Politics, God and Religion vs. Science

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Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:32pm PT
Tish said: Can, by extension, humans eventually create a synthetic human (or something as sentient)? I don't see why not.



This truncated view of sentience is entirely in keeping with a belief system based on the nothing that we are "biological machines - in that every component, subsystem, and feedback loop with in us has evolved."

What Tish has just described here is objective functioning. This is all that is available to us so long as we are only quantifying sentience from the outside. In fact that is all we CAN do from the outside (accessing only the physical). The pipe dream of the outside camp, aka the Frankenstein Bongwater Team, for lack of a better term, is that sentience will somehow simply arise once they can digitally replicate objective functioning. This is the preposterous hope of the Head Bongwater salesman, Henry Markham and his laughing machine. And yes, I can laugh - at the fantastic absurdity of that idea, and that the European scientific community didn't call Markham out on this crazy claim. So far as scientists not prone to being duped by blarny.

But anyhow, as mentioned (Freud discovering the unconscious only through internal adventures), Tish's bio machine model makes perfect sense from an outside perspective. But an inside perspective discloses material totally unavailable to the machine model, where evolution is expected to explain everything, save how the whole business got lift off.

As people get closer to mapping the human brain, there will be two insurmountable problems in trying to mechanically produce consciousness: "creating" raw awareness, which Frankenstein folk view as a meta function, mechanically produced, and bridging and transducing objective and subjective. There's not even a theory on how this is done, and if you listen to the physicalist, the subjective (qualia) is not actually real. So that alone is a problem - Dr. Frankenstein and friends will be trying to create something that they themselves have deemed unreal.

The absurdity of these claims is what makes glib statements about digitally creating sentience betray grown up kids who's minds are still camped back with early Star Trek (I love that show) episodes and comic books with bubbling beakers and lightning bolts. Now they have supercomputers, but their basic grasp of what sentience actually is, conflated as it is with objective functioning, will bear no fruit. And I'll take any bet anyone wants to pony up on that account.

JL

Bridging and trunsducing between objective and subjective.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:35pm PT
It's arguably more accurate to say that humans are built to produce survivable progeny for a world that no longer exists.

Belief in reincarnation or whatever is likely a re-purposing an evolved propensity to construct psychological worlds. The 'social world' is one that probably figured large into one's survival a million years ago. Who likes me? Who hates me? Who do I owe something to? What do other people think I'm responsible for? Who's in charge and how to I kiss their ass?

Just as non-rotating bacterial protein injection needle was re-purposed to become a rotating flagellum, so too our evolved memes and the grey matter which evolved to support them have become re-purposed to become Gods, Monsters, and the occasional Friday Night Out At The Astral Cineplex.

Should I deploy the term 'Largjammin' to close the macho meat missile gap at work here?

I'll take your bet, Largjammin, but you might have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

What are we betting for/against, again? The invention of FrankenMeditationGuide?

It seems as though group meditation produces social etiquette monsters already. I mean, wow. The Big Bang couldn't have produced that kind of ego inflation.
MH2

climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:38pm PT
What is it that you think is the purpose of science, please? (MikeL)


That depends on what you want to do. Darwin developed an idea. Alfred Russel Wallace had the same idea. Neither made use of the hypothesis-testing we often use to answer questions, today. Before the question you must have an idea. The idea can come from almost anywhere.

Once you have a good idea you can consider its implications: how does it connect to other knowledge? This can lead to a plan for testing the idea, which may involve the conventions of scientific method.

Little by little, a picture is built up which may include aspects of you and your place in the universe. You are not likely to get far by picking up scientific method and then saying, "Okay, now I am going to figure out who I am and my place in the universe."

Tvash

climber
Seattle
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:54pm PT
'Purpose' is a subjective quality, but science happens because of the individuals who choose to pursue it. Why do they do that?

Probably to satisfy evolved needs for fun, power, love, security, freedom...

Society 'rewards' science because its results - knowledge, beauty and toys, satisfy those very same needs for enough people to keep the ball rolling.
MH2

climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:55pm PT
JL,


What would a machine need to do to convince you it was sentient? If you cannot observe subjective functioning, how could you know whether the machine had it or not?
WBraun

climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 12:59pm PT
The human machine is a sentient being.

