Movies: Is Ex Machina ignoring the hard problem of consciousness? |300|

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Jan 6, 2016.

  1. Mike L

    Mike L New

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    Back in 1972 the Philosopher Hubert Dreyfus wrote an interesting book called "What Computers Can't Do" as a critique of the position taken by the AI gurus of the day such as Marvin Minski.
    Minski had been making statements such as in 1970, "Once the computers got control, we might never get it back. We would survive at their sufferance. If we're lucky, they might decide to keep us as pets." Hmm well 46 years later and there's not much sign of that.
    Just to rub it in, Dreyfus followed up with "What Computers Still Can't Do" in 1992
    Dreyfus was greatly influenced by the later Wittgenstein, arguing that rule based symbol systems could never produce human like intelligence because they would always lack context. So for example the sentence "The bill is large" has quite different meaning depending on whether you're in a restaurant looking at a slip of paper demanding an excessive payment or in a zoo looking at a large duck.
    Rule based inference engines struggle with this type of ambiguity which is why modern AI systems tend to be effective only in relatively limited domains and the success at the Turing test is as far away as its ever been. It's true that some researchers have claimed sucess but the tests were of such a short period, 5 mins, that they were hardly credible.
    Dreyfus questions that intelligence really is based on rules. He discusses Socrates who would stroll around Athens picking on unwary passers by and asking them one of his famous Socratic questions such as "What is courage". They would inevitably start giving examples of courage and Socrates would reply "no you fool, i dont want examples, i want the rules by which you judge an action as courageous". Dreyfus wonders if actually Socrates was wrong and intelligence is nothing to do with rules and actually about recognising a problem as similar to examples in the past that were relevant to solving the current problem and extrapolating from them. If true then intelligence would be more to do with memory and creative imagination than rules. Whether a machine that could store and retrieve the vast complexity of memory required for human like intelligence, could ever be built, is an interesting question. Certainly attempts to pin down human memory aren't going that well.
     
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  2. Esben GOldstein Vinsnes

    Esben GOldstein Vinsnes New

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  3. Far.From.Here

    Far.From.Here New

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    What is the difference between a super-intelligent android (without "consciousness") and a psychopath?
     
  4. Vortex

    Vortex Member

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    Well, psychopaths are as conscious as we are: they have intrasubjective phenomenal experience - and this "phenomenality" are what we usually call "consciousness". What the psychopaths lack is not consciousness, but conscience, the sense of interpersonal responsibility. It, in its turn, is based on compassion, the empathy towards other conscious beings, which is alien to psychopathic persons - they can pity only themselves.
     
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  5. Good post. Maybe you've already read these but while it's a bit pricey you might want to check out Braude's "Defense of Folk Psychology" and Bruce Goldberg's "Are Human Beings Mechanisms".

    Actually the latter you can probably read for free if you get a 7 day trial for Idealistic Studies.

    They both discuss this issue of context, and how mechanistic theories all turn on either Platonism or determinate isomorphisms....really two dead ends.
     
  6. Doug

    Doug New

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    Surely if an android is subject to its operating system or programing, it can be restrained from doing harm to a human whereas a psychopath will do whatever suits him at the time no matter what harm he causes. I think there is a big difference.
     
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  7. K9!

    K9! New

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  8. Mike L

    Mike L New

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    Hi Sciborg_S_Patel thanks for this. There is a chapter in Braude's book "Crimes of Reason" called "Defense of Folk Psychology", is that the one you meant?. I see what you mean about the cost, ouch. I see he also discusses the physical trace theory of memory. I have come across something similar from Alan Gauld who writes a chapter on memory (mostly criticising the trace theory) in "Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century". He made similar points in an older book , "Mediumship and Survival a century of investigations" where he discussed the cases of mediumship from the annals of the UK Society of Psychical Research (SPR) over the last 100 years. I met him once many years ago, at an SPR conference, fascinating guy.
    The trace theory of memory is really a cornerstone of materialism. If true then all theories of life after death are probably illusions, if false then the the materialist's "biological robot" position is weakened to such an extent as to become untenable. I'm fascinated by the philosophical critique of the trace theory by thinkers such as Braude and Gauld.
    Materialists basically say that the stimulation of a collection of neurons is correlated with a particular conscious experience and that explains memory. The problem is that the neurons could be stimulated many times and each would appear to be a new experience with no connection to the original --- unless you already had a memory! Gauld believes this problem is an insurmountable infinite regress.
    If Braude and Gauld are correct then physical trace theory cannot be used to explain human memory which would mean its a very different process from computer memory, and the hard AI folks have a more difficult job to create a robot such as the one in Ex Machina.
     
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  9. Raymond Tallis, the neuroscientist philosopher, also makes a similar argument btw. He doesn't see how material substance can hold semantic information about the past. As he puts it, the broken cup has no memory of its wholeness under materialism.

    I'm right where you are Mike. I think the argument against memory traces is solid, but sadly I think only some related empirical evidence would really sway people.

    I know there is some work showing brain damage in rats doesn't seem to affect memory, for example.
     
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  10. Alex

    Alex New

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    very cool. thx.
     
