What is "Mind?"


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4 Corners Area
May 18, 2014 - 05:09pm PT
Atmosphere is getting a little thick in here.

Hey, what do you think is going to happen when they try to download a person's "mind" into a computer.

There are people who believe this is the path to immortality.

But, it might also be an interesting experiment to shed light on the question of "mind".
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
May 18, 2014 - 05:18pm PT
Perhaps it's already there and we are merely uncovering it.

That brings to mind Michelangelo's stated conviction, born of the religiosity of his times, that the figure of David was already contained within the amorphous marble block--- therefore his (Michelangelo's) job was merely to chip away all the excess.

But, it might also be an interesting experiment to shed light on the question of "mind".

If a human individual's consciousness could be downloaded into a computer--- at that point ,rest assured , most questions of "mind" would then exist ex post facto

May 18, 2014 - 05:38pm PT
It would be hard to imagine downloading a mind into a machine without a substantial change in the nature and quality of conscious experience, because the human mind is so inextricably and thoroughly linked to every part of the body. So much of who we are is driven by fundamental life management needs - once that has been removed - who would we be then?

That's not to say bodies won't be synthesized in the future - but the tendency will be to improve upon homo sapiens - less maintenance, less pain, more pleasure, smarter, stronger, better senses, more senses, more connectivity - we won't be us anymore.

It will never be possible to download a mind into a computer that looks anything like today's computers - for the aforementioned reasons. Too much of who we are depends on the body we inhabit.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
May 18, 2014 - 06:04pm PT
downloading a mind into a machine without a substantial change in the nature and quality of conscious experience

True. That is why it is preferable to regard the term: "download a mind" in a purely categorical way.
Permit me to speculate:
If enough of Tvash is downloaded to preserve Tvash's essential memories ,then... fait accompli.
Remember it is memory that is important here. The entire complex said to represent Tvash is not that important initially. ( First things first!)
Alzheimer's and other dementias are the result of the disintegration of memory--- memories are where any given person resides. It is the collection of things that have made up the person. Without his memories, Tvash would disappear.

Without memory " life management needs " would be a perfunctory course.

This is not to dismiss the tremendous problems encountered with any kind of set of functions that would be responsible for the coordinating and processing those memories into a dynamic and coherent whole which might simulate an on-going general awareness of Tvash to Tvash. Therein might lie the technical rub.

I don't know enough about AI to be be fully aware of what the current thinking is along these lines, embryonic as they might be.( All I know is that a visit to AI sites , such as JAIR, might render one susceptible to bizarre and unpredictable lurking computer infestations---especially if you click on certain search functions.LOL----beware!)

BTW ,I say these things in a disinterested way. I am not necessarily advocating any particular technological course as regards the fiddling with in situ human consciousness ---other than the amelioration of disability and suffering.

Boulder climber
May 18, 2014 - 06:09pm PT
So much of who we are is driven by fundamental life management needs - once that has been removed - who would we be then?

A basket case of "phantom limbs?"
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 18, 2014 - 06:25pm PT
I'm not sure it's so easy to transform everything into a "thing"

in fact the western classical dialectic would be "things" and "ideas" so ideas would be outside of the domain of the physical, not being things and not needing to be placed under that domain.

I believe that is why Kant is relevant, even if old, it is essentially what he was getting at.

Now you might scoff at the that and say that ideas are things, but not so fast. First off, you have to describe how an idea is something physical.

This is not just a criticism of the panpsychists (jgill missed my footnote, I put all those things in quotes to avoid going into details about what they are) but it is a deep mystery of physics, too.

You can read Wigner's musing on this The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

the domain of mathematics is symbolic, and the congruence of those symbols with actual physical quantities is approximate and empirical (there is no a priori requirement that they be so). The logical manipulation of those symbols allows us to predict physical observation.

How does that work? the idea or concept represented by the symbols (as Largo has gone on ad nauseum) is not the thing we are using them to describe, at best they are an approximation to the thing.