Now create one from raw materials and then speak .......
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Mar 17, 2014 - 01:04pm PT
There are nascent attempts to create a functional model of consciousness, and therefore a test for same, but so far, the vitalists (can't be done!) and the typical shout down that often partners with such conservative thought have held sway, except for the fields of biology, where that bottle of flogiston remains on a dusty, pre-Darwin shelf.

We don't yet have that functional model, so we don't have the test for it, either.

We'll likely develop that over time as we learn about consciousness from creating ever more complex artificial beings. You've got to build an ox cart before a robot car.

What's funny is that precisely these kinds of discussions occurred with regards to evolution - oh wait, that one's still raging in some circles. 'Impossible!' is a common human response from more conservatively minded sentient beings to scientific speculation before testable theories are in place, or a bit later in the process - before a published theory has been tested. The anti-Darwinists felt that Man the Chosen was debased by the whole, dispassionate idea of evolution, just as the vitalists here feel the same way about predictions of a Laughing FrankenMeditationGuide. 'Build me one right now!' is the challenge - it's as ridiculous a throw down as challenging Thomas Edison to sequence the human genome.

Fast forward several decades from now we'll see how that challenge works out, I suppose. All I can say is that history and it's systematic debunking of superstition, and vitalism is solidly that, is on my side here.

Fast forward a thousand years into the future and the idea that we won't have fully sentient artificial beings seems just plain silly.
WBraun

climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 01:57pm PT
Tvash -- "We don't yet have that functional model, so we don't have the test for it, either."


Again he speaks without ever thinking.

The human machine is a conscious sentient being.

There is your functional model.

Now study it very very very very very very very very very very very very very very carefully .....
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
U.N. Ambassador, Crackistan
Mar 17, 2014 - 02:05pm PT
The absurdity of these claims is

You attribute claims to other and then exclaim their absurdity. You are very good at knocking over your own strawmen.

DMT
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 03:46pm PT
What would a machine need to do to convince you it was sentient? If you cannot observe subjective functioning, how could you know whether the machine had it or not?

Good question.
What say ye
Oh ye of the Nehru-jacketed persuasion?

Here's the link to the recent discovery announced today:


http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317125850.htm
paul roehl

Boulder climber
california
Mar 17, 2014 - 03:52pm PT
As to the question of whether or not a machine that can “experience” through self-awareness can be made. It seems to me there is an assumption that complexity advances us to that end and I’m not sure that’s true. Computers take their cue from a process of scripted reaction to pre-evaluated stimuli. The actions taken by that kind of system can only be reactive no matter how complex the system becomes. The computer acts as a kind of leverage for the sentient being, the programmer, who sits behind it. The step from leverage device to self-aware consciousness and “experiencer” is a step that would seem to be outside the realm of what a computer system even is. Computers imitate the kind of reaction “consciousness” of a plant that turns to the sun in order to photosynthesize. But a computer that fears its own demise, or loves, or contemplates building a machine that can do such things…IMHO is problematic at best.

It’s easy to demean human consciousness/intelligence as simply an evolutionary byproduct of survival, but the mystery of thought and consciousness is really sublime. Our feelings may be in some sense insignificant, they may be just chemical reactions in the brain, but at the same time our experience, the experience of those feelings is incredibly powerful and affecting. Experience resonates within the structure of our consciousness and that is as great a mystery as anything we know.
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Mar 17, 2014 - 04:28pm PT
Nice post, Paul. the "complexity" argument has been used to try and posit a mechanical explanation for how DNA basically invented itself, that, and the argument that it took a really long time and happened in such small increments there was never any definitive birth or threshold crossed.

So far as Tvash claiming that the AI people and their "nascent attempts to create a functional model of consciousness," I declare that this claim is not only misleading, but totally without any kind of theoretical basis.

The AI folk only believe they are trying to "create" consciousness, when in fact they have only studied objective functioning - synapse circuitry, and so forth. By objectively recreating the circuitry, these folks believe that the subjective aspects of sentience will simply appear as "emergent functions," owing to having replicated all the objective parts thought to "create" consciousness. This, or course, is another lame attempt to conflate the objective with the subjective.

