What is "Mind?"


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Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jul 19, 2014 - 09:48pm PT
I can see that you think that nothing will get done without intentions, plans, objectives, missions, etc. There are hundreds of things that are getting done inside of you right now: digestion, thought generation, breathing, heart pumping, etc.--John Barth notwithstanding.

You do make a lot of unwarranted assumptions about people, don't you, Mike.

Social climber
joshua tree
Jul 19, 2014 - 09:52pm PT
^^^MH2,didn't you know, thats what the schools are teaching now?

Boulder climber
Jul 19, 2014 - 10:10pm PT
Do what you cannot help but do. Be who you cannot help but be . . . No matter what happens, everything is ok (MikeL)

Sam Harris comments that if he had the brain of a terrorist who committed an atrocity, he would do the same.

Your statement gives carte blanche to every action, no matter how heinous. I know you mean this in a more gentle, more benign context, but it reads horrendous.

On the other hand your (well-written) commentaries are never dull!

Jul 19, 2014 - 10:24pm PT
Hakuna matata

Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 19, 2014 - 10:52pm PT
On the other hand your (well-written) commentaries are never dull!

But they are insufferably condescending. Besides they read like new agey blurbs one would expect in the Hallmark greeting card department devoted to Zen acolytes---if there were such a thing.

His pronouncements are wisdom from on high. A type of spiritual autism that rejects the mere material plane in which the rest of us are hopelessly entrapped.

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jul 19, 2014 - 10:57pm PT
But they are insufferably condescending. Besides they read like new agey blurbs one would expect in the Hallmark greeting card department devoted to Zen acolytes---if there were such a thing.

His pronouncements are wisdom from on high. A type of spiritual autism that rejects the mere material plane in which the rest of us are hopelessly entrapped.

Yes, he does suffer from pronouncements ex cathedra.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 19, 2014 - 11:01pm PT
Yes, he does suffer from pronouncements ex cathedra.

Aye...we are not worthy of "Himself "

We await further encyclicals .

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Jul 19, 2014 - 11:09pm PT
Largo: The problem with Hewaljy is that while sounding avuncular and reliable, his information is not remotely accurate. I said I was not guessing at this material, and here this guy keeps bumbling along insisting that I am butchering the data.

Exactly, except for the fact you don't have an adequate grasp on the material to pick up a knife to do any butchering.

First, Healyj’s wonky claim that AI and other associated fields have given up on sentience since around 1980, this is not remotely so. And while it is true that some of the big brain projects are not trying to directly program sentience, or consciousness, they are very much trying to achieve and produce it as an ”emergent” function.

Nothing 'wonky' about it - everyone except the delusional gave up around 1988. No one with half a mind is currently working on an "emergent function". Again. It's delusional and yet you keep claiming that's what folks are attempting - they are categorically not because they know it isn't going to happen.

The most vocal, well-funded (1 billion Euros) of these Dr. Frankensein’s includes “Professor” Henry Markram, “a doctor-turned-computer engineer, who announced that his team would create the world's first artificial conscious and intelligent mind by 2018. And that is exactly what he is doing. On the shore of Lake Geneva, this brilliant, eccentric scientist is building an artificial mind. A Swiss - it could only be Swiss - precision- engineered mind, made of silicon, gold and copper.

Again, total bullsh#t. Markram knows all too well that isn't even a remote possibility and - as an aside - he's motivated by an autistic son, not sentience.

Markram: A meticulous virtual copy of the human brain would enable basic research on brain cells and circuits or computer-based drug trials.

Markram: We cannot experimentally map out the brain. It's just too big. In a piece of the brain the size of a pinhead there are 3,000 pathways like a city with 3,000 streets.

Markram points out that, using conventional approaches, it takes 20,000 experiments to map a neural circuit. Yet, in all, the brain contains 86 billion neurons. On top of that, to fully understand the operation of every synapse and how they interact with neurons in other parts of the neo-cortex, scientists would need to trace all of the 100 trillion connections between them – something that is impossible to do experimentally.

Furber: "The thing that I admire about Henry is that he is a great believer that when problem reaches a certain point the only way to make progress is to industrialise the research process," says Furber, before adding that: "Whether the project will yield the big goal of giving us a clear conception of how the brain works is bound to be speculative because we have no way of knowing if we're capturing enough data or not, but it will almost certainly tell us a lot about the biology of the brain and advance computational neuroscience."

