Mind’s I – Round-up

Completed Hofstadter and Dennett’s “The Mind’s I” on the way back to Perth, Oz. Although it peters out a bit, with Hofstadter’s “Conversation with Einstein’s Brain” there are still more gems in there.

After Lem’s excellent “Non Serviam” mentioned previously, we still have Ray Smullyan’s “Is God a Taoist”, John Searle’s “Minds, Brains and Programs”, and Thomas Nagel’s “… Bat”

Nagel’s Bat has been well aired here previously, and familiarity no doubt breeds contempt. There’s actually quite a lot wrong with it and the editors’ reflections, not so much wrong, as missed opportunity. Bats are not only not blind, they “see” with sound, but their vision must be incredibly vivid and textured compared to our world of one-dimensional electromagnetism, they have so many layers of modulation as well as wavelengths to play with and, what’s more, they are in control of it. Nagel’s Jimi Hendrix to Hofstadter’s J.S.Bach maybe. Of course there is something “it’s like to be” a bat, even if its self-conscious “I” is no doubt pretty limited by its neurone count. Again, it’s not all or nothing. There must be some kinda way outta here. Next.

Smullyan, on the other hand, was new to me. His brief dialogue with “god” on free-will and ethics, can’t help but lead you to a Taoist, non-teleological, pan-theist view of the “laws of nature”. Liked the conclusion ….

Mortal : You certainly seem partial to Eastern philosophy !
God : Oh, not at all ! Some of my finest thoughts have bloomed in your native American soil.

East and West are merely points of view as Northrop and others have pointed out. In fact Smullyan is thinking of neither Northrop nor Pirsig, but Walt Whitman when he quotes … “I give nothing as duties. What others give as duties, I give as living impulses.” Native American is good too – the ambiguity in the native referring to the “mortal” in the dialogue works on three levels at least. Clever stuff.

Searle is ultimately disagreed with by Dennett and Hofstadter. This legendary discussion on AI covers the “Chinese Room” and McCarthy’s infamous “thermostat”. Like many a thought experiment the “ifs” are probably too incredible to begin with, but whilst the particular case doesn’t support AI, the reasoning does, even if it is more geared to the material of brains than the form and architecture of the software levels they can support. The disagreements seem subtle compared to the power of the arguments for Strong AI. (I see Roger Schank’s work gets yet more namechecks, alongside Block, Dreyfus, Haugeland, Wilensky and Winograd. Must read Schank and understand better why Jorn Barger fell out with him. My instinct is to stick with Barger. The criticisms of strong AI seem to be targetted at the falsity of early claims to haver created it, rather than the possibility in principle.) The thermostat story, just illustrates the problem with excluded-middle / binary arguments about what constitutes AI. Let’s move on.)

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