What's more, Vitalism, as Tvash uses it, harks back to Henri Bergson and his élan vital. In the old usage, now abandoned by us all, "vitalism explicitly invoked a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark", "energy" or "l", which some equate with the soul."

A more balanced, logical approach is the notion that consciousness is qualitatively unlike any other phenomenon in reality. To a staunch physicalist, who aspires to tank all things into one big pot, living organisms are NOT fundamentally different from non-living entities. This allows them to bank on the notion that, say, a person's direct experience of exposure on the side of Half Dome is itself a physical manifestation of a machine. Build the machine, direct the lightning bolt to the rig and viola, the machine can experience exposure.

Now when a person makes such a fantastic claim, and believes they have the wherewithal to do so, in the near future, and accuses others of ego inflation, such nascent Gods can hardly be taken in sane and sober terms. And what's more, Tvash, it wasn't me who said, "build a conscious machine right now," it was your good buddy also rolling in the horsefeathers, Henry Markham, who raised nearly a billion Euros promising to have a machine that could "do everything a human can" by 2020. Hey, I'll give you till 2030. Still wanna take that bet?

Of course it's very easy to tease people who hold these puerile ideas, but putting all that aside, what many AI folks don't believe is that sentience and life are inseparable and that consciousness is non-local. But that's another discussion.

JL
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 04:53pm PT
Computers take their cue from a process of scripted reaction to pre-evaluated stimuli. The actions taken by that kind of system can only be reactive no matter how complex the system becomes. The computer acts as a kind of leverage for the sentient being, the programmer, who sits behind it. The step from leverage device to self-aware consciousness and “experiencer” is a step that would seem to be outside the realm of what a computer system even is. Computers imitate the kind of reaction “consciousness” of a plant that turns to the sun in order to photosynthesize. But a computer that fears its own demise, or loves, or contemplates building a machine that can do such things…IMHO is problematic at best

The limitations indicated in this viewpoint, and elsewhere on this thread, is understandable given the pitiful development of computers thus far.This current level of AI development can only be characterized as infantile.
And yet the viewpoint is hobbled more seriously by the tendency of most people to regard human consciousness as the only available gold standard of sentience. Everything is compared against the human biologic model. When we think of artificial intelligence we immediately look for the closest mirror to gaze into. The possibility that computers could evolve in apposition to human consciousness is only rarely considered in its fullest implications; again, this is due directly to our strangely stubborn and practiced inability to regard advanced sentience outside of the organic human example.

Earlier in this thread I posted a fanciful SciFi prediction about the relatively near future. In it I advanced the fictional notion of the Earth being presided over by a meta-program of super super capacity. This system was designed by supercomputers ---not humans. The intelligence exhibited by this meta-program was wholly outside the human biologic model of consciousness and capable of unlimited inorganic evolution.
Moreover,this meta-program did not reside in a specific location like a machine or a human , but virtually everywhere. It was not interested in mimicking human consciousness. It did not have its origins from that predication---it had become as alien and as inhuman as a meteor, and yet capable of trillions of computations per second ; virtually unlimited memory ; with an array of sensory apparatus allowing it to profoundly know and be concurrently aware of everything on Planet Earth and beyond.
Tvash

climber
Seattle
Mar 17, 2014 - 05:29pm PT
Looks like I'm back to Tvash and not Tish (my sister, actually). BTW, I could give two shits about Markham - that's your strawman, Largo. I never referenced him in any way.

Paul wrote
Computers take their cue from a process of scripted reaction to pre-evaluated stimuli...


Ward addressed this 'today's technology' critique. I never posited a Laughing FrankenBuddha running on an Android platform.

It’s easy to demean human consciousness/intelligence...


Demean? This is EXACTLY what the anti-evolutionists said - and still do. It's a subjective judgement, nothing more. IMO, believing that all that we are is the result of an indifferent process is far from demeaning - it is liberating. We can be free from the dead ends of myth to revel and what we actually are, and to wonder at this amazing journey without resorting to cartoonish Gods, 'the spark of life' - or other amorphous versions of same.

Regarding that magical 'spark of life' - does a virus, that can remain dormant for years as an inert molecular structure, have it?

The definition of being alive, far from the vitalist's simplistic 'spark detected!', is a complex one. It involves many criteria - it requires energy, water. contains replication information, it evolves, it contains a hierarchy of structures, it employs feedback loops, it uses molecular machinery...the list goes on.