Now the ideas act a particular way under some logical system, and to the extent that we have correctly constructed that system, may correspond to some physical system, and that extent of correctness is determined empirically.

Are the symbols of mathematics, "things"? and how do these things become things when they are so obviously not, at least initially.

Let's presume you have some answer for this (besides just making an assertion based on "reasonableness" and "unreasonableness", my guess is that you'll just dismiss it as nonsense). One of the programs of Hilbert was to rid mathematics of proof by physical demonstration. Say you have some differential equation that you 'd like to prove has a solution, if you find a physical system that corresponds to that differential equation you can see that it does have a solution. This was disallowed as a "proof," because it fails to apply rigorous logic to the mathematical question.

It is a recognition that the symbols are not the things.

Feynman also talks about the breadth of physical problems that can be solved by similar mathematics, electrodynamics, hydrodynamics, etc... all have many aspects that are described by the exact same mathematical equations. This does not imply that the physical systems are the same.

We use mathematics because it works, sort of a utilitarian approach, but we don't understand how this happens, we can't demonstrate with rigor that it must happen.

So if we allow the dialectic to be things/ideas, then we admit the possibility that ideas are not physical, and fall out of the domain of the physicalist, they are not "things" and so are not a part of "everything."

This may seem semantical, but it is legitimate challenge to the physicalists to explain how ideas are physical.

Now the "mind" is an engine for producing "ideas" which begs the question regarding whether or not "mind" is also physical. But maybe that is too far for you to stretch.

Instead, lets think of what we know of "minds." We can get an idea of Newton's mind from reading him. Lots of great things to read, descriptions of experiments we can perform in our offices on all sorts of things demonstrating, empirically, the physics of Newton. Opticks is a great work because we get to do a lot of great demonstrations, but in the end we find out that Newton gets the nature of light wrong.

He had great reasons for getting it wrong, but he was wrong. And we know that, we can read him and see his arguments, and understand those arguments.

We can give him a pass... but what is also interesting about the Queries in Opticks is that Newton's religious beliefs are also written out there in the context of his thinking in physics, and those beliefs probably make most modern day physicists very uncomfortable.

But those ideas: white light is composed of separate colors, that light is a particle, that the universe is the result of a creator, all come from the same mind. Obviously our definition of an "idea" as a "thing" has to encompass the possibility that while the "idea" is a thing, the thing the idea describes may not be a thing. This is not just an exercise in "use and mention" but it gets at the deeper questions of reality and mind and things and ideas.

Finally, if we have some operational definition of mind, why wouldn't we be able to create it without the biological superstructure? The mind may not operate the same way as a biological mind, but it would be a mind. In some ways, this will be a necessary step for a physicalist explanation, that is, to generalize "mind" beyond its biological setting.

Arguing that it is an "intrinsic property" of biology doesn't help, the "drive" to live seems a very silly and naive argument to make, and probably one that an uneducated physicist might make regarding what is known about modern biology. What is the physical origin of that "drive"? I think you shot your feet off with that one.


4 Corners Area
May 18, 2014 - 06:40pm PT

I agree with Tvash. Nonetheless, there are those who place great faith in this development.

Among some futurists and within the transhumanist movement mind uploading is treated as an important proposed life extension technology. A considerable portion of transhumanists and singularitarians place great hope into the belief that they may become immortal by the year 2045, by creating one or many non-biological functional copies of their brains, thereby leaving their "biological shell".
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
May 18, 2014 - 07:04pm PT
Very thought- provoking post . I'd like to tackle some of the contentions contained therein when I have more time.

May 18, 2014 - 07:12pm PT
It's purely semantical, Ed.

Ideas are part of the universe. Nuff said.

Regarding Wards comments - memory is important, but its only part of the story. Who we are is so much more. If 20 years of my memory were wiped - an act of mercy in some respects - i'd start over - as me.

Personality is hugely determined by emotional makeup and health - both of which are intertwined with memory, our neo cortex, and our senses.

We are not a bunch of phantom limbs - our nervous system, which reaches every part of our bodies, is directly connected and part of our brain, most particularly the emotional centers. It's a very busy two way street.

