Friday, January 25, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 46: Of Minds, brains, us -- and God

As I occasionally report in this blog, I frequently visit other blogs; in recent months, especially Uncommon Descent -- a blog which discusses the question of the scientific inference to design, which is of interest to all who are concerned on state of science as an institution today, as well as in the interaction of science, philosophy, education, the Christian faith and public policy.

So, over the past fortnight or so, I have been having a fairly intense two-thread exchange on minds and brains here and (in a derivative thread) here. [An associated exchange on epistemology, the philosophical analysis of knowledge, here, is also relevant.]

A good first stop-off to look at how this issue is deeply revealing on the way the de-Christianising, hyper-/ ultra-/ post- modernist tidal wave from the North works from its bases in academia, education and the media outwards -- and thus of how it is increasingly impacting our region -- starts from what I have now taken to terming "Materialism-leaning 'prof' Wiki" [that is, the well-known but, sadly, far too often secularist- and materialism- biased Internet Encyclopedia] and how it discusses the rise of Cognitivism in Psychology:

. . . Cognitivism became the dominant force in psychology in the late-20th century, replacing behaviorism as the most popular paradigm for understanding mental function. Cognitive psychology is not a wholesale refutation of behaviorism, but rather an expansion that accepts that mental states exist. This was due to the increasing criticism towards the end of the 1950s of behaviorist models. One of the most notable criticisms was Chomsky’s argument that language could not be acquired purely through conditioning, and must be at least partly explained by the existence of internal mental states.

The main issues that interest cognitive psychologists are the inner mechanisms of human thought and the processes of knowing. Cognitive psychologists have attempted to throw light on the alleged mental structures that stand in a causal relationship to our physical actions . . .

Let's stop the press and look at that again: Cognitivism's major distinction from behaviourism is that "it accepts that mental states exist, " and it seeks to throw light on the alleged mental structures that stand in a causal relationship to our physical actions.

Excuse me, but who was it that was doing the thinking and arguing in favour of a major, decades-long scientific movement that sought to deny that mental states exist, again -- robots in human flesh, driven by their inner computers was it?

Of course not.

It was men and women like you and me; men and women such as B F Skinner, who not only had mental states but relied on them to even argue that mental states do not exist.
Q: Whence such a plainly self-refuting absurdity?

ANS: The dominance of evolutionary materialist thought in the C20, which led many to think that anything that hinted that there may be something to the world beyond matter, energy, space, time and the four or so known physical forces -- strong and weak nuclear, gravitation, electromagnetism -- must be suspect.
An even more telling instance is from Sir Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA:
The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.

Free Will is, in many ways, a somewhat old-fashioned subject. Most people take it for granted, since they feel that usually they are free to act as they please. While lawyers and theologians may have to confront it, philosophers, by and large, have ceased to take much interest in the topic. And it is almost never referred to by psychologists and neuroscientists. A few physicists and other scientists who worry about quantum indeterminacy sometimes wonder whether the uncertainty principle lies at the bottom of Free Will.

... Free Will is located in or near the anterior cingulate sulcus. ... Other areas in the front of the brain may also be involved. What is needed is more experiments on animals, ... [Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, NY, 1993, pp. 3, 265, 268.]
No wonder, Intelligent Design thinker Philip Johnson observed that to be consistent, Crick should be willing to preface each of his writings: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” He then aptly noted by way of devastating understatement, “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [Reason in the Balance, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1995), p. 64.].

Thus, too the relevance of the following comments in the 2002 JTS/CGST Public Ethics Lecture:
Arguably, then, Evolutionary Materialism is a philosophical position that easily falls into self-referential inconsistencies. So, whatever a Dingwall or a Spong, or even a Crick may think or say, the resulting logical confusion shreds Naturalism’s bold assertion that it is scientifically established “knowledge.” Further, its specifically scientific claims are also open to serious challenge, and so, for instance, the [Intelligent Design-supporting think-tank] Discovery Institute posts [circa 2002] in its Web Site[31]:
Materialistic thinking dominated Western culture during the 20th century in large part because of the authority of science. The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks, therefore, to challenge materialism on specifically scientific grounds.[32] Yet Center Fellows do more than critique theories that have materialistic implications. They have also pioneered alternative scientific theories and research methods that recognize the reality of design and the need for intelligent agency to explain it. This new research program — called "design theory" — is based upon recent developments in the information sciences and many new evidences of design. Design theory promises to revitalize many long-stagnant disciplines by recognizing mind, as well as matter, as a causal influence in the world. It also promises, by implication, to promote a more holistic view of reality and humanity, thus helping to reverse some of materialism's destructive cultural consequences.