A prion - the disease agent that causes mad cow - is an even better example. It replicates, but its just a malfolded protein. Is it alive? Not really. It contains no genetic information, for starters. A virus looks positively vibrant by comparison.

Life began with similar humble, self assembling, replicating molecular origins. The earliest of such systems were not parasitic, of course. Was that early stuff alive? Not really. It met some of the criteria for being fully alive, but not all of them. Over time, such structures met more 'alive' criteria. RNA (not DNA - too delicate) must have come into being fairly early on - making true evolution - the earliest form of self improvement, possible.

What strikes me is that most vitalists are not familiar with what actually defines 'alive', so they cannot be familiar with any current theories regarding the life's first steps. The very dated 'lightning bolt' comment betrays that very lack of familiarity. It's not substantially similar to the oft repeated "SO WHERE'S THE MISSING LINK" argument for the existence of God.

paul roehl

Boulder climber
california
Mar 17, 2014 - 05:52pm PT
I think the notion of evolution as an indifferent process is just too reductive. What is the evidence for indifference? Certainly not the will to life exhibited by nearly all living creatures. The powerful drive to live and reproduce, the fact that life exists is one thing but its intense desire to continue speaks of perhaps more than existence as indifference. If "improvement" is an inevitable product of evolutionary process then isn't the very construction of existence predicated on the purpose of "improvement?"
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 06:01pm PT
I think the notion of evolution as an indifferent process is just too reductive. What is the evidence for indifference?

I once watched a nature program about a litter of wild foxes. The puny , little guy who lacked the strength to compete against his robust litter mates for paltry amounts of food soon became weak and sick and was eventually , and pathetically, pushed out of the den to slowly die.
Is this the indifference or reduction you allude to? Or must I arrange a more ,or less ,teleological example?

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 06:13pm PT
It's obvious tvash has a level of understanding in the basic goings-on of life that is several pitches more advanced than others.

I think the notion of evolution as an indifferent process is just too reductive

Really? You really need this explained to you?

.....

photo not found
Missing photo ID#349377

Cosmos II, episode 2, aired last night and will air again tonight on NG channel. Apparently it's also playing on Hulu. I like how they chose to weave bits and pieces of Cosmos Sagan into Cosmos Tyson.

Above in cyan: a bit of the "machinery of life."

believing that all that we are is the result of an indifferent process is far from demeaning - it is liberating. We can be free from the dead ends of myth to revel and what we actually are

Here you sound just like Sagan or Tyson or Hawkins (oops, I mean Dawkins, lol!). If only you had a bitcoin addr, I'd tip you! :)
paul roehl

Boulder climber
california
Mar 17, 2014 - 06:15pm PT
Unless the puny little guy died willingly as an act of suicide, unless all puny little guys desire death and not life, I fail to see the point. The will to live is invested in all life... so again, where's the indifference? The better question: why the will to life?
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Mar 17, 2014 - 06:35pm PT
The better question: why the will to life?

Because self-perpetuation , self-propagation , self- replication is encoded by specific molecules into the living organism. Organisms not possessing this encoding did not survive to pass on the their will not to live.

Obviously any difference or indifference displayed by an organism , or "will to life", has been superseded by the broader mechanisms of evolution.
I can carry around a gene that programs me to die at 30 years old . Mo matter how much my desire to live (and baring intercession by medical science) I am carrying around a verdict of indifferent evolution that renders my will to live a subset of that disinterested directive. Result : I die.
paul roehl

Boulder climber
california
Mar 17, 2014 - 06:51pm PT
"Because self-perpetuation , self-propagation , self replication is encoded by specific molecules into the living organism."

Does this really answer the question why? I am genetically programed to die in my 80s; I'm not looking forward to it.

The will to life is a curious obsession in all living things; the struggle to continue and to reproduce is the dominant paradigm of existence. How can it simply be dismissed as an aspect of indifference.

The broader mechanism of evolution is survival and the desire for survival. The need "to be" is a mystery just as unanswered by science as it is by faith. And going up in a ballon over our knowledge of evolution readies us to feel comfortable in our knowledge as if we were the faithful.
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