Monday, March 30, 2009

TT Blogs and Comments

Bilbo posted Phineas Gage at Telic Thoughts. The blog entry contains some notable comments. This one for example. From John A. Designer's comment:

Over at UD Allen MacNeill wrote something that I think has some relevance here. He argues that, “the program for a digital computer is analogous to the “mind” that “runs” in the circuits of our digital processor “brain”. They are two different things: the electrons flowing through the various logic circuits in the processor are not the same thing as the processors themselves, and vice versa.”

I think Professor MacNeill would agree that such analogies, like all analogies, can be problematic. However, I do agree with him that there is something very loosely analogous between what we call mind and consciousness and computer software. For example, just as the computers hardware does not create it’s own software the brain architecture does not create mind and consciousness. Even though a computer hardware is designed to run software it is functionally useless without software (operating software, program files etc.) Software is something that is added to the hardware and I believe that the evidence supports the idea that mind and consciousness are ontologically independent things, and therefore in that sense they are added to the brain. That is a kind of dualism that philosophers and theologians refer to as hylomorphism.

MacNeill continues, “The analogy goes deeper, of course. A digital computer can “exist” without a program running in it, but if it does, it is essentially analogous to either a simple analog input device or a comatose or dead brain (depending on whether there is current flowing through any part of the circuitry or not). However, a program cannot exist unless it is “running” or “stored” in some physical form. Either it is running in the circuits of a digital computer, or it is stored in some analog/hard form. So, brains can exist without minds, but minds cannot exist without brains, in the same way that digital computers can exist without programs, but programs can’t exist without computers in which they can run.”

I disagree that programs don’t exist without a computer. I have a couple of computer programs right now sitting in my desk drawer that I haven’t yet installed on my computer. I don’t think it is accurate to describe them as not existing. It would be more accurate to describe the computer software as being symbiotic or functionally interdependent– one cannot function without the other.

I also think there are other brain function that are more analogous to computer programs: memory, symbolic and verbal communication. For example, consider the cases of people suffering from aphasia which is the result of stroke, brain tumor or head injury etc.

“People with Broca’s aphasia have damage to the frontal lobe of the brain. They frequently speak in short phrases that make sense but are produced with great effort. They often omit small words such as ”is,” ”and,” and ”the.” For example, a person with Broca’s aphasia may say, ”Walk dog,” meaning, ”I will take the dog for a walk,” or ”book book two table,” for ”There are two books on the table.” People with Broca’s aphasia typically understand the speech of others fairly well. Because of this, they are often aware of their difficulties and can become easily frustrated. People with Broca’s aphasia often have right-sided weakness or paralysis of the arm and leg because the frontal lobe is also important for motor movements.”

A materialist might argue that this makes his case. A non materialist would argue that there is still a self aware consciousness that is not reducible to brain physiology.

In other words, even if there are some brain functions that are analogous to computer programs, there are still higher functions, mind and consciousness, that have no real computer analog, which why strong AI remains virtually an intractable problem.

I added this comment:

The computer circuit patterns are intelligible only to a mind with knowledge of binary code. In other words the patterns themselves are not analogies but rather symbols sequenced according to code and correlated to specific concepts by an observing human mind. To claim the digital circuitry is analogous to the concepts coded for is to commit a fundamental error. These sentences are symbols traced to an underlying binary code. Neither the code nor the letters correlate to the concepts expressed by them without an interpreting mind conscious of the symbolic coding convention. The underlying issue of consciousness is sidestepped rather than explained.

Allen MacNeill supplied comments on which ours were focused in his usual thoughtful and civil style. The whole exchange can be viewed at the link.

I also posted this comment on an open thread indicating that Japan has dabbled in Obamanomics in that it increased its government debt as a percentage of its gross national product without obtaining growth as a result. The opposite took place- economic stagnation. The percentages went from 45 to 170 percent according to economist Barry Elias.



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