I found a spiffy website

•June 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

While taking a brief respite from my incessant navel gazing, I was aimlessly surfing the internet (an activity which I like to refer to as ‘research’) and stumbled upon a really interesting site. It’s a collection of articles that regularly appear in a science fiction magazine, but the articles themselves are science fact discussions and explanations of really esoteric or strange scientific phenomena that the author believes might be good source material for authors to use as a base for their science fiction ideas. There’s a bunch of fascinating material if you like reading about unusual scientific phenomena and experiments.

Click here to check it out.


New Page

•June 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I made a copy of my post on Volition and Perception and pasted it to a new page.  Since most of what I’ll post on this site has something to do with this post, I figured I’d make it a page so it doesn’t get buried under subsequent posts.  It still needs some serious editing or even a rewrite, but for now its the best thing I have to summarize my current notions on the nature of mind.


•June 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine asked me if my theory implied a version of panpsychism. I suppose it does in a very very weak sense, but for all practical purposes the answer is no. Almost all physical events in the universe with the exception of brains (and possibly singularity events like the big bang and black holes) are overwhelmingly either deterministic or uncertain. On the very small scales of quantum froth, uncertainty is the order of the day. Conversely, macroscopic physical events are almost entirely deterministic. A mind (in the sense that we commonly use the word) requires significant causal interactions between these two extremes. This is what makes brains such surprising and intriguing phenomena. Everywhere else in nature, the quantum world and the world of classical physics are more or less mutually exclusive. While I often refer to all events as having a mental property, it might be more accurate and less confusing to call them proto-mental properties. It’s only when both properties are present and interacting in significant ways that minds as we know them come about.

The problem with the chinese room

•June 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The problem I see with Searle’s Chinese Room is in the instruction manual. My mind boggles at an instuction manual that could actually explain the entirety of a language, but I would have to say that if such a manual could be written, and if the room operator could memorize the manual, then you would have to say the operator knew Chinese.

Take a maximally simple example. Instead of Chinese, have one instance of basic math. When the operator receives the symbol (1) he records it on his tape, and if the symbol is adjacent to another (1), return an answer of (2) and erase the tape, otherwise do nothing.

In this example the room is basically computing 1+1. If we ask whether the operator would then ‘understand’ that 1+1=2, I think the answer would have to be yes. It’s just that the operator would know ONLY the fact that it actually computes and nothing else.

Going back to Chinese, if we ask the operator something like “Why are sunsets so beautiful?”, the instruction manual that the operator refers to would have to include within its design higher order relationships if it is going to give a ‘human’ answer. If the operator were somehow able to memorize this instruction manual, then it would have to be said that the operator understands Chinese (as well as what a sunset is, what people find beautiful, etc.). The problem is that such a manual would be nearly infinite in size and complexity, and so it is pretty much unimaginable that a person could understand chinese this way, but in theory I believe that the ‘knowing’ of Chinese resides in implementations of the rules of the rule book.

OK, this time I think I really got it.

•June 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Just did a total reorganization of the blog after browsing through some other blogs and seeing how it was generally done.  Hopefully this will be the format that I’m going stick with finally.  I’ll be adding some more real content posts soon.

Defining Uncertainty

•June 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Let’s think about the nature of uncertainty and try to get an understanding of the different ways something can be ‘uncertain’ and establish some terms to clearly define what we mean. Generally speaking, there’s at least 2 ways to use the word in this philosophical context; The casual way that it is normally used and understood in every day conversation, and the technical way that I’m going to explain here.

The casual use of the word is subjective and sometimes rather unspecific. Here are some examples of uncertainty used in the casual sense:

“I’m uncertain whether I locked the door this morning when I left the house.”

“The fate of mankind is fraught with uncertainty.

“How many grains of sand are in the world is a question that will always be uncertain.

All we can say for sure about this usage is that the subject making the statement cannot reliably predict something. The uncertainty may or may not apply to anybody other than the subject.

The technical use of the word, which I will capitalize to denote this special definition from now on, is much more specific. Something that is Uncertain in the technical sense isn’t merely unknown, but is in principle unknowable. An event is Uncertain if, given every physical fact relevant to the event, there remains more than one possible outcome. Usually, but not always, the Uncertainty of macroscopic events is negligibly small, since all Uncertainty of this type comes about during the individual quantum events that occur on only the smallest scale. Here’s an example of Uncertainty used in the technical sense that also highlights how it doesn’t always apply only to the microscopic world:

“It is Uncertain whether the cat will still be alive after spending an hour in Schrodinger’s diabolical box.”