Largo: Mind you, this is not some isolated, crank “Professon,” but a leading neuroscientist who actually believes that a computer will be generating feelings (sans a limbic system LOL) in a few short years.

Actually he doesn't.

Now obviously my friends at Caltech don’t have a few billion greenbacks to simulate a human brain and hope sentience jumps off it like music out of a jutebox. So they are left to try and imagine what is involved, what is the process, what is the mechanical A-B-Cs that “creates” sentience. And where might they start to program such a “function.”

Even if your Caltech friends had unlimited greenbacks they wouldn't have the remotest clue where to even begin to "program sentience."

I would be interested in hearing why Haelyj believes that people “gave up” on building machine sentience, and how he might define what it is (self consciousness) that they collectively gave up on (they didn’t).

They did. And they did because they [eventually] recognized the inherent complexity of neurological components, systems, and chemistry coupled with our gross inability to understand them at a molecular level meant we lacked the ability to model them on any but the crudest scales. That situation has change a bit in the ensuing 25 years, but all our modeling efforts are still simple and crude compared to the actual wetware.

In his new book, Connectome , Seung argues that technology has now reached a point where it is conceivable to start mapping at least portions of the connectome. It’s a daunting task, he says, but without it, neuroscience will be stuck.



Seung: Indeed, mapping an entire human connectome is one of the greatest technological challenges of all time. Just imaging all of a human brain with electron microscopes would be difficult enough. This would yield about one zettabyte of data, which roughly equals the world's current volume of digital content. Then analyzing the images to extract the connectome would be even more demanding.

My connectome, myself - Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung is on a quest to map brain connections that reveal how our memories and personalities take root.

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
February 7, 2012

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each of which is connected to many others. Neuroscientists believe these connections hold the key to our memories, personality and even mental disorders such as schizophrenia. By unraveling them, we may be able to learn more about how we become our unique selves, and possibly even how to alter those selves.

Mapping all those connections may sound like a daunting task, but MIT neuroscientist Sebastian Seung believes it can be done — one cubic millimeter of brain tissue at a time.

Etc., etc. - give it up dude, you're hopelessly over your head on this tack. Stick with the Zen thing...
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 19, 2014 - 11:20pm PT
Oscar Wilde perhaps said it better:

Credit: Intranet

Jul 19, 2014 - 11:48pm PT
Jeez Mike, calling a mess a mess doesn't mean I don't like messes.

That's prolly the Puritan in ya talkin.

Us Celtic Papists suffer from no such malady. We prefer things a bit on the dirty side.

Could I design a better mess?

That question is probably, in and of itself, performance art.

Social climber
joshua tree
Jul 19, 2014 - 11:55pm PT
i think MikeL's summation of "Perfectness" is derived from a negative being as useful as a positive, a (-)+(+)=0 = perfection. i see him whirl though here like a teacher grading the final exam. i find his sidenote offerings from his well readness of scholarly tradespeople thought provoking, and his broad view refreshing! He's also been transparent enough to show us he's human.

Some of the posts around here i wonder if "Siri" wrote them.

i could be all wrong on this, but then i remember MikeL saying everything is right..

Social climber
Elk Grove, CA
Jul 20, 2014 - 12:20am PT
Regarding my sad attempt at humor, point taken.

Jul 20, 2014 - 12:30am PT
I'd call this ^^^ post separate and independent from the whole, but that might be viewed as immature.

The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Jul 20, 2014 - 07:59am PT

Mountain climber
Colorado, Nepal & Okinawa
Jul 20, 2014 - 08:37am PT
Regarding Cintune's note from Scientific American, it makes perfect sense to me that mental notions of distance are the foundation for more abstract ideas like time and social relationships. If we think about Homo sapiens being around 200,000 years old and other hominins going back millions of years before that, and all indications of the invention of language being only 50,000 years ago, it has to be so.We were wandering hunters and gathers for millenia before we had language.

There are many other indicators - that memory is enhanced by physical movement, that children can learn sign language before speech, that people can still sing and whistle when they have lost speech etc. I think our efforts to understand the mind have been thwarted in part because we are applying the concepts of the present rather than trying to understand the situation as it was at the time the physical brain evolved.

