Sunday, October 23, 2016

Inspiration - Have Patience

Photo: Christopher Hitchens on Dog & Cats...

Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.

(Photo by: Susan Schmitz)


(Photo by: Susan Schmitz)

Photo: In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.
~ Donny Miller

(Artwork by: Erik Johansson)
 Don't get around much anymore
Photo: A Brief Thought Experiment ~ Simulating Consciousness

A look through history at the metaphors we've used to describe the brain prove to be embarrassingly shortsighted.

Descartes thought the brain operated like a hydraulic pump. Freud explained it as being similar to a steam engine (1). As recently as a century ago it was thought to be a telephone-switching style network, a battery, and now, thanks to the current paradigm, a digital computer.

What's more likley: People 100 years from now will look back amazed that we finally got it right, or look at our assumptions with the same level of amusement and chuckle at how shortsighted we are?

Perhaps we're the lucky generation that happens to live in the era when we finally got the metaphor right. Maybe computing power really is all it takes to simulate consciousness. There is a good case to be made for this.

Computing Power

Scott Aaronson, a respected theoretical computer scientist at MIT, made an interesting observation about the potential for the artificial development of consciousness through computing:

"Because the brain exists inside the universe, and because computers can simulate the entire universe given enough power, your entire brain can be simulated in a computer."

"And because it can be simulated in a computer, its structure and functions, including your consciousness, must be entirely logical and computational." (2)

This does seem to make sense, and it implies that if you don't believe consciousness requires supernatural elements, you must conclude it can be replicated in a computer - in theory.

Though Aaronson's statement seems to sneak in a crafty assumption, that the theoretical computer can simulate the entire universe. How do we know this? Isn't it possible the universe may contain elements that cause computation problems?

For instance, dividing by zero, or any calculation involving infinity creates a multitude of computation issues. And yet, the universe is full of such things that have zero size and infinite density, otherwise known as black holes.

Testing for Consciousness

Maybe we're really putting the cart before the horse here. We really ought to be asking if its even possible to test for consciousness, and if so, how? If we can't find an objective way to determine consciousnesses, then what's the point of trying?

A machine merely telling us it feels conscious is meaningless - how hard would it be to program such a thing. Even the Turing Test only accounts for our perception of intelligence, not actual consciousness.(3). It seems we really need something more meaningful and objective.

American philosopher John Searle provides an interesting perspective on this:

"Suppose we discover that there are very specific brain processes that cause consciousness - so that, for example, in brain-damaged patients we can re-introduce consciousness by artificially producing certain kinds of brain mechanisms. To give these mechanisms a label, let's just call them XYZ: it's XYZ that causes consciousness." 

"Now we go down the phylogenetic scale and we discover, no question, that dogs and cats and primates all have XYZ; but when we get very low we discover that termites have XYZ but snails don't. Then we'd have to say, 'Well, OK, snails are conscious and termites are not'" (4)

On this basis, there is at least hope for a methodology that we can offer judgment on whether we've succeeded. We'd then need only duplicate the brain processes described above in digital format to achieve our goal.

This would not only make the approach much more efficient, but also adds a real sense of objectivity to the whole process.


If we do succeed in finding particular mechanisms in the brain that cause consciousness, there are some interesting parallels that should give us all some pause.

Consider the history of flight. For thousands of years, flight was completely unobtainable for humans. It was a difficult problem to crack.

Yet notice, when humanity did learn to fly, we didn't achieve flight by copying insects and birds. We did it by understanding the basic concepts of aerodynamics and developing our own models.

The result? By artificially simulating flight, we fly many times faster and higher than anything else on earth. We blew right past the abilities of everything on earth that can naturally fly.

Paradigm Shift 

Rather than trying to duplicate human capacities, the path to developing artificial consciousness may instead be understanding the mechanisms of consciousness.

Like flight, would this imply we could then build our own, potentially better models of consciousness?

It's not unfathomable. We already know that silicon is a far better conductor than the biological material in our brains - thousands of times faster(5). We might just blow by everything on earth that naturally has consciousness.

What would that even mean? What might it produce?

What would the conscious experience of thinking thousands of times faster feel like?

Are we really ready for this?


(1) www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/opinion/sunday/face-it-your-brain-is-a-computer.html?_r=1
(2) www.techinsider.io/penrose-says-your-brain-isnt-a-computer-2016-6
(3) Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950)
(4) Conversations on Consciousness (2007) Susan Blackmore (211-212)
(5) www.technologyreview.com/s/412700/building-a-brain-on-a-silicon-chip/

(Artwork by: Igor Morski)

Photo: Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

(Artwork by: PSHoudini)

(Artwork by: PSHoudini)

“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.”
Mary Anne Radmacher

Photo: Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.
~ Earl Nightingale

(Artwork by: Karezoid Michal Karcz)
                                                 (Artwork by: Karezoid Michal Karcz)
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.
~ Earl Nightingale

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Mary Anne Radmacher
tags: life, self, travel, world

“Stand often in the company of dreamers: they tickle your common sense and believe you can achieve things which are impossible.”
Mary Anne Radmacher
tags: inspiration


“Begin each day as if it were on purpose.”
Mary Anne Radmacher

“Lean forward into your life...catch the best bits and the finest wind. Just tip your feathers in flight a wee bit and see how dramatically that small lean can change your life.”
Mary Anne Radmacher, Lean Forward Into Your Life: Begin Each Day as If It Were on Purpose

Link:  www.the-thought-spot.com

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