Going yet further, as Francis Schaeffer often warned, “ideas have consequences.” So, there is an even more pressing, concern. For, “every man does what is right in his own eyes” -- as (for example) we saw Mr Dingwall advocating above -- is the classic recipe for social chaos and anarchy. Such chaos opens the gate for tyrants to gain power by promising to restore or maintain order and prosperity. However, tyrannical “cures” are almost always worse than the disease.[33]
Thus, we come to the Caribbean’s stark choice: repentance, mutual reconciliation and reformation under God; or, ever-increasing social chaos and violence as men dismiss and forget God’s rightful place in their lives and communities, leading to bloody revolution and/or tyranny. For, as hard experience has repeatedly shown, godliness is the only proven way for nations to sustainably enjoy both liberty and order[34].
Of course, this underscores the relevance of the issues we are addressing; but such general remarks are a bit afield of the point for pulling up some significant observations from the two main blog threads at UD.

For, in these blog threads we can find an interesting way to use the rise of computer technology to bring out some significant ways in which minds and machines differ.

For instance, in the Deep Blue thread, original poster BarryA, notes:
computers . . . are just very powerful calculators, but they do not “think” in any meaningful sense. By this I mean that computer hardware is nothing but an electro-mechanical device for operating computer software. Computer software in turn is nothing but a series of “if then” propositions. These “if then” propositions may be massively complex, but software never rises above an utterly determined “if then” level . . . . Even if an element of randomness is introduced into the system [e.g. access a random number and use it to drive the program forward in an unpredictable way], however, the way in which the computer will employ that random element is determined.

Now the $64,000 question is this: Is the human brain merely an organic computer that in principle operates the same way as my PC?” In other words, does the Turing Machine also describe the human brain ? If the brain is just an organic computer, even though human behavior may at some level be unpredictable, it is nevertheless determined, and free will does not exist. If, on the other hand, it is not, if there is a “mind” that is separate from though connected to, the brain, then free will does exist.

He then identifies Qualia -- in effect the "I-ness," personal, subjective component of an experience -- as an excample of how man and machine differ qualitatively:

Consider a computer equiped with a light gathering device and a spectrograph. When light of wavelength X enters the light gathering device, the spectrograph gives a reading that the light is red. When this happens the computer is programmed to activate a printer that prints a piece of paper with the following statement on it “I am seeing red.”

I place the computer on my back porch just before sunset, and in a little while the printer is activated and prints a piece of paper that says “I am seeing red.”

Now I go outside and watch the same sunset. The reds in the sunset I associate with warmth, by which I mean my subjective reaction to the redness of the reds in the sunset is “warmth.”

1. Did the computer “see” red? Obviously yes.

2. Did I “see” red. Obviously yes.

3. Did I have a subjective experiences of the redness of red, i.e., did I experience a qualia? Obviously yes.

4. Did the computer have a subjective experience of the redness of red, i.e., did it experience a qualia? Obviously no.

Conclusion: The computer registered “red” when red light was present. My brain registered “red” when red light was present. Therefore, the computer and my brain are alike in this respect. However, and here’s the important thing, the computer’s experience of the sunset can be reduced to the functions of its light gathering device and hardware/software. But my experience of the sunset cannot be reduced to the functions of my eye and brain. Therefore, I conclude I have a mind which cannot be reduced to the electro-chemical reactions that occur in my brain.