And since the brain evolved before language, isn't this also a good argument for seeing what we can to understand the human mind in its motives and workings, by doing meditation which is also non verbal?

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jul 20, 2014 - 08:59am PT
And since the brain evolved before language, isn't this also a good argument for seeing what we can to understand the human mind in its motives and workings, by doing meditation which is also non verbal?

Jan, meditation is non-verbal for a mind that is already verbal.

Do you think the pre-linguistic mind (historically speaking) meditated?

If not, are we certain these states would have anything in common?

The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen
Jul 20, 2014 - 09:14am PT
Wonder where meditation would fit into the bicameral mind theory.


Jul 20, 2014 - 09:23am PT
And for jgill, Wikipedia says that the brain area named in cintune's link, the inferior parietal lobule, is 'concerned with mathematical operations.'

Mental representations of time and place go way back before humans. It is important to the survival of any mobile organism to be aware of where it is and what is around it. Nervous systems monitor and regulate an organism's internal environment and they also map the external world. Even ants apparently can integrate the distance they travel away from the nest when foraging and return directly to it rather than retrace their steps.

Keeping track of distance and location is one of the oldest jobs of the brain. And evolution usually builds on and modifies what is already present. Aspects of our social skills and abstract thinking could have a foundation on evolution's early answers to the problems of moving around in the world.

In 1971 a paper appeared showing that neurons in the rat hippocampus fired according to the rat's location.

O’Keefe J, Dostrovsky J. 1971. The hippocampus as a spatial map.
Preliminary evidence from unit activity in the freely-moving rat.
Brain Res 34:171–175.

Subsequent research has made good progress on this question. The story illustrates how scientists also work a bit like a blind man trying to find his way around in a new house. He may bump into walls but how else is he going to learn the layout?

One of the most significant observations in the study of place cells during the past two decades is the discovery that place cells participate in multiple independent spatial representations. Under certain experimental conditions, place cells were found to totally alter their firing patterns in response to apparently minor changes in the sensory or motivational inputs to the hippocampus

From a review in 2008. the abstract is here:


the full article can be got through the above link

This review gives a good sense of the subtlety and complexity of brain function at the neuronal level, and of how much can be learned without super-sized modeling (which may turn out not to be worth the investment).


Social climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 20, 2014 - 09:39am PT
Good morning.

Hey, take it easy guys. Really.

It would be great if you guys could take my comments as I experience the notions I'm trying to point to in my life. When a parent sees their newly born child, they have, I think, the same kind of experience. The child is perfect, and no matter what it does, they love him or her unconditionally. Everything is understandable, lovable, worthy of compassion, equal, and joyous (but not giddy).

There is no reason to think that as the child grows, that the situation changes. Children, adolescents, young adults, and adults are all living in the same reality, observing and learning their way to maturity and demise. What could be wrong? Nothing is wrong. This is the life they came to, and live. Trees, flowers, grizzly bears, and mountains are all in the same boat, yet we don't lament their apparent existences or think that they are broken.

I'm not suggesting anything benign, gentle, or heinous. Things are just what they are, and there is really nothing any of us can do about it. Making changes, creating technologies, killing animals or people, painting walls, passing laws . . . is simply moving chairs around on the Titanic. Nothing is really changing. Reality . . . what it is, how it works, its very essence . . . does not change or move an iota. It's foolish to get over-excited about anything. All it does it make one anxious. I'd say it's a waste of energy, but I don't have to tell this crowd that energy cannot be wasted; it only shifts about, I'm told.

As for carte blanche, Jgill, Socrates said that all men (and women) do what they think is right, no matter who or what. Even the serial killer thinks he or she is doing the right thing. Morality is an illusion. Does this mean that I endorse acts that appear horrendous or revulsive? Ye gods, no. I believe in being a participant in the communities that I find myself a part of, and so I support their mores, practices, and values. I'm playing my role as fully as I can with the personality that I appear to have. It's called psychologically presence.

