Sunday, August 05, 2007

Free Will, or at least Cheap Will


Got up this morning, and I am sooooo confused. I don't want to do what God preordained me to do. Even if it is the absolute best thing for me to do, I don't want to do it, just because. Call me a child of the '60's. A real rebel.

Moreover, I certainly don't want to do anything that is simply the result of random occurrences in my genetics, experiences, and bodily chemical reactions. Yuk. So, my first thought was to do the opposite of what I was going to do. Unfortunately, that would be exactly what my predispositions would cause me to do. I considered doing the opposite of the opposite. I put my options into a random generator. Surely God knew I would do that. Besides, my reading of an article on a new random number generator last week surely caused me to think of that option.

Now my thoughts turned diabolical. If I can't make any real choices about my actions, then I really need to consider why I fret so much over making choices. I have read many places, including the Bible, that we should take care of today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Coooool! In the case of the Bible, this had to do with not worrying or being anxious. But many, many self help books and pundits seem to mean something far more nihilistic.

So, if I choose not to believe in God, this is because I wasn't intended to anyway. If I choose to maximize my own power, wealth, consumption, and personal enjoyment, regardless of how it effects others, this would merely be the result of previous causes in my life. I can disregard the little voice in my head telling me to be unselfish, kind, loving, and such, since that voice is not the Holy Spirit, and the part of my make-up that can turn off that voice is just as much a part of me that turns it on.

Sure, I have to weigh consequences of my actions. But, lets face it, I'm 59. If I could get in 10 years of living large, there won't be that much time left for paying those consequences. And that's assuming I ever get caught or drive away the friendship of someone who really matters to me.

Need to think a bit more about all this. I'm off to church. Not because I choose to go in the face of all this, but because my Great, great, great grandparents went to church every week.

22 comments:

bernardo said...

Randy,

I understand that you believe that our decisions and actions are triggered supernaturally, at least sometimes. You believe that people have a soul that is unpredictable, and that is undetectable except for the human behavior it triggers (i.e. it is supernatural). I can't tell you for sure that you're wrong. I believe that you're wrong, and if you want I can explain why, but to be honest I can't say for sure. I used to believe in souls until recently. It is not absurd (just inelegant and unscientific) to think that a person is like an unmanned spyplane, controlled remotely (and sending sensory info to that remote pilot) via a mysterious link, able to make some choices autonomously but influenced in other choices by signals received by its computer over that link. What I'm saying is, I'm not here to tell you that your belief in a soul does not make sense. If you want, I can explain in detail why I think it is less elegant and less empowering than the naturalistic model, and why there is no good evidence for it, but it is not an invalid interpretation of what we observe.

However, you then say that, if we don't have souls (i.e. supernatural triggers to behavior), then it would follow that X Y and Z. And those statements do not make sense. It was quite frustrating for me to read them, to be honest. But I'll try and stay calm, and go over, point-by-point, the fallacies and absurdities you said following the proposition "If people don't have souls, then...".

First of all, you say that if I don't have a soul, then "I can't make any real choices about my actions". That's absurd. Why is that the case? Why is it that, if your decisions are made by the natural interaction of particles rather than by a spirit, then you can no longer claim you made those decisions yourself? If the sponge of particles that floats between my ears decides that it wants something, and that the best way of getting it is a certain course of action, then that's what it decided. My brain can make choices. All by itself. Sure, it was influenced by memories (Last time I wanted the same thing, and I tried a certain course of action, which may or may not have worked), by my consideration of others (If I do get what I want, how will that affect other people?), by my other wants (If I ger what I want, will it make it harder for me to get other things I value?), by past events (which unreasonably make some behaviors, such as routine ones, more comfortable and less worrisome than others), and by chemistry and neural pathways that (sometimes to my detriment) are only around because they helped my wild ancestors survive in pre-societal nature (Oooh, look, food!). But those factors coalesced into a decision in my head. All those things that influence my choice are parts of my brains, or patterns stored in my brain.