  11. The human mind can identify truths that cannot be proved by a computer.

    http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9511/revessay.html

    The Atheism of the Gaps

    Stephen M. Barr [Associate Professor of Physics at the Bartol Research Institute, University of Delaware]
    ...
    Given sufficient time to study the structure of that program, a human mathematician (or group of mathematicians) could construct a "Godel proposition" for it, namely a proposition that could not be proven by the program but that was nevertheless true, and-here is the crux of the matter-which could be seen to be true by the human mathematician using a form of reasoning not allowed for in the program. But this is a contradiction, since this hypothetical program was supposed to be able to do anything that the human mind can do.

    What follows from all this is that our minds are not just computer programs. The Lucas-Penrose argument is much more involved than the bare outline I have just given would suggest, and many people have raised a variety of objections to it. But Lucas and Penrose have had little difficulty in showing the insubstantiality of these objections, and I think it is fair to say that their argument has not been dented.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
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  12. Here's a collection of anti-computationalist arguments from this forum, including the rebuttals given by both Lucas & Penrose.

    However, I would note that Penrose isn't a materialist based on past interviews he seems to ascribe to three worlds - Math -> Matter -> Mental - which each being responsible for the generation of the next. He's suggested the Platonic Realm where Math exists (this may not actually be separate in the sense of another dimension) may also hold aesthetic & moral values. (On the aesthetic side psi-proponent & Nobel winning physicist Josephson agrees -> See What Can Music Tell Us About the Nature of the Mind?: A Platonic Model.)

    However, Lucas AFAIK (based on reading his work) is a materialist [actually I'm double checking this, my memory may be incorrect]. In fact I would agree and say the Godel argument merely shows the current naturalist's mechanistic account of matter is false rather than falsifying materialism. The Catholic theologian Feser would - again based on his writing - agree with me, as he notes you can just put qualia and teleology back into matter to get consciousness & non-computable thought. (For Feser what makes an immortal soul out of the Form of the human is the comprehension of Universals.)

    Finally, I don't think an acceptance of the Godelian Argument leads to a belief in God so the essay's title, IMO, is inappropriate. It certainly hasn't made a believer out of me (I'm an agnostic) for the aforementioned reasons - it merely rejects the conception of reality given by the modern naturalist account. That said it did help make me a vitalist, if by vitalism one simply defines it as Braude does - that there are irreducible aspects inherent to biological organisms that are not explicable using the naturalist's conception of matter.
     
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  13. KeithA

    KeithA New

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    Hi Alex

    Not sure if this has come up but Edward Witten (greatest living physicist - superstring/multiverse guy) spoke on consciousness and really, the mystery of it - not sure when this interview was. Witten background ... only physicist to win maths Fields Medal, considered with awe by other physicists. Unified various string models into one model etc. He seems to be talking about the hard problem and as distinct from the easy problem of consciousness.



    Reason I post it is that Sean Carroll (physicist who really knows his physics stuff and is of course a prominent skeptic on the paranormal etc.) had Witten's interview on his blog in March 2015.

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/05/the-big-questions/

    but in fact completely blew it (why?) when commenting on Witten's actual meaning. I just couldn't believe it when I read Carroll so did an accurate transcript of Witten's comments. Not sure what others think and would be interested :)

    Here's Carroll ... Ed Witten giving his own personal - and characteristically sensible - opinion, which is that consciousness is a really knotty problem, although not so difficult that we should start contemplating changing the laws of physics in order to solve it. Though I am more optimistic than he is that we’ll understand it on a reasonable timescale.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Here's Witten (my highlights which point to that consciousness, in his opinion, is not a physics problem).

    Witten Consciousness … I tend to believe that consciousness will be a mystery.

    Q Remain a mystery?

    Witten Yes, that’s what I tend to believe. That’s what I tend to believe. I tend to think that the workings of the conscious brain will be elucidated to a large extent, so I tend to believe that biologists and perhaps physicists contributing will understand much better how the brain works but why something that we call consciousness goes with those workings, I think will remain mysterious, perhaps I’m mistaken. I’ll have a much easier time imagining how we’d understand the Big Bang, though we can’t do it now, than I can imagine understanding consciousness.

    Q Understanding superstring is easy compared to understanding how your brains are working…

    Witten When you say understanding how the brain is working, um, I think understanding the functioning of the brain is a very exciting problem on which there will probably be a lot of progress in the next few decades, that’s not out of reach. But I think there’s probably a level of mystery that will remain about why the brain has functionings we can see. Um, it creates consciousness or whatever we want to call it. How it functions in the way that a conscious being functions will become clearer but what it is we are experiencing when we experience consciousness I see as being remaining a mystery.

    Q Or you want it to remain a mystery?

    Witten Well, I don’t think my wants or diswants have much to do with it. I can’t conceive of it not remaining a mystery, unless there are some modifications of the laws of physics that are relevant to understanding the functioning of the brain. And I think that’s very unlikely.

    Q Would you define consciousness as sheer beauty, the working of it?