In short, he is pointing to the key error being made by Sir Francis Crick above: confusing the input-output and control processing operations with the real locus of active intelligence; the mind. In turn, that set me to thinking on how minds and brains are organised, which ended up in the following sequence of arguments, as I reflected on a model for robot systems by engineer Derek Smith of Wales. That led me -- pardon a few techie details if you are not comfortable with them -- to observe:

As I look at the responses, once the “brain as i/o [input-output] control processor” version of the Derek Smith cybernetics model of autonomous, self-directing . . . intelligent servo-control systems [cf his Fig 2 - a servo system is one that controls position, speed or acceleration to a set path; robots are examples] was put on the table as a way to look at the issue, several things have jumped out at me:

I: DESIGNER’S ITCH: I – as often happens — have a major case of “designer’s itch” as I see the way that the DS model correlates very fruitfully with what I know from many of relevant fields in control — and as far away as athletic visualisation for peak performance, muscular memory and even education on the the classic taxonomy of goals for the psychomotor domain — tremendous possibilities . . . .

II: FROM CONCEPTUAL MODEL TO DESIGN: I can see how . . . to feed in detailed architectures and dynamics as well as modelling to actually design, BUILD and test one of R Daneel’s early ancestors . . . .

III: SCI-TECH STARTERS, NOT STOPPERS: In short, the DS-type model is a science and technology starter not a science stopper! That is, including the ID challenge version – [a] can we actually BUILD a self-conscious, AI based robot using the Intelligent Director-i/o processor model? [We can only try . . . i.e here we can go do some real-word experiments – though let us note that we ourselves can arguably be seen as examples of the DS class of sophisticated servo systems.] Or, [b] if not, can we at least build an autonomous one that will exhibit environmentally effective, goal directed behaviour, cost-effectively? And if so, [c] where will that take technology — and science — and phil — too?

IV: MODELS AND REALITIES (PRESENT AND PROSPECTIVE): Thence, too, the point that a model world is potentially empirically descriptive and can be sufficiently predictive to become the basis for real-world creative action, once a system architecture is logically and dynamically valid, and compatible with known or foreseeable materials and sub-system technologies. In short, the classical sci-tech agenda is: describe, explain, predict control — or at least, influence.

V: DESCRIBE- EXPLAIN- PREDICT- CONTROL: The DS model passes this test with flying colours: (i) it describes the planning-executing functions of a certain class of known autonomous entities [us humans individually and as Ac 27 summarises, in the community of people having to deal with a potentially hostile environment using socio-technological systems and governance mechanisms . . . H’mm: a democratically governed collective Intelligent Director as systems architecture – debate the options and try the best on balance across votes . . .?], and (ii) it is potentially fruitful of innovating future tech and associated science.

That leads to emerging phil considerations . . .

VI: MINDS, BRAINS, AND INFORMATION INTERFACES: In that context, it is obvious that the key interface between mind [as intelligent director] and brain [as i/o control processor] is INFORMATION. [a] Once an efferent copy is there on the hardware, it can then drive the algorithms for effecting and for path-differential monitoring, feedback and adaptations to contingencies. In turn, [b] such an efference copy/predictive model is based on learning and generalisation from experience – suggesting [c] neural network type architectures for at least a part of the more sophisticated levels, and also that [d] the i/o processor, across time, provides key sensor data that helps construct a world-model to guide the Director.

VII: PHIL/WORLDBVIEW IMPLICATIONS: The Derek Smith Intelligent Director-I/O Processor-Servosystems cybernetics model is of course compatible with a materially expressed director, but also points a way to what we think we experience: thoughts that are self-willed and act into the cause-effect chains of the material world but are independently intelligent — not determined/ driven and wholly reducible to/ “explained” without residue by some blend of chance and necessity acting across aeons from hydrogen to humans. In short, it is independent of the ontological debate over monism/dualism, once the role of information is acknowledged. We cvan use the information-level expression of this to get on with very interesting sci-tech stuff. But also, it plainly puts the dualistic view that there is a sufficiently self-determining, actively creative and intelligent mind that interacts with the body back on the table as a seriously “discuss-able” – and remember that we don’t need to commit tot he reality of an idea to discuss it fruitfully on a modelling what-if basis and to embed such in prospective technologies — conceptual-analytical option in a sci-rtech society. That potency, of course, is why it excited the sort of dismissive remarks, strawman attacks and seen above.