Two, naturalism does not equal determinism. Just because there are no spirits telling my brain to go this way or that, this does not mean that my brain is predictable. Experiments which confirmed Quantum Theory threw determinism out the window. The fact is, when a particle goes through an interaction where the result depends on one of its properties (such as where it is or how fast it's going), then the particle picks that property but randomizes other properties. In other words, every time you measure a particle's position very precisely, you cause the particle to roll some dice about its speed. Measure the speed (i.e. put the particle in a situation where the outcome depends on its speed), and the particle will pick a speed but will randomize its location. In other words, small particles are actually unpredictable. It is impossible to know all properties about them, just a few at a time. It is plausible to think that quantum effects can affect the brain. Neuron impulses are triggered by tiny tiny tiny quantities of ions - sometimes only a couple of molecules are all it takes to break an equilibrium and flip a logic switch, so to speak. So, from a very fundamental physical level, neurons might be not-perfectly-predictable. Neurons do work basically like logic gates, or like squares in the Game Of Life, in that their state is a simple algorithmic consequence of the states (and changes in the states) of their neighbors. But due to thermal vibrations and quantum effects (and radiation, and Maxwell's Demon, and who knows what else), states can change at random once in a while. How important are those unpredictable changes of state in determining the behavior of the brain, when compared to the predictable algorithmic "Game Of Life"-type changes? I don't know. They might be negligible, or they might be quite important. I have a feeling they're not negligible (but that's because I too wish to be a somewhat unpredictable entity rather than a purely algorithmic computer. But I realize that this is probably wishful thinking, and that the brain is probably pretty algorithmic and deterministic, down at the neurons-sending-signals level).

Besides, say we are perfeclty algorithmic and non-random, that somehow our brains ARE deterministic, that (like a computer) there are error-correcting mechanisms to damp the random fluctuations and eliminate their effects. (If you're honest about the evidence of how the brain works, I think you'll see that this is probably the case). Why does that mean that we can't make decisions? That we can't be pragmatic? That we cannot have unique insights or creative ideas? I think free will is the ability to go "I like A better than B, and it seems that doing X leads to A and doing Y leads to B, therefore I will do X". Even some computer programs can do this, such as the artificial intelligences of my computer-controlled opponents in video games. That is a kind of free will. If you think it's not, then why not?

Lastly, and most importantly for everyday life, is the crazy idea that, if there is not a spirit triggering your behavior, then you can be selfish. Why the heck is that the case? Indeed, my desire to preserve and ideally increase the well-being of others is not the Holy Spirit, it is not a soul or any kind of spirit. It is in part a genetically-evolved desire to help others like me (groups which had this trait, where individuals sacrificed for the survival of the groups' members, were more likely to survive), in part a technique for making sure that people like me, and in part a socially-taught idea that the benefits of civilized society come from people not being selfish and sacrificing a little in everyone's interest. What does any of this have to do with souls? Nothing. I have plenty, plenty of motivations for being good, for being way less selfish than I could. Most of these, over the years, have become rules-of-thumb in my mind. Many kinds of decisions are driven by complex rules and desires and preferences and balances and tradeoffs and compromises, but once you make these decisions often enough over the years, your brain oversimplifies them into rules of thumb, meaning that, in general, you feel like making a certain kind of decision (similar to the ones you have made many times) in a certain way "feels right". The conscience is, in large part, a group of such rules of thumb; It just "feels wrong" to screw people over, to cause suffering, and to do other things that your brain (over the years) has noticed are likely to bring unpleasant consequences. But even without these rules of thumb, the basic fact is, people are compassionate, whether or not they have a soul. We want to prevent suffering and injustice, because awareness of suffering and injustice does not feel good. If we live in a naturalistic world, suffering is still a very real and painful thing (and injustice is not impossible to recognize either), so I don't see why the idea that we probably live in a naturalistic world would make you any less motivated to do the right thing.

(Well, I can see that you'd be a little less motivated, since God isn't always watching, won't be disappointed or mad at you when you cut a corner, and won't have his Plan delayed by your selfishness, but are those really the primary reasons why you usually choose to do the right thing?)

(And by the way, the Free Willy image made me LOL).

