Friday, June 13, 2014

Putting the mind back on the table for serious discussion

Over the past few days, I have been thinking a bit concerning the mind, and would like to cross-post from the worldviews discussion at NCSTS:


>> . . . though we may be in error about just what we are (e.g. suppose we are proverbial brains in vats . . .), we cannot be mistaken that we are conscious, self-aware beings. This can perhaps be most easily seen by comparing our experience of ourselves as being aware -- i.e. conscious selves -- to the obvious point that a rock has no dreams or beliefs:

 That observation has a vital corollary, in a day and age where it is popular to imagine that consciousness can somehow emerge from sufficiently complex parallel and/or looping software riding on complex hardware -- whether in silicon or in a network of nerve cells.  Leibnitz, in his Monadology, 17, put it pretty directly by his analogy of the mill:

[P]erception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception.
In short, consciousness cannot be simply reduced to blind mechanical interactions and ordered sequences of such actions. 
Cogs move upon one another with so many Newton-metres of torque and turn through so many degrees as a result, which turning which being a matter of how they are somehow arranged and which was turned first.  Indeed, this is the basis of the mechanical Analogue Computer, in which a rotating ball on a shaft spinning against a disk performs mechanical integration . . . a key Calculus operation, and such devices can be arranged in cascade to carry out solution to complex differential equations:
A Thomson Integrator. The device can be worked with the shaft EE as input or the disk D as input: with D as i/p,   the disk spins the ball, and depending on how far the ball is from the centre of the disk, one disk-turn causes more or less turning effect on the cylinder, affecting the rate  of accumulation of shaft position. 
That incremental, controlled accumulation effects integration. (Cf. Rutherford Journal)

The underlying principle is illustrated by this video:

(Indeed, this was the basis of tidal prediction machines, and -- grimly -- naval gun aiming computers and computing bombsights.)

Where, too: such balls, disks and shafts, obviously, are refined rock. 

They depend on the care and skill of a designer, to be able to solve differential equations. 
Their precisely functional arrangement carries out computations based on intelligent design. Such glorified rocks neither contemplate nor care, and if things go out of whack, they will mindlessly and mechanically deliver incorrect results.  As the old computer men would say: Garbage in, Garbage out: GIGO.
Which points to a further, common but often overlooked fact: complex functionally specific arrangements themselves have but one observed source, design. Which, among other things, has to ensure that GIGO is not at work.
Where also, the notion that such irreducibly complex, finely tuned systems could plausibly arise step by step through chance variations and blind trial and error selection of the incrementally successful intermediaries needs to be demonstrated empirically rather than be implied or assumed as a consequence of taking up an evolutionary materialist view as a controlling idea. And in fact, historically, the development of such machines took years and decades of highly intelligent design, with a huge sustained investment of cash.
Likewise in a digital computer, so many volts at a certain point in a specially designed rock -- made of doped Silicon -- mechanically trips gates in a sequence determined by the organisation of solid state electronic components. And just the same, as "a rock has no dreams," it is not surprising that at no point is the resulting process of mechanical and/or electronic computation credibly equal to conscious, self-aware perception, intent, the quality of being appeared to redly, truth, falsity, insight-driven inference from if P is so then Q must follow logically in light of meanings, warrant, knowledge, understanding, wisdom or right or wrong. Such are simply categorically distinct from blind mechanical necessity and chance circumstances or disturbances.
Which is why John Searle's Chinese Room thought exercise is so telling:
Imagine that a person—me, for example—knows no Chinese and is locked in a room with boxes full of Chinese symbols and an instruction book written in English for manipulating the symbols. Unknown to me, the boxes are called “the database” and the instruction book is called “the program.” I am called “the computer.”
People outside the room pass in bunches of Chinese symbols that, unknown to me, are questions. I look up in the instruction book what I am supposed to do and I give back answers in Chinese symbols.
Suppose I get so good at shuffling the symbols and passing out the answers that my answers are indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker’s. I give every indication of understanding the language despite the fact that I actually don’t understand a word of Chinese.
And if I do not, neither does any digital computer, because no computer, qua computer, has anything I do not have. It has stocks of symbols, rules for manipulating symbols, a system that allows it to rapidly transition from zeros to ones, and the ability to process inputs and outputs. That is it. There is nothing else. [Cf. Jay Richards here.]
Indeed, the well known genetics pioneer and Evolutionist, J B S Haldane, at the turn of the 1930's, astutely observed:

"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]

In short, we are undeniably conscious, and are also evidently self-aware, self-moved, embodied beings. Where, the mechanics of embodiment or mechanical processing or computation simply do not suffice to explain that first fact of our existence; conscious self-awareness.

Where, the term, "self-moved" comes from Plato's insightful discussion in The Laws, Bk X. In so doing, he also makes perhaps the first cosmological design inference on record, to a Good Soul at the root of reality, and especially the material - mechanical order of creation:

Athenian Stranger. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second. 
[ . . . .]

Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

Cleinias of Crete. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

Ath. I do. 

Cle. Certainly we should. 

Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

[ . . . . ]


Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things? 

Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?  

 Cle. Exactly.   

Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?  

[ . . . . ] 

Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path. [ --> Plato here explicitly sets up an inference to design (by a good soul) from the intelligible order of the cosmos.]

Let us remember, too, this was in the background of the exchanges on Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17.

Yes, we have brains which obviously carry out materially connected patterns of information processing using the often surprising properties of neural networks . . .  in which neurons serve as gates for information glows in complex networks that use summed, weighted connexions to trigger stage by stage responses:

But also, that sort of wired up, adaptable network does not suffice to explain -- or, to explain away -- either the effective complex and functionally specific organisation of the brain as a complex functionally specific information processing entity, or --  even more importantly -- the characteristic capacities of that self-aware, self-moved entity or faculty that is our Experienced Fact No. 1 and  which we sometimes speak of in terms of the mind. Or even . . . the soul.

Though, many are prone to imagine or assert that it does.

(If someone does such to you, ask him or her to explain just how it was shown, by whom, when -- and with what prize awarded -- that conscious, self aware, self-reflective mindedness "emerges from" or "reduces to" complex software and hardware. Predictably, such claims and views will trace to the question-begging influence of controlling evolutionary materialist ideas.)

It is probably worth a pause to cite Engineer Derek Smith's two-tier controller cybernetic model for a brain-body system, in which the higher order supervisory controller directs and influences and interacts with the lower one, used as an input-output controller:

 (There is plenty of room in such a model to think about how a mind-brain interface -- if that is the right word -- can happen; perhaps, using quantum influences on the action of selected neurons and networks. Where, what is really needed here is to re-open minds to worldview level live option possibilities that too often tend to be suppressed or dismissed out of hand because of the overbearing influence of materialist philosophies dressed up in lab coats. If someone under that influence tries to dismiss the possibility of realities beyond observable matter, energy, space and time observed through scientific techniques, it may be helpful to ask: and who will be observing, measuring, analysing, hypothesising and testing then concluding, other than: a conscious, self-aware, knowledgeable, purposeful, active investigator subject to ethical obligations?)

The mind, even . . . the soul, is back on the table once we contrast the self-moved, self-aware with the computational processing of blind mechanisms organised as GIGO-limited  processors . . . >>

Food for thought. END