The Uncertainty here isn’t merely based on ignorance; even a being cognizant of every physical fact could at best only predict what the odds were that the cat would make it.

A key difference I want to stress here is that uncertainty based solely on ignorance has only one possible result, regardless of appearances to the contrary. I may be uncertain whether I remembered to lock my door, but the fact is, I either locked it or I didn’t. Let’s say I did lock it when I left and just forgot. Subjectively, there are 2 possible outcomes to the event of me checking the door; locked, or unlocked. Nevertheless, when I check it, the only possible outcome is that I find it locked. There was no chance whatsoever for it to be unlocked, despite my uncertainty.

On the other hand, let’s say somebody secretly rigged my door’s lock with a box much like the one theorized in Schrodinger’s thought experiment but instead of either doing nothing or killing a cat it either does nothing, or it changes the locked status on the door (if it was locked it unlocks it and if it was unlocked it locks). Subjectively, there’s no difference to me personally since I’m unaware somebody tampered with my lock. Just like the first time, there are 2 possible outcomes to the event of me checking the door, but unlike last time, there really are 2 possible outcomes to the event. What, if anything, does this signify? Despite 2 possible outcomes, the event can only occur 1 possible way. If it just so happens that I did lock it and the box didn’t unlock it so when I check it, it’s locked isn’t that exactly what happened in the first example? How is an event that might occur but doesn’t different from the event not occurring at all? I don’t even have an inkling what the answer is. Spinning my mental wheels on thoughts like these just makes me want to lie down and take a nap. It seems to me there should be some difference, maybe in the level of entropy or in the number of possible alternate universes; who knows.

Another tricky area is mentioned in the sample sentence about the number of grains of sand in the world. Subjectively, this is obviously uncertain. Not only that, but it’s pretty safe to say nobody is certain about this, and it may even be the case that it is physically impossible to ever figure out the number because even if you could build a machine to count sand particles, say, by the time you finished counting the number of particles would be different than when you asked because the amount of sand changes more or less continuously. So we could reasonably claim that a question like this is unknowable. Does this mean it’s Uncertain in the technical sense? The answer is no. Whether you, I, anybody else, or God himself is capable of counting fast enough, the fact is that at the exact time in question, there is only 1 possible correct answer. The fact that nobody knows the answer doesn’t suddenly transform a deterministic set of facts into quantum chaos. The number of sand grains is predetermined, even if nobody’s around to do the predetermining.

Brain Frees

•June 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’m going to try to make some deductions based on the assumption of free will. This won’t really be an argument trying to prove its existence, however. I’ve always thought the idea of free will being an illusion to be fairly silly. In later essays I’ll give some actual arguments in support of free will, but this essay is going to focus on trying to get an understanding of what has to happen for free will to come about and what that implies with regards to things like artificial intelligence and understanding consciousness.

In order for free will to exist there must be at least parts of the universe that are not totally deterministic; that is, free will requires some degree of Uncertainty.

All uncertainty in the universe arises from (but is not necessarily limited to) quantum events.

Exercising an act of free will is a mental event so must have its physical basis in the brain.

Therefore: it follows that one function the brain performs must be to physically generate quantum events of various Uncertainty values, and then physically transfer that Uncertainty to various brain states.

Uncertain events occurring within the brain might be a way to determine which areas of the brain are directly responsible for the creation of our conscious awareness. Conscious awareness (or ‘mind’ as I define it) is only a small portion of overall brain function. Memory, sensory information processing, etc. occur within our brains, but not within our minds. The mind is like a mediator or arbiter between various specialized cognitive modules. Like an air traffic controller, it collects pertinent information about each entity it’s in contact with, analyzes the information in order to understand the ‘big picture’, and then makes the upper level commands to the relevant entities which will hopefully bring about the desired goal.

Brain modules that perform purely non-conscious functions probably interface minimally, if at all with the mind module, while other modules would have a huge number of inputs and/or outputs connecting it to the mind module. There would be a massive amount of inputs in to the mind module from sensory processing modules, and a similarly large number of outputs from the mind module to the module where memory is stored.

Since choices are made in the mind module, it has to be the epicenter of our free will; using the input data from other modules to impose parameters on the otherwise non-deterministic resulting actions.