Randy Kirk said...

I'm itching to respond, but want to let others go first. Thanks for the call to the troops. Surely the Williams should be able to contribute something since they are working on doing the opposite here with AI.

bernardo said...

Here's one last thought I wanted to mention but forgot:

I am not completely unpredictable. In some situations I am quite predictable, especially to people who know me. I can be expected to make certain comments, or to refer to certain funny things, in certain situations. And I can be expected to make certain choices. If I go to your home for dinner, and for dessert you offer me a choice of mint ice cream or chocolate ice cream, the chance of me not eating the mint ice cream is 100%. That is because, for some weird reason, most mint things make me nauseous. I don't find the taste of mint ice cream or mint chocolates unpleasant in itself, but tasting it causes me to want to throw up. So I will always choose to avoid mint chocolates and mint ice cream.

So if you offer me some mint ice cream and you KNOW that I will say "no"... does that mean I don't have free will?

"Of course it doesn't mean that!", you say, since you yourself are probably as predictable in certain kinds of choices. Well then, why do you say we have no free will if we are deterministic (i.e. theoretically predictable)?

Michael said...

First off, let me say that I probably won't get very deep into this discussion, but I'll post a few points.

First off, quantum theory is nice, but there's zero evidence that quantum effects play any role in consciousness. Without a supernatural component, we're all deterministic machines.

Secondly, Bernardo has a mistaken conception of selfishness. Despite his description of why and how he himself is altruistic, there is no known model for why Western culture has so few free-riders other than Christianity. Belief in punishment or reward after death has turned out to be a great motivation for billions of people to act as Bernardo described. Does that alone make it right? No, but it adds yet more evidence to the pile and should lead people like Bernardo to consider that their disagreement with those billions of people might mean that they themselves are the ones in the dark.

Thirdly, faith. We come to God by faith, not by persuasion or argument. The teachings of Christ are so simple that a child can understand them. We have all "sinned" by doing wrong, and the punishment for those sins is eternal separation from God. The good news is that Jesus died for us to pay that punishment for us, and that by accepting his death as propitiation for our sins we don't have to be separated from God when we die. That's it. If Bernardo feels no spiritual conviction over the matter, that's between him and God. I have no desire to beat my head against a wall, which is why a generally don't respond to these sorts of threads.

bernardo said...

"there's zero evidence that quantum effects play any role in consciousness. Without a supernatural component, we're all deterministic machines."

Whew, I didn't think that was going to be so easy! I'm glad we agree. (I did say that thinking that quantum effects play a significant role in neuron activity is wishful thinking). Although I hope you also realize that, almost by definition, there is no real evidence of the supernatural either (which is just another aspect of "We come to God by faith").

I didn't say that Christianity does not motivate a lot of people to be good. I know it does. But...

"there is no known model for why Western culture has so few free-riders other than Christianity"

... I would not go as far as to say that Christianity is the ONLY motivation for people to be good. I've already listed a few more:

1) We have evolved to be compassionate towards those who are like us. It is painful to know that they are suffering.

2) We want people to like us.

3) We realize that, if everyone just did what they wanted, society would collapse.

4) In a not-entirely-reasonable process, we end up feeling that we should do the right thing and make the world a better place. Some people choose selflessness over selfishness not because of God or his Plan, not because of fear of the consequences, not really for any good reason, other than it just feels right. You know, the same kind of inexplicable fundamental reason why you intuitively choose God over No God.

I know that "4", which is a key foundation of Humanism, is a little shaky (just as faith in God is). But 1-3 are pretty solid.

bernardo said...

Randy, I think you can go ahead and respond.

And here are two links I ran into today that are somewhat related to this discussion:

http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9581656

http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2007/08/excellent_bbc_brain_.html

Randy Kirk said...

So be it, but I surely thought Skipper would have helped us a bit on this one.

I love your unmanned spy plane idea, but I think you think to hard. The unmanned spy plane does much of its flying by computer. However, it is linked to a human with overriding control to make certain things happen. In addition, there is a higher ranking individual in the room who can come over and demand the lower ranking guy to do it his way.