    Witten I’m not going to attempt to define consciousness in the way that’s connected with the fact that I don’t believe that it will become part of physics. I think I won’t try to say anything about it, I’ll leave it as an undefined term like the undefined terms at the beginning of a math book. (laughs).

    Q Want to talk about it? No …

    Witten Well, like I say, I’m sceptical that’s it’s going to become part of physics, so that of course whatever you think about consciousness it’s an important part of us and with how we perceive anything including physics. And that has to do, I think, with the mysteries that bother a lot of people about quantum mechanics and it’s applications to the universe. So, quantum mechanics kind of has an all embracing property, that, to completely make sense, it has to be applied to everything in sight including ultimately the observer. But trying to apply quantum mechanics to ourselves makes us extremely uncomfortable, especially because of our consciousness which seems to clash with that idea. So we’re left with a disquiet concerning quantum mechanics and it’s applications to the universe. And I do not believe that that disquiet will go away. If anything I suspect it will acquire new dimensions, or aspects. Again, this is a point to which I don’t agree with all physicists by any means. Roger Penrose is one of the most distinguished physicists that believes there will eventually be some modification or reinterpretation of quantum mechanics. I think he’s a modification which will have something new to say about consciousness, and in the context of which some of our disquiet would go away. I can’t speak for him precisely but, I think that, I don’t think that will happen personally.

    From this, I take it that consciousness for him is not a physics issue at all and is, as he says, I’ll leave it as an undefined term like the undefined terms at the beginning of a math book.

    So maybe this chimes with David Chalmers in a way that consciousness is kind of irreducible and some other property in the universe apart from what's going on in physics. And surely Carroll completely missed Ed's points!


     
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  14. tim

    tim New

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    You've put a lot of work into that, Keith. I've mentioned it before :)-)) but I emailed David Chalmers regarding near death experiences. I thought he might find it interesting and relevant to the problem (because of the "fact" that consciousness seems to persist when the neurons are not connecting) but he just said he didn't know much about the subject and bid me goodbye and no thanks. What can you do.
     
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  15. KeithA

    KeithA New

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    Hi Tim
    Wow. Surprised Chalmers said that as I think one prominent NDE researcher and neuroscientist, Steven Laureys, was at one of the Towards a Science of Consciousness conferences which Chalmers hosts. He's aware of course.
    I occasionally dip in here ... so didn't know Witten had come up!
     
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  16. tim

    tim New

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    Thanks, Keith. I don't understand why they don't get it. If we can say observation and memory formation is taking place when the brain isn't working (and there's plenty of evidence/hints that it does) then the problem of consciousness can be dropped or set aside. I guess that's too simplistic though.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2016
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  17. KeithA

    KeithA New

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    Well, for the life of me I don't know where one goes with consciousness with these remarks above by Witten. If he's right maybe all we can do is live it, i.e. live consciousness day to day, meditate on it, philosophize on it, i.e. make philosophical models of it but not formalize it as one formalizes in physics. Also maybe take it as something that continues in some form after the body. If there's a God in there (and Witten didn't mention) I'm buggered as to what it could be.
    Reminds of the lines from Solaris (with Clooney who's trying to figure out what Solaris is) and Gibarian appears to him on the spaceship and says ... There are no answers only choices



    I think in the book of the film someone postulates Solaris is a kind of embryonic God, making mistakes. I like that. Points towards a kind of tentativeness, searching, evolving, awareness ...




     
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  18. Alex

    Alex New

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    great. thx for this.

    I don't know (I've queued up to learn more, but still may not grock it :)) but this sounds like more quantum mind musings. Penrose and Hameroff are plugging away at this, but they seem very reluctant to open things up very much. They never address the "really hard problem of consciousness -- NDEs :)

    -- eidit -- I take it back. I think Witten is politely saying that quantum consciousness is bunk.

    BTW would love to get Carroll on Skeptiko if anyone would be willing to reach out.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2016
  19. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx for sharing this! wow! yeah, like there's "the hard problem of consciousness" (which is a complete misnomer... i.e. the easy problem isn't at all easy) and then there's the "really hard problem of consciousness -- NDEs."
     
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  20. tim

    tim New

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    One of the most interesting replies I had (via email) was from Dr Ernst Rodin who I thought was not open to the subject of NDE and consciousness being separable from the brain. I contacted him because of an exchange I had with Gerry Woerlee who said that Rodin would agree with him that NDE is ALL explainable by brain pathology etc etc.

    I didn't mention Dr Woerlee's name but I asked him his opinion and he said that he was familiar with the research. He stated that NDE's are subjectively real experiences for which we currently have no explanation. Furthermore until we have a breakthrough which enables us to objectively visualise thoughts which in my (Dr Rodin's) opinion consist of an as yet unknown form of energy, possibly independent of the electro magnetic spectrum, we will only be arguing about unprovables.

    I also asked him about the Pam Reynolds case and he agreed with Dr Spetzler that what happened to Pam defies explanation. BTW I didn't realise that Dr Rodin had actually had an NDE many years ago which he described as the happiest moment of his life but for which he did indeed (then) try to explain by oxygen depravation. So Gerry Woerlee most probably had seen that somewhere. Over the years though his opinion has obviously changed.
     
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