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  1. #1
    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Default The Human Mind - the sum of its parts or something more?

    I created this thread to pick up on a comment in the "are you significant" thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by Langrenus
    If a computer were ever powerful enough to be programmed with the location and velocity of every particle in the universe, could it predict the future with 100% accuracy? Or would Quantum theory make this impossible? Are our thoughts random or just predictable (but complicated) chemical and electrical impulses? Please don't respond, this will completely de-rail Geoff's thread
    To tweak this slightly, I am interested in exploring how the human mind arises, and whether it is just the sum of its parts, or is there something that overlays on the top "a soul", "sentience", or "spark".. call it what you will.

    A number of questions around this, I suppose, but here is the first block...

    If a sufficiently powerful computer were programmed with the location and velocity of every particle in your brain to run in a simulation, do you think it would or could behave as you and therefore be alive? Does it take something more than the simulation of the measurable actions and identity of the particles of life to make something alive?

    My gut instinct is that simulating every particle in a brain will not create life.. that something over and above the parts is required to create sentient life, and that a computer simulation would need to understand something that we currently do not (the motion and location of every part of a human brain will still be messing some sentient "essence"). That some unidentifiable quality arises that is not predicted by the sum total of its parts.

    Thoughts?

    -Geoff

  2. #2
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    We can speculate on this, but I'm not sure how to actually progress in any concrete direction.

    Not only would we have to capture the "current state" of the brain and the location of everything, but it would also have to be able to collect data similarly to the "original" mind -- it needs feeds for all sort of external (experience and sensation) and internal (memories, emotional/personal resonance) stimulations.

    If we could capture all of that sufficiently, then we could do a comparison perhaps and see if the copy has what seems to be "true sentience." But even the composition of the materials involved might have something to do with how the thing works. Is there something about the organic composition that impacts sentience at all? Or does it go even beyond that?

    At the moment, this seems impossible to test.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  3. #3
    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Yes, good point. Which leads to a different question, perhaps, into a moral direction.

    If you could run such a simulation and it gains sentience should that simulation have human rights? is it acceptable to turn it on and off at whim?

    -Geoff

  4. #4
    Senior Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    In order to really consider the question, I think you have to take people out of the picture. The thing that sets everyone on edge when discussing biology is people - if Darwin had stopped at finches, I wonder if we would have had the controversies we had today.

    I'm not accusing you guys of that, but take an intellectual step backwards through evolutionary time and ask whether it would be possible to simulate a nematode nervous system, with its 200-odd neurons. How accurate would we have to get in terms of cellular activity before we could say "Gentlemen, we have made a nematode brain?" Even further back, we can attempt to simulate a single bacteria, with all of its complex chemical reactions - one cell, enzymes, DNA, and all.

    Possibly, though, we shouldn't even be talking about enzymes and DNA - what if we instead try to capture the abstract properties of what these things do - what if we attempt to distill out the part that makes something "living" and simulate that?

    All of these things - from brains to bacteria to abstract simulations of things that behave like living things - are the domain of artificial life. The field tries to understand the complexity of life via simulation, whether using cellular automata, simulations of chemical cascades and DNA transcription within a cell, simulation of neural tissue, or simulation of people in a society.

    All of these things - even the single bacteria, are mindbogglingly (and computer-bogglingly) complex. In creating scientific models we always need to simplify, but we recognize the risks to the model that simplification entails.

    In any case, the answer is yes. We can simulate life. We can simulate the brain, at least using a simplified model of a smaller brain. As computers increase in power, and as our understanding of the underlying chemical models increases, our ability to conduct more and more accurate artificial life experiments will increase.

    However, as to the question of when society will consider Windows crashing to be felony murder, I have to confess ignorance.
    JBS Haldane's Four Stages of Scientific Theories:

    1. This is worthless nonsense.
    2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.
    3. This is true, but quite unimportant.
    4. I always said so.

  5. #5
    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Is there a place in any of this for mysticism/religion/magic? Our self-awareness and sentience are, when one thinks (ha) about it, a quite remarkable result if they are simply the physical qualities of the components of our bodies.

    I guess I like the evolutionary argument, on the whole, that we are the first recorded species to specialise in brain power rather than speed, poison, sensory speed etc. But, still, it is a remarkable result, thus my scepticism that there is not something else involved.

    The mouse brain is an interesting experiment, thank you for the link. As computers become more and more powerful it leads to the fairly obvious conclusion that we can, within our life times, real time simulate the number of neurons and synapses in a typical human brain. I wonder how such a simulation will behave - can it be taught sentience, or does self-awareness come from somewhere else (mysticism, religion, some undefinable quality).

    -Geoff

  6. #6
    Senior Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    One of the guiding principles of biology - the thing that makes it possible to have biology as a science - is that the things that make up living organisms are the exact same things that make up everything else. The water and carbon and iron in your body is no different than you would get from a non-organic source. However, we often have little trouble recognizing a living thing and telling it apart from something like a rock. The real difference is complexity

    In complexity theory, we try to tease apart the various properties of systems that lead to the formation and the behavior of complex systems. It is a synthetic (as opposed to a reductionist) approach. However, insofar as it is a science and ultimately grounded in chemistry, physics, and information theory, it does not wax mystical. Mysticism is, in my mind, hand-waving or philosophical navel gazing to compensate for things we do not yet understand scientifically. I think it is a good thing that the borders of the mystical are in retreat, even if it does cause some questions about turning off a computer.

    Again, bringing humanity into it always confuses the issue, in my experience. We can attribute it to the religious implications of such a model, or we can point to simple egotism on the part of people, but those charges aren't entirely fair. The human brain is, as far as I know, the most complex organ to ever make an appearance on Earth, and it is very worthy of respect. That is one very large reason I think we, as scientists, are better off starting with organisms that are still complex systems, but are easier to simulate and experiment upon.

    I absolutely agree with you that the brain is a fascinating piece of work. However, just as we find we can learn about the physical brain by learning about simpler clusters of neurons, I believe we can learn about the complex, informational properties of thought and communication by studying similar activities in lower organisms. It is true that no bacterium will ever compose a sonnet to its lost love, but the bacterium nevertheless does need to detect and respond to its environment, to anticipate future events, to communicate with its peers, and so on. These are all properties of living systems, and by understanding their physical and informational origin in simpler systems, we can build our models up to understanding analogous properties in increasingly complex implementations.
    JBS Haldane's Four Stages of Scientific Theories:

    1. This is worthless nonsense.
    2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.
    3. This is true, but quite unimportant.
    4. I always said so.

  7. #7
    Senior Member ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HilbertSpace View Post
    Again, bringing humanity into it always confuses the issue, in my experience.
    I agree, but also think that experience is the weird thing.

    I recently watched Terminator and was watching how Arnold had this whole "movie" that he was watching, remember? Calculations, selecting and identifying objects, making plans and what not... and I thought about how weird it was for a robot to have experience. A robot wouldn't need any experience, just the input and output. No ghost in the machine.

    So there's something weird about human experience. We can recreate and simulate brains, but have we recreated and simulated experience? I would think not. Experience is something weird. I don't think I'd call it a soul. Although that's semantics, my point is that I don't think it's metaphysical. It's probably a property of a neuron that we don't yet fully understand that gives rise (or maybe IS) this thing we call experience. I would think that anything with a brain would have some sort of experience like the one we have.

    So in sum, there's something not yet understood, but I don't think it's anything different from what you see when you cut a brain open. My feeling is that it's essentially the same thing, somehow. (And yes, I realize that looking at a neuron and sensing the experience are different.)

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