So sure. We humans have automatic systems that pretty much do what they do without any input from us. We have some systems that are on automatic pilot until we change the course purposely (even heartbeat and such can be altered by mind, or so many believe.) Then we have things that require a decision on our part to create even the beginning of any action. Eating the apple pie ala mode even though it will blow our diet, having the will power to not eat the same pie, because we don't want to undo the 5 mile run from the a.m.

Para 2 where you beautifully describe various things that come together to influence our final decision. All that great prose doesn't change the fact that under your POV "I" am defined simply as the sum of my history and my chemistry.

I think thanks to you I have read some of those studies on quantum theory and how the mere observation of certain events changes the event. I like this argument, but am not terribly persuaded that it has application to our how we make decisions.

Moreover re: para 3, I don't want to say that a spirit causes us to act any way either. Your mechanistic way of approaching the subject results in your constantly going back to a cause. Any cause.

The idea is not that the spirit is controlling, but rather that we have an independent ability to override the autopilot, and act in a totally independent way.

I agree that humans have the capacity for good and evil, and that this is possible without an inkling of an idea about the Christian God or Jesus, or even Budda or any religion at all. Moreover, I agree that there are social and governmental incentives and disincentives that tend to make us to more good than evil. So my arguments regarding free will are independent of these issues.

Thus I return to the original question: Who am "I."

Hey Skipper said...

So be it, but I surely thought Skipper would have helped us a bit on this one.

I'm on the road, and haven't had much time.

Bernardo has pretty much center-aimed every nail, but I'll just add a few things.

Most importantly, Randy, you are using the term "free will" as if it is a term with a concrete, agreed, definition, like "circle." You may intuitively feel you know what the term means, but I'll bet the closer you get to defining it, the more distant the concept becomes.

In trying to corral the concept, it helps to acknowledge that the scope for anything like free will is extremely limited, even for seemingly trivial decisions. You cannot consciously change your favorite color, or conclude that a song you until yesterday detested is now at the top of your hit parade.

Bernardo brought up, then largely discarded, the impact of quantum uncertainty on brain function. So far as that goes, he appears on solid ground. But he took one additional step that seems to have eluded both you and Michael: the notion of scientific determinism. By that, he means even if you possessed a time machine, and could go back in time to replay a decision process, it is impossible to recreate the initial conditions; equally, it is impossible to have sufficient knowledge of all brain states at the beginning of a decision process (understanding that using the term "beginning" here raises an entirely new set of problems), so as to predict a priori the outcome.

(NB: as I mentioned in the previous post on this topic, it is impossible to do for a system as simple as piling one grain of sand upon another.)

Consequently, the notion that a brain functioning solely through naturalistic processes is somehow deterministic is simply, wholly, wrong. And that is before taking on board that nearly all non-trivial decisions involve cartesian product relationships among a fairly crowded field of considerations, many, or all of which, are themselves beyond determination.

While determinism needs relegating to the nearest dumpster, the notion that our brains operate in specific, stable, and predictable patterns, should glaringly obvious to even a casual observer.

It is within the minimal latitude those patterns allow that what we term free will resides.

We do make "decisions" -- you can't move from your chair, or type even a word without doing so -- which is approaching the closest anyone can come to defining the concept.

The brain makes decisions; it has no alternative. Those decisions, which are contingent and pattern bound, but not wholly pre-determined, are what you intuitively refer to as free will.

Bernardo also is largely correct in assessing why people are not wholly selfish. The notion of a lone human is no more meaningful than that of a lone ant. We are social animals, and cannot exist without the (albeit individually variable) abilities of empathy and reciprocity.

Those qualities, among others, are organic to humans, just as for the opposable thumb.

I would quibble a little with his assertion that people understand that pure selfishness would lead to the collapse of society. First, it raises a chicken-egg problem. Second, it avoids a much simpler explanation: people get more of what they want without being wholly selfish and without being wholly selfless.

Consequently, Bernardo's number four is largely superfluous, except that he implies that, for most humans, personal satisfaction involves a great deal more than purely material considerations.