Talk with someone just after they make love. Then talk to them when they're doing a hard crux move with an opportunity to deck. Then when they have a severe case of pneumonia. You'll be talking to 3 completely different people. Same memories, though.

Consider the emotional response to fear. Heart rate, stomach contraction, blood vessel contraction, breathing rate, sweat, body temperature, speed of thought, and on and on - the physical changes are profound and total. That's the body/mind connection - no phantom limbs required.

We think of the brain as a big memory bank because that what computers are, and that's what we're familiar with. It's simple.

Way too simple, however.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 18, 2014 - 07:16pm PT
wow... I never knew doing physics was so simple...
all you have to do is say something is so and then go on.

My respect for Wigner might take a hit, though. He seems to make it complicated... and he admits to not knowing the answer...


May 18, 2014 - 09:04pm PT
I like the point made by Ed. It seems he is saying the answer to the question, "What is Mind?" must either assume that the mind emerges from physical interactions, or "goes right down to the roots of the world."

From his Panpsychism link:

Crudely put, someone who believes that amoebas have experiences, but that quarks and electrons, which ultimately constitute amoebas, do not is no panpsychist.


Because if mind is not present on all scales, then it emerges from other things.

Putting the question this way frees those of us who are mere biologists from worrying about the issue. I cannot think of any way to approach the question through study of nervous systems. However, I would not rule out the possibility that study of nervous systems could settle the issue one day. We may be in the position of the Greeks and Romans who wondered whether the Universe was finite or infinite. They could ask the question but could not answer it.

We need to be patient.


May 18, 2014 - 09:10pm PT
Now the "mind" is an engine for producing "ideas"

I like that description because .......,

The mind is the center of all the activities of the senses, and thus the mind is the reservoir of all ideas.

And yes the mind is physical .....

The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
May 18, 2014 - 09:22pm PT
Nope. Mind is a verb.

May 18, 2014 - 10:37pm PT
If an idea is a thing (it is), then failed ideas, Newtonian or otherwise, are things.


"Arguing that it (the mind (sic)) is an "intrinsic property" of biology doesn't help, the "drive" to live seems a very silly and naive argument to make, and probably one that an uneducated physicist might make regarding what is known about modern biology. What is the physical origin of that "drive"? I think you shot your feet off with that one."

I'm really not sure what you're on about here, Ed. Not the 'drive to live' - 'life management' systems. All critters have them. If they didn't - they wouldn't survive. Optimizing (per the critter's limitations) food processing, waste management, repair, threat avoidance - these are 'life management' processes all creatures engage in.

When an evolutionary biologist examines why an organism is the way it is, such 'life management' systems are a primary consideration.

That they can and do enhance the chances of the organism's procreation doesn't seem a terribly difficult concept to me, but YMMV.

Whether the mind is an intrinsic property or not is another matter entirely - one that is unrelated to any discussion of 'life management'.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 18, 2014 - 10:42pm PT
an idea is a thing because everything is a thing... that's your story and you're sticking to it...

but you have no explanation as to how an idea can be a thing, nor do you feel you need one, it is sufficient to just assert it

if you make it so from a "construction" then you're doing exactly as any religion would, you haven't explained it, you've defined it.


May 18, 2014 - 10:47pm PT
You say potato.

I'd wager we'll both live.

You can stop, now.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 18, 2014 - 10:49pm PT
you've got nothing...
too bad...

I'll post something later, we're not saying the same thing.

But when you punt you should admit it.

May 18, 2014 - 10:56pm PT
If you want the innernut win that bad Ed, you got it buddy!

I'm all about increasing human happiness.

Plus, my eyes are well glazed over already.

Social climber
humboldt nation
May 18, 2014 - 10:57pm PT
perhaps the universe began when it became conscious of self, and the mind mimics this genesis
with thoughts and ideas?

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - May 18, 2014 - 11:34pm PT

Lest I lose my sense of humor, here is my definitive take on organized religion - almost.

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