[FoRK] Brain mapping and the connectome

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Tue Nov 10 10:33:52 PST 2009

Ken writes:

> Is consciousness/self-awareness/autonomy or Thought itself something  
> that can only be dealt with as religious/spiritual? Is that why Jeff  
> was skeptical of my claim?


> Will he be even more skeptical if I ask questions about whether  
> someone is deconstructing/reverse-engineering Thought?


Here's the leap-of-faith / assumption that's causing the problem:

> I just wanted to capture the essence of all that other non-hardware  
> stuff like self-awareness and autonomy.

There's no sound evidence to suggest at this point that there is  
*actually* ANY "non-hardware" stuff *AT ALL.*  And, in fact, evidence  
mounting quite rapidly --- non-linearly at this point --- to suggest  
the contrary.  I.e., it's looking increasingly likely that it's *all*  
just emergent behavior of the machine in operation and in interaction  
with its environment*;  complex networks and dynamics and most likely  
*nothing else at all.*  The only real arguments in the space at this  
point, as simply as I can put them and as far as I can tell, are:

   (a) does it require some kind of non-deterministic quantum-level  
interaction with the environment, ala Penrose?

   (b) will high-fidelity biochemical / electrical / molecular-scale  
emulation be necessary?

My own point of view is (a) absolutely not (general consensus) and (b)  
maybe but probably not (far less consensus) --- IMHO,  perhaps  
initially we'll need this in smaller-scale animal models but I suspect  
shortcuts and abstractions will quickly obviate the need for it.

Those, however, are the kinds of things that folks actually working  
fruitfully in this area are debating these days, *not* theories of  
Mind, Thought, Conciousness, Self-Awareness, Soul, Spirit, other  
highly-suspicious Capitalized Terms and Philosophickal Geegaws,  
Mystickal Whirlygigs, or Mysterian Tsotchkes.  ;-)

(I could be reacting a hit harshly -wrt- one of those;  self-awareness  
has a fairly tangible, physical, neurophysiologically-meaningful  
definition.  Cf. "mirror neurons" and perception-action coupling.)

As for the patience...  but of course.  We're nothing if not patient  
around these parts!  (Snicker.  Seriously, I think you're  
underestimating your own patience in dealing with this curmudgeonly,  
highly opinionated and fractious collective, myself included. :-)


PS - if you want to get really outre, you need to start looking at the  
algorithmic information theoretic-cosmologists.  They're going to tell  
you that *you don't even need the hardware or its environment* (and in  
fact, even those don't exist.)  And then we've come full-circle....

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