So, can we look at how we can develop interesting intelligent design oriented sci-tech, while we seriously look also at the worldview-level issues?

In short, the mind can usefully be viewed as interacting with the brain through exchanging information that creatively guides the brain-body system to act along intended paths, and to feed back to the mind whether or not there is an unexpected deviation.

Then, the mind acting as intelligent director, can intervene.

So we have a conceptually coherent model in which we can see and value the brain and what it does without confusing brain and mind.

THEN, we can listen to the voice of our inner experience of being intelligent persons who use our minds to think, decide and act. And, once we do so, we see that this points to the significance of the difference between what minds do and what programmed processors do, e.g qualia, argument and persuasion etc.

So we now have good reason to hold that the mind is not to be confused with the brain and/or its physical components.

Then, too, as we look to a key signpost of minds at work: organised complexity that manifests itself in sophisticated, active, functionally specified, complex information [FSCI, a subset of the Complex Specified Information often discussed by design theorists], we see that the logical conclusion is that such organised complexity and its associated functionally specified complex information reliably point to mind.

That brings to bear DNA and the nanotechnology of cell based life as pointing to an intelligent designer. It points to the sort of body plan level biodiversity we see in living forms and the fossil record -- however interpreted -- as also pointing to an intelligent designer. Then when we lift our eyes to the heavens and we see the fine-tuned organised complexity of the observed cosmos as a whole we see again that this too points to an intelligent agent as its author.

And, who is that author?

William Lane Craig has put this well:

We can summarize our argument as follows:

1. Whatever exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external ground.

2. Whatever begins to exist is not necessary in its existence.

3. If the [observed] universe has an external ground of its existence, then there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.

[NOTE: For, impersonal but deterministic causes will produce a result as soon as they are present, e.g. as soon as heat, fuel and oxidiser are jointly present, a fire bursts into being. That is, it takes an agent cause to act in a structured fashion at a particular beginning-point. See (4) below on the idea of sub-universes popping up at random in an underlying infinite, eternal universe as a whole.]

4. The [observed] universe began to exist.

[NOTE: To deny this, one in effect must propose a speculative, eternally existing wider universe as a whole; in which sub-universes (such as our own) pop up more or less at random. This, of course is not at all what we have actually observed. Such a resort thus brings out the underlying speculative -- and after-the-fact -- metaphysics embedded in such "multiverse" proposals. In light of (3) just above, it also requires that points in the wider universe throw up expanding sub-universes at random. But, when this is wedded to the infinite proposed age, as Craig points out, it leads to the issue that every point in that wider universe as a whole should have birthed a sub-universe in infinite time. Thus, we should see multiple expansions in our zone of space, not just the observed number: one. Similarly,the idea of sub-universes randomly budding off from earlier expansions still implies a beginning, and the resort to imaginary time is a mathematical device, one that collapses back into requiring a beginning as soon as we get back to real time and space. In turn, there is an even more specific speculation: multiple, independent, non-interacting (and presumably undetectable) space-time domains -- but, how could we know of such, relative to empirical tests? It also leads to the issue Leslie raised: this local, observed domain exhibits the characteristics of the lone fly on the wall suddenly hit by a bullet. And so on, as an ad hoc patchwork slowly but surely emerges out of the evolutionary materialist system. In short, the better approach to explanation is to take the one observed, finely tuned universe and its evident beginning seriously.]

From (2) and (4) it follows that

5. Therefore, the [observed] universe is not necessary in its existence.

From (1) and (5) it follows further that

6. Therefore, the [observed] universe has an external ground of its existence.

From (3) and (6) it we can conclude that

7. Therefore, there exists a Personal Creator of the universe, who, sans the universe, is timeless, spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful.

And this, as Thomas Aquinas laconically remarked,{67} is what everybody means by God.
In short, much is at stake in the materialist denial of and/or attempted reduction of mind to matter in motion. END

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