Michael:

Yes there is a known model for why Western Culture has so few free riders: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, combined with reciprocity. (That is, the powerful ability of humans to detect reciprocal behavior, an ability that comes without any teaching whatsoever. Perhaps "instinct" would be a better word.)

It must be said that the notion punishment or reward after death promotes good behavior is far from obvious, while their inciting of bad behavior is very obvious.

bernardo said...

The unmanned spy plane does much of its flying by computer. However, it is linked to a human with overriding control to make certain things happen.

Right. Even if you think we have a soul with free will (whatever that means), you have to admit that most mental processes are physical phenomena in the brain. Or do you think birds have souls and free will (whatever that means) as well?

We have some systems that are on automatic pilot until we change the course purposely (even heartbeat and such can be altered by mind.)

No! It's not just heartbeat that is analogous to the spyplane's ability to fly by computer. It's decision-making as well! Conditioning, memories, all kinds of things. Again, even if you believe we have a soul with free will (whatever that means), there are enough neurological studies and enough animal-psychology studies to reveal that a heck of a lot of "thinking" clearly requires no supernatural intervention.

Then we have things that require a decision on our part to create even the beginning of any action. Eating the apple pie ala mode even though it will blow our diet, having the will power to not eat the same pie, because we don't want to undo the 5 mile run from the a.m.

Opportunities present themselves around us all the time, eating or not eating something, getting work done or writing about these spiritual things, etc. Each time we take one path or the other, we made a decision. Sometimes, there's a more rational side of what we know is good, and more emotional or animalistic side of what we know will feel good, although typically both of these aspects can be found favoring each choice. In any case, your brain is a decision-making machine, and I don't see where exactly you think a soul is needed to explain decision-making, or why this decision-making machine does not have "free will" (whatever that means) unless the supernatural is involved.

The idea is not that the spirit is controlling, but rather that we have an independent ability to override the autopilot, and act in a totally independent way.

How can you be independent from what you want? You want what your body and brain desire, what your thoughts predict are good for you, and what your quirks don't make you avoid. You're saying that the soul and free will come into play when you somehow decide something beyond those basic wants? So the soul and free will only kick in when you act impulsively? When you make a decision independently from thinking? I'm not a very impulsive guy, I tend to think things through. So does that mean my soul doesn't really affect what I do, or that I don't have free will?

Your mechanistic way of approaching the subject results in your constantly going back to a cause. Any cause.

What's wrong with that? Yes, things are caused by previous things, and the motions and states of particles can be traced back to the Big Bang, where causality becomes much harder (maybe impossible) to follow. But by the time you're a fetus and your brain forms and you start to learn, yes, it's all causal. What's wrong with that? (Or maybe I'm not getting what you're trying to say when you wrote those that part about "a cause, any cause").

I agree that humans have the capacity for good and evil... So my arguments regarding free will are independent of these issues.

I dunno. You, and other Christians, have asked "Without free will, what's the point of doing anything", so I thought I shoud answer that question.

All that great prose doesn't change the fact that under your POV "I" am defined simply as the sum of my history and my chemistry... Thus I return to the original question: Who am "I."

You are a pattern of stuff. You are a computer that has written into itself some amazing software that includes a model of the world, and that model includes a representation of itself (i.e. of you). You are a strange loop. The idea that "you" are a centralized essence of sensory-processing, decision-making, and body-commanding, is an illusion that comes from the fact that you are aware of your own thinking and feeling, and from the fact that your mental processes are extremely well-coordinated and harmonious. You are a computer who has been taught to think of yourself as "I" and who found this concept to be useful and handy, but from this concept you came to think, for no real good reason, that you are more than the sum of your parts. I don't think we are more than the sum of our parts. We just think we are, or feel we are, or were taught to model ourselves as something other than a pattern of stuff. (Buddhists aim to fix this). And the sum of our parts is something really really really amazing, possibly the most amazing thing in the universe, but believing in souls and getting hung up on free will just gets in the way of appreciating how amazing we are. Another case of the supernatural explanation sweeping all the interesting questions under the rug.