As a teacher, I see that people lack what Buddhists would call "skillful means" (look up "Upaya"). Of course this includes me. I'm as stupid and dumb as the next person. What I have going for me at this late age is that I know it. So I try not to take anything very seriously or concretely. And that, for me at least, seems to be working in the most wonderful ways. God, I wish I understood this when I was in my 20s. But, . . . you know, this is my life and this is where I've gotten to. No harm, no foul.

In 1986 I lost my business and my marriage in the same day; both were related. I was crushed, devastated, and inconsolable. I cried uncontrollably each and every day for 7 months. I thought I was going crazy. (PTSD was associated with the experience, but never mind.) I had a friend who was a venture capitalist in Phoenix, who offered some advise, and I vehemently cursed him out loud for it: "F*ck You!" I said. He said that something similar had happened to him, and he said he came to understand that (i) it couldn't have happened any other way, and (ii) it was the best thing that could have happened. The same applied to me, he said. It took me 7 years, but when I finally got over all of the last bits of emotional baggage from those events, I came to see that he was exactly right. That's how things always are, it seems to me. For me, PTSD, getting shot up a couple of times and seeing terrible things in combat, two divorces, two failed companies that I started, multiple broken careers, cancer, etc. all constitute my path, and here I am today. Everything makes sense to me . . . Jeez, finally. I feel like I'm floating through my life now. Hell, I don't even know whose life it is. How can this immense mystery that I experience make such sense to me? How can mystery be sensical? ????

I can see that I've miffed some of you, and I'll take that as a signal that I've currently over-stayed whatever welcome I've had for a while. And that's fine, too. I think it was Wittgenstein who said: "when you get the message, you can hang up the phone."

Be well. (No, . . . really.)

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2014 - 10:01am PT
Tvash said: Largo still can't get his dickskinners wrapped around the concept that one's micro machinery, one's subconscious neural decision engines, 'decide' where one focuses one's awareness - and that one's consciousness gets the memo after the fact.

The most fantastic thing about this whopper is that Tvash actually believes it. Mike and I and others could give him fifty examples to disprove this but he would believe what he believes. Where he violates the trust and integrity of this thread is to present this guess about awareness as a simple fact of truth.

When I say I am not guessing about this stuff, I am saying that in all truthfullness. Forty years of dealing with little more than awareness, attention and focus as a daily practicte gives one a certain view of things.

Basucakky, where Tvash's belief crumbles is when one holds an open focus - and one can experience the "micro machinery" begging you to look at this thought or focus on this sensation or feelings or memory - and you don't. Tvash would say that my brain decided for me NOT to focus on what my selfsame brain was begging me to payu attention on. This sounds lucidrous when stated like this, but when encountered in direct experience, it all gets clear in a flash.

Where people stumble on this issue is that from a mechanical/deterministic standpoint, all things (so the belife runs) come from prior sources, from antecedent causes or factors, somewhere between pure chance and chaos, wherew nothing is predictable, to a direct causal line, like careening billiard balls, where cause and effect are clear. To a person like Tvash, who doesn't know vfrom internal empirical study that focus and attention are not "things" in the normal sense of the word, where would a "free will" decision ever "come from," since all things come from some other thing, one way or another? Except everything, which came from nothing.

The howler in all of this is Tvash's notion that a a lug-headed staunch determinism is something too nuanced for me to get my "dickskinners wrapped around," wedded as I am to some spiritual philosophy that needs free will as a Christian needs Christ. The notion that this is all empirically based is simply not believed because the instrument is awareness itself, and interpretations are not required.

Tvash's belief is in fact a simpleton's accessment taken from the outside, and is posited as a kind of dead obvious Occam's Razor explanation all based on a fundamental mistake that the subjective is the objective and issues in whole cloth from the later. Matter CREATES all higher order "things" entirely, start to finish.

We often run into people locked into this ground up cognitive loop and simply have them do some biofeedback or other top down excercise and have them try and explain how it workds. Another hurtle is what MH2 posited, thinking quite incorectly that I hold onto some little man inside of me (this is tired old stuff from the Cartesian theater model) who "decides," when in fact he simply defaults on the deciding and assigns it to the machine itself. The idea that all of this spontaneously comes from no-thing is never even investigated. Till you run out of road completely. But you have to look at the silence between all that rambling in your head to ever get a glimpse past what your discursive mind is insisting is true and only true, and get into that place where "you might be wrong" is only another evaluation.

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