituent particles.
 
  • #41
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I also never said that no scientists believed in the deterministic idea of subatomic particles. I said that the philosophy of the science of QM, as it currently stands, doesn't allow this, but instead relies on superpositions of the particle. It's been this way ever since the EPR experiments.
AFAIK,

This was the original Copenhagen Interpretation, or one 'take' on the CI - depending how you interpret the word 'observation'. The CI stuck, because it was the original and it was shockingly wierd and well... mystical-sounding. There are many interpretion which explain QM equally well, but avoid the whole 'human-minds-collapse-the-wave-function' thing and the paradoxes and begged questions it leads to. This doesn't mean these other interpretations aren't wierd in their own ways.

I think the current understanding of a superposition of states is that if it interacts with other particles it will collapse, thus the collapse happens when it hits a detection screen, it doesn't wait until 'a human mind perceives it'.

But I might be wrong.
 
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  • #42
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
AFAIK,

This was the original Copenhagen Interpretation, or one 'take' on the CI - depending how you interpret the word 'observation'. The CI stuck, because it was the original and it was shockingly wierd and well... mystical-sounding. There are many interpretion which explain QM equally well, but avoid the whole 'human-minds-collapse-the-wave-function' thing and the paradoxes and begged questions it leads to. This doesn't mean these other interpretations aren't wierd in their own ways.

I think the current understanding of a superposition of states is that if it interacts with other particles it will collapse, thus the collapse happens when it hits a detection screen, it doesn't wait until 'a human mind perceives it'.

But I might be wrong.
You are certainly right, as far as every book I've ever read on it goes...but then I've avoided most books that seemed "new-agish" to me, which might have contained other, valid, viewpoints.

The thing is, the "human-minds-collapse-wave-functions" isn't just unnecessary for QM (since the mathematics works just fine without conscious observation, AFAIK), but it is a seriously flawed argument (as I attempted to explain in this thread (along with very good posts from you and Tom), and many other threads.

Basically, if consciousness is a result of action of the brain, and the brain is composed of cells (which are composed of molecules, which are composed of atoms, which are composed of subatomic particles), then a conscious activity (being an action of many of these cells) shouldn't be at all coherent at the subatomic level. IOW, a neuron is way too big to be noticed as "different" at the subatomic level.
 
  • #43
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well, it just shows that the whole 'materialist' explanation of consciousness must be wrong then. :wink:
 
  • #44
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
well, it just shows that the whole 'materialist' explanation of consciousness must be wrong then. :wink:
Don't even play like that, man! :wink:
 
  • #45
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LOL! Well if you are 'biased towards materialism' you were bound to get your fingers burnt by 'the truth' eventually.
 
  • #46
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Originally posted by Mumeishi
LOL! Well if you are 'biased towards materialism' you were bound to get your fingers burnt by 'the truth' eventually.
What "truth"? Don't do this to me, man .
 
  • #47
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You know... THE Truth - the one that cannot be apprehended by reason alone.

[squeak, squeak, squeak - sound of me winding you up]
 
  • #48
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oh yeah...i've heard about that before. It all the rage in middle england in the 14th century...
 
  • #49
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Originally posted by Mentat

I also never said that no scientists believed in the deterministic idea of subatomic particles.
Thank you for clarifying that point.

Who else did you expect to formulate the theory, aliens?
Funny, but i meant human theories are open to human error.

Besides, it was discovered by humans, not "created by them.
There is a trickly bit of semantics here. I consider the process of model building to be creative. But there is also a process of 'discovery' when data is collected and compared to the models; In the pocess of data collection it is 'discovered' wheter a model is truely reflect nature. String Theory, for example, is at this point it is still just a mathematical creation. But, if enough data is collected to verify it, it is possible that it could be 'discovered' to be more than just math.

They may not be "worth computing", but they are still real.
I think the basic difference between you and russ's position and mine is that I consider scientific theories as being valuable because of their pragmatic usefulness whereas you suggest that it is about what is [absolutely] real.

But my main dissagreement with russ was his initial statement that "determinism is dead". As studies in Dynamical Systems and Chaos Theory, and in books like Wolfram's New Science, it has been shown that not just probablistic, but full blown choatic systems can be modeled using a few very simple determinist formulas. Determinism isn't just alive: its making a comeback. The site http://digitalphysics.org/ that Glenn provided is also a good example.
 
  • #50
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Wooohoo! Go determinism!

(Closet determinist)

(truth being: I can't see how it could be any other way)
 

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