Randy Kirk said...

I know it is hard, but I have been attempting to distinguish between a secular view of free will, and one that requires a "soul" in any of various religious ideas about such a thing.

I wonder if you gentlemen (and hopefully a few who come and visit that might like to jump into this fray) believe that our language in any way is scientifically linked to truth. In other words as we say, so it is,

I ask the question as an outgrowth of a question I posed in the last post which went uncommented upon.

"Do your actions feel like they are arrived at by your free choice, or do you feel like each action you take is merely the consequence of actions taken in the past?"

Without appealing to religion we refer to people as having or not having "soul." We speak of thinking or acting outside the box or outside of "ourselves." Individuals who have so-so talent (lets say vocal) and are not physically very appealing become quite famous and sought after because of this elusive gift.

Breakthrough thinkers are called original or creative. In dealing with artists, I see folks who are merely creative (where they seem to be combining things they have learned in creative new ways) and those who seem to come up with things from "whole cloth."

We have "spirit" leaders and we get caught up in the "spirit" or the "action" and lose ourselves in our activities or thoughts.

I personally write non-fiction, and while supposedly pretty talented musically, have found that folks don't have any real interest in hearing me play or sing. I speak and get paid for it, but am not in high demand. My wife, on the other hand speaks or sings and brings audiences to tears. Her cousin writes little notes to people that they cherish having received. I don't have much "soul." Yet I reach out to that "spirit" in me to attempt to connect with something outside of the "non-fiction" person I tend to be.

What about you guys.

Randy Kirk said...

Maybe that should have been a new post, and I do intend to come back to some of the specifics later. By-the-by, I am writing this from the loft of a condo in Maui. So, understand that I no have the hang loose thing going, which might be causal in some way.

bernardo said...

I have been attempting to distinguish between a secular view of free will, and one that requires a "soul"

There's a secular non-soul version of free will? If so, how does it differ from my "We are computers" version of free will?

Do your actions feel like they are arrived at by your free choice, or do you feel like each action you take is merely the consequence of actions taken in the past?

My actions are arrived at by free choice (more specifically, a combination of rationality and impulse), but they are also purely consequences of the physical setup of my brain at the time: my memories, desires, neuroses, and models of how the world works and how different choices should make me feel. Just because my decisionmaking processes and causes are bound by and within the causal structures of my brain, this does not mean I am not free to make choices.

As for creativity, personality, and those other things that the "soul" can be associated with... You'd have to define them more precisely before we can really talk about them. I can start: How do I define creativity? Well, to me, a "creative" person is one who can model subtle and abstract patterns and relationships in the world, and/or the feelings those patterns evoke, and who can best do so by creating something from scratch (a song, a sculpture, a play, a painting, an image, a novel, a poem, a movie, an essay) that captures those patterns, relationships, or feelings. Often when we understand something, we think we understand it in a uniquely elegant way, and so we want to express that understanding. Most of us who bother to do so, do it by talking. But some people feel more compelled to do so than others, and some people do it in ways other than talking. Those people we call "creative". All they're doing is expressing their perspective and understanding about something, in a way such that something is created that we all can experience. So I guess that being creative just means communicating things, or playing with ideas and images, in ways other than talking about them. I consider writing and talking about spiritual issues to be a creative endeavour. I also occasionally draw, do web design, and mash songs, and frequently take photographs, all with the purpose of trying to capture and develop patterns I find pleasing. Everyone can do this. At least every elementary schooler can, but sadly at some point most kids get the (mistaken, IMHO) impression that they cannot, or that they should not bother. When you think about it, maybe non-creativity is more surprising and unusual, less natural to humans, than creativity is, since we process so much all the time.

Hey Skipper said...

Randy:

IMHO, you need to try and come to some sort of rigorous grip on just what the concept "free will" means.

I predict that the harder you try -- using critical instead of devotional thinking -- the more you will find free will materially bound, and that is before you start pondering all the impacts upon free will due to brain injuries, in all their variety.

In other words, invoking a soul does nothing at all for your argument, all your work is still ahead of you.

While you are at it, you might also reflect on how monotheistic religions have created for themselves an insoluble dilemma between their various definitions of god, and free will.

That's a heck of a corner to be painted into.

bernardo said...

To be fair, I think I was the one who explicitly brought the soul into this discussion.

But I think that, since most people associate "free will" with "decisions made with more than the causal material processes in the brain", then that concept of free will is pretty much the same thing as believing in a soul, a soul that triggers at least some brain processes supernaturally.

But, to end confusion, I ask Randy (or anyone else) to explain the differences between the free will idea and the soul idea, if there are any.

And, of course, I agree with Hey Skipper. If your opinions on free will and the soul are derived from what religion teaches about the relationships between God, people, and the universe (rather than from what you observe about how people think and behave), then you're almost bound to paint yourself into corners, i.e. to have some Christian faith-based or dogma-based belief stand between you and some common-sense model of what free will is or whether we need a soul to explain what we observe.

Randy Kirk said...

Skipper,

Actually, I agree with you. It is almost impossible to get your mind around the idea of everything being determined in a cause effect way. Our language and culture also reflect this.

So even the cultural underpinnings are confused.

bernardo said...

Not directly related, but kinda neat:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/science/21magic.html?&pagewanted=print

bernardo said...

Yes, I do plan on responding to the newer posts as well, but until I get around to that, here's a nice article about Kasparov vs Deep Blue that explores the idea that our brains are just protein machines:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19179/

Silicon machines can now play chess better than any protein machines can. Big deal. This calm and reasonable reaction, however, is hard for most people to sustain. They don't like the idea that their brains are protein machines. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997, many commentators were tempted to insist that its brute-force search methods were entirely unlike the exploratory processes that Kasparov used when he conjured up his chess moves. But that is simply not so. Kasparov's brain is made of organic materials and has an architecture notably unlike that of Deep Blue, but it is still, so far as we know, a massively parallel search engine that has an outstanding array of heuristic pruning techniques that keep it from wasting time on unlikely branches... Kasparov's reliance on this "insight" meant that the shape of his search trees--all the nodes explicitly evaluated--no doubt differed dramatically from the shape of Deep Blue's, but this did not constitute an entirely different means of choosing a move.

Randy Kirk said...

The permutations of chess are fairly substantial in number, but they are still containable within a numerical system. My choice to intentionally invent a new product is infinite and can not be contained within any numeric system.

bernardo said...

The permutations of neuron states are finite too. I don't think invention is infinite. Creativity and intuition are about finding patterns and proposing solutions in ways that are not quite rigidly logical or reasonable. But just because they are not logical or reasonable, does not mean they're not necessarily the output of a deterministic machine.

Randy Kirk said...

If I understand your thinking, Bernardo, you might be equating creativity and intuition with fuzzy logic? Yes...No?

Also, we know that humans and all other species exhibit all kinds of intuitive behavior that obviously does not arrive by either experience or learning. How in the world does a embryonic Kangaroo know to leave the pouch and crawl up the mother to the teat?

bernardo said...

I don't know what "fuzzy logic" means precisely enough to make that analogy, but it could be a good one. Our thinking is not perfectly rational or logical but it is probably deterministic, is all I'm saying. The processes in the brain might not necessarily be very good at getting us to do the right thing (although they could be a lot worse, were it not for natural selection), but I think they are "processed" deterministically. Like video game AI that makes "mistakes" when I play against it.

And don't confuse intuition with instinct. Yes, instinct affects intuition, but it seems to me that intuition is largely made up of rules of thumb based on experience, while instinct is genetic. The range of things we can have intuitions about is broader than the range of things we can have instincts about. Intuition can feel like instinct, but I don't think it makes much sense to claim that your genes hard-wired your brain so as to be good at, say, running a company, being a doctor, being a mathematician, or other things that require intuition.

Randy Kirk said...

You're correct I misused intuition where I should have used instinct. I do agree with you that for the purposes of this discussion, however, it isn't entirely clear that both won't fit. In fact, I am going to do a post that asks that very question. Stay tuned.